Be it anime-related or not, few pursuits are more self-gratifying and masturbatory than the fine art of blogging, a conduit for unleashing whatever your self-indulgent ego feels compelled to spew onto the Internet. Oddly enough, anime blogging in particular is comparatively devoid of the sort of personality cults that prevail across other blogging landscapes. That is not to say that there isn’t fair number of self-righteous pricks whose opinions we could all do without, but it’s rare for an actual, tangible personality to dominate such a blog. This is, no doubt, a consequence of the anime “blogosphere’s” affinity for me-too patterns of behavior that, from choosing the same generic WordPress themes to the trite blog titles featuring words they learned in first-semester Japanese classes, makes it difficult to tell one smug blogger from the next.
Amidst this herd of homogeneous mediocrity, one notable exception stands out, a Gargantua whose personality cult eclipses all others in the realm of anime blogging: Danny Choo.
[Update 7/16/2010: It’s recently come to our attention that Danny Choo has been redirecting the links made in this post to an entirely different post on his website. You can circumvent this by copying the URL and pasting it into the address bar of your browser yourself, but visiting directly from Colony Drop will not work.]
Among the throngs of foreign-born otaku moving to Japan to stake a claim in the land of milk and hug pillows, few are more offensive than Choo. A shameless peddler of the Myth of Otaku Cool, Choo feeds off the dreams and hopes of anime fans the world over. He tells them, dressed in an immaculate suit of white plastic armor, that they too can come to Japan and live the otaku good life. A life of strolling down the Chuodori, sippin’ on Pocari Sweat, blowing each Eikawa-issued paycheck on a heaping dose of anime figurines and the masturbatory aids with which to enjoy them in the quiet solitude of a 1DK apartment on the ass-end of Saitama.
Then again, we can’t all be the scions of wealthy cobblers, and Akihabara’s cool otaku subculture isn’t going to welcome all these bright-eyed gaijin fansumers with open arms, because that subculture doesn’t even exist. With street performances quashed by overzealous Japanese policemen and the sidewalks packed with shoppers, Akihabara is little more than the Mall of America for anime fans. The difference is that people don’t claim the Mall of America’s food court to be a facet of a unique culture merely because Sbarro is staffed by women in maid costumes.
Choo and his ilk market this myth throughout English speaking fandom for one simple reason: it makes them money.
Don’t get it twisted, we here at Colony Drop fully support people making money off ridiculous shit like writing about anime toys, and the way in which Choo has turned himself into a profitable brand is nothing short of genuinely impressive. The guy pays his fucking mortgage with the revenues from his website, a fact made even more impressive by the realization of how poorly designed and utterly impossible it is to navigate. But, much like in the case of 50 Cent, it’s hard to figure out who’s worse: the guy who sells the shit, or the suckers that buy it?
Choo takes things up a notch, by employing his dedicated fanbase as an unpaid labor force so that he can make even more money. Take a look at his Otacool book series, two (soon, three!) books which feature crazy otaku rooms and insane cosplayers, respectively. While Choo and his publisher clean up, the people who submit the photos for these books go completely without compensation. When you realize that Choo is literally doing nothing but collecting photos taken by others and selling them as a book, it’s hard to view it as anything other than taking advantage of a mystifyingly loyal fan base.
While his actual talents may be hard to discern, Choo is clearly skilled at exploiting things. His painfully-generic anime girl “mascot” Mirai adorns his business card and website, as well as a double-sided hugpillow that features her partially undressed, for the low price of 9,800 yen.
Choo has also thrown his hat into the ring of an one of Japan’s most exploitative industries: anime production. He recently announced his upcoming anime series Chinka, a completely unironic feature about a female firefighter who just happens to be underage and totally moé. But, while we’ve all been well-educated about how completely exploited Japanese animators are, Choo wants to take it to the next level by having you, his loyal fans, help animate his rubbish cartoon in return for your name in the credits and absolutely no pay. Perhaps, if you’re mentally defective enough to believe that such a thing would actually lead to the “opportunities” Choo hints at, this might seem like a good idea, but it’s just another ploy to wring a quick buck out of devoted fans.
One of Choo’s most prominent claims to fame is as an expert on otaku and anime fan culture, ostensibly because he himself is a hopeless nerd. This is where things get difficult, as it’s not clear whether he actually buys into the tripe he writes or the ridiculous cosplaying otaku persona he portrays. There’s no doubt that he was once a bona-fide unashamed fan, but at this point, how much of it is legitimately earnest passion? Genuine or not, he’s perfectly comfortable doing whatever the hell it is that he’s doing. Witness the awkward smiles and uncertain faces of everyone he’s photographed with, contrasted with his blissful ignorance of (or, perhaps, plain disregard for) the uncomfortable situations an expert in 1/3 scale dolls brings upon people.
Clearly, both parties are guilty. If Choo is the authentic otaku he claims to be, he’s an awkward, creepy guy who isn’t doing fandom any favors whatsoever by presenting such an awkward, creepy persona. On the other hand, if this ridiculous otaku personality is just a front, one can’t help but wonder: how much of a massive, desperate tool must one be to resort to manipulating a bunch of cartoon-obsessed adolescents who would know better if only they weren’t 14 years of age (or born in Singapore). His delusional fans aren’t any better — but at least they’re not the ones making money off this pathological relationship.