Mariru Harada was named Race Queen of the Year in 2006, but in her room you won’t find fashion makeup and designer shoes. In their place are 13,000 manga (enough to earn her the title “manga sommelier”), 1,000 limited edition anime DVDs, and 7,000 videogames, including dating simulator games of the sort popular among lonely men.
“I have given up on the three-dimensional world,” says the model, singer and tarento. “I try to look normal when I go outside, but that’s the extent of it.”
Harada is a new breed of pin-up girl and pop queen—the "otadol" (otaku idol). And she has six sisters. Meet the Nakano Fujoshi Sisters (NFS, pronounced Nakano Fujosisters), an idol unit comprised of Harada, Yoko Inui, Chiaki Kyan, Yuka Kyomoto, Erika Ura, Yuka Konan and Hirono Arai. As evidenced by their dance cover of “Pre-Parade” from the late-night anime "Toradora!," NFS and their fans are profoundly otaku. But the Sisters have also found mainstream success disguised as Fudanjuku, a beautiful “boy” group who sang the end theme for the "Yatterman" anime (released as a single this week), and will sing the opening theme in Korean for international broadcast. Though the NFS and Fudanjuku are technically separate bands, they are inextricably linked by the same well of otakudom.
Formed in 2006, the NFS gained renown after appearing on the internet TV show "ShowTime & GyaO" and in live houses around Nakano.
“We used to perform for 30 people, but a live performance in Nakano Broadway last year drew 1,000 people,” says Kyan. “Our activity is still based around Nakano, but for live performances there aren’t any places large enough to fit the audience.”
NFS concerts now tend to be in trendier neighborhoods like Shibuya, but Nakano remains close to their hearts.
“Akihabara is a really famous otaku holy land in Japan, and Ikebukuro is well know for female fans, fujoshi,” says Inui, the group leader. “But Nakano has a very developed subculture. It has the good parts of both Akihabara and Ikebukuro. There are so many stores there to get immersed in. One visit to the shopping arcade reveals so many great things all at once. We wanted to work to be part of that and promote it.”
That explains the “Nakano” in their name, but in fact not all the members are fujoshi (腐女子), or “rotten girls” who read the yaoi genre of homosexual male romance manga.
“We take ‘fujoshi’ to mean someone who carries things to extremes,” explains Ura. “What connects us is being rotten because of our passions.”
Each member of NFS has an “otaku profile” (or "wotazokusei"—basically, their hobbies), which include manga, games, cosplay, anime, faeries, reptiles, professional wrestling, fashion and cooking. They use the word "wotaku" to indicate that they are neither old-school ’80s otaku (typically written おたく) nor “international and cool” otaku (オタク).
Intentionally cool or not, the NFS have been earning some serious mainstream media attention. The famous TV tarento Suzanne is a former member, and anime aficionado Kyan (or “Kyanchi” to her legions of rabid otaku fans) is the host of NHK’s Net Star, a program that introduces hit contents and famous people from the online world, most especially otaku video-sharing site Nico Nico Douga (aka Smile TV).
It was only last July that the NFS had their first hit as an idol group, “GO! FIGHT! Fujoshi Sisters” produced by Jazzy Hanawa, an alter ego of the zany solo comedian Hanawa. Originally released only for cellphones, the eccentric song became a hit among otaku.
“We’ve gotten used to it by now, but when we first heard the original music Jazzy Hanawa made for us, we thought, ‘What is this?’” admits Kyan. “It was really weird.”
“The first song was about female otaku as seen through Jazzy Hanawa’s eyes,” adds Ura. “For example, finding boyfriends online, or having anime character boyfriends.”
Hanawa also produces the NFS in their guise as Fudanjuku, but there are several differences between the groups. The “boys,” for instance, aren’t as geared towards in-jokes and cultural references.
“Fudanjuku are more oriented towards society,” Inui says. “The songs have themes and messages such as ‘cherish humanity,’ ‘friendship’ and ‘love.’ That sort of simple message is common, but there are points to be learned from it and people can respond to it. Even though the lyrics are simple and kind of lame, the value of the message is high.”
Fudanjuku had their own major break with “Otokozaka” in September 2008. The media buzz around the group is strong—Suzanne praised them as "otakakkoi," or “otacool.” Their second single made it to No. 11 on the Oricon singles chart, and the boys are drawing in new crowds—about 40% of concert goers are female.
The appeal of a cross-dressing lady is not without precedent in Japan. There’s the Takarazuka Revue, an all-female song-and-dance troupe that had its debut in western Japan in 1913. The shows are celebrated for being lavishly over-the-top in everything from music and costume to sets, choreography and melodramatic story lines. The performers are unmarried women, divided into "musumeyaku" (girl roles) and "otokoyaku" (male roles), who master and embody the ideal characteristics of the gender they portray. The "otokoyaku" are the stars, and fans say these gallant gents are manlier and more ideal than any man could be.
Takarazuka is also deeply tied to the rise of anime and manga. Osamu Tezuka, the late “god of manga,” watched the shows with his mother, and they are said to have been the basis of his Princess Knight, released in 1953 as the first manga targeting female readers. The protagonist, Princess Sapphire, has both a male and female heart and desires to fight as a prince while also being a refined princess. Tezuka in turn influenced Riyoko Ikeda’s immortal "The Rose of Versailles," which was adapted into one of Takarazuka’s most beloved shows. The Revue also inspired the hit "Sakura Taisen" franchise of games, anime and musicals.
Fans of Fudanjuku see the girls as closer to the ideal male of shojo manga, especially the hunky heroes of male-on-male "yaoi," or “boys love.” Moreover, the fan knows that the “beautiful boy” is actually a female in disguise, which reduces tension and makes interaction easier. The same way the NFS share the otaku hobbies of their male fans, Fudanjuku is plugged into the "fujoshi" fantasy and accessible to women. They have something for girls, boys and everything in between.
In fact, Otome Road in Ikebukuro is home to a variety of cafes specializing in "danso," or “male disguise.” Waitresses dress up like beautiful boys, serve their female customers, and make conversation about their hobbies. Danso cafes began appearing in the mid-2000s and are somewhat akin to host clubs—only without the men. They’ve become popular enough to gather a male fan base and have spread to Akihabara.
“It doesn’t really change anything how they dress,” says Takumi Saito, a maid enthusiast from Osaka visiting Queen Dolce, a danso cafe in Akihabara. “Cute is cute.”
On the cutting edge of a variety of otaku trends, the NFS are also trendsetters overseas. When the girls visited the C3 convention in Hong Kong in April, they were met by hordes of fans who came to their show with homemade Fudanjuku costumes and props. The majority had learned of the group from YouTube.
Inui says this was very rewarding for the band, whose charter goal is to spread “space peace” through anime and anisongs—and maybe contribute to a more relaxed view of gender along the way.
For more information about the Nakano Fujoshi Sisters, see www.nfs724.com.
This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).© Japan Today