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[LINK] Free online course of interest to fans: An Introduction to Japanese Subcultures – Keio University

From the website: In this course, together with three other specialists, Professor Niijima, Professor Takahashi and Professor Ohwada, we will explore girls comics, boys comics, the Hatsune Miku vocaloid, cosplay, and J-pop idols, focusing on the themes such as Love, Battle, Technology and Fan culture, in which you’ll learn about the different cultural creations that underpin Japanese subcultures. With materials for cultural analysis, you’ll develop a basic knowledge of key Japanese subcultures, learning the recognisable traits of each.

[QUOTE] From Queering the media mix: The female gaze in Japanese fan comics | Kathryn Hemmann | Transformative Works and Cultures

As this media mix has had several more decades to evolve in Japan than in the United States and Europe, the Japanese understanding of convergence culture is significantly more progressive concerning the user-generated portion of the mix (note 6). Specifically, Japanese publishers, producers, and entertainment corporations create media properties in such a way as to encourage audience participation through transformative works, the production of which is taken for granted and directly incorporated into their business strategies and marketing models (Steinberg 2012).

Instead of discouraging fan works such as fan fiction, fan art, and fan comics, Japanese media producers depend on them to ensure a healthy and stable economic ecosystem for their franchise properties. After all, many highly successful content creators were once fans themselves (note 7). Therefore, in Japan, fans do not exist outside of transmediality and corporate convergence cultures but instead are integral to the success of the media mix.

Since the Japanese media mix model may serve as an indicator of the future evolution of overseas media cultures, which are increasingly pursuing mutually beneficial relationships with fan cultures (note 8), a better understanding of Japanese fan works and their relationship to mainstream media is useful for understanding the transnational fandom response to titles such as Sherlock (note 9).

Queering the media mix: The female gaze in Japanese fan comics | Kathryn Hemmann | Transformative Works and Cultures

[QUOTE] From Galbraith and Karlin, Idols and Celebrity in Japanese Media Culture, p1

On 9 June 2011, news of nuclear contamination in earthquake-stricken Japan took a backseat to the AKB48 General Election in the mass media. The third election of its kind for the all-girl idol group formed in 2005, it was a massive promotion and marketing blitz. In addition to fan-club members, anyone who had purchased their 21st single, “Everyday, Kachu ̄sha,” could vote. In a week, it sold 1,334,000 copies, a new record for a single sold in Japan.1 The results of the General Election were announced during a live ceremony at the Budo ̄kan, where some of the most famous musical acts in the world have performed. The ceremony was also streamed live to 86 theaters (97 screens) in Japan, everywhere from Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south, and in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea (Barks Global Media 2011a). Fans were desperate for a seat—be it at the actual venue or the theaters—but tickets sold out almost instantly. This was more than just fanaticism. It was a media event and a public spectacle. The girls of AKB48 were pronounced “national idols” (kokumin-teki aidoru)—the performers “we” “Japanese” “all” know and love. The election was given prominent coverage by both print and television media, with as many as 150 outlets reporting on the event (Morita 2011). People were constantly updated on which of the members, nearly 200 by this point, would come out on top. They were kept up to speed on developments by online sites, cell phone news feeds, commercial and news spots on trains, and, of course, friends, family, coworkers, schoolmates, and everyone else who was talking about it. On the day of the General Election, the streets of Tokyo were buzzing with the names of AKB48 members. It was hard not to be involved in some way, if not intimately so.

Galbraith and Karlin, Idols and Celebrity in Japanese Media Culture, p1

[META] Seven new essays on transcultural fandom

Via @tea-and-liminality: “For anyone interested, there’s a new themed section on transcultural fandom up at the online journal Participations, with the following essays:

Chin, Bertha & Lori Hitchcock Morimoto:

Driessen, Simone:
Larger than life: exploring the transcultural fan practices of the Dutch Backstreet Boys fandom

Devereux, Eoin & Melissa Hidalgo:
“You’re gonna need someone on your side”: Morrissey’s Latino/a and Chicano/a fans

Noppe, Nele:
Mechanisms of control in online fanwork sales: A comparison of Kindle Worlds and

Ryan, Ciarán:
Music fanzine collecting as capital accumulation

Promkhuntong, Wikanda:
Cinephiles, music fans and film auteur(s): Transcultural taste cultures surrounding mashups of Wong Kar-wai’s movies on YouTube

van de Goor, Sophie Charlotte:
“You must be new here”: Reinforcing the good fan

[META] The censorship problems faced by anime and manga fans

For fans of manga, anime, and other Japanese media, pointing and laughing at inaccurate mass media portrayals of Japanese pop culture has been something of a sport for decades. A few weeks ago, however, things took a slightly more serious turn.

The ball got rolling when early in June, the Japanese House of Representatives approved a long-overdue law banning the possession of child pornography. Up to now, creating and distributing child pornography was as forbidden in Japan as anywhere else, but “simple possession” had not yet been criminalized. The new law applies only to “real” child pornography and leaves alone completely fictional depictions of underage characters in sexual situations in manga, anime and other media. This exception came about after vocal protests from manga publishers, creators, fans and free speech rights activists. The story was widely reported in non-Japanese media. However, most of these reports focused on handwringing about Japan’s “failure” to clamp down on sexually explicit manga. Most shared was a CNN article filled with outrage about how the new law supposedly permits Japanese bookstores to fill their shelves with shocking cartoon porn about children. (more…)

Issue 14 of Transformative Works and Cultures is out!

Congratulations to the editors and writers! Links to all articles below. As usual, we’ll be posting some good quotes from these in the coming days, and you’re very welcome to submit your own.


Spreadable fandom - TWC Editor


Metaphors we read by: People, process, and fan fiction - Juli J. Parrish

Sub*culture: Exploring the dynamics of a networked public - Simon Lindgren


A Japanese media pilgrimage to a Tasmanian bakery - Craig Norris

Trans-cult-ural fandom: Desire, technology and the transformation of fan subjectivities in the Japanese female fandom of Hong Kong stars - Lori Hitchcock Morimoto

Fannish discourse communities and the construction of gender in “The X-Files” - Emily Regan Wills

Capital, dialogue, and community engagement: “My Little Pony—Friendship Is Magic” understood as an alternate reality game - Kevin Veale


So bad it’s good: The “kuso” aesthetic in “Troll 2” - Whitney Phillips

Translation, interpretation, fan fiction: A continuum of meaning production - Shannon K. Farley

Fan/dom: People, practices, and networks - Katherine E. Morrissey

Fandom, public, commons - Mel Stanfill


“Spreadable media: Creating value and meaning in a networked culture,” by Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green - Melissa A. Click

“Reclaiming fair use,” by Patricia Aufderheide and Peter Jaszi - Josh Johnson

“Genre, reception, and adaption in the ‘Twilight’ series,” edited by Anne Morey- Amanda Georgeanne Retartha

[QUOTE] From Alisa Freedman, Train Man and the Gender Politics of Japanese ‘Otaku’ Culture: The Rise of New Media, Nerd Heroes and Consumer Communities

Female otaku have received more media attention (N: in Japan) since around the time of the Train Man phenomenon, but, rather than being embroiled in discussions about the family, they have most often been showcased as a creative force ofconsumers and producers of Japan’s flourishing manga and anime industries and as brave pioneer members of fandoms generally dominated by men. Although positive, these reports present female otaku as anomalies rather than role models and reveal aspects of gender segregation in otaku culture. Alisa Freedman, Train Man and the Gender Politics of Japanese ‘Otaku’ Culture: The Rise of New Media, Nerd Heroes and Consumer Communities

[QUOTE] From Mizuko Ito, Fandom Unbound, loc. 246-63

Even as otaku culture is recuperated by elites and the mainstream, and as the terms “anime” and “manga” have become part of a common international lexicon, otaku culture and practice have retained their subcultural credibility. In Japan, much of manga and anime is associated with mainstream consumption; otaku must therefore differentiate themselves from ippanjin (regular people) through a proliferating set of niche genres, alternative readings, and derivative works. In the United States, the subcultural cred of anime and manga is buttressed by their status as foreign “cult media.” This stance of U.S. fans is not grounded, however, in a simplistic exoticism. Susan Napier suggests that “rather than the traditional Orientalist construction of the West empowering itself by oppressing or patronizing the Eastern Other, these fans gain agency through discovering and then identifying with a society that they clearly recognize as having both universal and culturally specific aspects” (Napier 2007, 189). She describes how U.S. fans most often explain their interests in terms of the works’ “thematic complexity and three-dimensional characterization” rather than as an interest in Japan per se (Napier 2007, 177).

Put differently, the international appeal of otaku culture is grounded precisely in its ability to resist totalizing global narratives such as nationalism. The long-running and intricate narrative forms of popular Japanese media represent a platform or, in Hiroki Azuma’s terms, a database of referents that are highly amenable to recombination and customization by fans and gamers (see Chapter 2). We can see this in the stunning diversity of doujinshi derived from the same manga series (see Chapters 5 and 9) and in the activities of young Pokémon or Yu-Gi-Oh! card game players who design their own decks out of the nearly infinite set of possibilities on offer through a growing pantheon of monsters (Buckingham and Sefton-Green 2004; Ito 2007; Sefton-Green 2004; Willett 2004). While certain female fans might look to Gundam for source material to tell stories of erotic trysts between the male characters, other fans geek out over building and customizing models of the giant robots.

Mizuko Ito, Fandom Unbound, loc. 246-63

[QUOTE] From Thomas Lamarre, Introduction to Mechademia 6: User Enhanced

in the wake of government policies in Japan promoting Akihabara as a tourist destination and championing otaku culture as a new national paradigm for economic prosperity, some otaku were quick to point out that the prosperity of otaku culture was built by otaku, not by government policy makers or corporations. It was otaku prosperity, and otaku wanted not only credit for it but also their share of it. Such a response returns to and deflates the mass deception theory. It demonstrates not only the increased significance of user activity but also an increasing awareness on the part of consumers about their role in the generation of value in the context of commodity-worlds. As such, even as user enhancement results in value-added commodities, the value of those com modities, taking the form of commodity-worlds prolonged both by producers and consumers, is not solely the property of corporations. And the questions of “To whom does a commodity-world belong?” and “Who belongs to it?” are becoming a site for the construction and contestation of social paradigms. Thomas Lamarre, Introduction to Mechademia 6: User Enhanced

[QUOTE] From Patrick Galbraith and Thomas Lamarre, Otakuology: a Dialogue, p362

Scholars working on Japanese popular culture are only distinguished by the quantity of their publications and the novelty of their topics, which conditions a preference for niche subjects, which are analyzed by applying simplified superstructures. The result is a tendency toward exoticizing and essentializing. This tendency often reflects or even reproduces sensationalist journalism about Japan. This is very clear in the context of otaku. Definitions are set up on the basis of “otaku” in Japan, but often with little or no contact with these imagined others, and there is a critical lack of engagement with experts in Japan. Thus discussions of otaku repeat assumptions about unique, even bizarre habits and practices. And such assumptions go unquestioned, because Japanese uniqueness is the last remaining rationale for continued study of Japan itself. Japan appears as the quintessential “non-Western” example.

Patrick Galbraith and Thomas Lamarre, Otakuology: a Dialogue, p362

[QUOTE] From Akiko Hori, On the response (or lack thereof) of Japanese fans to criticism that yaoi is antigay discrimination

In the middle of the 1980s, fannish dōjinshi based on the manga Captain Tsubasa exploded in popularity, and yaoi dōjinshi circles proliferated accordingly. This caused dōjinshi conventions to grow as well, to the point that commercial manga magazines could no longer ignore the existence of the major dōjinshi circles. These major circles consisted of woman creators who, although amateurs, had often amassed large fan followings of their own. Publishers reasoned that they could save themselves the effort of cultivating new artists if they let these popular fan creators publish in commercial magazines. They began to scout popular yaoi fan creators, and commercial manga magazines that focused solely on boys’ love were launched one after the other. With the availability of yaoi in regular bookstores, a massive expansion of yaoi fandom ensued. However, a less desirable consequence of yaoi’s commercialization was that a hobby that had previously been underground was now thrust into the public eye.

Akiko Hori, On the response (or lack thereof) of Japanese fans to criticism that yaoi is antigay discrimination

[QUOTE] From Ba Zi, 9c. Fair Use and the Translation Stranglehold

I’d like to draw your attention back to an image I had used in another context, namely about boys/girls and the assumptions about/representations of in manga, and talk with y’all a little about Zolo. Now, you have to bear in mind that my first encounter with One Piece was a non-licensed translation dub of the TV anime. After that, I began to regularly follow the series while living in Japan, so I mostly read it in the weekly Shōnen Jump‘s I would dig out of garbage cans and recycle piles on Tuesdays (for the trash cans) and Wednesdays (for the recycling piles). At no point was it ever unclear to me that ゾロ was a take on the Johnston McCulley character Don Diego de la Vega, aka Zorro. I was a huge fan of the 50s Zorro television show that ran on syndicated TV when I was growing up. There was no mistaking: ゾロ was Zorro.

Fast forward a few years, and I am picking out the books for my “What is Manga?” class, for which I decide to use Oda’s One Piece as representative of the shōnen demographic. A few days before class, I sat down to read the licensed translation, so as to refresh my memory, and I come across the follow anachronism: Zolo. After a few minutes of obligatory “wat”s, I finally came around and tried to think why it was they would have done this. When One Piece was scanlated, the name was at least translated as Zoro, so the similarity would be apparent. Was this an attempt to bring back Rolo’s, which, while delicious, I don’t see flying off shelves nowadays awash in candies more flashy marketing than chocolate and caramel? It was actually just before–or perhaps even in the midst of–the class in which we discussed One Piece that I realized there was a very simple reason why you would translate ゾロ as Zolo: licensing. Zorro, like Mickey and Donald and Superman and Kitty-chan, is a diligently guarded media commodity, so, while one might conceivably be able to get away with aping Zorro in Japan, it would be much harder to get away with this in the US and the larger English language market, where Zorro media are still being produced to this day.

Ba Zi, 9c. Fair Use and the Translation Stranglehold

[QUOTE] From Midori Suzuki, The possibilities of research on “fujoshi” in Japan

In the new millennium, the word fujoshi has traveled beyond fannish circles and has come into general use in Japanese popular media, reflecting the fact that fujoshi are no longer necessarily an underground phenomenon. (…)

I will first trace the origins of the word fujoshi and describe how it became established terminology in Japan. Around the start of the year 2000, the word fujoshi was used mainly in online anime and gaming fan communities. Chizuko Ueno (2007) says that the word was first used around the beginning of the 2000s on the online message board 2channel. At that time, fujoshi indicated a girl or woman who proactively read things in a yaoi fashion, discerning romantic relationships between men where such relationships were not originally intended. The kanji characters for fujoshi are pronounced in the same way as a similar character compound that means simply “woman,” but the first character fu (woman) is substituted for a homonym fu (rotten) so that the resulting term, “a woman with rotten thought processes,” becomes a self-deprecating label that such women use to refer to themselves.

Midori Suzuki, The possibilities of research on “fujoshi” in Japan

[QUOTE] From Keiko Nishimura, Where program and fantasy meet: Female fans conversing with character bots in Japan

A fertile imagination and tendency toward fantasy play are characteristic of fujoshi culture (Galbraith 2011). For example, when male otaku (hardcore fans of anime, manga, video games, and so on) from one thread on 2channel, Japan’s largest anonymous bulletin board, invaded a fujoshi thread and criticized the girls and women there as “gross” and “perverted,” the fujoshi responded by playfully projecting their yaoi fantasies onto the male otaku, who were interpreted as uke who wanted attention from (i.e., to be penetrated by) fujoshi performing as seme.

[META] New TWC issue on boys’ love fandom is live

Transformative Works and Cultures has published its twelfth issue, entirely devoted to boys’ love fandom around the globe (full press release). There are some excellent articles on Hetalia, the politics of BL in Germany, character bots on Twitter, BL in China, dojinshi, the origins of the word fujoshi, criticism from Japanese LGBT activists on BL, and more. We’ll be posting some short bits of analysis and good quotes from the articles in the upcoming weeks. Enjoy!


Transnational boys’ love fan studies, by Kazumi Nagaike and Katsuhiko Suganuma

Doing Occidentalism in contemporary Japan: Nation anthropomorphism and sexualized parody in Axis Powers Hetalia, by Toshio Miyake

Rotten use patterns: What entertainment theories can do for the study of boys’ love, by Björn-Ole Kamm

Transplanted boys’ love conventions and anti-“shota” polemics in a German manga: Fahr Sindram’s “Losing Neverland”, by Paul M. Malone

Simulation and database society in Japanese role-playing game fandoms: Reading boys’ love dōjinshi online, by Lucy Hannah Glasspool

Reflection on Chinese boys’ love fans: An insider’s view, by Erika Junhui Yi

Where program and fantasy meet: Female fans conversing with character bots in Japan, by Keiko Nishimura

The possibilities of research on fujoshi in Japan, by Midori Suzuki

On the response (or lack thereof) of Japanese fans to criticism that yaoi is antigay discrimination, by Akiko Hori

Book review by Samantha Anne Close of “Mechademia Vol. 6: User Enhanced,” edited by Frenchy Lunning

Book review by Emerald King of “Writing the love of boys: Origins of ‘bishōnen’ culture in modernist Japanese literature,” by Jeffrey Angles

[QUOTE] From Hye-Kyung Lee, Cultural consumer and copyright: a case study of anime fansubbing

Similarly, fansubbing has been regarded as an equivalent for TV. In the anime industry context, the role of TV is crucial in nurturing consumer demand for DVDs. For example, the Japanese anime industry witnesses fans normally testing the anime via TV viewing and then deciding on their purchase of DVDs and Blu-ray DVDs (my interview with two commentators from the Japanese anime industry). Hence, Japanese anime producers have traditionally treated TV broadcasting as a form of advertising. While lamenting the lack of TV coverage of anime in the United States, English fansubbers see their activity as serving as free promotion. Interestingly, this aspect of fansubbing was widely acknowledged by the US anime industry. Until recently, the industry was generally nonchalant towards fansubbing but tended to agree on its viral marketing and market tester aspects.


Witnessing the expansion of digital fansubbing and the ubiquity of fansubbed anime on the Internet, the industry has broken its silence and begun challenging fansubbing’s legitimacy. It now defines fansubbing as piracy, and asks fans to stop making and using fansubs (Smith 2007).


[QUOTE] From Fan-Yi Lam, Comic Market: How the World’s Biggest Amateur Comic Fair Shaped Japanese Dōjinshi Culture

When the Comic Market was first held, it was one among many well-known dōjinshi conventions such as Manga Communication or Nihon Manga Taikai (Japan Manga Convention), at which all kinds of groups producing manga-and anime-related fanworks could physically gather together in order to share, buy, and sell dōjinshi. Dōjinshi circles, anime fan societies and science fiction school clubs sat side-by-side exchanging dōjinshi and fanzines.

But no fan scene is immune to controversies and imbroglios, and the Japanese dōjinshi scene was no exception. In 1975, a woman who had made critical remarks about the Manga Taikai was excluded from that convention, and subsequently a firestorm of anger among fans produced a movement against the Manga Taikai led by the famous circle Meikyū (Labyrinth), which resulted in the conception of a new alternative convention. On December 21, 1975, the first Comic Market—”a fan event from fans for fans”—was held in Tokyo.

Comike’s underlying vision was of an open and unrestricted dōjinshi fair, offering a marketplace without limitations on content or access. At the time, manga and anime fandom was organized around formal circles (particularly the school clubs that charged membership fees and produced regular group publications), and conventions were gathering places for the groups—rather than that of individual fans. Crucially, and from the beginning, Comike attracted visitors who were not just circle or club members, and who did not necessarily themselves produce fanworks. This innovation created its now massive popularity in Japan and increasingly, with international fans as well. Comike was soon held three times a year, attracting ever-increasing numbers of groups and fans.


[META] Rise Up, Pixelated Young Women of the New Age!

I’m in Seoul for the Third Mechademia Conference, which is taking place through Sunday at the Korean Film Archive and at Dongguk University. The theme of the conference is a mouthful: “World Renewal: Counterfactual Histories, Parallel Universes, and Possible Worlds,” but it’s already provided me with lots to think about. The conference is young, but already several speakers have hastened to report on the death of the otaku as a cultural type, which, if it is true, must mark the passing of an era in terms of the study of subcultures in Japan. Reports of the death of the otaku–now being slandered, in the wake of 3/11, as an aetiolated rich boy consumer, and good riddance–may or may not be greatly exaggerated, but any discussion of “otaku” in which they are taken to be wholly synonymous with “fans” necessarily ignores the existence of female fans worldwide and of fujoshi in Japan in particular, who are certainly doing their thing despite their relative neglect by Japan’s public-academic complex, and by academcis outside Japan too. A conference about world renewal necessarily invites thoughts about how best to encourage and to sustain social change, and I have to admit that my thoughts about the kinds of isms that haven’t been discussed so far–so far the only ism anyone wants to touch is capitalism–led me to be distinctly uncomfortable at the fact that at least some of the presentations have rehashed the tired old cliche of a bunch of dudes sitting around talking about the messianic potential of (Japanese?) girls, regardless of the conditions of actual girls and women in Japan, Korea, or anywhere else. Juxtaposing Christophe Thouny’s discussion of Kino from Kino no Tabi as a “traveling shojo” with the anti-domestic violence ad I saw on TV last night produces some uncomfortable disjunctures–provided one makes the juxtaposition, of course. Thomas Lamarre of McGill University was one of the leading organizers for the conference, but can’t be here due to unforeseen circumstances. It seems particularly fitting that he be absent while I invoke his reading of Laputa: Castle in the Sky in The Anime Machine: “Only a girl can save us now.” If there’s one thing that defined the unlamented otaku, it was their idolization, if not outright fetishization, of girl characters in general and the character type that the unrepentant Freudian Saitô Tamaki calls “the battling beauty” in particular. (Similar statements might be made about female media fans and their idolization of white male characters.) The catch, of course, is that a girl can only save us within a story-world that does not (and must not) impinge on the “real” (I use the term advisedly) world outside the story, the world where gender discrimination is a problem for women in virtually every country. It’s no coincidence that Laputa is the ur-text of the otaku aesthetic mode known as sekaikei (“world-type”), whose foremost practitioner is the fan-turned-directer Shinkai Makoto–his favorite movie is avowedly Laputa, and Marc Steinberg made a compelling presentation about the poverty of the sekaikei vision of the world in which it became clear that the influential 2004 anime Densha Otoko, ostensibly based on real events in which an otaku used the power of the internet message board Ni-channeru to woo a girl he met on a train after helping her avoid harassment, was the beginning of the end of otaku. How could it not be, when Densha’s paramour Hermes gets her name from the expensive brand of the tea set she sends him as an initial thank-you gift? Densha, with the help of Ni-chan, learns to be properly social (and consumerist) and gets the girl in the end, in a decidedly non-otaku fashion. The real death-blow, however, was struck by the rise of the nichijôkei (“everyday”) aesthetic in anime and other mixed media properties, beginning–significantly–with the openly otaku Lucky Star in 2007 and reaching its triumph with the hit show K-On!, which follows a group of schoolgirls who start their own band in music club. Steinberg argued persuasively that the nichijôkei shows are predominantly shows about girls that are intended to impinge on and interact with the “real” world outside the text, partly through using the sort of layered, intertextual fannish references–and depiction of its female characters as consumers and fans of media–in a way that was formerly considered to be strictly otaku. (I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that disruptive, threatening figures such as otaku, and media fans worldwide, are continuously being depicted as “just” consumers. The truth is that fans are unruly consumers who don’t just sit down and shut up and buy things, and that as consumers who are more than consumers, fans pose a real threat to the existing regimes of capital, copyright, and intellectual property.) In another sign of their intertextual imbrication with the social and actual daily life, nichijôkei shows are notable for inspiring fan pilgrimages to sites featured in the shows themselves, as well as for the alleged “triviality” of their subject matter. Well, as Joanna Russ noted, things like family and life and love are only trivial because male-dominated society tells us they are, and isn’t that one of the handy-dandy ways to suppress women’s writing, and women’s stories? Nichijôkei shows, in other words, make immanent in the real world the potentiality of their female protagonists’ stories, as opposed to texts like Laputa, in which the transformative potential of their female heroine’s innate mystical connections with whatever is ultimately restricted to the closed system of the story itself. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that K-On! is about girls making music and rocking out together; the other notable recent musical female character, Hatsune Miku, is nothing but immanence verging into the real world, with real and transformative consequences and potential. Miku’s a game-changer, just like Vocaloid software has been, and when she finds her own voice, the world will shake. When the keynote speakers of these kinds of conferences dare to imagine a different kind of alternate world than the future beyond capital that so obsesses most concerned academics, that will be a sign of real social change. In the meantime, otaku are dead; long live fans.

[LINK] Transformative Works and Fan Activism

Frequently when academic journal articles are written about timely research topics, the authors are unable to update their audience regarding more recent developments. In the current issue of Transformative Works and Cultures, guest edited by Henry Jenkins and Sangita Shresthova, Alex Leavitt and I wrote about the Metropolitan Tokyo Youth Ordinance (also known as Bill 156), (“Even a monkey can understand fan activism: Political speech, artistic expression, and a public for the Japanese dôjin community”). The bill could potentially curtail artistic expression in the name of keeping fictional characters under the age of consent (hence the bill’s popular nickname, the “Nonexistent Crimes Bill”) out of “harmful situations.”

In our article we looked at fan activism against the bill, which passed at the end of 2010 and went into effect in summer 2011, after our article had gone to press. Developments since then have been somewhat mixed.

Although creators feared that the highly ambiguous language of the bill would allow government censors virtual impunity, a recent high-profile ruling found that a scene depicting incest between two young characters did not violate the bill’s provisions, because it was subject to previous standards rather than to those introduced by Bill 156. Although this was hailed as a victory, there have also been reports of publishers self-censoring manga content even before the bill’s provisions went into effect, and that manga series have been cancelled outright in response to it. Still, some publishers, like Kadokawa Shoten, have spoken out against Ishihara’s remarks.

From here on, it’s unclear what path fannish activism will and should take. Although 80% of Tokyo residents were reported in early 2011 to oppose the bill soon after its passage, an anticipated boycott of the Tokyo International Anime Fair by manga publishers and the ensuing publicity largely fizzled after the 2011 Tokyo Anime Fest was cancelled due to the March 2011 earthquake. At roughly the same time, a suit alleging that Bill 156 was unconstitutional was denied by the Japanese courts, a decision that has been appealed.

Individual creators, however, have continued to engage in various forms of protest. Akamatsu Ken, the creator of such well-known manga as Negima! and Love Hina and more recently founded of manga download website J-Comi, is now offering the infamously banned-under-Bill-156 comedy manga Oku-sama wa shôgakusei (My wife is an elementary school student) on the premium section of the comic site.

Official concerns about the potentially socially destabilizing power of manga were also evident in the minutes of a meeting of Miyazaki prefecture’s Youth Healthy Development Council last fall, in which members characterized boys’ love and womens’ comics as “dangerous,” saying that “if there are more depictions where women lead [in sexual encounters], it will encourage the tendency toward homosexuality.” These manga would not normally fall under the provisions of Bill 156 in Tokyo, but the idea that fiction can provide a space to explore alternatives–and that imagining alternatives to the status quo are a powerful part of what motivates activism–certainly lies at the heart of the potential of fannish activism, as Jenkins and Shreshthova acknowledge in their introduction. Fandom is fundamentally participatory, and politics increasingly (though it always had) hinges on participation. As Melissa M. Brough and Sangita Shresthova argue in this issue, there is much more work to be done in analyzing these networks and connections; as several articles acknowledge, that participation does not necessarily guarantee success.

Overall, the contents of the Transformative Works and Fan Activism issue tell a story that is broadly similar to the story of Bill 156 and the efforts against it: mixed but hopeful, and suggestive. Regarding fandom’s activist potential, I always think about what Gandalf says about the Ents: when they wake up, they will find that they are strong. What separates devoted fans from those who just casually enjoy something is action, and activism means taking that next step, from consumer engagement with media to civic engagement around it.

–with Alex Leavitt