July 26, 2015 1:15 am JST
Interview with 'Love Hina' author

Can the TPP play nice with Japan's manga universe?

Ken Akamatsu

TOKYO -- Japan's comic and anime fans, and even some of its professional authors, have a message for the 12 countries negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership: Do not lock up intellectual property so tightly that cosplayers and writers of fan fiction could face criminal charges, even in the absence of complaints from rights holders.

     Cosplay and fan fiction have actually been engines of growth for Japanese pop culture, and the TPP -- a pact that would allow some goods and services to be more easily traded while tightening restrictions in other areas -- should have some flexibility, believes Ken Akamatsu, author of popular manga series "Love Hina" and "Negima! Magister Negi Magi."

Q: As a famous manga artist, how do you feel when your work is used in fan fiction?

A: Overall, I accept and enjoy fan fiction. It makes me really happy to see my characters being conjured by other artists, and it is always interesting and fascinating to see them. I think professional manga writers, who began their careers writing derivatives of other professionals, generally welcome fan fiction.

Q: What about cosplayers?

A: They really make me happy. Japanese cosplay fans are so precise and detailed about their outfits. It's just amazing to see their works, especially when they pose like the character. I don't think there is any author who hates seeing their fans' cosplay.

Q: Are there certain types of fan fiction that artists are especially fond of?

A: Personally, I am fine with any work, unless it contains violence or overly sexualized scenes. Some artists are more open to different types of fan fiction than me, accepting even overly sexualized works.

     Japan has generally been tolerant toward the comic and anime fan fiction culture. There has been only one case in which a publisher expressed a very clear message, banning these works, I believe. But that was only because the work, which riffed on the final installment of a manga series, was of such high quality that some fans mistook it for the original.

     Artists and publishers in general would not want to see their fans getting arrested or being prosecuted; they don't want to lose their fans. It is hard to see fan activities as "a crime." These authors are so moved they create fan fiction. I take these works as expressions of passion for the original manga. It's not too far from a fan drawing a picture of her or his favorite movie star.

     Actually, every artist starts out by copying the work of the pros. That is how we get better at drawing, understanding how to organize scenes and so on. I myself improved greatly by doing so. If a young artist were to try to improve his or her manga skills without copying other works, the artist would spend a tremendous amount of time and expend equal amounts of energy.

Q: What is behind the doujinshi, or manga fan fiction, movement?

A: Some die-hard fans like the supporting characters more than the main ones. But the original works often don't focus enough on these characters to satisfy these fans. And many fans like romantic relationships between boy characters, too. So they fantasize about "what if a story like this or this were to take place ..." and end up creating their own stories. It is really like making their dream come true. And it's another way fans can enjoy the world of fantasy.

Q: How much can doujinshi artists earn by selling their works?

A: Each doujinshi can be sold for an average of between 500 yen [$4] to 1,000 yen at Comik Market [Japan's largest doujinshi market, held twice a year in Tokyo]. Lines of fans of the most popular doujinshi artists can get up to a couple hundred meters long sometimes. For a famous doujinshi artist, selling 2,000 copies of their work in a day is not too rare. I once sold 8,000 in a day, and I have heard that there was an artist who once did 20,000 copies. Even after taxes and publishing costs, it still can be a massive profit. I do not mind if some doujinshi artists earn from derivative works based on my characters, but some artists might be not too happy about it.

Q: What do you think might happen if stricter copyright protections are implemented?

A: One thing I'm worried about is fans making malicious claims against their rivals. Doujinshi fans are very serious about their favorite characters. Some believe "this character can only be with this character" and such. It might sound ridiculous, but they can really get into it with each other if one doujinshi artist writes a character into a romantic relationship with the "wrong" partner.

     Cases like this most likely will not be common, but the mere threat of them could scare fans away from producing their work. ... When I think about me being accused for my previous "Sailor Moon" riffs, it frightens me.

     I think police and prosecutors will most likely notify the rights holders before ... prosecuting, if someone were to file a complaint. Because if the original author says, "I accept fan fiction," then police will not be able to punish a fan, even if the fan has already been arrested. Police most likely would not want to go through such trouble, I believe. What I am guessing will happen, though, is that police will go after prosecuting pirated works even if authors haven't filed any complaints.

Q: What does the doujinshi world mean to you?

A: Two weeks ago, I went to France to attend the Japan Expo. There were so many participants, over 240,000 people, during the four days. It's fascinating to see international fans dressing up as my characters. So much fun. And manga and anime fever like that can be seen in Taiwan and South Korea and in many other countries, too. Just seeing or even knowing that gives me and other authors great energy. What motivates us to write is not just because fans buy our works. The doujinshi market also has been serving to boost the whole manga world. It has been a proving ground for future professionals and a place to hang out for die-hard fans.

Q: Should it be regulated?

A: I want to see some flexibility for copyright protection in the TPP. If they ban literally everything, then there will not be any space left for each country [to decide what is and is not legal in its own unique pop culture sphere].

     So having a statement like, "Certain areas should fall under the purview of domestic laws," would be supportive of the manga universe. Then domestic laws can decide what kinds of cases -- like repeat violations by the same person or malicious cases in which profits go to mafia groups -- are punishable.

Interviewed by Nikkei staff writer Mariko Tai

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