What you see above is a backlit, prominently placed adverisement for the Azumanga Daioh anime DVD Box Set, placed above one of the many escalator banks in JR Akihabara Station. Advertisements like this are literally all over the station, alongside ads for cell-phones and other gadgets, video games, and of course anime and character goods. Basically, if it’s for nerds, it’s being advertised on the walls of Akihabara Station.
The advertising starts on the billboards that line the walls of the train station, a blur of cute anime girl iconography whizzing by you as the train slows to an eventual stop. But it doesn’t matter, because the cars are so crowded you can never really see the windows anyhow… It’s all about giving you something to look at when you’re back after your shopping trip, reminding you of what you forgot to buy, what to get next time.
Incidentally, sorry for the awful photo up top :).
I think part of the reason that Akihabara is so popular with Western nerds (otaku) is that, aside from just being a haven for nerd retail stores that contain all of the nerd goods of your dreams (and darkest fantasies…) the experience is incredibly immersive; the anime and manga, the visual culture starts before you even step off the train, or into the street. For someone from The West where the idea of an advertisement for a comic, “grown-up” anime DVD, or anything with big eyes and a small mouth is basically inconceivable, Akihabara feels like validation.
Of course, that’s a bit of a myth: it just seems like validation. Really there are tons of complex levels of social strata involved in being an otaku in a larger society, otaku pride is actually a bit like gay pride: hard-won and presented with an edge… because of the number of people who think you’re a third class citizen or worse (awful pervert).
The streets of Akihabara are paved with the discarded pamphlets advertising maid cafes handed out by cute girls outside of the station. It’s visual culture writ-large, and even with recent… unsavoury… events, a place where nerds can be nerds, and enjoy their nerdish pursuits. Though newer otaku havens may pop up all over Tokyo (the utterly awesome Nakano Broadway being the biggest so far) Akihabara will continue to be the second home for many otaku (or for those who are still in the closet… their first home…!)
Of course, manga and anime does manage to make it out of the Akihabara ghetto, because really, ‘normal’ folks read manga too… once in a while. A big exception to the Otaku-ghetto rule? Naoki Urasawa, and his (then) just-released new series BILLY BAT, the follow-up to the his incredibly successful PLUTO and 20TH CENTURY BOYS. The last volume of PLUTO (volume 8) was released the week before I got to Japan, and there were huge displays of it everywhere… and tons of advertising for this new series. I only caught this outdoor train-station advertisement once, I think at Harajuku, mixed in amongst the fashion, alcohol, and lifestyle advertisements. It says a lot about who Urasawa’s work is targeted at, who his audience is. And isn’t.
Hell, Urasawa has so successfully shed the otaku image they even let him on the train, instead of just waiting outside it. Much like Nana creator Ai Yazawa on my last trip…
So fight on, Urasawa-san! You’re carrying the torch for all of us.