Platonic Eros, Ottonian Numinour and Spiritual Longing in Otaku Culture

Less than a month ago I was in North Korea seeing the sights and engaging in some general research into the philosophical mood of its people. After exploring the desolate, zombie-like town of Kaesong, I happened upon a small shop selling such things as the North’s own brand of Coca-Cola, stamps with...

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Bibliographic Details
Published in:Marburg Journal of Religion (Band 15)
Main Author: Barkman, Adam
Format: Journal Articles
Language:English
Published: Philipps-Universität Marburg 2010
Online Access:Online Access
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Summary:Less than a month ago I was in North Korea seeing the sights and engaging in some general research into the philosophical mood of its people. After exploring the desolate, zombie-like town of Kaesong, I happened upon a small shop selling such things as the North’s own brand of Coca-Cola, stamps with Kim Jung Il’s face on them, a myriad of different types of Chinese medicine and, of all things, a manhwa – the Korean name for manga – containing some of the most impressive art I had ever seen; indeed, to my utter surprise, the images in the North Korean manhwa filled me with a deep yearning for something quite inexplicable. Naturally, as a professor of philosophy, I felt obliged to investigate this phenomenon further.And as I did so, I started to realize that certain manga and anime – arguably, the two most sacred objects of otaku culture – have been stirring in me these kinds of feelings ever since I could remember. As a result of this, I immediately came to see that it did not matter whether the culture producing the anime and manga was largely atheistic, like North Korea, Shinto-Buddhist, like Japan, or Christian, like the USA: otaku culture produced anywhere and by any type of believer or nonbeliever seemed to be capable of awakening in me what Plato calls eros and Rudolph Otto calls the numinous.As I moved beyond my own personal reflections to see what scholars of otaku culture have already written on this subject, I found some precedent for my own ideas in the work of Teri Silvio, who has examined the relationship between religious icons and character toys in Taiwan, i Hiroshi Yamanaka, who has discussed “pop cultural spirituality” in the work of Hayao Miyazaki, ii and Susan Napier, who, influenced by Roger Aden’s book Popular Stories and Promised Land: Fan Cultures and Symbolic Pilgrimages, has written about western otaku making “pilgrimages to Akihabara” and has wisely labelled certain anime and manga chatrooms “sacred spaces.” iii Nevertheless, while I agreed with the insights of all these scholars, I felt they did not go far enough in linking their observations to larger philosophical issues. Thus, in this paper I would like to explore the idea of spiritual longing in otaku culture, firstly, by elucidating Plato’s eros and Otto’s numinous, and then, secondly, by examining a few examples from anime and manga which have instilled in me, or others I know, a deep desire for something that can only be described as mysterious, irreducible and spiritual.
DOI:https://doi.org/10.17192/mjr.2010.15.3418