By David Cabrera
#11: NYC Otaku Shopping - Book-Off
I talked about how there's no Akiba in the States, but that doesn't mean that there isn't anywhere to go. A big city like ours will inevitably have small pockets of otaku interest. As a New Yorker, I'm considered lucky to be able to go to a Book-Off, for example.
Book-Off is a major part and usually the first stop of my usual otaku shopping trip around Midtown. First you hit Book-Off, then you stop off in Kinokuniya and decide whether or not you need that Akiman collection badly enough to spend $60 on it, or you stare longingly at the $350 Ingram figure from Patlabor, and at the end you decide to pay $20 for Newtype the Live because it comes with a Kamen Rider Club keychain.
But Kinokuniya is a place for relatively luxurious purchases, and as much as I'd like to buy Gunbuster and Madoka Magica on Blu-Ray, I'm much too broke for those to be reasonable, adult purchases. That's why Book-Off has my heart: I can go treasure hunting every week and have a good chance of finding very pleasant surprises on the extreme cheap.
It seems mundane, but it's actually really rare and valuable for us to be able to find Japanese stuff for cheap. One of the first times I walked into Book-Off, an otaku girl in a faux Japanese-style dress and visual kei hair was running up and down the aisle yelling “I've found the promised land!” over and over again to nobody in particular.
(Yes, our otaku can be embarrassing sometimes too.)
Some days I spend $5 at Book-Off, sometimes $30, sometimes I just walk out without anything. It's about persistence and patience.
I know a lot of the stuff on the shelves couldn't have come from anybody in New York City: the buckets of Japanese sports games and A-Train tell me that much. So my conclusion is naturally “The stuff here is stuff that not even the otaku in Japan want anymore!” For a treasure hunter of questionable tastes such as myself, that concept is a little exciting.
The artbook, mook and magazine shelves are lined with decade-lost otaku franchises like Sakura Taisen and Galaxy Angel, episode guides to Sunrise shows from the 90s, videogame guidebooks nobody needs anymore. Reading back issues of Dragon magazine from 1996-- full of the titles American otaku would be watching in 1999-- is like being nostalgic for another universe.
And sometimes I find things on those shelves I'd certainly never see anywhere else in New York, perhaps in the whole country. The Roman Album for Braiger? I'll take it! Legend of the Galactic Heroes on VHS? Give me that right now! A Bubblegum Crisis fanbook? People at conventions pay $100 for those! I've found so many nice things at Book-Off I had to start a blog about it.
To really get the most out of the store, you have to be able to read enough Japanese to go over the spines of the books: I think this actually keeps the average American anime fan out of the place (and the goods intact for me).
So don't forget about your Book-Off, otaku. A lot my friends in the rest of the country would kill for the chance!