'Money is a Girl's Best Friend': Otaku Women Are a Major Fandom Financial Force
posted on by Jennifer Sherman
As in any country, the extreme fandom of a subculture can take many forms in Japan. Various kinds of obsessive female otaku became a topic of discussion last year after Shogakukan published the four-member creator group Gekidan Mesuneko's Rōhi Zukan―Akuyū-tachi no Naisho Hanashi― (Illustrated Guide to Extravagance: Bad Friends' Secret Stories) book in August. The book's English subtitle is "Money is a girl's best friend." The book focuses on so-called otaku joshi (otaku girls/women) who take their love of anime, manga, dōjinshi, boys-love, idols, hosts, or related interests to new heights.
Japanese women such as those the book discusses sometimes spend incredible amounts of time and money on their hobbies. Some people believe that their "offerings" have come to drive the content industry in Japan, and support of the industry from these women is a key factor shaping the world of anime and beyond. The staff of the Oricon News website recently aimed to uncover the truth about otaku women and posted a feature on their findings on Sunday.
The article explains that, although it traditionally refers to alms given at funerals or other Buddhist ceremonies in Japan, the term "ofuse" (offerings) has become Internet slang for contributions fans make to support their interests. Examples of these "offerings" include buying merchandise or attending events related to particular works.
In the 2010s, otaku culture has become a part of Japan's mainstream content industry. Otaku culture has been seen as predominantly male, but otaku women are starting to come into the spotlight. After the publication of Rōhi Zukan―Akuyū-tachi no Naisho Hanashi―, many female commenters said online that they can understand or sympathize with the feelings of the type of women the book discusses. A common thread in their responses was that the habits of female otaku signify "not extravagance but love."
The "rōhi" in the book's title refers to "waste" or "extravagance," but it is not a simple squandering of resources in the case of otaku women. Otaku joshi can gain a certain sense of relief from personally supporting the content they like. A woman identified as "A-san" is a housewife who works part-time and spends her earnings, which are at least 100,000 yen (about US$910) per month, on dōjin activities. A-san explained, "I'm playing a smartphone idol-raising game, but it's not interesting at all as a game. Still, I might be connected to developing an anime or releasing merchandise through [my in-game] charges." Though some women are not particularly enthusiastic about the original works themselves that they support, they may willingly contribute "offerings" to support related characters, for example.
"Offerings" of otaku women have come to hold up various facets of the content industry in Japan. Visiting theme parks with an annual pass or following male figure skaters overseas can become pilgrimages for otaku joshi. Some of these women even spend the cost of a luxury car on their hobbies. Through their efforts, female fans can gain satisfaction from becoming like sponsors to the works or stars that they support.
A variety of industries in Japan are taking notice of the impact of the "offerings" from female devotees. An anime industry representative said at the AnimeJapan event in March, "Now, it's not an exaggeration to say that women are the ones supporting anime content." The representative noted that otaku women have a high desire to make purchases, and once they become fans, they tend to stay fans.
NHK revealed the results of its comprehensive "All Gundam Poll" during a television special broadcast on BS Premium on Saturday. Until recently, men heavily dominated the support base for the Gundam market, which is said to be worth 70-80 billion yen (about US$638 million to US$729 million). However, women made up significant percentages of the voter base for some works on poll's best anime work list: 44% for Gundam Seed (which ranked at #3), 35% for Gundam 00 (#4), and 45% for Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans (#6).
Those figures point to women's significance in the overall continuation of the content industry in the future. The "extravagance" of otaku women pushes forward the content industry and ultimately involves fans in the further development of franchises. Women bolster the economy in these markets, allowing additional adaptations to be produced. The anime industry is taking notice of this new "extravagance" style and adopting a new business model.
The female fanbase has become a lucrative area to devote attention, but the anime industry is going through growing pains in aiming to cater to female fans' desires. With upwards of 60 anime titles debuting each season, the lifespan of each anime work is shorter than it used to be. While the first season of Mr. Osomatsu became a smashing success—particularly among female otaku—in 2015, the second season failed to reach the same heights after premiering last October. It seems that fans' enthusiasm for the franchise could not bridge the two-year gap. Anime industry members will have to stay ahead of the game in the new female-oriented movement if they want to succeed with the help of the otaku joshi.