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  • Pedestrian Media MixThe Birth of Otaku Sanctuaries in Tokyo
  • Edmond Ernest Dit Alban (bio)

Could you ask Otome-Games publishers why they don’t want us to do Cosplay anymore? I don’t get why we are ‘tarnishing the character’s image just by dressing like them anyways. You know, one of my friends doing a fanzine and amateur (dôjin) item was asked to stop selling it online last month. It’s like they are scared of us taking over their right to use the characters? But we still buy official merch(andise), you know?

—K-ko, 26, personal interview, July 2015

When interviewing a group of women performing dances and cosplay in Otome Road (Ikebukuro, Tokyo) in July 2015, it became clear to me that their main concerns went directly to the question of how the “recycling practices” fundamental to their communities were becoming more regulated by publishing companies (enujîriyô), specifically at convention sites and so-called otaku sanctuaries (otaku no seichi). They also mentioned how trading randomized lottery, crane-games, or capsule toy prices tended to be forbidden by official distribution sites; posters around the local Animate retail store prohibited “salvage exchanges of randomly distributed merchandise,” describing this behavior as “cheating.” Because parts of the local female fan communities felt a certain urgency to address the gradual policing of how they recycle media and content, it is important to reconstruct their role in the history of the territories important to otaku culture as well as its industries.

Consequently, when describing otaku sanctuaries, I find it relevant to advocate for the recognition of “recycling” practices as one of their markers.1 For instance, most urban sanctuaries are constructed around “recycle shops”: secondhand stores where otaku sell and purchase used media. In addition, “recycling” also occurs in fanzines, cosplay, and other fan practices that reuse the content from favorite shows to produce amateur media and invent new performances in a manner similar to remix cultures. By examining these “recycling” practices, this article explores the entangled histories of otaku sanctuaries and anime business models to reveal how female consumers acted [End Page 140] both in the production of new social spaces as well as in new media production models. Adopting a spatial approach—that is to say, one looking at the urban space occupied by otaku cultures—I analyze the conjoined transformations of otaku sanctuaries and so-called media-mix strategies from the material convergence of large scale recycling practices convalescing in Otome Road’s various networks of bookstores, anime paraphernalia distributors, fans conventions, and pedestrian consumers transporting media across cities.2

The urban networks and (female) pedestrian actors supporting the already visible parts of otaku history are terribly understudied. Recognizing an alternative otaku history centered on the recycling spaces at the heart of otaku sanctuaries may nuance official (as well as academic) discourses that heavily focus on industrial practices. When looking at Otome Road’s birth, the conjoined evolution of recycling shops with media-mix tendencies narrate the dialectics between a large spectrum of both amateur and industrial projects of space, using, despite their differences, similar places, practices, and techniques: from fans to publishers and distributors, the otaku cultural movement reuses images to build new media spreading across an urban milieu.3 Therefore, in light of Thomas Lamarre’s notion of anime ecology,4 I propose to connect the already well-known production models of “reuse” in manga, anime, and video games in Japan with the pedestrian recycling practices of otaku sanctuaries: the remixing, reusing, or reappropriating of “used” images and media can also be seen as sustaining the production of new merchandise and spaces of circulation. Moreover, the repeated transit of multiple female and male otaku communities through Japanese cities invites a more comprehensive overview of how otaku subcultures occupy space and negotiate their place in society by producing or invading the leisure industry’s territories.5

Otome Road’s case in Ikebukuro, in particular, demonstrates how sanctuaries mediate the frequently controversial relations of fans to publishers. Since the early 1980s its geographies have represented the collaboration and confrontation of pedestrian communities struggling to find their own space, with publishers reusing fan’s energy to refine...