How Much Of The Doujinshi Scene Is Porn?
by Justin Sevakis,
Comiket has become an institution of anime and manga nerd culture over the last several decades. But at a recent convention panel I attended, it was mentioned that is often overlooked or hidden in most media representations is the vast amount of 18+ erotic adult doujin and artwork that is sold on Sunday - the most profitable and popular day of the show. Is erotic doujin and artwork a big part of Comiket otaku culture? What risks do artist and the convention have legally about using the intellectual properties of other artist and companies, erotic or otherwise, considering how obsessive and controlling most artist are about their works? What do established artist feel about Comiket as well as the artists and fans that buy doujin?
Doujinshi, or small-press fan manga, is a huge, huge, huge thing in anime and manga fandom in Japan, and since 1975 Comiket (Comic Market) has been the place to find it. The twice-annual doujinshi expo at the enormous Tokyo Big Sight in Odaiba draws so many fans that the event has started having to charge for admission (¥500) and expand to a fourth day to try and control the crowds. It hasn't worked: the record 730,000 people that attended count people coming multiple days as separate admissions each day, but it's still a mind-frying number. And it was so hot that 11 people had to be treated for heatstroke this year.
To be honest, I can't really come up with a definitive answer to "how much of Comiket is porn?" because the show itself is so fluid that it's hard to pin down. Every day of the event, different doujinshi circles (artist groups) come in, plop down their wares at a table, and show off what they've produced. Some of it's porn, some of it isn't. Some of it's original work, and some of it is fan fiction about existing anime, manga, video games or live-action movies and TV shows. But the whole thing happens so discreetly, and the handful of copies of each manga are picked up so quickly by fans, that we can only rely on polling data to know what, exactly, is being sold.
Of course, nobody actively tracks what is porn and what isn't. That said, they do track what franchises are having doujinshi made of them. The last two years have been dominated by the Fate franchise, and most recently, Kantai Collection, The Idolmaster, Touhou Project and Touken Ranbu have been the top hits. Fujoshi favorites Yuri!!! on Ice, Kuroko's Basketball and Tiger and Bunny have also cropped up a lot in recent years.
The fact of the matter is, doujinshi is drawn by almost entirely by adult otaku, and so the scene has always taken an interest in the prurient. While plenty of great manga artists have come out of the scene, and there is plenty of family friendly work being done, the adult content is a major, if not the main, reason why many people even go to Comiket. Erotic content has been a major part of otaku culture for decades. Heck, one of the first OVA ever released was called Lolita Anime, and the "first" OVA release (Mamoru Oshii's Dallos) came out only a few months before it.
While doujinshi are probably illegal by Japanese standards (they are copyright violations, and unlike the USA, Japan doesn't have any legal protections for "fair use"), they are seen as relatively harmless. They don't compete with any original works, and their existence tends to further fan appreciation for whatever franchise they're depicting. The doujinshi scene is such an established part of the otaku scene in Japan that they're something to be expected. Indeed, having a lot of doujinshi being made of your series is a sign of market success. A few attempts to clamp down on it legally have met with fierce fan backlash, such as when Nintendo tried to put a stop to smutty Pokémon doujinshi many years ago.
If even a company as huge as Nintendo can't do much to stop doujinshi of their work, individual artists REALLY don't have any say about it. Most keep pretty quiet about it, since it could cause issues with their publishers to comment on fan activity that's technically illegal. Others have quietly expressed approval or disapproval at how their characters are being depicted. 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. In fact, Comiket even hosts a decent-sized area where commercial companies can showcase their series. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, I guess.
Back in 2013 there was some attempt at getting manga artists to either approve or disapprove of doujinshi with the use of a "doujin mark," which was a symbol that marked that the artist was OK with non-commercial small-run doujinshi that didn't copy their original artwork directly. This symbol was created by the Creative Commons community, and acted in a similar way to Creative Commons licensing. However I haven't read anything about this mark in a few years, so I wonder if it caught on.
The sheer breadth of porn available at Comiket is nothing short of mind blowing. Some of it is pretty mild. Some of it is more about the story. To this day, some of the most upsetting imagery I have ever seen in my life came from doujinshi. No anime character is safe. For years, day three of the event was reserved for adult material (days one and two were for shounen and shoujo content, respectively), but there was always plenty of cross-over for all three days. Since the most recent Comiket was expanded to four days, and I can't find any reference to any day being specifically for one type of content or another.
The moral of the story is, if you go to Comiket or any other doujinshi event, porn is everywhere. It's just part of the experience.
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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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