Dōjinshi (Part Three)

By adding scenarios, suggesting alternate endings, offering different interpretations of characters, and by allowing the reader to view the original work in a different narrative tone or context, dōjinshi challenge the authority of the original works (原作) on which they are based as monolithic entities reflecting the specific and singular vision of an auteur. Instead, they raise the possibility of a plurality of receptions and interpretations, perhaps as many as there are viewers. In other words, the intentions of the director – not to mention those of the producer, the screenwriter, and all the other artists involved in the production of a film – effectively disappear as soon as a work enters the eyes and hands of an audience. In fact, I believe a film (or any text) is interesting to an audience precisely because it is capable of multiple meanings and interpretations.

Fan works like dōjinshi can be used to explore these multiple meanings, building and adding on to the original work, if not openly defying it. Moreover, in breaking down and rebuilding the original text, dōjinshi also raise the possibility of disassembling other conventions, such as those of genre and sexuality. I personally believe that artists use dōjinshi to fill in the gaps created by the original text in a way that will make the text satisfying to them as intelligent adults seeking a more nuanced story and more complicated, three-dimensional characters. In this way, the bathhouse of Spirited Away becomes a brothel, and the relationship between Howl and Sophie comes to have a sexual component. The characters of a children’s movie like Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea, which are necessarily seen from a child’s perspective, take on adult attributes, like worries relating to parenting. Therefore, I believe that dōjinshi both show appreciation for a film (or television series or novel or video game) and challenge it, augmenting and replacing the elements given by the auteur (or artist or author) with personal and individual interpretations and desires.

This short series of essays has probably raised more questions than it has answered. I would therefore like to give the titles of several books and articles that expand on the topic of dōjinshi and explore it in greater depth. Sharon Kinsella’s Adult Manga: Culture and Power in Contemporary Japanese Society gives an overview of the dōjinshi market and how it functions. Henry Jenkins’s seminal study Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture offers many interesting insights on the value and implications of fan culture in general. Matthew Thorn has a thought-provoking article entitled “Girls and Women Getting Out of Hand: The Pleasure and Politics of Japan’s Amateur Comics Community” in an anthology dealing with Japanese fans of all persuasions called Fanning the Flames: Fans and Consumer Culture in Contemporary Japan. For a more casual reader, Frederik Schodt’s classic Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga remains invaluable. Perhaps the best reference, however, is the Wikipedia article on dōjinshi, which provides an excellent summary of the major issues related to the art form, lists numerous dōjinshi artists and circles (like CLAMP) who have gone on to become successful professionals, and links to many other online sources, including a lengthy essay on copyright issues.

Finally, for those of you who are interested in getting your hands on actual, authentic dōjinshi, I suggest spending some time browsing on eBay (your search term is “doujinshi”). In fact, I heartily recommend it. Many dōjinshi are beautifully published, beautifully illustrated, and beautifully written; and, in my opinion, their status as one-of-a-kind art objects only adds to their value.

Part One
Part Two

Dōjinshi (Part Two)

I would like to begin by examining two dōjinshi based on Studio Ghibli’s film Spirited Away. The first work, Yuya sōshi (油屋草子), focuses on the romantic relationship between Haku and Chihiro in three short stories. In the first story, Chihiro goes outside on a snowy night to deliver blankets to her parents in the pig barn. She passes out from the effects of the cold wind and is rescued by Haku. The events of the second and third stories take place after the end of the film. In the second story, an older Chihiro follows her baby brother through a familiar tunnel and returns to a world she had forgotten. She and her brother are rescued by Haku, who tells Chihiro that she must not look at him lest she remain in his world forever. After making sure that her brother is able to return home safely, Chihiro turns to look at Haku, thus sealing her fate. The third story, an alternate possibility, involves Haku making a decision of his own to journey to the human world to visit Chihiro. Throughout this dōjinshi, the characters are drawn in the Studio Ghibli house style, and a great deal of care is given to maintaining the tone and worldview of the original film.

In Senya ichiya (千夜一夜), a darker interpretation of Spirited Away is presented to the reader. The artist of this dōjinshi associates Yubaba’s bath house with traditional Japanese hot spring inns, which generally employed or were associated with female entertainers who would attend guests privately after dark. In this dōjinshi, Yubaba arranges for the young serving maid Rin to attend to the private needs of one of the bath house customers, a strange, hoary creature with many tentacles. At the last moment, Haku appears and offers himself in Rin’s place, ordering her to flee as he submits to the god. This dōjinshi thus explores the relationship of the characters before the arrival of Chihiro, as well as the more disturbing implications of a bath house for the gods staffed by people who are effectively slaves to its owner. Although the art of this dōjinshi is clearly influenced by the Studio Ghibli style, it takes on more lush and erotic tones, as is appropriate to its subject matter.

Many of the dōjinshi based on Howl’s Moving Castle deal with the continuation and outcome of the romantic relationship that develops between Howl and Sophie during the course of the film. These dōjinshi contain many confessions of love and many first kisses. Other dōjinshi emphasize the sexual tension between the two characters, which is notably absent in the film. Since Sophie is a shy girl who turns into an old woman whenever she becomes overly embarrassed or loses her self confidence, dōjinshi artists have speculated that Howl might have some trouble getting her into bed for the first time. These artists turn to scenarios suggestive of rape, which capitalize on the characterization and appeal of Howl as someone who loses control of himself in moments of intense emotion and stress. Other artists merrily suggest that Sophie hides all manner of illicit desires under her seemingly retiring exterior.

Finally, a piece titled Honogurai umi no soko kara (仄暗い海の底から), which is based on Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea, is an example of what is called a “gag” (ギャグ) dōjinshi, which eschews any sort of sustained narrative in order to make jokes about and poke fun at the original work. This particular dōjinshi is centered around the comic figure of Fujimoto, the scatterbrained wizard who is Ponyo’s “father.” It is drawn in a style that references the Studio Ghibli house style but exaggerates the comedic aspects of the characters and their interactions with one another. These interactions mainly involve the attempts of the awkward and socially inept Fujimoto to act as some sort of father figure to the now human Ponyo, who continues to be as willful and energetic as always. Other jokes lightly suggest sexual undertones completely absent from the original film. One short story interprets the intense private conversation shared between Sōsuke’s mom Lisa and the sea goddess as being about the deliciousness of ham. Fujimoto, seeing the hungry look in the ladies’ eyes, misinterprets their conversation in a humorous way.

Part One
Part Three