Created in 1970, the term “otaku” was used to refer to someone who liked and was passionate about popular culture.
Throughout the years, the true meaning for the word has never been definite; ongoing media and cultural trends have shaped the term’s perception over time.
Osamu Tezuka, known as the godfather of anime in Japan, created classics such as Astro Boy that drew wide fanbases.
The boom of anime began after the economic bubble burst in the late 1980s. As the manga and anime industries grew, the fandom searched for ways to connect with the masses.
From 1988 to 1989, media coverage surrounding a convicted murderer highlighted his participation in fanzines and conventions, giving the term otaku a dark connotation.
Even as the case faded from the spotlight, the negative stigma continues to plague the word otaku. Today, after years of evolution, the term has come to refer to “not just fans, but connoisseurs, critics and authors themselves”. This blurring of the distinction between producer and consumer is another characteristic of the otaku.
(This feature first appeared on WAttention Singapore magazine, May/Jun 2018 Vol. 44)