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Gainax Honcho on Dojinshi & the “Grey Zone”: “Who does fun belong to?”

An unauthorised dojinshi featuring Gainax anime これが私の御主人様, by 偽MIDI泥の会

This is an extremely interesting interview with top anime studio Gainax’s copyright head 神村靖宏/Yasuhiro Kamimura, in which he explains how Gainax grew out of the dojinshi scene, and how it currently views dojinshi, garage kits and the like.

Interesting to see such views straight from the person concerned rather than some PR type, although I think he definitely falls into the “old media” camp, however relatively enlightened his views on dojinshi may be. I provide a summary translation of the interview (actually, it is almost complete) – original article by ITmedia here.

Gainax holds itself out as “A gathering of supremely talented amateurs, who started making works as professionals”. A company famous for the likes of Evangelion, etc.

The Japanese dojinshi scenes has proved extremely fertile, but in recent the years the effect of the IT revolution has made itself felt; limited once to comic markets, dojinshi now change hands nationally via mail order.

Once fans communicated by word of mouth, but this is giving way to using online movie sites to communicate what is good and bad, as well upload entire works.

“At first the scene (from the 1970’s on) was more about simply generating awareness of what was out there, but from the 80’s it changed and we stated to see derivative works appear, using existing characters to create your own world.”

“We weren’t copyright holders yet, and there were only a few thousand people participating in events. At that time the copyright holders were saying “I don’t really get it, but it’s increasing our sales, right?”, a positive reaction. Nobody thought it would grow into an ultra-market. So nobody really thought about copyright.”

“As it grew, there were times when people attempted to impose limits on it, but it never succeeded and it got through.”

So you think there should be limits on this?

“No, that’s not the way I look at it. Dissecting fan’s passion is just tedious, that’s what I think.”

Good for both sides:

“Dojinshi developed into something copyright holders and licensees have no control over. However, I don’t think they compete with the market products. Even with sales of however many tens of thousands of Evangelion dojinshi, I don’t think Kadokawa (publisher) has been hurt in sales.”

“But where garage kits are concerned, as precision has improved, they do become competition for market products. I don’t think will actually hurt the sales of plastic models (figures), but they’ve definitely reached the same level.”

“Because of this, against the world of rigourous product control and royalty payments, I think if amateur made unauthorised products continue to be made there will be problems.”

“In the 80’s small lot and low cost model manufacturing was born, and that really benefitted the garage kit makers. This was at first hardcore fan territory, entering into competitions for making Gundam and the like, using poly putty, etc. At first they were saying “We did it because we could”, but they soon also wanted to go ahead as a business.”

“At that the time the original Gainax President and others were wrangling permission from copyright holders to sell the products they made at events, and that system has been around, working well, for 20 years now, and been applied to other events as well.”

“Certainly, the spectacle of mangaka and publishers present at an event and watching over the dojinshi present has an idyllic air to it. However, like in the world of games, you do hear of cases of anime and manga fan works being rigourously pursued, which is a natural reaction if you view these works as competition. Pc games are closer to selling figures in that respect, in that amateurs can create works rivalling those of a pro.”

He whines about risqué figures: “We aren’t really bothered by dojinshi and garage kits, but frankly, nude figures, well. For figures where it’s unnecessary, well, I sometimes think just give us a break. If it sells we’d like to see it made, but if it won’t sell if it’s not naked, best not to sell it at all.”

What of permission to write dojinshi? “We sometimes get enquiries like “is it ok to publish this?, but we can’t just answer “It’s ok” – it’s more of an unspoken, tacit understanding type thing.”

“If we give permission, we, as copyright holders, also become responsible. We’d have a duty to oversee it, and there’s also the issue of public morals.”

“Whether a large scale production, or just a garage kit, there’s a duty to ensue the value of the product isn’t damaged. If we consent to dojinshi usage, then it’s not just our responsibility to maintain this, we also have to look after the fan works.”

“I think it’s that sense of responsibility for oneself which makes the dojinshi scene what it is”

But what about when businesses get involved in the distribution, as they are increasingly?

“I think it’s a grey zone. Getting people what they want is what distribution is about.”

“But when we’re talking about buying in units of thousands, I think that’s really commercial. Not fan activity, but business. So when a business starts buying these sorts of things up for resale, I think that’s when they must take responsibility for the content, as soon as it becomes business.”

“This is just my personal opinion, but I think it’s no fun if you don’t buy dojinshi at an event. Even with garage kits, it’s better to buy at Wonder Festival than mail order. Passing over your works by hand to the fans in a festival atmosphere is the epitome of dojinshi, I think.”

Get off my lawn:

“There’s the rejection of this which says “What of people who live away from the big centers, and can’t participate in an event?”, but in the past there was no information. You had to uncover yourself what you thought was interesting, and as someone like that, someone who saw all that effort go into anime/games, I get the feeling that the current information overload is a dead-end.”

Part 2 promises to cover the effect of the net on the scene, but is not yet published. You may also be interested in the interview on the situation facing figure producers and fans in China.

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