Ask John: Why Hasn’t Doujinshi Caught on Outside of Japan?

Question:
The number of stores in Akihabara alone that sell doujinshi absolutely shocked me. Why hasn’t this “fan comic” medium caught on outside Japan? I’ve never heard of doujinshi from countries in Europe nor America, and find that interesting. Do you think the issue is that doujinshi wouldn’t sell here because manga itself isn’t popular enough? Could it be because doujinshi tends to be more erotic? Still, I find it odd how so many people in America ask, “How can I get into the manga business?” when making a fan comic would be the most noticeable start. (Didn’t CLAMP begin as a doujinshi team?)

On the subject of doujinshi itself, do you know the Japanese history of it? Was it always so prominent and popular, or is that more of a recent development? Was there a particular series that incited the craze?

Answer:
Honestly, I don’t know when the phenomenon of doujinshi started. I own Japanese anime magazines dating back to 1983, and they include mention of fan produced comics. Doujinshi have prospered in Japan because the Japanese anime and publishing industry have realized that this type of fan activity is ultimately beneficial to everyone. Technically the creation and sale of doujinshi using copyrighted characters is a violation of copyright laws, and there have been instances of Japanese license owners prosecuting fans that create unauthorized manga using copyrighted characters. But fostering the doujinshi community encourages increased interest in commercial anime titles, and encourages the development of amateur artists that will one day join the professional industry. For example, it’s well known that both CLAMP and Gainax started out as groups of amateur fan artists. (I think it’s also important to clarify that while most fans outside of Japan assume that all doujinshi is pornographic, that’s not the case at all.)

The creative efforts of fans in Japan has diverged from that of American and European fans. Doujinshi is, by far, the most prolific form of amateur genre creation among Japanese fans. Traditionally, it’s music videos that have been the medium of choice for North American and European fans. Japanese fans do create anime music videos using established or original footage, just as there are genuine examples of American doujinshi like the famous Dirty Pair “Nostalgia” book, but the exceptions on both sides of the ocean are infrequent. I don’t believe that concern with copyrights prevents American fans from creating original comics using well known anime characters. If American fans were really concerned with copyrights, fansubbing wouldn’t be as common as it is. My theory, and this is only a hastily constructed theory, is that doujinshi are a more naturally evolving medium in Japan than outside of Japan due to differences in cultural experience. Manga is a modern tradition in Japan, familiar to most Japanese natives. Most Japanese natives are introduced to animation and manga from childhood and mature with animation as a constant companion. Westerners, on the other hand, are encouraged by social pressure to grow out of cartoons and comics during the onset of adolescence. In effect, I think that Japanese natives are naturally more familiar with manga and anime; they have an intuitive understanding of manga and anime as a creative, artistic medium and therefore are more intuitively inclined to create manga and anime or expand on existing manga and anime.

On the other hand, Westerners have, up until very recently, always approached Japanese comics and animation as an established medium- something complete and finished, to be appreciated- not a work in progress or something to be embellished. Fan fiction and doujinshi have never been common among English speaking fans. Instead, English speaking fans have tended to utilize and reconstruct existing anime through editing to create music videos. While Japanese natives create manga and anime, Westerners just import, watch, collect, and manipulate manga and anime. We don’t create Japanese art ourselves.

But that stereotype is changing. American works like MegaTokyo, Peach Fuzz, and Shadow Magic can be thought of as extended doujinshi (although technically they’re no longer doujinshi when they’re published by professional publishers). The Western perception of manga and anime as native Japanese art forms is capitulating to a perception that manga and anime are merely artistic styles. (The validity of that argument is topic for a different discussion.) Inversely proportionate with the belief that manga and anime are exclusively Japanese art forms, and in equal measure with the rising interest in manga and anime among non-Japanese fans, the amount of doujinshi, literally art created by amateur fans, in rapidly increasing in North America.

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4 Responses to “Ask John: Why Hasn’t Doujinshi Caught on Outside of Japan?”

  1. BloodRaevynn Says:

    Sorry to reply to a rather old article, but you said something that was absolutely untrue even when this post was new – that fanfiction has never been common among english-speaking fans.

    Now I’ve been reading and writing fanfiction for fifteen years, it was always fairly easy to find large archives for series like Yuu Yuu Hakusho, Gundam Wing, Yoroiden Samurai Troopers (Ronin Warriors), Sailor Moon, and Ranma 1/2, even when I started out, back before automated archives like fanfiction.net existed. Presently there are thirty series on fanfiction.net that can boast over ten thousand fics – Naruto alone is just slightly more than one thousand fics short of reaching the two hundred fifty thousand mark – and though not even a third of them have over a hundred fics, in the anime/manga category alone, there are over nine hundred series with fics. I’ve read fics that were several decades old (such as the Gatchaman fic “Aite: In Love and War” by Alara Rogers, which was originally printed in a Zine long before the internet as we know it existed).

    Yes, there were significantly fewer fics when I started out, but then there were significantly fewer fans too. Roughly half of my friends who are anime fans also write fics, and a good portion of the ones who don’t write them do read them.

    Your comment about westerners not creating anime and manga or Japanese art is technically true, but since “anime,” “manga,” and “Japanese art” have definitions that inherently preclude westerners from being in any way able to make them in the first place, it is not a valid point to begin with.

    If an American were to create a book which has a form, style, and storytelling conventions well within the parameters of manga, it would still NOT be manga, it would be an American comic book or graphic novel. Likewise an American artist, not being Japanese, cannot create Japanese art, only American art, even if the art he or she produces is to all appearances indistinguishable from so-called “Japanese art.” But if you were talking about producing something “manga-like” or “Japanese art-like,” yes, westerners do this as well, and have been doing so for quite a while.

    I think the major difference, when it comes to things like Doujinshi – which are sold – has little to do with westerners accepting a story as a complete and finished entity, but rather it’s that in western society (especially America) copyright laws are something we’re more aware of and that are more readily enforced – you wouldn’t make a fan comic about Micky Mouse and attempt to sell it because Disney would immediately sue your ass off. If you know that from the beginning, then you’re less likely to even entertain the notion; or if you actually go ahead and make one, you only share it with your friends.

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