As if to mark the third anniversary of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult’s sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, a group of radicals identifying themselves as the Japan Purification Federation released a chilling ultimatum--they would blow up Comiket 54 and anime fandom with it on August 15th, 1998. Their warning:
“Stop! And consider the amount of disgust and repulsion that the otaku race create within society. Otaku--those who can only articulate themselves in terms of anime, those who crowd cafes after anime films for heated discussions, those who are introverts that can only love anime characters, those who flush billions of our nation’s precious currency into the toilet known as the ‘anime industry’--they must be exterminated with extreme prejudice.”
Most Comiket attendees plan a route to navigate the 35,000-plus dojin circles exhibiting during the three-day event. The Japan Purification Federation was no exception--except their itinerary was optimized for maximum death and destruction. They would begin the cleansing at midday when the otaku population was at its peak and the winding lines around popular tables made moving--and escape--an impossibility.
Phase I: Begin Cleansing
Phase II: East Hall Search and Destroy Operation
Phase III: Grand Finale
Targets who make it through the carnage of the East Hall may try to escape via the parking lot. They will be greeted with a mine field. Here they will be forced to take responsibility for their fate for the first and last time. Explosions will ignite surrounding vehicles, creating a sea of flame.
Based on previous attendance figures we can expect 250,000 otaku to gather over the day. If even one quarter are present at the time of the attack, that means 50,000 vermin will be exterminated. Shrinking the market will in turn cripple publishers reliant on otaku business and suspend future Comiket and dojinshi events, creating a downward economic spiral.
We will destroy Comiket by expunging the creators.
A terrifying voice of absolute madness.
Had their plot succeeded, it would have been the largest act of domestic terrorism in Japanese history. Their diligence was their downfall--they released an ultimatum to keep curious innocents out of the line of fire, but failed to consider that doing so would alert the authorities. The MPD came down on the would-be mass murderers with impunity and dismantled their munitions plant, a shoebox apartment in Tokyo’s Nerima ward.
The Japan Purification Federation was the tail end of a hate wave directed at otaku. 2004’s Densha Otoko, the bestselling (purportedly) true story of an otaku who wins the heart of a girl with the help of the Internet message board 2chan, romanticized otaku as a misunderstood subculture of pure-hearted and loyal underdogs. It won the sympathy of the nation in the same way Rain Man made autistic into savants overnight.
The otaku label became simultaneously self-deprecating and self-affirming. It makes you part of a much larger whole. Granted, your peers are losers, but aren’t we all losers in the post-bubble economy?
The cottage industry exploded into an industrial complex. Now we have multiple magazines dedicated to voice actors, cosplay and Vocaloid. Hell, there’s even a publication to cover the “utatte mita” amateur karaoke singers on Nico Nico Douga.
If there’s money to be made in the ongoing recession, it’s from otaku. The government’s Cool Japan initiative is their attempt to strangle a few more golden eggs out of this goose before slaughtering it for the foie gras while leaving the content creators to starve. Consider otaku a farm-raised protected species.
A prank Comiket bomb threat like the one above is unfathomable with the current public mindset. Oh yeah, if it wasn’t obvious from the illustration of cosplayers being blown sky high, the Japan Purification Federation and their plot is a complete fabrication. Not that they were trying to pass it off as legit.
The article ran in the November 1997 issue of Comic Gon, the anime and manga-centric sister publication of Monthly Gon, a Z-grade trash rag that broke stories on where to buy high school prostitutes and recreational drugs, plus features on the standard mix of murder, urban exploration and porn.
Gon was part of the Million Shuppan family of publications that include Pulitzer Prize winners such as the gyaru style bibles Egg and Men’s Egg, as well as Jitsuwa Knuckles, one of many “true story” magazines focused on crime, celebrity scandals, MMA and sex parties on Enoshima beach--imagine Weekly World News and The Huffington Post tied together with barbwire. Now substitute the yakuza exposes for OCD lists of diecast robot release dates and Yamato animators organized by scene, and voila! Comic Gon.
Comic Gon was brilliantly subversive. Aside from info dumps with print so small as to require a magnifying glass, they printed street snaps of kogal that compared school uniforms to Zeon mobile suits, a Cribs-style photo essay of a porn game mogul’s million dollar mansion and an otaku fetish family tree that reunites lolicon and shotacon on the same branch.
Not so long ago otaku could still laugh at themselves. It was a defense mechanism. They understood why the public may loath them. As the media infamously reported in the early 90’s, Comiket was “home to one hundred thousand Miyazaki Tsutomus,” the serial child rapist and cannibal. Maybe they even felt that they deserved to be blown up.
In the years following Densha Otoko, otaku have come out of their shells to grow from "nekura," the quiet weirdo in the back of the class, to "upper-kei," the upbeat socialite that is aggressively forgiving of themselves and their hobby.
This post-Eva generation of otaku can’t stop having a good time, be it by reflexively retweeting memes, flooding Nico Nico Douga live streams with waves of “wwwwwwwww,” or flocking en masse to “Holy Spots” for the privilege to buy souvenirs that are only tangentially related to the current flavor of the season. If there’s one thing an otaku hates, it’s missing out.
Which is why overpriced Blu-ray box sets sucker you in with invites to exclusive fan events, the voice actor industry stays afloat by selling lottery tickets to talk shows disguised as CDs and anime movies continue to dominate the box office despite poor reviews. Otaku just have to be there, if not because they want to be, then so they can have something to post to their SNS.
American otaku get a bad rap for being fat and wearing fedoras, but at least they caught on that the latest Evangelion and Madoka films were unnecessary, self-indulgent and worst of all, once you cut through the misdirection and flashy fights, boring. But in Japan, being an otaku means being part of a never ending feel-good party. Nobody wants to be the turd in the punchbowl. Criticism is frowned upon--and will get your Twitter account flamed into ash--unless you’re arguing that a show is ironically good. But fandom wasn't always so stifling.
Compare the reception of Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer to Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie--Rebellion. Dreamer was a radical departure from the source material that was praised by critics, dismissed by fans, and disowned by the original author. It wasn’t a financial failure but was also far from a success. We now regard as a classic for the cinematography, storytelling and establishment of the Loop trope. Rebellion likewise goes off the rails, in this case by rewriting the ending of the TV series and simplifying the character’s personalities into parodies of themselves--except fans were happy to dance along with the betrayal to the tune of a two billion yen, making it the highest grossing film based on a late-night anime in history.
Twenty years down the road, what will Rebellion be remembered for, aside from its massive earnings and totally sweet Demon Homura scale figures?
Twenty years down the road, the kids of today will have their own axe to grind with the new crop of otaku. Weekend right-wingers raised on KanColle will drown out the PMA of the happy-go-lucky upper-kei, holographic idols will kill the Vocaloid star, sexaroids will defile the purity of H-games. Japanese fans will always have their own unique defects that ruin the end product. You can’t hope to fix them, only try to understand them.
Some argue that the industry isn’t getting any worse, that there’s always been more chaff than wheat, but things certainly aren’t getting better, and I say that nothing smothers creativity like stability--in this case, stability being the grind of creating anime according to production committee specs and fan demand.
Some animation studios seem to agree. Production I.G. dipped their toes into the whole crowdsourcing thing with Kick-Heart, and if Little Witch Academia is any indication then Trigger loves to break the rules as much as they love receiving foreign capital. Consumers vote with their wallets and Kickstarter is turning into the third-party outside the corrupt system.
Studios that want to challenge the status quo now have the option. When ambitious creators push the envelope, consumers will push it further. Fandom could become edgy once more. Go ahead--give society a reason to bomb the con.