ISSN: 20403232
First published in 2010
2 issues per volume
Volume 3 Issue 2
Cover Date: December 2012
Taking otaku theory overseas: Comics studies and Japan’s theorists of postmodern cultural consumption
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Authors:  Casey Brienza 
DOI: 10.1386/stic.3.2.213_1

Hiroki Azuma,Eiji Otsuka,Tamaki Saitō,otaku studies,superheroes,comics fans and fandom,Japan,United States

Fields of scholarship are segregated into discrete linguistic territories, and comics studies is no exception. Theory derived from European language sources predominate, both informing the latest advances in research and structuring areas of future enquiry. This results in a certain amount of intellectual stagnation. In this article, I will argue that scholars of popular culture should start looking east for renewed theoretical inspiration, to the writings of the so-called ‘otaku theorists’ Hiroki Azuma, Eiji Otsuka and Tamaki Saito-. Though they write about fans and consumption, they think neither in terms of, say, British cultural studies nor Pierre Bourdieu’s sociology of culture. Instead, the three theorists, working in dialogue with each other, apply postmodern theory to obsessed consumers called ‘otaku’ and find new, and sometimes problematic, forms of cognition, sociality and relations of power. Recent translations into English from the University of Minnesota Press of their seminal books and essays have increased their visibility in the west. My aim for this article is fourfold: (1) to better understand what is at stake in cosmopolitanizing the discipline, (2) to review the western theoretical literature on comics and consumption, (3) to introduce the otaku theorists Azuma, Otsuka and Saito- and explicate their arguments and – most crucially – (4) by exploring the relationship between otaku theory and American superhero comics culture, to demonstrate how and why the otaku theorists make an important contribution to the study of comics outside Japan. Otaku theory, I conclude, provides a radically different, fruitful way of thinking critically about global popular culture.
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