Kleefeld's Fanthropology #10: An Interview America's Greatest Otaku, Pt. 2

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By Sean Kleefeld

In the summer of 2010, Tokyopop founder Stu Levy took a cast of six American otaku and a film crew in order to explore otaku culture in the continental U.S. and find "America's Greatest Otaku." Otaku is a Japanese word used to refer to people with obsessive interests, particularly anime and manga. Historically, it’s had a relatively negative connotation, but somewhat in tandem with the acceptance of “geek culture” here in the United States, being an otaku has become more acceptable. Christopher Wanamaker was the winner named as America’s Greatest Otaku, and is founder and president of the DC Anime Club.

Check out Part One of this interview here!

In the summer of 2010, Tokyopop founder Stu Levy took a cast of six American otaku and a film crew in order to explore otaku culture in the continental U.S. and find "America's Greatest Otaku." Otaku is a Japanese word used to refer to people with obsessive interests, particularly anime and manga. Historically, it’s had a relatively negative connotation, but somewhat in tandem with the acceptance of “geek culture” here in the United States, being an otaku has become more acceptable. Christopher Wanamaker was the winner named as America’s Greatest Otaku, and is founder and president of the DC Anime Club.

Geek: The Club is really active these days, putting on art shows, doing outreach at local schools, not to mention anime screenings and gaming of both the video and CCG variety. But I suspect you didn't start out with such a wide breadth of activities. Can you talk about the Club has evolved over the past decade?

Wanamaker: Not only does our club grow, but we started our own marketing department where we promote concerts, bands and conventions in fandom to having a dance troupe, which is currently in hiatus to perform at events such as the Smithsonian Freer and Sackler Gallery and Japan Information and Culture Center, Embassy of Japan.

Our motto is Harder Better Faster Stronger. Hopefully Daft Punk does not sue us for using that concept as our motto. Other motivational mottos are “NOT JUST A CLUB” and “We don’t know how to negotiate?”

We have increased in networking with others in fandom, which is why you see DC Anime Club table/booth at such cons as Katsucon, Otakon, Anime USA, Awesome Con, Balticon or we just have an ad in the con program guide such as Nekocon, Tsubasa Con and Anime Mid Atlantic. Working with others helps us grow and we learned a lot from each other.

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Geek: I'd like to explore that networking angle a bit more. Is that just chatting with other clubs while you're at conventions? Are you able to follow up on that, and visit their groups when you might happen to be in their area?

Wanamaker: Basically I would send an email to fandom related events and make an offer regarding having our marketing department promote their event, and in exchange we get a table at the con. That is how we network basically, and we have visited other anime clubs while other anime clubs have visited us. I also run an organization for Anime Clubs around the world Anime Clubs Unite. Even the US Distributors are on this site from Right Stuf to Funimation, since they run anime club support programs. The one from Funimation is making a comeback.

Geek: Let's jump ahead to 2010 and America's Greatest Otaku, Stu Levy's show that tried to showcase otaku culture throughout the United States. How did you hear about the show and what prompted you to enter?

Wanamaker: I heard about the show through Tokyopop HQ crew intern Lily Chau, who emailed DC Anime Club to help promote the show. I tried to get DC Anime Club itself on the show, but was told that the only people who would be interviewed would be those who entered the show’s competition. My Vice-President, Craig Vaughn, suggested that I participate and I was hesitant at first, but then I said “why not?”

Geek: During their vetting process, I expect you had some contact with other candidates. I'm curious what your thoughts were in seeing and talking with them. Did you feel others embodied otaku more deeply than you?

Wanamaker: Yes, I did. Especially Ryan, whose toy collection was crazy large. Some I have become friends with over Facebook, and others I talked with over Facebook, but then some unfriended me off Facebook as soon as I won the fan favorites AGO.

Geek: In the show, we see your reaction when Levy tells you that you'd won. But did he go on to explain the reasons why the judges selected you over all the other entrants?

Wanamaker: Stu told me the judges really liked the concept of promoting and sharing anime fandom with others.

Geek: Watching you tour Japan, it's clear that it was powerful and enlightening trip for you. I'm curious what you felt what was most significant about your trip at the time, and if that might be different now that you've had a little time to reflect and process it.

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Wanamaker: I feel like the same person who just learned more from Japan, other than just the animated shows and J-Pop goods they produce and wish to return someday, hopefully learning the lingo. I have been so busy lately and money is tight right now due to my upcoming wedding this July 2013.

Geek: Congrats on the upcoming wedding! I've seen pictures of you and your fiancée cosplaying together; was that something you were both doing independently before you met?

Wanamaker: For me, yes. For my fiancée, no. I got her into anime fandom by showing her anime on DVD and taking her to her first con. We have always tried couple cosplay ever since 2003, I think it was.

Geek: What have you been up to since then? You're still the President of the DC Anime Club; has that expanded?

Wanamaker: I am still president of DC Anime Club. We are currently working on our upcoming Cosplay Parade event on May 18, 2013 as part of Fiesta Asia. I also have a fan page about being America’s Greatest Otaku. I use that fanpage to talk about what geeky things I have on my mind and to connect to those who voted for me as fan favorite. I am also promoting myself at the DC Anime Club table with my America’s Greatest Otaku promo poster. In June, I am doing an America’s Greatest Otaku photo shoot where I do something that is not quite cosplay. It’ll be cool and I hope everyone enjoys the photos I post on my fanpage. I have been back and forth about some other AGO projects or things to participate in. As I said before on my fanpage, I have seriously thought about at least having a comic book about being America’s Greatest Otaku, but that is matter of reception. If enough of my fans on my fanpage would like to see a comic book based on yours truly as AGO, then I will do my best to go for it. One of the tricky parts is getting the rights from Tokyopop. Previously, I went to a fundraiser at the Embassy of Japan (the actual one in DC) and hosted by the Japan International Christian University (Japan ICU) where I made a donation to help the victims of the tsunami in Japan. This fundraiser was held back in 2012 and I got to meet the Ambassador of Japan or former Ambassador, as I hear that there was a change in Ambassadors. I have been interviewed by Otaku USA editor-in-chief Patrick Marcius for his book Fierce Legend of American Otaku People which will be published in Japan only.

Overall I trying to use the title “America’s Greatest Otaku” to do some good, not just in the fandom community but outside of fandom by representing at least Otaku and Anime fandom. Kinda like an Ambassador/ representative for Otaku. I understand where people are coming from when it comes to the word “Otaku” but why can’t an Otaku do some good in community to make Otaku look good? Action speak louder than words.

Geek: Very well put!