Here’s a topic I’ve been meaning to get around to for quite a while. It all started last summer anime season when I was watching This Art Club Has a Problem!. During it, I couldn’t help but notice what I thought was an annoying flaw in an otherwise decent comedy show. My problem with This Art Club Has a Problem! was one which involved the portrayal of Otaku. Now, I’m not saying the show was bad due to its inability to see Otaku culture for what I see it to be. Rather, it failed to define its own perspective in a way that was anything more than a pretty basic stereotype. The character Uchimaki is shown to be a head-in-the-clouds waifu-lover whose simple passion serves to be the butt of most of the show’s jokes. Usami (main character) goes throughout the entire show not trying to look deeper into his hobby, but rather spends most of her time scoffing at it and questioning why she had to fall in love with such a weirdo.
The show doesn’t bother to give a fresh or meaningful perspective not only for Otaku culture, but for any of its characters at all. And while that’s fine for a throw-away sketch comedy show like This Art Club Has a Problem!, something that strives to resonate with an audience in more ways than just providing cheap laughs ought to put more effort into understanding characters, and understanding Otaku. And so that got me thinking about Otaku characters in anime, and made me want to take a closer look at some of the great (and not-so-great) Otaku portrayals in anime. Starting with my all-time favorite: Keima Katsuragi from The World God Only Knows.
“The God of Conquest” or “The Capturing God” (depending on what subs you use), is a brilliantly written 17-year-old high school student who has given up on the 3D realm in order to focus all his efforts into capturing the hearts of 2D dating-sim heroines. Through the echoes of his incredible victories, a demon girl mistakenly enlists him to help woo “runaway spirits” out of real girls. At first, Keima doesn’t seem up to the task, but because his life is on the line he finds himself having to apply his legendary dating-sim skills onto real, 3D girls. Through his uniquely objective view of romance, we’re able to watch him put his analytical prowess and deep knowledge of romantic tropes into action, earning the love of every heroine that stands in his way. Of course, the girls forget everything once their true love’s kiss has finally been obtained, so it’s more about the sport than anything else.
Pertaining to his Otaku nature, Keima seems to fit the definition to a T. His obsession with dating-sims causes him to become a social outcast at school, and from the outside he would certainly look like a strange introvert with no friends and absolutely no social skills. Funny enough, it turns out his passion actually made him into the MOST well-equipped person to deal with social interactions, and through his perspective we’re able to see that he lives no sad, lonely life at all, but rather one filled with determination and blissful acceptance of who he is.
Keima is not meant to be pitied or laughed at for his hobby and life choices. There are characters that scoff at him in the show, but he gives no attention to those who ignorantly judge him, and no matter what, Keima always comes out on top. The World God Only Knows portrays Keima not as a flawed hero with a shameless obsession, but as a powerful protagonist whose arguably greatest asset is the ability to accept who he is. Without that, he certainly wouldn’t be able to utilize his knowledge with such confidence. He need not worry about what others might think of him because he knows that the best way to one’s heart is not through looking appealing to them, but through helping them better understand themselves.
Another thing that makes Keima such a profoundly unique character is how he doesn’t fall under the “perverted” stereotype of Otaku, especially of the gal game loving variety. He shows that his love of dating-sims transcends physical attraction, as all of his conquests are always a matter of archetypes and personality. Not once has body image been of any significance to him, and I think many would argue that to be a truly admirable trait. Keima loves the challenge of getting to the heart of one’s personality, learning their insecurities and “triggering events” to offer the most emotional impact in helping them overcome those insecurities. Though he does tend to operate on such a mechanical level that he doesn’t seem too kind or altruistic, but at least his motivations always work out well for everyone.
Now I must add, I can only speak to his character within the confines of the of the anime series as I haven’t read the manga, so if he does change as a character and the story does turn out to be one of exposing the detriment of his obsession, well…I’ll be really sad about it. Don’t tell me though, I will eventually find out myself. All I can say is that the anime does him justice as an Otaku, and I only wish somebody picked up the rights to season 4 after Manglobe went under. Anyway, I love Keima Katsuragi as a character, as he offers a fresh and bold perspective on Otaku and dating-sim fans, and I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more respectable Otaku protagonist anywhere else. Thanks for reading.