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Saturday, November 01, 2008

Josei Manga and Slash Fanfiction

(Warning, very incoherent and nonsensical ramblings follow.)

You know, honestly, this news makes me very annoyed and very tired.

Essentially, a prefecture of Japan has denounced nine manga as "harmful", six of which are sexually explicit "josei" manga. (Manga written for adult women.)

I will be honest. I haven't read the manga on the list. For all I know, these six manga might be the most exploitative, harmful, and disgusting comics that ever came out of Japan.

But somehow I doubt it.

I can't help but think of how I used to ride the train home from Sannomiya to Maiko, dangling with boredom from those stupid rings, until just to alleviate the boredom, I'd end up peeking upside-down at the big manga phonebook that some salariman sitting three people away was reading.

I'm a busybody after all. It was interesting. Sometimes they looked interesting, other times... well, there's nothing quite like glancing over and seeing some cute anime girl screaming "No!" while in full bondage gear getting gang-raped.

I'm not judging that guy, mind you. I've read my share of porn and I recognize that porn is fantasy. I've read my share. And rape is a common pornographic fantasy (for men AND women if fanfics and bodice rippers are any indication) and doesn't mean that the person who enjoys the fantasy would ever take part in the actual act.

I just wonder if THAT manga made the list.

I spent ten years or so reading manga, and a good portion of my time in Japan traipsing around corner-store manga shops, bookstores, anime stores, doujinshi hideways and the like, but I recognize that ultimately my experience with the medium is fairly limited. I couldn't tell you for certain whether I saw more manga devoted to boys/men than I saw devoted to girls/women. I couldn't begin to guess the distribution for adult/pornographic manga. I know what I THINK I saw, but I'm well aware that my own biases and general unfamiliarity with the culture very likely skewed my perspective.

I'm certain there are harmful and offensive manga being produced for men AND women. But to be honest, I think this list sounds fishy.

Of nine offensive manga. Six were josei. I'd imagine that the remaining three were men's manga. But I don't know that for sure. That said, if we assume the best case scenario and that those three are men's comics...

That still is a ratio of 2:1. And to be honest, I sincerely doubt that there are twice as many "harmful" comics directed toward women as there are for men.

(And the original article indicates that other places have done similar.)

You know what it reminds me of? Slash fanfiction.

Not so much NOW. When everyone and their sister reads yaoi and slash, or seems to, and enjoys it. But when I started out on the Internet, I remember things differently.

I read my first fanfic at the age of eleven. My dad printed off a couple of fun Star Trek the Next Generation fanfics for me off of a bulletin board because I had run out of my collection of tie-in novels. I loved them immediately. Even the awful ones, because it was MORE of my favorite show.

I read my first slash fanfic in 1996. It was a Highlander fanfic that centered around my favorite characters and I decided to risk it even though I thought the idea was pretty mind-boggling. ("But...they have GIRLFRIENDS!" I thought.) I found that if I skipped over the sex scenes, it wasn't THAT much worse than the kind of really godawful hurt/comfort type general fanfic I adored reading. And there was the added advantage of never seeing "Duncan's new girlfriend who is EVEN OLDER THAN METHOS but can HIDE it, OMG!"

I understand the appeal of Mary Sue fics, and I don't begrudge anyone who likes them, and to be honest, I might have written my own once upon a time (As I recall it was a scary religious fundamentalist who hated Mr. Spock because she thought he was Satan but then learned the error of her ways when he saved her life and things went from there and you can't BELIEVE how bad it was! Thank god it never saw the light of day!) But it wasn't my thing. I liked reading about the characters *I* liked not some other person's fantasy insertion.

I'm not going to claim that the fics were all good (though there were some that were mind-blowing :-)) but I really enjoyed reading them. And, well, had a bad tendency to lie about my age a lot to get access to more. I remember the day I turned 18, turning to my friends and cheering "Now I can LEGALLY read the stuff I've been reading for five years."

...I hope that's not something I have to confess to the bar committee. Egads.

Anyway, eventually I got worldly enough and started noticing tirades against slash. It was out of character! It was exploitative! It was a mockery of the original product!

Like ALL fanfic isn't, really! Yeesh. But somehow it was always SLASH that seemed to get the press. Whenever someone went on a general "Fanfiction is BAD! OMG!!!", slash would invariably be brought up. And when other fanfic writers would get in on the chorus...

I always wondered what the PROBLEM was. Okay, granted, copyright violation. But that sort of issue is hardly JUST limited to slash. And certainly, there were mainstream stuff that was as bad or exploitative. And there was certainly equally graphic pornographic fanfiction that wasn't slash.

Gradually I started to realize that the problem was less some sort of "preserve the purity of the work" idea and more that well, adult fanfiction in general tends to be written by both men and women, but slash fanfiction largely is written by and for women. This is not to say some men don't read and write slash themselves, but the genre is still, I think, very female dominated.

In the end, despite the genders of the subjects of the stories, slash was and is a genre geared toward the sexual gratification of women. And some people (both men and women), I suspect, find this a threatening prospect.

I wonder if that's at the root of this condemnation of josei manga as well. The articles haven't been explicit about the content of the manga. I've personally never read them, and for all I know they are the most appalling pieces of work ever to see print.

But personally, I suspect they're, at worst, on the same level as the aforementioned phonebook manga I saw the salariman reading. I suspect that the ratio of "offensive" and "harmful" comics, even applying the standards of Japanese culture rather than American, comes about at a much more balanced ratio than 2:1.

I don't know. Nowadays, slash fanfiction is such that you can't spit on the internet without stumbling across SOMETHING. Gone are the days when I'd have to hunt down fanzines or lie about my age on mailing lists to see what can be found. And sure, there are still some folks who grumble and gripe, but they're like rocks dropped into the ocean at this point. Probably it always was.

Obviously the situations are ultimately very different, but I suspect josei manga is not going to be particularly adversely affected by this in the end. There's always going to be more sexual material being written by and for women. And men (and women too) will either figure out how to embrace it or ignore it.

It still makes me tired though.


  • At November 02, 2008 1:45 PM, Blogger SallyP said…

    I don't read Manga, but I find that I am not surprised by this.

  • At November 03, 2008 1:19 AM, Blogger Rocketlex said…

    I dunno if criticism of slash is necessarily gendered or, at least, I can think of reasons to target it which aren't gendered. If you have a problem with the way fanfiction messes with characters and twists them to suit the author's fantasy rather than the original work, it's fairly easy to point to slash, as it's an entire genre of fanfiction unabashedly based around exactly that. It's a simple and recognizable example you can use to criticize a larger trend in fanfiction in general.

  • At November 03, 2008 1:36 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    I never intended to argue that ALL criticism against slash is gendered. Some slash fic really is horrible. Some regular fanfiction really is horrible. And heck, if you're against certain things in regular fanfic, you're probably going to be against them in slash.

    What I probably didn't make clear in the essay is that I think there's a difference between people who criticize fanfiction in general and use slash as an example and people who criticize slash fanfiction above and beyond regular fanfiction.

    i.e. if you're a writer of say, a Sherlock Holmes fanfic in which Holmes goes off into the countryside with Irene Adler, or a voracious reader of said fanfic, it's really hard to claim some sort of intellectual property higher ground and scorn fanfiction where Holmes might have sex with Dr. Watson and still solving crimes in London.

    Now granted, gay sex isn't everyone's cup of tea, and no one's saying anyone has to truly believe Holmes was intended to be gay or bi. (I certainly don't.) But it does bring the question of whether the re-interpretation/re-writing of the character as gay and involved with Dr. Watson is that much more of a leap than re-interpreting/re-writing the character as one geared for white-picket-fence style marriage.

    That's where I think the criticism has the potential to get gendered and often does so. "How dare you re-envision OUR characters for YOUR sexual gratification?"

  • At November 04, 2008 3:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'd never thought of this, but it's a really good observation. Food for thought.

  • At November 07, 2008 10:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    You say it's sexism, but right now, it's in girls' comics magazines that one can find the steamiest scenes, while boys' comics magazines are limited to only showing pantyshots and the like, girls' comics magazines, especially publisher Shogakkan's Sho-Comi, have been getting more and explicit, showing intercourse scenes, sometimes forced or half forced. Cunnilingus, fellatio, doggy style, deep kiss, all these things can be found in this magazine, whose readership is mostly very young girls of elementary and junior high school age.

    One of the most popular series published in this magazine called "boku wa imouto ni koisuru" (I'm in love with my little sister...) shows the incestuous love and sexual relationship between the heroine and her twin brother...

    As for ladies comics, they can be found in convenience stores and bookstores near comics for young girls, and they do not have the mention that it is for adults written on it like similar content for men.

    It is mostly feminists organizations who criticize porn comics for men, but they barely criticize the ones for women.

    So actually, the sexism in this case works in womens' favor, porn comics for men are not sold in neighborhood convenience stores.

    As for content and explicitness they don't pale compared to mens' comics.
    As for salarymen reading porn comics openly in the train I agree that is a problem, but that is because many men don't feel any shame in reading a big comic magazine openly in the train, unlike women who prefer to read comics at home.

    Women have the decency to read these in privacy, men should take exemple on them.

  • At February 17, 2012 12:27 PM, Anonymous muebles madrid said…

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