is it because anime started to become more well-accepted that more anime lovers coming out to the light?
or is it because of anime starts to climb in popularity that, being an "anime-loving otaku" becomes the definition of "popular"?
I'll say it's baffling that how people would jump up and claim themselves as an "otaku", "geek", "nerd" or "freak", when in the past people will take offense in such names.
now, to be fair, contrasy to some believes, "otaku" doesn't automaticly carries a negative mean.
from wikipedia: "Otaku is derived from a Japanese term for another's house or family (お宅, otaku). This word is often used metaphorically, as an honorific second-person pronoun. In this usage, its literal translation is "you". For example, in the anime Macross, first aired in 1982, Lynn Minmay uses the term this way."
"In modern Japanese slang, the term otaku is most often equivalent to "geek". However, it can relate to a fan of any particular theme, topic, hobby or any form of entertainment. The term otaku can be applied to both males and females.For example, Reki-jo are female otaku interested in Japanese history. While the word is used abroad to mean a fan of anime and manga who enjoys the anime culture, In Japan, the word can be looked down upon as a term for a person with any obsessive interest (This is not confined to anime and manga) in particular some cases reaching extreme levels such as Men falling in love with Dakimakura (Body Pillows). "When these people are referred to as otaku, they are judged for their behaviors - and people suddenly see an "otaku" as a person unable to relate to reality"."
that doesn't sound too bad, but why does people be offended when an over-enthusiastic or regular people uses the term?
the problem lies in the incident that defines the stereotypical image of an "otaku":
in Japan 1989, a guy named Tsutomu Miyazaki is arrested for a series of kidnapping, murdering and raping that involves 4 childrens. He was described as a mild mannered employee and during the search of his room, a huge collection of anime and slasher films were discovered, which is then used to reason his crime motive. He also known to have terrorize the victim's family with description of how the victim died and cannibalised them.
Dubbed as the Otaku Murderer, public started to have a distinct image of otakus based on him: quiet, creepy, nerdy and pedophilic. The diverse anime genre (loli, shota, gore were a norm before it went under) at the time also fueled the way people perceive anime lovers.
which is why, till this day, some people will take offense if they were called "otaku", or when some unsuspecting yahoos decided that the "creepy, nerdy and pedophilic otaku" title sounded "radical".
also, like many other fanclub community, elitism exists within the "otaku" community.
as weird as measuring how high the "otaku" level is, there is a basis to it: although people would love to have more people sharing their interest, what they do not like to see is their interests being dumbed down. Back when the term "otaku" weren't this popular, anime enthusiasts had to be secretive of their interest due to prejudices, cope with hard to obtain materials, face social awkwardness as they have no one to talk about their interest, the price they paid for anime is simply invalueable.
however, when such genre is made popular, people tend to be more open about their "otaku-ness", shows are everywhere, and people start jumping onto the bandwagon as fans even though their commitment to the hobby is obviously lacking. It's comparable to how some film fans felt about new generations that are into films only for the special effects; or how sport fans felt when a large amount of fans surge in only when the supporting team is winning while the original fans have been there since the team's depression era.
people have to understand that what they do only in their free time does not equivalent to the hobbies they willing to free the time for. For a crude example, if a friend invites you on a fishing trip when you're on vacation, you wouldn't call yourself having the hobby of fishing nor a fishing enthusiast based on that trip; however, if after coming back from that trip, you started arranging time so you can go on more fishing trips, learned a lot about fishing and want to learn more because you're interested with it, even doing such hobbies without the need of a company, then you are a fishing enthusiast.
with all that is said, I personally prefer if people view the term "otaku" in a more neutral light and understand more about the word before calling themselves one.
it's not an automatic definition of "socially awkward hentai loving freak" (although it's kinda hard to remove public perception of "hentai" with all the fanservices anime have these days)
nor it is a golden trophy that should be hyped.
it simply means someone who is an enthusiast of a certain subject. (still, enthusiast is more of a polite word as the word "otaku" still carries a hint of "home-stuck")
Listening to: *ecchi*
Reading: computer screen