Manga Showdown in Akiba | Toronto Standard | News, Media, Art, Business, Technology, Fashion, Events
Akihabara is where it comes from. But here on the streets of this simultaneously flashy and seedy district of Tokyo, a contest of wills has been raging – and Misa and her secret fans are on the front lines. Behind all the gigantic computer stores, the tourists gazing into the famous maid cafes, the mini-skirted women standing on boxes shouting through megaphones, the authorities are engaged in a war with the otaku.
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It is also the unofficial headquarters of the Japanese pop culture juggernaut. And, in peculiarly Japanese fashion, it is the otaku, the fans themselves, who stoke the furnace of this giant machine. Not only do they help consume the output (toys, video games, anime) of big companies like Namco Bandai, but it is often from their ranks that new ideas and creative talent are found — the huge “dojinshi” culture of unlicensed fan fiction, for example, is a fecund source of new manga artists. One economist estimates otaku pump $26 billion each year into the domestic economy.
There’s just one problem, as far as the authorities are concerned: the otaku themselves. As successive governments have poured money into Akiba in the hopes of developing this culture industry, the “hard” fans — what we might call the real nerds of Akihabara — are no longer welcome.
The backlash against the otaku began in 2008. The area was thriving. Fans flocked to see up-and-coming “idoru” like Misa, one of the many popstar-models who swarm across Japanese media. Every Sunday, Misa performed her particular brand of sparkling-toothed J-pop next to dozens of other amateur singers, all of them standing on the sizzling concrete in the Tokyo sun, emoting profusely, fists clenched to the sky, hoping for their big break.
But as spring unfolded, the district, already simmering with notoriety, began to boil. In April, one desperate young aspirant to idol-hood shimmied up a lamppost. Fifteen feet off the ground, she hitched her dress above her waist and flashed her underwear at her fans. She then descended and led them around the district like a kind of Pied Piperette. The police soon had her in handcuffs. Two months later, a man named Kato Tomohiro drove a rented van straight into a crowd of people, jumped out and began stabbing with a hunting knife. Seven died.
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