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- There exists a massive assortment of Japanese books and articles written on something known as denpa. Although the term originally referred to electromagnetic and radio waves it has acquired a number of fascinating connotations over the years and has developed into an aesthetic that can be seen across a wide range of otaku media, manifesting itself in everything from anime, to eroge, and even music. Although denpa’s role in contemporary Japanese media is undeniable, it’s rarely discussed within in western circles and almost no writing exists on it in English. In today’s video I’ll be talking about how Denpa came about, its relevance to otaku culture, and its influence in some of the media we consume to spark some much needed discussion. Without further ado, lets just jump in.
- In July of 1981, a man by the name of Kawamata Gunji rampaged through a street near the second Morishita district in Tokyo’s Koto ward wielding a kitchen knife. His attack led to the deaths of 4 victims including a one year old child. The situation escalated into a hostage crisis when Kawamata dragged a woman into a nearby Chinese restaurant and barricaded himself there for 7 long hours. During his siege, Kawamata yelled at the restaurant’s security cameras demanding that the government workers who control electromagnetic waves be brought to him immediately. At the end of the 7 hour long crisis the woman Kawamata held hostage managed to escape the restaurant, leading to police bargaining in and apprehending the killer while he was still brandishing his kitchen knife. In response to his brutal rampage, Kawamata claimed that radio waves that had ordered him to do it. This incident was dubbed as the Fukagawa Serial Slasher case and had a massive impact on the Japanese culture. Paranoia toward electromagnetic radiation took root in the country and the case had become famous as numerous television dramas and books were created around it.
- The word Denpa also received a new usage as a slang term describing socially deviant individuals. In media this manifested itself as denpa-kei, delusional characters that are disconnected from the world around them. This sorts of character were particularaly prominent in eroge, starting with 1996’s Shizuku which featured a cast under the influence of electromagnetic waves. The denpa-kei trend would only gain traction from there with titles like Cross Channel, Chaos;Head, and Subarashiki Hibi.
- In order for us to understand how denpa relates to otaku culture its important to first talk about Densha Otoko. Published in 2004, the book sold over a million copies within in a year, later it would be adapted into film, manga, and television drama. Densha Otoko told the story of an otaku falling in love with a woman on a train and using advice from an online image board to hook up with her. While the series was met with commercial success, many otaku found issue with it, namely one Toru Honda. Honda was critical of the story’s ending in which the protagonist got the girl and graduated from his live as an otaku. He felt that Densha Otoko painted otaku in a negative light where it should have celebrated them, he belived the main character should have tried to convert the girl to the otaku culture instead of changing his ways. These criticisms took shape in Honda’s own book amply named Denpa Otoko. Honda wrote about his life experiences being raised in an abusive household. His mother was pressured into an arranged marrage early on in her life and his father turned out to be a wife beater who later abandoned the family. Unable to raise two children on her own Honda’s mother became fatigued and overburdoned which led her to an early death at the age of 40. According to Honda, his mother had described her life as a falure, to him this felt like a denial of his own existence. In school Honda was ostracized which caused him to drop out, shutting himself off from society in the confines of his room. In his isolation Honda found affedction through moe. He writes “Moe is the saving grace of the otaku. It never flirts; it never calculates-it offers perfect uncalculated love. Moe is, above all else, self-sacrificing; it asks nothing in return.” To Honda the otaku are a people who want nothing more than to be left to their own devices. They are harmless and isolate themselves as a means by which to avoid burdening those around them. Honda cites his own predispositions toward violence from his father which he fears might manifest itself itself if he ever got into a relationship with a woman.
- One of the interesting things about Honda’s story is how closely it parallels that of characters from some of the denpa-kei fiction I listed earlier. In Cross Channel the members of a school’s broadcasting club find themselves in an empty world isolated from the rest of humanity. The lead, Kurosu Taichi, grew up in an abusive environement that has led him to develop a violent pathology which makes it nearly impossible to fuction in society. In his isolatition, Taichi finds peace of mind knowing he won’t be able to hurt anyone but simultaneously longs for the warth of meaningful human connection. In Subahibi one of the narrators, Mamiya Takuji also comes from a troubled household. Takuji endulges in otaku media as a means to escape the horrors of the world around him. Takuji slowly grows unable to distinguise between reality and fantasy leading to wild deluisions. It’s important to note here that the line between the real world and that of fiction plays an important part in denpa otoko. Honda himself
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