Episode 3 of Re: Zero introduces a character who is, quite literally, a white knight. Reinhard van Astrea is a member of the Royal Guard and is apparently so powerful and righteous that he’s known as the Sword Saint. He is also, incidentally, a minor character.
As anyone watching Re: Zero would be aware, the character with the white knight complex is actually Subaru, a hikikomori who is summoned from modern Japan, armed with only a cell phone and his wits. If Reinhard is supposed to represent the unattainable white knight ideal, then Subaru is the white knight whom the audience can relate to, a hapless young man who struggles through life (and multiple deaths) in the best way he can manage. So far in the story, he is motivated almost exclusively by his desire to save the girls he meets from death: initially the heroine Emilia, and later the twin maids Rem and Ram.
We’re not told much else about Subaru (to the detriment of the storytelling, frankly), but we’re expected to immediately understand and accept his obsessive desire to save these girls he barely knows. Why?
When I think of “otaku” writers, one of the first names that comes to mind is Toshio Okada, the co-founder and former president of Gainax and self-proclaimed “Otaking”. Yet despite his enormous influence on Japanese and English-language scholarship on otaku, none of his works have been translated into English. That has only been partially fixed very recently. Excerpts from Okada’s Introduction to Otakuology (1996) were translated by Keiko Nishimura and published in the anthology Debating Otaku in Contemporary Japan: Historical Perspectives and New Horizons (2015).
Since the book is quite expensive, I thought I’d make Okada’s writing more accessible to a non-academic audience by posting a condensed version of the chapter on my blog. I highly recommend you get a copy of the anthology to read the full chapter in context, along with Patrick Galbraith’s insightful introduction. Or better yet, read Introduction to Otakuology (Japanese title: オタク学入門). Somebody please translate the whole thing one day…
As you read this post, it’s important to remember that, much like Tamaki Saito, Okada started speaking up publicly about otaku after the infamous Tsutomu Miyazaki incident. Okada’s primary intent was to fix the otaku’s negative image and present them as worthy objects of academic study. As far as English-language scholars are concerned, however, Okada is a rather controversial figure. I’ll let you make up your own mind about him.
I have been thinking a lot about feminism lately. Specifically, I have been thinking about how gender politics relate to the anime fandom. It’s widely acknowledged that otaku culture is sexist and that the vast majority of anime marginalise women by objectifying or “Othering” them. But what about the individual people involved? Ordinary people like you and me who don’t necessarily think women are inferior to men but still involve themselves with anime culture anyway?
So I got to thinking… am I sexist for being an otaku? Am I a big, fat hypocrite for calling myself a “feminist” while also calling fictional female characters my waifus and buying merchandise featuring anime girls in sexual poses? This isn’t just a matter of enjoying ecchi anime – this is stuff I actually do, even if I intend it jokingly or ironically. Lately, I have been doing some hard thinking about what it means to be a “feminist” and what it means to be an “otaku” and I wonder if the two are mutually exclusive.
Admit it, we’re all guilty of this…….. right?
One of the most common complaints critics have about anime is that they pander to the otaku. Because fanservice and stock anime characters do nothing to further the plot or the themes of the narrative, this is generally perceived as an example of poor storytelling.
My intention with this post is to challenge this assumption.
I’m going to make a controversial statement here. I don’t think it’s wrong to make assumptions about people from their tastes. I do it all the time.