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You've seen them on the street, in the comic stores, at conventions. You can't quite put your finger on it, but there's something... well, "not quite human" might be too strong a phrase, but there's definitely something odd about them. Maybe it's the laundered-into-illegibility Priss and the Replicants t-shirt. Or the tiny Totoro zipper pull toy dangling from the ubiquitous backpack. Or maybe it's the word "otaku" emblazoned in Japanese on their lapel pin.

Congratulations. You've just spotted your first specimen of a fannish species known to scientists and sociologists as otaku no anime (or manga) hardcorus, the hard core Japanese animation/comics fan currently breeding in record numbers in this country.

By itself, the word "otaku" isn't inherently bad. It's actually kind of neutral. It's when you use it as a noun-- and not as a non-gender-specific second-person pronoun, which is how nice people use it-- that you risk being labeled as one of the otaku zoku, the "tribe of the otaku" Japanese parents tell their kids they'll turn into unless they hit those books and develop some normal hobbies. Laws, yes....

In some ways, depending on what you masquerade as in your "real" life, being fingered as an otaku can be worse than being outed. Jobs have been lost. Careers ruined. And the worst part is, once you've been slapped with that scarlet otaku "O," chances are no self-respecting Japanese will ever be seen with you in public again.

What's a poor otaku to do? If you're like most anime/manga otaku in the world today, you go underground. Wa-a-a-a-y underground. So underground even your own poor disappointed mother couldn't find you. American anime/manga otaku are lucky-- because their breed is still relatively few in number, scientists have yet to alert the general populace as to their existence. Of course, after all the blatant exposure anime and manga are getting in the media these days, your best bet is to keep a low profile and hope everyone assumes the character on your shirt is something from Speed Racer.

If you've ever thought seriously about moving to Japan to teach English for a year, you're at risk. If you've ever caught yourself swearing to work harder on your Japanese, if only to order sushi, you're susceptible. And god help you if you start reading rec.arts.anime.


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