Superflat Art, Otaku and The Internet

By Meg Ellis

The movement of ‘superflat’ art is an interesting reflection on otaku culture and the nature of accessing information in a database such as the internet. Superflat art was first coined in 2001 by Japanese postmodern artist Takashi Murakami to describe his two dimensional artworks inspired by anime and manga. Murakami, like artists such as Andy Warhol or Jeff Koons, both critiques and celebrates pop culture.

Looking at different series of Murakami’s art, we see characteristics that consistently reference otaku culture (see images of Murakami’s distorted anime characters). Otaku, the Japanese sub-culture of obsession, usually refers to those fanatical about anime and video games. Japanese postmodern theorist Hiroki Azuma describes otaku culture as lacking a single source and actually resembles a database similar to that of the internet. The database of information available on the internet could be described as having two layers: the visible, two dimensional layer seen on your screen and the second ‘invisible’ database of content that makes up a webpage.

In this way, artists such as Murakami create superflat images that reference the human experience of these two layers. His images deliberately contain no perspective or focal point, yet a natural human reaction to them is to seek out patterns and depth within each work. In a similar fashion, Murakami comments on the nature of otaku. He identifies the multiple sources of anime and manga that make up the database of otaku culture, often a hybrid between Japanese and heavily Western influenced products. In a postmodern world, we access the internet without expecting the information to come from a single source (unlike more traditional modes of communication). Likewise, otaku also evades a similar source, instead being made up of a complex database accessed by individual users to suit their own purposes.