Reviewed by: Joe
Released by: University of Minnesota Press
Publishing Country: USA
Author: Hiroki Azuma
Age Rating: N/A
Page Count: 144
Hiroki Azuma's Otaku offers a critical, philosophical, and historical inquiry into the characteristics and consequences of this consumer subculture. For Azuma, one of Japan's leading public intellectuals, otaku culture mirrors the transformations of postwar Japanese society and the nature of human behavior in the postmodern era. A vital non-Western intervention in postmodern culture and theory, Otaku is also a perceptive account of Japanese popular culture.
"Abandon every preconception, all ye who enter! In this mind-boggling book on Japan's postmodernity, Hiroki Azuma conjures the ghost of the famous post-Hegelian Kojève, whose theory gets revived and even 'animated' here to reinterpret the anime-saturated realism that dominates our global Japanized reality studio. No one has more tactfully intertwined post-Derridean philosophy with Otaku-centric subculture studies than Azuma."-Takayuki Tatsumi
"This is one of a truly seminal set of works attempting to theorize the form of social being that we now call the otaku. One can see in this book a set of conditions ("postmodern" really isn't adequate)-including structures of desire, production, consumption, and a return to animal philosophy-that are specific to Japan, but increasingly relevant to us all." -Thomas Looser
Upon hearing about this book, I must admit I was intrigued. The title doesn't really give away much. It does not have anything to do with SQL.
The books is an exploration of otaku culture. It features a brief history of otaku culture, along with some interesting details that you won't find elsewhere, such as before Akihabara otaku used to identify the horizon of the Cho Line as the heartland of fandom.
The book was originally written for a Japanese audience, and sold very well with over 16 printings and more than 63,000 copies by March 2008. It's more literal translation is "Animalizing Postmodernity: Japanese Society Seen through Otaku", which gives a better idea about what the book is about, but it isn't exactly catchy, so you can understand them shortening the title for translation.
The book is a great example of the long tail principle. It's a Japanese postmodern writer's take on otaku culture. I assume its primary audience are those interested in philosophy and postmodernism. It frequently overlaps the areas of otaku culture and the postmodern, as a result to get the full understanding of it, you'll need to be familiar with the works of both Hideki Anno and Jean-François Lyotard.
The first thing that hits you with this book is the style of writing. It's written in what I would class in a postmodern way. I'm uncertain if it's the translation or the original source that made it like this. If you're not used to reading books written in this style, it does make it harder to read and more inaccessible. As I don't frequently read books written like this it did take me a while to get used to the style of writing. The book could be made more concise and clearer to read.
Azuma is a self confessed otaku and it's clear he does know what he's talking about when reading the book.
The book cites a wide range of titles, often with spoilers (watch out if you're reading the book and haven't seen Nadesico, Evangelion, Saber Marionette J or Megazone 23).
It also has an interesting chapter on dating sims, and even covers the lengths some fans will go to dissemble the game.
The book does have noticeable let downs, the varying quality of the images used in the book can be a bit distracting. It includes some very high resolution examples of some artwork, such as Takashi Murakami's work, and on other pages it has some very low res pixely images of anime characters, you can even seen JPEG artifacting in some cases, as if they've just nabbed the images off any old website. It would have been nice if they could have gone to the publishers and got permission to use the images, sourcing better resolution copies. There's also a diagram in chapter 2 (figure 16, The transition from modernity to postmodernity), with an X axis, but an unlabelled Y axis, which makes it a bit confusing, if not meaningless.
The book has a lot of interesting observations such as how current otaku culture is moved away from the grand narrative and have instead progressed towards a database narrative.
As a fan of anime and manga there are some interesting points you'll discover when reading this book and some interesting concepts are explored. Depending on your grasp of fandom it might be new perspectives, or if you're already familiar with the ideas, it might be refreshing to see a different take on the subject.
Whether you'll enjoy reading this book or not depends on how you feel about postmodern writing. If you enjoy reading postmodern works you'll probably enjoy this. However if you don't enjoy reading postmodern works I recommend you stay clear of this book.
If you haven't read any postmodern writing before this could be a good introduction to the subject and style. It'll help you decide if you find the works intellectually stimulating, or just confusing, vague and sophistic (now that's not a word I get to use in a regular review). Postmodern writing often has a polarising effect, you'll either love it or hate it.