A Betrayal of (Our) Words; or, Our Monstrous Penguinlike Love Child: A Real Colloquium by Bitmap and 2DT, on the Subject of Otaku Terminology, Part One


I intercepted their mail and got this.
It wasn’t easy, but it may prove enlightening.

PS: Christ, anime bloggers… Can you believe they actually talk like this?

<From: 2DT>
<To: Bitmap>
<Subject: Real-juu should just explode>

Hello, my dear Bitmap. I hope you’re having a lovely evening.

I’ve got a title for you. I thought about it today while I was making coffee, and decided I quite like it! Here it is: “The Penguin Graveyard: Failed Terminology in the Otaku Subculture.” Let me explain.

Unlike, on one hand, words like tsundere or moe, which have endured, evolved and achieved a certain ubiquity, and even some measure of mass culture recognition; or on the other hand, words like chuunibyou, NTR and sousoku-danshi, which are recognized within the subculture, but as yet still mots-du-jour, the words we’re going to discuss didn’t have a life at all. They died without ever taking flight. Hence: our graveyard of little penguins. If you have a different idea, of course I’m open. You know I think you’re brilliant.

Now, here’s the burning question, and what we need to address: Why do certain words climb upon the pedestal of kimo-ota victory (there’s another term), while others are resigned to the bottomless pit of Internet obscurity? Moe, at least, is understandable. You could write a book about moe and never quite capture all of what it means to you, while someone else might say that it means “Princess Nausicaa gives them boners” and be perfectly satisfied. An ineffable feeling so vital to the subculture is going to be argued to death, championed and vilified all in the same breath; therefore, it must have a Word.

But beyond that… Really, why tsundere? Why yandere and kuudere? And why not tsunshun?

I welcome your thoughts.

On a quiet, humid night, watching the rain.

<From: Bitmap>
<To: 2DT>
<Subject: On the Origin of Owacon by Means of Natu(ry>

Hey, 2DT, it’s a pleasure to hear from you! My evening was pleasant; hope today is treating you just as well.

Ooh, love that title; it’s very evocative. Actually, when you mentioned the idea on Twitter yesterday, I was reminded of a draft I started in June that’s unlikely to ever see the light of day. So if you would indulge me for a second…

The tentative title for said post was “Waltz of the Tsunneko: Novelty Archetypes and the Moe Database,” and it would have centered around the existence of “novelty archetypes,” which, contrary to the connotations of “archetype,” apply only to a singular character. Examples would be the titular tsunneko (Tsumiki from Acchi Kocchi), gundere (Misato Tachibana from Nichijou), and my third example probably would have been tsunshun (Inu x Boku SS‘s Ririchiyo, of course).

So as a very specific answer to your final question, I would have said that tsunshun didn’t catch on because it was never really meant to, except for as a very specific descriptor for Ririchiyo (despite it ostensibly being a “new type of moe” as stated in the show). Why coin an entire term for a single character? My argument there was that it was a form of rebellion against the postmodern compartmentalization of characters into nice little slots. Post-postmodernism? I think you can imagine why that post never panned out.

But what you talk about here goes beyond the scope of what I had in mind, since you’re talking about otaku terminology in general. So what we really need is some sort of framework by which certain words die out while others prosper. The first thing that comes to mind here would be memetics (though I have my reservations about it as an area of scientific study), mostly because semiotic theory goes right over my head.

Which brings us to the topic of natural (?) selection of argotaku, as it were. As you mentioned, the sheer adaptability of moe as a term works in its favor. But what other factors are there involved? And more importantly, are those factors the same as in a more general setting, or are there certain traits words must have for success in an otaku-centric environment that wouldn’t be necessary otherwise?

I think I’ll leave this off here before I run away with the idea (this e-mail is longer than I intended it to be in the first place). I’m afraid I didn’t really get much closer to an answer, but I’d like to hear how you feel about the Darwinian spin I’m putting on this.

trying to ignore the ominously gray clouds

<From: 2DT>
<To: Bitmap>
<Subject: Cat Planet Cuties Cat Planet Cuties Cat>

Novelty archetypes, there’s a thought! In our world, a unique girl character is a girl who stands alone. There’s something a little haunting about that.

But now, bear with me a moment: You mentioned the concept of Hiroki Azuma’s database, the great primordial stew of character DNA. Well, if — like Azuma says — contemporary characters are just clusters of specific traits from the database (e.g. blue hair + red eyes + emotionless = presto, Rei Ayanami!), then we could say that novelty archetypes, like the tsunneko or gundere, are simply untried recombinations. They aren’t necessarily rebellious, if at all, because Ririchiyo and Tachibana Misato emerged from the same frothing, masturbational wellspring that invented, for example, the girls from Mayoi Neko Overrun.

Don’t get me wrong; I love me some Mayoi Neko Overrun. But it was by the numbers, and it sold, and Nichijou did not.

Which leads me to assume: Terms that endure past one season or one year must tap into market appeal. More precisely, terms that endure must be sustainably sellable to otaku.

Chew on that awhile, my friend. Am I full of it? I await your reply.

Sleepy in the sunshine, dreaming of money.

Damn it all, it cuts off here. There’s gotta be more. Did they catch on? They couldn’t ha– 

(End transmission)


Continued in Part Two.

1 Comment

Filed under Colloquia, Editorials, Guest Writer, Meta, Meta, Modern Visual Culture

One response to “A Betrayal of (Our) Words; or, Our Monstrous Penguinlike Love Child: A Real Colloquium by Bitmap and 2DT, on the Subject of Otaku Terminology, Part One

  1. For the sake of sanity, comments on part one are closed, so hold your thoughts for part two, coming tomorrow night!

    Thank you.

    (Edit: Part Two is now up! Feel free to leave any and all comments there.)