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Whither the modern Otaku?

It's time to change a definition. After 20 years of supremacy, the old-style Otaku is becoming rather scarce.

Twenty years ago, it was easy to spot an American Anime fan. Traditionally he (yes, he female fans were for all intents and purposes non-existent) was a patient sort, willing to watch seventh generation tapes of Space Battlecruiser Yamato and Urusei Yatsura, usually in straight Japanese, with a fan-created script in hand.

This kind of fan now represents perhaps 1% of the fan population. Due to the explosive boom of commercial titles, anyone can walk into their local Suncoast and buy any of a number of exciting (if disturbingly similarly themed) shows. Still, most of us share common experiences. If you started in the '80s, you grew up with Robotech and Bubble Gum Crisis... perhaps Dirty Pair. If you're a child of the '90s, you (more or less) fondly recall the glacial rate at which Ranma 1/2 tapes were released

But if you're one of the new breed of fans, your experiences may be wildly different. Certainly the tremendous, and oh so welcome, influx of females into the community was almost single-handedly caused by Sailor Moon. And the appearance of DBZ, Tenchi Muyo, and other classics on television brought in countless new devotees. In fact, so much Anime has become so widely available that there is no longer a common experience set for new fans.

It used to be that what made you an Otaku was the fact that you'd seen everything, or as much as was humanly possible. And the soul of loving Anime was to watch it, and perhaps to get lots of other people to watch it with you. Today these old-timers scoff at us youngsters. We have it so easy. Heck, we can watch anything we want--and usually in English. So are we young'ns incapable of being Otaku?

Thankfully, now that we no longer have to devote inordinate amounts of time to just getting the stuff, we can devote our energies elsewhere. Sure, some are content to simply buy the next installment of Evangelion (or perhaps snag it via DivX.) But many of us are willing to go that extra step...

How many fans cosplayed twenty years ago? Ten? How many cosplay now? Cosplay has become so de rigeur that it is almost an expected part of the hobby. It's our uniform--we just get to change it every con, or perhaps more frequently than that (or, if you're Dryden, you never seem to ditch the glasses and bunny ears). Some go so far as to spend almost every waking moment and every spare penny on costuming. The results are usually spectacular, but the toll on one's social life can be telling. Are these people Otaku? I'd have to say "Yes."

Then, of course, there are the fan fiction authors. I myself have committed a few offenses in this vein. Sure people probably wrote stories like these back in the early days, but now, with internet repositories and fan-fiction e-mail groups, this particular hobby has blossomed. Some people have written so well and so often that they've been invited as guests to even some good-sized cons. Otaku? Considering the amount of time and thought which (we hope) goes into these stories, absolutely.

Occasionally the images provided by our favorite artists across the Pacific are insufficient to sate our craving to see more of that particular bishounen or be-fuku-ed girl. Fan art has become not only common, but lucrative, with some pictures selling for hundreds of dollars at conventions and through commissions. Some people have forsaken books for television, because it's impossible to read and draw at the same time. Tremendous galleries are erected on the web and at conventions showing off their wares. Are they Otaku? Definitely.

A fairly recent phenomenon has been the rise of the Con Reporter. Prevalent are Kevin Lillard, whose Con Schedule is close to impracticable, and Linus Lam. These guys fly out to practically every convention of note and take pictures of everyone in costume. Then they spend the time between cons updating their websites with tremendous Con Galleries, much to the pleasure of every internet-enabled fan. I tells ya, if these guys ain't Otaku, no one is.

But, you see, there's the paradox--none of these folk are anything like the Original Otaku(tm), nor are they much like each other. But they are clearly Otaku. What is it that makes them so? I think it must be time. Your becoming an Otaku is entirely dependent on the time you've spent on an Anime-related endeavor, not on how much Anime you've seen, nor how arduous the process of getting to see it. And that's what's so amazing about Anime in the 21st century: It is so vast and multi-faceted that any two people can be just as passionate about it without ever having seen any of the same shows or sharing any of the same hobbies.

And, because of that, the meta-world that surrounds Anime like a halo will only get cooler and cooler.