If you’re a millennial, chances are that you are aware of the wonderful world of being an Otaku. Whether you are part of the Survey Corps or were part of Sanzo’s party’s journey to the west, it’s very likely that you are an Otaku as well. An Otaku is someone who has a passionate interest in something, although nowadays, the term Otaku is most likely more connected with the world of Anime and Manga.
Growing up as an introvert and as someone who has a lot of social anxiety, it was hard to make friends easily. I discovered anime when I was 10, and 19 years later, I’m still here. I’m still a proud Otaku. Looking back at it, my first friends were these four characters in the anime: Gensomaden Saiyuki. As a child who didn’t have any friends, I relied a lot on these 2D characters that are fictional, but they were so real to me because in my mind, they were there for me through the good times and the bad. I know what some of you must be thinking – “how can you call a bunch of fictional characters your friends?”
The only answer I can give you; they were my security blanket and provided me comfort. It wasn’t just them, a lot of the anime I’ve watched growing up gave me a lot of life lessons that shaped me to be who I am now and helped me gain the confidence to take the first step in making new friends. A lot of anime and/or mangas prepared me for a lot of the social difficulties in the real world, especially during my teenage years as I felt closely related to the main protagonists who were going through their high school lives whether it’s dealing with friendship issues or even life issues.
The first step I took was challenging but then I remembered that a lot of these fictional characters that I read about were also going through the same things as I was, so why couldn’t I have that amount of courage too? I recall that day so vividly like it was just yesterday, even though I’m way older now. It was my first time reaching out to someone and even though I was so terrified, and I felt like my heart was going to burst out of my chest, I told myself that I had nothing to lose. My heart soared the moment I found out that there were people who shared the same interest as me for similar reasons and from there, my world expanded. As an Otaku, I knew that there were multiple fandom communities I could join, and I could connect with everyone from anywhere.
Going back into my mental state, I was unstable. I had a lot of pent-up anger and resentment in me from years of feeling alone. It was suffocating. Like the entire world was crashing down on me because I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. I was too young to understand what I was going through internally and if it wasn’t for anime, I probably would have never known why I was feeling that way until I was too late. I would have gone through my dull life following the masses and stop myself from colouring the pages of my own story. How ironic that I had to learn it from fictional characters. These characters from a black and white page panel had more colour in them and I wanted that even if it was just a little bit. I had to learn from them that my feelings were valid. They weren’t just all in my head. They were my struggles and although it was hard, I’m okay with admitting to them now because there’s nothing wrong with admitting that you’re hurting, there’s nothing wrong with admitting you’re lonely, it’s okay.
For the first time in my life, I felt free. It might be an exaggeration to some and that’s fine, these are my feelings and I simply want to share them with you. I’m still going through my anxieties and depression but, you know, that’s okay. I’m doing okay now. I’m not 100% happy but there’s nothing wrong with that because it’s a part of my journey. I won’t deny my scars. I won’t hide my pain. I’m still here, I’m still going through life because it’s worth living for. I never knew that my introduction to being an Otaku would end up saving my soul in more ways than one. Now, I have dear friends who are there for me and understand my struggles. My fictional friends led me to my real-life friends, and I will forever be grateful to them.
Here’s my advice to you who might go through a similar journey as me; don’t give up on yourself. I know it’s hard and I know that maybe you feel like everyone is against you but keep fighting to move forward. If you’re afraid to find someone to talk to, then perhaps you can find an outlet to cope with your struggles like I did as an Otaku. It might give you the courage to open-up to someone one day and reach out to them first.