Otaku-ology

I have been reading about otaku – a term that translates loosely as “geek” or “nerd,” but around which a more sophisticated set of questions around subjectivity, built environments, and narrative consumption has grown (more interesting than anything I’ve seen yet under the umbrella of fan studies.)

As part of the Japan pavilion for the architecture show at the 2004 Venice Biennale, Kaichiro Morikawa included photographs of “otaku rooms” by Kohei Masukawa (images above grabbed from the website for the book.). Crowded spaces filled with books, magazines, game software, and other media and merchandise, these spaces seemed to defy any aesthetic criteria for the design of lived-in spaces, reinforcing a narrative which characterizes otaku as disinterested in the real, disengaged from aesthetic sensibilities, and obsessed with their commoditized objects of desire.

However, I have just thought that these spaces really represent databased-space, like that of the library or the museum archive, the model from which these spaces have sprung. The room becomes an interface to a collection; the otaku-interior-designer is creating a database-UI for accessing (and apprehending) the elements contained therein. There is an aesthetic at work: a contemporary one, an info-aesthetic of the interface, rather than the modernist one of movement through open spaces, of volumes, or of the room as a stage for performance. The otaku-room is one in which the occupant sits as the CPU to a system of catalogs to content, and also as a kind of archivist-curator to the constellation of artifacts in their possession.

I think this conception of the otaku room is consistent with Hiroki Azuma’s theory of the otaku as “post-modern database animal.” What this suggests also is that the modernist notions of interior space is more tied to a narrativist conception of the consumption of space than we may have previously allowed.

One thing notable about the relationship between the otaku and this kind of interface/room is that it is also compatible with recent changes in the the relationship between entity and index in systems of cataloging and visualization. Recently, I participated in a show at the Calit2 gallery (details on the Software Studies initiative blog.) One thing that many of our visualizations feature is an inversion of the normal relationship between feature and representation in large data-sets: where once a single feature would stand for an object (its name, an ID number, a thumbnail) we now can generated and access universes of information about that object for which the object itself is simply an index: our graphs of images used the images themselves to illustrate their low-level features, their relationships to other entities, etc. Otaku rooms also use the object in-themselves as indexes for them, often indicating their relationships to other media, franchises, brands, characters and other features of the object.

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