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 One)

In a short series of essays, I would like to discuss Japanese dōjinshi (hereafter unitalicized) based on the work of Japanese director Miyazaki Hayao. I would also like to examine the relationship between fan works and the concept of auteurship. First I will give a brief explanation of what dōjinshi are and the place they occupy in Japanese subculture. Second, I will provide examples of several dōjinshi based on Spirited Away (千と千尋の神隠し), Howl’s Moving Castle (ハウルの動く城), and Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea (崖の上のポニョ). Finally, I will explore the hermeneutical relationship between these dōjinshi and the original texts on which they are based, as well as the relationship between auteurs and fan creators.

Dōjinshi (同人誌), a word that might be glossed as “fan works,” or “fan manga,” are self-published, small-scale publications written by fans and for fans of a particular work (be it a movie, a book, a television series, or a video game) or of a particular romantic pairing possible within that work. For example, there are many dōjinshi based on J.K. Rowling’s young adult fantasy series Harry Potter, and many of these Harry Potter dōjinshi focus on a specific romantic couple, such as that formed by Harry’s two friends Ron and Hermione. As in the realm of American fan fiction, many dōjinshi explore the possibility of an alternate outcome of the events in the story of the original work. This leads, for example, to dōjinshi dealing with the formation of a romantic relationship between Harry and Hermione, or perhaps between Harry and his male rival Draco. Unlike American fan fiction, however, the vast majority of Japanese dōjinshi employ both the form and the conventions of manga. In the rare case that fan fiction is published as a dōjinshi, it is often accompanied by illustrations that are either drawn by the writer or by an artist commissioned by the writer.

Since the production of manga is a labor-intensive process, most dōjinshi artists operate within what are called “circles” (サークル), or groups. Although there are a number of “individual (個人) circles” consisting of only one person, most circles are made up of two or more people. The division of labor takes different forms within different circles. In some cases, the work of two or more artists operating separately from each other will appear in the same publication, while in some cases, secondary artists will help the primary artist with things like background detail and the application of screen tone. In many other cases, different teams of artists will publish different dōjinshi under the same circle name. In any case, a dōjinshi is just as likely to be attributed to a circle as it is to be attributed to a specific artist. On the back cover of this dōjinshi, we can see both the circle name and the names of the two artists who contributed to this particular work.

One of the main reasons why artists who create dōjinshi continue to operate within the circle system despite the prevalence of labor-saving digital artistic tools like Photoshop and individual-centered communication networks like deviantART is the continuing popularity of conventions like Comiket (コミケット), short for “comic market,” a three day event held biannually at Tokyo Big Sight. The first Comiket was held in 1975; and, since then, attendance at each event has risen from several thousand to several hundred thousand. Comiket is primarily an event for the purchase and selling of dōjinshi. Since there is a limited amount of space for dealers, many fledgling artists participate in events like Comiket as members of a circle, which gives them a greater chance of acquiring a dealer’s table. Although Comiket is the largest convention of its kind, numerous dōjinshi conventions occur throughout the year all over Japan. A notable example is the Comic City convention in Osaka.

Aside from these conventions, dōjinshi may be acquired year-round at chain stores specializing in used manga (such as Mandarake) and dōjinshi specialty stores, which tend to be located in major urban shopping districts, like Ikebukuro and Akihabara in Tokyo and Den Den Town in Osaka.

Dōjinshi specialty stores like K-Books tend to fall into two divisions, which reflect the preferences of the two main demographic groups of dōjinshi consumers. These two divisions are “meant for boys” (男性向け) and “meant for girls” (女性向け). Dōjinshi meant for boys are typically heavily pornographic in nature, and dōjinshi meant for girls generally focus on homosexual romantic relationships between male characters. This genre of dōjinshi (and, increasingly, mass market manga) is known as “B.L.,” which is an acronym for “boys’ love.” The line dividing “meant for boys” and “meant for girls” is not sharply drawn, however, are there does exist a large category of general audience dōjinshi that does not expressly cater to the conventions of either category.

Part Two
Part Three