Obsession and Otaku

by Steve Watson in February 2010
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We’ve posted about Otaku before. A Romanian magazine dedicated to ‘otaku’, the Japanese word for people with obsessive interests, it’s a weird and wonderful collection of pictures, stories and ideas taken from Japan, the USA, Eastern Europe and beyond.

Each issue follows a different theme (recent issues have included ‘Play’ and ‘The End of the World’) and covers gaming, manga, art and other niches of entertainment. Oh, and its editor-in-chief goes by the name of Megatron. We gave him a call.

What is Otaku? And how does it relate to the Japanese meaning of the word?
The idea of otaku has a lot of meaning in Japanese pop culture and it’s important to link it here in Romania with other older sub-cultures, for example the sci-fi fandom, people who collect LEGO and other fringe groups. Those groups include people who have a certain passion for something, a certain interest for some area and who could take it to new heights and start collecting and exchanging ideas. So we shouldn’t apply otaku in a narrow sense, to only gamers or people who follow Japanese pop culture or films. It can go well beyond that.

The content is very international. Does that mean your readers are as well?
That’s a good question, because over time we’ve actually switched to English to open ourselves to other readers, not only those in Romania. People are becoming more and more fluent in English here, but when we launched the last issue we had a special launch event and we found that a lot of our readers come from outside Romania. They come from the US and Germany for example. A bigger proportion come from outside Romania than inside, and at this point Romania represents a small portion of the readership.

It must be difficult to reach those international readers from Romania. Why do you choose to do it with a paper magazine?
Distribution is always a problem, especially in Romania. It’s very controlled here – the big glossy magazines take up the first rows and that’s it, so we distribute more through smaller book outlets and events.

Why is it on paper? I think it’s because of the content that it’s on paper. It’s paradoxical because everything [in otaku culture] is online, but there’s still a need or a fetish for paper, for a small thing that’s pocket sized that you can carry around and always come back to. Otaku is more of an index. A way to get in touch with new things that are being reviewed or discussed in this community.

That’s a long index! Has Otaku broadened its horizons over time?
It has incorporated other areas. For example, the Play issue was a big step in that direction because it united the whole 8-bit movement. Artists from all over the world are working to open up this gaming culture into other directions, and it was important for us to focus on that work and the links coming out from the gaming community, which can be quite restrictive.

Otaku maturing over time has been a continuous concern. For example, we’ve tried to keep the manga section open to other things. The End of the World issue featured a lot of scenarios which were taking place in the future of now, keeping it as linked to the present as possible. Keeping that section open to ideas is a growing concern and you can see that in the last few issues.

So where is Otaku going next?
Well, I’m also curious about that. The next theme is ‘Sin’ and I think the magazine will metamorphose one more time. It will take longer to create than before, it will be thicker than before with more content, and we’re just starting to see what is there to be gathered.

Contributors have been very interested in the Sins theme because it’s about the culture of feeling guilty, and it’s important to think how otaku culture relates to guilt.  A lot of people who have grown up in this culture feel guilty, in one sense or another, because they indulge in a hedonistic dream or escapism. I think it will be interesting to see how people get over their guilt.

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