The world loves Japanese pop culture, but the Japanese themselves remain the most eager consumers of manga. Government figures show that manga represented 40% of all publications in 2005, and anime and live-action TV dramas are increasingly based on successful serials. But the market is saturated and sales have been slowing since the mid-90s, when digital forms of portable entertainment began to flourish.
An increasingly popular outlet for manga enthusiasts is "doujinshi," meaning both fan-produced manga and the “circles” that create them. They flout copyright law and rearticulate the characters they love, and their numbers are many — the largest public get-together in Japan is not a World Cup or Olympic gathering, but rather a "doujinshi" market called Comike.
"Doujinshi" began in the ’70s with original stories, but shifted to parodies of established series and characters in alternative settings and “couplings.” The genre runs the gamut from academic writing to pornography, and much of it is as sexual and violent as it is artistic. Legally, fans can produce whatever they want insofar as it’s not blatantly for profit or obscene. In the beginning, large coteries managed costly and labor-intensive production, but the democratization of printing in the ’80s resulted in small, even single-member circles.
Researcher Gunnar Hempel, 27, a Sophia University MA who wrote his thesis on the phenomenon, estimates there are 8,000 Japanese living off "doujinshi," but stresses the number could be greater thanks to digital publishing. A professional "doujinshi” artist scrapes by on some 12,000 yen a month, but can gross 32,000 yen from large sales events.
And the biggest event on the "doujinshi" calendar is Comike, also known as Comiket or the Comic Market, which began in 1975 and now takes over the massive Tokyo Big Sight complex in Odaiba for three days twice a year (Dec 28-30). In 2007, 550,000 people and 35,000 clubs braved two-mile-long lines to exchange 1 billion yen worth of "doujinshi."
In between events, the organizers of Comike run B-Maniacs and Comiket Service, which sell new and used "doujinshi." As the movement becomes more widespread and easier to access, producers and consumers have increased and (to some degree) normalized "doujinshi." There were 2,496 new titles published in 2003, with an average circulation of over 13,000.
Traditional manga publishers, licensers and distributors agree to look the other way as long as fans don’t go too far, make too much money or stop consuming official products. Daniel Pink, speechwriter to former U.S. President Bill Clinton and a "doujinshi" enthusiast, pointed out in an October 2007 article for Wired that allowing fans to produce keeps them interested, provides free market research, and cultivates new talent.
That was the case for four women who drew Captain Tsubasa "doujinshi" in the ’80s and became the international manga superstars known as Clamp. “Japan has historically and culturally allowed copying in appreciation and to learn,” says Koichi Ichikawa, 41, an engineer who moonlights as one of the three chiefs of Comike.
Murders caused crackdown
However, this symbiotic balance is tenuous. In the fallout from the Miyazaki “otaku” murders, the “Seinen Comic” mark was adopted in 1991 to label manga that contained adult content, and all manga were required to blur out genitals. After "doujinshi" were found to be disobeying these rules, seven people were arrested and 67 taken into custody. A TBS announcer covering Comike proclaimed, “There are 100,000 Miyazakis here.”
In March, the Chiba police put pressure on Makuhari Messe, and the event space subsequently refused to host Comike. The Harumi Tokyo International Exhibition Center welcomed the expo only after organizers agreed to screen all the content. In 1999, Nintendo sued the creator of a "doujinshi" featuring Pokemon in “unwholesome” ways, and in 2006, another creator was ordered to pay 93 million yen in back taxes and fines for unreported earnings on "doujinshi."
But savvy corporations are more conciliatory. This year, Kadokawa made a landmark deal allowing “mad movies” of their Suzumiya Haruhi anime as long as fans marked posts on YouTube and Nico Nico Douga with Kadokawa logos. Haruhi remains their flagship series, in part because of Internet support.
This resonates with academic Lawrence Lessig’s solution for copyright infringement in limited licenses for amateur creation. As philosopher and critic Shunsuke Tsurumi wrote in 1967, manga is a “border art,” a democratic medium accessible to cultural amateurs who can transgress boundaries. Perhaps "doujinshi" is just the next evolution. Or digression.
This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).© Japan Today