November 9, 2015

MANGA MONDAYS | Remember When 4-Chan Made a Visual Novel?

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I’m not going to lie; a large part of my motivation for this post is to get people to play Katawa Shoujo. With good reason, I’d like to add. It’s an amazing visual novel, so go play it. Like, actually. Here’s the download link, now go play this game. I could continue to explain how amazing Katawa Shoujo is, but I’d rather you find out for yourselves. What I want to do instead is consider a question that works like Katawa Shoujo should cause otaku outside of Japan to ask themselves: What exactly is it that our fandom is structured around?

On the surface, the answer is pretty clear, right? “Otaku” generally refers to fans of Japanese media, whether that be anime, manga, games or some combination thereof. More specifically, I want to stress that there are quite a few otaku out there who are quite enamored with the idea of Japan as a whole (“weeaboos,” if you prefer that term). The upshot of this is a large group of people who like a lot of things just because it was produced in Japan. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with this attitude – it’s a perfectly reasonable reason to be interested in something. For instance, my main motivation for listening to Japanese music is just practice the language (and it’s a nice benefit that I happen to like a lot of it).

Katawa Shoujo Concept Art | Photo Courtesy of Four Leaf Studios

Katawa Shoujo Concept Art | Photo Courtesy of Four Leaf Studios

However, how do we consider works like Katawa Shoujo that work their way into the so-called “otaku fandom” even though they weren’t produced in Japan? Katawa Shoujo was essentially produced by a group of people via 4-Chan’s /a/ board, based off of a single sketch. (This is the short version of the story. Read more here.)

A similar example is the popular show Avatar. On the surface, it could easily be a well dubbed anime. This similarity is reinforced by the fact that lots of streaming sites (at least those of questionable legality) have it listed alongside other anime. However, it was undeniably produced in the West. Another very similar example here is RWBY, produced by Rooster Teeth.

The origin of these shows (or this game, in Katawa Shoujo’s case) might seem like a silly thing to discuss. Yet I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen someone mention Avatar as one of their favorite anime and then be told quite vehemently that it isn’t an anime.

Nevertheless, works like Katawa Shoujo, Avatar and RWBY enjoy quite a bit of popularity. Thus, my fundamental point here isn’t that there’s something right or wrong with works from places other than Japan being important parts of the otaku fandom. Quite the contrary, in fact. What I want to suggest instead is that there’s quite a bit more to “otaku” than just being fans of Japanese pop culture. More likely, there are a variety of art forms, styles and themes that appeal to us. I can’t put my finger on what those things might be in particular, but I’m curious to hear what everyone else thinks they might be.

Michael Mauer is a sophomore in the college of Arts and Sciences majoring in Computer Science. His favorite anime is Neon Genesis Evangelion and he never leaves home without his Homura Akemi necklace. He can be reached at [email protected]. Alternatively, just hunt him down on Facebook or Google+.