What Do Manga Artists Think Of Dirty Doujinshi?

by Justin Sevakis,

Aloysia asks:

I understand that there's several mangaka that create BL/yuri doujinshi but there's also who don't. So how do they react to BL/yuri shipping? Do they get angry "My characters are not gay!" or just ignore it?

Doujinshi, or small-press fan manga, is a huge, huge, huge thing in anime and manga fandom in Japan. Comiket, the twice-annual doujinshi convention that's the biggest in Japan, attracts over half a million people. That's over 4 times the size of Anime Expo. Doujinshi takes on every possible subject matter -- there are plenty of original ones. But most of them, certainly the most popular ones, are basically manga versions of fan fiction. There are tons for anime, new and old, as well as video games, movies and live action TV shows. There's been countless Harry Potter doujinshi, as well as for the WB show Supernatural. I even have a South Park doujin I bought years ago. And of course, a lot of the popular ones are JUST PLAIN FILTHY. (Seriously, some doujinshi scans I've seen contain images I have yet to scrub from my mind. And I'm a guy who STARTED his career working on Night Shift Nurses.)

Doujinshi is not a new thing. Comiket has been going since 1975, and has exploded in popularity to the point where every fan knows about it, and many dream of attending. Many manga artists younger than 40 or so got their start drawing doujinshi, and several notable and famous artists still dabble in that world occasionally -- especially when they want to draw a manga without having to deal with editors or demands from a publisher. Yoshitoshi ABe, Ken Akamatsu, Kiyohiko Azuma and many others have published doujinshi after they became famous. Anybody getting into the manga business in the last 20+ years would have to be an idiot not to expect a flood of fan-made pamphlets featuring their characters indulging in lurid sex acts that break every law of man, nature and physics to pop up, should they become successful. The eroticism has always been a part of it. Seeing fujoshi interpretations of male friendships is a slightly newer thing, but the fujoshi has been such a boon to the shonen manga market that many series flagrantly hint at gay relationships just to pander to these fans.

Doujinshi are copyright violations, and are inherently illegal, but are not really looked upon as a problem in any sense by most publishers and artists. The vast majority of creators don't comment on doujinshi. Privately, some of them might chafe at how fans have interpreted some of their characters. Hideaki Anno, creator of Evangelion, once expressed... disapproval at how much fans enjoyed pairing Shinji and Kaworu, but didn't name doujinshi specifically. Others are impressed and flattered by fan art of all kinds, and some think the twist in subject matter is funny. But by and large, the consensus is that fan manga is a small thing, most are never intended to sell more than a handful of copies, and their existence is simply the sign of a healthy fan ecosystem for the series. They're relatively harmless, and clamping down on them would cause more harm than good.

This is not a universally held belief, however. Nintendo sued the creator of some smutty Pokémon doujinshi back in 1999, and was met with a bunch of negative publicity and media commentary about their perceived legal overreach. The estate of Fujiko F. Fujio sent out a warning letter to the creator of a Doraemon doujinshi that imagined a "final chapter" that was never actually made, but that was because the doujinshi was created to look confusingly similar to a legitmate Doraemon book. (The author apologized, ceased publication, and voluntarily sent money to the official manga publisher.) But these are the only two widely known incidents of legal action being taken against doujinshi distribution.

With the explosive growth of the doujinshi market, some figures in the business have expressed the thought that some attempt to control what is still flagrant copyright violation might be a good idea. One such attempt is the "doujin mark," a symbol that manga artists can put in their manga to denote that they're cool with doujinshi being made, so long as they're not being distributed digitally. Created by Common Sphere a few years ago, the Japanese office of the Creative Commons, the mark comes with a set of ground rules: they're not allowed to trace or directly copy any of the official art, and the doujinshi must generally be sold only at fleeting pop-up events like Comiket. (Additional permissions, like digital distribution and store sales, can be added with a note next to the symbol.) The mark is a grant of permission within those parameters, and while there really isn't any penalty for not abiding by these rules, it does plainly lay out what the original creator is comfortable with. The doujin mark doesn't have any guidance on content, however -- it's basically carte blanche to draw the characters in the filthiest, most horrifying sexual constructs you can come up with.

Doujinshi is a very prominent part of the fan world in Japan, more prominent than cosplay in many ways. Its presence is so normal that most creators don't give it much of a thought.

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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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