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Producer gets deep inside the otaku heart

by Judit Kawaguchi

Masaaki Katabami is a content producer working in Tokyo. Besides producing manga and mascot design for clients, Katabami publishes Burgeon, a biannual free manga magazine aimed at a female otaku (geek) readership. Available at Tokyo’s Comiket (Comic Market fair), the magazine is in its sixth year. In 2012, Katabami wrote two books on two of Japan’s biggest cultural exports: the manga “One Piece” and the idol group AKB48. “What One Piece’s Words Tell Us,” published in February last year, sold 50,000 copies, and “What AKB48′s Words Tell Us,” published later in October, passed the 10,000 mark. Katabami lives and works in Akihabara, which he considers the center of Japanese subculture and loves as if it is the center of the universe.

I’m not an otaku, but I have the heart of an otaku so I know how they feel. I bring otaku ideas to clients who need to know such views to help them increase their profit margins. Using manga and cute characters, clients can make their products and services appealing to a new market segment: the otaku. Also, when clients can’t explain something well through photos or slogans, they can do it better with manga.

We can manage almost anything online. I rarely meet people. Email communication can be as friendly as face-to-face but it’s a lot faster and therefore better for business.

As long as the project is fun, I’ll do it. I get requests from midsize companies that either want to boost sales or do something fun for PR purposes. For example, one restaurant owner wanted to sell a product in Akihabara. We came up with the idea of a sauce to pour on Japanese curry to make it even more delicious. Akihabara is famous for curry so we figured that we could sell the sauce easily. His restaurant created various sauces and sent me samples. We discussed each sauce via email, picked the best one, chose the bottle from photos and I had a mangaka (comic artist) create a moé (adorably cute) label for it. The only time I had to leave my office was to stop by a few maid cafes to enquire if they wanted to sell the sauce.

Always keep everything in the open to prevent trouble. Once a client sends me a request, I summarize their ideas and come up with my own ones. I might even make a storyline for the manga or think of the outfit of the mascot. I share the project, including the artist’s fee, via email with all the mangaka. From 600 artists, I may get 20 responses. Once the client picks the artwork, I announce the result to all the mangaka. This way artists can learn more about the expectations of businesspeople.

When a man knows how to cook well, there is really no reason to get married. I love cooking and baking and throwing parties for friends. Many are single and none of us feel any pressure to get married. We can do everything by ourselves. Being single equals feeling free.

Japanese kawaii (cute) culture makes people happier. In developing countries, children don’t have access to as many cute toys as we do in Japan. Our kawaii culture is already loved around the world, but I hope we will export it to countries that are still struggling economically. If we can make children happier there, our mission will be accomplished.

Even good news reads badly in Japan. Tokyo will host the 2020 Olympics. This is wonderful, yet all I feel is responsibility. I think this is typical of us Japanese. We are in a perpetual state of worry, so we work very hard and end up with excellent results. While we keep worrying, the world can relax: The 2020 Olympics will be great.

There’s no need to act poor, even if we are. I’m not wealthy or a noble, but I live by the ideals of noblesse oblige. This concept teaches that those with any kind of power must be responsible citizens. We all must be.

The image of Japanese people around the world is very good. We are seen as serious, hardworking, childish and innocent people. All true. We don’t want to be rich, we just want to be happy. And we are.

Manga catches the Japanese eye much faster than any other art form. This is because Japanese people grow up reading manga. Just like a hawk notices a tiny mouse somewhere far below, we find manga anywhere. Our brain gets excited and we must read it immediately. This makes manga the best advertising tool here.

Story is king. The quality of the artwork is not as important as the quality of the story.

Japan is the land of freedom. We can draw wild and sexy characters, dress up in fantastic cosplay (costume play) and act out our fantasies. All forms of expression are accepted because in real life we have the common sense not to do anything bad. We have a strong moral code, so we can lose it in fantasy and in art.

There is a lot of money in Japan, but it ends up in the wrong hands. So many content makers are barely surviving, even though the Japanese government has an almost unlimited budget for its Cool Japan project. Sadly, all that money goes directly to advertising agencies. It would make more sense to give directly to content makers and cosplayers, who could show the world how fun Japan really is.

Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. Learn more at judittokyo.com. Twitter: @judittokyo