Otaku Encyclopaedia

This month saw the release of the Otaku Encyclopaedia, written by Japan’s foremost gaijin geek Patrick W. Galbraith, of whom any interested net citizen will have seen photos, dressed as Dragonball-Z’s Goku on the streets of Akihabara.

Probably to the annoyance of overseas readers I am not much into the stereotypical aspects of Japanese subculture, like manga or anime, as seems to be the standard with a lot of Western immigrants here. Sure, I own Akira on DVD and really enjoyed Ghost in the Shell, but I almost never visit Akihabara nor go to Mandarake and never watch anime on television. At first it might have been the language barrier, but these days it is simply disinterest. Hell, I’ve met average game otaku who knew more about stuff I’ve worked on than I do. It is a little scary and daunting sometimes. I’m not against any of that, mind, I’m just not that into it.

In preparation for the launch Mr. Galbraith attended this month’s PauseTalk as well as, post-launch, this week’s CGM Night to do some serious PR pimping. I have been informed he’ll be making a presentation at this month’s PechaKucha Night as well. At only 2,000Yen and with the author there to autograph my copy I had little excuse but to pick one up.

The book is, as the title suggest, encyclopedic, in layout if maybe not content. That isn’t to say it isn’t extensive, at 247 pages and each listing taking up a page at most, though often only a few paragraphs, it does seem to cover a lot of ground, and is interspersed with interviews with otaku notables, like Anno Haruna, the retro-game otaku, and figurine maker Bome. Though it does cover subjects I would not have thought “otaku”, such as bosozoku (bike gangs) and yakuza, I do guess these are part of Japan’s subculture and probably feature heavily in manga.

Even if you do consider yourself a hard-core otaku I’m sure this book will surprise you, as the scene here is very wide and encompasses many kinks and quirks. It was certainly an eye opener for me, and I’ll keep it at hand when browsing the darker, pinker, stickier corners of the internet. It helps to be informed about these things.

You can get it from Amazon here, or if you’re in Japan, here.

Rape games maybe not so nice afterall

I have written, quite a while back now, how Japan’s loose and fast obsession with nymphets is something that makes my skin crawl. The sexualisation, exploitation even, of extremely young girls, sometimes even prepubescent, may be a cultural phenomenon that I should try to accept in my attempts to integrate, but as a liberal lefty some things are beyond the pale. It is true that Japan generally has a laissez faire attitude towards personal proclivities; if you want to spend your Sundays dressed as a game character walking around Yoyogi park or spend all your money on “hug pillows” then, well, bless you. It is generally a great attitude, where people don’t necessarily get judged for being weird or wanting to do odd things, but it does sadly also include the more extreme behaviours.

Now Kotaku reports that the Ethics Organization of Computer Software, the EOCS, in Japan, have decided, in a non-legally binding or official way, to curb the creation of rape-type games. People with an eye for news of the weird may have heard of a little title called “Rapelay”, reviewed on SomethingAwful and sold, then banned from Amazon outside of Japan. In it the player takes control of a character that rapes three women, or rather a mother and her two young daughters, with all manner of features like pregnancy and forced abortions. You wouldn’t believe the furore this title caused in Japan upon its release: virtually none. Japan, purveyor of perverted pornography, pretty much provides anything to anybody, whatever ails you, you’ll find it, and things much more disturbing, for sale in Japan, though you may have to delve into the deeper backstreets of Akihabara for your own particular whims. And though I have never discussed titles like “Rapelay” with Japanese people (the title makes more sense, so to speak, in Japanese combining the last katakana of “re-pu”, rape, with the first of “pu-re-i”, play) and am pretty sure most people would be horrified at the idea, the attitude most prevailing regarding dubious issues seems to be one of “well, whatever turns people on” or “as long as they have fun” or some such.

The link between explicit titles, involving rape and paedophilia, and real-life crime are hard to prove in Japan, with so many of such crimes remaining unreported. Though personally I feel paedophilia having to be reined in by law should be an issue beyond discussion, it’s a little harder when it comes to sexual fantasies, especially between consenting adults. Ero-games are usually sold in specialty shops or special areas of bigger stores, and there are fairly decent protections in place to keep such games out of the hands of children, including a built-in morality sense where most kids seem to stay away from illegal activities and products until they are of age, like alcohol and tobacco. Rape fantasies are not unique to Japan, let’s face it. But I don’t think games are an Art, they are a product and as such have some responsibilities. That said, I’m also no great fan of censorship, and riling against sexuality explicit games, especially coming from a gun-porn and violence heavy culture, is rather hypocritical. This is why I am quite glad this is a voluntary move made by a body of developers and not a law passed by the government. Will it make any difference? Perhaps not in the short term. “Rapelay” was made quite a while ago and it is only now, amidst a mini-flood of negative press and outcry from the West, that the Japanese have sat down and said to themselves “hmm, maybe rape isn’t so nice”.

Earlier an American man was arrested for possessing paedophilic manga, importing it, as part of a much larger general manga collection, into the U.S. I am in no way an expert on this, often getting rather hot-cheeked and embarrassed at the idea of it all, but I have been told it is still legal to own explicit material with minors, like such Lolicon manga, but not to sell it? Distribute it? I’m unsure. The law in Japan is often pretty vague and useless and unenforceable. But other reports have said this issue too is being looked into.

With a crackdown, voluntarily or legally, on underage sexually explicit materials and rape-type games I am pretty sure these things will be pushed underground. No longer the banners in Akihabara shouting out the underagedness of the girls in question, but maybe under the counter approaches. In a country as happily perverted as Japan, where sexuality, and explicit sexuality, in sharp contrast to the existing censorship laws, is rather exuberant and accepted, people will always try to provide for the proclivities of the extremely perverted, as long as there’s a market. But it is good to see, though sadly only after rumblings in the West, that Japan generally is looking into these sticky issues and agreeing a more responsible approach might be required.