Simulation and database society in Japanese role-playing game fandoms: Reading boys' love dōjinshi online

Lucy Hannah Glasspool

Nagoya University Graduate School of Languages and Cultures, Nagoya, Japan

[0.1] Abstract—Japanese video games have been characterized as typifying contemporary postmodernity in the form of simulacra, both as a media form and in terms of their extensive localization for international markets, which creates user fantasies of Japaneseness that are not linked to an authentic or original Japan. These simulations are reappropriated by fans to create new content, in this case boys' love dōjinshi, which are in turn disseminated and consumed in an English-speaking online context. Fantasy role-playing video games, which often privilege heteronormativity and binary gender norms in their goals, narratives, and aesthetics, are among the most popular texts reimagined in this way. This study considers the concepts of simulation and database societies through an examination of the ways in which artificial contours of Japaneseness are constructed in the role-playing game series Final Fantasy VII's boys' love dōjinshi fandoms, how far these fan texts develop possibilities for the deconstruction of heteronormativity, and how transnational digitized consumption methods facilitate the intersection of these phenomena.

[0.2] Keywords—BL; Final Fantasy; Gender; Postmodern; RPG; Video game

Glasspool, Lucy. 2013. "Simulation and Database Society in Japanese Role-Playing Game Fandoms: Reading Boys' Love Dōjinshi Online." In "Transnational Boys' Love Fan Studies," edited by Kazumi Nagaike and Katsuhiko Suganuma, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 12.

1. Introduction

[1.1] Console role-playing video games, one of Japan's most successful international media exports (Consalvo 2010, 131), have been described as typifying contemporary postmodern culture. Darley (2000) suggests that as a site of simulation, Japanese role-playing games (RPG), as a form of digital media, inhabit the hyperreal as simulacra, characterized by pastiche, intertextuality, and a lack of cultural authenticity or sense of an original. Iwabuchi (2002, 15) describes the cultural "odorlessness" of these Japanese cultural products as mukokuseki: they have few characteristics of any culturally exclusive discourses that serve to delineate the boundaries of "Japaneseness" within Japan itself.

[1.2] However, fan activity surrounding these games outside Japan ascribes a certain cultural capital to ideas of Japaneseness. This is apparent in the dissemination and consumption of boys' love (BL) dōjinshi based on RPGs such as the Final Fantasy series, particularly in an online context, where both the content of the materials and the fan practices surrounding them have been considered to present a queer challenge to the hegemonic ideals of heteronormativity and gender binaries (Thorn 2004; Wood 2006) that are frequently contained within the narratives and visuals of the games themselves.

[1.3] Here I use materials surrounding the Japanese RPG series Final Fantasy VII to examine the ways that the artificial contours of Japaneseness are constructed in English-speaking BL dōjinshi fandoms; to examine to what extent these fan texts may also develop queer potentials that may be used to deconstruct heteronormativity; and to analyze how the two phenomena have been developed by the digitization of dissemination and consumption methods. I also consider whether such online texts and practices may simultaneously limit the ways fans deal with the queer potentials that do arise, encompassing the intersecting concepts of simulation, simulacra, and database society.

[1.4] Much work has been done on Japanese popular culture and fan activity within a US context (Allison 2006, 2009; Kelts 2006). Although my own cultural background and focus is the United Kingdom and the fandoms within it, this study is not entirely geographically specific. I focus here on electronically mediated and online activity, making it problematic to "theorize…about these texts by segregating communities of readers along cultural lines" (Wood 2006, 409). However, this is also one of the key areas of engagement between theorizations of simulation as empty surface play, which cannot provide sites in which to question the hegemonic status quo, and ideas of how the technologies and sites of simulation may be used by fans to do just that.

2. Japanese RPGs as simulacra

[2.1] Japanese fantasy RPGs, produced in Japan by companies that are often hybrids "encompassing a mixture of Japanese and American business" (Consalvo 2010, 129) are marketed successfully worldwide. Games such as Square Enix's Final Fantasy series draw from earlier arcade and console games as well as from anime and manga, live-action Hollywood cinema, and traditional role-playing board games (Poole 2000; Smith 2002). In terms of genre, the Final Fantasy games are a combination of science fiction and futuristic fantasy.

[2.2] These games, produced in Japan from the 1990s onward, have strong links to other media such as anime and manga; Final Fantasy VII, for example, boasts a prequel, a sequel, its own spin-off anime series, and a digitally animated film, not to mention a plethora of official merchandise. It is possible to characterize this particular cultural context using Baudrillard's (2001) concept of the hyperreal, in which artificiality is key: there is no representation of anything real, just a web of simulations by which the real itself is constructed, "a real without origin or reality" (166), where the sign or image is everything. Within contemporary capitalism, we are encouraged to continue to think that a real exists by attempts to "reinject realness and referentiality everywhere, in order to convince us of the reality of the social, of the gravity of the economy and the finalities of production…What society seeks through production, and overproduction, is the restoration of the real which escapes it" (178). This assertion of the continued existence of a real through production is, however, undermined in Japanese popular culture by the lack of clear distinction between original and copy—in this case, commercial and fan activities. Consumers here "move at the level of simulacra where there are no originals and no copies" (Azuma 2009, 26).

[2.3] If the hyperreal is to be found anywhere, it is in media (Baudrillard 2001). This position is taken up by Darley (2000), who argues that digital media in particular is the site of simulation. He stresses in the depthlessness of late capitalist cultures "a fascination and pleasure in surface and superficial" (66). Surface replaces theories that depend on some concept of an authentic inside and outside; surface is articulated via pastiche and intertextuality. Iwabuchi (2002) echoes this when he speaks of Japanese cultural products being "sucked into the maw" of the "American-dominated" global cultural system, producing signs and images "for fugitive and depthless consumption through endless pastiche and simulation" (127) (note 1). Each game in the Final Fantasy series, for example, takes place in a different world, with no apparent plot links to the previous games. However, particular characters often make cameos; they may pop up in several games for no apparent purpose except the recognition and pleasure they create in the knowing fan.

[2.4] The concepts of surface and intertextuality are particularly well illustrated by the 2004 digitally animated film Final Fantasy: Advent Children, a sequel to the original Final Fantasy VII (FFVII) game; it became a number one seller in Japan and was the impetus for release of many spin-off products, including an iMode cell phone. Ostensibly it is a stand-alone film. However, as many reviewers have pointed out, if one had not spent the 50 or so hours it takes to play this game, or almost as much time reading about it, the film would make no sense whatsoever. Being a fan is a prerequisite to enjoyment of a game described variously as "expensive fan fiction" (, "an act of nostalgia" (, and "a really high budget cell phone commercial" (

[2.5] Another example of the blurring between ideas of original and copy in official Final Fantasy products involves the FFVII (1997 Japan, 1998 UK) game and its prequel, FFVII: Crisis Core (2007 Japan, 2008 UK). After the release of the first FFVII game, there was much fan comparison between main character, Cloud Strife, and a Japanese musician, Gackt, in whose blond-haired, blue-eyed look many fans saw a homage to the game's character. This interchange between game and a (debatably) real performer continued in Crisis Core, in which the design of a particular character, Genesis, was based visually on Gackt himself; he also provided the voice of the character in the Japanese version. In addition to this, after the game's release, Gackt appeared in concerts and media wearing the same costume as Genesis, thus cosplaying a character that had been based on him in the first place from a series that he had previously made visual, even fannish, reference to. In this case, it could well be argued that "the distinctions between original and copy have vanished even for the producer" (Azuma 2009, 26). Even within the arena of ostensibly official media production, the techniques of pastiche and intertextuality point to the surface play that Darley (2000) considers to be characteristic of simulation.

3. Mukokuseki and artificial Japanese fragrance

[3.1] In discussing my own work on FFVII and its non-Japanese fandoms, I am often asked where Japaneseness comes into it. This does not seem such an unusual question: the game is set in a fantasy world on a fictional futuristic planet, and a casual gamer may well not identify any specific cultural or national characteristics while playing. The game has been translated into English, which removed the gendered speech markers that contribute so much to the construction of a character in the Japanese language. Further, it is populated by characters with skin tones that range from pale to dark and with hair that varies from blond to red to silver.

[3.2] Iwabuchi (2002), mentioning these aesthetic tendencies, wonders why Japanese media exported to the West appear so culturally odorless, with few characteristics of any culturally specific discourses that serve to delineate the boundaries of Japaneseness within Japan itself. This is odd, Iwabuchi argues, because to combat the "uneven power relations in a West-dominated history" (15), Japan tends to use a nationalizing force that takes the form of a self-Orientalizing discourse, both incorporating and playing with Western Orientalist discourse in order to represent itself as "culturally exclusive, homogenous, and uniquely particularistic" (6). Japanese video games, however, appear odorless at first: the characters and settings, particularly of series such as Final Fantasy, do not look especially Japanese and are rather defined, he argues, by mukokuseki, which suggests the erasure of culturally specific contexts and racial or national characteristics.

[3.3] Iwabuchi (2002) adds that the increasing popularity of Japanese pop culture worldwide has prompted Japanese commentators to imbue such products with a specific cultural "fragrance" (31). He also discusses Western fans, who engage, like their Japanese counterparts, in activities like fan art and cosplay, and that this popularity is why the Japanese are once more associating Japaneseness with games. This, he states, leads to a basic contradiction: the internationalization of mukokuseki popular culture "simultaneously articulates the universal appeal of Japanese cultural products and the disappearance of any perceptible 'Japaneseness'" (33).

[3.4] Allison (2006, 13) also examines the popularity of Japanese pop culture in the West, linking it to the project of late capitalism via "soft power" and to the artificiality of postmodern simulacra. She terms this popularity, and its encouragement in Japanese economic and government circles, "J-cool" (2006, 13), stating that it "plays in the realm of virtuality—at once fantastic, timeless, and addictively fun" (2009, 91). A Japanese cultural product of this type "projects attractive images of Japan based more on its particular brand of virtual playmaking than on its policies, culture, or lifestyle" (2009, 96). Thus, when so-called J-cool products are consumed internationally, they do not transmit, or even seek to transmit, ideas of an authentic Japan but rather "a virtual imaginary of Japan" (Hjorth 2011, 81).

[3.5] Azuma (2009) posits that many of the traits in such media that are considered Japanese are "in fact produced through the mutation of techniques imported from the United States and a positive reappraisal of the results" (13). The facets of Japaneseness that comprise J-cool, then, are an amalgamation of influences from both inside and outside Japan, indigenized and then redisseminated and localized internationally. This is also recognized by Iwabuchi (2004), who links these intersections to the development of transnational communication technologies, so that the images appropriated "are no longer restricted to one's own society but include the mediated images of other cultures" (153).

[3.6] This disappearance of an original is characteristic of what Azuma (2009) terms otaku media (anime, manga, games, and so on), not only in the sense of a lack of authentic cultural specificity, but also in terms of the production and consumption of the media forms themselves. In the contemporary Japanese pop culture context, he argues, there is little reference to a real world, be it Japan or anywhere else. Rather, "the original is produced as a simulacrum from the start, and in turn the simulacrum of that simulacrum is propagated by fan activities and consumed voraciously" (26). Fans consume and create derivative texts without privileging the superiority of an original work, taking selected elements and making new materials, which other fans in turn consume and reappropriate. These elements, according to Appadurai (2010), are also what constitute the imaginings of Japan that arise when such media are disseminated internationally; they are the "characters, plots and textual forms…out of which scripts can be formed of imagined lives" (51) by the non-Japanese fans who consume them.

[3.7] These distinctly postmodern layers of simulacra move away from a need for a grand narrative of authenticity or authorship, "the primacy of an artist as a sacred original," which is "a slower, monolithic, and more analog-hardened mentality" (Kelts 2006, 170). Production and consumption of the new (digital) type is instead organized according to what might be termed a database worldview, in which a collection of settings and elements acts as a database layer that can be accessed and interpreted differently by each user, enabling the creation of simulacra that include "both an original and the works derived from it," without either being considered more authentic (Azuma 2009, 33). The layers of database and simulacra work in various directions, not simply from original to copy. If a new element is created, it feeds back into the database layer to be used again, whether the creator of that element is commercial or fan.

[3.8] Iwabuchi's (2002) initial theory of mukokuseki, as it pertains to Japanese video games and other media, centers on the erasure of racial or national characteristics and the projection of a Japanese fragrance, which is not Japanese so much as an amalgamation of what is perceived as Japaneseness by the various users of the internationalized products (note 2). This is particularly the case for video games, whose localizers are given a great deal of freedom, so that the process becomes more transcreation than translation (Mangiron and O'Hagan 2006).

[3.9] Azuma's (2009) work, which locates Japanese pop culture in a firmly postmodern setting, appears to preclude even the possibility of some authentic Japaneseness that can be erased; in the database model, there is no grand narrative of Japan, self-Orientalizing or otherwise, to be consumed by international fans, only small narratives and elements that are picked up and interpreted differently by each user. At the same time, this model highlights the active nature of fan practices and the crucial role they play in producing content that may be utilized by other users, both commercial and fan, in the formation of new texts that may display sexual and gender ideals that are alternatives to those of the materials they borrow from.

4. Fantasies of Japaneseness: English-speaking fans reading BL dōjinshi

[4.1] Japanese video games can be viewed in terms of postmodern simulacra, producing images that are used partly as "attractive channels with which to inundate markets with goods" (Kelts 2006, 105) and promote specific artificial ideals of Japaneseness, and partly as a collection of elements that may be read in a variety of ways and used to create new content that may not necessarily match those ideals. This content is often fan created, and one of its most prevalent forms is the production and dissemination of dōjinshi, or fan comics. The majority of dōjinshi produced in Japan are still print based, although many digital-only versions do exist on online artist communities such as Pixiv ( Nevertheless, their use outside Japan is inextricably linked with the same technologies that further Baudrillard's (2001) concept of simulation, as well as the artificial fragrance of Japaneseness that overlays Iwabuchi's (2002) mukokuseki media.

[4.2] The following sections will examine the dissemination and consumption of BL dōjinshi by English-speaking fans through primarily electronically mediated methods, looking at how imaginings of Japaneseness are imbued with cultural capital, a simulation of authenticity. They will also consider how both the content of dōjinshi and the technologies used by such fans intersect with the previously theorized concepts of simulation and Japanese popular culture as a database, and how these intersections may both encourage and limit possible fan readings of, and challenges to, heteronormativity.

[4.3] Dōjinshi fall into many genres, but in the case of the Final Fantasy franchise, it could be argued that a considerable number fit the category of "eroticized rereading and reproduction" that Azuma (2009, 25) uses to describe many derivative works. These BL dōjinshi are aimed largely at female readers, and they feature romantic or pornographic stories with two or more male game characters engaged in romance or sex.

[4.4] Baudrillard (1990) has a good deal to say about pornography as a symptom of the hyperreal: as sex without the potential for his concept of playful seduction, it is "the mechanical objectification of the signs of sex" (27). The more explicit it becomes, the more it can be considered an empty simulacrum: "The more one advances willy-nilly in sex's veracity, in the exposure of its workings, the more immersed one becomes in the accumulation of signs, and the more enclosed one becomes in the mindless over-signification of a real that no longer exists" (33). Baudrillard concentrates here on hard-core photographic/live-action pornography, which, although similar in some respects to the drawn contents of many erotic dōjinshi, is possibly less playful. It may be that the creators and consumers of these fan texts are less obsessed with "games of sex" than "with play itself" (13). In either case, the pornographic element of dōjinshi may add another layer to the build-up of elements that enable the classification of such fan works as simulacra.

[4.5] BL dōjinshi are available in two forms in the UK: in their original printed form through auction sites, online stores, and sci-fi/fantasy conventions such as the MCM Expo (though compared to the United States and European countries such as France, events like this are few); and through online fan sites in digital form. Some fans like to purchase the original hard copies. The text in these comics is invariably in Japanese script, so not all English-speaking fans are able to read it; but fans derive pleasure from owning the physical product, especially in the case of explicitly erotic or pornographic dōjinshi, where there tends not be a complex plot integral to the work (note 3). As one scanlation Web site's disclaimer states, "Dōjinshi are works of art and are great to buy, collect and enjoy the beauty of the actual copy in your hands" (Dragonfly;

[4.6] Owning an original product in Japanese may thus be considered more important than being able to understand what it says. According to Azuma (2009), a fan-created dōjinshi is even further removed from the notion of authenticity than the text it is based on, being "the simulacrum of that simulacrum"; nevertheless, ownership of "the actual copy" is granted value by such fans (26). Perhaps the pleasure in ownership here is linked to imagined authenticity based on the "yearning" for a particular fantasy of Japan (Iwabuchi 2002, 34); or perhaps the visuals form part of an erotic pleasure that does not require plot. This would generate another link to the concept of Japanese pop culture texts as simulacra based on elements such as character design, where the narrative "is only a surplus item, added to the settings and illustrations (the nonnarrative)" that make up the database from which fans choose specific favorites (Azuma 2009, 41).

[4.7] The majority of BL dōjinshi, however, are distributed by and to English-speaking fans in digital form. Both raw (untranslated) scans and English scanlations are part of many fan communities and sites that focus their attention on story and characters rather than on the technology or ludic aspects of games. These sites, as well as unofficial online review and sales sites, are the primary promoters of these fan comics, and they are the main providers to UK fans for whom it is too inconvenient to purchase hard copies.

[4.8] The design and layout of sites are in themselves indicative of the way their creators and users regard Japanese RPGs as inhabiting a culturally specific niche. There are few sites dedicated to purely game dōjinshi; distribution groups such as Dragonfly release their Final Fantasy scanlations alongside other popular titles as Death Note and Prince of Tennis, locating the games firmly within a Japanese framework and aligning them with anime and manga as Japanese popular culture products.

[4.9] Another site that until recently carried scanlations, Gongaga Yaoi (1996–2013), also placed its Final Fantasy dōjinshi among anime and manga series. In addition, this site, although aimed at English-speaking fans, included Japanese script (kanji) in its title and sidebar, using the now slightly out-of-vogue term shōnen-ai to signal that it carried BL stories. The importance of the idea of Japaneseness to these fans is also displayed in Web site names like Arigatomina and translators' Japanese-sounding nicknames on the credit pages of scanlated dōjinshi. These link the RPG series carried on their sites to specifically Japanese popular culture; they also invest the idea of Japaneseness with a kind of cultural capital, with the translators in a position of knowledge where understanding Japanese is a skill that generates gratitude from the English-speaking fans who read their translations and that implies a deeper understanding of the object of their fandom.

[4.10] The ways that an idea of Japaneseness is maintained by fans can also be seen in dōjinshi themselves. Apart from raw scans and hard copies—which of course constantly remind their readers of their origin by the fact that they are in Japanese—many scanlated digital versions also contain what are recognized by fans as Japanese characteristics, which cannot be observed in the localized versions of the RPGs they are based on. The dōjinshi are English enough for the content to be comprehensible, but some foreign features remain intact. They fetishize the "rubric of cultural/Japanese difference" (Allison 2006, 15).

[4.11] Scanlations of FFVII dōjinshi like K. Haruka's Endorphine (2001) and Bring You Back to Me (2003) retain some Japanese words without attempting literal or cultural translation, such as the diminutive suffix -chan, which has a specific meaning in Japanese but no real equivalent in English. The translator assumes that the readers, who are likely to have some knowledge of the RPG upon which the dōjinshi is based, will also know enough about Japanese culture to recognize the word and understand its meaning.

[4.12] Many scanlations, though translated into English, leave Japanese script intact in the form of sound effects, which are often an integral part of the artwork and difficult to remove (they are sometimes overlaid with English effects instead). This is an aesthetic decision rather than one that consciously promotes the idea of Japaneseness, but it nevertheless contributes to the apparent cultural specificity of the text.

[4.13] Pastiche and intertextuality, integral to postmodern media, are also crucial to the enjoyment of many dōjinshi, especially comedy or gag stories, in which familiarity with various Japanese and Western pop culture texts as well as knowledge of the original game is required for the jokes to work. The translator of Bring You Back to Me, encountering a joke based on a Japanese film, does not expect non-Japanese readers to catch the reference, but instead of omitting it or substituting it for a similar Western film in an act of cultural translation, the joke is explained in a footnote, thus retaining and privileging what is to be understood as Japanese cultural humor.

[4.14] These practices of linking extensively localized RPGs to a more visible sense of Japaneseness through dōjinshi are not necessarily limited to BL texts. Many heterosexual erotic dōjinshi aimed at male fans also retain cultural references, language markers, and sound effects. What makes these BL dōjinshi of interest, as the following sections will show, is how far the content of the comics and the online practices of their dissemination and consumption may provide a site to question the primacy of the binary gender concepts and heteronormativity suggested in many widely popular Japanese RPGs.

5. Game dōjinshi: Rereading gender through content

[5.1] The narrative of Japanese fantasy RPGs often involves the (frequently male) main character and his companions overcoming obstacles. In doing so, the protagonist becomes close to a female character. The ending of the game implies that they will develop a romantic relationship. The last scene of Final Fantasy VIII, for example, has the main character, Squall, dancing at a ball with Rinoa, a young woman whom he at first detests but grows more attached to over the course of the game. The impetus to attain this fairy-tale-style ending is strong; after all, to win is one of the basic purposes of gaming. As Frasca (2003), writing on video game analysis, reminds us, "You must do X in order to reach Y and therefore become a winner. This implies that Y is a desired objective and therefore it is morally charged" (230). This sets up romantic heterosexuality as a norm and a desired outcome within the game itself. Final Fantasy BL dōjinshi go some way toward providing alternatives to this particular hegemonic goal in terms of content.

[5.2] The gender, and indeed the sex, of the ostensibly male bodies found in BL comics, both commercial and fan drawn, have been the subject of much scholarship, and I will not go over every argument here. However, the varying opinions over whether the characters in these media play out a typical romance of dominance and submission in which the sexual partners play out "the respective roles of male and female" (Penley 1992, 490), whether their challenge to heteronormativity comes from the fact that both characters are configured as male, or whether they present a new kind of body that crosses between genders (McLelland 2000; Welker 2006), provide some notion of how such texts are capable of provoking many ideas of gender that are not inextricably linked to hegemonic binaries.

[5.3] Wood (2006) states that these comics "ultimately reject any kind of monolithic understanding of gendered or sexual identity" (397), and that this is part of what makes them queer. This fragmentation of interpretations generated by BL dōjinshi displays parallels to "the differing modes of 'reading up'" (Azuma 2009, 33) used by the producers/consumers in Azuma's postmodern database model—although whether this multiplicity can thus be considered queer is less certain.

[5.4] Cross-dressing, an overt way of playing with gender markers, is a not infrequent feature of FFVII dōjinshi. Much of this stems from an incident in the first game, in which the main character, Cloud, must rescue one of the women of his group from a lecherous old man who lives in a mansion. The only way to complete this fairly orthodox mission, Cloud is told, is to dress as a woman and sneak into the mansion. This he does, albeit reluctantly, stopping off at an all-male bathhouse along the way.

[5.5] This episode has made its way into many fan-created texts, usually involving Cloud in a dress being ravished by another male character. The artists attempt to distance these scenes from being viewed as simple portrayals of pseudo-heterosexuality in various ways: by using the female clothing as a contrast to visually highlight the male-sexed body beneath it, as in dōjinshi such as Nightflight's Fairy Syndrome Honey (2009), the cover of which displays a muscular, assertive-looking Cloud in a dress, sporting his large trademark sword; or by stressing the importance of love over gender/sex, thus denying any gender primacy, as can be seen in the English-language dialogue of scanlated Yubinbasha dōjinshi, Barbie (2009), in which the two male main characters are talking as they make out:

[5.6] Zack: It's almost…kinda like I really am doing it with a girl.

Cloud: So why don't you just do it with a real girl, then?

Zack: You just don't get it, do you? I don't care if you're a boy or a girl, as long as it's you!

[5.7] In this way, fans make use of the game narrative itself, playfully adapting a minor plot point to remove focus from the heteronormative ideals of the game's main ending.

[5.8] As might be considered appropriate for works drawn from the medium of games, these techniques of borrowing particular elements and discarding others are playful. Such texts are intended for the pleasure of specific in-the-know users. Although practices like pastiche are criticized by theorists such as Jameson (1983) for being "neutral and 'blank' parody, parody that has lost its sense of humor" (114), Baudrillard (1990), in his theorization of the silent masses, suggests that a lack of earnestness or overt social or political content is sometimes the only method of protest. In the context of contemporary capitalist cultures, rife with simulation, the masses do not respond seriously to simulations of meaningfulness; rather, people subvert it by refusing to engage or produce serious meanings for themselves. They "take the hyperlogic of the play of signs to its most banal" (Grace 2000, 103). In this kind of inertia, they frustrate and trouble attempts to make a serious matter of fixing gender.

[5.9] This idea of playfulness can also be informed by Baudrillard's (1990) discussion of seduction as a tool of subversion within simulation. Seduction here is about surface, about the annulment of signs—not deliberately trying to create transgressive meanings, but reducing meaning to "the charm and illusion of appearances" (53). It is ironic and playful; it refuses to engage with the truth effects of fixed or appropriate identities through serious political activity but rather engages them through humor and parody. Darley (2000) is particularly concerned with this surface play, where images draw attention to themselves as images, skewing representation (in a traditional sense) by being more about form, genre, style, and the play of pastiche than about any particular meaning. Video games, he argues, are the perfect manifestation of such surface play: "Computer game players…do not expect to be told deep stories…the image touches them not so much in an affective, symbolic or meaningful manner, but rather more directly as a crucial element in a playful simulation that excites the senses" (165).

[5.10] Darley's (2000) concept of game players may also be applied to fans creating and consuming new content based on the games. Although Japanese RPGs are generally extremely long, with a vast in-game world and complex story lines, it is character images that fans are primarily drawn to and consume in dōjinshi form. Out of these they create their own "small narratives" and "the inundation of simulacra known as derivative works" (Azuma 2009, 31).

[5.11] The aesthetic traits of BL dōjinshi also provide alternatives to the hegemonic body ideals displayed in the character designs of the first FFVII game: toned, muscular male characters and slender, lithe female characters with optional large breasts. Although a minority of BL fan texts maintain these ideals, many follow the popular styles of BL and shōjo manga: boys with willowy bodies, slender limbs, flowing hair, and long eyelashes, their bodies sometimes bordering on androgyny (at least when clothed), blurring the lines between genders and rendering the concept of straightforward binary sexuality problematic. Although FFVII dōjinshi do display some popular patterns regarding who is the penetrating (seme) and who the receptive (uke) partner in sexual situations—artist Kiki's ( works promote a pairing with the tall, muscular Sephiroth as seme and the smaller Cloud as uke—it is not unusual for such patterns to be inverted by other authors, who may switch the sexual roles of these pairings or render both characters equally beautiful, creating more varied gender elements from which users may choose.

[5.12] The styles and character designs shown in these dōjinshi also point to wider trends in popular Japanese culture, particularly those aspects that have become well known to female fans in the UK and elsewhere in the West: the continuing popularity of the bishōnen (beautiful boy) figure, which appears in Japanese women's media ranging from manga to music (McLelland 2000); and the growth of kawaii (cute) culture, which Aoyagi (2000) links to female consumption.

[5.13] Indeed, the later games in the Final Fantasy franchise appear to have made alterations to their character designs in a similar fashion. Comparison between the character design of Cloud in the original 1997 game, the 2004 film Advent Children, and the 2008 game Crisis Core clearly shows him becoming paler and more slender, with softer features and hair. There is no official industry statement confirming that this is the result of the growing popularity and economic weight of media aimed at young women, which present an ideal of masculinity closer to that found in BL dōjinshi and manga. It may be because the technological capabilities of game character design have advanced in the last 10 years from the blocky styles of the 1990s. However, Hjorth (2011) believes that the increasing use of kawaii visual characteristics "in such key games as Final Fantasy…has afforded many 'flexible' modes of gender performativity" (80). This is particularly visible in Square Enix RPGs, as well as, for example, cross-dressing kawaii characters like Bridget in the fighting game series Guilty Gear (Arc System Works, 2002–6) and may be another instance in which the fan production of simulacra is able to influence the perceived "privileged original" of the official games (Azuma 2009, 38).

[5.14] Through the consumption of these materials, English-speaking fans are becoming familiar with the tropes, visual style, and form of Japanese women's and girls' comics. This familiarity with both form and content once again links fans to a sense of Japaneseness: the style of dōjinshi mark them as distinctively Japanese media, while character designs promote recognition of wider themes such as bishōnen and kawaii that are also becoming part of the fantasies of a particular idealized Japan.

6. The online use of dōjinshi: Possibilities for challenge through practice

[6.1] The previous sections drew connections between postmodern ideas of simulation and the artificial imaginings of Japaneseness found around RPGs and the BL dōjinshi based on them. We have also seen how the content of dōjinshi reappropriated by English-speaking fan communities can inspire various readings of gender and sexuality, some of which, through the techniques of playful pastiche and reinterpretation of game elements, may provide a space in which to question the validity of hegemonic gender norms, despite the highly critical view sometimes taken of simulacra as empty and unable to facilitate challenge.

[6.2] I now shift from the content of these dōjinshi to the practices of their dissemination, which makes extensive use of the electronically mediated technologies that arguably perpetuate the concept of a hyperreal and the proliferation of simulacra, linking fan practices to the concept of the database. With the migration of fandoms online, it becomes difficult to locate geographical or cultural sections; rather, the Internet creates a plethora of fragmented and diverse groups (Hellekson and Busse 2006). Yet according to scholars such as Wood (2006), these globalizing (but not homogenizing) technologies can provide BL fans with strategies for challenging the still prevalent hegemonies of gender binaries and heteronormativity that are not based on content alone.

[6.3] Azuma (2009) links his pattern of database consumption, which he ascribes to contemporary users of Japanese popular media, with the Internet: "The behavioural pattern in database consumption, where the body of a work is understood as a database (the invisible), while the simulacra (the visibles) are extracted from it based on the preferences of the consumer, perfectly matches the logic of the Web" (102). The Internet can be seen as a parallel of fan consumption, which, in the case of English-speaking BL fan communities, is carried out within its environs, forming a connection between technology and users according to how they manipulate simulacra.

[6.4] These online communities of users can certainly be seen as globalized, with groups of fans organizing themselves and consuming works according to language more than cultural or geographic specificity; it is hard to tell, for example, whether scanlators and readers of the dōjinshi found online are American, British, South African, or Chinese. There may be clues in the word usage and spelling, but Web technologies allow these fans "the freedom of anonymity and the potential to construct or present an online identity resistant to social constraints" (Wood 2006, 409). This enables textual circulation among fans in many countries without the need for their particular backgrounds to be specified.

[6.5] The online consumption of dōjinshi transnationally can "transcend even the rather obvious constraints of language barriers" (Wood 2006, 405) through shared terminology specific to various types of fandom. Wood lists the Japanese words that have come to be shared among BL fans regardless of their native language, including yaoi, uke, seme, and bishōnen (405). The use of such terms, which may serve to promote the cultural capital of Japaneseness among fans, dislocates them from their original cultural context. They become a method of transnational communication, a lingua franca that facilitates the sharing of discourse in a culturally nonspecific online society.

[6.6] Kelts (2006) adds to these instances of shared terminologies, although he shows words migrating both from and into Japan. The Japanese term ero-manga, for instance, is derived from the English word erotic, but the tendency in the West is to use the Japanese word hentai instead (127). Although a good deal of scholarship shows how cultural elements flow outward from Japan and how in the process they are picked up and used by both international fans and Japanese economic and political sources for the project of J-cool, the flow goes in multiple directions. This highlights the complexity of the processes of globalization, which is emphatically not West-rest—or even, as can appear the case with the video game industry, Japan-rest. Like Azuma's (2009) database model, there is movement in many directions, and although there may appear to be a privileged original, as in the promotion of an idea of Japaneseness by BL dōjinshi fans in an English-speaking context, these online practices underline their artificial and fantastic character.

[6.7] Fan practices of disseminating and consuming BL dōjinshi through online technologies place such texts and their use in the realms of simulation. However, the possibility of questioning hegemonic social constructions within postmodern simulation has been considered limited in Jameson's (1983) writing, although some scholars do see certain areas of potential in the previously mentioned concepts of seduction and the silent masses (Baudrillard 1990; Grace 2000).

[6.8] Despite the much-theorized limitations of simulacra and the hyperreal for providing sites of challenge to dominant norms such as binary gender roles and heteronormativity, which, while shifting, remain extant in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, Wood (2006) sees the online practices and myriad geographical groups of BL fans as "a global counterpublic that is both subversive and fundamentally queer in nature" (396). Both the aesthetics of dōjinshi, whose gender fluidity and sexual ambiguity can be read differently by their various users, and the use of the Internet in their dissemination and consumption, which "allows for a greater concatenation of texts across cultural boundaries," can grant fans significant "fantasies of resistance" (406). In this sense, fantasies can be understood as the images and narratives within these fictional texts, which contain a range of gender and sexual possibilities that have the potential to spark critical consideration of binary heteronormativity.

[6.9] Although fantasies of resistance may not lead to immediate or overt political activity in opposition to gender norms, this is a mode very much tied to the globalized, postmodern setting in which these fan practices are carried out. Appadurai (2010) raises this notion as "something critical and new in global cultural processes: the imagination as a social practice" (48). He sees the imagination, in contemporary globalization, as "central to all forms of agency" (48).

[6.10] Thus, the transnational consumption of BL game dōjinshi as simulacra, as well as the images of gender fluidity they generate, can be considered to provide an area that permits questioning the depictions of binary gender roles and heteronormativity found in the Japanese RPGs that form part of the database from which these fan texts are generated. The digitized practices of localizing, distributing, and consuming dōjinshi by BL fans in a transnational English-speaking context demonstrate that there are areas of simulation where nonhegemonic concepts of gender and sexuality can thrive and spread. Rather than promoting the traditional forms of activism encouraged by some feminist and queer movements, however, this may be limited by the postmodern media user's disinclination to engage seriously with political issues, preferring instead to keep criticism of hegemonic norms at the level of imagination and play.

7. Acknowledgments

[7.1] I thank Dr. Kazumi Nagaike, whose organization of the Global Polemics of Boys' Love workshop in 2011 and continued encouragement enabled me to produce this essay; and my doctoral supervisor, Dr. Chikako Matsushita, for her invaluable advice.

8. Notes

1. The focus of Iwabuchi's work is rather on recentering the West-rest paradigm of globalization to take into account the cultural intersections and flows within the non-West (Iwabuchi 2004, 152).

2. Iwabuchi (2002) speaks of fragrance in the singular. I do not intend this discussion to preclude the possibility of multiple fragrances of Japaneseness across different geographical, cultural, or age demographics. However, examination of digital English-language BL fandoms appears to support the fan creation of a particular sense of Japaneseness, and my scope here does not leave room for exploration of the possibilities beyond this context.

3. For UK fans, obtaining erotic or pornographic dōjinshi comes with its own set of concerns as a result of recently implemented laws regarding the sexual depiction of characters who may appear to be under 18 years of age.

9. Works cited

Allison, Anne. 2006. "The Japan Fad in Global Youth Culture and Millenial Capitalism." In Mechademia 1: Emerging Worlds of Anime and Manga, edited by Frenchy Lunning, 11–21. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Allison, Anne. 2009. "The Cool Brand, Affective Activism and Japanese Youth." Theory, Culture and Society 26:89–111. doi:10.1177/0263276409103118.

Aoyagi, Hiroshi. 2000. "Pop Idols and the Asian Identity." In Japan Pop! Inside the Worlds of Japanese Popular Culture, edited by Timothy Craig, 209–326. New York: M. E. Sharpe.

Appadurai, Arjun. 2010. "Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy." In Globalization and Culture, Volume 3: Global-Local Consumption, edited by Paul James and Imre Szeman, 45–63. London: Sage.

Azuma, Hiroki. 2009. Otaku: Japan's Database Animals. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Baudrillard, Jean. 1990. Seduction. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Baudrillard, Jean. 2001. "Simulacra and Simulations." In Jean Baudrillard: Selected Writings, edited by Mark Poster, 166–84. Cambridge: Polity.

Consalvo, Mia. 2010. "Console Video Games and Global Corporations: Creating a Hybrid Culture." In Globalization and Culture, Volume 3: Global-Local Consumption, edited by Paul James and Imre Szeman, 127–43. London: Sage.

Darley, Andrew. 2000. Visual Digital Culture: Surface Play and Spectacle in New Media Genres. London: Routledge.

Frasca, Gonzalo. 2003. "Simulation versus Narrative: Introduction to Ludology." In /Video/Game/Theory/, edited by Mark J. P. Wolf and Bernard Perron, 221–35. London: Routledge.

Grace, Victoria. 2000. Baudrillard's Challenge: A Feminist Reading. New York: Routledge.

Hellekson, Karen, and Kristina Busse, editors. 2006. Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet: New Essays. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

Hjorth, Larissa. 2011. Games and Gaming: An Introduction to New Media. Oxford: Berg.

Iwabuchi, Koichi. 2002. Recentering Globalization: Popular Culture and Japanese Transnationalism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Iwabuchi, Koichi. 2004. "Time and the Neighbor: Japanese Media Consumption of Asia in the 1990s." In Rogue Flows: Trans-Asian Cultural Traffic, edited by Koichi Iwabuchi, Stephen Muecke, and Mandy Thomas, 51–174. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.

Jameson, Fredrik. 1983. "Postmodernism and Consumer Society." In The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture, edited by Hal Foster, 111–25. Port Townsend, WA: Bay Press.

Kelts, Roland. 2006. Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the US. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Mangiron, Carmen, and Minako O'Hagan. 2006. "Game Localisation: Unleashing Imagination with 'Restricted' Translation." Journal of Specialised Translation 6:10–21

McLelland, Mark. 2000. Male Homosexuality in Modern Japan: Cultural Myths and Social Realities. Surrey: Curzon Press.

Penley, Constance. 1992. "Feminism, Psychoanalysis, and the Study of Popular Culture." In Cultural Studies, edited by Lawrence Grossberg, Cary Nelson, and Paula A. Treichler, 479–500. London: Routledge.

Poole, Steven. 2000. Trigger Happy: Video Games and the Entertainment Revolution. New York: Arcade.

Smith, Greg M. 2002. "Computer Games Have Words, Too: Dialogue Conventions in Final Fantasy VII." Game Studies 2 (2).

Thorn, Matthew. 2004. "Girls and Women Getting Out of Hand: The Pleasure and Politics of Japan's Amateur Comics Community." In Fanning the Flames: Fans and Consumer Culture in Contemporary Japan, edited by William W. Kelly, 169–86. New York: State University of New York Press.

Welker, James. 2006. "Beautiful, Borrowed and Bent: 'Boys' Love' as Girls' Love in Shôjo Manga." Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 31 (3): 841–70. doi:10.1086/498987.

Wood, Andrea. 2006. "'Straight' Women, Queer Texts: Boy-Love Manga and the Rise of a Global Counterpublic." Women's Studies Quarterly 34 (1/2): 394–414.