On the origins of peculiar terminologies:
WARNING: Multi-part work in progress. Refresh for typos, corrections, revisions. Let me see if I can string all the pieces together over multiple posts in the next few weeks. Feel free to add your 2 yen via the comment section if you have extra material, ideas, whatever. Not much to mull over so far — wait for it. I plan to go full-bore fandom/comiket apocrypha on this one. Mimeograph machines, doujins, Fido BBS’s, 20yr old occult lists of fan terms and too many cached pages on Archive.org. Wheeeeeeee!
“Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But today,
Today we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all the neighboring gardens,
And today we have naming of parts.”
— “The Naming of Parts”, Henry Reed
Something feels odd (to me) about the Japanese (and derived) otaku practice of naming character trope types. Something doesn’t fit, or fits too well, gives too much information. I have ideas as to where the larger practice was borrowed from but then I must ask; from where did the previous instance arise? To uncover the roots of the practice will require a highly subjective, speculative romp through the traces of fandoms from 20, 30 even 40 years ago.
I must break this essay up into installments.
If I were to mention that a certain anime or manga (or game, visual novel or doujin) had a noteworthy “Blonde Loli” character in it, one would not only immediately know what she looks like. Any reasonably experienced fan would have a good idea of how she would act and relate to other characters.
- Female, young, somewhat pre-pubescent and/or appears as such.
- Blonde hair, short of stature, flat-chested (petanko)
- Outlander or hafu background in relation to a Japanese cast.
- Wealthy, of means. Has hidden skills and/ or powers.
- Disruptive, arrogant; does not know or care to follow established social conventions.
- overcompensates for her feelings of social isolation and rootless upbringing.
As well, most of the notable previous examples of the type would color your expectations. Evangeline A K McDowell of Negi and Uq Holder fame; Shinobu Oshino/ Kiss-Shot Acerola-Orion Heart-Under-Blade from Monogatari; the pale knockoff of the previous two in Vampire Bund; Hayate The Combat Butler‘s Nagi Sanzenin and The Genshiken‘s Sue Hopkins. Recent iterations include Sana (who is a child) in Alice to Zoroku and Erii in Eromanga Sensei. Many more can be found.
Hiroki Azuma’s musings on the database seem to have come true.  A database model has advantages. While characters might feel cookie-cutter-ish, a good writer is expected to elaborate sufficiently to add charm to their version. If a notable restatement of the character emerges, these elaborations will fold into larger conventions of the type, as common resource for future story-telling.
Such a practice favors iteration in ephemeral products and production on a large, diffuse scale. She is closer to a piece of metal drywall edging than a craftsman’s creation. You can’t finish office towers and thousands of basement rec-rooms with bespoke techniques. You need cheap, modular, easy-to-use commodified bits and pieces and the simple techniques that employ them.
Our Blonde Loli is not a creature of high literature. She bears very little resemblance to Nabokov’s original, even if part of her type-name originates from his tale. The idea of character types or stereotypes runs in direct opposition to the originality and authenticity of the project of high literature. The character type is a Barbie or a GI Joe doll, or somewhat less, even as they are somewhat more; their range of behavior is more circumscribed even as their use implies a commodified “published” narrative structure.
Their implicit invitation is that of creative seriality; “the differance” of repetition — if you care to wax high-fallutin’s faux-French post-structuralist about it. I digress. The point takes the complaint of early critics of diaspora anime that “all the characters are the same!” and recasts it as a feature, not a bug. Off the shelf means easy to build and easy for everyone to build with. You get far more absolute output that way and you get lots of individual variations/ iterations of the base model. An ecology, complete with evolutionary surges, population explosions, extinctions and mutations nudges aside the privileged solitary, exalted role of the auteur. 
Add that this year’s model is a lot less opaque to new readers because of vestigial familiarity. Does what’s on the label. Pick up a six-pack today.
Most of the benefits of this modular approach were mentioned at least in passing by Azuma in his 2002 work. It remains interesting, but its limitations must also be recognised. In many ways, recognition of what he leaves out, glosses over or shades to his purposes makes his work far more valuable than the first reading of the work itself.
The database as strained metaphor. In Japan, before 2002 there was no organised trove of data sitting up on 2chan or some other occult internet-accessible BBS or forum that contained mix-and-match build-a-bear input screens for churning out custom proto-moe-blob femaloid characters. (was it a mere list?) If such existed or exists today, looking like some demented police sketch assistant program, I have yet to see it (Tits or GTFO! Make her breasts bigger, bigger!). Why was he driven to posit one? Fortunately, TV Tropes came along: the entire meta of tropery has caught on and spread like wildfire during the last decade. Early iterations of the site had a strong “I’ve seen it all before” flanneur/ connoisseur weariness to them. The current versions are exuberant.
No sex here. Grazing ungulates, sea creatures drifting in the current. Post- sex to match the end of history and a pile of hooey about the twilight of grand narratives. One word for that: Chlorine. As in water treatment. As in, which is a newer idea; modernist grand narratives or cholera free city drinking water? Maybe it was the latter killed off grand narratives? Are you sure they are dead? Go argue with any number of repressive regime apologists and stop picking on anime babes. Meanie!
No girls allowed/ (aloud). It’s a boy thing, all about pin-ups and scratching boy itches. The company omiai session will eventually, properly mate up sarrarymen and office ladies to produce the next generation of corporate Japan, so sex is barely necessary, almost a distraction. If required for procreation, the newly wed good-wife-wise-mother-to-be will initiate the required mechanics. (parodied in volume extras from Kio Shimoku’s Spotted Flower manga, a somewhat continuation/ decade later reprise of his Genshiken)
Definitely NO NO NO minority sexual and or gender expression. We have rendered all majority expressions obsolete, so variants are superfluous. Cyborg bodies perhaps? Wires? Phone sex? iPhone sex? iSex? Or nothing but that dry theory hump jouissance?
We remember the database. We remember love.
A quick glance back at Database Animals recalls the swirl of pop debate about vernacular culture in Japan in the early noughts, set off by Dr Saito Tamaki’s 2000 publication of Psychology of the Armoured Beautiful Girl, Aka; The Beautiful Fighting Girl. She dripped heroic sex appeal. She inspired onanistic fantasizing. She most definitely had a use. And her use or uses were in the clinical sense of the term, perverse, her range of manifestation on the stage of (mostly) male dreams running from the chaste Miko-type to the scary hermaphroditic creations of the American naive artist Darger. 
She caused trauma in a Freudian/ Lacanian sense. That is: “What the heck just happened to my wiring? Did I just pleasure myself by fantasizing about a line drawing!!!! Oh shit! I will never get a girlfriend! I can’t shake this. The path to enlightenment must lie through the doors of excess! Where do I get more of these hawt manga babes? Comiket? Oh Yeah!”
Your mileage may vary.
That was it. That was all. That was enough. The great unsaid thing was said. It had been said before, by cruelly mocking critics. Akio Nakamori’s article in the July 1983 issue of Manga Burriko taunted those he had previously labeled as otaku:
“No, otaku do not love like normal people because they are attracted to fictional girl characters”
Only now a doctor-professor with a big impressive book rather than some rando jerkwad doing a guest column in a sketchy loli magazine had spoken, and the good doctor was not being insulting about it either. The good doctor was even speculating that this approach may be a healthy, adaptive behavior mechanism. The good doctor also had a list of sub-types for his Beautiful Fighting Girl(s)
Two more interlocutors were involved: The Ota-King , who lamented the waning of classic shonen-esque sci-fi battle/ quasi-imperialist stories that involved giant piloted robots/ battle suits and/ or carrier-battleship spaceship fleets. And Ōtsuka Eiji, who could smell fascism under every last one of these rocks . These worthies had some really fine arguments/ debates, which worked to bring them all into public prominence. Dr. Tamaki’s interest in Otaku and their libidinous imaginations was in any case, peripheral to his life work on social isolates/ Hikikomori. Azuma’s Rousseau redux is not that good. What happened to the Ota-king? Who knows?
Who did we miss?
An important clue lies in the curious something “extra” in some of these terms. Something not mirrored in the vulgar. angry way young males filled with braggadocio and a wounded sense of entitlement have been known to classify real-life women: Bitches and hoes. Frigid, tease, stuck-up, slut, whore. Insulting, objectifying, simple-minded. Any “relation” or interaction posited is immediate and transactional. She gives/ does not give that which I demand now. Very little narrative complexity is implied by any of these epithets, beyond the threat of sexual violence.
Given such lazy, low practice as the default setting, how did male otaku evolve complex trope/ type terms like tsundere or yandere?
Admittedly these do not reference high modernist literature or even Shakespeare plays but at least they imply changing emotional states in the female character over time — if certain conventions of behavior in the main (assumed male) character are followed. Manga, anime and games — specifically get-the-girl games, either galge or eroge may have normalised the expectations behind such complex constructions but where did male otaku first “take permission” and/or find inspiration for reducing these character-behavior-narrative patterns to type-trope shorthand and then elevating them to archetypes?
They are far too complex.
Next up: Fail-through-over-confidence-hero-guy
1) “Dobutsuka-suru Postmodern (Animalizing Postmodernity)” by Hiroki Azuma (2001) Translated as “Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals” by Jonathan E. Abel and Shion Kono (2009)
2) Tenure GET! No? Perhaps a lecture fee and lunch at the faculty cafeteria. If I wanted reliable income, I would be rebuilding truck and construction equipment starters and alternators.
3) …Then the solitary auteur secretly gorges on the cheap stuff, because they fear picking up some other big’un’s recognisable style and inadvertently committing plagiarism if they read highbrow stuff. Ya can’t plagiarise gruel and even if you do, the gruel-pots can’t mount a serious objection. I understand the tactic of pissing on the carcass you find by the side of the road, but doing it while cosplaying Cirrocco Jones decades ago at book signings… Hmmmph.
4) “Sento bishojo no seishinbunseki” (戦闘美少女の精神分析), Psychoanalysis of Beautiful Fighting Girl by Dr.Saitō Tamaki (2000) . Translated as “Beautiful Fighting Girl” by
The BFG reviewed: “You Fight like a Girl” by Brian Ruh, Brain Diving column an Anime News Network, (Jul 26th 2011)
5) Darger was by no means unique. Someone should forward a copy of this to Dr Tamaki: “My Dad, the Pornographer” By Chis Offutt The New York Times Magazine (FEB. 5, 2015). TW: descriptions of fantasy violence, rape, squick.
6)“Otaku Research and Anxiety About Failed Men” by Patrick W. Galbraith
See also earlier post: “Kio Shimoku, Madarame & Hato vs Akio Nakamori” https://heartsoffuriousfancies.wordpress.com/2016/01/30/kio-shimoku-madarame-hato-vs-akio-nakamori/
7) Toshio Okada, The ota-King: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toshio_Okada
See also: THE CONSCIENCE OF THE OTAKING: THE STUDIO GAINAX SAGA IN FOUR PARTS — Interview of former Gainax president Toshio Okada on Gainax’s history, Wings of Honneamise, Aoki Uru, etc. (anime, NGE)
originally in Animerica Magazine Volume 4, Issue 4 – April 1996: ANIMERICA talks with Toshio Okada Interview by Carl Gustav Horn. Text archived on gwern.net blog
And for a Cliff Notes on Okada Toshio’ s “Debating Otaku in Contemporary Japan: Historical Perspectives and New Horizons”, see: “Introduction to Otakuology” on the Fantastic Memes blog
Context: “An Interview with Patrick W. Galbraith on Otaku Culture – Part Two” by Matthew ALT, May 24, 2012, NEOJAPONISM blog post
8) Ōtsuka Eiji: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eiji_%C5%8Ctsuka
“In the 1980s, Otsuka was editor-in-chief of Manga Burikko, a leading manga magazine where he pioneered research on otaku sub-cultures in modern Japan. He has published a host of books and articles about the manga industry.”
“Ōtsuka Eiji and Narrative Consumption: An Introduction to ‘World and Variation,’” in Mechademia 5 (2010)
See for example “An Unholy Alliance of Eisenstein and Disney: The Fascist Origins of Otaku Culture” by Ōtsuka Eiji, translated by Thomas Lamarre in Mechademia, Volume 8, 2013 pp. 251-277 [paywalled/ MUSE]
UPDATE: (Early November 2017) Oh Crap! I had no idea this one was going to be so difficult! I am stuck on part 2, the destinction between simple and complex character types/tropes as used by guys/ male gaze narratives in harem games and stories. Part 3 with mimeographs is pretty well done, Part 4, an excursion into 1980’s and 1990-2005 Japanese on-line fandom is 3/4 written. Part 5, the payload is full of massive weird speculation and might be hard to pull together, but it FEELS right and will, in the end be only an invitation for folks who can get at primary sources to go digging. Nevertheless, the circumstantial evidence is as good, or better than a whole lot of other speculation that has become ‘lore’ in the field, so i’m gonna run with it.
When I can get my writing mojo back. Thanks for your patience.