Doujinshi, written as ‘dōjinshi’ throughout the following essay, is something that is close to the hearts of many Otaku, especially myself (take that however you may). And because of this, I decided to write a research paper on the subject for this past semester. Yes. You heard me. A paper on doujinshi for a university class. I love my major.
Dōjinshi or fan-created manga “is a place where one can use to express themselves freely” (Kobayashi 1996, 104) and is a thriving subculture in Japan. Held every year, Comic Market is one of the largest, if not the largest, dōjinshi events in Japan. Comic Market 76, held in the summer of 2009, saw an attendance of 560,000 participants (The Official Comic Market Site 1998).
However, dōjinshi today has evolved significantly from the dōjinshi of the past. Whereas in the past, dōjinshi has been used as “an alternative outlet for unpublishable material” by “manga artists and fans interested in developing new forms of expression in manga” (Kinsella 1998, 295), a single type of dōjinshi has come to dominate the amateur manga scene – parody dōjinshi, also known as derivative works.
Due to this increase in the number of parody dōjinshi, “45.9 per cent of all material sold at Comic Market”, as opposed to original dōjinshi at only “12.1 per cent” (Kinsella 1998, 301), many have said that dōjinshi is no longer a medium for self-expression such as original works, social commentary and critique.
In his research into dōjinshi and Comiket Market, Tamagawa Hiroaki noted that Teruo Harada, the first Comic Market President, noticed this change and commented on it when reflecting on his retirement as President in 1979, “I have no intention of repudiating fan clubs and cosplay, but I had wanted to see circles creating original works flourish. Instead, it’s all about other types of circles and trends. Even circles doing original manga works are mostly recasting commercial works. Once I realized that, my hopes for doujin to become a wellspring of new imaginings shriveled” (Tamagawa 2012, 124).
Throughout this paper, I will be looking specifically at parody dōjinshi, its conception and its production to see if it is indeed a medium for self-expression such as for social commentary, critique and original works.
However, before going into the paper proper, I would first like to clarify the definitions of the various terms that I will be using in this paper, starting with the terms ‘dōjin’ and ‘dōjinshi’. While some scholars and fans use these terms interchangeably, there is a difference between the two. Tamagawa Hiroaki defines dōjin as a “self-financed, self-published work(s) created by an individual or collaboration between individuals” and is an “amateur publication outside the professional commercial market” (Tamagawa 2012, 108). This term can thus be applied to a variety of other medium and products, such as games, character goods, figures and even anime. Dōjinshi however, is specifically an “amateur or professional magazine, most often manga” (Galbraith 2009, 65).
Derivative and parody dōjinshi are a subset of dōjinshi and is defined as being “constructed using characters, setting, and backstory from an existing work and creating narratives of the doujin artists’ choosing in the form of manga and novels” (Tamagawa 2012, 115). During the course of this paper, there will be instances where some of the referenced scholars refer to dōjinshi as manga. These two terms can be considered the same in this context as, by manga, they are referring to fan-created manga.
By ‘self-expression’, I would define it as the expression or assertion of one’s own personality, ideas or opinions, inclusive of the degree of individual input that goes into the creation of a particular work.
The term ‘otaku’ has different implications, significance and history and differs in definition from your average fan of anime and manga. However, as this paper will not be delving into any issues that require a more specific differentiation, ‘otaku’ will be simply defined as a die-hard or ardent fan of anime, manga and other forms of Japanese popular culture.
I would also like to note that I will be taking the statistics from Comic Market as a fair representation of dōjinshi trends, not only because of its wide attendance, but also because Comic Market has been established as a middle ground between the two other types of events – ones that deal solely with parody dōjinshi and ones that only allow original dōjinshi to be sold, such as MGM. As written in the Comic Market Manual, “its (Comic Market’s) stance is honoring the equality of its participants, providing a place for freedom of expression, maintaining this space, and supporting the participant community” and that it “looks to the circles and broader cultural shifts as mechanisms for change” (Tamagawa 2012, 117).
The paper will be structured in the following order. I will first be taking a look at the history of dōjinshi in Japan, its original uses, how parody dōjinshi has come to take over the dōjinshi market. Following that, I will be examining parody dōjinshi, examine the possible reasons for its perceived lack of quality and the creation of new genres through it. Finally, I will be looking at parody dōjinshi and the changing methods of consumption and production in the otaku subculture.
One of the limitations that I faced during the research for this paper is that I was unable to get access to a sufficient number of dōjinshi to analyze conclusively for myself. There was also a lack of a clear way of defining, quantifying and measuring self-expression.
1. The History of Dōjinshi and the Rise of Parody Dōjinshi
The dōjinshi culture truly began when photocopying equipment and affordable printing were made widely accessible to the masses in the early 1970s. Students who had participated in political activities and had made it difficult for themselves to get a decent job had taken this opportunity to start up their own printing companies. It was then that it became possible for the average man to print and distribute his own works for a very reasonable price. Sharon Kinsella calls this form of communication that works beneath the level of the regular mass communications, mini communications and likens it to an early form of the internet (Kinsella 1998, 294).
According to a member of the Comic Market Preparations Committee, during the 1970s, “The once-innovative seinen [young men] manga serials had become insular. Serials like Shonen Magazine, which had always tried to evolve and stay cutting-edge, scaled back its content for younger readers. Even Garo, which used to surprise readers with fresh content, stagnated. Manga had become all about sports and action, and it felt as though manga’s potential was becoming stifled.” and that it was the “Dissatisfaction about commercial publications, particularly manga serials (that) was a driving force behind Comic Market’s inception” (Tamagawa 2012, 124).
During that time, dōjinshi at Comic Market was a “diverse mix” and aside from parody dōjinshi, dōjinshi was a “medium for amateurs to create works outside of the realm of commercial publications” and ranged from original works to critiques (Tamagawa 2012, 114). In fact, “original works constituted the majority of doujin”. As a male in his late fifties recounts, a circle called Meikyu specifically published their critiques in manga format to “make manga independent” and if they had published their works in text, it would have been viewed as regular literature (Tamagawa 2012, 115).
Despite this diversity, parody dōjinshi soon began to overtake and dominate the dōjinshi scene. During the early days of the dōjinshi boom, around the time of Comic Market’s inception in the 1970s, parody dōjinshi were similar to the traditional fanzine and “contained information about the author (for example, bibliography and recent updates), reviews and information about the author’s specific works, illustrations, and manga” (Tamagawa 2012, 115).
The shift towards parody dōjinshi is mainly attributed to the increasing popularity of anime. After the number of anime focused circles began to increase in 1977 because of popular anime like Space Battleship Yamato, ‘proper’ parody dōjinshi that resembles the parody dōjinshi of today grew in provenance and were soon as prevalent as the traditional fanzines. It was then that commercially published magazines like OUT, Animage, and Animec were founded and “information previously available only through doujin thus became widely available through commercial magazines, undermining the role that fanzines had played in providing information. This pushed anime doujin to shift toward parody doujin” (Tamagawa 1998, 116).
As mentioned in the introduction, I would like to point out that at by 1989, the number of parody dōjinshi totaled “45.9 per cent of all material sold at Comic Market”. Original dōjinshi only consisted “12.1 per cent” (Kinsella 1998, 301). As evidenced from the Comic Market 30th Anniversary Survey taken in 2008 of all material sold at Comic Market 65, this ratio has remained consistent up to 2008 at 12.9 percent (Tamagawa 1998, 125).
2. Parody Dōjinshi, Poor Impressions and Genre Creation
Teruo Harada, the first president of Comic Market, had a dim view of parody dōjinshi, but are parody dōjinshi truly deserving of this opinion? One of the possible reasons for this impression of low quality that comes with parody dōjinshi is the fact that they are easier to produce.
A survey made by Sharon Kinsella with a group of random Comic Market artists in 1994 confirms that “producing and appreciating parody manga is, among other things, an easier task for many amateur artists than producing original characters and stories”. In addition to that, the barriers of entry for producing parody dōjinshi are so low that “a great number of ordinary, proportionately less talented individuals” were able to do precisely that (Kinsella 1998, 304). Tamagawa, however, feels that parody dōjinshi can still give rise to new works and that “many doujin artists who draw parodies also draw original works” (Tamagawa 2012, 125). He then goes on to site examples of such cases including circles like Yun Koga and CLAMP and original works like Tsukihime, Gunslinger Girl and When They Cry. While this may certainly be the case, he fails to address the quality of parody dōjinshi itself and what they serve to accomplish.
Another popular criticism of parody dōjinshi is that, unlike original dōjinshi, they don’t embrace “current social and political events”. This however, is quickly shot down by Sharon Kinsella as she claims that “Amateur manga, whether parody or original work, is widely judged to be low-quality culture because it lacks direct references to social and political life” (Kinsella 1998, 303).
Yonezawa Yoshihiro, a president of Comic Market as well, begs to disagree. He “sees the expansion of parody in manga as an attempt to struggle with and subvert dominant culture on the part of a generation of youth for whom mass culture, which has surrounded them from early childhood, has become their dominant reality” and he “interprets parody manga as a highly critical genre that attempts to remodel and take control of “cultural reality”” (Kinsella 1998, 303). This can indeed be witnessed from a number of the genres that were created and popularized by parody dōjinshi such as yaoi, jūne and rorikon in the 1980s.
Yaoi is “an anagram, composed of the first syllable of three phrases, yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi” which mean “no build-up, no foreclosure, and no meaning” and is a genre that focuses on “homoerotica and homosexual romance between lead male characters” from popular manga from the time such as Yūyūhakusho, Slam Dunk and Captain Tsubasa (Kinsella 1998, 301).
On first glance, it would appear that these parody dōjinshi have little to offer. Looking more closely at these parody dōjinshi however, reveals that the content of the genre itself allows for youth to express their “frustrations”. These youths “who have found themselves unable to relate to the opposite sex, as they have constituted and located themselves within the contemporary cultural and political environment”. For instance, girls belittle men who persist in “macho sexist behavior” by “writing parody manga or reading gay love stories” and “young men who find this type of masculine behavior and friendship, which is concentrated within corporate culture, restricting and uncomfortable have also been attracted to girls’ manga” or jūne. The same can also be said for rorikon, or Lolita complex, manga, though this time it is written by men for men with the intent of expressing “both the fixation with and resentment felt toward young women” as these men have not come to terms with the increasingly empowered position that women have been getting in society and over the “sense of lost privileges over women, which accumulated during the 1980s” (Kinsella 1998, 306).
Thus, we can see that parody dōjinshi, thorough the creation of and the content of its genres, do still allow for self-expression.
3. Parody Dōjinshi and Changing Consumption
Up to now, we have been dealing with parody dōjinshi itself until the late 1970s and 1980s. Now, we shall take a look at changes in societal factors that lead to a change in consumption, and thus a change in the production of parody dōjinshi and derivative works.
During the beginning of the postmodern era in Japan in the 1970s, the Japanese people were still interested and searching for a grand narrative to latch on to (Azuma 2009, 54). The grand narrative, which governed the modern society, is defined as “a system that is consolidated for the purpose of organizing members of a society into a unified whole”. In a postmodern society however, the “grand narratives break down and the cohesion of the societal entirety rapidly weakens. This breakdown was accelerated in Japan in the 1970s when both high-speed economic growth and “the season of politics” ended and when Japan experienced the Oil Shocks and the Red Army Incident” (Azuma 2009, 28).
Companies then began to take advantage of the lack of a grand narrative and the fact that people were still searching and interested in a one to sell products. However, it was impossible for them to sell the grand narrative itself to consumers, one of the reasons being that it was not economically feasible. So instead, companies sold consumers pieces of the grand narrative. Ōtsuka gives us the example of the Bikkuriman chocolates. Each of these chocolates came with a sticker. In addition to the drawing of a single character on it, the reverse side of the sticker contained a bit of information of the character and a little information of the world that that character inhabited and its relationship to other characters in the set of stickers that one could collect. By piecing together these small narratives through the collection of these stickers, consumers were able to get a hold of the grand narrative (Ōtsuka 2010, 107). This form of consumption is called narrative consumption.
Similarly, anime like Mobile Suit Gundam sold the audience on the grand narrative, known as the “world view” in animation terms. The anime producers were not only making a small narrative that can be contained in one single episode. Instead, just like the Bikkuriman chocolates before, they “included countless detailed “settings” prepared yet not directly represented within this episode” such as where “the main characters live, the place, the relations between countries, their history…” so on and so forth. The more background detail that the anime produces added into the anime, the more real the show would feel to audiences (Ōtsuka 2010, 107). Thus, the episode in question becomes merely “an extraction of a series of events” that occurred around a grand narrative. Anime otaku during that time, “to try to dig out the worldview hidden in the background”, began writing their own parody dōjinshi in order to create their own grand narrative (Ōtsuka 2010, 108).
An example of this can be seen from the parody dōjinshi of the manga Captain Tsubasa. “Girls in their late teens began wiring and self-publishing dōjinshi that used the main character from Captain Tsubasa, and this phenomenon expanded across the country in the blink of an eye. Hundreds, even thousands of these Tsubasa dōjinshi have been produced”. The girls used the settings, characters, relationships and background information from the ‘official’ Tsubasa manga and wrote their own Tsubasa dōjinshi, making sure to follow the settings in the official manga, “in their own individual, creative ways”. These dōjinshi authors created their own original narratives where by the ‘official’ work becomes just “one (of the) possible dramas” in the entire grand narrative. In addition to that however, these artists “stressed the relations between boys” in their dōjinshi and their work becomes entirely different from the original (Ōtsuka 2010, 110). Not only is this indicative of the individual input of the dōjinshi artists, this ties in with the previous point on the creation of new genres such as yaoi which allows dōjinshi artists to express themselves and their sexual frustrations.
During this early postmodern period, because dōjinshi artists created their own original narratives when writing parody dōjinshi, sometimes changing relationships to make their works fit into the yaoi, jūne or rorikon genres and in the end creating their own original works that differentiate themselves, I believe parody dōjinshi still does have a significant amount of input from the author and it still can be considered a medium for self-expression.
However, the issue here is that, as time passes, the forms of consumption have changed. “The younger generation that grew up within the postmodern world image imagine the world as a database from the beginning”. The database is literally a database of information that has replaced the grand narrative. “Compared with the 1980s otaku, those of the 1990s generally adhered to the data and facts of the fictional worlds and were unconcerned with a meaning and message that might have been communicated” (Azuma 2009, 37) and for “them, a grand narrative or fiction with a Gundam-style world was no longer desirable, even as a fantasy” (Azuma 2009, 38).
In other words, works are now no longer seen as or desired for a window to a grand narrative, but for the moe-elements, or desirable elements. This is considered as database consumption. The “importance of narrative has declined, (and) the characters have become more important in otaku culture” (Azuma 2009, 47). These moe-elements are mostly visual such as cat ears, bells, maid uniforms, tails and loose socks, “but there are other kinds of moe-elements, such as a particular way of speaking, settings, stereotypical narrative development, and the specific curves of a figurine”. Characters are now “derived from the database of moe-elements” and are “the result of sampling and combining popular elements from recent otaku culture”. They are also no longer “unique designs created by the individual talent of the author but an output generated from preregistered elements” (Azuma 2009, 42) and the result is that “it is quite ambiguous what the original is or who the original author is, and the consumers rarely become aware of the author of the original” (Azuma 2009, 39). Even artists of derivative works or parody dōjinshi just “mercilessly parody, cut up, and remix the originals” and there is no longer any “fundamental difference between them”, lacking any originality of any kind (Azuma 2009, 62).
One would initially think that in the postmodern society, people would have more individualistic opinions to express, but according to Azuma Hiroki, this is not the case. Due to this trend of creating characters and stories from an established database of moe-elements, the author and any intention the author might have, is lost. Still, I propose that this remixing and rearranging of those moe-elements is still indicative of individual input and can still be a form of self-expression, albeit far less than in previous generations of otaku. Also, one of the limitations of a societal argument is that it is all encompassing and it does not take into account possible exceptions. Without hard statistics, one cannot say for certain that all parody dōjinshi produced in the postmodern society are completely devoid of any original plot or ideas.
This does not discount the fact that parody dōjinshi still do contain forms of sexual expression that fall in the genres of yaoi, jūne and rorikon. Tagawa, in his research, has found out that “a large portion of the countless dōjinshi that are bought and sold at Comic Market and dōjinshi sale events contain some form of sexual expression” (Tagawa 2009, 75). So, despite this decrease in individualistic input of ideas, parody dōjinshi remains a medium of self-expression through its genres.
In conclusion, I have shown throughout the course of this paper that, mainly by analyzing and referencing secondary sources, parody dōjinshi is indeed a medium for self-expression. However, over time, due to a change in society, resulting in a change in the consumption and production practices of fans, parody dōjinshi is becoming less and less of a medium for self-expression – from the creation of original narratives, to a mere remixing of moe-elements.
However, the genres that were created by parody dōjinshi are still popular and continue to be a way for youths to deal with sexual issues. Thus, allowing parody dōjinshi to still be a form of self-expression, albeit not to the degree as it was before.
Azuma, Hiroki. 2009. Otaku: Japan’s database animals. Trans. Jonathan E. Abel, and Shinon Kono. University of Minnesota Press.
Ōtsuka, Eiji. 2010. World and Variation: The Reproductiion and Consumption of Narrative. Trans. Marc Steinberg. In Mechademia 5: Fanthropologies, ed. Frenchy Lunning, 99-116. University of Minnesota Press.
Tamagawa, Hiroaki. 2012. Comic Market as Space for Self-Expression in Otaku Culture. In Fandom Unbound: Otaku Culture in a Connected World, ed. Mizuko Ito, Daisuke Okabe, and Izumi Tsuji, 107-132. Yale University Press.
Galbraith, Patrick W. 2009. The Otaku Encyclopedia: An Insider’s Guide to the Subculture of Cool Japan. Kodansha International.
Kinsella, Sharon. 1998. Japanese Subculture in the 1990s: Otaku and the Amateur Manga Movement. Journal of Japanese Studies 24, 2: 289-316.
Kobayashi, Yoshihiro. 1996. From folk to filk – mitsuryo teki bunka arui wa kusanone no sōzō. Japan Association for Lifology 1: 97-106
Tagawa, Takahiro. 2009. Direction of Otaku Study – otaku bunseki no hōkōsē. Nagoya Bunri Daigaku Kiyō 9: 73-80
The Official Comic Market Site 1998. http://www.comiket.co.jp/index_e.html (accessed November 2012)