I gladly embrace the term “Ouidaite” to describe myself as an American Ouida fan because I am faithfully Pro-Ouida. I firmly concur with many of her core literary and philosophical tenets including her aestheticism, her humanism, her humanitarianism, and many of her views on the preservation of cultural heritage sites, nature, and animal rights. I believe the origin of the term “Pro-Ouidaite” lies with its appearance in Elizabeth Lee’s Ouida: A Memoir (1914). The first of several biographies devoted to the author, in Lee’s account the label is first employed to describe the camp of individuals who retained their support for Ouida in Florence subsequent to the infamous controversy that erupted over the publication of the novel Friendship in 1878 as her roman à clef (Lee 94). Nevertheless, at present, I have adopted the term to situate my own fanaticism with Ouida and her works.
The term “Janeite” is commonly used to describe a fan or disciple of Jane Austen and her novels; and it is especially popular here in North America. It is fitting, then, that I have chosen to adopt the title of Ouidaite to define myself as a fan of Ouida because I share much in common with the Janeites of the world. In my experience, Janeites are often social and public in their in adoration for their favorite author; they have a respect for the history; and, most importantly, they are remarkably passionate about their love for their literary idol. Above all, they find ways to integrate their love for Austen in their daily lives, as they augment their reading experiences by watching films, organizing book clubs, going to conferences and conventions, and even engaging in literary reenactments and historical cosplay. Many of these kinds of social activities, the cosplay in particular, are also practiced in “otaku” culture worldwide. As an American otaku who grew up with anime and manga during the 1980s and ‘90s, I have consciously chosen to direct my consumption of Ouida’s works in accordance with the precepts of a postmodern articulation of fandom.
Why Otaku? Well, it should not really be that surprising considering the extraordinarily warm reception Ouida has received in the hearts of the Japanese people. The Japanese animated versions of Ouida’s A Dog of Flanders (1872) have likely launched the work into a height of international popularity never achieved nor imagined by the author during her own lifetime. In that sense, there is already an otaku fan base for Ouida’s work in Japan, in Korea, and in other countries throughout East and South East Asia. Yet, there is so much more to the Ouida otaku underneath the surface.
What exactly is an otaku? The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as, “(In Japan) a young person who is obsessed with computers or particular aspects of popular culture to the detriment of their social skills.” Now, it is true that I have neglected my social obligations in order to watch anime or read more Ouida on a number of occasions, but the negative connotation that comes with the conventional Japanese understanding of the term is somewhat offensive to American sensibilities. Americans, in fact, have redefined the term as a “badge of honor” used to describe their passion for collecting and consuming anime, manga, and anime related video games. I do not wish to debate the exact definition of otaku here, but suffice it to recognize that I think that it is actually “consumption” which best defines the spirit of the classification. This idea was detailed at length in Hiroki Azuma’s Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals (2009). When Azuma refers to consumption in otaku culture, he is really talking about the concept of a “database” consumption. With this type of consumption, consumers engage with texts by reading them up through a “surface-layer” of small narratives which are both fragmented and compartmentalized into a grand non-narrative (in effect, the database as a fragmented simulation of a grand narrative). Abandoned is the genuine reception of a grand narrative in the modality of the “tree-root” type of literary epistemology which links the source to its derivatives through shared symbolic and interpretive meaning. The “tree-root” model, it should be mentioned, is a model which is premised upon 1) causality (i.e. the author) and 2) linearity (i.e. chronological succession of textual production). It is a model of “narrative consumption” which attempts to connect the inner-experience (e.g. morality, sentimentality) of the consumer (i.e. the reader) to the greater meaning of the text through a shared understanding of that meaning. Otaku, however, as “database animals” are less attached to the moralizing, hermeneutic, or shared interpretative reception of a text. We are instead concerned with a base-consumption of moe-elements in the database, a consumption of a grand non-narrative which can temporarily approximate the inner-experience of being self-referentially connected to the illusion of a grand narrative and which can be discarded by the consumer post-consumption without social consequence or cognitive dissonance (Azuma 106-110).
To further explain this concept, Azuma (2009) isolates what are called “moe-elements” in Japanese anime and manga characters. In his words:
The double-layer structure of the simularca and the database is again doubled, forming a complex system. The otaku first consume individual works, and sometimes are moved by them. But they are also aware that, in fact, the works are merely simulacra, consisting only of the character. Then they consume characters, and sometimes feel moe-elements. (53-54)
So at another level each character is merely a simulacrum that is derived from the database of moe-elements. More specifically, moe is a Japanese term that roughly refers to “cuteness” in anime, manga, and anime-themed video games. The term is most often meant to represent some instance of an idealized articulation of femininity that places an emphasis on sweetness and an almost childlike innocence. More generally, however, moe merely embody irreducible and interchangeable traits that can be combined to form recognizable characters and anticipated plotlines.
When you think of moe-elements in anime and manga, think of the bright colored-hair, the school uniforms, and the glamorous transformations in Izumi Todo’s Pretty Cure, Naoko Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon, and Kunihiko Ikuhara’s Revolutionary Girl Utena. In point of fact, however, not only the concept of moe-elements, but some of the specific moe—like the glamorous transformations found in Sailor Moon and Pretty Cure (i.e. Glitter Force), for instance—carry over from anime/manga consumption to the consumption of Ouida’s works by American otaku. And (much like in Revolutionary Girl and Yana Toboso’s Black Butler) the “bishounen” and “yaoi” aspects of “Ouida moe” only add to the larger consumptive appeal of her works. The parallel lies precisely in the manner in which Ouida addressed gender complexity in her novels.
Ouida moe are the quintessential elements that comprise the characters and the plots of Ouida’s fiction. In her characters, they are various qualities which make up well-known character prototypes such as the “angel-woman”, the “femme-galante”, and the “dandy”. To the Ouida otaku these prototypes are only surface level composites of elements in the database which collectively comprise the simulacrum. Any appearance of narrative continuity and meaning at the level of simulacra is, again, ephemeral. What is more important for the otaku consumer is the “moe’ness” of these components. In essence, we are not looking for signs of so called “literary greatness” or profound insight when engaging with the text, we are simply looking to satisfy an “animalistic” need for the consumption of the moe in the database of moe. In other words, as an otaku reader, in every Ouida story I expected to find the same character types in slightly different and nuanced variations of their essential forms. Ouida never disappointed in that regard. Her characters become composites of these different combinations of moe, and, by that same rationale, the shifting, interchangeable plotlines can be given the same treatment. Consequently, with this form of “database consumption” (as opposed to narrative consumption), the criticisms which single out Ouida’s so called “repetitiveness” and “redundancy” are rendered obsolete as her style is receptively reconfigured through a postmodern appropriation of transnational literacies.
It should be noted in closing, I think, that in “database consumption” the original creator of a particular moe-element or combination of moe often holds little or no importance for consumers. Di Gi Charat, for instance, essentially began life as a toy before it had ever been commodified by an anime fan base (Azuma 39). Only later would it establish a narrative element in the form of a major animated series, and by that time the popularity of the franchise far exceeded that of both the emerging narrative around the phenomenon and its creators. In keeping with postmodernity, then, the role of the founding author of a particular anime or manga series becomes outmoded as the interactivity between the work’s consumers becomes a new center of gravity. Being that I am an American otaku, however, the American traditions of hero worship and authorial veneration still have a powerful impact in my personal relationship with Ouidiana.
Authorial veneration, likewise, is not completely unheard of in Japanese otaku culture. Figures such as Osamu Tezuka (d. 1989) and Hayao Miyazaki are still highly revered in some circles. Therefore, I see the author as an intrinsic part of the moe-elements that she created, not separate from them. And, accordingly, my dedication to her memory becomes more of a regionally-situated distinction, rather than a major point of divergence from the otaku tradition. I am thankful, moreover, because reading Ouida from the perspective of the Ouida otaku has opened my life up to the Afro-Steamfunk approach to American Ouida fandom and the incorporation of the remix into the experience; it has inspired an experiment in historical and literary education through gaming using Nintendo’s Tomodachi Life; and it has opened the door to a number of other ways to interact with her works that are equally as fascinating.
Azuma, Hiroki. Otaku: Japan's Database Animals. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009. Print.
Lee, Elizabeth. Ouida: A Memoir. London: T.F. Unwin, 1914. Print.