Patrick Galbraith wants you to know that otaku isn’t just Japanese for "nerd." The Alaska-born ethnographer and journalist has spent over a decade studying the subculture, from cosplayers to collectors, "rotten girls" to bishojo-loving boys. On his way to a Ph.D. from the University of Tokyo — he’s now working on second doctorate, this time in cultural anthropology at Duke University — he published two books, The Otaku Encyclopedia and Tokyo Realtime: Akihabara. His latest book is Otaku Spaces, a collaboration with photographer Androniki Christodoulou. The book offers 20 portraits of self-declared otaku, paired with incisive and revealing interviews.

But why study otaku at all? It’s a question even fellow academics have asked Galbraith. Older scholars, who earned their credentials in other, more conventional fields before theorizing about the subculture, recommended he do the same. (One suggested economic history as a more viable option.) But he believes not only is the massive subculture worth studying, but what academic attention it has received has been too detached, too eager to broadly theorize without first understanding actual otaku. Hence his emphasis on interviews. "I think there are a lot of political implications to just hearing people out," he says, "Talking to them, bringing people back to the center of discussion rather than marginalizing them, which has been the way to do it for the last thirty years."