Back in 2005, I think Densha Otoko was the first J-drama I ever saw. It was something that just flew completely under my radar, I was into anime and tokusatsu, but the idea of watching regular Japanese TV never occurred to me. However, some of the people I knew had seen it and liked it and encouraged me to give it a try so my wife and I sat down and watched this 11-episode drama and you know something? We loved it.
But more than just the series, the story spoke to me and, thinking back on it now, I think it’s just as important today as it was a decade ago. Therefore, I wanted to revisit Densha Otoko, not as a review per se, but as a statement on fandom.
I was reorganizing our collection recently and came across the series and all of it’s associated specials. It was, as I recall, a big deal in Japan at the time, it was based, quite loosely, on a real event in Japan. The story, in a nutshell, is of a young geek who saves a beautiful woman from being harassed on a train. Surprisingly, she is very thankful and sends him a gift, an expensive set of Hermes cups. The man, who has no idea how to act around women, turns to an online forum for unmarried men to ask how he should proceed and thus, the relationship between the Train Man and Hermes was played out online as it was going on in real life.
Now having been around the geek crowd my entire life, people who were into anime and science fiction and comic books, people who had no social life outside of their fandom, who clearly had no idea how to act around the opposite sex. I saw a lot of parallels. I had seen the loneliness of men in their 40s and 50s who had never had a serious romantic relationship with a woman, or a man for that matter, but were so terrified of the prospect that they buried themselves under models and video tapes and toys, fantasizing that someone, somewhere, might actually like them someday, but it never happened because they couldn’t even imagine how to go about it or how to act like a normal, well-adjusted person. To this day, some of these same men are still, in their 60s and beyond, are out there somewhere, huddled around a TV, watching anime in a dark room, wishing they could get laid.
See, by the time I ever saw it, I had been married for more than 10 years, had two kids and had largely walked away from the organized fandoms where I spent my youth. I had grown up and moved on. Yet it seemed to me that Densha Otoko was a potential blueprint for these sad people. It showed that even the most hardened geek could, if they put their mind to it and used their community for support, succeed if they wanted it enough. The best part of the whole drama wasn’t just that Densha and his girl eventually got together, it was that he had tons of supporters rooting from the Internet, pushing him to succeed and, in fact, all of his supporters, seeing Densha succeed, changed their own lives for the better too.
I don’t know if many geeks in Japan ever really changed, or if Densha Otoko, the real story or the Japanese drama, made a difference in the lives of many unsocialized fans. Fear keeps a lot of these people from ever really growing up and being well-rounded people. Heck, I don’t know if anyone saw it that way but me, I tend to draw lessons out of things where most people are totally oblivious.
For those geeks out there, I really encourage you to find this series, it shouldn’t be too hard to get fansubbed online. Find the movie. Find the series. Find the book or the manga. It’s available in many different formats. Read it. Put some of these ideas into practice. Put yourself out there. Make something of yourself. Don’t be that guy hugging his Daimakura pillow when he’s old. Life is too short to waste it like that.