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Book Review: Otaku Spaces by Patrick W. Galbraith and Androniki Christodoulou

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My husband, who is first-generation Japenese-American, used to watch a lot of anime, and I went through a phase of watching quite a bit, too. I thought we were pretty dedicated fans in the late 90s through around 2002 or so. But we never came close to the otaku featured in Otaku Spaces,

Otaku are extremely dedicated fans, usually of anime and manga. Otaku in Japan are often real fanatics, spending hours in their rooms playing games, watching anime and spending enormous sums of money on figurines, hug pillows, costumes for cosplay (dressing up as favorite characters,) and other merchandise associated with the two-dimensional objects of their affection.

Many Japanese adults between 20 and 35 are still single. In fact, according to Otaku Spaces,about half of Japanese males in this age group are not married or in a relationship. Many still live at home with their parents and sometimes grandparents. One of the otaku interviewed actually lives in a closet in his parents’ room, with barely room for a bed among the hundreds of figurines,books and games!They have few living expenses and limited social life, so they have a great deal of money for their hobbies. Often, they have replaced romantic relationships in the real world with “dating simulation” games and intense crushes on fictional characters.

In the book, Galbraith interviews a variety of otaku,from artists to models to office workers and even a kick-boxing champion. The thing they have in common is their devotion to their hobbies. Many even work in some capacity that caters to their fellow fans and collectors.

An underlying topic of the book is the way that media is shaping public space, not only the beautifully photographed,crowded rooms of the interview subjects, but whole neighborhoods in Japan, such as Akihabara, which are devoted entirely to otaku culture. There are “maid cafes,” where cute girls dress up as maids and serve the customers while cosplaying. There are also festivals and cosplaying events in the streets.

This fascinating book not only looks at the inner world of the otaku culture and their amazing spaces, but also sheds a great deal of light on contemporary Japanese culture.

My only quibble with the book is its flimsy construction. For such a large, elaborately illustrated book, it is basically as sturdy as a paperback, unwieldy to handle and not really made to take a lot of handling.

Despite that drawback, it is an absorbing, enjoyable book for any fan of Japanese animation(anime), graphic novels (manga), or Japanese culture in general.

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About Rhetta Akamatsu

I am an author of non-fiction books and an online journalist. My books include Haunted Marietta, The Irish Slaves, T'ain't Nobody's Business If I Do: Blues Women Past and Present, and Sex Sells: Women in Photography and Film.