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Skip to 0 minutes and 6 secondsDerivative works are works that are based on pre-existing works. They use the characters and the settings of the original work -whether it may be manga (comic books),- anime, movies, TV dramas, novels, or games to create an alternative story. In Japan, we call them Niji-Sosaku which literally translates as “secondary creation.” Obviously, derivative works are not limited to Japanese subculture. There are similar cultures around the world, whether you may call them “fan fiction” or even spin-offs. One of the important aspects of derivative works in Japanese subculture is that there is a specific genre where female fans create an alternative story through queer readings.

Skip to 0 minutes and 58 secondsThey often pick two male characters from the original work, reinterpret them as lovers in a sexual relationship, and invent a different story, in their fanzines. The genre is called Yaoi, and it has become one of the most active fan communities in Japanese subculture. Of course, not all derivative works are Yaoi, or queer based there are many stories with heterosexual relationship, and many are just spin-offs of the original works. However, these derivative works -queer reading of male protagonists by female fans- has become so popular that they occupy a significant part of the “comic market,” which is the biggest event of Otaku culture in Japan.

Skip to 1 minute and 49 secondsRecently, the whole genre of Yaoi has produced countless manga creators, which means that these fan communities have become one of the gateways to the profession in this field. This practice in Japanese subculture- Niji Sosaku in general- has been compared to the practice of remixing and sampling in hip hop in US and western cultures. Both practices, with their roots in 1970s recycle parts of pre-existing works to create new and alternative works. In other words, fans do not passively receive, but actively approach the original work in order to create another, derivative work. The idea of “originality” is put into debate, which allows Niji Sosaku to be interpreted as a postmodern cultural practice.

Skip to 2 minutes and 45 secondsAnother important topic concerning derivative works in Japan is their copyright. Since they often recycle the characters of the original work which is mostly commercial, they are committing an illegal act in a strict sense. So, in “comic markets” where a huge number of derivative works are displayed and sold twice a year, the publishers and authors actually overlook and tacitly admit the act of Niji Sosaku for the sake of Otaku cultures. Note that the violation of copyright law in Japan is an offense subject to prosecution only on complaint from a victim. So there is a kind of informal agreement between the publishers and fans.

Skip to 3 minutes and 35 secondsPublishers acknowledge that those activities are not only an important part of fan culture but also essential to the dissemination and enrichment of Otaku culture in Japan.

What are Derivative Works?

Derivative works are works that are based on pre-existing works. Why is it so important in the context of Japanese Subculture? Watch Prof. Ohwada introduce the essence of “derivative works”.

The screen behind Prof. Ohwada in the video shows the “Comic Market” in December 2015.

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This video is from the free online course:

An Introduction to Japanese Subcultures

Keio University

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