Miniskirted Miko – Knife in the Heart of Moe?

Whether or not a deathblow can be deemed victorious, it doesn’t feel as good to be on the receiving end.

LINK-UP Inc., the parent company responsible for @home cafe, @home sabo (tearoom), @home Hana, and most recently Miko-san Cafe, more or less invented what is know as the “entertainment-kei” variety of maids and moe. They opened @home cafe three years ago with the intent of bringing a new type of “idol-maid” to patrons who were perhaps in need of something more to worship. In effect, pairing the rather ambiguous maid character with a singing and dancing short-skirted idol created a new precedent in the industry, and pretty soon everyone was trying to hop onto the bandwagon. The barrier between maid and customer began to erode, performance and exhibition became seen as part and parcel of the job, and the already suspicious general public actually began to suspect something more than tea and cakes. That something more has been theorized many different ways, but the effects of this merger more or less defined if not redefined the one-word mantra for a generation of Akiba geeks: moe. (Pronounced “mo-ay.”)

This brings into question what is moe – or in the case of LINK-UP, which parts of moe are the most profitable?

“Moe” is a part of Japanese slang, a double entendre pronounced “burning” but written with a character that means “sprouting” or “growing.” It can be both an adjective or a noun, even a verb at times, and is perhaps best translated into English as “passion.” A non-otaku Japanese associate speaking to a salary man once explained, “Moe is when guys look at young girls and getting excited – the same way girls get excited when they see Mickey (Mouse).” His statement beautifully articulates the ideal “sexlessness” of Utopian moe. However, as @home boasts at least 40% female patronage, and many of their female clientèle are regulars, the gender exclusion in his statement is perhaps a bit of a misunderstanding. Even before @home, it’s safe to say that moe captured a sense of nostalgia and appreciation for youth, beauty and all things “cute.” Because after @home, things started to change.

Though not always and for everyone, idols remain to be sex symbols at some level. The idea of openly mixing the images “maids” and “idols” leads to a definite conclusion – supported with the various photos, hand-drawn art, and various goods (such as beach towels and body pillows) emblazoned with maids’ images. That is, the sex appeal of the maid image can be materialized commercially, while still contained within the safe and friendly container of a moe-cafe. This is pretty much what LINK-UP has accomplished, and as sex is a more basic human interest than moe, more and more maid-related businesses are taking this angle in both Akihabara and beyond.

In recent times, LINK-UP has worked towards ever more aggressively towards their brand of moe-capitalism. Their most recent venture into moe enterprise is Miko Cafe. Miko means “shrine maiden” – the girls dressed in red and white at Shinto shrines. In recent times, they have become something of stock characters in popular literature – perhaps most recently in the anime series Lucky Star, in which two sisters dress as miko to help out at the temple every New Year’s holiday. However, as most things LINK-UP, these girls are miko with a twist, namely: short skirts and microphones.

Miko Cafe takes up two floors of a predominant Chuo Dori building, which isn’t saying much considering floor size; however, the top floor is reserved for song and dance performances by the miko (currently once a day weekdays, multiple times weekends and holidays). The lower floor is run sort of like a cafe, with a 1000 yen seating charge. They give cute greetings when you enter and leave, such as, “We welcome your worship at Magokoro Shrine,” and “We hope your dreams come true.” They “pray” over your food before you eat it as well, emulating @home’s patented “ai-kome” or “love infusion” magic spells seen in LINK-UP’s other venues. Performances are given at a set time at an additional price.

@home certainly garners a substantial number of regulars who fork out for special services, but by and large their clientèle could be described as tourists. It’s this author’s opinion that Miko Cafe, with set performance times, will be even more popular with casual curiosity seekers yearning to gawk at otakudom. The most regrettable part of this venture is the substantial departure from most things otaku and moe, making Miko Cafe just another cog in commercial entertainment at the expense of the girls working there.

Tokyo Toy Show 2008

Pictures are worth a thousand words – particularly when it comes to toys. This year’s International Tokyo Toy Show seemed even more packed than last year’s, which boasted over 100,000 attendants. With free admission, it would seem difficult to keep track of actual individuals entering, even more so since most visitors were barely visible and clinging to their mothers. However, the long winding lines which snaked through the convention hall at most every entrance, exit, and elevator are the measure I’ll go by. Even the pouring rain, which persisted all day, did nothing to detour crowds.

Kaiyodo had a very powerful display, unveiling a new Fist of the North Star figure series, Hellsing series, and Yotsuba& figures among others, as well as displaying an array of current Revoltech figures.

The Fist of the North Star series had one particularly interesting figure, which at a glance looks as any other, but “unfolds” down the middle to create a “post-Ken” scene. For those who don’t know, the protagonist of the series unleashes a fury of rapid assaults upon his enemy, after which they have a good laugh at his lack of skill before exploding. The “Exploding Jeed” figure utilizes Revoltech’s patented joint system to suspend the anonymous villain’s segmented torso, exposed vertebra, and intestines in an awesomely gory pose. Unfortunately, due to the large number of small children in attendance, this figure wasn’t on display. However, various Alucard figures set for release this September nonetheless added a subtle element of the macabre.

On the sunnier side of things, Yotsuba was posed in full summer action alongside a new Fuka figure. The catalog details that though the school uniform clad Fuka is permanently sold out, both bikini and T-shirt fashion editions are underway. The isle of IDOLM@STER Frauliens was a bit disturbing, but August’s “Bandaged Rei” shone in the distance as a ray of hope – as the Fraulien series’ last eight (out of 11 total) figures have been from the idol-manager simulation game.

Tamiya had a cool new series of build-it-yourself robot kits, with acrylic plates to look like various insects and animals. Two different locations in the Tamiya area where kids could battle the robots sumo style were packed; even a a few parents jumped in when their kid was losing. Tamiya was also promoting a new series of slot-style RC cars, including a “Special Pink” color variant, perhaps in an attempt to draw more girls into the sport. An elaborate race track graced the front of their display, where swarms of kids raced and watched with parents. However, both fell short of Lego and Daiya’s huge interactive building-block areas areas.

In promotion of the new American motion picture adaption of the classic Japanese animation Speed Racer, Hot Wheels (now celebrating its 40th Anniversary) is remaking most of its original Speed Racer modeled series. Their display included a child-size mock-up of the Mach 5, and allowed kids to have commemorative photos wearing smaller versions of Speed’s signature helmet. After learning that adults could not similarly enjoy such fantasies save for accompanying some small child, this author was on the brink of throwing a tantrum.

However, Hot Wheels wasn’t alone in hocking movie wares. In a strange series of events, the BB gun manufacturer Marushin made a six-shooter Mateba inspired piece based on Ghost in the Shell character Togusa’s favorite gun. As an accessory option, it offers six individual shells which can be loaded into the gun, each holding a single BB. It also comes with a cell phone strap replicating the tracking bullet Togusa fires while in pursuit of the the Puppet Master. The gun commemorates Mamoro Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell 2.0, a remastered edition of the original 1995 movie with additional computer animated graphics and newly recorded Dolby 6.1 soundtrack. The movie will be released in five select theaters next month in order to promote Oshii’s newest work Sky Crawlers, which opens in theaters August 2.

Bandai had a huge area, housing many cool things, including a giant Ultraman statue made of smaller Ultraman figures, new Tamashi Nation figures, girls dressed as opposing Gundam factions battling it out with Beam Sabers, new capsule toys… just a lot of cool things. The line itself just to walk through the Bandai area was incredible – spanning the length of the convention hall twice before slowly coiling inward, though overall fast moving.

One of the more interesting items on display was “Kaiju Mansion” – something of a designer vinyl series recreating classic movie monsters in art deco inspired casts. Nearby, sat a collection of the huge product line accompanying Evangelion series spin-off game Puchi Eva.

In the capsule toy section, it was surprising to learn that older animated series such as Ruroni Kenshin, Ranma1/2, and Urusei Yatsura would be represented in September’s line-up. Indeed, artist Rumiko Takahashi’s characters seem to have their own series. Weekly manga publication Shonen Jump, in commemoration of its 40th anniversary, will release a series of metal pins with mini magazine covers. And, on the weirder side of things, Bandai also has something called “Toilet Monsters” which will enjoy a capsule toy incarnation this fall.

As always, there are many things to look forward to, including next year’s show.  It was definitely worth riding my bike in the freezing rain.  If anything, I’d try to bring along someone’s child next year so as to fit in and participate in more of the activities.

Antiques: Remembering it for You Wholesale

The charm of a well preserved treasure is ageless. Be it a Ming vase, a grandmother’s jewels, your dad’s first teddy bear, or a Spiderman issue 1 first edition comic, the nostalgic appeal of these relics creates even greater a treasure when you yourself can hold it firsthand. Whether or not the individual owner has significant or personal memories attached, the mythic appeal of an “antique” or “vintage” item creates in itself a vast library of historical fiction, infused with an array of commercial and social repercussions. That is, regardless of the names, dates, and intriguing ethnicities associated with such objects, one thing is certain: the price.

The Doll World Festival provided ample evidence for such a hypothesis. Many dealers exhibited vast collections of German dolls and dresses, including reproductions. Scratched faces and yellowed clothes reeking of mothballs sat immersed in mountains of antique fabrics and lace. Century-old stuffed toys weathered and near rotting perched precariously at tables ledges. Buttons of various styles, chipped and tarnished, lay in carefully measured portions. Small plates, spoons, unidentifiable metalworks, and other knickknacks provided ample yet garish accents. And books, detailing most every angle on the subject, were also set at antique prices.

Though the festival itself did not solely consist of such treasures, this was indeed the majority of the event space and boasted a good share of the patrons. Some, though they collected antique dolls or teddy bears, had dressed their product up in a closet of colorful kimono, reminiscent of children’s holidays, creating something of a classical (if not hallmark) Japanese twist on the formerly exclusive European tradition.

However, Japanese antique dolls and replicas, though small in number, made a very large display. One corner of the event featured remakes of Edo Period mechanical-style wooden dolls and toys, including the somewhat notorious “tea serving” robot-like dolls: a doll’s head, hands, and feet framing a kimono robe that masks an ensemble of wooden gears. Two elderly gentleman in craftsman’s garb gave display of their creations, one giving presentations while the other carved away. Another booth had life-sized Japanese style wooden dolls, which though elegant were also creepy and slightly intimidating. No one gathered at that particular table.

The dealer with the biggest area, and incidentally the one most out of place, was Korean ball-joint doll manufacturer Blue Fairy. Many limited edition ball joint dolls were on display, attracting large groups of patrons to indulge in limitless photo sessions, clogging a good portion of the venue. Upon my approach, one of the Blue Fairy clerks was desperately trying to locate “Ticket holder number 5″ to no avail. Apparently, the limited edition dolls were for sale by lottery, a practice commonly employed by Volks. However, none of the onlookers gathered before the table displayed the least interest in the lottery. They continued snapping photos, one by one denying involvement in the event as they were individually questioned as to whether or not they had a ticket by the staff. In addition to the only area housing poly-resin ball joint dolls, this area was very conspicuously the only place where people were openly wielding cameras, and they did so quite aggressively.

Though this event seemed by and large overrated, it was thankfully free of charge. On the other hand, there is admittedly something I don’t understand about collecting smelly yellow 30,000 yen swatches of “antique lace.” The market of memories isn’t yet something in which I trade – yet, as works of art most of the pieces were amazing.

For more photos: http://www32.ocn.ne.jp/~japandollworld/08list.html

***

In an aside, my favorite dealer went by the name Sachie. O. Though she doesn’t have a website, all of her dolls are white anthropomorphic variations. Wooden and hand carved, most seemed to be ball-jointed. All of those on display stood about 15-20 cm in height, and were beautifully painted.

Sweating Until August

Kaiyodo is releasing two awesome figures this August.

One: Yotsuba& Revoltech DX Summer Vacation Set

The first Yotsuba& figure was released in Fall of 2007. It also marked the first in Kaiyodo’s Revoltech series, which pairs master sculpts with a unique joint system that allows natural looking super-possibility. The Revoltech series has since expanded into various lines, but here she is again – coming back to where it all began. As opposed to interchanging heads, this Yotsuba will instead come with a total of four interchangeable faces, a new development for the Revoltech line. She will also come with a plethora of accessories, viewable in most detail at amazon.com.

Looking at the Kaiyodo page, it seems like an Ena figure is also in development… Hopefully it won’t befall the same fate as Fuuka, which had a day-one sellout at every figure shop I visited in Akihabara. But I’ve learned my lesson: If you’re serious, pre-order.

Two: Fraulen Revoltech Ayanami Rei Bandaged Edition

The Fraulein (German for maiden) series started on January 1 of this year, and has made one new release on the first of every subsequent month. Combining the Revoltech joint system with a series of further improvements with female figures in mind, (like shoulder joints hidden in the bodice for more delicate arm movements and legs cut more obtuse at the hip to create a more natural bikini line) the Fraulein sculpt is simply breathtaking. Like the Yotsuba& series, Fraulein are also sculpted by Enoki Tomohide.

The first of this series was Ayanami Rei, and though it took a while, she had sold out for good by mid-March. Many times passing by the Kaiyudo shop windows in Radio Kaikan, I could see a sign that read something like, “No, we don’t know when Rei will be back in stock. No, we cannot take pre-orders. No, we don’t know anything.” At one point, I believe one of the many Rei’s in the display case chidingly held up the sign for customers to see. Talk about tear-jerking…

However, now after three months of figures from the IDOLM@STER game series, just when I thought Fraulein was done for, Rei has resurfaced. Decorated with bandages from the scarring life of EVA test-piloting, it doesn’t seem as sleek as the original, but still pretty cool, with perhaps a medical fetish edge. In addition to this new figure, a re-release of the original Ayanami Rei will also begin in August – yet another full circle.

Echo World – A Remembrance of Things Past

One of the miniature scenes above boasts “2mm cuts of salmon on a 1cm low-sitting table.” However, when compared to the one-yen coin sitting beside it, the reality of those sizes is likely to be much smaller. This is just one of the many extremely small re-creations which are currently on display as part of the “World of Echo Models” exhibit, which also features Showa Era photos, in addition to domestic, bucolic, urban, and suburban scenes, many prominently featuring contemporary vehicles and electronics.

Echo Models, established 35 years ago, has long toiled over making accurate and “heartwarming” Showa Era reproductions. The current collection, constructed by a handful of artisans, does its best to depict what is fondly remembered as Japan’s modern “Golden Age” in 1/80 scale. Fields of rice, trains rolling along tracks cut through the countryside, prominent stations in Tokyo, residential blocks, city streets, and a student’s small “6 tatami mat” sized room were just some of the many themes represented. The amount of detail and time that went into each piece was stunning – even portions of the model obscured from view do to buildings, windows, people, or other obstacles were earnestly depicted, viewable only through good balance and esoteric body movements.

Islands in the middle of the exhibit hall pointed out the finer details of model construction. For the most part, all models were constructed and painted in ways that mirrored larger plastic models, such as Gundams, the major difference being size in relation to the scale of the model. Tiny parts like teakettles were forked out on something like a plastic tree – actually incorporated into the plastic mold. Given that this setup exposes the most surface area while still keeping the object poised in suspension, it provides the perfect environment for painting model parts, which dry in the same fashion. After the parts are dry, they are then carefully removed from the “tree” base. Other parts, such as those for bicycles and other machinery, came suspended in very thin frames of plastic. They were colored similarly before assembly, though it’s important to remember (anyone who’s made a plastic model would attest to this) that smoothly removing objects from their frame is key to making a realistic depiction. This proves ever more difficult when the objects are rounded at the point of removal, or if the point of removal will expose a visible area, and thus must be painted smoothly in order to conceal the underlying plastics.

It wasn’t surprising to see products from companies such as Tamiya in the gift shop. Tamiya apparently has a special line of flat acrylic paints for such models, in addition to various types of greenery and textured bases. Some of the gift shop items included miniature Showa models made exclusively for the Maruzen exhibit, ranging from 30,000 – 180,000 yen, with optional Tamiya display cases. A huge collection of Showa Era books, including photo collections, period novels, and old maps among many others, drew in a lot of people. There even seemed to be more visitors in that section than the rest of the exhibit hall at most times.

Surprisingly, or otherwise, more than half of the visitors there seemed too young to have known the Showa Era. Though it actually lasted about 63 years, from 1926-1989, and includes WWII, the Showa that lingers in people’s hearts and minds started after the American occupation, in about 1954. This is also the time referred to as the “Japanese Miracle,” during which time Japan re-built itself both politically and economically through the help of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry. This miniature exhibit is certainly not the only homage paid to Showa, of which airs are also recreated in small theme parks and restaurants around Tokyo.

Writer and scholar Jordan Sand attributes these predilections for Showa to a lost sense of self, as most Tokyo-ites are not local and lack the nostalgia generated from personal and family history. Thus, a false sense of nostalgia is generated through this same capitalist structure, which in fact caused their displacement in most cases, in order to appease an innate human desire for belonging and stability. This is arguably recreated through other outlets as well – such as obsessions with branded goods, and play-like domestic spheres created in maid cafes. However, no matter what the generation, the mere mention of the Golden Days of Showa almost always strikes the same brand of nostalgic appeal.

The exhibit is currently being held at the Marunouchi branch of Maruzen, located near Tokyo Station, and will last through the 12th; admission is free.  Promotional materials from the encourage you to have a “Gulliver moment” as you browse through the 1/80 scale Showa world.

Akihabara Bloodbath – Estranged Killer? Otaku Connection?

Yesterday, around 12:30pm, tragedy hit Akihabara. 25 year old Kato Tomohiro drove a 2-ton rental van into Walker’s Paradise, hitting three people. He then left the vehicle wielding a survival knife, and indiscriminately mowed down pedestrians as he ran south down the vehicle free street. Fifteen victims later, a police officer was able to corner him in an alley and disarm him. For the next five hours, the entire street was taped off and lined with emergency vehicles as rescue workers attempted to save lives and stations of investigative teams worked quickly to gather evidence and eye witness accounts. At the end of the day, seven people were pronounced dead while ten were in stable condition.

Initial reports quoted Kato as saying he did it because he was “sick of life;” however today’s reports have changed to the more elaborate, “I came to Akihabara to kill people. The world at large has become intolerable. Anyone would do.” Though police are still questioning Kato in regard to motive, no further statements are available. Today’s news was also peppered with even more amateur camera and video work. Indeed, Kato chose the perfect place to make a very high-impact crime.

Many have jumped at the opportunity to make wild otaku-based accusations and assumptions. For example, in less than 24 hours it was outed that he was leaving English scrawlings in a JHS yearbook – er, rather, he was in tennis club… Which is to say that he made a sketch of a Tales of Destiny video game character in a friend’s yearbook. Clearly this underlines the fact that the perpetrator has undeniable links to Akihabara and the unpredictable otaku freaks that populate the area.

Yahoo! News Japan mistakenly reported that the event was alluded to in a May 27 2ch BBS posting. The post, which predicted that a tragedy involving a “Ninja-guised knife-wielding perv” would befall Akihabara on June 5 turned out to be nothing but a rant about the Xbox360 release of Ninja Gaiden 2. Though Yahoo! pulled it’s initial article, other news agencies picked up on the thread and have, by now, created yet another meme incriminating otaku and 2ch. Other news sources are saying that Kato had “been to Akihabara many times.”

At first glance Kato bears an uncanny resemblance to actor Ito Atsushi, who played Densha Otoko in a televised drama of the same name; however, it may be safe to say that the similarities stop there.

Though police officers now line the streets, quickly disbursing crowds and attempting to stop performances, Akihabara is still a haven for otaku, cosplayers, computer buffs, gamers, misfits, and even the occasional high profile panty-flasher. An associate once wrote, “they are perpetually broke, and perpetually happy,” speaking of two interviewees who frequent Electric Town and its various maid cafes. Sundays are an especially festive day when the main street in front of JR Akihabara Station’s Electric Town Exit is blocked off to traffic, creating a “Walker’s Paradise.” Markedly less than in times past, cosplayers and performers still gather in the vehicle free zone, while cameramen compete for cool points getting extreme angles with massive zoom lenses. Though there are some shops and services of questionable reputation, there are probably some where ever you’re reading this article. Akihabara is no more a place for pervs than anywhere else.

Incidents like this in Japan are extremely rare, and as a result, whenever they happen both the media and the general public tend to get a little crazy.  As in most developed nations, Japanese society tends to blame youth, video games, and pop culture in response to greater social woes.  Given that this event happened in Akihabara, the propensity to develop such connections is even greater.  However, the notion that an otaku would choose Akihabara for a stabbing spree is equivalent to an Islamic-extremist choosing the city of Mecca for a suicide bombing.  Indeed, it’s totally ridiculous.

Anyone who had an affinity for the “Akiba” portrayed in the media would have alternatively mowed through pedestrians coming out of the Showa Dori side of the station, where large corporate entities are displacing smaller local shops and two huge new buildings are vying to attract fashionable female consumers. Many argue that these are the forces cracking down on cosplayers and street performers, calling for a “cleaning up” of the district on their own terms. Indeed, some have already predicted that Sunday’s incident, in combination with the ongoing panty-flashing fiasco, may put an end to Walker’s Paradise. Thankfully – or otherwise – all of the corporate money now flowing into Akihabara will protect both the town’s reputation and the otaku image to some extent, as both tourists and consumers will have to be ensured that the area is still a “cool” place to visit in order to maximize profits.

This event is truly horrible, and will undoubtedly shake the community for some time, though it’s difficult to say how things will fall into place in the end. In memory of the victims, some people have begun leaving flowers in front of electronics retailer Sofmap, where the violent escapade began.

**Update: June 10

Today, Sofmap has erected a tent in memory of the victims, and for people to leave flowers and other items for the deceased.  The company president made an appearance before the store to give a speech, where the terrible chain of events began.  All Sofmap shops in Akihabara have lowered their background music, turned off demo-displays, and at least one event has been canceled.  Employees will also not be openly soliciting customers in the standard “barking” fashion in what seems to be a day of relative silence in response to Sunday’s tragedy.

Cheers for American “Maids”

Though the actual occurrence of a foreign – let alone American – maid is quite rare, Maid Cafe and Dinning (sic) operation Honey Honey based in Yokohama is opening up a new style of theme venue in early July.

The sister store, called “American Dinning Cheers” will pair “a bright, casual-American style atmosphere” with “cute, cheerleader-inspired uniforms.” It will be located in a prime spot, right across from JR Kawasaki Station. Management is currently recruiting staff for the grand opening, but no more details have been released.

Since the invention of the maid cafe, many similar “spin-off” venues have come to the foreground, but this is perhaps the first American inspired moe diner. No word yet if Cheers will be filmed before a live studio audience.

Summer Anime 2008

The Summer Anime 2008 page is in its first draft stage.  Of course, networks are still announcing time slots, and many details are still unsettled.  There’s a slim chance that some new titles will even be added. The page will be constantly updated until the first week of July.

This Month in Toys

This is just a small collection of some the bigger events going down in Tokyo this month. Bastu and Maru will of course be getting coverage, but if anyone happens to be in the Tokyo area I strongly encourage you to go. These events are usually a lot of fun, even if you’re not buying.

***

What: 18th Tokyo Toy Festival

When: Sunday, June 8, 2008; 10am-5pm

Where: Tokyo Big Sight

Cost: 1000 yen

Link (Japanese): but with awesome video… http://www.toyfes.jp/

I think the video says it all. This is a huge flea market style event with a mix of official brand dealers and resale-ers. A variety of stage events are held throughout the day. Toys include everything from figures, vintage, Volks, cars, etc.

***

What: Doll World Festival

When: Saturday, June 14, 11am-5pm; Sunday, June 15, 12pm-4pm

Where: Tokyo Industrial Trade Center

Cost: free

Link (Japanese): http://www32.ocn.ne.jp/~japandollworld/

An event for dolls of all varieties, in addition to doll related crafts and goods. On different floors of the same convention hall will be the related Tokyo International Miniature Show, and Japanese Teddy Bear Convention.

***

What: Toyko Toy Show 2008

When: June 21 9am – 5pm; June 22 9am-4pm

Where: Tokyo Big Sight

Cost: free

Link (English): http://www.toys.or.jp/toyshow/english/index.html

Only new toys – most yet to be released – will be on display as companies from Japan and around the world try to find buyers. Press and hotshots have their own days – the 21st and 22nd are open to the public. They also have a variety of stage shows, mostly youth-oriented, but cool in a silly way.

Hero for an Otaku Generation: A 2-Ch How-To

In 1999, as a bored exchange student at an Arkansas university, Hiroyuki Nishimura created Ni-Channeru, or “Channel 2″ what has in recent times become one of the most prolific forces on the Japanese internet.

The concept behind the bulletain board style interface is simple: anyone can post anything they want at any time, anonymously. The system itself is like an electronic renaissance, allowing users to input only text on a very simple background. However, some people, including Nishimura, claim that this outlet is exactly what Japanese people need – a way to say exactly what they want without facing any social repercussions. His critics, usually people who have been slandered in one forum or another, claim that Nishimura is irresponsible. Unless mandated by a court order, he generally takes nothing down, and certainly doesn’t waste his time policing such a massive forum for any reason.

Ni-channeru has nonetheless gained untold popularity both in Japan and abroad, and served as a massive creative engine for a generation constantly plugged in. User generated content fuels the site; even the splash page design was submitted from the community. The lack of input options such as “smileys” and .gifs has also spawned a legacy of Shift_JIS / ASCII art, and the characters that have emerged from these pages can be found immortalized in Japanese TV, cell phone kaomoji (emoticon) menus, and gachapon toys to name a few. Many people back-up threads of interest on personal servers for others to read, creating a sort of web-community history among users.

One of the more famous collections of such threads was published in October 2004, as Densha Otoko, or Train Man, under the pseudonym “Nakano Hitori” – a play on words meaning “one of the many.” Telling the story on a man who helps a woman being harassed by a drunkard on a train and their relationship that follows, the story did something to show the humbling sense of community and goodwill present in both Ni-channeru and otaku culture. In 2005, it was transformed into both cinematic and TV drama adaptations. About this time the next big wave of otaku hit the streets of Akihabara and maid cafes spread like wildfire – due to the prominent placement of maid cafe Pinafore in the Densha Otoko televised drama.

However, despite all of the hubbub, Nishimura maintains his slacker lifestyle accented with a nonchalant display of both hubris and self-degradation. Mainly hubris. He encourages fans to “go get a job working at a company or something – you’re never going to be able to achieve what I have.” Though he pays for the servers that host this mega-bbs, he is the only paid member of the staff – making a reported million yen (about $950,000) annually.

***

Though a bit orientalist in presentation, a recent article in Wired Magazine does a pretty good job outlining Nishimura’s character, his rise to fame, and the invention of Niconico Douga, a mesh of You-tube and Ni-channeru that allows users to stream comments over videos uploaded and often created by the community. My criticism is that not all of Japan is Tokyo – the most prominent portrait painted of Japanese culture both in this article and most of academia. The author, a native Tokyoite now living in LA, has garnered the most extreme side of Japanese culture as a career for some time now, which is also evident in her style and verbiage.

In my own defense, (haha – what are you doing pandering in wonderland!) I’ll readily admit that these trends are not mainstream and generally viewed as weird or dangerous by a vast majority of people in Japan. However, they have enough of a following to maintain momentum, and get more and more media coverage everyday, both disbanding and creating myths to make these pastimes and cultural pockets more acceptable to the general public. This goes not only for things “otaku” – but most all cultural subsets based in Tokyo. One of the most awesome things about capitalism is the bizarre extremes in which it pushes people, and Tokyo is a good illustration of those extremities. However, to the people living in Tokyo, especially those residing in one of the aforementioned extremities, this isn’t weird, it’s just life. I think this side is often forgotten when people analyze things different from the angle that they are psychotic, as opposed to the psychological elements that create such dispositions.

Of course, this doesn’t do well in terms of marketing.

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