Two words anime fans will always find themselves being called are weeb and otaku. Let’s look at what exactly these terms mean and whether they are being used in good faith or as a slur.
Ever since my infatuation with anime many years ago, I’ve only begun to notice the crude disposition many people feel towards those who enjoy Japanese games, comics and of course anime. To be even more specific, this degrading viewpoint of an entire fanbase is primarily targeted to those who enjoy the aforementioned cultures of Japan, but are not of Japanese ethnicity themselves. This unfair and hostile treatment towards a select group of people who happen to have an interest outside of their own culture is an ongoing occurrence that needs to be properly analyzed and discussed.
Nobody is safe on the internet
Whenever I’m browsing YouTube, Reddit or Twitter, my personal holy trinity of websites at any given time, there are always two words that get thrown around when anime becomes the main topic of discussion. The terms weeb or weeaboo is the first phrase that always attracts my attention. I’ve seen friends call each other this name in a joking manner, but I’ve also seen it used as a direct insult in online arguments between two complete strangers. According to Japan Powered, a website that discusses everything Japanese and anime related, the word weeaboo is a slang term derived from the two words “wannabe” and “white.” Its earliest usage dates back in the infamous online chat rooms of 4chan, when they would use it to insult obsessive and obnoxious anime fans.
In a 2012 study of weeaboo culture by author Jennifer Mcgee, she claims a weeaboo is “simply a Westerner who is an overly-enthusiastic fan of Japanese culture.” If that’s the case, then how exactly did it manifest to become such a derogatory slur against the anime and Japanese culture communities? Mcgee continues by stating the term is used for those who “break social boundaries,” such as poor usage of the Japanese language and overusing terms that are commonly used in anime. In other words, it’s when anime fans butcher the Japanese language or culture in an attempt to imitate their favourite characters, but in turn, sound and appear as nothing more than a mockery of Japan. These overbearing fans became such a nuisance that weeaboo was created in order to disrespect and, in some extreme scenarios, dehumanize them.
To my surprise, I still get called a weeb by my friends and online users from time to time. I too am not exempt from this term used to shun fans of Japanese culture who are not of the same ethnicity, or so I thought. In actuality, the term weeb and weeaboo have become so overused all throughout social media and other popular websites that it has become a generic term used to describe all fans of Japanese culture, mainly anime fans. This Reddit post seems to understand my pain all too well. However, one of the commenters from that post explains the term weeb has been self-used by the anime community for some time now, and that it is used to separate occasional watchers from die-hard fans.
From my understanding, the term has gained so much traction that it has lost most of its meaning. The misuse of the term weeb, which originated as an insult to annoying fans of Japanese culture but has since shifted to simply anyone who consumes anime or manga, is a troubling development that transforms a demeaning phrase with a prolifically racist history to an uplifting status, which apparently some people take pride in.
Origins of Otaku
The second term I see time and time again is otaku. Although they are sometimes used interchangeably, otaku is an actual Japanese word that originated years before weeb came into existence. According to Tofugu, a website focused on learning the Japanese language, “media and cultural trends have shaped the term’s popular perception over time.” They continue by stating otaku was used by Japanese people as a term for those who consume a ton of anime and manga. Tofugu explains how Japanese people needed a word to connect with others of similar interest and otaku fit the bill perfectly. In general, the word otaku appears to be a mutual and friendly term used by experienced anime fans.
“I think folks outside of Japan use the term otaku to generally refer to folks who enjoy anime culture,” said Japanese culture enthusiast and TV personality Danny Choo. “Generally speaking, more folks outside of Japan would call themselves an otaku.” Despite otaku being generally received as a positive representation of anime fans, it unfortunately still gets misused as an insult directed towards those who are obsessed with Japanese culture, much like the term weeb. Tofugu explains how the degrading connotation associated with the word otaku might have a lot to do with the wicked 1988 to 1989 murders in Japan by Tsutomu Miyazaki, described by local reporters to be an otaku. Ever since then, otaku were perceived to be those who stayed alone in their homes for months at a time, doing nothing else other than watching anime, reading manga or playing games. Although otaku started off as a positive remark for anime fans, it gradually changed to possess some derogatory notions suggested towards someone’s recluse and potentially sociopathic lifestyle
Hatred breeds more hatred
The two words otaku and weeabo were created for distinct purposes, but since then their meanings have evidently been reshaped to convey the opposite. Where weeaboo was once coined to insult overly-enthusiastic fans of Japanese culture, it has now become a title anime fans have found pride in. On the contrary, otaku was made to help identify and connect with other anime and manga fans but has now turned into yet another derogatory term for those passionate about Japanese culture. It is without a doubt the perception of these two words have changed significantly, but one thing remains certain, they are two of the most commonly used words to blatantly disrespect fans of anime and Japanese culture in general.
I try my best to not let the words of others irritate me, especially when they are the ones casted over the endless boundaries of the internet, behind the comfort of anonymity, but I can’t deny the terms weeb and otaku irritate and possibly offend me to no end. I had no idea two words could conflict this much hate and animosity towards a particular group of people with niche interest, but that is apparently what it has come down to. Anime fans have faced this type of persecution for years and will continue to bear the onslaught of derogatory terms, with the main perpetrators being weeb and otaku, for as long as the internet is around, and that is deeply concerning.
My advice to those caught in the receiving end of this backlash is to ignore it and move on. The people who purposely try to insult or humiliate the interest of others for any reason are a special breed of individuals who don’t deserve your attention. It’s not a foolproof method for defending one’s self against the legion of baseless haters, but it is the reality we as a contemporary society live in, and one that we must overcome at all cost.