I am an otaku. I am an activist. I have translated some of the anime you watch. I have watched some of the anime you own before it could be bought in Japan. I discuss anime over email, Usenet, the phone, IRC, and of course, in person. I have run surveys for U.S. anime firms, and once operated the second largest anime image site on the Web. I fanfic, cosplay, and get letters from Japanese anime producers. I managed to import tens of thousands of dollars of laserdiscs directly from Japan while still an undergraduate, and have spent well over a thousand hours studying a language from half the world away in order to better pursue my hobby.
I am a cultist. What else could I be called? Me, with my clothing covered in arcane symbols and drawings, my stacks of religious paraphernalia arranged carefully throughout my apartment. My strange missives from foreign lands. My coven gathers every week on Saturday, its council of elders meeting at odd hours on its august business. Annually I attend great convocations of the Faithful at auspicious points in the calendar, requiring pilgrimages of thousands of miles. My scriptures: the Ghibli Canon, the Gospel According to Anno, the Apocalypse of Ikuhara: apocrypha one and all in the truest sense of the word. The debates that rage unbridled between the brethren ring of Talmudic scholarship, of tarot cards and the great Sephirothic Schema. Such disagreements can, and have, led to excommunications from the flock and threats of death in the night.
Let there be no mistake. To become an anime fan is to step into a larger realm, a world the rest of society only glimpses indistinctly through its video stores and sanitized television pabulum. Anime fans are those who have gathered to worship at the temple of some concept, some thing greater than themselves which somehow makes their life more worth living. And the otaku are at once their high priests and their Inquisitors, their rabbis and ministers and occasionally their blackest heretics. It takes a zealot to buy all thousand dollars worth of Neon Genesis Evangelion, and an apostate of the first order to systematically blow away each and every laserdisc with a shotgun. Of such events are legends made.
Anime is a road paved with good intentions. Or, perhaps, it is nothing at all -- a medium? An industry? A way of life? "The Dao you can see is not the true Dao... until you add more toner." Anime is potentially all things to all people, an insidious force that has stealthily been invading your culture since before you were born. Astro-Boy, Speed Racer, Star Blazers... names which even the uninitiated have heard, aye, and the greatest heresy of all: Robotech. The great Church of Anime has graven its symbol deep in the nation's heart, just like the Mason's emblem on the humble dollar bill. And now that church trembles on the brink of a great revolution.
To be sure, anime is no stranger to prophets. Many have been the voices "crying in the wilderness" of our theaters, our televisions, and our video stores. Every word, every tape, lures one more person among the faithful. But the Messiah has yet to come and bring society as one into the light. That Messiah's star may have finally shown in the East, in the form of the most successful animated movie in Japan's history: Mononoke Hime. The Empire of the Mouse, direct descendant of animation's Father Abraham Disney, is now deciding whether to convert to Ghiblism and promote Princess Mononoke with the fullness of its culturally-entrenched influence. In the two weeks since Mononoke's advent, the box office draw has borne ample witness to the film's persuasive power. The jaundiced arbiters of cinematic style have fallen in love at once with its charms. Why then is it not ubiquitous?
Perhaps Rome cannot be built in a day. Perhaps the cultural IQ is too low, or the corporate courage too wanting. Yet aren't such conditions those under which cults flourish? Isn't the time ripe for a religious upheaval to rival the founding of Christendom? But the faithful are divided, their scholars and leaders foundering amid the shoals of "sub-versus-dub" and other divisive arguments. Many are unconvinced that Mononoke Hime is even fit as the Messiah, thinking that something more splendid than a humble carpenter's son is required. As with any point of faith, such doubts cannot be categorically disproven.
So after the dust has cleared and the latest effort to bring anime to the masses has drawn to a close, what will be said of the otaku? In debate with others of the faithful, I have advanced the definition of a "successful" otaku as one who is most able to enkindle within others the same burning love for the object of his obsession. If so, what of the current gathering revolutionary storm? Should the revolution succeed, will the otaku be seen as those who guided the people to a more enlightened age? As akin to the esoterics of theoretical physics whose theories are not to be understood but whose results are to be taken for granted? Or merely as one more generation of L. Ron Hubbards and David Koreshes and Asahara Shokos whose beliefs form a sad postscript to the accepted mainstream. And should this revolution falter, how long must fandom wait for the next chance at salvation?
If the otaku fail, will they be remembered at all?