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  • World and Variation:The Reproduction and Consumption of Narrative
  • Ōtsuka Eiji (bio)
    Translated by Marc Steinberg (bio)

Translator's Introduction: Ōtsuka Eiji and Narrative Consumption

It would not be an overstatement to suggest that Ōtsuka Eiji is one of the most important writers on anime and manga subcultures in Japan. He has also been one of the most important writers on fan cultures. If the intersection of subcultures and fan cultures is so marked in Japan, it is at least in part because the term subukaruchaa in Japan has a different valence than the English term "subculture" as deployed in Anglo-American cultural studies, where it carries the sense of an oppositional culture (as Anne McKnight rightly remarks in her essay in this volume). In Japan it has more the sense of a micromarket segment or even a particular fan culture—hence Japanese criticism uses the formulation "otaku subculture" or "anime/manga subculture" where English-language criticism might more readily use "fandom." The highly varied nature of Ōtsuka's writings stems in part from this particular valence of the term "subculture" in Japan and in part from his own intellectual proclivities, leading him to move from semiotic readings of manga1 to discussions of media politics,2 from the cultural ethnography of the shōjo3 to [End Page 99] the analysis of fan or otaku modes of consumption,4 and to his rethinking of contemporary Japanese literature.5

Moreover, though clearly interested in textual readings of manga in particular, Ōtsuka has also had a long-standing investment in ethnographic modes of analysis. The fascination with ethnography and ethnographic modes of analysis Ōtsuka developed during his undergraduate studies was reignited during his later work as a freelance editor for "lolicon" (rorikon) and science fiction comics and videogame magazines. During this time he began to see his editorial work as a kind of "fieldwork" geared toward the development of an "urban ethnography."6 It was in this vein that Ōtsuka published his first of many critical works of the late 1980s. The essay presented here, "World and Variation: The Reproduction and Consumption of Narrative" ("Sekai to shukō: monogatari no fukusei to shōhi"), is taken from one such work of urban ethnography published in 1989, Monogatari shōhiron (A theory of narrative consumption).7

In fact it was this critical ethnographic work that led Ōtsuka to develop a strong sense of the consumption patterns of youth and the potential for the further development of what in Japan has been called the "media mix" (analogous to what in North America has been called "transmedia story telling"). At the time, the concept of the media mix—designating the synergetic combination of multiple media types to promote consumption across commodity forms—was strongly informed by the model of the "blockbuster film–novel–soundtrack" trinity developed by Kadokawa Haruki, then president of Kadokawa Shoten (Kadokawa Books).8 Yet as the initial success of this model wore off and the massive investment required for the production and promotion of Haruki's films destabilized Kadokawa Shoten, the vice president of the company—Haruki's younger brother Tsuguhiko—developed a different media mix strategy based around targeting niche markets, with a strong interest in the emerging video game market. Ōtsuka's work as an editor for such niche, otaku-oriented magazines and his expressed sense of the potential for a media mix different from that which was promoted by Haruki led him to be hired into what at the time was a subdivision of Kadokawa Shoten.9 It was here that, working as an editor for Kadokawa, Ōtsuka developed his "theory of narrative consumption."

It was also here that Ōtsuka first put his narrative consumption theory into practice as the writer of the manga–novel–computer game–etc. media mix, Madara (1987).10 He would follow the success of this work with other manga and novels or "light novels" such as the MPD Psycho (1997–present, Tajū jinkaku tantei saiko or Multipersonality detective psycho) series and [End Page 100] Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (2000–present, Kurosagi shitai takuhaibin). This "creative" work or narrative "practice" (as Ōtsuka refers to this work) in turn affected his critical interests. Indeed, Ōtsuka...


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