Otaku, loosely translated, means “geek” in Japanese, and it lately has been applied to people with an obsessive interest in anime and manga, or graphic novels. (Whatever you do, don’t call them “comic books.”)
About forty fans of the highly stylized form of Japanese storytelling have rallied together, over sushi and the cookie sticks called Pocky, in the Anime Club. They screen and discuss films, peruse manga, and tell Japanese ghost stories, all while plotting their own wide-eyed dreams of art and moviemaking. As part of the club’s whimsical argot, they call each other by Japanese nicknames.
“Most of us grew up with Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh,” says president Senna Hubbs, “but when we were little, we didn’t know what we were watching. As we got older, we realized, ‘Oh, this is anime!’ It’s insane but beautiful.”
Anime characters typically are teens in school uniforms with eyes that are exaggerated in size to convey emotion, she says, adding, “I doodle anime eyes at the top of my notes all the time—angry eyes are almost entirely irises.”
Narratives veer from shojo, or romances that tend to appeal to girls, to violent, action-oriented shonen.
The club, which claims a few members of Asian descent, had disbanded for a couple of years until Hubbs resurrected it last year “by sheer force of otaku will.” Recently it conducted a competition for a logo and settled on a drawing of a mecha, or giant robot, with a Japanese schoolgirl, “which sums up anime really well,” Hubbs says.
“Some people regard it as low art, as a genre, when in fact it can be very sophisticated, and it’s a format, not a genre,” she says. “There are many genres within this format—comedy, horror, sci-fi—with some of them anime- and manga-specific, such as ‘Magic Girl,’ a superhero in a sparkly pink tutu who fights these monster things with glowing hearts.”
Pass the Pocky.
Pictured from left: Senna Hubbs, Alex James, Kiddist Makonnen, and Christi Roth / Photo by Christopher T. Martin