English Doujinshi: My Little Sweetheart

“My Little Sweetheart” is an artbook of sexy My Little Pony fanart, being sold to benefit a children’s charity. Ah, what a blessed era this is.

All the book’s profits go to K.I.D.S., “Kids in Distressing Situations.” They provide vital items like clothes and toys to the children who need it must, suffering from problems like poverty, domestic abuse, and disaster survival. Their website states that “With overhead costs consistently at 2.5%, K.I.D.S. is one of America’s most efficient charities and has earned Charity Navigator’s highest rating of four stars.”

Compared to other fandoms, bronies have been especially prolific in their charity. There’s been charity projects like the fan music album, “Smile!” (with another album, “Seeds of Kindness”, coming). Plus, their record breaking donations to the Humble Bundle as the “Brony Bundle.” I guess all those Friendship Lessons really do have an effect.

So, your warm fuzzy feelings are secured. Now, on to the cheesecake! Normal people needn’t worry; it’s all humanized, so  there’s no confusing questions about your sexuality. Some of the art is rather amateur, being a highly collaborative project with 28 artists. But overall, it’s impressively high-quality. There’s the well-known artists like Slugbox and John Joseco, but also lots of artists who I can’t believe I’d never heard of it. emlan stands out with a beautiful, painterly style that goes far beyond just being sexy. And X-Arielle‘s sultry picture of the Mayor is just damn hot. A full artist list can be found here.

For the hardcore pony fans, the book has a wide range of background characters. Even Carrot Top and Allie Way are represented…along with Fleur de Lis, of course. The book has 53 total pages, and comes in a “bigger than average doujinshi” trim size of 11 x 8.5. It makes a great addition to your bookshelf, or your locked cabinet of darkest secrets. So, do you want to help children in need? And do you want to get turned on by cartoons? If you answer “yes” to either of these question, head on over to get your copy today. Society will thank you, eventually.

English Doujinshi: Witches of the Sphinx Volume 4

This is the shortest volume of the series yet, with 60 pages instead of the 90-100 pages previous volumes had. This volume lacks a short story from Takaaki Suzuki, which is sorely missed. The absence of his leisurely prose heightens the volume’s action-packed feel; this one is all about explosions, unending enemy waves, and dramatic last stands. There are a few pages devoted to Mami and Charlotte’s relationship concerns, though. It’s good to see the side characters get some focus. Not to mention bad ass cameos from Major Miles, the Patton Girls, and the magnificent bastard Patton himself.

It doesn’t quite top the 3rd volume, my current favorite. This one falls in the awkward position of building up to the awesome, “F-yeah!” climax, while not actually being the awesome, “F-yeah!” climax. Still, it’s a must-have addition to the Strike Witches-verse.

The only real bad part of volume comes on the last page. Coming Next: “Vol. 5, the last episode: Know what you want.” Aww! Well, it’s been a great run with these characters. Nogami has given them so much life. With the Strike Witches movie coming out, and the franchise going strong, who knows what’s next? “Africa Witches: The Animated Series?”…I can always dream. Well, on to the 5th volume, and whatever great thing comes after.

 

Buy on MangaPal

List of Nogami Takeshi’s Bilingual Doujinshi

Witches of the Sphinx 4 to be sold online soon.

…and my fanboying over Strike Witches continues. With the dust of Winter Comiket settling, I got an email back from MangaPal:

Dear customer,

Thank you for your inquiry.
Witches of the Sphinx Vol 4 (with English Subtitiles) (by Firstspear) will be available from this or next Friday at MANGA PAL online store.
Sorry for keeping you wait so long.
Thank you very much.
Should you have any question, please feel free to contact us.

Your sincerely,
MANGA PAL

Yay! The wait felt awfully long, after Volume 3’s cliffhanger ending. This installment promises plenty of the hot-blooded, cigar-chomping grit the TV anime lacked. There are some preview pages on Melonbooks; it looks like  my reader response questionnaire wasn’t the only one asking for more of the Patton girls and Major Miles.  America! Bad-ass sword drawing! Heck yeah! And all in glorious imperial English. I’ll post a review as soon as I have a copy in my hands.

My Little Pony, Touhou, and a Corporate Doujin Culture

My god…A My Little Pony version of the 1st Cardcaptor Sakura OP. And it’s done perfectly.

What I truly love about MLP:FiM is the extent of the fanworks. I’ve seen some people say, “I watched a few episodes, but couldn’t get into it.” If they only watch the actual show, though, they’re missing out. Take this video, for example: all the characters in it are background ponies, who appeared in as little as 15 seconds of the TV show. Despite that, fanon has given them personalities, involved backstories, and miles of fanart. It’s like Koakuma, but on overdrive. MLP might even become the American equivalent of Touhou Project, if more doujinshi is churned out. Already, though, this simple children’s cartoon has been reinterpreted so many ways. It’s:

– A symbol of resistance against traditional gender roles.
– An endless source of memetic humor.
– A yuri ship-fest for socially maladjusted males to deal with their sexual issues in a cute, non-threatening way.
– A world of high fantasy, with epic roleplaying campaigns and historical chronicles
– A new call for optimism, sincerity, and interpersonal relationships in a consumption-driven world lacking all those things

There’s one difference I worry about, though. Doujin works like Touhou Project and Ryukishi07’s “When They Cry Games” are made by individual autuers. But My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is the intellectual property of a large corporation. They’ve been surprisingly lenient in allowing fanworks. They haven’t moved a finger against entire sites purely dedicated to My Little Pony fanporn, or a project for a My Little Pony dating sim. With ZUN cracking down on White Canvas for selling Touhou goods recently, Hasbro might be even more lenient than some Japanese doujin authors. And Hasbro might exert less influence on fan interpretations. With an autuer, fans are likely to accept new fanon-destroying canon without resistance. But with Hasbro, fans are less likely to accept a corporation’s canon as authoritative, as witnessed with the Lyra/Heartstrings controversy. But how long can this corporate lenience last? There’s a balance between the consumers they’d alienate by going all Cease & Desist, and the perceived brand damage from being associated with “creepy weirdos.” They might want to please the fanbase and keep the social media hype going, but the brony demographic is still a relatively small part of their profits. There are no hard numbers, but I couldn’t see it being much higher than 15 or 25% of MLP merchandise sales. For now at least, Hasbro continues to embrace the brony fandom. And hopefully they will long enough for us to see more awesome fan animations.

Importing Nogami Takeshi’s bilingual doujinshi

Updated 2012 Jan 15: I emailed Nogami Takeshi asking if he could restock some books on MangaPal, and he actually wrote back and did! How nice.

I decided to make this collection of links to Nogami Takeshi’s bilingual Strike Witches doujinshi, to make importing them less confusing. Here’s a list of all books with a full English translation, and links to their item pages on MangaPal and Amazon.co.jp. Ordered by in-series chronology, they are:

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Master Merchant, Japan Does Dominion

Master Merchant (大商人) is a board game first sold at the 2011 Summer Comiket, just one more piece of, “No, Comiket isn’t just for porn.” Not only that, but it’s a board game that makes me go DO WANT.

Master Merchant is heavily influenced by Dominion, possibly my favorite tabletop game ever. Like Magic: the Gathering before it, Dominion created an entire genre: the “Deck Building Game,” or DBG. Unlike CCGs, with DBGs you ‘ll never spend your life savings on artificially-scarce chase rares. Instead of bringing a deck beforehand, you build your deck as you play. And instead of booster packs, all players draw from the same pool of cards, which changes every game. Dominion’s elegant gameplay won it the 2009 Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year), as well as many other awards. It’s also become huge in Japan, spawning everything from a licensed Touhou version to moe maid variants.

The same card, in classic Dominion and Touhou version. Superior?

Tanto Cuore, on the other hand, takes more liberties.

Master Merchant owes a lot to DBGs before it, but with real twists on the classic mechanics. First of all, there’s no random drawing from the deck, and no shuffling. Instead of drawing 5 random cards each turn, your draw your entire deck at once, and draw it all back from the discard once you run out. It’s really more of a “Hand Building Game,” in a sense. It gives the game a very different feel, since you can plan around your opponent’s moves with exact precision. For components, instead of huge piles of each Kingdom card, the most copies of any card is 4. That keeps print costs down, making it easier to release expansions (which hopefully they will). All in all, the mechanics seem to be much tighter and tactical. Although, they also risk making the game more solvable.

Luckily I won’t have to wait too long to see how they play out: it also has English subtitles on each card, alongside the Japanese. It’s still hard to import a copy, though. It’ll be sold at the Essen Game Fair 2011 in Germany, and hopefully get a wider international release after.

English Doujinshi: Fragments, by Aiwa (Umineko no Naku Koro Ni)

Finally, one of the first books from doujinPress. This new site makes it easier for fans around the world to sell original doujinshi, both by selling second-hand and handling print runs for artists.

So, my first question with this book was: How good’s their printing? With the book in hand, it looks pretty nice. It’s a proper off-set book, with a thick glossy (and beautiful) color cover. It also came with a neat postcard of Ange (for pre-orders only):

The b/w interior printing compares well to mass-market manga; it’s even better than some of Tokyopop’s lower quality.

The content is just as impressive. I’ve been following Aiwa’s art for a while, on her Pixiv and deviantArt pages. It’s incredibly cute, but also with a good eye for composition. She could be a professional manga artist with the stuff here. The story is broken up into three short vignettes: Shannon’s day off with Yasu, Battler and Beatrice’s memories, and a young Eva struggling against gender discrimination. The cover might seem all cute, but it’s a mix of light and dark, more bittersweet than just sweet. With their shortness, they can’t draw the reader in as much as they could. But they’re still some interesting takes on the characters; I especially liked Yasu’s story.

The book’s only other imperfection is the English. Aiwa’s native language is Spanish, so the English this book is entirely written in can feel slightly awkward. It’s not that it’s written poorly, mind you…just not as well as it could be. Over all, it’s a great book. If you’re a fan of Umineko, you should definitely get it.

Aiwa has also uploaded an earlier Umineko doujinshi, “One Winged Eagle,” on her new Tumblr account. It’s also quite good, and more gag-oriented than “Fragments.”

I’ll be following DoujinPress in the future. I think it could do a lot for encouraging doujin culture outside Japan. Plus it has a focus on yuri doujinshi, which works for me. There are two things about the site, though, that give me pause:

1. The cut of profits that the artist gets in sales seems rather small. Although this is balanced by the artist not worrying about costs, since DoujinPress handles all the printing, stocking, shipping, etc. It might still be better for the artist than other options.
2. They refuse to accept any doujinshi containing rape, or which “extraordinarily sexually objectify women or men.” So they’re not a conduit of completely free expression; all those ahegao-packed ero doujinshi will have to find somewhere else.

So doujinPress is no final solution for original doujinshi, but it’s an interesting step forward.

I also got two English Madoka Magica doujinshi in the same order: “Soul Wishes” by Kenneos and “Erinnerungen Ferne” by Hinagi. I won’t be reading or reviewing them yet, though…I don’t watch fansubs, so I’m still waiting for Aniplex USA to release it on BD here (woot). They look pretty good, too, though.

Moe Propaganda

Otaku culture is often interpreted as a postwar reponse, but moe’s roots definitely predate General MacArthur. Just look at this Imperial officer’s oddly otaku-ish comments:

   “The Government of Japan attempted many times to alienate the allied forces protecting Australia. The Japanese aimed their ‘Divide and conquer’ tactics at the Aussie Troops fighting in New Guinea and Papua. Their attitude toward this subject is mentioned by Lieutenant Colonel Mahmood Kan Durrani in The Sixth Column, Cassell and Company, 1955. The LTC was a prisoner of the Japanese and quotes a lecture given by a Japanese officer on how leaflets should be prepared. One of his six recommendations was:
    ‘The leaflet should have, if possible, the picture of a beautiful woman, after the method used by the Germans in the First World War. This device would insure that the soldier would be attracted and would be unable to resist looking at the picture over and over again. This would rouse his passion, and his heart would be inclined for love and to hate fighting.’

The text and image are from the fascinating page, “Sex and Psychological Operations,” composed by Herbert A. Friedman, about sexual propaganda in WWII. His conclusion, ultimately, is that sexual propaganda doesn’t work. At least, it didn’t work in WWII. I reckon in modern times, outside a military context, it could be much more effective. Back to otaku culture, 55 years later, we find that officer’s sentiment in a much nobler vision:

From 『サルでもわかる都条例都条例対策 ~Monkey Business~』, or An Idiot’s Guide to Tokyo’s Harmful Books Regulation, by Nogami Takeshi

Now that’s the sort of propaganda I can get behind (despite all the grad school critiques to be made about its feasibility). Speaking of propagation, this doujinshi’s author actually gave permission for it to be freely scanned/reproduced online, with a unique “copyleft” notice:

“The book has received the copyright protection under the Japanese Copyright Act and international treaties such as the Verne Treaty. However, taking into consideration the contents and purpose of this book, the authors of this publication provides expressed permission for others to reproduce, share, redistribute the contents of this publication so long [sic] such activity does not result in financial or material compensation for the agent conducting the activity.

You are free to spread the word, but please don’t rip us off.
If you would like to reward our efforts, please attempt to buy this book in its physical form at doujinshi consignment shops or Nogami’s online doujinshi mail order service, and find out more about the other books we publish.”

So download a copy without guilt if you’d like; it’s pretty interesting.

English Doujinshi: Keiko Kato North Africa Military Photos 1943, by Nogami Takeshi (Strike Witches)

Like Nogami Takeshi’s other doujinshi, this one is bilingual, with a complete English translation alongside the Japanese text. Unlike the others though, it’s not being sold online. He kept it an event-only book, sold only at Comiket for one day…to preserve the intimacy or specialness of the experience, I guess. Luckily, I managed to get it via deputy service. Very expensive deputy service, orz…but it was worth it!

The book is wonderfully printed, with textured covers and metallic embossing on the title. Since it’s written as an actual book in the show’s continuity, this helps the “authentic historical item” feel. It’s a collection of photographs and writings by Keiko Kato, who worked as a journalist before returning to service on the North African front. The photographs are candid and realistic, showing witches and servicemen in their daily routine. And, of course, glamor shots of famous aces for promotional/propaganda use.

The paragraph-long captions are full of detail, technical and logistical, from the Second Neuroi War. If you love Strike Witches for the historical references, this is the book for you. Its details flesh out the characters, too, like Charlotte‘s last name (“Leuder”), and that Marseille finds it cute when Raisa drools in her sleep.

Some large-size previews can be found at Nogami’s blog. It seems to be sold out at most second-hand doujinshi shops, but you might be able to find it on Japanese auction sites.

Consumption is not Culture

Anime is rife with consumption. Hundreds of dollars are spent on limited edition K-On goods. “X thousand hours of anime watched” is a badge of honor on people’s MAL pages. Whether fervent otaku or fansub watcher, both are paths to the same thing: consuming in order identify with a shared culture. I’ve done both myself, though after a while I couldn’t help finding them a bit…empty. Does spending lots of money make one part of a community? Does sheer volume determine how much one loves anime, even without understanding or appreciating its context? I think both ways forget that culture is about communication, not just consumption.

What is culture? Jeremy Rifkin’s book, “The Age of Access,” insightfully pins down how our answer to this question has changed. Traditional culture exists to communicate a community’s values and shared experiences. Traditional culture is preserved, and passed on; it’s also participatory. From folk arts to hymnals, it was something we did ourselves, not watched from our couch as other people did. Changes in the 1920’s, from advertising to recording media, let the Commercial Sphere swallow up the Cultural Sphere. These days, the idea of culture as a purchasable product seems obvious. Culture went from describing the “proper way of living” to “selling a way of life.” Commercial culture is about novelty, not values. It’s about selling the latest thing, only to be forgotten once it’s the second latest thing.

This is a global trend, but it’s especially strong in parts of anime fandom. Hiroki Azuma referred to the “database” nature of modern otaku: epic narratives of the modern era have been replaced by fragmented narratives of the post-modern, where meaning isn’t important. It’s just about combining and classifying. Instead of the timeless struggle between good and evil, there’s the topical struggle between what’s hot and not; say, yandere are in this year. Twin-tailed fox-girl yandere? Brilliant. Cultural meaning is abandoned for commercial selling. Of course, this isn’t limited to otaku entertainment (“Zomg, zombie steampunk novel? Epic win”). Of course, there’s always a place for empty, yet fun, entertainment. Even if K-On! is completely forgotten fifteen years from now, it’s still quite enjoyable to watch. But making it the core of one’s identity or value system seems like an empty (eventually not very fun) path.

But “otaku culture” is too vast to pin down so easily. The world of doujinshi is like a budding oak tree, a glorious resurgence of participatory culture. In the west, one might think of Comiket as all porn parodies, but that’s only part of it. Alongside the twin-tailed yandere books, there’s autobiographical comics, nerding out about military history, and political satire against Shintaro Ishihara. The values they espouse might be very bizarre to some, but they’re certainly values. With the cultural sphere separate from the commercial sphere, culture can finally be about what people want to say, not about convincing people what they want to buy. This is what I truly love about the fandom, out of all its tangled branches.

In the US, anime fandom is still mostly about consumption. Of course, we should support the things we love…my bulging Blu-ray and book shelves attest to this. But consumption isn’t a replacement for culture. Empty consumption, whether through the checkbook or BitTorrent, does not create community. And it can’t bring meaning to the empty spaces in modern life. The US fandom has problems holding back it’s participatory side, but it also has solutions. With the US’s vast geography, it’s much harder to have a monolithic central event like Comiket in Tokyo. But the internet and digital distribution can make that problem irrelevant. US anime fandom also seems to have some deep-seated racial inferiority complex: “Japanese people produce all the culture…we just consume it.” However, if culture is pressed into plastic wrap and sold at a super market, it dies. True culture needs to be a two-way street…or a thousand-way street. It’s about speaking, not just listening.