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In the year 2000, Saitou Tamaki published Sentou bishoujo no seishin bunseki, an early attempt at (psycho)analyzing Japan's budding otaku culture. I read sections of it in Japanese in 2010, but, frustrated by the psychoanalytic terminology, ended up working more off of others' critiques (notably Tom Lamarre's in The Anime Machine). From that exposure, I came to the conclusion that I did not like Saitou's general attitude towards otaku or fujoshi. Not at all. I thought it was condescending, pathologizing, heteronormative, and universalizing, in the way the worst psychoanalysis often is.

In 2011, the book was translated as Beautiful Fighting Girl by J. Keith Vincent and Dawn Lawson at the U of Minnesota Press. And reading the whole thing in English has changed my opinion, a little. I was surprised to find some ideas that I think do have value for creating a more nuanced and flexible idea of otaku, especially regarding the relation between image, reality, and sexuality. But these ideas are not things Saitou brings out well himself, and he often falls back on frustrating Freudian/Lacanian analyses that foreclose the potential of his own earlier suggestions.

Under the cut is a shorthand list of quotes and ideas I thought were helpful, and others I thought were rage-inducing.



Pg. 28: "Otaku are most otaku-like in their sex lives. Anyone whose sexual life is partly or wholly maintained in the aesthetic realm can be considered otaku."
-Saitou's working definition of otaku. It has its uses. As a "strategic essentialism," it lets us recognize how ignorance and "hatred directed toward their sexuality has greatly biased our view of otaku" (29), and potentially places otaku subcultures in alignment with other sexual minorities (particularly asexuals?) as a social issue. The translator's intro to this volume makes connections with Sedgwick and Butler in this direction.
But, Saitou himself doesn't take it in this direction in the end. Instead he asks us to accept that "we can be nothing other than sexual beings" (171) according to a Freudian/Lacanian framework where sex counts most in identity formation, always and everywhere. What about community? What about ethnicity? His def. lacks a sense of intersectionality.

Pg. 26-7: "Otaku are capable of jumping freely between multiple fictional contexts and easily moving back and forth between the role of receiver and creator. So, we could say, metaphorically, that otaku have the capacity not for double but for multiple orientation. […] We must recognize the fictionality and multilayered quality of sexuality." (my bold)
-I like this! Beyond the binary orientation of "real world" and "fiction," otaku inhabit multiple, interconnected levels of reality and fictionality. They are aware of these levels and move through them purposefully, even ironically. This suggests the "multiple personalities" (144) quality of otaku fantasy, and has potential links to a more critical, sophisticated schizoanalysis. If only Saitou himself could consistently keep multiplicity in view!

Pg. 30: "I believe otaku are characterized by a decisive gap between perverse tendencies in the imagination and 'healthy' sexuality in daily life. […] There are very few homosexuals among otaku, and even fewer who have an actual Lolita complex."
-So, what happened to the multilayered quality of sexuality? He’s right back to divisve binaries of imagination/daily life – perverse/healthy – gay/straight. This is only one of many examples of the "normalizing" tendency Lamarre crits. in Saitou's work.

Pg. 153: "Visual expression in Western space is symbolically castrated, while in Japanese space there is only imaginary castration, at most. For example, in Western space any image that symbolizes the penis is censored, while in Japanese space as long as you do not portray the penis itself anything goes."
-Arg, binary + monolithic West! He writes as if in the US, Canada, France, Finland, Australia, etc. etc. all representational codes are the same, while Japan maintains a unique position in the whole world. He criticizes "repetitive theorizing about the uniqueness of the Japanese" (7) throughout, which is laudable, but often falls right back into a more structured version of the same thing in making his arguments.

160: The beautiful fighting girl, as a "phallic girl is a thoroughly vacant being. […] As a kind of medium, it is only natural that she should be hollow inside."
163: "Her privileged position is established on the basis of her being an absolutely unattainable object of desire."
-Any cred Saitou establishes by citing feminist defenses of the magical girl figure earlier is undercut by textbook examples of phallocentrism ("all existence refers back to the phallus as a mediator of the metaphoric chain" –pg. 164) and the "mystery of the woman who does not exist" (171) -except, apparently, to serve as the object of male desire. I think everyone who still does Freudian psychoanalysis should also have to read and respond to the critics of psychoanalysis (Irigaray, Delezue&Guattari, etc.) But perhaps that's just the bias of a thoroughly vacant creature. ^^



In conclusion, there are lots of interesting things to be found in the book, including long excerpts from letters written by Japanese and American anime fans and a comprehensive lineage of the beautiful fighting girl figure from 1958-99, with examples from dozens of series. There are also a few good concepts hiding like diamonds in the rough of lamentable psychoanalysis. It's not a long book or a very difficult one, if you've got some critical theory under your belt. Anyone who wants to study otaku should read it -if mainly as something to move on from.

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