Tomohiro Machiyama

by Bamboo Dong, Apr 11th 2005
ANN recently had the opportunity to bounce a few questions off Tomohiro Machiyama, co-author of Cruising the Anime City. Machiyama is known for having written several books about anime and kaiju, including the Japanese best-seller, The Book of Otaku.

What was your main motivation for working on this book?

The first time I went to Japan with Patrick, I dragged him to many crazy places. We didn't have a book in mind then, and were only doing it for fun. But I realized that what I was doing might be interesting for other people besides him. Also, I had done a book about otaku in Japan. I wanted to make a kind of updated version for American readers.

What did you want readers to be able to get out of it?

Patrick and I saw many tourists in Japan, but there was no travel book for people interested in otaku culture. Just books about Mount Fuji and geisha and stuff like that. So we wanted to take the reader down a rabbit hole like Morpheus in The Matrix. That's it! This book is the red pill!

You're credited for having coined the term "otaku." How do you feel that term has changed over the years since you first used it?

This is kind of a misunderstanding... I didn't invent the word “otaku.” I just introduced it to the public. When the word was first introduced, it was discriminating, like calling someone the N-word. But now, people can proudly call themselves otaku. It means you are able to be enthusiastic about something, like cars, computers, and animation. Asians can now identify themselves proudly as otaku because that's our secret weapon to invent and develop things in a way totally different than the America way, like Ford for example. Now, even the Tokyo government is recognizing that otaku power is the key to breaking out of the economic recession. The first time around, otaku were thought to be pedophilic child killers. Now, they are leading the Japanese economy. So yes, it's very different now.

What differences do you see between Japanese otaku and overseas otaku?

The difference is cultural. American otaku want to be apprentices of Japanese otaku like Jedi Knights and martial artists. During the sixties, the US was thought to be the most advanced nation in the world because of its material goods. But the counterculture realized that the US was not so advanced compared to other cultures, many of them Asian. Americans thought that Superman, Spider-Man, and Disneyland would conquer Asia and Europe. But no! Now America is being invaded by Japanese culture. It's like a counterattack. The reason I said, “apprentice” earlier is because, just like with yoga and martial arts, America have to learn about Japanese and Asian things. I like this very much. Hollywood product still rules the media, but America is not number one anymore. So there's a kind of balancing going on. It's not all one-way anymore.

Why do you suppose Japanese pop culture is taking off internationally now?

It's difficult to say. My feeling is that it's because of psychology. American culture says that “a man is a man, a woman is a woman.” Men are supposed to masculine, drive a huge car, and play football and women are supposed to be the cheerleaders. That's totally stupid and I think people are changing their tastes. In Japanese animation and manga, gender is more flexible. I think that it's very good for today's kids. Men can be beautiful and sensitive, and woman can take action. Before Sailor Moon, there were no female characters like the Powerpuff Girls or Kim Possible. Even in superhero teams like the Fantastic Four, women were expected to “stand by her man.” Fuck that! So naturally, girls feel very comfortable with anime and manga. Girls are not Tara Reid!

Is there anything you think the American anime industry could learn from the Japanese industry, or vice versa?

In addition to what I said about gender, there are a lot of things. Action is more important than emotional drama in American animation. It's still just “cartoons.” But Japanese animation is more like drama. Sometimes, it's very tragic and the audience is traumatized a very realistic story. Marvel and DC Comics are very complicated, almost Japanese style, especially after Frank Miller. It's not just “black hat, white hat” anymore. But on TV, it's still the old style: Heroes and Villains. That's boring and that's just fantasy. It doesn't teach kids anything. It's just a drug. Japanese stuff wants to show you reality, facts, and how to deal with a harsh world.

You wrote that Japan has "no future." Why is that you think that, and what did you mean by that?

The problem is that otaku people are very immature. They are still trapped a mental state of youth. They don't marry and have kids because they are still children themselves. The result is a childless society. And that's very bad for Japan. People who are into moe will become Michael Jackson! Moe culture is dangerous for the future. No married couples, no parents, no kids, and no future. So it's a problem.

You wrote a very informative section in the book about the word "moe" and its usages. I've gotta ask... are you moe for anything?

Hahahahahahha! I got over it in my youth. You have to get over it! As I wrote in the book, moe is a fantasy about opposite sex. Fantasy about women will prevent you from getting married. You can't marry a real person if you are chasing your moe fetish. But Ok. In my youth, I liked tough fighting girls like Meiko Kaji (Female Prisoner Scorpion), Pam Grier (Foxy Brown), and Dyanna Thorne (Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS).

Is there anything that you wish you could have added to the book that wasn't printed?

Yeah, stuff about the otaku sex industry like moe fuzoku and moe prostitution. I couldn't write about it because I haven't experienced it. But even if I tried, maybe I still couldn't do it because it requires super hardcore knowledge about current otaku stuff. You have to memorize dialogue from many anime, so it's hard for me. But maybe Patrick could do it.

What has it been like working with Patrick Macias?

I have to apologize to him for dragging him around Tokyo everyday from 8am to 2am with no rest, preaching all the time, and whipping his back. I did a lot of very cruel things to him. But he's got a very good ability to absorb experience and knowledge without judgment. That's very rare for Americans, who tend to discriminate a lot. He's very respectful of different cultures, which is good. He's nothing like that stupid guy who wrote “Wrong About Japan” [Peter Carey].

On a more personal note, what are your interests in anime/manga and related merchandise? What "otaku" tendencies do you have?

I'm not a collector. I'm not a consumer anymore. I crossed over into producing things, so I lost my interest. Also, Tyler Durden from Fight Club influenced me. "The things you own end up owning you.” After I heard that line, I lost my interest to collect and buy stuff. Maybe I'm better off investing it in myself by reading or learning a new language. That's the American way, I think. Not the Japanese way.

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