Ownership, authority, and the body: Does antifanfic sentiment reflect posthuman anxiety?

Madeline Ashby

York University, Toronto, Canada

[0.1] Abstract—This essay examines three Japanese anime texts—Ghost in the Shell, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Serial Experiments: Lain—in order to discover metaphors for female fan practices online. In each of the three texts, women overthrow corporate, governmental, or paternal control over the body and gain the right to copy or reproduce it by fundamentally altering those bodies. These gestures are expressions of posthuman anxiety and "terminal identity." In addition, they involve confrontation with an uncanny double in some way. But how can they provide models for cyborg and fan subjectivity in an era in which bodily and textual reproduction, especially among females, is such a hotly contested issue? And how is the antifanfic backlash related to the phenomenon of the uncanny?

[0.2] Keywords—Anime; CLAMP; Cyborg theory; Doujinshi; Fandom; Fan fiction; Ghost in the Shell; Haraway; Manga; Neon Genesis Evangelion; Serial Experiments: Lain; Uncanny

Ashby, Madeline. 2008. Ownership, authority, and the body: Does antifanfic sentiment reflect posthuman anxiety? Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 1.


[0.3] I am spacious, singing flesh, on which is grafted no one knows which I, more or less human, but alive because of transformation.

—Hélène Cixous, "The Laugh of the Medusa"

1. Introduction

[1.1] Thanks to the Internet, mainstream media has slowly awakened to the existence of fan practices that were once relegated to convention halls and fanzines, such as fan fiction and fan art. Although most of the media attention remains playfully spiteful, a few copyright holders have spoken out vehemently against fanfic writers. Despite their small number, their complaints are many. Prose fiction authors like Robin Hobb and Lee Goldberg argue that fan fiction writers are stealing their original characters when writing their own stories. They frequently liken fan fiction and the violation of copyright and intellectual property law to physical theft, or to a physical—perhaps even sexual—assault on characters who feel like friends and family. These critiques surround fan involvement with and interpretation of ownership, authority, and the body.

[1.2] Issues surrounding bodies and their owners, creators, or authors, as well as the question of who holds the rights to them, frequently arise in cyberpunk science fiction. Films like Blade Runner and The Matrix feature plotlines wherein villainous characters—be they human, mechanical, or commercial—exploit the bodies and talents of posthuman characters like replicants and cyborgs on the basis of the precept that they own those bodies through authorship. In Blade Runner, genetic engineers Eldon Tyrell and J. F. Sebastian wrote or coded the replicants, maintaining control for themselves by shortening the replicants' life span (and shrinking the number of possible copies), thus limiting the autonomy of their creations. Similarly, the sentient machines in The Matrix invert the paradigm by growing humans in tanks to power their expanding empire, then keeping them forever enclosed in uterine tanks. Japanese anime has similar stories of corporate rights holders exerting influence over the bodies they created: The main character of Mamoru Oshii's film Ghost in the Shell (1995) worries that once she quits her government job, her government-funded cyborg body and all the memories it has accumulated will be taken from her. In each of these cases, the authors assert private ownership and authorship of a specific body, thus exerting a frightening amount of control over their creations in a manner that impinges on their presumed humanity. "Unauthor-ized" use of this body becomes criminal.

[1.3] Of course, the writing of the body and the depiction of female subjectivity through writing has long been a tenet of feminism. Cixous exhorts women to "Write! Writing is for you, you are for you; your body is yours, take it" (1986:309). Donna Haraway (2002) later claimed writing as the premiere technology for cyborgs in her "ironic political myth" of a new feminist subjectivity based on affinity, rather than identity. The affinity-based communities Haraway describes have migrated online, often in the form of fandom circles (that is, a group of people who create manga, as opposed to a single author), whose crafts are frequently concerned with the body and who owns it, as well as the discovery of sexuality through depictions of that body. The goal of this paper is to compare these real and fictional notions of ownership and authorship and their impact on the body—both in the way (predominantly female) fan fiction writers relate to real and virtual bodies, and in how bodies are portrayed in fictional works, specifically Japanese animation. Along the way, we shall see how the market for Japanese anime and manga has created a space for fans. This space includes their interpretation (and possible violation) of copyright and intellectual property law, as well as their rights to their readings of the text, and their practice of copying commercially licensed characters and settings. In what ways are the anxieties and ethical concerns surrounding the posthuman body and the postauthor fandom similar?

2. The posthuman body

[2.1] Examples of the posthuman body abound within popular culture narratives, and they have been a staple of science fiction. Whether rendered posthuman by genetic engineering, mechanical augmentation, or psychological advancement, these characters often form the crux of stories set in uncertain, dystopian futures. Japanese anime enjoys examining the cyborg body in particular. Theorist Toshiya Ueno says that "it is well-known that, especially in Japanese animation, women are figured in very specific ways, and the theme of the merging of women with technology is the most visible one. In much of Japanese animation, female characters are numerous and frequently supposed to possess special abilities of being more adjustable to machines and technologies" (2002:234).

[2.2] In her liberatory "Manifesto for Cyborgs," originally published in 1985, Haraway defines the cyborg as "a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction" (2002:65). As she reminds us, the first creature to be referred to as a cyborg was a white lab rat from New York's Rockland State Hospital with an osmotic pump grafted to its tail. Since the 1950s, organic/synthetic composites have become more common in medicine: Surgeons can insert replacement hips, knees, or jaws; pacemakers assist the human heart with rhythm. Similarly, depictions of cyborgs and posthumans have increased in popular culture. And although Haraway (1995) writes of the female cyborg body as one that has gone beyond the limits of binarist thinking about gender, age, class, or ethnicity (note 1), other critics remain wary of the promise of cyborg life. In particular, Anne Balsamo notes that "as a cyborg, simultaneously discursive and material, the female body is the site at which we can witness the struggle between systems of social order." It has yet to go beyond the material, and thus it remains "identified by its reproductive responsibilities and sexual connections to men" (1996:39).

[2.3] These issues of cyborg reproduction, sexuality, and power are frequently played out in Japanese animation, or anime. Although the definition of anime is continually changing as non-Japanese cultures appropriate its tropes and traditions and as the technical production of the animation itself spans media and international borders, the term anime most commonly refers to animation from Japan, in either cinematic or serial televised format, often with themes and content unexplored in Western cartoons intended for children. This is not to say that anime does not exist for Japanese children—it is as much a staple of their media diet as cartoons are for Western children. But in addition to programming targeted at children, the anime spectrum contains titles as broad in focus as the rest of live-action commercial television: comedies, dramas, and romances intended for a range of ages. Because anime appeals to adults as well as youths, and because both the gray area of fansubs (discussed later) and the for-profit licensed market for anime in English translation have increased, anime has become a more frequent subject of critical analysis. Like fan studies, anime criticism sits at the intersection of multiple fields: film theory, Asian studies, technical innovation, cultural studies, translation studies, media theory, economics, and design. Like fan studies specialists, anime critics often begin as connoisseurs of the art form. This paper attempts to connect both anime criticism and fan studies within the figure of the fan and the cyborg.

[2.4] Ghost in the Shell (1995), Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995–96), and Serial Experiments: Lain (1998) involve women who merge with technology at the bodily level and whose relationship with high technology—often dictated by fathers, male employers, or other patriarchal authorities—leads them to question whether their reproductive potential is a path to wholeness and humanity. These women are each aware of copies or clones of themselves, and all three must resolve the conflict of identity that meeting their uncanny, sometimes mechanized, double creates within them. The tensions at play in this conflict—reproduction, authority, and identity—closely mirror those in the discussion of original or canon texts and fan fiction. However, for now, we must further explore the three titles mentioned above.

[2.5] Of the three, Mamoru Oshii's 1995 film, Ghost in the Shell, is the one written about most frequently. Oshii adapted the story from a popular manga (graphic novel) by Masamune Shirow. Susan Napier describes the film as an "exploration of the possibilities of transcending individual and corporeal identity" (2001:104). It revolves around Motoko Kusanagi, a powerful female cyborg in the year 2029 who works for Section 9, a fictional antiterrorist organization within Japan's government. In the film, Kusanagi must track down an elusive hacker known as the Puppet Master. This quest occurs alongside Kusanagi's continuing ruminations regarding her existence as a cyborg, wherein she questions her personal uniqueness and that of her memories. When she does eventually find the Puppet Master, she discovers that he is not a human but a powerful sentient intelligence born on the Internet as part of an espionage program. The Puppet Master then asks her to merge with him so that they both might achieve a fuller sense of identity by reproducing their offspring into the Net. She agrees, then uploads and shares her consciousness with the Puppet Master while a fragment of herself remains in her cybernetic shell. The film highlights this as an act of reproduction: Kusanagi's original cyborg body, once a powerful signifier of adult femininity with its assorted curves, is destroyed by her own government and replaced by a child-sized version that her partner buys on the black market.

[2.6] Critics vary on whether Kusanagi's decision to leave her body behind and join the Puppet Master is truly an act of cyborg feminism as described by Haraway, or whether the film undermines any potential radical message by surrendering to the metanarrative of heterosexual reproduction. Borrowing from Balsamo, Carl Silvio (1999) says that

[2.7] the evocation of this conventional trope of reproduction, the female body as the bearer of life, profoundly qualifies the subversive potential of the film's ending by transforming Kusanagi's radically re-coded and resistant cyborg body into a maternal body, a vehicle for the production of offspring. Because this final scene is entirely packaged within the familiar rhetoric of this trope, it is difficult for the audience not to think of Kusanagi as anything other than a "mother," a maternal figure whose role is ultimately synonymous with her corporeality.

[2.8] Conversely, Brian Ruh argues that "although [Kusanagi] was powerful, she was not powerful for herself, but rather a pawn of the government and bureaucracy. Kusanagi was confined by the technology of the body, but through the technology of the Puppet Master she is able to slip the shackles of her imprisonment" (2004:139). Christopher Bolton attempts to step outside these two positions, saying that "treating Kusanagi as a living subject clearly misses the ways in which her body will always fall inside quotation marks; she is a virtual or performed subject that is both unreal and more than real from the start. As a performed medium, anime must be approached not just as a generic category of social text but also on its own aesthetic terms" (2002:737).

[2.9] All of these arguments center on and attempt to define Kusanagi's relationship to the patriarchal forces at work in her life, specifically the forces that control her cyborg body. These exist on both the real and fictional realms. Bolton (2002) writes of Kusanagi in the context of Japanese puppet theatre, categorizing all anime characters as the puppets of their animator–puppet masters, whereas Silvio and Ruh focus on her treatment at the hands of her fictional employers and engineers, the men who pay and build her body "to perform work about which one has no choice" (Ruh 2004:138). However, although the aforementioned analyses of Kusanagi's body examine it as a cybernetic organism, none of them focuses on that body as a commercial property. Ruh's analysis comes closest, saying that although "Kusanagi 'inhabits' her body, it belongs to the government, thereby ensuring her obedience" (2004:137). He sees Kusanagi's rejection of her body as a rejection of her government's control and observation.

[2.10] However, one of the film's more lyrical scenes may shed light on another interpretation. In the scene, Kusanagi sees a copy of herself in an office window. Napier describes this copy as "a presumably human woman who appears to be a double of Kusanagi herself" (2001:106). The scene is part of a long montage wherein Kusanagi tours her city. Her sudden recognition of her double occurs after she observes a group of mannequins in a shop window. Kusanagi only meets her double while literally window-shopping in a highly commercialized context. This scene highlights her body as a commodity that can be copied and sold for various purposes. Which is the original? Is Kusanagi's double a human, or simply another cyborg who has purchased a similar body and face? Who owns the right to that body and its image? Certainly not Kusanagi; the film repeatedly stresses that if Kusanagi loses her job or decides to quit, she will have to forfeit that body. In short, Kusanagi holds the right to neither her body nor its signifiers. She has no control over the meanings that intersect within it. Her only control over that body is to destroy or abandon it.

[2.11] Similarly, Rei Ayanami in Neon Genesis Evangelion can only enact a form of agency over her body by destroying herself. Like Kusanagi, Rei is conscious of her identity as a copy, although it is unclear within the series whether she knows who she is a clone of, or if she is indeed a clone of a human being (note 2). Like Kusanagi, Rei has a close relationship to technology. She is the pilot of a giant humanoid robot called the Evangelion. Her body is a particularly voluptuous vision of a 14-year-old girl's, and unlike any of the series' other human characters, she has blue hair and red eyes that signify her otherness. In addition, Rei claims that she is a "girl who doesn't bleed," hinting at a possible inability to reproduce. So although Rei cannot have her own children, she is fully conscious of her identity as one of a series that might be endlessly reproduced and for which there may be no true original.

[2.12] At several points throughout the series, Rei questions her humanity and her identity, often during moments when she has the opportunity to end her own life. During an intense interrogation sequence near the end of the series, Rei comments that she is happy only because she wants death: "I want despair. I want to disappear into nothingness. But he won't let me disappear into nothingness" (my emphasis). Here, the "he" is Gendo Ikari, commander of NERV, the organization for which Rei works as a pilot. The series makes clear that Gendo is a callous, unfeeling villain from the first episode, but his relationship with Rei seems particularly cruel: We learn that she may be a clone of his dead wife, and that his only interest in her is as a means for him to bring about the end of the world. Throughout the television series, Gendo seems to care for Rei's well-being (saving her life) or to be content with using her as a pawn (such as when he nearly deploys an injured Rei to pilot the Evangelion, thereby causing his reluctant son to volunteer for the job). In each case, Gendo takes on the role of father, commander, employer, and possibly lover (he observes Rei naked and takes her on trips with him), all situations in which he maintains control and power. Moreover, Gendo is fully aware of Rei's status as a clone: After his wife's death, we see him leading a very young Rei around his workplace, and in a flashback, we learn that Gendo had wanted to name his daughter Rei, were his wife pregnant with a girl.

[2.13] Within the scope of the television series, we see Rei claim her agency very little. One of her fellow pilots even accuses her of being a "robot," a "wind-up doll," and an "unthinking, emotionless puppet" (note 3) who will blindly follow orders. However, the accusation is to some extent false. Rei frequently disobeys orders if given the chance to end her own life—at one point she even self-destructs her Evangelion to save the other pilots, despite direct orders not to. During one desperate attempt to defeat an enemy, Rei acknowledges her understanding that she is a clone, saying "If I die, I can be replaced." (Once cloned again, she says, "I think I am the third.")

[2.14] Similarly, during the End of Evangelion (1997) film, Rei disobeys Gendo's orders in order to assist the main character, Shinji. During a pivotal scene, Gendo reaches inside Rei's body with his bare hand—her body is in an advanced state of decay and her skin is permeable—to transmit an embryonic Angel into her, bring about the apocalypse, and rejoin his dead wife. Hearing Shinji's screams for help, Rei snaps Gendo's hand off at the wrist, joins with yet another Angel, and grows in size and power to help Shinji as Gendo shouts in pain and protest. She plainly informs him that she is "not a puppet [for him to control]," and also "not [like] him" (note 4).

[2.15] Like Kusanagi, Rei chooses her own path at the expense of her body, then gains a much stronger and more powerful—one might even say divine—body in exchange. She then uses her new form to assist Shinji and express her feelings to him. In defying Gendo, she becomes a hybrid who evolves beyond her simple clone double, a cyborg of sorts who carries multiple identities within one body. This body takes on different shapes and planes of existence throughout the film: Rei, a human-shaped Angel named Kaworu, Shinji's mother, a ghostly vision of Rei herself. Rei thus regains the right to copy her body by fundamentally changing the nature of that body and repurposing it. This reflects her growing ability to copy herself infinitely on a psychic or spiritual level and appear as a sort of ghost or harbinger of death for the other characters (note 5), a plot point that cyberpunk science fiction author William Gibson may have adapted and reversed for his novel All Tomorrow's Parties (1999), in which a holographic singer named Rei uses fabrication units to "print" multiple copies of herself into physical existence (note 6).

[2.16] Other authors have commented on Rei's unique posthuman subjectivity. Sharalyn Orbaugh mentions Rei's cloned status in the context of the series' other female characters: "Shinji's mother has been fused with the inorganic material of the EVA suit—as well as being cloned to produce Rei—and Ritsuko's mother has been fused with the MAGI computer system. It is noteworthy that, in every case, it is a woman whose complete intercorporation with the inorganic has produced the weapons powerful enough to resist the angels" (2002:442). Mariana Ortega also examines the phenomenon of Rei's intercorporation and bodily mergers during her analysis of End of Evangelion: "She also becomes a symbol of internalized sexuality, onanism, oedipal desire, and stagnation, a cipher for the refusal and/or inability to individuate sexually and physically, as well as the latent potential to do so" (2007:227). Like Bolton, Napier draws a parallel between animated characters and puppets, then cautions against reading too much liberation into the series' apocalyptic ending: "Even when we think we can control the reality around us, we are actually at its mercy, cartoon characters in the hands of the fates or the animators. The happy ending that we see is one ending but, as the series makes clear, it is only one of many possible endings" (2002:430). Napier's reading again highlights the theme of the double. This particular theme within the screenplay reflects the larger reality of the Evangelion franchise as a whole: It has existed as an animated television series, two feature films, two different graphic novel series, and multiple video games, and has since been rebuilt as a series of six films with new animation but the same director. Much like fan-created materials such as fan fiction, doujinshi (fan comics), or even hand-painted models, the canonical franchise has copied and reproduced Rei's image, which is under the protection of an official license and copyright. As a commercial property, Rei remains a clone, eternally and multiply doubled.

[2.17] In defining the cyborg, Haraway mentions both doubling and reproduction as key to cyborg identity, saying "cyborgs have more to do with regeneration and are suspicious of the reproductive matrix and most birthing…We require regeneration, not rebirth" (2002:100). She likens the cyborg to a salamander, which can regenerate after injury. She also privileges writing as an act of cyborg reproduction and resistance: "Cyborg writing is about the power to survive, not on the basis of original innocence, but on the basis of seizing the tools to mark the world that marked them as other" (2002:94). The third character we examine both doubles or regenerates herself and uses the technology of writing to take charge of her existence.

[2.18] The title character of Serial Experiments: Lain is a shy adolescent girl who slowly becomes more interested in a virtual world called "the Wired" when she receives e-mail from a classmate who recently committed suicide. When Lain uses this mysterious e-mail as an opportunity to make friends, she learns that multiple versions of herself have appeared both on the Wired and in the "real" world. Lain's doubles have interacted with others, causing trouble. This is a classic example of the uncanny double (note 7). We learn that Lain has suppressed various parts of her personality that make a disturbing return to her via the Wired, forcing Lain to acknowledge the reality of her existence as a "goddess" of the Wired. After a discussion with her father about her true origins, Lain understands her power over the Wired. She uses her newfound strength and cleverness to overthrow an oppressive force within the Wired, but in claiming her power, she, like Kusanagi and Rei, must erase her physical body. Like Kusanagi, Lain achieves a ubiquitous, omniscient presence within the Wired. This new subjectivity affords her godlike powers of observation and control, and with her abilities, she can constantly watch over her friends and family, but at the expense of never joining them. In addition, she must destroy the memories that others have of her. Napier characterizes the movement thusly: "The erasure of memory is seen here ironically as comforting, a way to rewrite an unhappy history—much as Japanese textbooks have erased certain episodes of the Pacific War—but underneath the irony is a tragedy of a child's non-existence. The ubiquitous still shots of a nude Lain in fetal position surrounded by computer wires and components suggest her total takeover by the machine" (2002:432).

[2.19] As we have seen, all three of the women examined here must undergo a process of self-discovery that involves their confrontation with a kind of double—be it a factory-floor reproduction of a cyborg body, a clone, or an uncanny return of elements of the subconscious—that ends with their rejection of the physical body and new powers to rewrite their existence. Although the prospect of this double may seem frightening or demoralizing at first, each of them finds a way to transcend the control that their creators and employers have over the reproduction of that double. In Kusanagi's and Lain's cases, this occurs as the result of a deepening relationship with high technology. For Rei, it means an edit to her very genetic code, rather than the simple death of the physical body. In addition, this evolution involves a rejection of patriarchal control: They overthrow government, employer, and paternal authority over the body and the rights to its reproductions and copies by editing themselves as they see fit.

[2.20] Like Haraway's cyborgs, who are suspicious of traditional reproduction, these women have no apparent desire to give birth. Instead, they wish to alter their very selves while maintaining a kernel of identity. Although the titles frequently code them as mothers or goddesses, we never see their offspring. Instead, we meet their new, more empowered selves, who remain recognizable but different, often with the ability to be in multiple places at once, endlessly copied. Their subjectivity is now shared on their own terms rather than at the behest of authority figures who claimed ownership and control based on creation. On the one hand, these stories can be read as a classic adolescent romance narrative—the characters go on quests to find their identity by separating from parental authority. But in these characters we might also find a metaphor for fan activities online, and an understanding of why some find those activities so troubling.

3. The postauthor fandom

[3.1] While defining postmodern anxieties regarding high technology, Scott Bukatman writes: "There has arisen a cultural crisis of visibility and control over a new electronically defined reality" (1993:1). Although he does not mention the Internet explicitly, his words resonate for the unique predicament introduced by the Internet regarding fandom, copyright, and authorship. In recent years, academics have paid greater attention to the phenomenon of fan-created materials like fan fiction, fan vids, and fan art. Self-proclaimed acafans—academics who also engage in fan practices or watch from afar—have ascribed various metaphors to these activities, some of which have to do with the unique embodiment of fictional characters in media. Some prose fiction authors simply request that fan fiction not be written using their characters; others seem untroubled by fan practices. The creators and license holders who claim to dislike fan crafts (and fan fiction in particular) also use embodied language when describing what they see as not just illegal, but also morally and ethically reprehensible, even harmful. Part of their critique is a clear indictment of what their (predominantly female) fans find arousing, and thus a criticism of their fans' sexuality and performativity online. This is another example of the female body intersecting with technology to create a discourse of authority, sexuality, and rebellion.

[3.2] Two prose fiction writers who have made their unfavorable opinions on the matter known are Robin Hobb and Lee Goldberg. Both of them use embodied, sexualized language to describe their stance on fan fiction and how it uses—or, to their way of thinking, abuses—characters. In a 2005 blog post that has since been taken down, fantasy author Hobb describes her disagreement with fan fiction as a battle between fan and author, wherein the fan misinterprets or attempts to fix what the author has done wrong. In addition, Hobb uses embodied language to describe what she sees as the inevitably sexual nature of fan fiction, as well as habits that she believes to be unhealthy.

[3.3] Every fan fiction I've read to date, based on my world or any other writer's world, had focused on changing the writer's careful work to suit the foible of the fan writer. Romances are invented, gender identities changed, fetishes indulged and endings are altered. It's not flattery. To me, it is the fan fiction writer saying, "Look, the original author really screwed up the story, so I'm going to fix it. Here is how it should have gone." At the extreme low end of the spectrum, fan fiction becomes personal masturbation fantasy in which the fan reader is interacting with the writer's character. That isn't healthy for anyone. (

[3.4] She codes fan fiction as both perverse and insulting because it interferes with the author's original intent. This makes a moral claim on authority based on creation. In essence, Hobb has claimed parentage of her fiction, as though her characters were children that she did not wish to play with others whom she had not previously approved of. Taken to its logical conclusion, Hobb's preference would remove her work (and any fiction work) from the gaze of literary interpretation and criticism, which might threaten the work with analysis of subtext and other unintended meanings, just as fan fiction has been lauded as doing (note 8).

[3.5] Similarly, author Lee Goldberg's criticism of fan fiction seems largely to do with the alleged perversity of its writers and readers (note 9) and their interference with another author's characters, as well as fan fiction being a violation of copyright and intellectual property law. Goldberg actually pays very close attention to the fan fiction community online, tracking their movements and commenting on e-mails and comments to his own Web site. In response to one such e-mail, he writes in a 2007 blog entry:

[3.6] Call me crazy, but I think there are lots of ways you can discover and explore your sexuality without taking characters you didn't create or own, writing stories about them, and publishing them on the web without the author's permission. It's one thing to write fanfic for yourself to fantasize about or as a writing exercise, it's another when you publish and/or post the stories on the web without the original authors' consent.

[3.7] I believe it's theoretically possible that women will still discover that they are lesbians without writing and publishing/posting stories about Buffy and Xena exploring the joys of sapphic love together…and that men might continue to discover their gay selves without writing and publishing/posting stories about Harry Potter giving Ron blowjobs. (March 24, 2007,

[3.8] Like Hobb, Goldberg focuses on the sexual fetishization of commercially licensed, fictional characters, as well as the lack of consent to use or creatively repurpose them. This thinking treats the characters as physical beings who can be stolen or kidnapped by perverse fan fiction writers for their own nefarious purposes. Thinking of characters (intellectual property) as embodied subjects (physical property) also comes up at a discussion at author John Scalzi's Web site (, where multiple posters analogized fictional characters and settings to Coca-Cola, then argued whether "sipping" or "making recipes based on" them was ethical ("Let's get transformative. Whatever," December 13, 2007,

[3.9] To think of a fictional character as analogous to an embodied subject, especially to an author's child, is nothing new. Sandra Gilbert says, "the patriarchal notion that the writer 'fathers' his text just as God fathered the world is and has been all-pervasive in Western literary civilization, so much so that, as Edward Said has shown, the metaphor is built into the very word, author, with which the writer, deity, and pater familias are identified" (1986:487).

[3.10] This very concept of "author-ity" allows power and control for the original creator—the parent—over the text, but fans frequently subvert this authority through their readings of the text. In their hands, fictional characters become rebellious children who escape and flout the author's parental authority. Or, to extend the metaphor into the realm of the posthuman, these characters become subject to what Isaac Asimov termed the "Frankenstein syndrome," or the fear that "any artificially created humanoid will necessarily turn against his creator at some point" (Kaplan 2004:11).

[3.11] Since Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's novel from which Asimov's idea derives its name, science fiction narratives have continually examined this fear of rebellion. This fear is etched into the Western, Judeo-Christian tradition of literature: in Blade Runner, Tyrell recites verses from Paradise Lost when referring to the angry replicant Roy Beatty, automatically characterizing their relationship as that between a god and his flawed, subjugated, even evil creation. The fear and disgust expressed by Hobb, Goldberg, and other prose fiction authors about fan fiction is nothing more than another iteration of a deep-seated cultural assertion about the nature of authority, originality, and control, especially control over bodies. Like Frankenstein horrified by the creature's intelligence, cunning, and violence, these authors recoil from the sheer potential offered by their fictional creations, or as Michel Foucault put it, the "many infinite resources available for the creations of discourse" within "an author's fertility" (1986:155). Once their creatures escape into the wilderness of the Internet, encountering families of fans and participating in new languages, they may make an uncanny return of their own, changed from their travels into something the author no longer recognizes as her own creation. Here, the author's character may become what Judith Halberstam calls a "totalizing monster," a figure whose monstrosity "allows for a whole range of specific monstrosities," such as other sexualities, other desires, other ethnicities or classes or histories "to coalesce in the same form" (1995:29).

[3.12] Informed by the multiple perspectives available in the fan community, the author's original "property" becomes a posthuman subject unto itself, like Frankenstein's creature composed of disparate parts, "an amalgam, a collection of heterogeneous components, a material-informational entity whose boundaries undergo continuous construction and reconstruction" (Hayles 1999:3). In short, the discursive field of fandom allows fictional characters to become cyborgs, creatures of what Haraway later called "'life itself,' with its temporalities embedded in communications enhancement and system redesign" (1997:14). This cyborgification of the fictional character means the separation of author and character, parent and child, as unsettling and uncanny as the posthuman fantasy of an ectogenetic fetus grown outside the womb, as in The Matrix. If the cyborg is, as Haraway said, "suspicious of most birthing," then fan practices can be read as cyborg reproduction via writing, not unlike the proliferation of multiple selves by Kusanagi, Rei, and Lain.

[3.13] This is not to say that fan reproductions occur without human sentiment or affection, nor are they always regarded with such skepticism or disgust. Japanese fan practices enjoy key differences from their English-language counterparts. Despite the rigor of Japanese copyright law, some fans engage in flagrant violations that—unlike the practices of most English-language fans online—actually earn them some money. Conventions like Comic Market allow doujinshi—fan-produced manga based on commercially licensed characters—artists to gather and sell their wares for profit. This practice is largely unheard of and even frowned on in English-language fandom, yet some of these doujinshi eventually arrive in the same bookstores as the canonical manga title. Perhaps unsurprisingly, some of the best known manga-ka, including the enormously successful manga circle, CLAMP, started in the gray area of doujinshi. Since their days as unlicensed artists remixing others' work, CLAMP's original manga titles have gone on to be animated. The former doujinshi artists' work is now so successful as to have its own doujinshi:

[3.14] During our conversation, I reached into my backpack to show her the three Clamp dojin titles I'd bought at K-Books. Her handlers—a few managers and a guy from legal—winced and exchanged worried looks. But Ohkawa burst into a delighted laugh and then flipped through Sakura Remix and Hacker Chobits. "Any popular manga is going to have this treatment done," she told me. "It is by people who are truly in love with the work, and you have to respect that."

[3.15] So, I asked, is Hacker Chobits actually good for the real Chobits?

[3.16] She paused. "I think it's good because they are expressing love for the work. And, of course, we come from the dojinshi world, so I understand this." Fans even sometimes send her their dojinshi, and what she admires about these works is the dedication and the innovation they show. "There is originality here. There are new stories. It's not a copy." (Daniel H. Pink, Wired, October 22, 2007,

[3.17] Although Ohkawa's position may not represent the feeling among manga-ka as a whole, and although her opinion seems to differ from that of her publishing and legal representatives, it does reflect a certain reality within the anime and manga market that allows for fan distribution. In fact, the market for U.S.-licensed anime in the 1980s and 1990s began with fans distributing VHS tapes among themselves, and attempts by anime studios and distributors to crack American markets relied largely on their involvement with these fans who had already engaged in a kind of copyright infringement.

[3.18] Fans used the introduction of the VCR to share raw, untranslated anime with others, as a slew of fantastic imagery and incomprehensible language bombarded audiences at the back of science fiction conventions. The birth of fan distribution followed, releasing anime shows for a vast underground network of fans throughout the country. By 1990, fans started to fansub—to translate and subtitle anime videos. Many fans started anime companies, becoming the industry leaders of today (Leonard 2005:282).

[3.19] This almost Harawayan blurring of boundaries between producer and consumer is key to what Napier identifies as important to anime fandom's appeal among Western audiences: "As Western thought turns away from Cartesian reality to embrace the uncertainties and flexibilities of a world with fewer and fewer master narratives, Japanese culture, with its tolerance of ambiguity and ephemerality, might be a particularly apt vehicle with which to confront the complexities of the current period" (2007:214). But where does this leave us? At what point do the concerns of the posthuman body and the postauthor fandom meet? In the age of the Internet, both issues involve the topography of cyberspace, "an erotic space, a space defined by the flow of desire and the circumvention of (the poaching upon) instrumental, capitalist, space" (Bukatman 1993:310). Moreover, they are linked to the discourse surrounding ownership, authorship, and the body, specifically the female body, which "is no abstract notion (as the battle for reproductive rights amply demonstrates) and is more evidently bound into a system of power relations" (Bukatman 1993:314). These power relations are frequently bound up in notions of authorship and property, both of which establish meaning by presupposing users, consumers, or participants who remain firmly planted on the other side of a discursively and legally produced but little-enforced "property line"—the line separating those who possess "author-ity" from those who do not. As Haraway says: "Only some of the necessary 'writers' have the semiotic status of 'authors' for any text" because "property is the kind of relationality that poses as the-thing-in-itself, the commodity, the thing outside relationships, the thing that can be exhaustively measured, mapped, owned, appropriated, disposed" (1997:7–8).

[3.20] The intersection becomes clearest if we accept the body as a text, and, implicitly, the text as a body, for "a literary text is not only speech made quite literally embodied, but also power mysteriously made manifest, made flesh" (Gilbert 1986:488). The body is a discursive crossroads formed and coded by multiple authors and perspectives on both the real and figurative levels. Every child is a collaborative work whose (genetic) code was written by two individuals (and whose psychological programming is the product of an unknown number of contributors), and adults slowly take on the ability to "edit" speech, appearance, and mannerisms for various social contexts. The body and its associated values are similarly coded, interpreted, and otherwise made the subject and product of discourse. Cyberpunk fiction makes this reading of the body clear: The cyborgs that populate William Gibson's novels or Mamoru Oshii's films are able to rewrite their memories, modify their bodies, and treat themselves as works in progress. They are bodies of work that "are not slaves to master discourses but emerge at nodes where bodies, bodies of discourse, and discourses of bodies intersect to foreclose any easy distinction between actor and stage, between sender/receiver, channel, code, message, context" (Halberstam and Livingston 1996:2).

[3.21] At these nodes are both the cyborgified characters of fan fiction and the cyborg authors who act as their puppet masters. If the body is a text that can be read, it can also be copied, interpreted, edited, and rewritten. This is the same for the fictional body, or the body that enacts fiction. The writing of the body and the self-discovery of the body through writing are phenomena that both Goldberg and Hobb (but especially Goldberg) criticize within fan fiction. Drawing on performance theory to develop a metaphor for fan practices, Francesca Coppa writes: "Fan fiction's concern with bodies is often perceived as a problem or flaw, but performance is predicated on the idea of bodies, rather than words, as the storytelling medium" (2006:229). The same may hold true for puppets, according to Bolton (2002). He uses voice, weight, and story to link puppets to animated characters—and the female cyborg Kusanagi in particular—via the tradition of Japanese puppet theater:

[3.22] But through analogy with the puppet theater, we can regard the words of the Puppet Master (itself a piece of code, a being of language) as a kind of michiyuki [lovers' suicide that brings transcendence], highlighting the power of words alone to bring about the pair's transformation. A moment after the Puppet Master finally finishes describing the merge, it is complete. Its speech has rewritten them both. (2002:764)

[3.23] This reading strongly resembles Haraway's hope for the cyborg to write herself into being and Haraway's claim that "writing is pre-eminently the technology of cyborgs," and that cyborg politics is "a struggle for language" (2002:95). Bolton concludes his analogy by saying that viewing the cyborg Kusanagi requires a greater cyborgification of the viewer: "Unlike the live puppet theater, the animated language of Oshii's drama is so high tech that we require a prosthesis to see it, a projector, DVD player, or VCR…Every moment that we watch the artificial bodies of Oshii's celluloid cyborgs, the technologies of reproduction implicate us in the loop or the network of high-tech representation that is turning us into cyborgs ourselves" (2002:767).

[3.24] In short, fans of cyborgs do to some extent become cyborgs themselves. This is especially true of anime fans who rely on their Internet connections—both mechanical and interpersonal—to scavenge the wilderness for new texts and new products (note 10). Writing is their "pre-eminent technology" as they engage in translation, fansubbing, coding, and downloading. It is no less true for producers of fan fiction, who attempt to "mark the world" (to revisit Haraway's phrase) of the Internet not only through their bodies of prose but also through their participation in affinity-based communities. Online fandom has become a discursive field within which to discover and enjoy both the physical and the written body, as Cixous urged, although, as she so plainly pointed out: "Smug-faced readers, managing editors, and big bosses don't like the true texts of women—female-sexed texts. That kind scares them" (1986:310). Online fandom is a place for new subjectivities, new bodies of work, and new bodies at play, in infinite diversity. Like Kusanagi, Rei, and Lain, these fans can and do disregard "author-ity" and continue copying, editing, and changing characters (and their bodies) to suit their pleasure and to stretch and define their freedom and potential within the Wired. But doing so requires the creation of another self, not merely an alias but an identity shaped by participation in community. Like Haraway's cyborg, this writer (who may not have the semiotic status of author) is unconcerned with origins or "author-ity" and focuses instead on the joys of inhabiting a shared textual/virtual/imaginary space with like-minded people. Rei Ayanami articulates this cyborg subjectivity best, though her words are startlingly relevant for a fictional character constantly reinterpreted by both fans and license holders: "I became myself by the instrumentality of the links and relationships between myself and others. I am formed by interaction with others. They create me as I create them."

[3.25] But as with all "ironic political myths" that use the cyborg as a key metaphor, this particular narrative of fandom must question whether the fan-cyborg's position is truly liberated. As Balsamo (1996) warns us regarding Haraway's cyborgs, fans cannot escape the materiality of the body or its associated politics. Success as fans does not mean material or financial success. It will not feed or clothe anyone, and it does little to end war or disease or to otherwise ameliorate global suffering. Unlike Motoko Kusanagi, these cyborgs cannot stop crime. In fact, to choose cyborg subjectivity in this context is to choose an identity steeped in the potential for criminality, and an implicit splitting of the self into real and virtual personae.

[3.26] And yet, if the animated narratives above are any indication, this shift in identity and subjectivity is key to understanding humanity in "the present cultural moment, a moment that sees itself as science fiction" (Bukatman 1993:6). This is an era when bodies are endlessly observed and discussed, when state-sponsored surveillance is expected, and when bodies win prizes for most weight lost and least space taken up. Official political discourse strives to divorce the body from words like torture while simultaneously pushing tortured bodies into a place beyond words, and the female body is judged not only for sexual desirability and reproductive potential but also for the possible religious, ethical, and political meanings behind the textile signifiers of clothing (both the burka and the combat uniform). Thus, it is not surprising that legions of female fans all over the world rejoice in the rejection of the body by the likes of Japanese-animated women, and they find pleasure in the performance of new identities online in order to subvert the relatively unthreatening authority of a single author or even a faceless media corporation seemingly more concerned with digital piracy than the fictional lives of fictional characters. For if Kusanagi and Rei and Lain have done anything, it is to violate the copyright of their own existence, to become their own greatest fans, and copy, edit, and share themselves, as Ohkawa put it, out of "dedication," "innovation," and "love." This ability to change the self and claim new agency and fresh identity is the dream of the cyborg, the fan, and the human.

4. Notes

1. This is a theme throughout Haraway's manifesto (2002). She writes: "The cyborg is a creature in a post-gender world; it has no truck with bisexuality, pre-Oedipal symbiosis, unalienated labour, or other seductions to organic wholeness through a final appropriation of a the powers of the parts into a higher unity" (67). Later, she notes: "The cyborg is a kind of disassembled and reassembled, post-modern collective and personal self" (82). She also stresses the role of "affinity, not identity" as a new route to feminist activism across national and socioeconomic boundaries (73).

2. Various writers interpreted the series differently. Orbaugh (2002) states explicitly that Rei is a clone of Gendo's wife (and Shinji's mother), Yui, but Ortega (2007) says that Rei is a hybrid of Yui and an Angel named Lilith.

3. Here, it is worth noting the Japanese word for doll and puppet is the same: ningyo. The word uses the same root character as the word for human, ningen.

4. Please note that there are subtle differences between the subtitled translation and the English-language dialogue here. The English-language dialogue has been bracketed.

5. Throughout the series and the film, glowing or transparent visions of Rei appear to the other characters. Whether Rei manipulates these visions remains unclear. However, during The End of Evangelion, Rei appears to the others at the moment of death, often transforming into the one they love most. She does so both before and after defying Gendo and merging with an Angel named Lilith.

6. Gibson makes frequent reference to anime within his work: a character in Idoru wears a Gunsmith Cats watch, and the holographic singer Rei's last name is Toei, like the film company that produces anime like Sailor Moon. Rei Toei's character also seems to be adapted from Sharon Apple, the virtual idol in Macross Plus.

7. Here I am relying on Freud's 1919 essay on "The Uncanny," in which he describes the phenomenon of the double at length. Freud in turn relies on Schelling: "'Unheimlich' is the name for everything that ought to have remained…secret and hidden but has come to light" (2002:224).

8. See Willis (2006), Jenkins et al. (2006), and Jenkins with Campbell (2006).

9. Goldberg's Web site ( has an entire tag devoted to fan fiction, and many of the entries concern what Goldberg finds odd about fan fiction sexually.

10. I use the verb scavenge here on purpose in reference to the scrap scavengers Takayuki Tatsumi (2006) mentions. Of particular note to the fan studies oeuvre is this quotation from the chapter on these so-called Apaches: "As soon as the existing standard of aesthetics collapses, the hypercapitalist imperative incorporates the weirdest into the most marketable, the most avant-garde, and the most beautiful" (156).

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