Otaku culture inspired tattoos are nothing altogether new, but the culture that now surrounds them is. Once a culture develops, it is the crucial tipping point where a trend or movement goes from a quirk or deviation to something that is “actually happening” – a crucial definition that many people outside Japan would do well to remember sometimes! Especially in the case of fashion, the amount of times that I have seen something worn on the streets that stopped me in my tracks (calipers worn as an accessory and feminine hygiene products used as brooches being just two that I have seen in the last week), are too numerous to count, but whether they boil over into an actual trend – well that is up to the people to decide, not this lone writer.
In the case of otaku tattoos, the public have spoken and pushed them from amusing deviations that cluttered 2ch to something genuinely exciting and one that I have covered in an extended article for The Japan Times here.
It goes without saying that anime and manga tattoos have been around for a while now, and I count some of Genko’s work with shojo manga subjects as some of the most aesthetically pleasing to grace skin, but that is missing the point entirely. Otaku culture goes so far beyond the choice of subject or ironic geek chic, it is the very essence of social stigma, and when you are putting that on your skin it shocks far more in the context of Japan than the grotesque or any insignia could hope to. After all, even though Comiket is the largest public gathering in Japan, you just try and find someone wearing even a tame anime t-shirt outside of their home in Tokyo, let alone sporting their colors for life. I sometimes forget how important that context is when I write about someone like Mikio Sakabe, and why his Ai Madonna illustrations on t-shirts are actually ironically so much more controversial in Tokyo than they would be outside this island.
At any rate, beyond the provocative message the tattoo’s send and the culture that is gathering around the artists in the scene which I wrote about in the JT article, it is easy to forget that they are also simply fantastic tattoos, wonderfully executed and often using new gun and color techniques to capture the subjects on skin.