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Customer Review

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Tough reading, but worth it in the end, 7 Sept. 2013
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This review is from: Otaku: Japan's Database Animals (Paperback)
I am an obsessive fan of film, animation, books, comics, manga and video-games. In the western world, people like me who are a little too serious about it are labelled with the terms such as geek/nerd/weirdo, phrases that are cringingly becoming more chic and popular now with the rise of the 'sexy geek' in mass media.

In Japan, the same kind of people are called "Otaku"; lovers of Anime, Manga & Games.

This book is a hybrid form of writing - part academic and part journalism. It was written with the general public in mind, giving everyone a chance to understand complex social & behavioral theories behind geek/otaku consumerism in the modern era.

Hiroki Azuma attempts to explain the needs and interests of different generations of Otaku between the 1970s-late 1990s. The major theory he presents is the "decline of Grand Narratives" and the "rise of database consumption" in fictional works. I believe the phrase 'grand narrative' refers to overarching concepts in a work such as a world view, a personal/spiritual journey, a political ideology, man vs. nature etc.
The term 'database' is a trickier concept to grasp. It is basically referring to a cultural database of existing archetypes and stereotypes which form the basis of the appearances and personalities of fictional characters. In geek terms, it is a database of Tropes.

Although not explicitly revealed in the text itself, the tone of the book dictates a disapproving and slightly derogatory commentary on the rise of "database consumption" in the modern world. And while the targets for the essay are young Japanese male otaku, Hiroki Azuma suggests that this trend is fast becoming a reality around the world.
As a geek/otaku myself, I find this rather insulting and difficult to digest. If what he says is true, why is it that fictional works in my decade of youth (00's) are filled to the brim with "grand narratives", possibly more so than ever before? And why is it that we can have one or the other - "grand narratives" or "the database" and not both?

On top of disagreeing with many of the authors theories, I also question his aptitude for true analysis of the subculture. He had clearly researched the fandom to a great degree, but the study was fundamentally written as an outsider looking into a subculture, being essentially one man's perception of it all. These are just (interesting) theories. No subjects in question have been interviewed for ideas and contributions. Therefore, I am skeptical when sweeping generalizations can be said for a subculture that is most probably broken up into many niches in itself.

I would most definitely like to see a translation of the sequel to this work. It has been a frustrating but stimulating book to read, and any geek/nerd/weirdo who would like to understand himself and his position in the world a bit better would benefit from reading this.
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