In Japan, the word "otaku" is something of an insult. Although it originally referred to dedicated hobbyists -- particularly hard-core fans of manga (comics) and anime (animation) -- it has over time acquired the aroma of obsession, suggesting a lack of social skills, nerdiness and geekdom.
Most Japanese cringe at the term.
In America, on the other hand, anime (pronounced "ah-nee-may") fans wear the label with pride. They have anime societies, Internet newsgroups, even their own conventions, such as Otakon '97. Billing itself as the "Convention of Otaku Generation," it will run for three days at Marriott's Hunt Valley Inn, starting today, and will feature everything from panel discussions and video marathons to a costume ball.
It will be otaku heaven, and frankly, Ippongi Bang can't wait.
Bang is Otakon's Japanese guest of honor. A manga artist, singer and actress, she is totally at home in the world of Japanese animation, where she works with industry giant Gainax. Even so, she finds it refreshing to be among people who are happy to be called otaku.
"Otaku is a term used to bully others among the kids in Japan," she says, through a translator. "This is a rather accepted term for the professional industry creators, but this doesn't mean the creators are proud to be called otaku."
Bang has been a manga professional since 1982.
"Japan is the Super Manga Power Country, and illustrating manga has formed my identity," she says. "I like manga because I can create my own world, although I do have to make some compromises with the readers to please them. I just love manga by itself, and I love drawing."
Only a smattering of Bang's work has made it to the American market, the fantasy-adventure comic "F-111 Bandit" being the best-known. The comic "Doctor!" -- featuring Bang as a researcher -- will be released domestically in November.
Still, she's impressed by the enthusiasm of American fans.
"I love the way American guys call themselves otaku, that's way cool!" she says. "I can't wait to see more crazy American otaku. Show me your American otaku power!"
She'll have plenty of opportunity to see it in action at Otakon. In addition to a heavy dose of anime (ranging from an 18-hour marathon of the fantasy series "Fushigi Yuugi" to several American premieres), there will be workshops and panel discussions covering the full range of otaku interests.
To be honest, some of the activities might make even Americans translate "otaku" as "geek." Take "cosplay," for instance. This is where otaku dress up as their favorite anime characters. Not only does this require sewing skills and a keen eye for detail, it also takes some skill with makeup -- how else would a grown man transform into Sailor Moon?
Most of the other activities have a technical, or even a practical, bent. Start with the Fan Sub Workshop on Friday. Because many anime titles are available in Japan long before they're available in the United States (if, indeed, they ever are released here), some otaku buy the videos on Japanese import and dub in subtitles for friends who don't speak Japanese.
The workshop will cover everything from how to make subtitles show up clearly to what the laws are regarding copyright and distribution ("fan subs" may never be sold, for instance).
Aspiring voice actors can glean tips from Juliet Cesario and Scott Simpson, who played Belldandy and Keiichi in the English-dubbed version of "Oh My Goddess!" Wannabe animators can learn the art of cel painting from Steve Bennett, who worked on such series as "Urusei Yatsura" for the Japanese animation company Studio Aoehyama. There also will be a panel discussion of Manga in America, featuring Adam Warren and Robert DeJesus, who did the American versions of the "Dirty Pair" and "Bubblegum Crisis" comics.
But for Bang, the best part of the weekend will be Saturday's "OtaDance," a combination costume ball and Ippongi Bang concert.
Being both a professional singer and manga artist is quite uncommon -- "In fact, there is almost nobody who both plays and draws," she says -- and Bang is happy to show off both sides of her career.
"[My fans] are very different," she says. "They are proud to be different from the others."
When: Today, noon-3 a.m.; tomorrow, 9 a.m.-3 a.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Where: Marriott's Hunt Valley Inn, 245 Shawan Road, Hunt Valley
Tickets: $40 for all three days; one-day tickets are $20
Call: 814-867-3478 for information or 410-785-7000 for directions
Pub Date: 8/08/97