Glossary of Japanese/otaku terms

  • otaku – Japanese slang term for anyone obsessively devoted to a hobby, especially geeky ones like anime, trains, military hardware, model making, or certain kinds of video games. Being a site about anime, we focus mostly on anime and manga otaku, which in recent years has become virtually synonymous with ‘people who are sexually attracted to 2D characters.’ Neither being an otaku of any stripe nor being sexually attracted to 2D are consider healthy or normal by most Japanese people.
    Like most hobbyist cultures, otaku culture is extremely materialistic, and like most socially unacceptable subcultures, also insular and inbred. Both of these things make for some strange perversities that we are dedicated to exploring. For more information, see any post tagged with ‘otaku’.
    In the Western world, an ‘otaku’ is someone who is a hardcore fan of anime or manga, or Japanese culture in general (and when we say ‘Japanese culture’, we mean the nerdy comics, games, films, and anime that would be completely alien and weird to most Japanese, but nonetheless make up nearly the entirety of Japan’s cultural exports). It’s not a good thing here, either.
  • cosplay – Short for “costume play”, cosplay is dressing up as a character from a fictional work, usually anime or manga. The word originated in Japanese otaku culture, but it’s since migrated to the West through American otaku, and is now broadly used in American geek culture for dressing up as all fictional characters of all kinds, not just those in manga and anime. In both East and West, the main venue for cosplay is fan conventions, where it’s less awkward to wear unusual clothes and people are more likely to know who you’re supposed to look like.
  • doujinshi – Self-published, fan-made publications, usually in the form of magazines, novels, or comics. Nowadays, these usually refer to comics or art books which feature characters from popular otaku properties, usually for pornographic purposes.
    It’s similar to Western fan-fiction, but with two big differences. First, the creators and audience are usually males, whereas most fan-fiction writers are female. Secondly, doujinshi are frequently sold at fan gatherings like Comic Markets. Unlike in the West, the creators of the original works and the large media companies that own them typically turn a blind eye to this blatant copyright infringement, because it helps drive sales, and because the idea of protecting one’s intellectual property by any means isn’t as deeply embedded in Japanese corporate culture.
    Doujinshi artists are also a pretty big deal in otaku culture. Many of the designers and animators working in the industry created doujinshi when they were first starting out, and becoming well-known in doujin circles can be a good way for aspiring artists to break into the industry. Many continue to create these even after turning pro. Probably the best known example of this is Yoshitaki ABe, character designer for Serial Experiments Lain, whose doujinshi Haibane Renmei was eventually turned into an antiotaku-approved anime.
  • Target Demographics – Particularly in the States, but even in Japan, anime tends to be liked across basic genre boundaries. However, manga and anime tend to be directed toward particular audiences.
    • shounen – Literally ‘boy’ or ‘young man.’ An inclusive term that can apply to anything from grade schoolers to high school seniors. Typical indicators that a show is shounen is that it has a male lead of high school age or younger, and involves sports and/or violence. The most popular shounen titles tend to go on forever, in both manga and anime form.
    • shoujo – Literally ‘girl.’ Most original magical girl shows fall into this category, as do high school romances where the emphasis is on the female lead. Some more action-oriented series are shoujo, typically the ones with a female lead and large numbers of bishounen (see bishounen). Bishounen are a feature of most shoujo works.
    • seinen – Shounen for ‘adults’ or at least people of college age or older. Such works might take the same stories and plotlines of shounen titles and age up the protagonists, but many seinen titles are also set in high school. These include male-oriented romances (especially harems) or moe shows (where a bunch of high school girls act cute while doing nothing of consequence). Upon learning that 20 and 30-year old otaku were consumers of magical girl shows, savvy producers also started making such shows directed specifically at this demographic.
    • josei – What seinen is to shounen, this is to shoujo. Most romance stories involving college students or adults are josei. However, unlike shoujo romances, josei often gives equal attention to the male leads. Josei works tend to have the best characterization and plotting of the four types–so long as the work isn’t BL (see Boys Love).
  • Boys Love – Vaguely English phrase used in Japan to describe any boy on boy romance aimed at girls. Also called ‘shounen ai’ in the West, which is the Japanese translation of the phrase (look, anime fangirls are weird). Frequently abbreviated ‘BL’. Any BL featuring sexual activity is usually called ‘yaoi’, especially in the West.
    You’ll notice I called it ‘boy on boy’ rather than ‘gay’. This is because most BL has about as much in common with actual homosexuality as your typical hardcore porn film has with a committed and healthy relationship.
  • bishoujo/bishounen – Beautiful girl/boy, although perhaps ‘pretty boy’ would be a better, if more colloquial translation for the latter. Japanese standards of beauty can vary (particularly in anime, where character designs are often directed to match particular fetishes), but in general, height, a slender build, long silken hair, and soft, feminine features are considered part of the bishoujo package, just as they are in America.
    Unlike in America, bishounens typically have the same features, build, and hair of their female counterparts. This may or may not have to do with the fact that long hair was expected of men as well as women in pre-modern Japanese culture, or with the fact that some Japanese men are just so damn effeminate. The strong prevalence of traps (see Trap) might also related to this trend.
  • ESPer – Generic term for someone with psychic powers. Although American in origin (Alfred Bester coined it from ESP), it is now used primarily on the other side of the Pacific. Despite the reference to “extra sensory perception,” ESPer is used for all those with psychic powers, not just those with telepathy, clairvoyance, etc.
  • fanservice – Generic term for pandering to the audience. While technically such “service” can come in a variety of forms, the vast majority of fanservice consists of presenting cast members in erotic or sexualized fashion for the purposes of titillation.
    Common forms of this type of fan service include animating girls in swimwear or other forms of  partial undress, bathing scenes, accidental flashes of underwear, or depicting nudity outright. Often the latter is censored in the TV broadcast, and then uncensored in the DVD releases to drive up sales.
    antiotaku does not like fanservice, but is willing to tolerate it in otherwise good shows (bear somewhat more than 3HM). It is also worth noting that many American shows also contain forms of fanservice in how they depict their female cast members, although few American shows go to the extremes of Japanese media.
  • hikkikomori – Another Japanese social issue primarily affecting young people (and male young people at that), hikkikomori are shut-ins, people incapable of dealing with the outside world. They tend to be young, either school aged or recently graduated but unable to find work or deal with the harsh realities of life in Japanese society.
    Most are NEETs, although some make money working jobs that don’t require them to leave their home. The rest are typically taken care of by their families.
    Welcome to the NHK!, which both of us count among our favorite anime, is a fairly realistic and brutal portrayal of a hikkikomori. From the western media, these stories are a good take on the subject.
  • mecha – The Japanese love their humanoid robots, so they show up everywhere in anime. Usually a human frame piloted by a person, they can range from human-sized to hundreds of feet tall, in genres ranging from serious social science fiction to absurd children’s cartoons about superpowers. The one thing they all have in common: when giant robots show up, something is probably gonna get stomped or shot.
  • moe – A slang term that has grown up in otaku culture, moe either refers to the fetishization of or attraction to anime and manga characters or, as a noun, the elements of a character that cause this attraction. Otaku culture being what it is, these elements are nearly always youthful and cutesy in nature. Preciousness is the highest of the feminine virtues for otaku.
  • NEET – Another English acronym used primarily by Japanese, ‘NEET” stands for ‘Not in Education, Employment or Training’. The stagnant Japanese economy of the last 10-20 years has left many young people unable to find work, stuck in a constant state of unemployment or underemployment and dependent on their parents for food and shelter. People with inadequate social skills, like most otaku, are much more likely to be a part of this “lost generation”. Because of this, NEETs show up quite often in both serious and silly anime, usually as aimless and alienated young male protagonists (in the former) or obscenely wealthy rich girls who don’t want to be around other people (in the latter).
  • OVA – ‘Original Video Animation’ (also seen as ‘Original Animated Video’ or ‘OAV’), an English acronym used by Japanese to describe direct-to-video anime releases. Direct-to-video isn’t as synonymous with ‘utter garbage’ in Japan as it is in the U.S.: in the 80s and 90s it was the breeding ground for a lot of edgy and creative work in both animation and live action. Some of the best Japanese films we’ve seen have been direct-to-video, and it’s given a lot of talented directors, from anime legends Shinkai Makoto and Satoshi Kon to live action critical darling Takashi Miike, their start.
  • trap – A male dressing and acting like a woman, or vice versa. The word itself is originates from Western Internet culture, as derogatory slang for a transvestite or transgendered person. These are everywhere in anime and manga, usually as comic relief. If biologically male, the person is typically either portrayed as a lovably effeminate campy gay freak show or a boy who “just likes cute things.” Biological females are usually trying to get ahead in a man’s world, especially if the show involves punching things or hitting them with a sword.
    Note that the person is always treated (and almost-always self-identifies) as their biological sex. Japan in general is much more conservative than the Western world regarding issues of gender identity, and otaku culture is no exception.
  • tsundere – A person who is initially hostile towards affection, but has a hidden side that is warmer and softer. Both the hostility and affection is often directed at the main male character, since he is the sole permissible target of female affection. The word comes from ‘tsun tsun’, which refers to disgust, and ‘dere dere’, which refers to loving affection.

    Being a tsundere is a common moe trait in anime characters, almost to the point of ubiquity these days. Honestly, though, it’s preferable to the fawning buckets of goopy adorableness moe was originally associated with.

  • Valentine’s Day/White Day – In Japan, Valentine’s Day is not just a romantic holiday, but entails very specific obligations on the part of women, who are expected to give chocolates to the men in their lives. They are differing “types” of chocolates, ranging from those given to friends, family, or classmates to those given to a boyfriend/wife/desired romantic partner. Tsundere-type characters will often try to pretend that the latter are really the former.
    Valentine’s Day has a male parallel in White Day, scheduled a month later on March 14. Men are not restricted to just giving chocolate, but typically their gift is expected to be more expensive than the one they received. White Day is rarely if ever depicted in anime, as unrequited crushes and professions of love are things that flow to the generic male protagonist, not from him.
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