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Reason for Warning: This article makes mentions of true crime, derealization and mental health disorders, which can be triggering for some readers. Some of the media might also contain questionable content. Reader discretion is advised.

Denpa (電波; literally meaning "electromagnetic wave") is a diverse Japanese fiction genre that centers around topics of delusion, asociality and a sense of losing connection with reality[1]. It is also a musical genre closely related to J-core and Pop music, which may also be less commonly known as "Akiba-Pop" or "A-Pop".

In Japan, the terms Denpa-kei (電波系) or Denpa-san (電波さん) particularly refer to people who are perceived as disconnected from reality and the people around them, or decide to live out vivid fantasies inside their dreams. The concept of Denpa shares many similiarities with how a major part of Japanese society saw the Otaku subculture during the 1990s-2000s, especially those who suffered from mental health disorders like MADD (Maladaptative Daydreaming Disorder), Schizophrenia or Paranoia. Denpa fiction was pioneered during these decades through the Visual Novel and Eroge video game genres; for example, the Denpa game Shizuku, released in 1996, is often cited as the first visual novel.

Diversity[]

Denpa can be considered pretty diverse because it can apply to a subculture of people, a character trope, a music genre, and a fiction genre primarily present in video games and anime shows. In other words, the genre often depicts those persons in mundane environments experiencing the breaking of reality. Such examples of Denpa can be found in diverse formats and popular media, including video games, more so in the Visual Novel and Eroge genres, light novels, manga, anime and music[2].

Denpa video games usually form part of the larger visual novel genre; in fact, the first visual novel games ever were marketed as Denpa. The Denpa game genre typically features a distinctive style that incorporates elements of technology (like electromagnetic or radio waves, such as antennas and telephone poles) and also explore topics that are often considered taboo in Japanese society, such as paranoia, anxiety, delusion, madness, trauma, depression and even suicide, typically in urban areas. However, Denpa music is rather characterized by its distinctive Moe aesthetic. The aesthetic that Denpa music uses is often called "Moe-Denpa" to visually set it apart from the gloomier traditional style.

History[]

"Denpa" in the Japanese language literally means "electromagnetic wave", and the original sense of a Denpa-san/Denpa-kei was of someone who thought they were receiving voices, thoughts, or instructions directly to their mind through electromagnetic radiation or electronic harassment.

The term "Denpa" was originally associated with a real-life murder incident, namely the Fukagawa Street murders. On July 11, 1981, a man called Kawamata Gunji stabbed four people to death and injured three others during a stabbing spree. The victims were specifically women and children. Kawamata Gunji suffered from paranoia and during his trial claimed that he was compelled to commit the crimes because he had been getting "electronically harassed" by radio waves for years, and these supossedly created "voices" that told him to kill people[3]. The incident and his trial gained significant attention in Japanese popular culture, inspiring documentaries, television dramas, and novels.

Therefore, the word "Denpa-kei" later started to appear in Japanese literary works and songs to describe "quirky" and "insane" people who could hear voices, hallucinate and apparently communicate with telepathy due to electromagnetic radiation, particularly during the early 1990s. Some of the earliest media to be classified under the Denpa genre are Shizuku (which is often cited as the first Visual Novel game) and the animes Paranoia Agent and Welcome to the N.H.K.

Visuals[]

The visuals associated with this genre are broad. There's not a general consensus on what Denpa visuals mean due to the diversity of the genre, but some people opt for dividing the visuals into two categories; "Classic" and "Moe-Denpa". The classic style can be appreciated in most examples of Denpa media, and it usually features imagery relating to technology and insanity, while "Moe-Denpa" is an aesthetic almost exclusively found in Denpa music, which is known for its distinctive Kawaii aesthetic. However, despite the visual differences, both still share the same origin, philosophy and motifs related to fantasy and insanity.

Classic Denpa[]

The Classic Denpa aesthetic is mainly associated with Denpa games part of the Visual Novel genre and Denpa animes from the 1990s-2000s, which often feature elements of Horror and eroticism (particularly in Eroge Visual Novels). Although this style is mostly associated with Horror games and anime, the genre can also co-exist with drama, action or thriller stories (with some of the most notable examples being Neon Genesis Evangelion, Serial Experiments Lain, Boogiepop Phantom and Aku no Hana). This genre typically features imagery relating to technology that uses electromagnetic/radio waves, such as antennas and telephone poles, and explores topics like paranoia, depression, suicide and urban or life in the suburbs of Japan. The game Shizuku (1996) and the show Paranoia Agent (2004) are often cited as the pioneers of this style.

Some visuals prominent in Classic Denpa include:

  • 2000s Anime art style
  • Elements of Horror and eroticism
  • Antennas, telephone poles, and other symbols of electromagnetic technology
  • Hallucinations, derealization, insanity
  • Text from visual novels
  • Stretched images
  • Paranoia and alienation
  • The psychological impact of urban or suburban living
  • Abandoned or desolate urban spaces
  • Imagery that evoke feelings of isolation and desolation
  • Saturated and enlightened colors
  • A sense of losing grip on reality
  • Blue/red color filters (often)
  • Poor quality as a stylistic choice (sometimes)

Moe-Denpa[]

Moe-Denpa (もえー電波) is the name given to the aesthetic associated with the Moe-Denpa music subgenre and the dōjin circles surrounding it. This visual aesthetic is evidently found in the cover arts of these albums and songs, often featuring Moe anime characters, pastel colors and surreal, yet whimsical imagery. It's basically completely different when compared to the Classic Denpa style that's found on Visual Novels and the Eroge genre, although it still shares the same origin.

Some visuals prominent in Moe-Denpa include:

  • Moe anime art style
  • Exaggerated and over-the-top cutesy
  • Cluttered animals, food, accessories, etc.
  • Sparkles
  • Hearts
  • Candy
  • Fantasy, hallucinations, derealization, insanity
  • Pastel color palette

Philosophy[]

In Japan, the term "Denpa" was originally used to designate insane and quirky people who were thought to be controlled by electromagnetic radiation, which can be found in pretty much any electronics.

People or fictional characters who are described as Denpa-kei or self-describe as such are often described as people detached from society and reality.. The stereotypical Denpa attitude in works of fiction includes heavy escapism, allowing viewers to escape from the pressures of everyday life and enter a world of fantasy and imagination. Some Denpa game storylines also often feature scenarios where the boundaries between reality and fantasy are blurred, including existentialism and questioning the nature of reality itself.

Other similiar archetypes or subcultures in Japan and Japanese fiction are Hikikomoris (loners who are nearly or fully withdrawn from social interaction), Chūnibyōs (young teenagers who are delusional and attention-seekers, who believe they might be superhumans with superior knowledge or magical powers) and Jouhatsus (a Japanese social phenomenon of people who completely disappear from their social lives without leaving any sort of trace). The Denpa-kei subculture also shares many similarities with the stereotype of "Tin Foil Hatters" in English-speaking countries[4], which refers to people who believe wearing tin foil hats will prevent their brains from getting "controlled" by the government, technology, corporations or criminals.

Music[]

Denpa Songs (電波ソング) are a musical genre similar to both J-Pop and Electronic Dance Music (specifically J-core) that are intentionally bizarre yet catchy and cute[5]. Other terms that were coined more recently for this music style are A-Pop or Akiba-Pop, because of its connection with the Akihabara district in Tokyo (which is renowned for being the "capital" of Otaku culture).

Denpa songs are characterized by their fast speed, bizarre topics, catchy rhythm and awkward and/or dissonant lyrics. Other defining features include cute high-pitched vocals, and repetitive onomatopeias or exaggerated chants. The lyrics are often often related to the Otaku subculture and non-sensical. Its most well known and prominent subgenre is Moe-Denpa (もえー電波), which is characterized by its Moe anime visual style and its exaggeratedly cute high-pitched vocals. This genre was solidified in the early 2000s by artists such as Under17 and MOSAIC.WAV, who personally called their music Akiba-Pop, and they were commonly played in various shops of Akihabara and Harajuku during the decade.

Although Denpa music usually sounds upbeat and cute, some common topics in the songs are delusion, telepathy and insanity, and because of that it is often deemed creepy in popular culture due to its repetitive and exaggerated lyrics, off-key singing and chaotic tone. As previously mentioned, "Denpa" became slang in Japan for people that appeared to be delusional, insane or disconnected from reality, such as Otaku. So in this context, Denpa music also bears this name because it sounds like "something people described that Denpa-kei would listen to". Because of that, the genre carried negative connotations during its early years because it was considered to be "brainwashing music", since it often touches Otaku themes and non-sensical topics. However, some efforts were made to break away from the stereotype, hence why some newer terms like "Akiba-Pop" or "A-Pop" were coined. Therefore, Denpa music isn't as stigmatized as the game genre as a whole.

The genre primarily thrives within the Japanese Dōjin scene (independent music circles), and many albums and songs are often sold or released during dōjin events such as Comiket. The genre gained wider recognition outside Japan through its inclusion in popular Japanese rhythm games like Beatmania, the BEMANI series and Sound Voltex. Although they are not Denpa games, the fandom of the Touhou Project series was also notably involved in its popularization, since dōjin circles such as IOSYS or C.H.S often make arranges of songs from Touhou Project video games and Denpa songs inspired by the game.

Also, it's important to distinguish Denpa from J-Pop. While both share a focus on catchy melodies and Pop styles, J-Pop is a mainstream genre heavily influenced by the idol movement. Conversely, Denpa music remains largely underground and draws inspiration from the Otaku subculture.

Musical Artists & Circles[]

  • 33.turbo
  • Aozora Sorano
  • ARM (IOSYS)
  • ave;new project
  • Chiimu dmp☆
  • C.H.S
  • Choko
  • COOL&CREATE
  • Dempagumi.Inc
  • emamouse
  • fripSide NAO project!
  • Haruko Momoi
  • Ikigusare
  • IOSYS
  • KING-SHOW
  • koko
  • KOTOKO
  • melo9
  • Momoiro Clover Z
  • MOSAIC.WAV
  • Nanahira
  • Nanamori-Chu☆Goraku-Bu
  • Nekomirin
  • Nomico
  • Pinky Pop Hepburn
  • Planet+
  • Rizna
  • Ruriru denpa
  • Saori@destiny
  • Satapan P
  • Sliver Forest
  • Sumire Uesaka
  • Toromi
  • twinkle
  • UNDER17
  • Yukacco
  • ばーどちゅーん
  • ほりっくさーびす

Songs[]

Media[]

Anime, Manga & Television[]

  • Alien Nine (1998-1999)
  • Arakawa Under the Bridge (2004-2015)
  • Boogiepop Phantom (2000)
  • Cat Soup (Movie) (2001)
  • Cyber Team On Akihabara (1998)
  • Den-noh Coil (2007)
  • Denpa teki na Kanojo (2009)
  • FLCL (2000-2001)
  • Gakkou Gurashi! (2012-2019)
  • Goodbye, Eri (2022)
  • Ground Control to Psychoelectric Girl (2011)
  • Higurashi When They Cry (2006)
  • Kuuchuu Buranko (2009)
  • Kyōran Kazoku Nikki (2005-2011)
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995)
  • Paranoia Agent (2004)
  • Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei (2007)
  • SSSS.Gridman (2018-2023)
  • Serial Experiments Lain (1998)
  • Summer Time Rendering (2017-2021)
  • Take the X Train (1987)
  • Texhnolyze (2003)
  • The Flowers of Evil (2009-2014)
  • The World God Only Knows (2008-2014)
  • To Heart (Anime Adaptation) (1999)
  • Ultimate Otaku Teacher (2011-2017)
  • Welcome to the N.H.K (2002)
  • Yuri Seijin Naoko-san (2005-2014)

Video Games[]

  • BBirthday (2023)
  • Chaos;Head (2008)
  • CROSS†CHANNEL (2004)
  • Fushigi Densha (2003)
  • Gore Screaming Show (2005)
  • H2O: Footprints in the Sand (2006)
  • HAPPY SAIN† SHEOL (2022)
  • Harmony VT (2021)
  • Iwaihime (2015)
  • Jisatsu no Tame no 101 no Houhou (2001)
  • Kurai Nichiyoubi - Sombre Dimanche (2009)
  • Kusarihime ~Euthanasia~ (2002)
  • Kyojin-tachi (2007)
  • Milk inside a bag of milk inside a bag of milk (2020)
  • Mousoukyou Zanatorium (2017)
  • MYTH (2008)
  • Needy Streamer Overload (2022)
  • Saiaku Naru Saiyaku Ningen ni Sasagu (2015)
  • Saya no Uta: The Song of Saya (2003)
  • Sayonara o Oshiete ~Comment te Dire Adieu~ (2001)
  • Shizuku (1996)
  • soundless - A MODERN SALEM IN REMOTE AREA - (2017)
  • Steins;Gate (2009)
  • The Denpa Men: They Came by Wave (2012)
  • The noose (2006)
  • To Heart ~Remember My Memories~ (1997)
  • Tsukutori (2007)
  • Tsui no Sora (1999)
  • Wonderful Everyday Down The Rabbit-Hole (2010)
  • YOU and ME and HER: A Love Story (2013)
  • Yume Nikki (2004)
  • Zatvornichestvo (2022)

Gallery[]

References[]

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