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  • Girliness Next to Godliness:Lolita Fandom as Sacred Criminality in the Novels of Takemoto Novala
  • Brian Bergstrom (bio)

It begins with an awakening. Something is encountered—a person, an image, a song, an outfit—that throws into relief the protagonist's unique sensibility. This apparent uniqueness is felt as a dislocation in era, the consequence of an existence carried out crosswise to history and society. The object of fascination shimmers in the protagonist's imagination, catalyzing a reorganization of priorities, compelling acts commensurate with the intensity of the emotions it evokes. This is a desire that communicates solely through the language of extremity, the center of a sensibility that disdains the ordinary for being ordinary, that values only the extraordinary. The protagonist becomes extraordinary through criminal acts, acts that prove the protagonist to be worthy of the fascinating object, worthy of the nearly religious ecstasy of fascination itself. This is less about possession than proximity, a pilgrimage toward an indifferent idol, an escalating series of demonstrations of the intensity of the protagonist's fascination that inevitably explodes, shattering the narrative at its climax: murder is committed, or infidelity, or incest, or simply thoroughgoing refusal. But however it ends, the narrative always runs along a line of flight, describing an ecstatic escape that doubles as a kind of self-immolating revenge against society as norm, history as progress. [End Page 21]

These are the stories spun by Takemoto Novala,1 perhaps the most famous cultural figure in Japan associated with Lolita fandom. Frequently called a "Lolita Superstar" (Roriita Karisuma), he is an author who has positioned himself as both a spokesman for and embodiment of a subculture most visible as a fashion choice but which has also been instantiated in a variety of ways: as a literature; as a genre of manga, anime, and pop music; as a theatrical and community-forming social practice; and as an aesthetic choice imagined as able to infiltrate every level of one's life. He is perhaps most well known for writing the novel Kamikaze Girls (2002, Shimotsuma monogatari), a comic story of the unlikely friendship between a devotee of Lolita fashion and a tough female "Yankee," or motorcycle gang member, which was subsequently adapted into a popular movie, then a manga, of the same name.2 Before this success, his debut fictional work, two novellas collected in 2000 under the title Mishin (Missin'), became a bestseller that featured an effusive blurb by Yoshimoto Banana on its jacket, reading:

These stories made me cry. Was it because of the writing's unparalleled skillfulness? Or because it evoked the inexpressible feelings I had at that age? No, it was more than just that. It was the very fact that the immaculate nobility displayed by the characters in the book could exist in an age as degraded as this that brought me to tears. Novala-chan, you're the best!3

This endorsement is also meaningful due to Yoshimoto Banana's status as the most famous practitioner of Japanese "girls' literature" (shōjo bungaku) in the late 1980s and early 1990s, starting with the phenomenal success of her novel Kitchen (1988, Kitchin). Indeed, her prominence during that time is hard to overestimate, as her work was seen to signal not only a new frontier in girls' literature but a mainstreaming of the shōjo sensibility into Japanese literature and popular culture in general. This early endorsement of Takemoto and its use in promotional materials for his work thus implies a positioning of this work within a genealogy of girls' literature that aspires to a similar cultural prominence. Takemoto's work connects Yoshimoto's shōjo sensibility, which she refers to as "immaculate nobility" in her endorsement, to the anachronistic (yet modish) fashions known as Lolita, or, in some instances, Gothic Lolita. He describes these fashions in breathless detail in his novels, the names of real-life clothing designers and brands like Vivienne Westwood, MILK, Jane Marple, and Baby, the Stars Shine Bright decorating nearly every page. Rather than using the term "shōjo" to name the girly sensibility the Lolita look expresses, though, Takemoto uses the term "otome," or "maiden;" he calls his explorations "otomegaku," [End Page...


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