NOTICE: All links following heretofore shall be fortitudinously thought of as NOT SAFE FOR WORK, forthwith. Forsooth. Forealtho.
Not all of them will be smutty, but they may lead you to something that is. So I am taking precautions. As you do, when smut is involved. Dōjin books are called dōjinshi and once again, they are what a lot of people on this side of the Pacific ocean would call “indie” publications: small press, self-published funny books. Literary fanzines, yes. Note that when you speak of manga outside of Japan, it is usually referring to only a tiny portion of the country’s comic book production. First and foremost because a lot of it is so very Japanese that it would take more resources to translate and publish than there would be people willing to buy the darned books. Also because manga production is targeted to specific audiences in terms of age and gender, a practice that is just catching steam in the western world. Wikipedia speaks of a 3.6 billion dollar market in 2007 – by comparison, this article tallies 705 million dollars for comics and graphic novels in the US, with twice the population. Huge.
Most of that money is realized at Comiket, a bi-annual convention held in Tokyo. The first Comiket was started by a group of university students in the summer of ’75 when they got tired of being rejected from the Japan Manga Convention. With an open mind, and empty stomachs, they invited anyone with an interest in manga to participate, regardless of their age, gender or professional status. The result was a few hundred attendees – a majority of them school girls who had been expanding the lives of their favorite shōjo characters outside of the books, into their diaries (there’s your chess clubs, your math clubs, and then there’s the manga clubs). These girls soon formed their own publishing circles, and Comiket has grown from 30-odd authors to 30,000 authors and half a mil attendees. At some point in the 80s, there was actually a rift between those who wanted to keep the even low-key and indie and those who wanted it to expand as far as the eye could see.
And what happens when you gather a bunch of japanese people, nerds, girls, nerdy girls and girly Japaneses all in one place? Well, cosplay, for one thing. Hard to know which started first: if you’re going to obsess over a comic book character to the point of writing stories of your own, why not give them a new life in the real world. This is another paradygm shift that happened in the dōjin world, which I guess happens cross-fandoms: how far can you stray away from the canon? Early dōjinshi explored alternate universes, expanded the storylines when a series was terminated or chronicled what happened in a timelapse. The most famous example would probably be the “Ground Zero” arc of Gundam Wing, taking place between the two anime series but came from a completely different writing staff from the original and which actually got released as a commercial graphic novel in the U.S.
I believe that a big catalyst for cosplay are those few mangas of the 80′s that developed gigantic cosmologies that were not just based on Japanese life. Saint Seiya for example. I was totally obsessed with that series as a kid, maybe it was in part because Seiya turned out to be Sagittarius and everyone knows Sagittarius is the best sign; at first I thought it didn’t make much sense that Seiya and Shun were Pegasus and Andromeda (Greek symbols, I was raised with those) while Shiryu and Hyoga were a dragon and a swan (wtf? a SWAN? that’s scary?) and then there was Ikki who was totally badass and a Phoenix (North African mythology) then I started to understand the whole constellation thing and the Gold Saints made so much more saints and the whole Hades arc was AWESOME. Also, at the same time the younger/more feminine audience was geeked up on that Sailor Moon, once again with several main characters who find their strengths in somewhat arcane references to outer space and short skirts.
Anyway. Everyone can relate to these characters. Everything was ambivalently developed from their spirituality to their sexuality. Seriously, the gender of Shun was always kind of a question mark for me. Not that I cared, but he looked kind of girly, in that pink armor of his. Imagination can, and will, run wild in these cases, and thus the Yaoi (Boy’s Love) genre was born. Of course these pubescent dudes in skimpy outfits had to have side interests when not fighting evil, and it turns out that they made out a bit.
That made a lot of manga companies a bit awkward at first, but they soon realized that dōjin meant no harm. They just represented what a lot of girls (and boys) fantasized about without being able to express it in their daily life. Of course, sometimes they don’t just make out and have pretty raunchy sex; but in this case or the other, if you never dreamed of seeing Shun and Hyoga or Shun and Ikki (??? – they’re supposed to be brothers) in deep embrace, chances are you won’t be acquainted with the circle that produces those books, and you can live on as happy as you did before. I found out many years later that Captain Tsubasa also had a pretty good run for Yaoi storylines. That had never occurred to me.
The same rules apply to literature as they did to music and video games: you don’t produce dōjinshi that’s going to be offensive to your audience. And what used to be unacceptable in different times is not necessarily a taboo any longer: said audience has grown wider, more eager for crazy stuff. What has become known as “moe” (moweh) manga is just focusing on one appealing detail of the character’s description and running away with it. Yaoi and hentai genres are perfect in that respect because they straddle very carefully the line between lust/divergence and love. Both terms are often used to mean something pornographic outside of Japan, but the truth is they refer to graphic, erotic content that is sexualized but not necessarily sexual. Truth is the characters are just so damn cute, you just want to mentally hang out with them – they might just drop their panties in the end. These dōjinshi create endless side romances between characters, just to see what would happen; penetration is not the point of the exercise. Some people would just like to see an effeminate character be a top, and other want to see a badass be a bottom, for a change. As I pointed out earlier, a lot of dōjin, yaoi included, are written by girls or women and yuri (girl on girl) novels are usually written by dudes. The stories/pairings are really an excuse explore the character’s psyche, it’s wordy cosplay produced especially for people who have that obsession with the characters.
It used to be that pervy manga characters allowed the reader to kind of break that fourth wall: Muten Roshi of Dragon Ball, Ryo Saeba of City Hunter (or even Brock of Pokemon) but today it is clear that mainstream manga has completely (and wholeheartedly) caught up with the moe trend. You don’t have to look very far to find characters that are an otaku’s dream: for instance Izumi of Lucky Star or Hayate of Hayate No Gotoku which is essentially turning the Maid moe on its head.
What a beautiful thing it is. Nerds ruling the free world – or is it the other way around? How riba!