Foreword: This is the last of the assignments I produced for the anime and manga studies class I took during May and June. I initially intended on refining it before posting it, but I’ve just been too swamped with work. I sincerely hope my readers will overlook the rough state of it all. As with all the other academic related posts before, but especially this one, its academic nature does mean terminology becomes really inaccessible. I’ve tried as much as possible to clarify with endnotes and paretheticals, but if anything is elusive feel free to ask through commenting or at my twitter account. For all sources that I can possibly do so legally, I’ve provided links to full texts. For journal articles, I’ve either linked to the abstract page from where you can view the full text or directly to the full text. For books, I’ve linked the Amazon.com page. And naturally, for websites I linked to the website.
In his work, Otaku: Japan’s Database Animal, Azuma Hiroki details his view on the animalization[i] of people in postmodern (the era proceeding the 1970’s[ii]) society, with male otaku—a subculture focused on anime (Japanese animation), manga (Japanese comics), and related works—identified as a group at the vanguard of the larger, universal trend. In doing so, he identifies a type of consumer behaviour that he calls database consumption, which is understood as the postmodern preference—particularly notable in the otaku—for a database over that of a grand narrative[iii], whether that narrative be true or false[iv] (Azuma 53-54). The form of the database of interest here is the description of simulacra (works that cannot be discerned as either original or copy) which are used by the database consumers with the same vigour as the original (Azuma 29-33).
Similarly, in his own initial foray into analysis of the otaku and what they consume, Saitou Tamaki observes in Beautiful Fighting Girl[v] that within the realm of anime featuring a “beautiful fighting girl” (emphasis on girl), most works within and since the 90’s are hybrid or mixed works, “tend[ing] to be constructed as quotations and parodies of or homages to works in different lineages [of the beautiful fighting girl]” (117). This time frame for the boom in hybrid works as described by Saitou coincides with the generation of otaku that Azuma identifies with database consumption the most. Thus, I intend to propose that the two phenomena are related, with the hybrid lineage Saitou identifies as but the first variant of hybridity: an additive one. To do so, I will use the contemporary franchise Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha (Mahou shoujo ririkaru Nanoha), which I believe is an example of the hybrid subgenre that differs from the one Saitou describes: a diversifying one, where the hybridization of content is not merely the additive combination of elements known to favour just one demographic—an additive force, which I call the additive variant—as Gainax’s science fiction OVA (direct to video or DVD anime) Gunbuster was described to be (Saitou 117), but one where the content is hybridized to reach multiple demographics in different, distinct ways: the diversifying variant. Particularly, I will look at how this allows the diversification of the target demographics is helped along by taking advantage of this database consumption of the male otaku, particularly in the unique marriage of the yuri demographic (consumers of lesbian narratives) with the male otaku demographic.
Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, or simply Lyrical Nanoha, has its first anime season’s—which shares the name of the franchise—premiers on 2 October 2004, in addition to other, later dates on a variety of channels, starting at times from as early as 12:10am and as late as 3:10am[vi] (OA Info). Similarly late broadcast times were also had for the second season (On Air) and the third season (ON AIR). This clearly indicates that the younger demographics were not the primary target in the show, but those older. Additionally, the franchise boasts large number of otaku-oriented character goods. For example, one internet retailer of such goods, Hobby Search, lists a total of 307 items for the query “lyrical nanoha”, including tableware, mail blocks, stuffed toys, figures, and many more miscellaneous related goods (primarily character goods). Such goods are a strong indicator of otaku being targeted as a major demographic, and the continued sale of them is indicative of the otaku’s continued positive reception to the franchise.
As mentioned before, however, the Lyrical Nanoha franchise also engages the yuri demographic, and despite the clear positioning of Lyrical Nanoha to appeal to male otaku, the franchise intends to appeal to the female segment, not the male segment, of the yuri demographic as a supplement to the existing male otaku demographic. In describing the general binary split in narrative conventions between yuri targeted at either gender, Erica Friedman, an important promoter and publisher of yuri in the West, notes in an interview that “[i]n general yuri characters in [male-oriented] stories… act in a more overtly ‘pervy’ way…. [Female-oriented] yuri characters… act in a more idealized, romantic way” (3). While Lyrical Nanoha rarely engages actual, explicit, homosexual romance (whereas heterosexual couplings between minor, supporting characters do have romance), there is also a complete lack of female characters being a male actor, in the sense of having a character that initiates “pervy” acts such as molestation or admiring the female body on behalf of a male viewer[vii]. As opposed to the interactive entertainment provided by having a male actor in a yuri narrative, Lyrical Nanoha only provides passive entertainment in the form of fanservice (showing a character in a risqué situation) such as in transformation sequences (Figure 1).
Instead, the meat of homosocial interaction takes the form of rivalry or aggression, and friendship, with the former generally leading to the latter after an intense conflict where one of the two participants are heavily injured. This pattern of change in relationship is referred to as “befriending” (Figure 2) in English fan vernacular. These homosocial relationships found on “befriending” are some of the most powerful relationships in the franchise. For example, the first season focuses on the conflict between Nanoha and Fate (the two primary characters throughout the franchise) over the jewel seeds (powerful artifacts collected by both), culminating in a climatic fight ending with Fate’s defeat and the two becoming friends. Ten years later in the third anime, the two are still steady friends, share a home, share a bed, and by the end of the anime, the two adopt a child who ends both of their names with a -mama suffix. Throughout all this, a homosexual relationship between the two is never recognized explicitly, though male candidates for romance with either lead are either married off to a side character or have their role in the narrative gradually minimized.
Focusing on the relationship between Nanoha and Fate as archetypal for most other homosocial relationships in the franchise, the feature is usually an incredibly intense friendship that is maintained in perpetuity, often with couples sharing very intimate and emotional moments (Figure 3). Through all of it, the franchise never directly acknowledges the relationship status of the couplings and keeps it entirely ambiguous whether the two are simply very intense in their homosocial interaction or if they are in fact homosexual, while giving enough suggestion that one could speculate the latter easily, but with enough plausible deniability to assume the former. This is incredibly similar to the tension that Nagaike Kazumi observes in her analysis of the Yurihime manga magazine, where the magazine’s yuri narratives’ “female homosocial (not necessarily homosexual) qualities… seem to attract not only readers who are self-identified lesbians, but also heterosexual women” leading her to conclude that “the very concept of yuri… organizes the representation of women’s emotional bond (homosociality) according to the interests of heterosexual readers” in addition to “inquir[ing] into the sexuality of women who are attracted to other women” (n. pag.). In fact, the genre of yuri already has a great predisposition for combining contrary readings by different demographics harmoniously, and in the case of Lyrical Nanoha, this is replicated, but instead to create harmony between male otaku (whether they accept female homosexual relationships or not) and the yuri demographic.
In further analyzing yuri, Nagaike draws on several sources to situate the shoujo (young girl) in a discussion of the importance of all-girls schools in yuri narratives:
As indicated by several critics, such as John Treat (1993: 364), Tomoko Aoyama (2005: 53), and Sharalyn Orbaugh (2002: 458), the shōjo identity has a significant place in Japanese gender discourse, in that it appears to approach the notion of an asexual, kawaii being. Treat (1993) emphasizes that a distinction can be drawn between shōjo and women, precisely because the primary and unique signifier of shōjo identity depends on its representation in terms of a lack of sexual fecundity. Thus, since the concept of shōjo does not possess binary gender implications, it escapes complicity with any reaffirmation of the master social narrative of gender determination—e.g. the vaginal woman. In this regard, shōjo identity should be discussed as a specific form of cultural discourse, which presents the ideological possibility of escape from patriarchal heterosexual structures. (n. pag.)
Similarly, in situating shoujo in his article on lolicon (Lolita complex, an attraction to young girls, usually fictional from anime, manga, et cetera) Patrick W. Galbraith writes, citing Matsui Midori, that “[t]he shōjo was the first to be identified as unproductive, but certainly not the last. Soon, not just young girls, but also boys, women and men were “pure consumers” (junsui na shōhisha) shut away in pleasure rooms disconnected from concerns of society and the state” (87), again emphasizing the isolation of the shoujo from the needs of heterosexual reproduction. Thus, the use of the shoujo as described by Nagaike is not restricted only to the needs of female yuri consumers, but also an important mechanic for male otaku consumption.
In the context of Lyrical Nanoha, this is most easily observed in the earlier entries of the franchise, where the majority of characters are at a young age, and the girls are easy to recognize as shoujo, though even in later entries, the conduct of the major characters is so intent on completely avoiding the topic of sex, that even with adulthood the shoujo effect largely persists. While males exist in the franchise, like a significantly older teacher or staff member in an all-girls school setting, they are in most cases marginalized, and are not focuses of romantic or sexual interest. In practice, this becomes a de facto space of gender homogeny that allows the characters concerned to develop free from a gender dichotomy. This allows the female yuri demographic to indulge in the intense homosocial or homosexual interactions to their preference, and similarly the male otaku can choose their own reading of the relationships to their own preference also. In addition, as the space is homogenous in gender, populated by the “asexual, kawaii being” cited by Nagaike, so too can a male otaku participate, in-so-far as the largely platonic relationship of the featured girls. However, thanks to database consumption, there is an easier way for the male otaku, and perhaps the yuri consumer with a homosexual preference, to satiate a desire for corporeal bonding in addition to the spiritual bonding already available.
In regards to database consumption, Azuma stresses that that while in the past “individuals traced a path back from small narratives to a grand narrative”, the postmodern individual, in our case the otaku, can enjoy works at the small narrative (individual works drawing from, in this case, the Lyrical Nanoha franchise) as an existence independent from the grand non-narrative (the database of the set belonging to the Lyrical Nanoha franchise) (84). In other words, it is not necessary for the canonical works in the franchise—the anime, the manga, the video games, et cetera—to feature a male actor, or, for the female, homosexual yuri consumer, an explicitly homosexual character with corporeal desires. Instead, in the consumption of other small narratives, or simulacra, the otaku can indulge in those needs outside of the confines of the canonical works. This can take many forms: character goods can create a sense of ownership, where while the girl remains completely pure within the official works, an otaku can amass goods featuring the girl to build a sense of a monogamous connection with that character without the interference of an officially sanctioned romantic interest; or those token males included in the stories, or the females in the franchise, who do not act, can in a doujinshi (a derivative fanzine) now be compelled to do so; and as the prevalence of character goods of Lyrical Nanoha and fan created art of sexually explicit situations[viii] attest, the participants of the franchise indeed do so.
The space observed in Lyrical Nanoha is only one of many of its kind seen in various works roughly since the beginning of the last decade. Contrasting itself from works mentioned by Friedman, Lyrical Nanoha is free from needing girls who act “pervy” to elicit interest from male otaku and there is an increasing recognition of this mechanism, as seen in the international popularity of the K-On! manga and anime or the popularity of the Touhou Project series of amateur computer games, both possessed of the highly homogenous, girl-dominated situation found in Lyrical Nanoha. It is also distinct from Saitou’s hybrid lineage for beautiful fighting girls, as it does not function in addition, but in diversification. That is, the decision to blend this particular set of qualities in the franchise is not merely intended to combine many things that appeal to just the otaku, but to meet multiple demographics at once. Such arrangements are on the rise in popularity as distinct from the category and could certainly use further analysis, as I’m sure the paradigm of Azuma’s database is but one possible explanation. Additionally, with the number of participant works on the rise, this de facto subgenre will undoubtedly become easier to qualify and describe it continues to grow.
[i] In this case, animalization refers to the loss of what makes one human (desire) and as a result becoming animal (that which only has needs), an idea Azuma borrowed from philosopher Alexandre Kojève. For a more thorough treatment, refer to the second chapter of Azuma’s book.
[ii] The exact timing for postmodernity varies between scholars, but in Azuma’s case it is understood in the context of Japan and broadly defined as a cultural era proceeding the 1970’s (Azuma 7-8).
[iii] Grand narrative is a general term referring to systems used by countries in the modern era to unify their societies. Examples given by Azuma as expressions of these include ideas of humanity and reason, the nation-state and revolutionary ideologies, and the primacy of production (Azuma 27-28).
[iv] False grand narratives are those fabricated within fiction to replace the grand narrative following its decline (Azuma 33-35).
[v] It should be noted now that Saitou and Azuma are actually quite at odds with one another in their views on the otaku. However, my use of Saitou focuses on his excellent “A Genealogy of the Beautiful Fighting Girl” so I do not anticipate great issues using their contrary works together.
[vi] It is convention in Japan to list television times and dates for late night TV such that they are listed as the day before they air rather than the day they air on. For example, October 1 at 24:10 is actually October 2 at 12:10am.
[vii] In the first season there is the male character Yuuno Scrya, who has the opportunity to see the girls in a hot spring. However, he spends most of his time as a ferret and is as a result comparatively unthreatening. In addition, he only ever sees, it does not elicit a reaction from the girls (embarrassment or otherwise), and his function in this role largely disappears in the seasons proceeding the first, and the movie retcons his role in this.
[viii] On the popular Japanese site for uploading art pixiv.net, especially those in anime/manga style, searching “魔法少女リリカルなのは” and “R-18” in conjunction yields 978 hits and on the popular English site for aggregating fan illustrations (mostly Japanese) of anime/manga-style works, gelbooru.com, searching “mahou_shoujo_lyrical_nanoha” and “rating:explicit” yields 62 pages of results, or roughly 1550 entries. The former will be on the low side, as not all artists will properly tag their illustration with the full, proper franchise name, whereas the latter tolerates redundancy so it may overshoot somewhat. In both cases the latter search term is used to narrow down the results into something sexually explicit. Adding in “百合” or “yuri” at the respective site narrows the results down further to 36 results and 5 pages (approximately 125 results).
Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A’s. Dir. Keizou Kusakawa. FUNiMATION, 2005. DVD.
Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. Dir. Akiyuki Shinbo. FUNiMATION, 2004. DVD.
Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha The MOVIE 1st. Dir. Keizou Kusakawa. King Records, 2010. Blu-ray Disc.
Mahou shoujo ririkaru Nanoha StrikerS [Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS]. Dir. Keizou Kusakawa. King Records, 2007. DVD.
Nagaike, Kazumi. “The Sexual and Textual Politics of Japanese Lesbian Comics: Reading Romantic and Erotic Yuri Narratives.” Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies. (2010): n. pag. Web. 10 June 2011.