Transplanted boys' love conventions and anti-shota polemics in a German manga: Fahr Sindram's Losing Neverland

Paul M. Malone

University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

[0.1] Abstract—Although manga arrived somewhat later in Germany than elsewhere in the West, the local publishers rapidly capitalized on its appeal to female readers and began fostering local manga artists in Germany. These are mainly young women producing shōjo manga, and increasingly integrating popular boys' love elements into their work. An unusual example of such work is Fahr Sindram's Losing Neverland, the story of an adolescent in Victorian London whose widowed father prostitutes him to middle-class men. Suggestive, though not visually explicit, such a story would likely run afoul of German and European Union laws against child pornography, were it not for the fact that Sindram continually reminds the reader that Neverland is in fact intended to raise awareness of child abuse and protest the dissemination of Japanese child pornography in Germany. Sindram thus openly advertises her work as a polemic, intended to mobilize the censorship of works seemingly much like her own; as a result, Losing Neverland has not only been socially accepted but even praised, earning an honorable citation from Germany's federal Council for Sustainable Development. Sindram's work thus accepts and capitalizes upon the globalizing aesthetic influence of manga, while at the same time adopting a defensive, quasi-protectionist stance against the spread of certain overtly foreign sexual attitudes associated with manga—and is visibly rewarded for doing so.

[0.2] Keywords—Cultural capital; Fandom; John Fiske; Popular culture; Yaoi

Malone, Paul M. 2013. "Transplanted Boys' Love Conventions and Anti-Shota Polemics in a German Manga: Fahr Sindram's Losing Neverland." 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] Mark McLelland has recently described the extremely problematic nature of recent legislation—particularly, but not exclusively, in Australia—that criminalizes child pornography and "child-abuse material," both deliberately defined in the broadest possible terms. Such imprecisely conceived laws, McLelland (2012) argues cogently, limit fan-based production and artistic expression, above all in the fields of slash fan fiction and Japanese-inspired boys' love manga and materials. A major flaw in the conception of such anti–child pornography measures is their assumption that sexualized depictions of young people can only ever serve to normalize the appetites of dangerous male pedophiles, overlooking the fact that both the producers and the consumers of such fan material are themselves overwhelmingly frequently young people, and in particular, young women, and thus members of the very community that such legislation is ostensibly intended to protect (469–70, 473). This essay examines the unusual example of a creative project originating within and aimed at such a fandom, yet motivated by the same intentions, and subject to the same misconceptions, as the antipornography laws criticized by McLelland; it also attempts to explain how and why this project—which in many ways replicates and even outdoes the transgressive elements of its target, thus skirting outright breach of the relevant local legislation—has become socially sanctioned and even singled out for praise on the basis of its polemic intent, rather than its problematic content. The project in question is Fahr Sindram's German-language manga Losing Neverland, which is ostensibly a call to action against Japanese shota (young boy) pornography and its imitators. Because Sindram's work is little known outside Germany, this article first contextualizes Losing Neverland against the background of the arrival and embrace of Japanese manga in Germany, which gave rise to a textually productive fandom and ultimately to locally produced professional manga in response. The particular popularity of the boys' love manga genre in Germany is then described, as well as the relevant laws that regulate the production and dissemination in German-speaking countries of erotic material depicting young or apparently young people. The examination then moves forward to sketch the genesis of Sindram's career and summarize the content of Losing Neverland, finally focusing on the varied reception of the manga by fans and the surprising degree of affirmation it has received from the official public sphere, even up to the level of the federal German government.

2. The rise of German-language manga

[2.1] Germany was a relative latecomer to the worldwide manga craze of the 1980s and 1990s; neighboring countries France, Italy, and Spain had already been importing manga, and had given birth to lively fan communities, before Germany finally opened up to Japanese comics in the late 1990s (Jüngst 2004, 87–89; Dolle-Weinkauff 2006). The sudden broad acceptance of manga was motivated on the publishers' side by the severe downturn in the relatively small German comics market. This market had overexpanded in the late 1980s, when it had still been West German, and was now faced with both an unexpected, lingering postreunification recession and a small, aging, and overwhelmingly male audience. Several smaller local publishers went bankrupt, and the surviving larger firms—almost all branches of multinational companies—were struggling to keep afloat (Knigge 2004, 69–70). Thanks to the then-recent arrival of private, commercial television networks in Germany—as opposed to the state-run broadcasters ARD and ZDF—Japanese anime cartoon series, cheaply acquired to fill out programming schedules, had become popular with young viewers. The floodgates were opened between spring 1997 and late 1998, when first Sailor Moon and then Dragon Ball became runaway anime hits for the privately owned RTL 2 television network. The popularity of these series quickly led to the marketing of related toys, games, collectibles, and ultimately the manga that had been the bases of the television series. It was apparent that manga attracted a younger demographic than Western comics, and appealed to girls as much as to boys, if not more; these qualities made it the only growth area in the stagnant comics market, and so the remaining publishers (chiefly the "big three" so-called Elefanten: Carlsen Verlag, Egmont Ehapa Verlag, and Panini Verlag) capitalized heavily on this new trend to create a specifically German manga boom that quickly grew into millions of euros in annual sales.

[2.2] The huge success of Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball on German television motivated local publishers to license the original manga: Reiner Feest Verlag (owned by, and later absorbed into, Egmont Ehapa) acquired Takeuchi Naoko's Bishōjo Senshi Serā Mūn, while Carlsen won the rights to Toriyama Akira's Doragon Bōru. Sailor Moon, however, was published with its pages visually flipped to mirror images and reordered to accommodate Western readers used to reading from left to right; whereas Dragon Ball, at the creator's and Japanese publisher's insistence—and with serious misgivings on Carlsen's part—was printed in Japanese style, with pages unflipped and in right-to-left reading order. The tremendous success of this edition not only assuaged Carlsen's fears, but also established a yardstick across the German industry and readership for what constituted "authenticity" in the presentation of manga (Jüngst 2004, 87–91). This yardstick still remains in place over a decade later.

[2.3] The publishers' survival would have been ensured—at least in the short term—had they merely licensed and translated manga from Japan (and, slightly thereafter, manhwa from Korea). However, a significant weakness of the German comics industry, which had developed only after World War II, had always been its heavy dependence on licensed foreign properties. Given the relatively small readership, this had established a vicious circle in which there was never room on the market to support a critical mass of successful indigenous comics artists, and thus Germany had never been in a position to export comics, other than the occasional one-shot. Seeing an opportunity to finally redress this imbalance, the major publishers—particularly Egmont, Carlsen, and, from 2004 on, the German branch of the US firm Tokyopop—sought to leverage the traditional participatory nature of manga fandom: they used conventions, contests, and internships to recruit talented and enthusiastic fans and, from this group, to train, foster, and publish local German manga artists, or mangaka. The publishers were taking manga and anime fans' "textual productivity," in media researcher John Fiske's terms—the appropriation of mass culture media by fandom as raw material for its own, normally unsanctioned, creations, such as Western fan fiction or Japanese dōjinshi (amateur comics)—and reappropriating it for their own ends.

[2.4] Borrowing and adapting ideas from the sociological theories of Pierre Bourdieu (particularly as elucidated in the latter's study Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, whose English edition first appeared in 1984), Fiske (1992, 39)argues that fans "produce and circulate among themselves texts which are often crafted with production values as high as any in the official culture. The key differences between the two are economic rather than ones of competence, for fans do not write or produce their texts for money; indeed, their productivity typically costs them money". Because this textual productivity circulates only within the relevant fandom, Fiske further claims, it constitutes "popular cultural capital" (42) that offers the possibility for resistance insofar as "the people are never at the mercy of the [cultural] industries" (48). Despite the utility of some of Fiske's terms, however, the weakness of this latter part of his optimistic argument may be demonstrated by the ease with which the German comics publishers implemented the policy of converting fans' active production of this cultural capital within fandom (Fiske scrupulously avoids using the term "subculture" or its derivatives) into hard economic capital within officially sanctioned commercial mass culture; even if this policy was not consistently successful, it has by no means been a failure (Malone 2010, 33–34; see Fiske 1992, 31).

[2.5] The German publishers' first attempts to promote homegrown mangaka were aimed primarily at the shōnen (young male) readership that had made Dragon Ball and other, similarly boy-oriented action series so successful. For a number of reasons, however—not least the difficulty of keeping to deadlines while simultaneously maintaining the quality and "authenticity" of the work—the manga of Jürgen Seebeck (Bloody Circus), Sascha Nils Marx (Naglaya's Heart), and Robert Labs (Dragic Master, Crewman 3) never found a sufficient audience to survive more than a couple of issues (Holzer, Jurgeit, and Krämer 2004, 7; Jüngst 2006, 251–52, 259). With an eye to the new and growing female readership, and in the hope that women might more reliably keep to a schedule, the publishers then aggressively turned to recruiting young women as artists; thus, the majority of German mangaka are now women in their late teens or twenties, most of them working within the conventions of shōjo, or girl-oriented, manga (Böckem 2006, 11). The result was a miniature homegrown shōjo boom that saw more female German comics artists published than ever before. This group, while still relatively small, also became disproportionately important in terms of both cultural and economic capital, as comics journalist Martin Jurgeit emphasized: "These artists, with their sales and the chord they've struck among readers, have the best economic conditions that the coming generation of comics in Germany have ever had" (Pannor 2008; all translations from German are my own). Ultimately, despite the huge popularity of a few imported shōnen manga, the German comics industry became unusually dependent specifically upon shōjo manga; and unlike other Western countries, at least until the manga wave began recently to subside, German publishers deliberately adopted a strategy of using original German-language (OGL) manga to "move to the other end of the value-added chain, namely, to sell licenses abroad," as Tokyopop's German manager Joachim Kaps openly admitted (Böckem 2006, 11). Their determination to pursue this end is demonstrated by the fact that they have so far maintained this strategy, despite the fact that it is far more expensive than simply licensing foreign material, and in the face of ongoing decline in the sales of manga in Germany in the last few years.

3. Boys' love manga arrives in Germany

[3.1] The shōjo manga phenomenon in Germany eventually came to include the small but important subgenre of "boys' love," more often referred to in German as shōnen ai or yaoi. Boys' love or shōnen ai manga arose in Japan in the 1970s, when Hagio Moto, Ikeda Riyoko, Takemiya Keiko, and other emerging female mangaka took over producing shōjo manga from male artists, and began creating stories about homoerotic relationships between androgynous bishōnen (beautiful boys). These stories were meant to allow female authors and readers to project themselves into the roles of the male protagonists, in a shared fantasy of perfect, egalitarian romance (Matsui 1993, 179). Yaoi was initially developed in the late 1980s among Japan's dōjinshi circles, which parodied the idealized romance of boys' love by depicting characters appropriated from established manga engaging in homosexual sex at the expense of plot; hence yaoi, a contraction of Yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi, meaning "no climax, no resolution, no meaning" (Thorn 2004, 170–71). As is common with loanwords, Western languages use these terms with different connotations from those in the original language—indeed, both shōnen ai and yaoi are now somewhat old-fashioned in Japanese usage (McLelland 2000, 280; Valenti 2005, 122; Wood 2006, 394–95). In Germany, yaoi is regularly used to distinguish more sexually explicit portrayals of homoeroticism from shōnen ai, which has a more romantic tone; both terms can be used regardless of whether the material is fan-produced or professional.

[3.2] Both the presence of this type of homoerotic melodrama in Germany (most notably Ozaki Minami's Zetsuai, published by Carlsen from 2000 on) and its appeal for young women were documented in the July 2002 issue of Kulturspiegel, the cultural supplement of the leading German liberal newsmagazine Der Spiegel. Given that the stereotypical comics reader was still envisioned to be male, the idea that young German women might be indulging in portrayals of gay male romance, or even lust, seemed to be particularly unsettling—it was sensationalistically played up on the magazine's cover and in the illustrations, despite a reasonably evenhanded discussion in the article itself (Böckem and Dallach 2002, 21–22).

[3.3] In reality, the three Elefanten publishers had done little more than dip their toes in the water of boys' love, despite such signs of panic. They remained extremely hesitant to publish material that might tarnish their cultural capital within official society—that is, their reputations as producers of respectable entertainment for children: Egmont had been the German publisher of the Walt Disney stable of comics for over half a century; Carlsen had weathered the recent bust primarily thanks to its book division's success in obtaining the rights to J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter books; and Panini was, and remains, the current licensee for American superhero comics from both Marvel and DC (Malone 2010, 29). In 2005, however, the newly founded Tokyopop Germany, with less reputation at stake, licensed Tananaga Hinako's Little Butterfly, inducing its competitors to follow suit and thus increasing the total output of boys' love manga from that point on. Nonetheless, in the 8 years intervening, boys' love has never become a key area of activity for the major publishers, and it took some time after 2005 for such themes to begin appearing in their OGL manga (Malone 2009; 2010, 30).

[3.4] In the meantime, German readers and aspiring mangaka interested in boys' love—and those who are thus interested tend to be passionately so—took recourse to the Internet, via such Web sites as the fandom-oriented Maintained by Animexx, Germany's largest nonprofit manga and anime fans' association, this site counts over 130,000 online members, and includes space for fans to communicate and upload their own fan fiction, cosplay and convention photos, and particularly their dōjinshi, with several hundred sketches, pictures, and comics added to the Web site daily (, as well as countless links to additional fan material on Web sites such as Myspace and deviantArt. The dōjinshi pages are in fact the largest and most popular section of the site (Pannor 2007), with shōnen-ai among its largest categories (many submissions are also cross-listed under multiple categories). Because previews all material submitted, both for quality control and legal acceptability (in terms of plagiarism, libel, and obscenity), before making it available to viewers, the site further serves a valuable gatekeeping function, and it facilitates capitalizing on submitted material in the wider social context outside of fandom (Malone 2010, 32–33).

[3.5] In accordance with German and European Union laws regarding child pornography and child abuse, for example, exercises a total ban on shota or lolicon materials, defining them as "the depiction, whether unambiguous or ambiguous, of very young characters (under 14 years old) engaging in sex or games of violence or domination, with the participation of an adult or with children of the same age," and further pointing out: "Your characters may not look like children if you draw hentai [i.e., erotica/pornography] or the like (giving their ages in the text is no help—only the apparent age counts!)" ( In making this stipulation, interprets as conservatively as possible the relevant section of the German Criminal Code (deutsches Strafgesetzbuch, or dStGB) regarding child pornography, which does not in fact explicitly equate drawings of fictional persons with photographic depictions of real children, as the laws of some other jurisdictions do (dStGB §184b). The fact that since November 2008, a separate category for "juvenile pornography"—depicting persons between 14 and 18 years old—has also existed, has not so far complicated matters, given that the wording of the new passage is closely based on §184b (Bundesgesetzblatt, part 1, no. 50 [November 4, 2008], 2149–51; dStGB §184c).

[3.6] Austrian law, in comparison, as codified in the österreiches Strafgesetzbuch (öStGB), makes no distinction between persons under 18 and those under 14, referring only to "pornographic depictions of minors" (Pornographische Darstellungen Minderjähriger; öStGB §207a); however, such depictions can be declared pornographic only if they are wirklichkeitsnah ("close to reality," defined in a later elucidation as practically indistinguishable from photographic documentation; Gesetzeserläuterungen zum Strafrechtsänderungsgesetz 2004, 17;—a term that also figures, though less prominently, in the corresponding German law. Meanwhile, in Switzerland the schweizerisches Strafgesetzbuch (sStGB) penalizes anyone who "offers, shows, provides, makes accessible or broadcasts by means of radio or television pornographic writings, audio or video recordings, illustrations, other objects of such kind or pornographic performances of a person under 16 years old" (sStGB, art. 197). This would seem to be the most comprehensive formulation, inasmuch as it clearly includes illustrations (Abbildungen) and does not require or even mention verisimilitude (Wirklichkeitsnähe). Given the confusing thicket of laws that German-language material must deal with, the gatekeepers of are probably prudent to be extremely conservative in their standards. Note, however, that so long as it clearly depicts only adults, pornography is quite legal in the German-speaking countries; accordingly, has a large hentai dōjinshi section, though it is accessible only to registered members able to prove that they are 18 or older.

[3.7] In this gatekeeping function,'s dōjinshi pages have introduced many budding German mangaka not only to a wider fan audience, but also to the print publishing scene, particularly to smaller niche publishers such as alternative comics press Verlag Schwarzer Turm, which quickly found the Animexx Web site an excellent recruiting ground for its manga anthologies; or to those even smaller publishers founded expressly to produce German- and Western-produced boys' love material. These firms, some of which operate with only two or three impassioned full-time owner/employees, include Myriam Engelbrecht's Fireangels Verlag, Cursed Side (the result of a 2010 merger between Simone Neblich-Spang's The Wild Side and Julia Schwenk's Cursed Publishings), and Henning Kroll's Hotate Books. In most of these smaller publishers, the managers, editors, and designers are often themselves manga writers or artists, and the participation of mangaka whose first exposure came about via is fundamental to their activities. From's vetting process and this semiofficial recruitment have emerged many young women who have gone on to publish manga in Germany with the major firms, and sometimes even abroad through the hoped-for licensing deals, thus elevating their original cultural capital within fandom into the official cultural and economic spheres (Malone 2010, 33–34). One of the more unusual members of this group is Fahr Sindram.

4. Fahr Sindram and Losing Neverland

[4.1] Fahr Sindram—her real name, though because it is unusual it is sometimes taken for a nom de plume—was born January 28, 1981, in a small town near the major port city of Kiel, on the Baltic Sea in the north of Germany. According to a number of interviews conducted by online German comics and manga fanzines and news sites (e.g.,,,, Sindram began drawing in her childhood, starting with Disney characters and then developing her own designs; by the age of 14, she had decided that she wanted to become a comics artist in the Franco-Belgian tradition of Hergé's Tintin and Goscinny and Uderzo's Astérix. Not until she was 18 was she exposed to her first manga, Kishiro Yukito's Gunnm (published in German by Carlsen as Battle Angel Alita, 1996–98), whose beautiful but ruthless female protagonist inspired her greatly. When she later observed that other German artists, in particular Robert Labs, were being promoted as mangaka, Sindram decided to follow the same route; over the next 3 years, she determinedly taught herself to draw in the manga style with the aid of Japanese how-to books translated into French, and supplemented this training by practicing anatomy and perspective.

[4.2] Like many other hopefuls, Sindram entered the German manga scene by way of the Internet, taking advantage of the Web site; however, she was ultimately "discovered" in almost Hollywood fashion, when she was turning out sketches while minding a friend's booth at the 2005 Leipzig Book Fair. Michael Möller, head of the Verlag Schwarzer Turm, then sought her out, locating her by using her contact information on Möller made Sindram a copublisher and editor, in which capacities she helped set up Schwarzer Turm's manga line (Pannor 2007; Ihme 2007, 56). In addition to Western-style alternative comics, Schwarzer Turm now also publishes regular manga anthologies by German mangaka, likewise often recruited via The most notable of these anthologies are the Paper Theatre series and the erotic series Hungry Hearts, the latter of which features both heterosexual and homosexual themes, often depicted rather more explicitly than in the stories the larger firms dare to publish. Several early volumes of the Paper Theatre series carried one-page humorous stories by coeditor Sindram, but in the second volume, appearing in June 2006, she also previewed her own manga series (which was already contracted to yet another small, young niche publisher, Martina Hardten's Butter & Cream Verlagsgesellschaft; Sindram 2006a).

[4.3] This "Gothic drama," Losing Neverland (the title refers indirectly to Peter Pan by parodying the title of the 2004 Johnny Depp film Finding Neverland—no reference to Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch property was intended), is set in an alternate Victorian London recently ravaged by an epidemic known as the Empty Plague (die Leere Pest). The protagonist is 14-year-old Laurence V. Laurence, known as Laurie, whose crippled sailor father, Johnny, killed Laurie's mother Amy 7 years ago in a drunken rage of jealousy. Now, with Laurie's wicked stepmother Ernestine, Johnny prostitutes Laurie to middle-class men to pay for his liquor. In a world in which almost every adult male is depicted as an eager pederast, Laurie's life is a litany of exploitation and pathos—when he returns home late at one point in the second volume, for example, his father punishes him by brutally sodomizing him, shocking even the callous Ernestine (Sindram 2008; both volumes are unpaginated). Laurie comforts himself somewhat, however, by afterward recalling that his father continued to whisper his mother's name, indicating that Johnny still loves and misses Amy after all. The perpetually malnourished Laurie, continually underdressed in anachronistic Gothic Lolita drag that bares his nipples and almost reveals his pubis, appears hardly more than 10 years old; his otherwise waiflike beauty is marred by cankers around his mouth. His only friends are his circle of fellow hustlers, who variously address him as "Laurie," "L.V.," or "Miss Law Violation" (in English, even in the German text); and a moldering fox-skin stole of his mother's named Fanny, who comes to life and speaks to Laurie as his "conscience" ("Like in Pinocchio!"; Sindram 2006b) when nobody else is around. In the course of the first volume, Laurie further makes the acquaintance of two other orphans: the tiny, adorable, but tubercular 4-year-old Tim Philips and his older sister, Coline, whose job as an exploited domestic servant to the mayor's family provides all three of them a tenuous connection to middle-class respectability, and therefore to some hope for the future.

[4.4] Like the vast majority of OGL manga, Losing Neverland is permeated with markers of authenticity that conform to at least some of the visual and generic tropes of established manga styles, particularly those of shōjo manga. These features often underscore the manner in which OGL manga imitate not so much original Japanese models, but rather those models as already translated; thus becoming what Jüngst (2006, 258)calls "simulacra" or "pseudo-translations". The most obvious sign of this false authenticity remains the reversed reading direction (253), but frequent use is also made of visual elements such as a single giant sweat-drop to signal a character's anxiety, the X-shaped throbbing forehead vein of anger, or "super-deformed" simplification and distortion of facial or bodily features to show extreme emotion of various kinds (see 257). Likewise, the stories of OGL manga tend not to be set in contemporary Germany; most frequently, they are set in Japan, or in a nonspecific locale that could be Japanese or at least Asian. Even when the location is completely unspecified or utterly fantastic, there is a strong tendency for characters to be given Japanese (or Japanese-sounding) names. When the story is explicitly set elsewhere than in Japan, as it is here, there is often at least one token Japanese character who stands in for authenticity, and whose presence may or may not be convincingly explained. In Losing Neverland, this role is played by Shinya, one of Laurie's hustler friends.

[4.5] It is in Laurie's relationship with these three friends, whom Sindram calls the Chaos Trio in her notes to the reader, that Losing Neverland shows its closest connections to shōjo, and to boys' love manga in particular: fully introduced in the series' second volume, all three of them are variations on the bishōnen type, with large eyes and regular, delicate features. The Canadian Hillary Dove, nicknamed "Germinal" (presumably from Emile Zola's novel), is the poet of the group. At 22, he is also the oldest, with muttonchop sideburns that render his appearance less androgynous, and a crippled foot. He came to England as an orphan with his two younger sisters, and turned to prostitution to support them; but they both died after a few years, apparently of the Empty Plague. At his age, he has graduated from male clients to entertaining older women as a gigolo, and within the group he acts as a quasi-parental voice of reason among his peers. Otherwise, however, Hillary thus far remains undercharacterized compared to the other two companions, perhaps because, other than sympathy, he has as yet no strong connection to Laurie.

[4.6] Maurice Micklewhite, a hustler and pickpocket whose good looks are offset by a wooden prosthetic ear strapped to his head, is Laurie's closest friend; since an incident 4 years ago when he and Laurie were forced to perform sexually for a paying audience, however, he has fallen almost obsessively in love with Laurie, and hopes that they will be able to form a lasting romantic relationship. Often nicknamed "Maurizio" or "Momo" by his friends, Maurice is rather rough and abrupt by nature—his spoken German bears the markings of a Berlin accent, which by established German literary convention often represents London Cockney, though he describes himself as an Irish Catholic—and his direct, physical, and sometimes brutal attempts to gain Laurie's love put him in the position of seme, or pursuer, to Laurie's uke, or receiver. Despite Maurice's violent temperament, his offer of love nonetheless represents a positive, more egalitarian alternative to Laurie's present existence; to that extent, the constellation of Maurice and Laurie reflects Sindram's frequently stated attraction to boys' love manga. For his part, however, Laurie cannot put behind him the fact that their only sexual encounter took place under duress and brought him no enjoyment. Laurie also recognizes that his friend with the missing ear is as deeply scarred within as he is without, and as a result, dangerously unstable.

[4.7] Moreover, Laurie's new friend Coline seems to offer him both a nurturing mother figure and a potential heterosexual love interest—indeed, the two of them sometimes function almost as parents to little Tim; but so far, it remains unclear whether either character represents a viable future for poor Laurie, who may well be doomed in any case (Sindram has stated that she would like to end her saga unhappily, though her publisher would prefer a happy ending). This, according to Anne Pätzke (2006) in her afterword to the preview of Sindram's manga in the second volume of Paper Theatre, is the meaning of the manga's title:

[4.8] [Peter Pan and Neverland], with their sense of fantasy and the idea that childhood dreams come true, are a synonym for what one can lose as a child—that is, everything. Laurie has no opportunity to become a grownup first and discover what he likes on his own. Whether he likes men, or women, or both. It's decided for him and he has to accept it. (106–7)

[4.9] The final member of the Chaos Trio is Shinya, the 17-year-old son of a Japanese kimono tailor who set off to travel the world with his wife and child after being burned out of his home in Japan. After the family had made its way across China and Russia, Shinya's mother died in Europe. Shinya and his father then traveled on to London to take part in an international exhibition of Japanese culture; shortly after their arrival, however, Shinya was abducted by the exhibition's English organizer—yet another middle-class pedophile—and sold as a sex slave to another man, with whom Shinya lived for 3 years before he found an opportunity to escape. With his father long since disappeared, Shinya found work in a brothel and later took to a life on the street. Shinya's anachronistic multiple facial piercings, makeup, and shaggy hairdo make him at the same time the most exotic and the most outwardly feminine of the Trio (in fact, his appearance is based on a female acquaintance of Sindram's). He is also both the group's resident drama queen and its clown, with a sharp tongue motivated by the fact that he has a crush on Maurice and regards Laurie as something of a rival in this respect. Partly to hide his affection and partly out of frustration, Shinya calls Maurice "Baka-Mau," using the Japanese word for "idiot," and he peppers their arguments with deliberately absurd threats such as: "Be ready for the blood revenge of the ninja! For onigiri [rice balls] and justice!" (Sindram 2008). Shinya's purposely comical self-representation skillfully distracts from the fact that the character's mere presence in Victorian England, even when provided with a backstory, is itself improbable in the extreme.

[4.10] Although it is not visually sexually explicit, this rather grotesque and sometimes morbid hodgepodge of elements from Victorian literature, historical film, modern comics, Freud, and de Sade would nonetheless likely be a risky undertaking, given that Losing Neverland bends or outright breaks many of the rules set up by the gatekeepers of to keep within the law. Entire pages of Sindram's manga, for example, are given over to "the depiction, whether unambiguous or ambiguous, of very young characters…engaging in sex or games of violence or domination, with the participation of an adult or with children of the same age"; in particular, only a very naïve reader could consider the scene of Laurie's anal rape by his own father as ambiguous, though no penetration, and little of anything else, is shown (Sindram 2008). Moreover, despite Animexx's warning that "Your characters may not look like children…only the apparent age counts!" the characters in question almost all look much younger than their stated ages—indeed, Sindram herself draws attention to this fact, when Maurice jokingly accuses Shinya of trying to pass for 13 (Sindram 2008). Even the use of "Maurice Micklewhite" as a character name pushes the boundaries of the German libel laws that prompt to ban "realslash" [sic]—the depiction of real people in fictive romantic or sexual relationships. The actual Maurice Micklewhite, a genuine Cockney Londoner better known as British actor Sir Michael Caine, might not be pleased to find himself depicted—even in name only—as a one-eared adolescent Victorian sex worker pursuing an underage transvestite. And yet, surprisingly, Losing Neverland has drawn generally positive mention in the little attention that it has been paid by the mainstream press—for example, in the conservative national newspaper Die Welt (October 24, 2008;; on the Web site of Germany's official international cultural association, the Goethe-Institut (May 2009;; or in Sindram's hometown newspaper, the Kieler Nachrichten (June 30, 2010;—and seems never yet to have been in any danger of censorship or legal action, nor to have provoked a negative reaction from society at large.

5. Fahr Sindram's anti-shota campaign: Outlaw for a good cause

[5.1] A major contributing factor to this situation has been the fact that both Sindram and her publisher Butter & Cream are at pains continually to remind the reader—within the manga's text and its supplementary material, as well as in interviews and on the publisher's Web site (—that Sindram's goal in Losing Neverland is in fact to raise awareness of child abuse and to protest both the "widespread child pornography in Japan," particularly shota material (depicting young boys as sexual objects), and its dissemination in Germany (; Even the characters within the story hint at this early in the first volume, during Laurie's first conversation with Fanny:

[5.2] Fanny: It could be worse. For example, you could get to spend every day standing in the cold, waiting for a nice uncle whose dick you'd be allowed to stroke for a penny! And then—*Hmpf* grsnle! (Laurie holds Fanny's mouth shut)

Laurie: Despite the touchy subject matter, this manga is attempting to be as G-rated as possible, you…smart-alec! *I don't believe it!*

Fanny: I only wanted to help the readers! (Sindram 2006b)

[5.3] Such straightforward deromanticization contrasts with the shōjo manga aesthetic that clearly marks Sindram's detailed artwork throughout; it both sets her work apart from the atmosphere of relatively egalitarian sexual desire and often-delayed gratification typical of many boys' love manga and makes clear that her target of criticism is elsewhere. Sindram avers that she is herself a fan of what she calls "Shonen-Ai-Mangas," though she adds, "But I don't want to see any sex. I only like implied eroticism, and then to bring my own imagination into play. I don't want to be offered anything explicit" (; she has no problem, however, with hentai or yaoi in principle—in fact, she bluntly remarks that anyone who says that manga in general portray too much sex and violence "needs to be smacked" ("Wer so was sagt gehört geklapst!"; But child pornography is something else again: "There are boundaries being transgressed that are sacred. For the sake of money, publishers are letting go of everything that's important for decency and morality. I'm not just saying, 'Ooh, ick, they're naked' [Pfui-Bäh-Nackig]" (

[5.4] Sindram not only polemicizes against child pornography in general, but also takes as her target of repeated public criticism one specific example: Yun Kōga's popular manga Loveless [Raburesu], which has published nine volumes so far in German translation. Loveless, depicting a fantasy world in which everyone is born with cat's ears and a tail but loses them upon losing their virginity, is regarded by its German publisher, Egmont Ehapa, and by most Western readers as unproblematic, even unexciting. In his English-language primer Manga: The Complete Guide, in fact, Jason Thompson tersely describes Kōga's manga as "Attractively drawn but frustratingly slow-paced, mopey, and introverted"; he does not even place the entry for Loveless in his book's yaoi section, since technically, it is at least superficially a battle manga, and "The suggestions of yuri [lesbian] and yaoi romance are mostly implied rather than shown" (Thompson 2007, 194). Even the mangaka Yun Kōga herself does not consider Loveless to be yaoi, although she grants that many of her fans do so (Hartzheim and Hong 2009). Nonetheless, passages such as one in which the 12-year-old catboy protagonist is assured by his older bishōnen mentor that the latter won't take his ears from him yet, and scenes of what Sindram calls "heavy petting to the max" ("Da wird geknutscht bis zum Geht-nicht-mehr"; motivate her not only to condemn the series outright, but also to mount an ongoing public campaign against it as "Soft-Shotacon-Manga" and a potential slippery slope to harder stuff ( By declaring Loveless to be outright child pornography, Sindram clearly means to deprive it of its cultural capital and thus its ability to be converted into economic capital by Egmont—though there is no sign that this campaign has thus far hurt either Loveless's reputation or its sales.

[5.5] Nonetheless, Sindram's relentless polemic has had the effect of diverting any serious criticism from outside manga fandom of her work as itself potentially pornographic—although she claims initially to have faced a great deal of backlash from fans of shota:

[5.6] I would have liked it if people had said: "This is a good cause. We have to support setting limits on child pornography. Finally we have a text to jolt us into it." But in the beginning most people wrote me that I must be a prudish cow. I'm uptight, I don't know what fun is, I'm frigid. As far as the story goes, I got things like: "[Laurie] ought to be fucked until he pukes up blood. That's what I want to see, with great big cocks!" Then I just didn't reply any more. (

[5.7] In the area of "anti-child-porn" I already feel like some kind of outlaw [the English word is used], à la 50 Cent or I don't know what kind of gangster, as if I were standing up for strange opinions. Basically, it ought to be exactly the other way round. (

[5.8] Sindram's confrontational attitude also provokes other boys' love fans who do not share her opinion of Loveless. The pseudonymous Swiss-German fan reviewer Suzu, for example, praised several aspects of the second volume of Losing Neverland, in particular Sindram's artwork, in Suzu's now-defunct (and unfortunately unarchived) blog "The Ulterior Motive" (once available at However, she found the characters—above all Laurie—to be unconvincing, because of their overtly serving a didactic purpose, and then added:

[5.9] Fahr Sindram is also famous (or infamous) for declaring Loveless to be child porn without having correctly understood the manga. I have no use for her extreme attitudes against shota and loli, and I find it a real pity that she confuses fiction with reality without getting her facts straight. Seulement si j'ai bien compris.

[5.10] Sindram does in fact claim to have researched "far and wide" on her topic ("I read about 18 books on the subject, watched films, all that. At the end I was totally drained, but I think I can describe it a lot better as a result"), though she also admits that some of her initial assumptions were mistaken:

[5.11] The target audience in Japan is mainly female, just like in Germany, and the girls range in age from 12 upwards to 30. I'd assumed that men would be reading such things, but there I was wrong. (

[5.12] While some of her ideas about conditions in Japan were clearly influenced by Western expectations and thus coincided neatly with the mistaken premises upon which much Western anti–child pornography legislation is based (McLelland 2012, 475–6), Sindram has not altered her views or her strategy since discovering that she was in error; moreover, she also continues to make equally broad assumptions about her own audience at home. To the question of whether or not manga have an important erotic aspect, she replies:

[5.13] If the manga is intended to be a blockbuster, of course eroticism plays a role. But I think the nature of the thing is that there has to be something for everyone. For example, now—because my manga doesn't offer a lot for men—I've given the sister of the little boy in the story [Tim's sister Coline] fairly big breasts. Just so there's something for everyone. And the things keep growing! At some point they're going to have to stop getting bigger. (laughs) (

[5.14] The apparent contradictions between Sindram's stated message and some of her methods of communication clearly frustrate readers such as Suzu, for example, who complained that giving Coline a large bosom to appeal to male readers is "pathetic" (armselig) in "exactly the last comic where fan service ought to appear"; and that the humor in Sindram's dialogue and pictures and the serious nature of her subject "go together like chalk and cheese" ("passen…wie die Faust aufs Auge"; literally, "like a fist in the eye").

[5.15] Moreover, Suzu found Sindram's choice of Loveless as a target of censure particularly bizarre, given that the two volumes thus far of Losing Neverland indirectly depict more sexual violence, and directly show far more nudity, than Kōga's manga. Reproducing one of Sindram's poster pictures of Maurice and Laurie, apparently caught in flagrante delicto by the reader, with a defiant Maurice's bare buttocks visible and a surprised Laurie clothed only in lace stockings and thong, she implied that Sindram is playing by a double standard:

[5.16] Looking at pictures like this, I really can't take her nagging about Loveless at all seriously; even if I've understood the symbolism of the picture, it's hardly any different from the pictures in Loveless, except that in the latter there's hardly any naked flesh displayed and the whole thing is much more symbolic and somber.

[5.17] Losing Neverland has also received some unreservedly positive notices from fan reviewers (for example, Kyoko for the online magazine Pummeldex, at—largely on the basis of its skillful artwork and/or its intentions—and it has also even inspired a small amount of its own fan-based textual productivity, in the form of art, poetry, fiction, dōjinshi, and cosplay (for example, at, and on several deviantArt sites). Many of these, however, seem to be produced by a very small circle of people, at least some of whom are clearly personally acquainted with Sindram, who responds to much of the work (generally enthusiastically) and indeed provides some of it herself.

[5.18] Nonetheless, as two pseudonymous comments to her blog entry demonstrated, Suzu was not alone in having mixed feelings about Sindram's work: other readers also find Losing Neverland's combination of boys' love and Gothic Lolita aesthetics with its stated antipornographic aims difficult to interpret. A forum discussion on started by Sindram herself in 2006, under the heading "How did you like Losing Neverland?" ("Wie hat euch LN gefallen?";, also elicited a wide range of responses, finally petering out in early 2011 with a brief debate between two readers: both agreed that the manga is "a handbook of shota clichés," but could not agree as to whether these clichés were being deliberately used to demonstrate their crassness, or whether Sindram herself actually finds such clichés "totally kawaii [cute]" and cynically uses her anti-shota statements as camouflage in order to avoid criticism.

6. Boys' love as public service advertisement: Losing Neverland and cultural capital

[6.1] This apparent disconnect between medium and message in Losing Neverland has not prevented the manga from being not only socially accepted, but even praised outright. Indeed, for its anti–child porn message it earned an honorable citation in 2006 from Germany's Council for Sustainable Development (Rat für Nachhaltige Entwicklung), whose government-given mandate extends beyond environmental issues to facilitating "social coherence" and "social dialogue" ( As a result, Sindram's photograph was featured in an exhibition depicting artists, designers, and architects contributing to the Council's mandate. This citation figures largely in advertising for Losing Neverland, is frequently mentioned by Sindram in interviews (and in the above-mentioned Web forum discussion), and is proclaimed on a large sticker on the first volume's cover. The Council's seal of approval thus institutionalizes Sindram's cultural capital in a manner similar to that of granting an academic degree, as Sindram recognizes: "[With this recognition] I've landed more or less in the culture corner" ("Ich bin damit so ein bisschen in der Kulturecke gelandet";

[6.2] To underline her work's value in this context, Sindram maintains that her books have already helped victims of child abuse, and that she is sent constant messages of support and thanks from such victims, who react to Losing Neverland by saying, "That's exactly what happened to me" (; as well, she claims that she receives regular fan mail from as far away as Africa. She also claims that the manga has been used in school instruction, and taken up by several psychologists for use in therapy. Sindram has told interviewers that Losing Neverland is even in demand at "many Japanese universities," which want to make it available for purposes of Aufklärung (which in German means both "enlightenment" and "sex education"; If this last claim is indeed true, there is a certain irony in the possibility that Sindram's work, which capitalizes upon the globalizing aesthetic influence of manga, while at the same time adopting a defensive, almost protectionist stance against the spread of certain overtly "foreign" social or sexual attitudes associated with manga in the West, might be reappropriated for a similar purpose within Japan itself.

[6.3] To facilitate such transfers, Sindram and Butter & Cream intend to capitalize upon Losing Neverland for export, with an English translation of the first volume available and French and Japanese versions in preparation—supposedly, copies of the German edition sold out within a day at Tokyo's 71st Comic Market (Comiket) dōjinshi fair in December 2006 ( Moreover, since Sindram now plans to produce eight volumes of the series, Losing Neverland is positioned to become the longest-running OGL manga yet—if it can ever be finished. Given that even relatively successful German mangaka work without assistants, other than occasional volunteers from among their friends, it is hardly unusual for their work to fall behind schedule. This is particularly true in the case of the many artists who juggle other, better-paying graphic work, day jobs in other fields, and/or full-time studies in addition to their manga creation. Though she is not a student, nor otherwise employed, Sindram nonetheless has a great deal to keep her busy.

[6.4] In terms of her artistic output, Sindram has ventured beyond manga to design promotional materials for Cinema Bizarre (a Berlin-based glam-rock group heavily influenced by Japanese visual kei bands), which disbanded in January 2010 after three albums and two major tours. She has also produced two books for children, with texts written by Walther Hans. Lord Skeffington Scatters: Katzenärger (2009) is the tale of a lovable zombie child who lives with 15 obstreperous cats—hence the "cat trouble" of the subtitle. Pouka and Spooks: Das kleine Todes-ABC der Liebe (2010) is a Geschenkbuch (a book intended to be bought and given as a gift) that takes elements from Edward Gorey by way of Roman Dirge to present "a little death-ABC of love" between the long-dead skeleton toddler Pouka and her Frankensteinian teddy bear, Spooks, who "haben sich einfach gern, obwohl sie völlig verschieden sind" (the pun here is untranslatable: "They just love each other, although they are completely verschieden," which can mean either "dissimilar" or "deceased"). She has also been working on a second manga series, Cave Canem: Tales of a Journey, a shōnen adventure story about Jiri, a Russian wolf-boy on the run from scientific experiments. He meets a girl in the Siberian woods, who of course turns out to be the tsar's daughter. Despite several previews online and at conventions, Cave Canem has not yet appeared; nor has another gift book project, Garlics Liebe (Garlic's Love), which concerns yet another macabre youngster: a young vampire who has fallen in love with a clove of garlic.

[6.5] Beyond the drawing table, Sindram's cultural capital has visibly served to consolidate her public position as author, arbiter, and expert, thus making even greater demands on her time: for example, the combination of her editorial experience and her high profile has repeatedly earned her a place in juries for manga drawing contests (an Austrian competition sponsored by stationer Stabilo, for instance, or the—sadly, now defunct—Comicstars competition sponsored by the publisher Droemer Knaur), helping foster further OGL manga talent. To the same end, she regularly gives workshops on drawing manga and appears at manga and comics conventions and at book fairs for signing sessions, talks, and roundtable discussions. She also occasionally speaks on moral issues in manga and comics, as she did in June 2011 at the Munich Comic Festival ( It is, indeed, largely through the combination of all these activities, rather than directly from her books, that Sindram makes a barely sufficient living to continue pursuing her career as a mangaka. Thus, although Losing Neverland was supposedly originally planned as a mere dōjinshi of two volumes (, Sindram's discovery by the mainstream and the integration of her project into the market economy of publishing has produced an inversion of Fiske's (1992, 39) dictum that fans' "productivity costs them money"; instead, it seems that Sindram's necessary pursuit of money has cost her her productivity, and has not necessarily gained the agency for resistance that Fiske posited fans stood to gain from harnessing their creativity.

[6.6] In the long run, and likely not fully intentionally on her part, Sindram's success in appropriating cultural capital has come to obscure for broader society the fact that her work is in some ways even more transgressive of social and cultural norms than a great deal of the conventional boys' love manga that once seemed so shocking; at the same time, however, this success has to some extent co-opted her stance as a self-proclaimed "outlaw." Though she remains a polarizing figure within fandom, and the German manga wave has been subsiding for several years now, Sindram may nonetheless clear the way for yet more artists to take up the genre—possibly in ways that Sindram, despite her current position of apparent influence, may disapprove of, but be quite unable to control, as her utter failure to hinder the publication of Loveless has demonstrated.

7. Epilogue

[7.1] In November 2011, Sindram's publisher, Butter & Cream, posted photographs from the then-recent Frankfurt Book Fair on its blog page ( As usual, the publisher had a booth at the fair, where Sindram appeared for signings and to advertise her forthcoming volumes of Losing Neverland, Cave Canem, and Garlics Liebe, the first two long overdue but slated for release during the Leipzig Book Fair in mid-March 2012 (—though to date they still have not appeared. Previously, Sindram had been almost as well known on the convention scene for her constantly changing neon hair colors and wild Gothic Lolita–inspired wardrobe as her artistic talents; at this event, however, to advertise Cave Canem, she spent at least one day quite uncharacteristically dressed. In the top photos she wears a chic but businesslike gray suit; her hair is neatly styled and a natural-looking brown. She is now a 30-year-old woman who practically embodies both cultural and economic capital. The ensemble is capped with a large pair of furry black wolf's ears on her head, but they are almost as feline in appearance as vulpine. She bears a striking resemblance to the characters in Kōga's Loveless. The similarity, however, goes unremarked; the series of photos is labeled Ohne Worte—"without words."

8. Postscript

[8.1] Since this article was completed, a further volume of Losing Neverland finally appeared in November 2012—though in the form of a "light novel" rather than a fully illustrated manga. Although supposedly available "wherever comics and manga are found," in fact the volume seems to be for sale only on the publisher's Web site (

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