Otaku: Fascination with anime takes local artist to the source

March 12, 2011 10:43:00 PM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


Editor''s note: This story was written before Japan suffered a massive 8.9 magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami March 11. Tracey Seals in Tokyo was safe and in communication with her parents Friday. Our thoughts are very much with Tracey and the people of Japan. 




"Otaku" is a term to describe those obsessed with anime, the Japanese animation art form. Tracey Seals would probably be the first to admit she falls squarely under the heading. The talented 20-year-old is so committed to pursuing a career in the field, she''s spent the past eight months living in Japan, studying, sketching and writing her way toward fulfilling the dream. 


"I love Japan! It''s my other passion besides drawing," enthuses the 2009 Starkville High School graduate and former Mississippi University for Women student. Living in Tokyo, she navigates her way by bus and train around a capital pulsating with more than 13 million people. 


Even in a population that dense, the slim redhead collects her share of stares. She does stand out. But overall, Tracey has found the people of the island nation to be polite and helpful, a trait that has helped bridge the chasm in communication. 


"My dream is to study in Japan, so I have to learn the language in order to be accepted into an art college here," she said. To that end, she wakes up every morning -- 15 hours ahead of her parents, Tina and Tony Seals of Columbus -- to head to language school.  


"I expected the Japanese language to be hard, but never this difficult," she admitted. After a tough first semester, though, she''s now "hitting her stride" and making good progress.  


After classes are over for the day, she sometimes studies with friends before returning to the guest house she''s staying in until her return to Mississippi in April. 


"It''s kinda funny that many of my friends are Korean here. I even have a Korean name they gave me," Tracey said. The characters say "Su Yen," which means beautiful flower.  






Tracey has already identified a game production house in Japan she would like to work for one day -- Square Enix, probably best known for its role-playing game franchises including the "Final Fantasy," "Dragon Quest" and "Kingdom Hearts" series. 


Anime (pronounced ah-knee-may) was once produced by and for Japan, but in the past 40 or so years has become an international phenomenon. Styles can range from flamboyant to simple and direct. Storylines can run for dozens and even hundreds of episodes in a broad range of material spanning everything from crime fighting to adaptations of classic literature. 


One thing all good anime has in common, it''s been said, is that it demands great emotional involvement from the viewer. It''s that very connection that appeals to Tracey. 


"Anime can be very deep," she shared. "It has a sense of fantasy to it. No, it is fantasy, to which people can relate." Tracey calls it a space she can go to be by herself, another world where she can daydream all she wants, away from the pressures of everyday life. 


"I believe what I create can connect with the people of Japan since it deals with their value system and train of thought. It can connect with everyone on a deep and personal level through its symbolism. Through entertainment, I want to help people by delivering positive messages as they watch my anime or play my video games." 




Thinking back 


It was the distinctive art of "Pokemon" and "Sailor Moon" that first caught Tracey''s eye in elementary school. 


"By middle school, I''d fallen in love with anime, and by the age of 12, I''d become serious about drawing and had begun dreaming about getting into the entertainment business of gaming and anime." 


Her parents miss her, but support their daughter completely. 


"I don''t know exactly where her interest in anime developed, but Tracey is passionate about three things: her faith, her art, and Japan. She''s a very hard worker and very dedicated to what she believes in," said her mother, Tina, former head volleyball coach at Mississippi State University. As a college player, Tina toured Japan and later vacationed there with her daughter. 


During her senior year in Starkville, Tracey had hoped to be an exchange student in Japan; that abruptly fell through for lack of a host family. 


"I was so upset -- but I did get Taka," she said, referring to Taka Sato, an exchange student from Japan her own family hosted. "Taka is a great little brother; I love him as if he was my real sibling." Attending Taka''s graduation two weeks ago in Hiroshima was a major highlight of Tracey''s current stay abroad. 




A purpose 


Tracey concedes she''s secretive about her creative ideas, but did reveal she thinks a current project could become a "powerful video game." It revolves around a lead character "Naomi," and her alter ago, "Sayori."  


One of her first goals back in the States, however, is to start on a smaller game she hopes will translate to Wii.  


"If I can market the game effectively, I want to establish art or music scholarships for undergraduate degrees at art schools," she said.  


Tracey''s particular empathy for the Japanese people motivates her desire to, in her own way, somehow be a force for the positive through her art and her work in the country she''s come to love well. 


"We are all meant for something," she shared. "I believe that everyone has a purpose in this life that is given to them. My purpose is Japan and helping its people." 


Editor''s note: This story contains reporting by Mark Shreiber in an article that appeared in The Japan Times.

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.