Some readers just shook their heads in agreement with a sly grin, some have rolled their eyes, and a number of others now have a very puzzled look on their faces. While a good number of people may be unfamiliar with today’s term, they are probably not unfamiliar with the concept. After all, even before the likes of Lara Croft, Jessica Rabbit, or even Betty Boop, the idea of an attractive or appealing fictitious female image has been around for as long as there have been men with instruments to draw idealistic images of women; however, the use of today’s term waifu may take this concept a bit further.
The origins of the term waifu are somewhat vague. Though nobody is quite sure of where it originated, we do know how it originated. Odd as it may sound, the term is the product of an English word (wife) that has been imported into Japanese (ワイフ, Katakana for wa-i-hu) and then reimported into English with a specified meaning as ‘a fictional female character from a visual media (especially anime, manga, or video games) to whom one is attracted’.
Our term first became known to English-speaking audiences due to a scene in the high school anime series Azumanga Daioh – which aired in Japan in 2002 and was released as a DVD set in the United States in 2005 – where a character, when asked, refers to a photograph of a woman as mai waifu, or ‘my wife’. From this iteration’s introduction into the English language, the term quickly became commonplace among fans on 4chan’s anime and manga board (/a/) before disseminating across the greater Internet.
While the word itself translates into ‘wife’, there have always been distinctions from an actual physical wife; however, as time goes on and more people attempt to deal with the solitary nature of a social life that is more internet-centric, the lines seem to be blurring slightly. Simply put, a waifu isn’t thought of as being the same as a real wife, it’s more of an idealised attraction to the attributes of something fictional, which can be discerned from different words for actual wife – 妻, Kanji for tsuma – and the aforementioned Katakana ワイフ, waifu. Still, for some who are enthusiasts (otaku- a word for another day) or exhibit moe (another word for another day) towards a character for whatever reason, the advancement of technology now allows for a more realistic experience with a waifu: Japanese game studio Hibiki Works, to promote their game Niizuma Lovely x Cation last summer, actually allowed for a select group of men to marry their in-game waifus in virtual reality; the ceremony was held in an actual chapel and officiated by an actual priest.