Let it be known that I am not very well-versed in the phenomenon known as doujin culture, but after learning more about it and doing some research, I felt compelled to write some thoughts about it. So I suppose you could say that I intend this to be an introduction for you and for me. But, let’s start by defining doujin, which basically means any fan or amateur work and can range from manga, games, and music. Doujin anime series are more or less nonexistent due to high production costs and the large workforce required.
Doujin culture, born in Japan, is unlike anything from anywhere else in the world in terms of scope, creativity, and sheer popularity. For most of us, I think this unprecedented wave of popularity is a bit unfathomable. Call me old-fashioned, but I found it quite difficult to believe that there would be such a huge market for products that are simply made by fans and amateurs. While some similarities, in terms of appeal, can be drawn with Western “indie” culture, the concepts are completely different. As far as I know, the appeal of Western “indie” culture is its adamant separation from corpocracy, a relish for the unpolished, and a certain thirst for individualism. Doujin culture differs in that a good number of works in the anime, manga, and gaming industries are derived from amateur works, and a level of professional quality is typically sought after. Most importantly, doujin culture allows fans to expand upon an existing fanbase, in addition to the possibility of creating original works.
Comiket. I’m sure you’ve heard of it at one point or another. It’s a convention that is held twice a year in Japan devoted to doujin works and draws over 500,000 attendees. Compare that to Comic-Con, which is centered around big companies showing off their products and yet still only draws in a meager 100,000 attendees. At Comiket, it’s a battle of life-and-death as devotees scramble for a chance to purchase works based on their favorite fandoms or even to scope out new, interesting works produced by talented circles (typically refers to a group of doujin artists).
Still, one big thing I was always confused about was the copyright policies for doujin works. There are suggestions that Japan simply has a better understanding of their fan culture, which could make sense. If doujin works can increase a franchise’s popularity and sales, why should a company intervene? Companies can capitalize on this boost by selling more merchandise to satiate consumer obsessions, as well as produce more works with the knowledge that they have a large fanbase that yearns for more. As much financial sense as this makes, there have apparently been pushes to bolster copyright regulations in Japan. I also know from prior experience that companies such as Square Enix are particularly strict when it comes to their own property, such as not allowing videos of their games to be shown at video game orchestra concerts. Still, the disparity of fan work popularity across both sides of the Pacific is great, as the Japanese fan communities have a certain level of obsession that is facilitated through the creation of doujin works, a phenomenon with a magnitude that is just not seen in the West.
Notable Doujin Works and People:
- Umineko no Naku Koro ni (visual novel adapted to anime)
- Touhou Project (bullet hell shooter that refuses to be adapted to licensed anime)
- Clamp (manga artists: Cardcaptor Sakura, Chobits, Code Geass)