Otaku Central – Closing Down the Dream

Sadly, this isn’t a clickbait title.

And, it’s the longest entry I’ve ever made on this site, for fairly obvious reasons. People deserve a fair, well-explained answer, and I do need to put one forward.

Before going any further, I should clarify one thing: Otaku Central is NOT being abandoned. Instead, it’s being closed down, while the majority of the business assets and resources are being retained for the event that the present situation shifts, if it shifts.

I wish I could say that this entire circumstance was simply brought on by COVID-19, but the ‘VID holds a minority portion of the blame, and most causes for consideration were actually only more deep-rooted symptoms that COVID-19 forced to the surface in more prominent fashion. I say this so that it’s understood that OC simply isn’t going to self-revive as soon as COVID passes; the concerns run far deeper than that.

I’m in agreement with my business advisor, marketing advisor, and financial advisor on this course of action. It wasn’t an easy decision to arrive at, but present issues necessitated it’s discussion.

And those issues, are as follows.

This Is Recent News For Much Older Developments

Those who’ve been aware of Otaku Central for a while know that this project was originally intended to go live in 2017. And it did. Illegally.

The scope of the entire thing has changed so many times, and grown astronomically in the process. New infrastructure had to be purchased again, again, and again to keep up with scope increase. New faces had to be brought on to the project to help combat the workload creep. New skills had to be constantly learned in order to build value into the development team, and to help keep things under control.

And every step of the way, we were met with challenges that we rose to the occasion on.

We purchased $45,000 worth of server infrastructure to take the site live on. We garnered the help of translation agencies to assist with getting content subbed and ready for distribution. We spoke with over 50 different rightsholder agencies in Japan (in Japanese, mind you) regarding getting content appropriately licensed and made available for this project. We traveled to anime conventions and discussion boards in 14 states to gauge interest, and to bring others onboard for our cause.

Only recently, specifically in the last year, did problems begin arising that OC had no real-world answer for. These problems eventually grew in size to the point that they simply couldn’t be ignored or factored into a risk equation that I could ultimately just pass off. They grew into a force to be reckoned with, and the risk became overwhelming.

I didn’t want to say anything about these issues; partially in regard to others around me, but mostly in regard to myself if I’m being completely honest. This project has been my bread and butter for years; it’s quite literally been the driving force behind why I’m at the position in the world I’m in today.

Nobody wants to admit that their armor is fracturing. But, the armor’s fractured to the point that I can’t hide it anymore, and an explanation is merited.

So, in what I believe is the most relevant order first, the thought process behind why Otaku Central is going to be closed down.

1. ‘Cancel Culture’ Is Getting Absolutely Out Of Control

It’s no secret that many online social platforms and media platforms are a million miles from supporting open discourse anymore. This concept, though, has morphed into something in recent months to where anyone who’s labeled as a “dissenter” from what mainstream media’s set of moral and ethical values is can get utterly voided from multiple platforms within the span of a few days.

Part of this is ultimately attributable to the ease of which negative, accusatory opinions can congregate on many platforms online these days. Another part of it is how interconnected the vast majority of the first-world population is on these platforms to get news to circulate quickly.

What this has amounted to is that when enough negativity gathers together on a mainstream platform such as FaceBook or Twitter, the factual aspect of many arguments, or the ability to see the “bigger picture” side of things, can fall by the wayside. What replaces it is a platform whitewashing that ends up forcing businesses or individuals off of platforms that they formerly earned part, or all, of their livelihood off of. (either directly or indirectly)

This doesn’t simply happen on a userbase level among different members who share usage of a platform, but also happens on a platform level, as well. As an example, “hate speech” in the popular media has such a ridiculously loose definition these days that “controlling” it has become a weaponized process on a number of content platforms, regardless of the writer/creator’s intent, or how the overwhelming statistical majority of the viewerbase perceived it.

Does this affect Otaku Central? Absolutely.

I’ll get into this more in Point #3 later on, but it makes it so that any online social media or mass media presence for our organization is a constant liability looming over our heads, especially due to the nature of who I am on a personal level, and how OC was constructed.

The only true way to defend yourself against something like this is to avoid these platforms entirely, and triple-proofread everything you’d post elsewhere as if:

  1. Your audience has absolutely no sense of humor.
  2. You’re dealing with a group of people that’re extremely thin-skinned.
  3. Any one of your readers may be having the worst day of their life, and decide to take it out on you.
  4. 10% of your audience will hate you directly out of the gate because of an aspect of your personal life that they know about, but disagree with.

Obviously, there’s a couple major issues here.

Firstly, 90% of OC’s potential customer demographic uses these platforms, and relies on them to a moderate degree for communications about news, updates, features, and service outages. You also need them for a decent degree of marketing that you can’t get any other way.

Secondly, you’re going to be forced to tread so carefully in terms of what you say that you’re actually misrepresenting who you are, and even going to that extreme isn’t a guaranteed “save”. And, why are you ultimately having to do this? Because there’s a looming percentage of the population that can’t stand ideas, thought processes, or world views that differ from theirs to the point that they’ll take offensive action against these “dissenters”.

I don’t have social media anymore for this reason. I don’t have an online presence anymore outside of my personal website, LinkedIn, email, and a few private resources that I use for communication.

I’m just to the point where I’d rather not try and play the game, because I can lose it at any stage in the process due to no fault of my own.

2. Mass Media Censorship & De-Platforming

Many of you are no doubt familiar with much of the politically-fueled mass censorship and de-platforming of a number of individuals of political interest in recent months. What this began to reveal was that there’s an underlying, coordinated effort among many large tech companies today to push for heavy regulation of content and speech so as to force conformity, and systemically silence the voices of anyone who disagrees.

What many of you may be less familiar with is that these actions are far from being limited to just political in scope. “Hate speech”, “mis-information”, “________-phobia”, or what’s labelled as discrimination of any kind are common topics on the list of ban-able offenses.

The first two items in this list are highly subjective – meaning that they’re completely up to the interpretation of the reader or auditor and less up to an objective measure of real definition. Various “phobias” are also somewhat open to interpretation because this labelling is commonly slapped onto individuals who “don’t condemn, but also don’t condone”, which is increasingly being misconstrued as negative “phobia” when it isn’t, and far too many people aren’t even open to civil discourse on the subject.

“Discrimination” in the sense of de-platforming is a fairly loaded term, and is so far from its historical definition here in 2021 that I nearly wince every time I hear it mentioned. It’s been run into the ever-living ground in recent years because seemingly everything one does can somehow be termed an act of discrimination to a degree if certain aspects of society deem it to be. Don’t believe me? I’m a middle-aged, white, straight, American male – and there are many sources in mainstream media that are trying to make the very idea what someone like me exists into being the human embodiment of discrimination, racism, sexism, etc!

This affects Otaku Central substantially because of our social network built into the site, which we’ve vowed to only place an extremely minimalistic set of rules on, but allowed for the most part to run completely free of moderation or censorship as long as basic rules are being followed. Per what’s currently being enforced in other cases on the web (FaceBook, Twitter, Parler, Gab, etc.), having moderation this limited is not going to fly to avoid de-platforming – even though it’s preserving freedom of interaction and freedom of speech to the greatest extent possible.

The only real way to truly defend against rampant censorship and de-platforming in the face of adverse times is to sever your connections with Big Tech to the point that you aren’t platformed through them in the first place. In the case of Otaku Central, this actually isn’t wholly possible with the way that we’re presently built out.

Severing ties with Discord has proven to be difficult. We actually don’t have a full-on replacement for a DDoS mitigation service vendor that isn’t ultimately owned by Big Tech. We don’t have a replacement merch and storefront vendor after our former one instituted a much stricter policy on what you can and can’t merch-brand on, and I suspect this will only get stricter still over time. I could go on.

This isn’t a challenge I want to face. It’s not something I want to have to be reigned in on, or forced to censor on, or told that I’m going to have my vendor services cut off if I don’t stop talking about my perspectives on the world even when I’m not hurting anyone by doing so.

It’s not right. It’s not fair. It’s not a reasonable demonstration of civil liberties.

3. Geo-Politically, I’m No Longer A Good Fit To Head The Project Up

This ties in closely to our first two points, and I’ve been knocked for it numerous times in the past continuing on up into the present.

To fully understand this point, I’m going to give you a somewhat long list of things about me that some people would find controversial. What I’m trying to get at with this exercise is to show how perspectives and opinions in 2021 can shift pretty hard based on what you know about someone on a personal front and how it measures up with your own beliefs and convictions.

  1. I own five guns, and am in favor of gun ownership and proper use for the general populace.
  2. I am in favor of the formation of citizen militia forces.
  3. I not only eat a lot of meat in my everyday diet, but raise my own livestock for the purpose of obtaining my own meat and leather.
  4. I am a hunter, as well as a trapper.
  5. While I don’t condemn LGBTQ-related activities, I don’t advocate them, either.
  6. While I don’t condemn abortion, I don’t advocate it, either.
  7. I’d rather not wear a mask, but will do so where mandated (within reason) if it provides others with a sense of security to re-open their businesses, our community, and the economy at large.
  8. I’m not a fan of “Big Tech” platforms, and will usually try to find an alternative means to an end to give my money to small/local businesses or non-profit causes instead, even if it costs me more money to do so.
  9. While I support green energy and will build out my own solar field this year, I understand that green energy cannot compete with sheer volume of power in terms of fossil fuel-based resources yet. As such, it cannot be heavily relied-upon at this time.
  10. I enjoy reading a variety of religious-oriented text, although I wouldn’t consider myself specifically religious.
  11. Based upon factual evidence, it’s my belief that “diversity in the workplace” is actually counterintuitive in the majority of cases that affect smaller businesses, or heavily-silo’d teams. Attribute cohesion, in various regards, tends to foster greater camaraderie and boost overall performance more for them.
  12. I believe that being overweight or obese is extremely counterproductive to proper health, and detracts from a person’s overall physical attractiveness as an objective, personal fault that they aren’t able to hide.
  13. My lifestyle is more characteristic of that of a monk, than that of a social entrepreneur.
  14. I’ve found a great deal of comfort and encouragement for the life I’d like to lead from “Red Pill” and MGTOW-oriented materials, although there are several aspects of this ideology that I don’t wholly agree with.
  15. I have a general disdain for taking on large amounts of personal debt, as well as deliberate financial limitations or un-needed complications to cost of living (useless pets, having relationships you can’t afford, etc.), and a general draw towards minimalistic living.
  16. I believe life is more largely characterized by “what you do”, as opposed to “who you knew”.
  17. Statistically, I believe that it’s an indisputable fact that the average “John Doe” man is physically bigger and stronger than the average “Jane Smith” woman.
  18. I’m an advocate of the idea of not having sexual intercourse outside of wedlock.

Am I writing this to try and offend you? Well, yes. At least in part.

What I’d like you to take away from all this is that if you really drill down, word-by-word to what I’ve said, I haven’t stated anything that’s illegal or breaking a law of any kind. I haven’t stated that I hated anyone (hate speech), or made an improper value judgment against anything (discrimination). I’m completely within my rights to hold these views, as well as discuss them.

But, I’d be willing to bet that there’s probably at least one point that either you yourself strongly dislike, or know a few people in your circle of contacts that would have strong words to mince with me on one of these things. Many people would readily go so far as to boycott my services or associated business networking if they knew of this list; perhaps you’d be one of them.

And that’s what I’m getting at.

Somehow, in the span of the last 50 or so years of Western society’s history, a large percentage of the populace has adopted a frame of mind on these things to the point that they’re willing to be extremely outspoken (on the low end) of their dislike of these things to the point where they will forego a vendor or resource that holds them, or get to the point of physical violence (on the extreme end) towards those who express them.

All the while, nothing illegal was done on the part of those who held any of my line item-style list of beliefs. No one’s rights were infringed upon. No one was physically hurt. But, even that is apparently too much to ask, anymore.

About half of the things on this list can be gleaned about me from various outlets in online presence that I’ve had over the years. They’re already out there on the ‘Net, and I can’t simply scrub them. Most of the people who know me personally could also attest to at least several. Moral of the story? I can’t hide these things very well, or for very long, from anyone who’d go looking for them. Heck, some of them I simply passively exude by default.

With the way that society is currently trending in these regards, and in conjunction with the first two points, I’m extremely leery of moving forward in a leadership role with OC at this point in time. I’m already starting to take a degree of flak and criticism in corporate America with my day job for my beliefs as-is right now, and I fear it’s only going to get worse as this current situation progresses.

The anime industry desperately needs an organization like OC, but only if they were lead by someone who wasn’t… well… me.

4. Loss Of Our Subtitling Entity

HorribleSubs, a standalone fansub agency, was forced to close down this part year due to COVID-related events and financial hurdles. This posed a significant challenge to OC, as their subtitling services were free of charge in terms of usage, and I’d prepared a written cooperation agreement with them to help solidify this relationship into the future.

Without them, it wasn’t as if we had no alternative options – it was that the options now had dollar amounts attached to them, and they weren’t cheap.

At this point, I still do not have an adequate replacement to put forward for HorribleSubs unless I did an extreme amount of recruitment and convention-going to try and stir up interest among like minds, but conventions are currently cancelled due to COVID and I don’t have a social media presence anymore.

This remains an unsolved issue, and would be this way for months, if not years, into the future until the COVID situation changes.

5. Loss Of Our Collocated Datacenter Hosting

In lieu of the George Floyd-related violence and vandalism of 2020, I was forced to pull my equipment out of our former datacenter facility in Chicago after it was broken into by looters and our equipment was jeopardized.

This is similar to the previous point, in that other alternatives most certainly exist for collocation, but they aren’t priced as competitively as our first option, and I’ve deliberately had to avoid datacenters that had tie-ins to Big Tech. This has limited my options substantially, and significantly raised the dollar amount on hosting costs.

The alternative that we’d been coasting by on was that the server infrastructure was being hosted in my spare bedroom at my house, with a Gigabit Internet circuit and some static IP addresses providing hosting potential. Not only was this not a very cost-effective solution, but it didn’t scale well at all – I was maxed out for bandwidth availability just to get everything in the door and turned on.

I have some solutions going forward in this area, but they aren’t as great as our former hosting was. They’d also require the equipment to be homed a considerable distance away from where I live – which is another headache to have to contend with.

6. The Anime Landscape Has Changed

Several things in terms of the anime industry have come to fruition in the last two years, and they’ve grown to a point that they either have to be dealt with or mitigated:

Firstly, anime as an industry is even more strapped for cash now than it’s ever been before. More outsourcing to Korea/China is occurring with labor than has ever occurred before, and wages aren’t trending up for workers back on the homefront in Japan. Quality issues are beginning to become apparent in multiple different vectors of content creation, purely as a natural byproduct of building an overall “cheaper” product.

Secondly, Crunchyroll was bought out by FUNimation. This means that FUNimation now has a monopoly on the Tier 1 licensor/distributor market in North America and parts of Europe, which cost OC one of our main selling vectors to studios and rightsholder agencies (that we were a path forward for the industry in terms of disparate licensors driving “exclusive” content in different directions).

Thirdly, anime that’s been marketed to a Western audience is (quite tactfully, in my opinion) being increasingly haremized/sexualized, and progressively more whitewashed in terms of Japanese cultural content. The endgame goal here by production studios is to try and make it as appealing as possible to a Western audience, but in doing so, they’ve stripped out a lot of the value content that made anime so great in ages past. It’s becoming increasingly more rare to see a modern anime that’s actually eye-catching, or something that’s truly a timeless classic.

Fourth, anime is gaining popularity in America, but in my opinion, for all the wrong reasons. It’s not strengthening society, or inspiring people to better themselves, or being used as a short supplement to people’s lives to manage stress or frustration – it’s instead being used as a void to throw much of their attention and free time into. It’s becoming more and more of a mechanism that causes people to get into a “rut” in terms of who they are as a person. This worries me greatly.

7. My Thoughts On Anime Have Shifted

Some people would probably think that I’m just naturally “growing out” of anime as I get older, or that it doesn’t interest me as much as it used to because I’m moving on with my life. I can partially understand how it might seem that way to someone on the outside looking in, but there’s far more to the story than that.

I’ve said this a number of times on my TGFN website before, but my main draw these days towards watching anime is to find anime that I can use to either build myself up, move myself forward in life, or use as a stress or frustration outlet in the short term while I work my way back into one of the first two things. This is perhaps a strange take on anime as a whole, and the only other person I’ve ever heard of that I share it with is Japan’s former Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe.

Anime historically catered to this perspective far better than it does at present. Much of my interest in economics, classical Japanese history, cooking, process efficiency structuring, religious inspiration, and many other things ultimately started either partly or in whole due to certain animes. These things tended to directly corelate to anime quality – when quality started dropping, so did what anime could benefit me in.

It’s not to say that there are no good modern animes anymore to my taste, but they’re becoming much harder to find, and less commonly produced. Hence, my overall interest in anime was beginning to ebb by default.

It’s also no huge secret that I’ve made repeated efforts in the past to put the idea of “watching anime to grow personally” in front of others for their consideration. For the hundreds of people that I’ve spoken with about these kinds of things in the course of working with OC, never once has anyone believed this idea was interesting enough that they wanted to look into adopting it for themselves.

While this certainly made me question my own sanity somewhat, it also had the passive effect of forcing me to realize that my reasons for wanting to use anime as a means to try and make the world and society a better place… were reasons that were exclusive to just me.

For the vast majority of everyone else out there in terms of anime’s fanbase, they not only used it purely for entertainment value, but in my completely humble and subjective opinion, they over-use it for entertainment value to the point of extremism. I can speak to this myself, because in the years leading up to starting OC, I was one of those people, too.

Was anime really a mistake? I don’t think so – it’s just a media format at the end of the day. But, if I’m being completely forward with you, I’d have to admit that I believe it’s causing more societal harm than good with how it’s being generally used at present – and I don’t see a way of readily changing that, or actually encouraging that change.

Here’s another way of looking at things that may illustrate my perspective a bit better. If you were to ask one of the following questions:

  1. What could be built upon to improve the quality of life for the vast majority of the world’s populace?
  2. What could people use more of in their lives to find greater fulfillment and self-actualization?
  3. What is something that universally helps and assists those who are striving towards bigger and brighter things?

Anime wouldn’t be my first answer to these questions. Frankly, it wouldn’t even be in the top 250 answers I could give you, anymore.

The point I’m trying to get at is that it’s been my focus with the OC project to attempt to “defy the odds” with anime to attempt to encourage it to be used in this fashion, and to improve people’s lives through it. In light of how little success I’ve had in generally accomplishing this, it’s planted a seed in my mind for some time now that my efforts towards the goal of helping people and improving lives could be better utilized for other causes.

8. I’d Like To Put Serious Distance Between Myself And Western Society For A While

It’s no secret that there’s a tremendous amount of geo-political turmoil in America right now, and one of the better contingency plans for handling the worst that could arise from that turmoil (on a personal level, at least) is to reduce dependency upon general society to the extent you can. The more invested you are, the more you have margin to lose, after all.

However, there’s more to it than that.

Consider for a moment that there’s actually quite a few rampantly-widespread objective problems that Western society has that are either socially or psychologically being seeded into people on multiple levels. Things like:

  1. 72% of the adult population is, at a minimum, overweight. 37% are obese.
  2. 68% of adults are not adequately financially on track to retire.
  3. The median average amount of debt a 35 year-old adult has is $80,000.
  4. 40% of households live paycheck-to-paycheck, and could not sustain a $400 sudden expense.
  5. The so-called 1950s-esqe “American Dream” is financially unachievable for 94% of the American population.
  6. The marriage rate is currently at 6.5/1000 adults per year, which is the lowest it’s been since the year 1900 when this statistic began being recorded.
  7. The average national divorce rate pre-pandemic was 48%, with more densely populated states trending much higher (California was at 74%). The aggregate average divorce rate increased to 68% in the midst of the pandemic.
  8. The average adult male will have to work an additional 25 years in the workforce in his lifetime to sustain the $750,000 median average 20-year cost of owning a home, getting married, and having two children.
  9. At present, 25% of Americans are struggling with depression. 53% are struggling with anxiety.
  10. Student loan debt is a 1.5 trillion-dollar industry, but with only 62% of college graduates working in jobs that require degrees, and only 27% of graduates working in fields even related to their degrees. The average cost for a bachelor’s degree is $53,000, with a master’s degree coming in at $87,000.

This isn’t to say that people are excused from the responsibility tied to their decisions and actions; rather, it’s intended to show that Western society is facing a very different set of problems than humanity has ever been handed in the past, and none of them are fundamentally “human race” problems – they all exist, in essence, because our societal and social structures have significantly contributed to them to for those that live within their scope.

Notice a couple things in passing here. First off, if someone anticipated that starting from their mid-20s they’d be fairly un-invested in society, living out in the countryside away from the big city, and working a lower-paying job of some kind in their area but developing a large amount of self-sufficiency and significantly lower cost of living, these ten societal issues disappear either in part or in whole very quickly.

Second, it’s not as if this person would be disconnected at all from the inherent benefits that society can offer in the event that they’d need them. Internet is readily available in multiple formats everywhere. Healthcare is accessible if/when it is needed. Ready access to goods and services is still easily manageable. Getting off-grid or hybrid-grid utilities is reasonably feasible in most parts of the country. A person’s margin of survival is only nominally lower if they’re mostly outside of society than if they’re inside it, but they’ve now succeeded in many of the inherent pitfall paths that society encourages upon its members.

Getting back to how this all pertains to myself, I’ve done a LOT of number-crunching recently. What I’ve determined is that if I transition to living in an acreage out in the country, build myself an off-grid wood cabin to live out of, and grow my own crops, raise my own livestock, and forge my own metalworked goods for what I need, my cost of living becomes so low (sub-$350/month) that I can contribute an extremely high amount of money towards my retirement account and plan on retiring probably before my 40th birthday – before my 43rd birthday at the very latest.

This would be a pretty incredible achievement, and it’s so alluring for me that I’m willing to allocate the majority of my personal resources and attention towards achieving it at the present time. It’s the overarching direction I’d like to take my life in. Having half of my life at my disposal outside of corporate America to do with as I please is a pretty wild prospect.

This also gives me plenty of time to store away OC-related skills and prospects for later years, whether it comes to lingual proficiency or programming skills, in the event that the concept of it becomes revisitable in the future based upon present considerations.

My thought is that this is the best possible route to put my life down at this point in time, because it sets me up for future success for nearly any other route I could foreseeably go down purely out of gaining so much financial and timeline potential back in the interim.

So… What Happens With OC Now?

Otaku Central is going to be closed down for the time being.

The oldest equipment we have is going to be put up for sale, while the newer equipment is going to be retained in the event that it can be used once again in a few years’ time. Our domains and contracts are going to be retained, as well as our web content being securely stored away for potential future use. Outside of this, we’re going to close our web frontend and associated services out to save on costs.

From the conversations I’ve had with anime entities in recent days, the general feedback has been unfortunate, but understanding. It’s obviously not a situation any affected parties wanted to be in, but it’s the crossroads in the journey that we’ve found ourselves at.

For me, I’m bringing myself to the point of “letting go”, although it’s difficult. This venture was no small portion of my life for the last 4 years, and I’ve grown insurmountably as a person because of who OC forced me to become.

So, for all those who’ve been with us from the beginning. For all those who wanted to see this dream become more than just an idea on a few sheets of paper. For those who helped us in our journey. For those that were there when we nailed a big contract, or finalized a new feature on the site, or needed to offer criticism when something didn’t go quite as planned…

…thank you. This adventure is really a byproduct of each of you – and what your prosperities and futures mean to each of the former OC staff members.

Thanks for the laughs, the joy, the bear-hugs, the struggles, the tears. It’s been the journey of the lifetime for me, and I’ll keep my fingers crossed for the next few years in the hopes that we can revisit it once more.

Until that time comes… good night, and God bless.

Cheers,

Caleb Huggenberger (LastVanguard)

Caleb
Caleb Huggenberger is a 31 year-old systems engineer, old-school guitar and amplifier builder, and Eastern culture enthusiast. Outside of long work days, he enjoys electronics engineering, cast iron campfire cooking, and homesteading on his acreage in the Indiana countryside.

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