To try to encapsulate the entirety of Manga Futures in one blog post is difficult. There were so many amazing people, many of which were experts in studies of Japanese popular culture. Their presentations ranged from foreign censorship to misrepresentation of manga and anime in media to the political agencies of fans. There were serious discussions and there were also sexy fun times. I don’t think a summary would give justice to the wealth of knowledge exchanged over that weekend! The best that I can share are some of the lessons that I have learned from the weekend.

There are many things about sexuality in manga that remains to be understood

It’s easy to think that with all the information online and with all the things published (especially with books that claim to capture the entire history of manga), we know absolutely everything about manga. Yet this conference proved that there were many things that remain to be misrepresented in media, particularly sexual content such as yuri, moe, erotic manga, and lolicon.

Japan’s leading critics on manga, Kaworu Nagayama, author of Eromanga Studies, and Yukari Fujimoto, author of Shōjo Manga Tamashii, were present to clarify some issues that surround sexuality in manga. Manga’s quite “notorious” for its sexual content. Media often represent (or misrepresent) manga’s content as too sexual, erotic, or violent for its “primary” consumers, children. Nagayama and Fujimoto clarified that manga is quite diverse and that erotic manga for men and women have been healthy outlets for sexual expression for both male and female artists and readers. Nagayama stressed that eromanga had made significant contributions to manga. If anything, Fujimoto argued that manga’s has the power to transcend boundaries, serving as a playground for both amateurs and professionals, erotica and general fiction, children and adults. Both Fujimoto and Nagayama stressed that there are people who misunderstand that manga (or comics) are for children alone when in fact manga matures with its readers.

Yoshihiro Yonezawa Memorial Library
Ladies’ comics display in the Yoshihiro Yonezawa Memorial Library

Fujimoto used the history of erotic manga for women as an example of how manga matured with its readers. She cited the development of erotic images in shōjo manga and how they branched out to boys’ love, ladies’ comics, josei, and recently, teen’s love (TL). Boys’ love manga emerged as shōjo manga’s attempts to transcend gender boundaries. As for ladies’ comics and teen’s love, these were attempts for women to express heterosexuality. Laura Miller also looked at how ladies’ comics were at the heart of women’s sexuality. Sadly, these sexual expressions in comics are often seen as obscene which made it difficult for her to research. 

Fujimoto also talked about the abundance of sexual violence in ladies’ comics. She stated that there was a difference in the rape expressed in ladies’ comics vis-a-vis rape in reality. She used the term “harlequin rape”, a kind of rape where desire is so great that it eventually leads to sexual aggression. She stressed that this trope is rather popular and is possibly a response to social norms. If anything, I think it stressed the remaining allure of “masculine” power in Japanese society.

James Welker gave an interesting talk about yuri as he traced the development of the genre by observing the publication of various yuri-oriented magazines. One of the things I find interesting about yuri was that Welker stated that it was a response to yaoi. The earliest use of yuri were associated with yaoi fans after all. However yuri, as we know it, tied with moe and geared towards male readers (although not all are men) was only a recent development. According to Welker, male fans wanted to experiment with girls in the same way that yaoi fans experimented with boys hence some of the earliest yuri dōjinshi were tied with Sailormoon and exploded with Maria-sama ga Miteru. Surprisingly, the first yuricon was not even held in Japan but was actually a convention in the US (and was more tied with LGBTQ media). Eventually, through various fan-organised events and eventually mainstream publishing, the yuri community grew and they eventually developed the genre as we know it today. Welker admits that because the genre is quite young, his research was still preliminary but it definitely was an interesting look at how yuri has changed in history.

Lolicon is a genre that is often perceived as criminal in media. Patrick Galbraith looked at the problems that surround what is often identified as lolicon and how misrepresentation of the genre happens in media (as with the CNN case). However, Galbraith did not examine the genre itself but rather the problems he faced when studying the genre. Censorship laws make it difficult for scholars like himself to study this genre and understand if it truly is as problematic as media presents it. His intent to study lolicon and eromanga doesn’t mean that he fully endorses the genre. Rather, Galbraith believed that the dismissal of possibly obscene genres could shift our historical memory of manga. As it is, misrepresentation of manga in media, particularly what is and what isn’t lolicon, is prevalent. Galbraith challenged scholars to be at the forefront in clearing these misrepresentations.

Sexual expression in fiction and art does not equate to sexual crimes

Given the nature of risqué content tackled in the conference, it was inevitable to discuss the moral panic raised by these “offensive” content. The conference had leading scholars such as Kirsten Cather (US), Mark McLelland (AUS), Sharalyn Orbaugh (CAN), Ling Yang (CHN) and Takashi Yamaguchi (JPN) to talk about the various responses to control these obscene materials.

Kirsten Cather opened the conference with how censorship has been exercised in Japanese history and how the controversial eromanga, Misshitsu (Honey Room), was the first manga victim of this censorship. Her talk looked at the strategies to defend the manga and how supporters reiterated the author’s freedom of sexual expression.

Yamaguchi is particularly interesting because he has been at the forefront of defending many artists in Japan and their right to sexual expression. His talk highlights the complexities surrounding the Japanese Child Pornography Law and strategies people could take to resist it. His suggestion was to keep fighting for people’s freedom of expression and hope for the day when he people could finally understand and respect this freedom. Here are some select tweets from Yamaguchi himself!

If this kind of manga is problematic in Japan, it is just as problematic in other countries. Sharalyn Orbaugh’s analysis of Canada’s child pornography law gave a preview on the problem of a law that encompasses even virtual depictions of “children” in erotic content. I find Sharalyn’s position interesting because while she believed that Canada was a fairly laid-back and liberal country, her study of the law made her realise the difficult position she was in as a researcher because some of the content she uses for her research may be considered criminal. She then takes into account other consumers of anime and manga, particularly fans who produce fan art and fan fiction. She asked, “Why is it okay for us to fantasise murder yet why can’t we fantasise about sex?” Orbaugh also noted that erotic stories helped some people deal with sexual trauma.

Australia has also followed after Canada’s lead and Mark McLelland has long been studying how vague censorship laws in Australia affect not only the kind of content accessible to Australian audiences but how it can even implicate young fans who are producing erotic fan fiction or fan art. While it hasn’t gone the deep end in Australia, things have gone worse in China. Ling Yang shared the censorship campaign of the Chinese government as it tried to get rid of porn (boys’ love included) on the internet. Many BL websites have been shutdown leaving fans to adapt to these censorship laws. This effort has also led to the arrest of BL writers in China.

Fans are ingenious, active, and political

Kotobukiya in Akihabara

I might be biased in saying this but fans are brilliant. I’m not saying that fans are particularly special but when media often present fans as a legion of ladies weeping over the engagement of their favourite actor, it goes to show how fans are often misrepresented. More often than not, the most recognised fans are the worst of the lot and not the best of them.

That said, having participated in this conference and listening to other speakers talk about fans and their ingenious solutions to challenges gives me faith in the community. Nele Noppe’s at the forefront of studying the business models that fans have created and developed in order to produce derivative dōjinshi. She puts Japanese and Western fandom in parallel, examining how they conduct their business as fans and how there is so much the industry can learn from their business practices as fans. Andrea Horbinski’s talk about the fan response to Bill 156 (Healthy Youth Development Ordinance) and how some fans who opposed this bill used dōjinshi as a way to educate other fans on the issue proved that fans can be political. Even within an informal capacity, fans are rising up to challenge social norms. Kathryn Hemman’s look at FFVII yaoi dōjinshi showed how dojin artists subvert and criticise masculinist ideologies as seen in grand, often, masculinist narratives.

The global development of anime and manga fans around the globe are astounding. Zoltan Kucsak’s presentation about anime and manga subculture and industry in Hungary and how they continue to adapt to the times while keeping the community alive is amazing. Jessica Sugimoto’s talk about religious fujoshi and their struggles in appreciating BL because it’s “sinful” gives a glimpse of fans’ difficulties when faced with their religious beliefs. While there are risks involved in appreciating “homosexual” texts which have caught the ire of some conservative religious governments (e.g. Malaysia), fujoshi remain steadfast. It helped that they are currently outside the government’s radar however Sugimoto raised that should there be studies published about fujoshi communities in these places, are researchers putting their respondents’ activities and interests at risk? Sugimoto’s talk has raised new awareness on the possible religious challenges of fans.

But while there are fans all over the globe, there appears to be a rift between Japanese and non-Japanese fandom. Sonoko Fukushima, an artist from Kyoto Seika’s manga program, shared that foreign fans have been disrespectful to their requests to not use or distribute their art online. The decision to put their dōjinshi in print was mostly to control who gets to consume their work. More often than not, this is aimed to a particularly small audience who understands the content and nature of their dōjinshi. However, when it’s placed online, it’s for everyone to consume, even those who may not understand the nuances of their content. Queenie Chan, a writer and artist well known for her contributions in early OEL manga, also stated that fans could be entitled in “owning” works as soon as they have bought or even read online. This raised issues on fanworks, particularly derivative works that often parody commercial media.

While fans have been at the forefront in answering some of the challenges they face with regards to appreciating their media, there remains to be many things fans have to sort out. 

Manga has it challenges but it remains to be relevant

When Takemiya Keiko went on stage to talk about the future of manga, she carried with her the burden of all the speakers who were confounded about the relevance of manga in this day and age. Takemiya opened with the grim reality of manga sales going down in the last few years and how the attitude towards manga have significantly changed. In her time, manga was a mean to tell a story, even if it had a small print run. These days, manga was a mean for large publishers to survive.

Yoshihiro Yonezawa Memorial Library
dōjinshi display in the Yoshihiro Yonezawa Memorial Library

Takemiya believes that dōjinshi, particularly original dōjinshi, is possibly one of the best mediums where artists can continue to experiment and hone their craft. She was quite supportive of this, especially given that she herself used to make dōjinshi. Takemiya shared how she enjoyed manga in the early days where it wasn’t in the limelight and they were free to do whatever they want. When manga became an integral part of Japanese culture, it lost its freedom. She feared that as manga enters the global stage, more freedoms will be lost.

That said, she was fully aware of the various legislations imposed on creators and she challenged them to express themselves within these limitations, and if they can, push its boundaries. She shared this with her experience in mind where she worked in an environment where she can publish in magazines for both genders and she created works such as Poem of the Wind and Trees (Kaze to Ki no Uta) in order to help girls’ deal with sexual abuse. She wrote this at a time when sexual issues were not raised in girls’ comics.

Keiko Takemiya

Takemiya spoke as someone who worked for the industry as well as an academic who understands that there is a need to educate people about manga and as long as the medium remains free, it will continue to be relevant and transformative. Many of the scholars present in the conference showed how powerful manga can be and how there’s so much that remains to be understood. As manga becomes more global, its shape will definitely change and it’s become the task of both scholars and fans to keep track of these changes and protect the medium should its freedom be curtailed.

All in all, it was a fantastic weekend, one that made me appreciate manga and the community and industry behind it. My summary here’s really just grazing the surface. If you want to know more about the discussions in mangafutures, head to twitter and check the tag #mangafutures for all the discussions we tweeted. There are also plans to publish some of the things discussed in the conference. I’ve linked to some that have been published, and I’ll definitely tweet or update should there be papers published related to this.