No, we did not accidentally add a “w” in front of the word “otaku.” Wotaku is a what now? A giant otaku? An otaku that’s wet? No, not really. Wotaku is a term that sprung forth on the internet in Japan about a decade or so ago and has been used by otaku around other otaku to distinguish themselves from each other. Now we know you must be saying “Who with the what does the how?” and don’t worry, it was a bit confusing when it first arose. Today, we are looking at the otaku that are so hardcore, that they went and made their own code word to use amongst themselves online and in real life. Well… kind of in real life, since no Japanese person, let alone an otaku, comes out and admits they are an otaku face-to-face with someone. Nonetheless, let’s head off on an etymological adventure!
The term “wotaku” is originally from the word “otaku.” An otaku would have been someone that, more or less, is obsessed with anime culture and is the western equivalent of a basement dweller. Written as オタク, this was a word that fellow otaku would use amongst themselves online proclaiming their love for a series/character/game on 2chan or some other iteration of a message board or blog. Wotaku, written ヲタク, is someone who does that, but in current day. The shift from using “オ” (o) to ヲ(wo) was created to sound just like the original word. Since both are used in the same manner, one would have to look at the spelling to make sure what kind of person you are dealing with. Interestingly enough, ヲタク is now frequently shortened to ヲタ (wota). You will see it often in people’s bios on twitter. In fact, people will proudly admit that they are Wotaku on social media in order to not only meet others like them, but let random passersby know that they are not to be questioned with when it comes to what they love. There are many incarnations of the use of this word with things like game wotaku, idol wotaku, light novel wotaku, figure wotaku, and more. Where does it come from though?
How to Have Online Cred in the Early 2000s
It’s no surprise that the word “otaku” carries a heavy connotation with it. When you ask people in Japan what otaku means to them, most will say they imagine it to be someone from 10 years ago. They will tell you it’s someone probably living with their parents, unemployed or barely clinging on to a small job, probably single, has bad acne, thick glasses, does not bathe often, and frequents Akihabara for anime and game goods. It carried a heavy connotation offline and could be considered something of an insult to call someone one a long time ago. While the word was popular online, people in real life started to use the word much to the horror and alarm of otaku. This lead to otaku feeling uncomfortable that someone who was not them, who did not post online constantly, nor love anime or manga, was claiming their word. Nowadays, because of this linguistic shift, you have people who will claim they are wotaku in order to distinguish themselves from other normal people who use the word otaku. Complicated, isn’t it? Well, who are they trying to separate themselves from?
During the spelling shift, there is most likely someone who was into games/anime and something else like photography, idols, games, books, fashion, etc. It’s odd to call yourself “photography crazed” or “photography obsessed,” so what people would do is say they are a “photo-otaku” or a “camera-otaku.” This made them seem as if they were some expert in photography while also letting people know that they were really passionate about it. Otaku, horrified at this, decided to change the word to wotaku in order to keep themselves separate. However, it still implied a tie to anime culture since the pronunciation does not change. Nothing is that simple nor does it stay that way as wotaku continued to evolve. This word has now become so commonplace, that idol fans and game fans in particular have picked up wotaku for themselves. But, wouldn’t you know it? They don’t want to be associated with the negative imagery that springs to mind under wotaku/otaku’s connotation. So, they have changed it to be simply “ヲタ” (wota), losing the last katakana on the end.
Today in current Japan, “wotaku/wota” can refer to someone into games, idols (2D or 3D or both), seiyuu, BL/Fujoshi things, and anime predominantly. The word is still evolving so it is only a matter of time before someone mainstream begins to use it and thus the meaning shifts further towards normal people and hobbies. One thing is for sure, don’t tell the current users that! Have we seen wotaku in anime? Well yes, actually we have. In fact, there is even a work coming that focuses solely on wotaku and we are happy to introduce it as well in this article.
Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii (It’s Difficult to Love an Otaku)
- Episodes: TBA
- Aired: April 2018 - ??
The story is of Hirotaka Nifuji, a gaming wotaku, and Narumi Momose, a fujoshi (wotaku). The two of them discover one day that they work for the same company. It is not a “boy meets girl” as the two of them went to middle school together. After some horribly awkward encounters, the two realize their feelings for each other and start to date. Is it smooth sailing? Not at all as the two of them start to realize that not only their hobbies get in the way of romance, but their clumsiness does as well.
This show is actually going to be airing Spring 2018 and looks to be a surefire romcom hit within the anime community. In it though, we actually get a double dose of wotaku in a gamer and a fujoshi. Again, not to be viewed as otaku, they are wotaku even though, albeit they have jobs, they are still horribly awkward and have to work together on their issues in order to realize their romance. While most details are not out yet, there should be a healthy dose of laughter to go around as it portrays two very different wotaku.
Well-Defined Examples of Wotaku
Now that we have given you the golden example, let’s talk about some other wotaku that we have seen in other anime. A really easy one to pick out is Momonga from Overlord. He is a gaming wotaku. He just happened to have a job while being a massive gaming one. Speaking of Isekai anime, Youji Itami from GATE: Jieitai Kanochi nite, Kaku Tatakeri was a plastic model wotaku until he became the hero in a moment and saved Japan. Any anime who has a character who talks about waifu or idols as waifu or goes to shows for them, like with Alex Tachibana from Himouto! Umaru-chan R, has an idol wotaku character. Kae Serinuma from Watashi ga Motete Dousunda is a fujoshi wotaku. Now note, there are some fujoshi who will refer to themselves as wotaku and some will object to the term, so tread carefully!
The point to make here is that while people in the west know what otaku is, they are a bit late on it since wotaku has been around for almost a decade and shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, we surmise with how quickly it was picked up and diversified, that wotaku will soon be finding another word to refer to themselves as online, or they will just attempt to reclaim the word “otaku” for themselves. Anime is teeming with wotaku characters, and one only has to look to find them.
What we learned today is that wotaku are hipsters who wanted to be into something and keep their own culture/word after “otaku” was stolen and so they made up “wotaku.” This has led to a linguistic shift for them away from the original word while mainstream people aka normies picked it up to make themselves sound cool and dedicated to their hobbies. However, this word backfired as wotaku saw their word be hijacked by fujoshi, gamers, figurine enthusiasts and more as wotaku only tried to make a place for themselves in the world. Now maybe, that has backfired. Will we see a new word born soon? Only time will tell.