NIPPONIA No. 46 September 15, 2008


Living in Japan

Making Otaku Pop Culture a Global Phenomenon

Patrick Macias

Written by Takahashi Hidemine   Photos by Akagi Koichi


The magazine OTAKU USA takes English readers into the world of Japanese manga and animé. It is printed every second month, and comes with an animé DVD, poster, cards and more, all surprisingly generous extras.

Otaku is the Japanese word for people with a consuming interest in pop culture, especially animated films (animé), comics (manga) and video games. The word is becoming part of an international vocabulary, like that other Japanese word, “karaoke.”

With an issue distribution of 100,000 copies, the American magazine OTAKU USA is helping spread the word otaku abroad. The magazine digs deep into the world of Japanese pop culture, so deep the magazine amazes even Japanese otaku. It features everything from the latest animé news and commentary on older Japanese animated films to interviews with animé creators and insider reports on the otaku lifestyle in Japan today.

“Japanese animé are the best! For me, they represent a new world of optimism.” Patrick Macias (37) is the editor of OTAKU USA, and the dynamic force behind otaku pop culture in the United States. He and his magazine tell it like it is.

Born in Sacramento, California, Macias would watch Japanese animé on TV every morning before setting off for elementary school. His favorite shows were Space Battleship Yamato and Kagaku ninja tai Gatchaman. “Some channels broadcast American cartoons at the same time, but they were all stories about animals—boring, fossilized stuff. The animé shows gave me science fiction (SF) and robots—exciting stuff for any kid.”

He and his fellow elementary school students were caught up in the animé craze, the dubbed English version, that is. They were not even aware they were watching Japanese productions. Macias found that out one day when his father took him to San Francisco’s Japan Town. “That’s when I began thinking Japan would be an awesome place to visit.”

He began attending Japanese-language classes after getting into junior high school. He ended up ignoring his regular schoolwork to concentrate instead on learning katakana and hiragana (the two Japanese “alphabets”), and digging up the original Japanese animé versions to study them. This led to another discovery—the English versions often had a somewhat different story line, or presented scenarios different from the original. For instance, a fight scene might be cut, and sushi would become a chocolate cake. But why? What was the message intended in the original? Macias dug deeper into the animé world, like a man on a research mission.

“It was around that time that masterpieces like Akira came to the U.S. Anime were becoming more and more interesting, and I was getting more and more caught up in them.”

So caught up that he quit senior high school and began working as a film critic. Then he moved on to working for a Japanese manga publishing agent. He was taking his career in exactly the direction he wanted.

Otaku in the U.S., including myself, are escaping from conservative American culture. We gain inspiration instead from the Japanese realm of fantasy where a different kind of freedom is idealized.”

His job as the editor of OTAKU USA often brings him to Japan. He visits Akihabara, the pop capital of animé, to learn the latest news for his magazine, but his favorite places in Japan are hot spring resorts and Tokyo’s traditionally laid-back district, Asakusa.

“I guess I’m attracted to the Japan of the recent past, the empathy and expressive feeling of the Showa era (1926-1989). It’s like I’m on the other side of the coin from Japanese people who are drawn to older American movies, because of the freedom they portray. In both cases, it’s people being drawn to a different culture.”

The otaku pop world is a bridge linking different cultures. Macias’s enthusiasm when he talks about his favorite subject could make any Japanese listener want to discover something new in the world of animé.


Patrick Macias at the manga store Mandarake in Nakano, Tokyo. He says the store, with its old issues and the latest manga, is like a museum and modern emporium all in one.