- Otaku for Queer Theory and Media Theory
In 2004, in the initial phases of trying to write a book about Henry Darger and his little-girl combatants, I was intrigued to come across an online review of a book on otaku—hardcore fans of "fighting girl" manga and anime—by a Japanese Lacanian in which Darger was a central figure.1 For the next several years, this one review was all I could learn about Tamaki Saitō's take on Darger and otaku and the figure of the "beautiful fighting girl." (The review I'd seen was entitled "Attack of the Phallic Girls.") Then I heard a couple of years ago that J. Keith Vincent and Dawn Lawson had completed a translation of the full text of Saitō's book and that it was in press. In his book Beautiful Fighting Girl (first published in Japanese in 2000), Saitō analyzes the culture and sexuality of otaku, the mostly young male participants in one of the principal thriving consumer-collector-connoisseur subcultures that has formed around manga and anime.
With the publication of the present volume, non-Japanese-speaking scholars and fans of anime and manga, as well as students of sexuality and media, can now form our own responses to Saitō's account of the meaning and significance of the sexuality of otaku and of the erotic charge of the highly mediated "warrior girl" figures who fascinate them. As cotranslator J. Keith Vincent attests in his invaluable, extensive introduction, [End Page 147] it is "quite a baggy monster of a book" (xii), comprising chapters that range in kind from psychoanalytic theory to interviews with individual otaku and analyses of the workings of temporality in anime and manga. But Vincent goes on to make a compelling case that, taken together, the parts of Saitō's book still have much to offer readers across a broad range of disciplines and interests, especially readers and practitioners of queer theory.
Indeed, Beautiful Fighting Girl has generated as much heated debate as it has largely because of its author's insistence on putting otaku sexual desire and behavior—their strong emotional and/or erotic attachment to comics-and-cartoon depictions of cute girls in and out of battle—at the center of his analysis of otaku. Other commentators have tended to de-emphasize sexuality in their accounts. A book, published in Tokyo in 2001, in response to Saitō's, by Hiroki Azuma, another prominent culture critic in Japan, has already been published in translation by the University of Minnesota Press (Otaku: Japan's Database Animals, 2009). Azuma's book foregrounds political and social trauma and recurrent US cultural invasions as primary factors in explaining otaku. He also deprecates Saitō's focus on otaku sexuality and his pioneering attention to the kinds of highly networked, mediated, Internet-pervaded sexualities that have only become more widespread, and more controversial, in the decade since his book was first published.
And yet, as Vincent points out in his introduction (xiv), sexuality, and specifically an extreme form of allegedly perverse sexuality, had been placed at the center of public debate on otaku over a decade before Saitō's and Azuma's respective books first appeared. That occurred in 1989, with the arrest of twenty-six-year-old Tsutomu Miyazaki, a Tokyo serial killer, for the murder and sexual molestation of four girls, aged 4-7. Before his arrest, the media had referred to Miyazaki as "The Little Girl Murderer," but, soon afterwards, the discovery (or planting—the debate about that appears to be unresolved) of anime as well as slasher films in his reportedly vast video collection (over five thousand titles) led to the media's rechristening him "The Otaku Murderer." The notion that watching too much video—too many slasher and anime films—had directly caused Miyazaki to commit his crimes gave rise to a full-blown moral panic in which the otaku subculture was "exposed" and demonized repeatedly as a breeding ground for deranged and violent...