Miércoles 23 de Agosto de 2006, Ip nº 167

Harry Potter Loves Malfoy
Por Jennifer Granick

Last weekend saw me squeezing through the crowded aisles of the Mandarake comic store in Tokyo's Higashi-Ikebukuro neighborhood on a quest for a Star Wars comic. Specifically, I was looking for fan-created manga revealing the untold love story between C-3P0 and R2-D2.

I didn't find the 'droid porn I was looking for (though I'm sure it exists), but I did find a romance between Harry Potter and Malfoy, and several shelves of steamy Aragorn x Boromir action.

This is the world of doujinshi, or self-published fan fiction -- a part of a healthy Japanese visual arts scene based on the appropriation and reuse of commercial characters. The booming sub-genre of yaoi (appropriately pronounced "yowie!"), features stories about the homoerotic relationships between two popular male characters in anime, manga and even Western films. The yaoi genre is both commercially and fan-produced.

That it not only exists but thrives is a testament to Japan's relaxed attitudes on copyright, which have facilitated a flowering of both creative and commercial activity. American media companies, take note.

Higashi-Ikebukoro is one of Tokyo's outermost neighborhoods, but it's become a destination for female manga fans because the major manga store branches there specially stock works written by and for women. These specialty shops are six-, seven- and eight-story buildings filled from top to bottom with commercial and doujinshi manga, and tie-in products like figurines, trading cards and stationery. This area has become known as "Otome Road," the female answer to Tokyo's geek-centric Akihabara district.

When I visited Ikebukuro's Mandarake store last week, the crowded aisles were packed with curious, energetic women purchasing all types of manga. There were aisles and aisles of fan-fiction doujinshi, and the women seemed to know exactly what they were looking for -- particular characters drawn by particular artists.

On the street, women waited in front of the Character Queen store to meet friends, or just to be seen out and about in their goth-angel outfits. There were very few men in sight.

Otome Road has spawned associated businesses like the renowned butler cafes. Some are staffed by women dressed as the beautifully androgynous men that star in yaoi. Others employ real men, and are booked solid through September.

I visited the epicenter of Tokyo's heavily male otaku (geek) culture in Akihabara last weekend too. Mandarake has another branch there with commercially produced manga, and a multitude of commercial tie-in products: trading cards, video game cards and figurines, as well as several floors of doujinshi. Pretty much every other manga seller in Japan also has a seven- or eight-story building in Akihabara.

The scene is the gender opposite of what I found in Ikebukuro. Akiba's manga clientele is almost all men, and many of these cry out "geek" in any culture you can name: for example, one guy with his pants pulled up around his rib cage, wearing his cell phone on a lanyard around his neck with a pack of AA batteries stuffed in his shirt pocket.

No wonder women want an Otome Road. What's amazing, and a tribute to Japan's boundless creative energy, is that they have received it in such abundance.

The Comiket comic market was also held last weekend -- a huge exhibition at the Tokyo Big Sight with an estimated 35,000 doujinshi artists selling various fan manga. The Comiket touts its symbiotic relationship with the corporate manga producers. Corporate dealers participate in Comiket because they appreciate their relationship with fans, whether pure readers or fan manga creators. The market fosters communication, which inspires the creation of even greater works by both corporate and self-publishers. "This is the paramount ideal of the Comic Market," the website reads.

Governments, journalists and scholars are debating whether Japan can mint Japanese "cool" into a multibillion-dollar export. Many lament the fact that businesses that have done so well with manga have failed to translate that success into profits in the American market.

I see a symbiotic relationship between commercialism and creativity in Japan. Any of the manga stores you walk into carries how-to manuals on drawing characters and using colors, as wells as picture books on medieval weaponry, French castles or samurai-era textiles. There are collectible figurines, but also dolls you can mod yourself, with whatever hair, eyes, clothes or breasts suit your imagination.

Japan seems to understand that creativity doesn't fall from the sky. It needs nurturing, inspiration, tools and skills; and it's no problem if your inspiration is something cool someone else did first.

The Japanese government has demonstrated that it's every bit as willing as its American counterparts to crack down on copyright infringement. In 2004, Isamu Kaneko, the creator of Winny, Japan's pioneering P2P service (there are now others), was arrested and indicted, and is slated to stand trial this year on copyright-infringement-related charges. Earlier this year, the Fukuoka prefectural police arrested the owner of a local coffee shop who posted manga on the internet without author approval.

But when it comes to creating derivative works, the commercial comic and anime companies look the other way. As a result there's consumption, but there's creativity too.

If and when Japan does become a major exporter of its unique brand of "cool," I hope it will preserve and export the doujinshi ethic as well. Perhaps America needs to learn more than the difference between Doremon and Pokemon. We need a new way of looking at creativity that borrows and builds on the work of others.


  16/08/2006. Wired Magazine.