Interpreting the themes of amateur manga
Comic Market president, Yonezawa Yoshihiro, 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. In this context Yonezawa interprets parody as a highly critical genre which attempts to remodel and take control of "cultural reality". Manga critic Kure Tomofusa, on the other hand, believes that the highly personal (jiheiteki) themes of parody manga represent, not a critical sensibility, so much as a return to the previous safe themes of Japanese literature:
"In 1980 people once again began to forget about dramatic social themes and manga began to move towards petty, repetitive, personal affairs, rather like the I-novels (shishosetsu) of the pre-1960 period. In the 1980s new kinds of love-comedies, often within parody, began in and dominated the amateur printed manga world."
Yonezawa, representing the more open-minded approach of many independent media-based specialists, attempts to perceive a progressive political spirit, which is equivalent with that born by his own generation of the late 1960s, in the cultural activities of amateur manga subculture. Kure, however, insists in a critical appraisal of the themes of amateur manga, and finds them seriously wanting in tangible social and political content. This view is one shared by many editors and artists involved with the commercial manga medium. The implication of this criticism of parody manga is that the defintion of 'originality' applied to manga, is something linked to the degree to which it embraces current social and political events. 'News', it appears, has a more than merely linguistic association with 'originality'. 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.
In a survey that I distributed at random to 40 amateur manga artists at Comic Market in August 1994, the respondents were divided in their opinions about parody manga. A total of 29 respondents returned the survey, and of these, 19 respondents said they preferred parody to original manga. Of these people, 10 respondents cited that it was "more interesting", as their reason for either producing or buying parody manga. Another 9 of the 19 respondents who claimed to prefer parody to original manga, cited that it was either "easier to understand" or that they were "not capable of making original manga". The remaining 10 respondents claimed not to like parody manga at all, because it was "not interesting". Thus, approximately one third of respondents, who were all Comic Market participants, did not like parody manga at all, another third said they liked parody manga because it was more interesting, and a final third said they liked parody manga because it was easier to write and to understand than original manga. These judgements, made by convention participants, confirm that producing and appreciating parody manga is, amongst other things, an easier task for many amateur artists than producing original characters and stories. Creating new manga scenarios and characters that work, is a far more challenging intellectual task than making new versions of already developed manga stories borrowed from popular boys' manga magazines. The presence of the amateur manga medium, which has allowed a great number of ordinary, proportionately less-talented individuals access to producing manga, may have had the effect of lowering the standards of amateur manga and encouraging the expansion of the parody genre. Despite this dependence of amateur manga on commercial manga for it's scenes and characters, it is clear that parody manga has nevertheless developed as a qualitatively separate master-genre in its own right, in which the traditional and commercial understanding of originality has come to have less meaning.
Parody manga often contains an element of satirical humour which makes light fun of the seriousness of the masculine heroes in commercial boys and adult manga series'. While, on the one hand, parody positively celebrates these favourite manga characters, on the other hand, it also pierces their authority and aloofness, by inserting scatological humour or embarrassing jokes about their sexual desires. The overall effect of this type of naughtiness in parody manga is to make the parodied characters more falliable, allowing readers to feel more intimate towards them. This aspect of the amateur manga sense of parody is similar to aspects of the Anglo-American sensibility of Camp. Both of these cultural modes, are based on the subversion of meanings carried in original, and frequently iconic, cultural items. Morevover in the case of both parody and Camp, this playful subversion, is focused particularly on cultural items which contain strongly identified gendertypes. Through parody manga, a large vanguard of young women, have developed a cultural form which expresses an ambiguous preoccupation with, and a deep uncertainty about, masculine gender stereotypes, such as those typical of the characters in weekly boys' and adults' manga magazines.
Many of the men involved in the amateur manga medium perceive girls' manga, and the female mileu surrounding it to be a progressive cultural scene, within contemporary society. In 1992, an article appeared in the Nihon Keizai Shimbun about a salary man who wrote girls' manga, which was strategically titled 'Active Citizenship through Girls' Manga'. In the article the man explained how, in his opinion, writing amateur girls' manga was not an escapist activity, but something that actively engaged him with society in a way in which working for a publishing company (producing original manga dramas) could not. Implicit in this man's comments was a criticism of the purpose of Japanese corporations and the masculine culture through which men working for them communicate. This is an attitude shared by many other male fans of girls' manga including the editorial staff of the magazine Comic Box.
Towards the end of the 1980s, however, the number of men attending amateur manga conventions increased and new genres of boys' amateur manga began to rise in prominence at Comic Market. A type of ultra-cute girls' manga written by, and for, men was grafted from the styles of manga pioneered by female artists and used in small girls' manga story magazines, such as Ribbon and Margaret. The genre into which the majority of this male girls' manga falls is aptly referred to as Lolicom - this term being derived from the Lolita complex concept. Complex, in this case, being the operative word. Lolicom manga usually features a voluptuous girl heroine with large eyes and a pre-pubescent body, scantily clad in an outfit which approximates a cross between a 1970s bikini and a space-age suit of armour. She is liable to be cute, tough and clever. The attitude towards gender expressed in amateur Lolicom manga, is clearly different to that expressed by the male fans of girls' manga, including gay love stores and parody.
Despite the differences of these particular male attitudes, the themes by which amateur manga genres have become defined have in common a similar preoccuption with gender and sexuality. Amateur manga genres express a range of problematic feelings young people are harbouring towards established gender stereotypes, and by association, established forms of sexuality. While young people engaged with amateur manga do not fit the social definition of homosexuality, they share some of the uncertainties and modes of cultural expression, more commonly associated with contemporary gay culture. Yaoi, june mono, parody and Lolicom express the frustration experienced by young people, 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. There is, in short, a profound disjuncture between the expectations of men and the expectations of women in contemporary Japan. Young women have became increasingly unwilling to accept relationships with men who can not treat them as anything other than 'women' and subordinates. Men who persist in macho sexist behaviour, - like that often depicted in boys and adults manga magazines, - are gently ridiculed and rejected by the teenage girls involved in writing parody manga, or reading gay love stories. Young men who also find this type of masculine behaviour and networking, which is concentrated within corporate culture, restricting and uncomfortable, have also been attracted to amateur girls' manga.
The themes of Lolita complex manga written by and for men, on the other hand, express the both the fixation with, and resentment felt towards, young women, by another group of young men. Despite the inappropriateness of their old-fashioned attitudes, many young men have not accepted the possibility of a new role for women in Japanese society. These men who are confounded by their inability to relate to assertive and insubordinate contemporary young women, fantasise about these unattainable girls in their own boys' girls' manga. The little girl heroines of Lolicom manga reflect simultaneously an awareness of the increasing power and centrality of young women in society, and also a reactive desire to see these young women dissarmed, infantilised, and subordinate.
From a broad perspective, both the obsession with girls relieved through Lolicom manga, and the increasing interest amongst young men in (girls' own) girls' manga, reflect the growing tendency amongst young Japanese men to be fixated with the figure of the girl and to orientate themselves around girls' culture. The increasingly intense gaze with which young men examine girls and girls manga, is, in the words of Anne Allison, "both passive and aggressive". It is a gaze of both fear and desire, stimulated not least, by a sense of lost priviliges over women, which accumulated during the 1980s.
Amateur manga in Britain and the United States
Often, points of striking and unexpected similarity between cultural trends in contemporary Japan and those of other late industrial societies provide social insights which are at least as profound as those discovered at points of cultural difference, which are almost habitually focused upon in the academy. Points of similarity in the cultural developments of different societies illustrate the pervasiveness of international social and cultural processes. Amateur manga is a good example of this point. Genres which have arisen out of Japanese amateur manga subculture in the 1980s bear striking similarities to a genre which has been present in the cultural output of television and comic fans in the United States and the United Kingdom since the early 1970s. Fine art drawings and paintings and literary parodies of popular television series, such as Starsky and Hutch, M*A*S*H, Star Trek, and most recently, Alien Nation, from the USA, and Red Dwarf in the UK, are a central constituent of Anglo-American fanzine subculture. Moreover, the addition of homoerotica and homosexual romance to these fanzines is also prevalent. Anglo-American homoerotic amateur fanzines are referred to as 'K/S', or more simply still 'slash' (/), in reference to the frequently portrayed relationship between Kirk and Spock, in fanzine versions of the program Star Trek. The yaoi style emerging from Japanese dojinshi is clearly the Japanese equivalent of Anglo-American slash. Other similarities between yaoi and slash are the absence of a strong narrative structure and the particular fascination with space exploration adventures: for Anglo-American fanzines about Star Trek and Dr. Who substitute Japanese manga parodies of Spaceship Yamato and Captain Tsubasa.
In fact there are actual links between amateur manga and fanzine production in these different countries. The most rapidly growing sector of British fan culture in the 1990s has been concerned with Japanese manga or animation, while so called 'Japanimation' has been a popular category of American fan culture since the mid-1970s. Japanese animation companies have stimulated the interest of foreign fan audiences since the late 1970s as a market-opening devise to introduce Japanese animation products to wider American audiences. Most fan interest in Japanese animation in the UK was stimulated by the release of Otomo Katsuhiro's animated film AKIRA and the establishment of the magazine Anime UK, in 1990. Other British magazines for new fans of Japanese animation are Manga Mania, launched in 1993, and Anime FX, launched in 1996. The popularity of Japanese animation in Britain occurred at the same time as the explosion in growth of the amateur manga medium in Japan from the end of the 1980s into the early 1990s. The genres of animation which have become popular within the new fan cultures in Britain and the United States, and which dominate animation video imports, are derived from Lolicom manga which arose out of the amateur manga medium in the late 1980s. Girls' manga written exclusively by and for men, and featuring cute little girls, typically wielding heavy weaponry and fighting for survival in science fiction worlds, has been the principal influence on Japanese animation favoured in Britain in the 1990s. The preoccupation with converting serialised dramas into homoerotic parodies which emerged spontaneously amongst women in both the UK and America, and in Japan, suggests that all of these women have undergone essentially similar social and cultural experiences. It is not so much the often cited differences between the role of women in USA and Japan, so much as the implied similarity of their experiences, which is the source of fascination here. At the same time, the popularity of Japanese animation and manga influenced by the Lolicom style, in the UK and USA during the 1990s, suggests that many young men in the UK, USA and Japan are also experiencing quite similar circumstances, leading to closely allied tastes and interests. This type of international manga and fanzine subculture, emerging spontaneously from within amateur media outside of the official organisation of the media and culture industries, suggests, moreover, that the degree to which the media and culture industries in each of these countries actively produces a specifically national culture, is extensive.
The amateur manga panic
In 1989 amateur manga artists and amateur manga subculture became the subject of what might be loosely categorised as a 'moral panic' of the sort first defined at the end of the 1950s by British sociologist, Stanley Cohen. A sudden genesis of interest in amateur manga artists and Comic Market, amongst the media, began with the arrest of a serial infant-girl killer. Between August 1988 and July 1989, 26-year old printers' assistant, Miyazaki Tsutomu abducted, murdered and mutilated four small girls, before being caught, arrested, tried and imprisoned. Camera crews and reporters arriving at Miyazaki's home discovered that his bedroom was crammed with a large collection of girls' manga, Lolicom manga, animation videos, a variety of soft pornographic manga, and a smaller collection of academic analyses of contemporary youth and girls culture. Miyazaki was a fan of girls' manga and in particular Lolicom manga and animation, and it was revealed that he had written some animation reviews in dojinshi and had been to Comic Market.
A heavily symbolic debate ensued Miyazaki's arrest, in which his alienation and lack of substantial social relationships featured as the ultimate cause of his anti- social behaviour. The apparent lack of close parenting given to him by his mother and father; his subsequent immersion into a fantasy world of manga; and the recent death of Miyazaki's grandfather - with whom he had apparently had his only deep human relationship; were posited as the serial causes of his serial murders. Emphasis on the death of Miyazaki's grandfather implied that the decline of Japanese-style social relations represented by older generations of Japanese fulfilling traditional social roles had contributed to Miyazaki's dysfunctional behaviour. Emphasis on Miyazaki's apparently careless upbringing suggested, at the same time, that freer contemporary relationships were no substitute for fixed traditional social relationships, and that there was no real communication between modern, liberal parents of the 1960s generation and their children. Several journals described how Miyazaki's mother had neglected her son so that, "By the time he was two years old he would sit alone on a cushion and read manga books."
Where his family had failed to properly socialise Miyazaki, the media, it was suggested, had filled this gap, providing a source of virtual company and grossly inappropriate role models. While one headline exclaimed that in the case of Miyazaki "The little girls he killed were no more than characters from his comic book life" , psychoanalyst, Okonogi Keigo, worried that: "The danger of a whole generation of youth who do not even experience the most primary two or three way relationship between themselves and their mother and father, and who cannot make the transition from a fantasy world of videos and manga to reality, is now extreme".
Following the Miyazaki case, reporters and television documentary crews visited amateur manga conventions, and specialist manga shops. Amateur manga culture was repeatedly linked to Miyazaki, creating what became a new public perception, that young people involved with amateur manga are dangerous, psychologically-disturbed perverts.
The birth of the otaku generation
Otaku, which translates to the English term 'nerd', was a slang term used by amateur manga artists and fans themselves in the 1980s to describe 'weirdoes' (henjin). The original meaning of otaku is 'your home' and by association, 'you', 'yours' and 'home'. The slang term otaku is witty reference both to someone who is not accustomed to close friendships and therefore tries to communicate with this peers using this distant and over-formal form of address, and to someone who spends most of their time on their own at home. The term was ostensibly invented by dojinshi artist, Nakamori Akio, in 1983. He used the word otaku in a series entitled 'Otaku no Kenkyu' (Your home investigations) which was published in a low-circulation Lolicom manga magazine, Manga Burikko (Manga Cutie- Pie).
After the Miyazaki murder case, the concept of an otaku changed its meaning at the hands of the media. Otaku came to mean, in the first instance Miyazaki, in the second instance, all amateur manga artists and fans, and in the third instance all Japanese youth in their entirety. Youth were referred to as otaku youth (otaku seishonen), otaku-tribes (otaku-zoku), and the otaku-generation (otaku-sedai). The sense that this unsociable otaku generation were multiplying and threatening to take over the whole of society was strong. While the Shûkan Post put about the fear that: "Today's Elementary and Middle Schools Students: The Otaku Tribe Are Eclipsing Society", Social Anthropologist, Otsuka Eiji, confirmed that "It might sound terrible, but there are over 100 000 people with the same pastimes as Mr. M. - we have a whole standing army of murderers."
Police action against amateur manga
The practical results of the new and hostile attention directed at amateur manga were the partial attempts of Tokyo metropolitan police to censor sexual images in unpublished amateur manga and prevent their wider distribution at conventions and in specialist book shops. In 1993 guidance about the appropriate contents of dojinshi were distributed at Comic Market for the first time. The Comic Market preparation committee determined to attempt the enforcement of public bylaws prohibiting the sale of sexually explicit published materials to minors of 18 years and under, despite the fact that a large proportion of amateur manga is produced and sold by minors. In the Comic Market participant application brochure of August 1994, organisers warned amateur artists that, "Comic Market is not an alternative society, it is a vehicle orchestrated by you which thinks about its useful role in society. It has become necessary for us to seek social acceptance."
Eventually manga fan culture and amateur unpublished manga also became the target of extensive harassment by the police. During 1991 police arrested the managers of five specialist manga book shops where unpublished or amateur manga was available for sale. This activity began when six officers broke into Manga no Mori manga book shop in Shinjuku, central Tokyo, and confiscated copies of unpublished manga. Police collected the addresses of 15 amateur manga circles and subsequently took their members into police stations for questioning about the legal status of the printing shops where their manga booklets had been printed. Amateur manga artists were subjected to repeated investigations and harassment throughout the rest of the year. In total police took in 74 young people for questioning over their activities making amateur manga and removed 1880 volumes of manga by 207 authors from Koyama Manga no Mori book shop; and 2160 volumes of manga by 303 different authors from Shinjuku Manga no Mori manga book shop. This scale of direct police activity represents a significant curtailment of the distribution of unpublished manga. Other than in specialist manga book shops in large cities, amateur manga is rarely on sale and is not usually available outside the social circles of young manga fans and artists. The direct arrestment of amateur manga by local police forces suggests that it was not only the perceived problem of the harmful effects of manga on young minds which concerned the police, but also the independent and unregulated movements of amateur manga artists and amateur manga.
The otaku panic and the reform of the manga medium
The divergence of the publishing industry from what became the contemporary amateur manga movement during the 1980s left the latter disorganised. The central organisation of manga carried out by publishing companies and manga editors disappeared from the amateur medium and no alternative system of valuation, artistic discipline, or quality control, replaced it. Artists who could not get their work published in manga magazines took advantage of this unregulated sphere to produce and distribute their work in amateur form. New genres of manga, driven by the strength of their popular appeal alone, emerged from the amateur manga medium. The same popular engagement with the manga medium which fuelled the commercial expansion of weekly magazines during the 1960s encouraged the medium to divide into two separate media by the 1980s. The tremendous expansion of the amateur manga medium demonstrates again that the most salient characteristic of manga in postwar society has been its popularity and accessibility, confirmed in the extent of active engagement with the medium by young people.
Moreover it is precisely the widespread access youth have had to the manga medium which has stimulated concern amongst political and educational authorities. Anxieties which were raised about the commercial propagation of manga and gekiga social dramas between 1965 and 1975, resurfaced between 1990 and 1992, and were redirected towards amateur manga - currently the most uncontrolled and free area of the manga medium. Within the escalating debate about manga otaku which spread across society was expressed a sense of insecurity about uncontrolled and unregulated new cultural activities. Thus concluding upon the otaku panic, Yonezawa Yoshihiro remarked that:
The city, the lost zone of Japanese society, exists here at Comic Market. Without any interference or hindrance from outside, this abandoned and forgotten section of society has started to produce its own culture. The sense of being one body, of excitement, of freedom, and of disorder exists inside this single unified space. If anything frightful has come into being it is no doubt the existence of this space itself.
The underlying argument explicit in both the otaku panic, and the 1990 to 1992 anti-manga censorship movement by which it was accompanied, was that manga have a negative influence on Japanese youth, and in particular, their sexuality. While these types of views held by conservative citizens' organisations and government agencies, involved in attempting to censor published manga magazines, were not interesting, reasonable, or acceptable to a wide section of the contemporary Japanese public, specific criticism of amateur manga subculture and otaku manga genres was more novel and engaging. Young people themselves, were persuaded that amateur manga subculture was a serious social problem, rather than a 'cool' youth activity they might like to enter into.
Otaku as a symbol of contemporary Japanese society
The otaku panic also reflects many of the contemporary concerns of social scientists about Japanese society. These are powerful concerns about social fragmentation and the contribution of the mass media and communications infrastructures to this change. Since the 1970s, intellectuals have linked their concerns about the decay of a close-knit civil society to the growth of individualism amongst younger generations of Japanese. Individualistic youth culture has been accurately associated with either the failure or the stubborn refusal of contemporary Japanese to adequately contribute to society, by carrying out their full obligations and duties to family, company and nation. The absorption of youth in amateur manga subculture in the late 1980s and 1990s was perceived by many intellectuals as a new extreme in the alienation of Japanese youth from the collective goals of society. Otaku became another rejuvanated and modernised version of the aging concept of 'youth'.
Otaku came to represent a younger generation who were so intensely individualistic they had become dysfunctional. A generation of "isolated people who no longer have any sense of isolation." The dysfunctionality of otaku proved the unhealthy nature of individualistic lifestyles. Otaku represented new Japanese who lacked any remaining vestiges of social consciousness and were instead entirely preoccupied by their particularistic and specialist personal pastimes. Like generations of youth before them otaku were also diagnosed as suffering from Peter-pan syndrome, or the refusal to grow-up and take on adult social relations. Ueno Chizuko, the leading feminist theorist, pressed this theory that amateur manga genres reflect the infantilism of young people, asking "Do the yaoi girls and Lolicom boys really have a future?" Without social roles, otaku had no fixed identities, no fixed gender roles, and no fixed sexuality. Ultimately, otaku represented a youth who had become so literally anti-social they were unable to communicate or have social relationships with other people at all. The independence of amateur manga subculture from the rest of society, and its growth on the back of new media technologies available to the public, made it an appropriate focus for this sense of chaos and declining control over the organisation and communication of younger generations.
The universalisation of girls' culture
At the same time, it seems that it was the domination of amateur manga subculture by young women rather than young men which provoked particular unease. In the mid-1970s early girls' manga was perceived by some leftist critics as a reactionary cultural retreat from politics and social issues to petty personal themes. Girls manga and soft (yasashii) culture were associated with the decline of political and cultural resistance in the early 1970s, sometimes referred to in Japanese as the 'doldrums' (shirake). But by the 1990s, individualistic personal themes in girls' manga were being perceived as stubbornly self-interested, decadent and anti-social.
Over the last two decades, it is women far more than men, which have been involved with making, enjoying and becoming the idols of youth culture in Japan. By virtue of their exclusion from most of the labour market young women have occupied a relatively marginal position in society. Instead of devoting themselves to work most young women have focused on spending their incomes earnt from part-time and temporary employment on culture and leisure. During the 1980s in particular young women became the main consumers of culture. Ojosamas' (young madams') engagement with culture and leisure has been criticised as a form of selfish resistance to society. For many young men, young women have increasingly come to represent an illicit free zone outside of the company, where their individual interests and desires can be pursued. Girls' manga too carries themes associated with escapism, self- indulgence and willful feminine individualism.
Genres derived from girls' manga represent, for better or worse, the most dynamic section of the manga medium as a whole in the recent period. However, they have been humiliated by the otaku panic and marginalised by the recent anti-manga censorship movement. Amateur manga derived genres are excluded from virtually all of the magazines of leading publishers of manga. The snobbery indirectly expressed towards girls' manga genres is reminiscent of a broader distaste in polite Japanese society for contemporary culture produced for, and sometimes by, young women. As Scov and Moeran have highlighted, there is:
"..an almost apocalyptic anxiety that the supposed 'pure' and 'masculine' culture of Japan has been vulgarised, feminized, and infanticized to the point where it has become 'baby talk' beyond the comprehension of well-educated critics."
Drawing notice to this vain of critisism which perceives girl's culture as an unwelcome alien influence within Japan, manga critic, Kure Tomofusa, described how: "When academics looked at girls' manga they were amazed. They felt like English missionaries discovering that there were different societies in Africa."
The cross-over of young men into girls' culture has provoked particularly fierce opposition. The universal popularity of manga genres pioneered by women implies that rather than being a discreet feminine section of manga culture, girls' manga is in fact central to the contemporary medium, as indeed young women are to contemporary Japanese culture in general. It also implies that the individualistic and self-interested themes of girls' manga are themes with universal appeal. It is striking that although the majority of amateur manga artists and fans are young women, the media panic about otaku was focused almost entirely on the young men who have adopted young womens' culture as their own. The anxieties released by the sight of young men flocking to a female-dominated manga movement is reminiscent of the criticism targeted at '*******' - or white American boys emulating black ghetto culture or making black music, - in the United States.
Crowds of teenage girls screaming at the sight of their favourite pop-stars taking their shirts off on stage, or spending hours staring morbidly at posters of James Dean, has been humoured, and accommodated in Japan as much as it has in the UK. In Japan, the migration of women into male culture, into bars, trousers, and golf courses, is gradually becoming more acceptable. But, the emergence during the late- 1980s, of hordes of teenage Japanese boys who scream and faint at the sight of their favourite female pop-idols, who adore girls' manga, or who fetishise images of young girls from afar in their own boys'- girls' manga, have been reacted to with shock and incomprehension.