Black Otaku: How Anime Inspires Positive Change

Salamander Brandy on Otaku, the Japanese for the word “nerd,” and how anime helps her envision a more colorful world.

Ever catch yourself daring to live your dreams? To bring the driving forces of your imagination into reality. The attempt is the difference between labor, that is art and labor that simply works. Good art challenges us to think differently and moves us emotionally. For me, Anime has helped shape me and my view of the world. My love for Anime has moved me to want to live to create a more colorful reality. Anime is short for animation, but with the connotation of being produced in Japan and, more recently, Korea. Anime and Manga (the comic version of Anime) break through their medium and always have had a profound effect on our reality.

That’s where I am at in my life. I want to create a work of art that tears the line between reality and fiction and has them bleed into each other. That’s the reason I love Anime because it already brings reality into its fiction, and by watching our bit of reality reflected in it can prompt us to change it. Anime, more often than not, takes whatever the subject matter is and doesn’t dumb it down for the audience just because it’s animated. We are allowed to think about real-world concepts and their consequences from a safe distance and contemplate solutions before we may have to deal with them in our reality.  

 I’ve always been a fan of Anime, especially since my uncles who helped raise me were Otaku, who knew the best video shops and were a part of the early online community. So I had access to a large collection of old Anime and became an Otaku, too! What is an Otaku? It is the Japanese version of the word “nerd,” but more with the connotation of being obsessed with a certain aspect of pop culture. Both terms have an older denotation for someone on the autistic spectrum. I feel the term Otaku is appropriate when referring to myself because the aspect of pop culture I’m obsessed with is Anime. It’s like the word “Trekkie” for people like my mom and older uncles who love Star Trek. I love Anime.

I study how it’s made and am engrossed by the people who make it. When the world was cold and callous towards me, Anime was there for me. At my lowest point, I was introduced to concepts that would be considered foreign here in the West. Anime like Kare Kano or His and Hers Circumstances made me feel less lonely because Anime exposed me to stories about, or made by, people who went through similar hardships in their lives. I try to apply the lessons I learn watching different Anime to my life. Seeing another culture from the outside allowed me to better understand my own and helped me to realize that Christianity wasn’t for me. I became more cognizant that I wasn’t inherently evil. I was born Black and feminine in a culture that hated femininity on a planet being choked to death by white supremacy.

I’m a Black Otaku. I love the medium but have my critiques. I believe to be a true fan of any medium of art, philosophy, or political belief, criticism is needed to keep them from falling into stagnation and irreverence. That’s how you keep the fascist out. I’m willing to point out the problematic element of any given work. Like the fascist undertones of Eren Yeager from Attack on Titan or the occasional panty shot of underage characters instead of having an actual plot in the story. These things need to change in order for Anime to grow.     

As an adult, I am able to bring these criticisms to the real world and challenge the hetero-sexism that plagues my life. On that note, shows like Revolutionary Girl Utena is a super queer Anime that challenges gender roles and gives examples of toxic relationships to stay the hell away from. 

When entering the political arena, people should understand that those who write our laws are also acting on their imagination. The media that they watch has an effect on how they see the world. Think shows like GunSmoke, Blue Bloods or even the evening news. More often than not, their vision of the world is stuck in an unchanging fictional past or an evil present where the youth is destroying the community. To create a new world that isn’t burning all the time, we need people who are able to step out of that negative narrative box. 

The working-class youth of Memphis have an advantage over the established elites because we are willing to grow and can think in ways that the establishment cannot. Everyone in office is trying to be John Wayne, a big swinging dick trying to lay down the law. I’m trying to be Sailor Moon. As a newcomer to politics, people try to project their evil onto me of wanting money or clout. In actuality, I’m “fighting evil by moonlight, winning love by daylight,” all in order to achieve my dream of living in a free world where I can be as queer as I want.  

To the person reading this, I beg you to please get involved in your local politics and hold the people who claim to represent your community accountable. Please continue to dare to dream of a better world and try to bring those dreams into reality. I found that the things that stop us from achieving our dreams are more or less figments of imagination….and the rent.

This essay is part of our Prism Pages in the current March/April NERD issue, in stands now.

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