The Impact Of Globalization On Yuri And Fan Activism

 By Yaritza Hernandez , 2009

Introduction

            The advent of globalization has not only altered the course in which major economies conduct themselves but has also changed consumers’ behaviors in relation to global products.  Among these, Japanese anime and manga are some of the most popular media circulating throughout the globe today.  Under the umbrellas of anime and manga, a subcategory that has been largely overlooked is yuri, which refers to the genre dealing with love between women. Works that fall under the genre are often hard to define since they are not, for example, always aimed for a specific audience like the more successful yaoi, which is largely targeted to a female audience.  Yuri is hardly, if ever, discussed beyond mention as parallel to yaoi.[1]

I will discuss the increasing popularity of yuri genre works along with some historical background, influences and the factors that have contributed to its ongoing spread beyond Japan, particularly through fan activism.  The first key player is Erica Friedman, the founder of Yuricon and ALC Publishing, the only all-yuri publisher in the world.  Since yuri has a hard time being licensed elsewhere outside of Japan, fan communities online have taken to producing scanlations, the scanning, translation, editing and distribution of manga as well as fansubs, or the translation and subtitling of anime.  From these highly controversial activities, Crunchyroll has emerged as a legal online video service community for anime that continues to shape the outlook of yuri anime and other big hit series today.  I will use the on-going manga and recently aired anime series Aoi Hana, written and illustrated by Shimura Takako, and trace its ties to the yuri thematic history, in what ways it has been globalized and how fans have brought it to a larger audience via the Internet through Yuricon, fansubbing and scanlation.  Finally, I will discuss the impact of the series’ licensing and broadcast on Crunchyroll.com.

 

Defining Yuri

            Even today, it is hard to pinpoint what exactly yuri is since it seems it can be applied broadly or, if too specific, may constrict the range of works.  The debate has generated ample discussion about whether the term is the most fitting within a range of other terms used to denote women loving women in anime, manga, and other creations.  In Japan it is known by the construction “Girls’ Love,” abbreviated GL, similar to the “Boys’ Love” (BL) counterpart for yaoi.  Western fans tend to use yuri to denote works of a sexually explicit nature while shōjo-ai is employed for works of a non-explicit, more emotionally charged atmosphere.  The latter designation is problematic because, in Japan, the term carries the nuance of pedophilia between adult women and underage girls.  Unlike yaoi which is largely female-oriented and does not necessarily cater to a homosexual or non-homosexual male audience, yuri encompasses a broader scope including a heterosexual male audience, heterosexual female audience, as well as a homosexual female audience (that is not to say that homosexual males are not also able to enjoy these because some very well do).

Erica Friedman, the founder of Yuricon, offers a nice, all-encompassing definition of yuri that is generally accepted today:

Yuri can be used to describe any anime or manga series (or other thing, i.e., fan fiction, film, etc.) that shows intense emotional connection, romantic love or physical desire between women. Yuri is not a genre confined by the gender or age of the audience, but by the *perception* of the audience. We can, if we want to, differentiate between sh[ō]nen yuri – written by men for a primarily male audience; sh[ō]jo yuri – written by women for a primarily female audience and; what we at Yuricon like to think of as “pure” yuri – written by lesbians for a lesbian audience…but it’s still all yuri.[2]

 

Although yuri has not reached the level of popularity or fame (both domestically and internationally) of other categories like shōnen (for a male audience from ages 10 to 18), shōjo (for a female audience from ages 10 to 18), or even yaoi, the circumstances that surround its influences, development and transmission to the rest of the world through digital technologies is quite fascinating.  Focusing on this genre will reveal insights that bring into question the methods and terminology usually highlighted in globalization.  Also, the ways in which consumers interact, engage, and disseminate yuri are very interesting and when, coupled with thoughts about globalization, may contribute some new thought processes and an innovative combination for discourse.

 

Influences on Yuri

The general belief is that a precursor and large influence on the yuri genre in manga and in anime as well can be attributed to Yoshiya Nobuko (1896-1973), a lesbian novelist who wrote about female same-sex relationships in the early 20th century.  The theme of strong emotional bonds between schoolgirls is referred to as the Class S genre.  The term denotes “passionate friendships and same-sex relations among females also referred to as ‘S,’ with the S standing for ‘sister,’ ‘shōjo,’ ‘sex,’ or all three combined.”[3]  Yoshiya is considered to be an influential author of the genre for depicting emotionally intense attachments between females in platonic relationships, though these are “terminated due to a change of heart, separation, disease, or death.”[4]  The prospect that these kinds of relationships would be cut short came from the concept of Good Wife, Wise Mother (ryōsai kenbo) codified in the Meiji Civil Code (operative from 1898 to 1947).[5]  This model of female subjectivity and femininity that placed emphasis on the primacy of the patriarchal, conjugal household regarded females acting on their behalf outside of the household as socially disruptive and dangerously anomalous.[6]

Class S also had links to the Takarazuka Revue, the all-female musical theater founded in 1913.  Women play all roles in lavish, Broadway-style productions of Western-style musicals.  They sometimes include stories adapted from shōjo manga and Japanese folktales.  Kobayashi Ichizo, the founder of the revue, claimed that the theater “served a didactic purpose” and “theorized that by performing as men, females learned to understand and appreciate males and the masculine psyche.”[7]  In turn, when they finally retired from the spotlight, the women would be better able to perform their duties as Good Wives, Wise Mothers.  Despite Kobayashi’s original conception, there were many detractors who contended that the academy was just a site and agent for the practice of homosexuality.  There were quite a few scandals, including double suicides of actresses and their fans who had become romantically involved, that went largely ignored and dismissed by the media for a long time.[8]  A distinction was made between two types of homosexual relationships:  dōseiai, for same gender love and ome no kankei, which referred to a butch-femme-like couple, that is, same sex but different genders.[9]  The former was considered merely as a passionate friendship that was a normal part of growing up while the latter was seen as disturbing and wrong.[10]

Some of these influences are evident in the Aoi Hana series.  The manga began monthly serialization in Ohta Publishing’s Manga Erotics F Magazine in November 2004 and the first bound volume was released in December 2005.  From July to September 2009, an 11-episode anime series aired in Japan on Fuji TV.  It is implied that one of the main characters, Manjōme Fumi, has been sexually and romantically involved with her older cousin Chizu.  However, Chizu will soon get married and this is similar to the tragic separation of lovers found in Class S genre stories.  Fumi attends an all-girls’ school, a common setting in Yoshiya’s works.  The series is not devoid of male characters, which is unlike the lack of male characters in her stories beyond acknowledging their presence.  Fumi also does not seem like she is interested in men at all and comes into terms with her attraction to females starting with her childhood friend, Akira, who attends another prestigious, all-girls’ school.

 

A Brief Historical Background

The first instance when yuri terminology appeared was the 1970s when Itō Bungaku, the editor of Japanese gay men’s magazine Barazoku, referred to female readers as yurizoku; in other words, the association that developed was barazoku, the ‘rose tribe,’ for gay men while lesbians were yurizoku, the ‘lily tribe.’[11]  This label was then used by hentai (sexually explicit) manga and dōjinshi (usually amateur, self-published works that include manga and novels) artists who adopted the names ‘Yuri’ or ‘Yuriko’ for their lesbian characters.  After dropping the –zoku suffix, the term has since drifted away from its mere pornographic meaning.[12]  The earliest yuri works in shōjo manga presented some of the characteristics found in Yoshiya Nobuko’s literature.  A common feature would be an older, sophisticated girl or woman paired up with a younger and more inelegant admirer.  As possible rumors of their scandalous association spread, their relationship would end up in a tragedy, often death.  The first of these was shōjo aritist Yamagishi Ryoko’s Shiroi Heya no Futari, which was set in a French all-girls’ school.  The manga ends in the death of one of the girls, and the other who goes on living vows to never fall in love with anyone else again.

Other issues present in manga during this time were transsexualism and transvestitism, most likely inspired by the otokoyaku, or women who played male roles, in the Takarazuka Revue.  The most commonly cited manga of this kind were drawn by another shōjo aritist Ikeda Riyoko, particularly The Rose of Versailles, a story set during the time of the French Revolution.  The main characters included Marie Antoinette and Oscar (fictional character), a girl who is raised as a man to succeed her father who, lacking a male heir, aspired to see her become leader of the Palace Guards.  There are elements of female same-sex attraction in Oscar’s female admirers who are prone to jealousy as well as in the adoration of a protégée.

In the early 1990s, the world-famous shōjo anime and manga franchise Sailor Moon was released in Japan.  Though the English-version shown on television in the United States was heavily edited to hide the fact, the very successful and most popular third season of Sailor Moon featured two female characters, Michiru and Haruka (who dressed in a masculine manner, akin to an otokoyaku), who are openly involved in a romantic relationship.  This did not go unnoticed by some of the viewers who questioned their closeness and sought an answer from the original Japanese version.  In a sense, Sailor Moon broke new ground in its positive portrayal of a lesbian relationship and lack of a tragic end that had encompassed yuri works up to that point in time.  Much of the team involved in the Sailor Moon TV series went on to create the Shōjo Kakumei Utena (known as Revolutionary Girl Utena in English) television series which is hailed today as a masterpiece by yuri fans and others.  This story focuses on Utena, a girl who vowed to become a prince after she was utterly fascinated by one who came to comfort her following her parents’ death as a little girl and Anthy, the Rose Bride and a fellow classmate, who is passed around as a possession in sword duels between members of the student council who wear rose crests.  It also happens to be the case that Utena wears one given by the prince she met during her childhood and she duels to protect Anthy in the manner a prince would.  Their relationship deepens further throughout the course of the series but there is no outward indicator of the consummation of their feelings (though it is implied).

The late 1990s brought the series known as Maria-sama ga Miteru, a best seller considered a representative yuri work.  It revisits the themes of Yoshiya Nobuko’s writings and the Class S genre in depiction of emotional bonds of upperclassmen and underclassmen in a Catholic all-girls’ school.  It was in the early 2000s when the first magazines of yuri manga targeted to a female audience were published and a different approach was taken for yuri designated to a male audience.  Themes varied greatly from intense emotional connection to first same-sex love to more realistic adult tales.  Though some of the publications featuring yuri were discontinued rather quickly, there are two quarterly magazines currently running successfully by Ichijinsha:  Comic Yuri Hime and its spin-off for a male audience, Comic Yuri Hime S.   Both publications feature an array of yuri manga, including one-shot stories and chapters of serialized series.  Comic Yuri Hime has a female readership of 70% and over half of the readership includes ages 10 to 19 (27%) and 20 to 24 (27%) combined.[13]  Comic Yuri Hime also released a few bounded volumes in a spin-off, Yuri Hime: Wildrose, which contains stories of a more mature, explicit nature.

Aoi Hana is not published in Comic Yuri Hime as might be expected, however.  An ample amount of yuri works are not published in these all-yuri lines and appear in a wide range of other magazines aimed for females, males, young adults and older adults.  The magazine in which Aoi Hana is published, Manga Erotics F, is not specifically targeted towards either a male or a female audience.[14]  Unlike the name of the magazine implies, Aoi Hana is not at all explicit and readers in the West may be surprised to see the more adult series that run alongside it.  Another way in which Aoi Hana calls on the history and influences on yuri is in the title of the series’ first anime episode named Hana Monogatari, or Flower Tales, the title of one of Yoshiya Nobuko’s earliest works.  It is a collection of 52 short-stories featuring romantic friendships between girls and each story has a type of flower as a title, main imagery and plot device. [15]

 

Globalization of Yuri Anime and Manga

            Scholars have painted an image of Japan as an exporter of ‘cool’ and as a cultural soft power in today’s rapidly globalizing world.[16]  Two of these cultural products from Japan that have had success worldwide are, unquestionably, anime and manga.  The expansion of anime and manga are considered to have taken what Harumi Befu calls the non-sojourner route in the West, “through which cultural products spread abroad without native carriers.”[17]  Another explanation is that Japanese products are ‘culturally odorless’ and are thus able to permeate borders with relative ease.[18]  Meanwhile, the success of Japanese cultural products in nearby countries, particularly East and Southeast Asia, is often attributed to ‘cultural similarity’ or ‘cultural proximity.’  Nonetheless, these concepts are obviously not sufficient enough to explain the appeal of anime and manga uniformly.  There is not also a single answer as to what is the success of anime and manga with foreign audiences; it is even harder to give a single reason why foreign audiences find yuri works appealing.  A starting point would be to acknowledge the worldwide scope and attention of same-sex loving and supporting communities.  We must also recognize that not only have yuri anime and manga reached a global audience but that yuri has made a mark by becoming its own distinct category without having to assimilate or be grouped with other similar products.  Neither acculturation nor transnationalism is an important feature in the expansion of yuri anime and manga.

In many of the previous approaches to Japan and globalization, the focus has been on Japanese cultural products as a case of globalization that is not set in the West or, more specifically, the United States.  It is certain that studying Japan as a case in point can contribute a lot to currently existing theories of globalization and attention is merited for the ways in which they challenge persisting notions of Western or American hegemony.  Nonetheless, one of the fatal flaws in discussion of this phenomenon is ignorance or oversimplification of the impact that the Internet has had on globalization.  A major book on globalization, Globalization and Its Outcomes, makes the point clear in a chapter titled ‘The Global Culture Factory’ that “the media of mass communication are important economic sectors, with global reach.”[19]  The Internet is indubitably the most important means of transmitting and sending information across the developed (and, increasingly, the developing) world and it is expanding economically.  More focus and emphasis should be placed on the various ways in which it affects the transmission of global products, particularly yuri anime and manga.

Beyond that, the power of the consumer in a globally-oriented community is largely taken for granted by many scholars.  Wong ascribes the 1990s decline of the domestic market for manga to publishers seeking new markets outside of Japan and narrows her focus to international licensing and distribution networks.  While this could have been a driving motivation to expand to other markets, she does not address the feelings of the consumers and fatally points out that the American market is “less tolerant of ‘alien’ cultural products.”[20]  It is arguable that the U.S. market is open to non-American cultural products in a variety of sectors not limited to popular culture including music, cinema, cuisine, and others.  It could also be debated that there is a history of borrowing and localizing not only in American history and Japanese history, but in the histories of other countries as well.  Therefore, we must move beyond a discourse centered and grounded on stereotypes about Japan that exist within academies and media by asking more significant questions about how global influences cross borders.[21]  This is possible by recognizing that culture and popular culture are part of a highly mobile and transformative process that spreads beyond the borders of any single nation.[22]  It is evident in the way that yuri anime and manga have spread beyond Japan as a genre that is generally accepted worldwide, distinct from lesbian or feminist labeling.

In a firmly grounded discussion of the spread of yuri anime and manga, the role of consumers should not be perceived as and considered passive in the globalization process.  A circular approach with regards to supply and demand, institutions and consumers, and the interplay between each of these pairs will provide a much more compelling study, not only for the yuri genre or anime and manga but for other cultural products that have been able to circulate the entire globe through mass media technology and communication.  I will not relay a historical background or description of how (and which prime examples of) yuri anime and manga have spread to East and Southeast Asia, Europe, the United States, and beyond.  Instead, Aoi Hana will be used as a concrete case of how the production and consumption of yuri products take place both inside and outside of Japan at the conjunction of multiple forces and cultural influences not simply about Japan and the Other.[23]

What sets the expansion of yuri apart from other categories within anime and manga is not only recent development but how it is manifested virtually and offline.  Another characteristic is the major role fans have played in establishing yuri as its own distinct category apart from others through citing its influences and creating a chronological history.  The size of the fan base (which continually increases) along with the normally slow and tedious process of acquiring rights and licensing of yuri anime and manga outside of Japan has necessitated fan activism.  The manner in which globalization has affected fan activism is allowing great numbers of people with common interests to gather in virtual spaces and giving a collective voice to these people that may not garner much attention otherwise.  The notion of community plays a big part in yuri fans’ experiences and how the fans have affected the promulgation of yuri beyond Japan will discussed in the following section.

 

Fan Activism:  Taking the Matter into their Own Hands

            A significant feature of yuri anime and manga is interactivity.  The production of manga “involves a number of social actors impinging on the content produced by manga artists and writers such as publishers, editors, assistants, commercial planners and readers.”[24]  The production of anime is a larger and more complex process that involves diverse parties where “the production and particular dynamics of the team often determine the direction, quality and/or presentation of the finished product.”[25]  While, ultimately, the major players in both industries have the last say in which anime or manga get approved for release and licensing, the role of the creators and the fans of such products should not be taken for granted.  Sometimes the fans themselves become part of the production side.  This slip may occur because of fans’ devotion to anime and manga along with the desire to take their hobby and make it into a career that is of potential economic benefit.

Fan input into industry decisions is probably greater than the fans themselves realize but, for fans outside of Japan, the impact on the Japanese industry is best expressed through the decisions made by the respective local industries.  Despite the fact that fans of yuri anime and manga outside of Japan seldom approach the Japanese sources of their media, they can heavily influence local decisions by appealing to networks and distributors.  An example is the SOS campaign, which began in 1996, when Sailor Moon was cancelled due to low ratings.[26]  A strong effort to get the show back on the air emerged, and online petitions, e-mail campaigns, banners, web rings, and the like were some of the methods used to petition to a variety of networks and companies.[27]  The demand by consumers for more yuri anime and manga outside of Japan necessitates the expansion of the yuri market supply throughout the world despite the overall downward trend in manga publication and anime DVD sales domestically.

Interactivity and interdependency between the creators and readers/audiences of yuri covers an array of fan activities ranging from publishing dōjinshi, creating websites, subtitling, and attending large social events like conventions.[28]  Other pursuits now include fansubs, scanlations, fan fiction and fan parodies through a variety of media.  Such fan activities are possible due to the availability of cheap and high-quantity printing and publishing, easy access to Internet-based communication and electronically transmitted visual materials.  The three main ways yuri fans interact with yuri anime and manga and form social networks online are through the Yuricon website along with ALC Publishing, fansubs and scanlations.  These are the modes that have the most impact on the worldwide spread of yuri works through the Internet.  The next sections will analyze the three categories mentioned above and how they have shaped and continue to shape the consumption and spread of the yuri genre using Aoi Hana as a case in point.

Yuricon and ALC Publishing

Any discussion of yuri’s permeation into the West cannot be devoid of discussion concerning Yuricon, originally named AniLesboCon, founded in 2000 by Erica Friedman.  It is a website with a wealth of information available ranging from events related to yuri, essays written by her and other scholars, a wealth of merchandise and links to purchasing yuri anime and manga in English and Japanese and “The List” which includes anime and manga characters from a plethora of series who are involved in intense emotional and/or physical relationships with other women or may be perceived to through subtext in the eyes of Friedman and other fans.  There is even an official mascot, named Yuriko, from Friedman’s own yuri creation.  She also hosts a blog, named Okazu, where she mostly shares and reviews yuri anime and manga and posts events and other news of interest to yuri fans.[29]  It is in this blog where Friedman has reviewed volumes of the Aoi Hana manga series, allowing yuri followers and newcomers to become aware of and venture into reading it.

Her original intention was to just bring fans of images of female same-sex love in anime and manga (not necessarily yuri, at that point) together through a virtual community only.  As this community grew, it extended into offline get-togethers, the name was changed, and the focus was revised to celebrating yuri in anime and manga.  From then on, activities outside of the scope of the Internet expanded to conventions, film festivals, and even academic lectures.  The first instance was in 2003 when the name was officially changed to Yuricon and the first convention was held over three days in Newark, New Jersey.  It included an academic lecture series with five North American scholars presenting papers on women’s roles in anime and manga, a first at an anime convention.[30]

ALC Publishing, Yuricon’s publishing arm, was created in 2003 with the “mission… to bring high quality Japanese-style comics to the worldwide English-speaking audience.”[31]  From this it is understood that not only do Yuricon and ALC Publishing cater to fans in the West and English-speakers beyond Japan but that both have also left a mark in the Japanese community through events based in Japan itself.  For example, Friedman assisted an event that took place in Tokyo in 2005 with invited guests Itō Bungaku and Mori Natsuko, a lesbian essayist and novelist, along with other artists, publishers, and press. [32]  ALC Publishing has also made repeated appearances at Comiket, the world’s largest comic book convention that takes place in Tokyo twice a year.  It has garnered much interest there.

How do Yuricon and ALC Publishing, though simply created by a passionate fan who wanted to see more yuri and bring other fans of yuri together, get so much attention?  Also, what accounts for the ongoing success of these two staple names in the world of yuri anime and manga?  A basic answer lies in the mission statement of Yuricon and ALC Publishing:  “…to create, disseminate, and celebrate Yuri in anime and manga.”[33]  Although the head of Yuricon and ALC Publishing is from the United States, there is a Japanese branch that is lead by Takashima Rica, a native Japanese woman who has been in charge of running the Yuricon/ALC Publishing tables at Comiket as well as organizing events that have been hosted in Japan thus far.  Through networking and contacts, Yuricon and ALC have been able to spread their efforts beyond what was originally limited to the World Wide Web.  One of these is a mailing list with subscribers from mainly the U.S. and Japan that includes others from Eastern and Western countries.

Besides these and other strategies to promote Yuricon and ALC Publishing, ALC’s major publication currently is Yuri Monogatari, a “collaborative effort, award-nominated anthology…which includes art and stories by writers and artists all over the world.” [34]  Yuri Monogatari is pretty remarkable because it includes works from dōjinshi circles and other manga artists from Japan and stories by other writers and artists from Western countries as well as others from a variety of countries where languages besides English are spoken.  Though all of the short stories that make their way into the anthology are translated and released in English, the impression is that the audience for yuri is worldwide.  Yuri Monogatari is the epitome of the global yuri movement achieved through the effort of creators and fans.  However, the fansubbing boom in recent years has brought yuri anime into the limelight for many people who were previously not aware of it and is creating new fans.

 

Fansubs

            Fansub, a contraction of the words ‘fan’ and ‘subtitling,’ is a term that can be used in two ways:  1. Subtitles made by fans and 2. Non-official anime with subtitles created by fans who distribute these versions via the Internet.[35]  Fansubs took root as early as the 1980s throughout anime clubs and circles, in translation by hand or through mail via VHS exchange, but really took off in the mid-1990s thanks to the advent of cheap computer software and other subbing equipment available from the Internet.[36]  Compared to other fan translations, fansubs are by far the most wide-spread social phenomenon for anime and manga throughout the Internet, especially applicable to yuri.  The proof lies in the mass virtual community that surrounds them.  This includes websites, chat rooms, and forums.

Fansub creation is an involved and multi-layered process.  The basic individuals needed are those who can provide the ‘raw’ or the original, untranslated video capture of anime usually acquired by ripping it off a DVD, VHS, TV source or even downloading an uploaded clip from a video streaming site, translators, timers who set the in and out times of each subtitle, typesetters who are responsible for setting the font type, conventions and formatting, editors and proofreaders and, finally, encoders who produce the final subtitled version of the episode using an encoding program.[37]  Generally, it is common practice for fansubs to include some sort of commentary and symbols or icons (emoticons) that give opinions about the translations or make comments about certain cultural references that may seem unclear to the viewers.

Yuri fans are often frustrated with the amount of time it takes for an episode or an entire series to be released in their home market and benefit largely from fansubs.  The most skilled fansubbers are able to release fansubbed episodes within a short time from when the original episode airs in Japan, sometimes as quickly as within a 24-hour time frame, making the wait until an episode is released in the home country of the viewer more bearable (if the series is already licensed).  Though the people involved in the creation of fansubs acknowledge their actions to be illegal, they find ethical justification in what they do and that “their fansubs help to build interest in a show and generate income for the show’s producers.”[38]

Nonetheless, some companies view fansubs as a threat because there is a healthy enough market for anime overall that a trial or promotion through fansubs is no longer necessary.  Also, bootleggers who sell fansubs in seemingly legitimate packaging are proving detrimental to sales in some parts on the world.  Lastly, the fansub phenomenon is growing wider and starting to encompass other language combinations and media, including films.[39]  At times, companies are less inclined to take legal action or enforce copyright laws on unlicensed fansubs because early introduction of episodes may be beneficial to the series and its popularity as long as these fan activities do not turn out to be too detrimental or damaging to sales.  In fact, a lot of fansubs are tagged with “Not for Sale, Rent, or Profit” disclaimers though, depending on who gets it, the tag could still be edited out.  Most fansub groups also practice a form of etiquette where they remove their translations from the Internet once a series or film has been licensed in their country and/or released on DVD.

There are very few studies devoted to fansubs and how it has become a global space.  The academic community seldom devotes thoughts to the phenomenon besides referring to it superficially.  Intersecting people, information, and spaces are all wrapped up in the fansubbing experience that point to the activity as facilitated through globalization.  Fansubs are an interesting and significant trend that can readily serve as an indicator of what consumers of anime beyond Japan want and can determine what has the potential to succeed or not.  There are not really any fansub groups specifically for yuri anime because few series that are released are advertised in that way.  However, there has been an increase in fansubbing yuri into other major languages besides English.  Aoi Hana fansubs exist primarily in other languages.  Part of the reason is that it was featured in the lineup on the website known as Crunchyroll.com.  Originally designed by fans who wished to offer a site where fansubbers and other users could upload anime videos, Crunchyroll is now a legitimate business that subtitles anime from the original version and posts episodes online for fans to watch.

 

Crunchyroll

Crunchyroll started in 2006 by a group of friends who had met at UC Berkley and were fans of anime, highly aware of the popularity that surrounded these works.  They created a website that offered a multitude of user-uploaded videos, many of which were not with the permission of licensors.  Maintaining the site became very expensive so they began talking with venture capitalists and received funding from Venrock, the venture arm of the Rockfeller family, in December 2007.[40]  Slightly under a year later, Crunchyroll announced a huge move into legitimate distribution of anime in a deal struck with major Japanese producers TV Tokyo, Viz co-parent Shueisha, and Pierrot.[41]  Today, by paying a subscription fee, users on the site are able to watch big hit series like Naruto: Shippuden, Gintama, and Skip Beat one hour after it airs in Japan.[42]

Crunchyroll is a member of the Association of Japanese Animations (AJA) and the Licensing International Merchandisers Association (LIMA). [43]  Now Crunchyroll has partnered with over 30 major Asia-based publishers and provides over 100 titles to registered users.[44]  However, the subscription service is for High Definition videos, no advertisements and early access to new episodes (non-registered users must wait a week after a new episode has aired in Japan).  It has recently expanded to include drama content from China, Japan, and Korea.  Users are able to find out all sorts of technical information about a series like the voice cast, fans, users who have added it to their favorites and watch list, pictures, reviews, comments and discussion.

Crunchyroll is now one of the primary sources for yuri fans who want to watch currently running anime series.  Since the company must negotiate with producers in Japan, there has to be sufficient popularity and fan base that would be profitable for both parties.  Therefore, the move to acquire the right to broadcast the Aoi Hana anime series was a joint effort between fans outside of Japan who wanted to view the series with English subtitles, Crunchyroll in embarking on acquiring licensing and the major Japanese players who seek profit.  This interplay between producers and consumers in such a short span of time would not be possible without the digital technology and means of communication in the global age.  It is certain that Crunchyroll has started to change the landscape for fansubs and the state of the anime industry in general.  Anime that is not legally uploaded and subtitled under Crunchyroll or other English branches of anime companies who have started to follow Crunchyroll’s trend (like Viz and Bandai) will continue being fansubbed by groups but the need for fans to take it upon themselves is diminishing.  It will be interesting to see what happens from now on.  On the contrary, scanlations have not found a niche like fansubs have in Crunchyroll.

 

Scanlation

            Scanlation, a contraction of the words ‘scan’ and ‘translation,’ is a very recent development of fan activity facilitated by the Internet and computer software comparable to fansubs mentioned in the previous section.  There is a significantly lower quantity of scanlations available in comparsion to fansubs, but the numbers continue growing and growing as more fans take up the activity as a pastime.  As a consequence, there is very little research on the topic so far but there is enough evidence to merit and encourage more studies on them in the upcoming years.

Scanlations refer to the “phenomenon where ardent fans scan in manga titles, translate them from Japanese to another language and release the translated version free of charge via the Internet.”[45]  Lee argues that the promulgation of scanlations is due to excessive demand of manga over supply outside of Japan as well as the digital software available along with the Internet that allows for digitization of manga and its distribution through various means.[46]  In other words, fans that are disappointed or frustrated with the amount of time it takes for the yuri manga they crave to be released outside of Japan and/or the inaccessibility of such yuri manga in their location take up scanlation as a hobby or seek scanlations to satisfy their hunger.  Fans believe that they can overcome these issues through their own efforts and, therefore, overseas fans and other fans that do have access are willing to digitally copy, translate and distribute manga to other fans, especially to those whose barriers are geographical and linguistic.[47]  Lee provides a nice overview of the involved scanlation process: “getting ‘raws’; scanning; translating; proof reading; cleaning (taking out the Japanese text and removing grey areas); editing (inserting English text); quality checking; and releasing the scanlated version on the [I]nternet.”[48]

The scanlation groups online can range from an individual’s effort to large groups, focus on a specific genre over another and may range from popular, on-going series to lesser known, non-mainstream titles.  Dōjinshi are also often grouped in the scanlation category though technically not original manga.  Sometimes scanlation groups are inclined to recruit other members.  For example, they will list open positions (e.g. translator, editor, quality-checker, etc.), offer a tool with which those who apply can learn the skills needed (if they are not experienced), have a test that newcomers must take and have them pick from a list of series they are interested in or want to work on and can possibly get assigned to.  Scanlation groups can be an international collaboration and effort though this is something that is not always revealed by the groups themselves.  Although the largest amount of scanlated yuri manga is done into English, there is an increasing demand for scanlation into other major languages of the world like Spanish and French.  As more yuri fans emerge, the number of websites that offer scanlations is likely to keep increasing in the future.

On par with fansubs, one of the biggest debates about scanlation has to do with legality.  The Japanese publishers do not view, for example, dōjinshi fan works as illegal or see any worth in taking legal action against them.  However, since scanlations are clearly not fan-made works that parody already existing works, it enters into a much fuzzier gray zone.  As with fansubs, there are positives and negative aspects in allowing scanlations to continue persisting on the Internet.  While it may pose a loss of revenue depending on the case, they could also serve as a test run or popularity indicator for yuri manga that have not yet been released in other countries, especially the United States, since most scanlations are made into English.

There are at least a dozen websites today that offer scanlations of yuri manga, including scanlations of the content serialized in magazines Comic Yuri Hime and Comic Yuri Hime S.  Some were originally virtual spaces for fans of yuri to get together as a community and share information then shifted to posting scanlations.  Others have sprung up with the sole intent to offer scanlations to the Internet community.  The yuri scanlation community is another global space that has caught the attention of many, supporters and detractors included.  For Aoi Hana there is one scanlation group known as Lililicious that has translated manga chapters into English.  Further scanlations are not necessary because of websites that link scanlations from original sources, like OneManga.com and MangaFox.com.  It is hard to say whether scanlations will take the same route fansubs did with Crunchyroll, but it is an industry that is growing in all corners of the world despite decreased sales in the Japanese market.

Conclusion

            Anime and manga that contain yuri content or works that fall under the yuri genre are experiencing a boom worldwide that is starting to be felt on par with the most popular and successful series today.  However, yuri has undergone a globalization process that is uneven and contains conflicts and contradictions.  This process of cultural globalization exhibits a total indifference with a national desire or agenda fraught with hybridity.  Still, unlike dominating theories of globalization and Japan, examining yuri within the broader scheme of anime and manga offers new insight into the areas that merit closer examination, research, and study.  The role of the consumers, especially the fans, is one that cannot be taken lightly because they have proven and continue to prove that they are able to exert a good deal of influence and are not merely passive pawns or receivers of anime and manga whether they hail from Japan or not.  By enthusiastically pursuing activities and becoming part of fan cultures, both virtual and not, they are beginning to sway the pendulum in their favor.   If Aoi Hana is any indication, it demonstrates the power of enthusiastic consumers who are succeeding in getting what they want because of the size of the collective yuri fan base’s voice.  It is not off the mark to say that yuri will continue to expand and perhaps gain a bit more uniformity in the years to come as more content is delivered.

 

Selected Bibliography

Allen, Matthew. Popular Culture, Globalization and Japan (Asia’s Transformations). New York: Routledge, 2008.

Brienza, Casey. “Books, Not Comics: Publishing Fields, Globalization, and Japanese Manga in the United States.” Publishing Research Quarterly 25, no. 2 (2009): 101-117. http://www.springerlink.com/content/f11798l55w2872n0/fulltext.pdf (accessed November 20, 2009).

Bryce, Mio, and Jason Davis. “Manga/Anime, Media Mix: Scholarship in a Post-Modern, Global Community.” Macquerie University. http://www.asianlang.mq.edu.au/japanese/documents/Bryce_Davis.pdf (accessed November 22, 2009).

Corson, Suzanne. “Yuricon Celebrates Lesbian Anime and Manga | AfterEllen.com.” AfterEllen.com | AfterEllen.com. http://www.afterellen.com/people/2007/5/friedman (accessed November 22, 2009).

“Crunchyroll – About.” Crunchyroll – Watch Naruto and Anime Videos free online. http://www.crunchyroll.com/about (accessed December 20, 2009).

Ferrer Simó, María R. “Fansubs y scanlations: la influencia del aficionado en los criterios profesionales.” Puentes 6 (2005): 27-43. http://www.ugr.es/~greti/puentes/puentes6/04%20Maria%20Rosario%20Ferrer.pdf (accessed November 9, 2009).

Friedman, Erica. “Review of “Aoi Hana” (“Sweet Blue Flowers”) | AfterEllen.com.” AfterEllen.com | AfterEllen.com. http://www.afterellen.com/TV/2009/9/aoi-hana-review (accessed December 22, 2009).

Friedman, Erica. “What is Yuri?, an essay by Erica Friedman.” Yuri Manga Yuri Anime, Yuricon and ALC Publishing. http://www.yuricon.org/essays/whatisyuri.html (accessed November 22, 2009).

Friedman, Erica. “Yuricon and ALC Publishing History and Mission Statement.” Yuri Manga Yuri Anime, Yuricon and ALC Publishing. http://www.yuricon.org/mission_statement.html (accessed November 22, 2009).

Hatcher, Jordan. “Of Otakus and Fansubs: A Critical Look at Anime Online in Light of Current Issues in Copyright Law.” SCRIPT-ed 2 (2005): 544-571. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=871098 (accessed November 9, 2009).

Hills, Matt. “Transcultural otaku: Japanese representations of fandom and representations of Japan in anime/manga fan cultures.” MIT. http://web.mit.edu/cms/Events/mit2/Abstracts/MattHillspaper.pdf (accessed November 20, 2009).

Ichijinsha. “Ichinjinsha WEB Koukoku ni Tsuite.” Kabushiki Ichijinsha. http://www.ichijinsha.co.jp/ad/ (accessed December 20, 2009).

“ICv2 – Crunchyroll CEO: Making Online Anime Pay.” ICv2 : Inside Pop Culture. http://www.icv2.com/articles/news/13922.html (accessed November 9, 2009).

“ICv2 – Crunchyroll Goes Legit.” ICv2 : Inside Pop Culture. http://www.icv2.com/articles/news/13770.html (accessed December 7, 2009).

Kirby, Andrew. “The Global Culture Factory.” In Globalization and Its Outcomes. New York: The Guilford Press, 2004. 133-158.

Lee, Hye-Kyung. “Between fan culture and copyright infringement: manga scanlation.” Media, Culture & Society 31, no. 6 (2009): 1011-1022. http://mcs.sagepub.com/cgi/reprint/31/6/1011 (accessed November 20, 2009).

Leonard, Sean. “Progress against the law: Anime and fandom, with the key to the globalization of culture.” International Journal of Cultural Studies 8, no. 3 (2005): 281-305. http://ics.sagepub.com/cgi/reprint/8/3/281 (accessed November 20, 2009).

Levi, Antonia. “The Americanization of Anime and Manga: Negotiating Popular Culture.” In Cinema Anime. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. 43-63.

“Manganews Forum – Yuri Week: Interview with Erica Friedman from ALC Publishing.” Manganews.net – Premier Manga Scanlation Information Site. http://www.manganews.net/forums/showthread.php?t=3627 (accessed November 22, 2009).

O’Hagan, M.. “Manga, Anime and Video Games: Globalizing Japanese Cultural Production.” PERSPECTIVES -COPENHAGEN AND CLEVEDON- STUDIES IN TRANSLATOLOGY- 14, no. 4 (2006): 243-247.

Reinhard, CarrieLynn D.. “RUDAR – Roskilde University Digital Archive: If one is sexy, two is even sexier: Dialogue with slashers on identity and the internet..” RUDAR – Roskilde University Digital Archive: Home. http://diggy.ruc.dk:8080/handle/1800/4021 (accessed December 20, 2009).

Robertson, Jennifer. Takarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in Modern Japan. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

Suzuki, Michiko. “Writing Same-Sex Love: Sexology and Literary Representation in Yoshiya Nobuko’s Early Fiction.” Journal of Asian Studies 65 (2007): 575-599.

Titos, Antonio Olmo. “Considerations about the nature of Japanese cultural exports.” Olmo Titos. http://olmo-titos.info/A.OlmoTitos_Japanese-cultural-exports.pdf (accessed November 22, 2009).

Various. Yuri Monogatari Volume 5 (v. 5). Hagerstown: Alc Publishing, 2007.

West, Mark I.. The Japanification of Children’s Popular Culture: From Godzilla to Miyazaki. Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2008.

Wong, Wendy S. “Manga: From Japan to Hong Kong and Beyond.” Mechademia: Emerging Worlds of Anime and Manga 1 (2006): 23-45.


[1] Some examples include Reinhard, 2009 and West, 2009.

[2] Erica Friedman, “What is Yuri?,” Yuricon, http://www.yuricon.org/essays/whatisyuri.html.

[3] Jennifer Robertson, Takarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in Modern Japan (Berkley: University of California Press, 1998), 221.

[4] Michiko Suzuki, “Writing Same-Sex Love: Sexology and Literary Representation in Yoshiya Nobuko’s Early Fiction,” Journal of Asian Studies 65 (2007): 582.

[5] Robertson, 14.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 67.

[8] Ibid., 44.

[9] Ibid., 68.

[10] Suzuki, 578.

[11] Friedman.

[12] Ibid.

[13]Ichijinsha WEB Koukoku ni Tsuite,” Ichijinsha, http://www.ichijinsha.co.jp/ad/index.html.

[14] “Review of ‘Aoi Hana’ (‘Sweet Blue Flowers’) AfterEllen.com,” AfterEllen.com, http://www.afterellen.com/TV/2009/9/aoi-hana-review.

[15] Suzuki, 581.

[16] See Douglas McGray, “Japan’s Gross National Cool,” Foreign Policy 130 (May-June 2002): 44-54 and Joseph Nye, Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics, New York: PublicAffairs, 2004.

[17] Harumi Befu, “Globalization Theory from the Bottom Up: Japan’s Contribution,” Japanese Studies 23 (2003): 4.

[18] See Koichi Iwabuchi, Recentering Globalization: Popular culture and Japanese transnationalism, Duke University Press, 2002.

[19] Andrew Kirby, “The Global Cultural Factory,” in Globalization and its outcomes, ed. John O’Loughlin, Lynn A. Staeheli, et al. (New York: Guilford Press, 2004), 134.

[20] Wendy Siuyi Wong. “Globalizing Manga: From Japan to Hong Kong and Beyond.” Mechademia: Emerging Worlds of Anime and Manga 1 (2006): 35.

[21] Matthew Allen and Rumi Sakamoto, eds., Popular culture, globalization, and Japan (Oxon: Routledge, 2006), 1.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid. 3.

[24] Mio Bryce and Jason Davis, “Manga/Anime, Media Mix: Scholarship in a Post-Modern, Global Community” Macquarie University, http://www.asianlang.mq.edu.au/japanese/documents/Bryce_Davis.pdf.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Antonia Levi, “The Americanization of Anime and Manga: Negotiating Popular Culture” in Cinema Anime, ed. Steven Brown (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 49.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Mio Bryce and Jason Davis, 6.

[29] See http://okazu.blogspot.com/

[30] Suzanne Corson, “Yuricon Celebrates Lesbian Anime and Manga | AfterEllen.com,” AfterEllen, http://www.afterellen.com/people/2007/5/friedman.

[31] Erica Friedman, “Yuricon and ALC Publishing History and Mission Statement,” Yuricon, http://www.yuricon.org/mission_statement.html.

[32] “Manganews Forum – Yuri Week: Interview with Erica Friedman from ALC Publishing.” Manga Jouhou, http://www.manganews.net/forums/showthread.php?t=3627.

[33] Friedman.

[34] Friedman.

[35] Maria R. Ferrer Simo, “Fansubs y scanlations: la influencia del aficionado en los criterios profesionales,”Puentes 6 (2005): 27.

[36] Jorge Diaz Cintas and Pablo Munoz Sanchez, “Fansubs: Audiovisual Translation in an Amateur Environment,” Journal of Specialised Translation 6 (2006): 37.

[37] Ibid., 38-39.

[38] Jordan Hatcher, “Of Otakus and Fansubs: A Critical Look at Anime Online in Light of Current Issues in Copyright Law,” SCRIPT-ed 2 (2005): 562.

[39] Jorge Diaz Cintas and Pablo Munoz Sanchez, 45.

[40] “ICv2 – Crunchyroll CEO: Making Online Anime Pay,” ICv2 : Inside Pop Culture, http://www.icv2.com/articles/news/13922.html.

[41] “ICv2 – Crunchyroll Goes Legit,” ICv2 : Inside Pop Culture, http://www.icv2.com/articles/news/13770.html.

[42] Ibid.

[43] “Crunchyroll – About,” Crunchyroll, http://www.crunchyroll.com/about.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Hye-Kung Lee, “Between fan culture and copyright infringement: manga scanlation,” Media, Culture & Society 31 (2009): 1011.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Ibid., 1015.

[48] Ibid.

 

6 Responses

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