I am beginning to find Otaku Studies really really interesting! My prejudice of the otaku phenomenon, which has been informed and influenced mostly by popular media depictions of otaku as being “socially awkward”, “manias”, and slightly “hentai-ish” (such as in the anime/ manga series Gintama), has gradually changed since reading some of the critical works on otaku culture.
Otaku Japan’s Animal Database (In response to Chapter 2)
The second chapter provides the theoretical framework of “data base animal”. Azuma makes an intervention in critical debates and discussion on “post-modern characteristics of otaku culture” (25) to ultimately interrogate their patterns of consumption in relation to broader ideas of grand narratives (or lack thereof).
One of the things that caught me off guard about Azuma’s use of the phrase “derivative works” is that he avoids contextualizing it in relation to theories of adaptation and fidelity criticism. This is because “quotations” “influences” and “parodies” all “presuppose a unit such as an author or work,” (49) whereas Azuma’s notion of “derivative works” resists ideas of a single author. Instead, he demonstrates how the database of Di Gi Charat, for example, “was driven by the power of fragments” (41). However, I do not find Azuma’s definition of “derivative works” so different from Linda Hutcheon’s definition of adaptation. Hutcheon writes that an adaptation is “ a derivation that is not derivative—a work that is second without being secondary. It is its own palimpsistic thing” (9). The difference may be that while Hutcheon seems to be writing against fidelity criticism, destabilizing a hierarchy of original works vs. derivative works, Azuma draws attention to the importance of fidelity in both the commercial and non-commercial success of derivative works. Azuma talks about fidelity without ever using the term. He writes, " It is not enough to “extrac[t] and imitate[e] only the simulacra as designs (literally at the surface level) without understanding the database of moe-element” (65). In other words, one must demonstrate a deep understanding of the conventions of the genre (database), but also be able to identify the difference between simulacra and database to produce “good” quality works. Azuma emphasises how issues of fidelity are integral to understanding the trends in otaku culture .
The cultural production of character/character goods ties in nicely with Ian Condry’s Anime Creativity: Characters and Premises in the Quest for Cool Japan. His ethnographic study of “anime in the works” is quite interesting, and his essay reminded me of the manga Bakuman. Condry offers an insider perspective of the production of anime to suggest alternative ways of analysing the cultural and aesthetic significance of the medium. In doing so, he renegotiates definitions of “cool Japan” by demonstrating the how this idea fosters a “brand label” that encourages orientalist discourses about Japanese culture. Much of the scholarly work on anime, according to Condry, focuses on narrative rather than characters. This is an interesting point in relation to Azuma’s argument about the emergence of Di Gi Charats because it indicates the pervasiveness of kyara (characters) and how these kyara don’t necessarily have to belong to a (grand) narrative, but are invested with cultural meanings on their own
Throughout this chapter, Azuma focuses primarily on the cultural production of Di Gi Charat to demonstrate the ways in which that these characters/characteristics are not “a simple fetish object, but a sign that emerged through market principles” (42). Azuma further contends that “Di Gi Charat is not so much a project that naively relies on the desire of chara-moe but a complex project that, by pushing that desire to the limit, has become a satire for the present market dominated by moe-related designs” (47). Azuma’s justification is an attempt to de-fetashise the enterprise of Di Gi Charat by suggesting that moe-elements are in fact “satire” and therefore should not be taken seriously or at least interpreted in a comedic light. What are moe-elements satirical of exactly? In his assessment of the representations of chara-moe, Azuma does not seem to take into consideration how moe-related signs uphold patriarchal ideologies of a certain kind of femininity. The image on page 43 illustrates a bricolage of signs that constitute the chara-moe (See Fig 6).The lavish costume design and excessive use of accessories for an otaku consumer may signal excess and therefore the character is rendered in a parodic light, but how would this character be interpreted for a non-otaku consumer? The fact that a woman’s body (or that of a child’s) is used as an instrument to rewrite and redefine constructs of “femininity” and “cuteness” etc is troubling because it validates, to some extent, the objectification of the female body as something to either laugh at or something to desire. OR as Sharon Kinsella contends in her essay, "the increasingly intense gaze with which young men examine girls and girls' manga is, to use the words of Anne Allison "both passive and aggressive" (qtd in Kinsella 306).
This concern emerges from the idea that if the database is an archive of signs generated from numerous sources and functions as a representation of the collective imagination, then, to what extent the database specifically one that is exclusive to otaku? and one that is specifically Japanese?
Sharon Kinsella’s “Japanese Subculture in the 1990s: Otaku and the Amateur Manga Movement”
I was particularly drawn to Kinsella’s introduction of her essay, but especially her attention to place and setting:
A limitless secret world of smoldering underground clubs where baby girls in bikinis wield Uzi submachine guns and Russian Eskimos D.J. in Elizabethan court dress. Grey catacombs of deserted rain-swept streets where beautiful women in impeccable Nazi uniforms sport unexpected erections. Nameless back streets scattered with the limpid green lights of opium- soaked noodle shacks where Oxford dons chop up giant squid for hungry pairs of lusty French school boys. Such is the stuff that amateur manga is made of. (289)
Kinsella’s description makes references to Russia, Germany, England, and France suggesting that amateur mangakas prefer to set their stories in the West. I find this a peculiar gesture, and it is an aspect within my own research that I continue to explore. Why do Japanese mangaka turn to the West to tell their stories? To articulate anxieties of gender and sexuality?
I think one of Kinsella’s main arguments is that the otaku culture emerged in relation to and also in response to the dojinshi phenomenon. She argues that otaku’s “adoption” of girl culture had (and continues to) evoke social and cultural anxieties (moral panic) of effeminate men.
There is one last point that I would like to contend. In her essay, Kinsella argues “The yaoi style emerging from Japanese dojinshi is clearly the Japanese equivalent of Anglo-American slash” (307). Here she equates slash and yaoi as similar genres, however, critics such as Mark John Isola “Yaoi and Slash Fiction: Women Writing, Reading, and Getting Off?” and Marni Stanley “101 Uses for Boys: Communing with the Reader in Yaoi and Slash” provide counter arguments. [Both articles can be found in Boys’ Love Manga: Essays on the Sexual Ambiguity and Cross-Cultural Fandom of the Genre.]
Hemman's blog provides a useful and informative analysis of dojinshi culture. I was really intrigued by how Ghibli films have been parodied and appropriated and quite impressed by the aesthetic quality of some of the illustrations.