Models, or garage kits as they're known in Japan, are a major enthusiasm for Japanese otaku. Although some are molded-plastic kits like the airplane and car models American hobbyists build, most are resin statues that the fans paint and often modify by carving their own details onto the original figurine.
"The problem [for American fans] is trying to locate those," says Luu. As a result, American otaku will often order kits sight-unseen, simply because they happened to read about them in a magazine somewhere. "It's based on sort of almost blind faith, that the Japanese will not fail them in producing something that they will like," she says.
There is one American otaku pastime not found in Japan, though -- complaining about the accuracy of translations. While it's true that most American otaku don't speak or read Japanese, those who do can be quite cantankerous about the way dialogue is translated.
"I was just as obnoxious as any fan walking the street today. Probably worse," laughs Trish Ledoux, editor of the anime-oriented monthly Animerica and a translator who has worked on both video and comic book adaptations of "Ranma 1/2 " and "Maison Ikkoku."
"I was one of the most hard-core fan purists. I mean, part of the reason I started learning Japanese was so I could tell what was being said and wouldn't have to have somebody translating it to me."
So now that she's translating it for others, she has to deal with phone calls from irate American otaku who can't believe she has the English-language Ukyou Kounji saying "Ranma honey" where the Japanese character uses the near-untranslatable "Ran-chan."
"People complain about 'Ranma' -- 'No, no, they're saying it wrong!' " she says. "I understand. I was one of the worst ones of all. I used to go around saying, 'That's not what they say!' So in some ways, I feel as though it's my penance for being such a hard-core fangirl way back then. Now I have to listen to other people come up to me saying, 'That's not what it says!' "
She laughs. "It's the big circle of life."
Pub Date: 4/16/96
There's more to being an otaku than watching anime videos. Here are some typical otaku collectibles and enthusiasms:
Art books: Beautifully printed collections of artwork from anime titles. Sometimes hardbound and almost always imported from Japan, these volumes can cost $40 or more.
Cels: Original artwork from animes, cels are the moving parts of any animation (as opposed to the background, which is a separate component). Because they feature major characters and are hand-painted on clear vinyl sheets, cels are very attractive to anime fans and can cost tens to hundreds of dollars.
Costume play: Dedicated otaku make costumes and dress up as their favorite characters. More common in Japan than here, although a disturbing number of male American fans dress as Sailor Moon.
Fan-fic: Fan-generated fiction, in which otaku imagine scenarios the original authors never would; "Star Trek" crossovers are not uncommon. Many fan-fics can be found on usenet, in: rec.arts.anime.stories.
Fan-sub: Before American editions of some anime titles become available, some fans purchase Japanese laser discs and, using computerized subtitling software, make their own subtitled videotapes. Not always legal, but infrequently prosecuted.
Garage kit: Resin models of anime characters, designed for painting or other modification by fans. Called "garage kits" because that's usually where Japanese fans work on them.
Image album: In addition to anime soundtrack CDs and "Music Calendars" (CDs with music and dramatic dialogue that are released yearly), the Japanese music industry also produces Image Albums, which feature music "inspired by" a specific anime title or character.
Tankouban: In Japan, successful manga (comics) are collected in paperback books called tankouban (literally, "in book form"). Otaku who read no Japanese at all sometimes have complete 40-volume sets of tankouban.