Intersections: Selling <i>otaku</i>? Mapping the Relationship between Industry and Fandom in the Australian Cosplay Scene
Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 20, April 2009

Selling Otaku?
Mapping the Relationship between Industry and Fandom in the Australian Cosplay Scene

Craig Norris and Jason Bainbridge
  1. The Japanese term cosplay (コスプレ, kosupure) is a contraction of the English words 'costume' and 'play' and refers to the taking on of a particular character from manga (comic), anime (animation), movie, game or (less frequently) other media from Japan.[1] In its purest form cosplay is akin to performance art, taking on the habitus of a particular character through costume, accessories, gesture and attitude; it is therefore not simply 'dressing up' but rather inhabiting the role of a character both physically and mentally. Crucial to this idea is the notion of 'play,' a play with age, race and gender, which we will return to below.
  2. In Australia, cosplay communities developed within many anime clubs and have often attracted sensational media coverage during fan conventions.[2] These reports typically convey a romantic notion of the Australian cosplay community as a grassroots culture that is struggling to develop and create its own authentic versions of Japanese media characters in the face of the mass-produced, mainstream entertainment product. These romantic notions—that subcultures emerge organically, in pure forms through sheer force of will, before being eventually taken up by the mainstream commercial forces—have often dominated research on such subcultures with the cultural studies approach associated with the Birmingham tradition being perhaps the most well known. The Birmingham analysis of subcultures focused on already established communities, such as Mods, Skinheads and Punks.[3] While the Birmingham subcultural approach provided a much needed insight into the ideology of youth cultures during the 1970s it has received criticism for its limitations in analysing the role of media within youth cultures,[4] and the fracturing of class and identity in a postmodern and postcolonial context.[5]In this paper we hope to address these gaps in subcultural research through our analysis of cosplay in relation to local Australian industry, fan culture and cultural participation.
  3. Cosplay culture in Australia raises key issues around the relationship between industry and consumers. Members of anime fan communities (often referred to as otaku, see below) have developed a specific relationship to distinct sets of industry. As opposed to the romantic notions of cosplay outlined above, we contend that within the cosplay community there is no radical opposition between fans and industry, except for the narrowly ideological. The story of cosplay is not one of a subculture that emerges purely or organically from fandom alone, nor is it one of hard-core resistance towards a large, amorphous commercial industry exploiting cosplay. Rather, through our case study of the Haraju2girls, Madman Entertainment and Jay Jays, we will show that cosplay culture is, in many ways, a product of commercial industries and that these industries are vitally important in how fans define themselves.
  4. In this way we want to use cosplay to explore the cultural logic linking fans and industry spaces today. This is part of a tradition of work identified by Matt Hills[6] who noted that 'the imagined subjectivity of the "consumer" is also hugely important to fans as they strive to mark out the distinctiveness of fan knowledges and fan activities…[that are]…constructed against a further imagined Other: the "bad" consumer.'[7] Like Hills, we too place the fan firmly within the framework of consumer culture but in taking cosplay as our case study, we are adding two elements largely unrepresented in Hill's study of television fandom: costume as Do-It-Yourself culture and a predominantly female rather than male fandom. For these reasons, cosplay is perhaps the best example of what can be termed the 'textual performer,'[8] fans who 'try to capture – through participation and immersion – the original cathartic moment felt during the first viewing of a story.'[9] In this way we want to move away from the narrow definition of subcultures offered by the Birmingham approach as resistance narratives, towards a recognising of the increasing convergence of audience, industry and culture today.[10]
  5. Furthermore, to make sense of the complexity of this relationship between fandom and industry we have divided the cosplay/industry network into three nodes—the mainstream retailer, the niche industry and the cottage industry. From the perspective of cosplayers each node has a radically different role and cultural significance. Cottage-industries, like our Harju2girls case study, and the costumes they design and produce for local fans are means by which cosplayers can afford to cosplay and allow event organisers to bring large cosplay crowds together. Niche industries, like Madman and its 'otaku-wear' line (which we define in more detail below), not only distribute but help construct some of the key otaku, and to a lesser degree cosplay, styles. Finally, national mainstream retailers like the clothing store Jay Jays, help develop the cosplay movement as much as they distort it. In this way each node in this network, from industry through to fandom, contributes to the formation of the cosplay scene.
  6. Our case study of the relationship between industry (Jay Jays and Madman) and fandom (the Haraju2girls cosplayers) is a combination of three research strategies: ethnographic research into anime events involving cosplay; interviews with cosplayers (the Haraju2girls) and industry (Madman Entertainment); and textual analysis of the websites used to advertise and display cosplay culture and goods. The two hour semi-structured interview data with the Haraju2girls was collected during one session. The Haraju2girls are a Hobart-based cosplaying team who have been cosplaying at conventions and events since 2006. The Haraju2girls are deeply involved in the local anime fan community regularly attending the local anime club screenings (often in costume) and participating in local and interstate anime conventions. Since forming they have also received commissions to make cosplay outfits for local fans. This paper draws upon our interview discussion on the participation side of anime fandom, the significance of their age and gender—they are both young women in their early twenties—and their thoughts on Japan. The semi-structured interview data with Madman was collected during one four-hour session at their Melbourne offices. Our interviews with Ben Pollock (Publicity Manager), Dean Prenc (Anime Brand Manager), Scott Alexander, Sylvester Ip (Assistant Brand Manager – Anime), and Tim Anderson (Managing Director) sought to understand the role Madman plays in the Australian anime fan community. Drawing upon these sources our aim is to contribute to the existing research on the relationship between fandom, popular culture and industries,[11] by suggesting a more inclusive role for industry in the development of fandom and thereby better understand fan subcultures as being a part of much larger cultural networks.

    Why cosplay is important
  7. The idea of dressing up to emulate heroes (or villains) is nothing new amongst fan cultures.[12] From Star Trek fans in replica Starfleet uniforms to rugby league supporters in team jerseys, dressing up is part of the ritual of identification with a particular character, a way of marking out a fan's alignment. It displays how heavily an audience member is invested in the ideals of the show or identifies with a particular character and shows others how 'serious' a fan they are. It is an act of belonging to a greater community of like-minded fans. But cosplay amongst anime and manga fans is not simply a practice of identification, alignment and belonging. It also has significant implications for gender play and gender disruption as we will show within each of the three industry sites identified earlier.
  8. Gender disruption can be seen at play from the very earliest moments of anime's localisation into the West. For many westerners—in the US, the UK and Australia—their first exposure to the possibility of cosplay would be a diegetic (textual) one: in the late 1970s anime series Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (better known as G-Force or Battle of the Planets in the West). The principle villain in this series was the character of Lord Berg Katse (Zoltar in the English-language version). Even in the recut and sanitised western version of the series, Battle of the Planets (where much of the violence and character complexity was removed), Zoltar remained a sexually ambiguous figure, somewhere between feminine and masculine. That this ambiguity centred around Zoltar's lipstick, purple uniform, flowing cape and horned cowl, all of which keep his/her true gender unrecognisable, points to the way in which costume allows gender indeterminacy and gender fluidity to function. Significantly, this gender blurring would be repeated by the cross-play of cosplayers, like the Haraju2girls, as will be discussed below.
  9. Unlike other fannish dressing-up, cosplay is closer to drag. We would argue that it is not merely an act of becoming a particular character, or marking out a particular alignment, but of disruption. This is the 'play' in 'cosplay,' a play with identity and, more often, a play with gender identity. Of course this occurs when male fans dress up as female characters and female fans dress as male characters. Indeed, the gender ambiguity of some anime and manga characters often enables this appropriation to take place a lot more easily than amongst their western counterparts; this is especially apparent with bishōnen (beautiful boy) characters. Within manga and anime bishōnen characters are depicted as highly feminised male characters with model-like proportions: tall and lithe with strong angular facial features. They appear predominantly in manga and anime intended for female readers with stories often emphasising romantic storylines involving bishōnen and the main female character or with other bishōnen.[13] For the Haraju2girls the exaggerated femininity of these bishōnen was an early influence on their enjoyment of anime and would later develop into the appeal of cross-playing as these male characters:

      [bishōnen] are quite feminised and I think, in a way, it's a lot more approachable. I know particularly when I first started to get into it, when I was about 16, boys were still a very scary concept, and because [bishōnen] were quite feminised and quite approachable it was a lot more attractive to respond to them than to really aggressive male characters.[14]

  10. But perhaps even more interestingly—and far more common—is where the drag does not involve the assumption of a different gender but rather the exaggeration of the wearer's own gender: the hyper-feminine and hyper-masculine. The hyper-feminine assumption of characters that enables cosplayers to become like gothic lolita (girls dressed up as Victorian-style porcelain dolls with frills, bows and white lace), plays not only with culture (the conservative nature of Japanese sexuality where beautiful women are sweet and innocent rather than overtly sexual or challenging) but also sexual identity. This can be read along similar lines to the mid-nineties western adoption of Sanrio merchandise (Hello Kitty products and the like), as a form of reverse chic or ironic reinscription.[15] But in the context of fan communities it can perhaps be better read as part of this play with identity, the assumption of an identity which not only identifies, aligns and defines the cosplayer with a particular character, series or group, but also liberates that cosplayer from traditional gender roles. The independent and cynical female fan can become the hyper-feminine 'cutie honey.' The shy and reserved male fan can become one of the hyper-masculine action stars of Naruto, Trigun or Bleach.
  11. If, as Judith Butler[16] suggests, gender is performative— something we unconsciously do, inscribed by societal norms and repetition—then cosplay is a performance, through costume and the assumption of another identity, that reveals the performativity of gender. Ironically it is through the wearing of another layer that the true nature of gender is revealed; the cosplay character creates a critical distance, a point of disruption, a vantage point from which the gender of the wearer can be critiqued, negotiated and explored. In this way, cosplay becomes a way for anime and manga fans not only to identify, align and belong but also to question their own socially- and culturally-constructed notions of what it means to be masculine and/or feminine. Cosplay is not simply the fannish act of dressing up, but rather the act of 'queering' gender roles and stepping outside hetero-normative behaviours through the assumption of fictional identities. While Mark McLelland[17] does not directly address female cosplaying, his critique of the female consumption and appropriate of the bishōnen in popular culture offers an excellent insight into this phenomenon.
  12. In this creation of a liminal identity that is simultaneously multicultural, multiracial and multigendered, cosplay can be understood as prefiguring the liminal spaces offered by new media's online identities and digital avatars with the cosplayer capable of transcending cultural, racial and gender boundaries and stereotypes. But perhaps most importantly, we would argue that cosplay should be viewed as a creative act, a performance that is as much about revealing the nature of the fan as the emulation of the character they enact. For cosplayers like the Haraju2girls, cosplay therefore espouses a system of fashion that is highly relative, all about position, context and timing, meaning that its elements have a built-in obsolescence and making cosplay only the domain of the hippest or most heavily invested fan – the otaku. — The term 'otaku' is an expression often used by cosplayers, such as the Haraju2girls, to refer to things subcultural. For the Haraju2girls otaku means more than just simply being up-to-the-minute or cool, otaku props and styles are 'authentic' and 'made in Japan' as contrasted with the too-easily-accessible mainstream and mass-consumed popular culture in Australia. 'Otaku' therefore denotes an exclusive relationship, not necessarily a hard-core or elitist fandom, but rather a form of fandom that delights in outsiders' incomprehension of their culture and values. Once again then we can see why cosplay is so important to an otaku's identity, as it allows the otaku to play with expectation. As otaku exist in opposition to the more casual, inauthentic, local mass culture, the main enemy of otaku in Australia would appear to be the mainstream retailers, like Jay Jays, that offer otaku-like props and styles—and therefore the promise of an otaku lifestyle to everyone, that threaten to make the exclusive relationship inclusive.
  13. The logic of the otaku can be demonstrated by the Haraju2girls' attitude towards two types of product. The first is the hand-made prop that has been carefully designed to replicate an unattainable or difficult to buy piece. For the Haraju2girls this could be seen in the katana sword, usually made of metal for the greatest realism, that, because of travel restrictions on swords and other weapons on flights, had been hand-crafted from wood. As this is something rare, unique, and scrupulously crafted to replicate as closely as possible the sword used by a character, it is seen as authentic and desirable by the cosplayer, and confers otaku status upon her. Authenticity is a key requirement for the cosplayer; the more effort and labour invested in making the costume and/or props the more authentic the cosplay experience. A Haraju2girl describes how you can distinguish elite from merely good cosplayers:

      You hit a certain point where it's beyond just sewing a costume to where you're working with metal and leather. I've seen people make full suits of armour…and they're the ones, the people that can work with such a wide range of material, they're the ones that will enter the world cosplay summit. Most make it their profession to be a cosplayer. In Japan you can be a professional cosplayer, over here it's not quite that easy.[18]

    These cosplayers, who are able to synthesise layers of clothing and props around their creations, emphasise the rise to importance of the DIY (Do It Yourself) approach within fan cultures. We can see the most innovative work being done by DIY cosplayers, who may be rewarded in competitions at the prestigious world cosplay summit, hosted (of course) in Japan.
  14. At the other end of the spectrum are locally available, commercially sold cosplay-style clothing, such as Naruto jackets available through Madman Entertainment. The Naruto jacket is a replica of the distinctive jacket worn by the main characters in the popular anime series Naruto. As Madman's online retail site proclaims:


      Naruto Jacket canvas jacket with Custom woven label & side flag, Printed licensed label and custom printed swing tags. All Jackets individually poly bagged.[19]

    While the jacket may reproduce the original, if it is not synthesised by the cosplayer into a complete performance package, with other accoutrements and mannerisms of the character, then it cannot be authentic cosplay. While the Haraju2girls recognise the cosplay opportunity the jacket may represent, it cannot be cosplay in and for itself:

      Well it depends – I think the jacket – if you just wore it normally to a screening and then didn't say 'Hey I'm cosplaying' then that would be fine but if you come along and say 'Hey I'm cosplaying' then I will say its not quite cosplaying. You've only got half of a cosplay attempt.[20]

    The simple act of accumulating and packaging the Naruto jacket locally can corrupt the spirit of the play for cosplayers, producing an inauthentic experience that is a nadir for cosplay.
  15. We could also distinguish brandwear here—like T-shirts or caps with logos such as the Autobot or Decepticon insignias from the Transformers —that are worn by people because they feel nostalgia for the series or like the design. While these are clearly not related to cosplay, (in that they are not involved in the performance of a particular character), they are connected to a more general otaku experience, marking out people as fans of a certain manga/anime property. The only exception to this might be insignia designs emblazoned on T-shirts such as the team-emblem from Gatchman or the Nerve symbol from Neon Genesis Evangelion, whose obscurity is closer to an exclusive play with identity where you have to be able to recognise the design to recognise the property being emulated, and therefore more in keeping with the cosplayer ethos.
  16. While these are examples that can be considered markers of subcultural commitment, the otaku community remains an essentially vague construction. For the Haraju2girls otaku itself can refer to a place ('from Japan,' especially Akihabara or Harajuku), a style (colourful comic-book or video game clothing and props), or an ethos (based around prosumption, where the consumer becomes a producer through their production of 'handmade' costumes, passionate specialisation and the enactment of a particular character through performance and costume).

    The popular culture network
  17. In previous subcultural studies, a focus on content producers has resulted in a significant underplaying of the role of distribution. Today, mass-production along a Fordist model is in decline with industries more often fitting the model of the creative industries outlined by John Hartley, 'project-based and innovative, rather than industrial and standardised… characterised by networks and partnerships.'[21] Furthermore, the proliferation of global online distribution of content has challenged the dominance of bricks-and-mortar retailers. The internet has resulted in a disintermediation, where content can move more directly between producer and buyer/user, or a re-intermediation with new online players taking up a more flexible role as the agent between producer and buyer/user.[22]
  18. Hartley goes on to define culture as:

      the production and circulation of sense, meaning and consciousness. The sphere of meaning, which unifies the spheres of production (economics) and social relations (politics). In other words, culture is the sphere of reproduction not of goods but of life.[23]

    This definition permits a place for mainstream industries and niche retailers, like Jay Jays and Madman, in this cultural exchange 'not [just] of goods but of life.' Both Jay Jays and Madman circulate Japanese cultural products throughout Australia, generating a sense of community for Australian fans and consumers. More importantly, they function as cultural nodes in the modern network society[24] ; part of the interconnected systems of popular cultural exchange in Australia that renders the nation-state of Australia, a network state 'influential through [its] partnerships… rather than [its] autonomy.'[25] Retailers, industries and fandoms are therefore all partners in this networked trade in popular culture, with retailers and industries linking the international export of Japanese cultural products to the local cottage industries of otaku and cosplayers, like the Haraju2girls in Hobart, Tasmania.
  19. In his discussion of Australian culture, Tom O'Regan notes that the relationships between different cultural levels can be parallel ('co-present, without cohering'), dual (providing alternate identities), on a collision course (where they openly contradict each other) or convergent [emphasis added].[26] It is this idea of popular culture as convergent culture that we are arguing for here, a tripartite hierarchical model of popular culture composed of mainstream retailers, niche industries and cottage industries coming out of fandom.
  20. For O'Regan it is the audience (in this case the cosplayers as otaku) that:

      negotiate[s] these different cultural levels, adjusting their various identities in relation to them. They can try and eliminate the distance between the [cultural product] and themselves, assert a distance between themselves and the [cultural product], or set it up as other and not for them…[27]

  21. While it might be fandom that creates the 'continuity'[28] between these cultural levels, the continuity itself is enabled by the mainstream retailers and niche industries. Just as John Caughie describes Hollywood programs as affording audiences a sense of distance that enables them to 'play at being American'[29] so too do Jay Jays and Madman's distribution of cosplay clothing styles and props allow Australian (Haruju2 Girls) fandom to play with identity, not only to 'play at being Japanese' but to play with broader ideas of gender, age and perspective.
  22. 'Play' is a central part of this national network culture, just as it is of the local cosplayer scene. It is the fans' cosplay that disrupts what O'Regan refers to as 'cosy and discriminatory local identities,' expanding 'the definitions of what is possible' and providing 'a way out of the available – often conservative – Australian definitions.'[30] But it is the retailers and the industries that simultaneously create, classify and distribute the raw symbolic goods and cultural knowledge of cosplay.
  23. Ultimately, popular cultural exchange requires national retailing and industrial networks to be popular because, it is only at a national level that retailers and industries can provide 'a common public or civic culture for a disparate population,'[31] which is in this instance a community of cosplayers dispersed across Australia. Fandom therefore requires retailers and industries as vehicles for a 'common culture and a civic ideology, a set of common understandings and aspirations, sentiments and ideas, that bind the population together.'[32] This is the popular cultural network in Australia, where Jay Jays and Madman provide the apparatus for a common culture among Australia's cosplay community. We will now analyse each of these nodes in more detail.

    The mainstream retailer
  24. Jay Jays is a chain of youth oriented clothing stores targeting sixteen to eighteen year olds.[33] The retail chain is seen as an outlet for mass culture trends. There are retail stores throughout Australia, appearing in every capital city and a large number of suburban locations. Its main clientele are teenage girls, but there is a small line of clothing for teenage boys. It was for this teenage boy market that in early 2007 Jay Jays launched a line of T-Shirts featuring popular video game and cartoon icons from the 1980s such as Mario, and, in collaboration with Madman, anime titles such as Voltron, G-Force, along with the Japanese-designed and US produced series Transformers. Given the scope and funding of their advertising, this line of T-Shirts—branded as 'Old Skool' in their advertising campaign—appears to be targeted at a casual, mainstream consumer, either an older predominantly male consumer nostalgic for their youth, or a younger male consumer indulging in the retro look of the designs and cryptic insignia.
  25. What is interesting about Jay Jays' advertising campaign is the way in which it seemed to be legitimating a 'classic' canon of anime experience (Voltron, G-Force, Transformers echoed in Madman's Retro Collection, see below) —from which current anime successes, such as Naruto, could arguably be considered to have stemmed. But fans also saw this as a distortion of otaku and cosplay culture. To return to the dichotomy between hand-made and pre-made cosplay, the Haraju2girls remain very sensitive to the stratification of cosplay authenticity:

      I know a lot of people get very, very cross, we like to call them elitist cosplayers, that go 'people just shouldn't do it [buy pre-made cosplay]. You either cosplay or you don't.' And they're very particular about it—when you cosplay you have to have the wig, you've got to have the right shoes, it has to be all made, you cannot buy anything off Ebay.[34]

  26. This concern with clearly policing the boundaries between the authentic and inauthentic invokes Dick Hebdige's[35] notion of 'selling out.' Hebdige defined 'selling out' within a narrow ideological framework of the commercialisation of a previously resistant subcultural element (such as clothing, music, etc). For Hebdige, 'selling out' is a process of translating and adapting the object into a commercial, mass space. It is part of that larger tradition of 'othering' consumerism identified by Lisa Taylor[36] who notes that '[f]ans are not true cultists unless they pose their fandom as a resistant activity, one that keeps them one step ahead of those forces which would try to market their resistant taste back to them.'[37]
  27. Thornton, however, argues for a more careful reading of 'selling out' arguing that rather than being another example of the split between industry and subculture it can be better understood as an internalised concern of the subculture around the betrayal of their values.[38]Thornton argues that what is really going on here is a concern of 'selling to outsiders'—where the exclusive ownership of the subcultural good/value is disseminated too broadly and too far afield. This would certainly seem to be the case with a retailer like Jay Jays, where those outside the cosplay otaku community make up the bulk of their clientele.
  28. Subcultural studies[39] suggests that a community like cosplayers can be considered resistant, until they are absorbed by the mainstream retail industries which then translate and commodify these previous symbols of resistance into easily-accessible goods available to anyone. We suggest that it is only at the point that elements of cosplay start appearing in national, mainstream retail outlets like Jay Jays that the subculture becomes relevant and is framed as being interesting, innovative and creative, that is, mainstream recognition points to the interesting work being carried out by subcultures. So rather than seeing these mainstream moments as the loss of the subcultures' essence, these moments become crucial for defining both them (cosplaying, what it is and is not) and the interesting work they are doing (around gender disruption).

    The niche retailer
  29. What about those retailers who are more involved with the cosplay or otaku communities? What kind of reputation do they have amongst these subcultures? And how do they construct and define the cosplay scene?
  30. Madman Entertainment is one of the most successful DVD and merchandise-distribution companies in Australia and is the leading distributor of anime in Australia and New Zealand, with close to 97 per cent of the market share.[40] It began in 1996, as an anime-only distribution company but has subsequently expanded into offering live-action and children's entertainment, Cartoon Network and Adult Swim (animated) programs, a range of 'Director's Suite' (primarily European Arthouse) films, a range of Australian movies, a selection of TOKYPOP manga (Japanese comic) titles, involvement in Australian theatrical releases of (primarily) Studio Ghibli (Japanese anime) films and a youth clothing-line branded as Otaku Wear. The company is owned by Funtastic Limited (one of Australia's largest distributors of toys and children's media), employs 130 people and has an annual turnover of $AU50 million.[41]
  31. It may therefore seem strange to refer to Madman as a niche industry, but it is true that its brand identity remains, for the most part, linked to a niche market (the distribution of anime, though this is changing) and that this core, niche market is never far from the mind of its CEO (Chief Executive Office), Tim Anderson. Talking about the risks of Madman's expansion (into the distribution of documentaries, foreign films and Australian products like Kenny) Anderson notes that the further away you get from the key people or culture the business was founded upon the more 'we need to be conscious of and to try to actively work towards creating a sustainable culture.'[42]
  32. Madman is driven by fan interest matched with commercial sense. We can see examples of this in Madman's hiring policy. Again, according to Anderson, Madman hires 'people who are passionately involved or experts in particular aspects of the business'[43] and their underlying corporate philosophy is expressed as being 'fans buying for fans. We buy for ourselves because we know we are buying for their taste.'[44] Contrast this with Jay Jays, which does not appear to hire people with a vested interest in their products (i.e. to the Jay Jays' sales assistants the T-shirts have no intrinsic meaning or value other than as a clothing option). Madman thereby encourages a culture which once again echoes Hartley's notion of a culture where 'consumers [give] way to users—interactive partners in further development of the creative product.'[45] This breaks down the divide between fan and commercial interests. Furthermore, Madman is increasingly offering a complete cultural package of not only DVD titles but also clothing, dog tags, caps and website forums based around niche audiences. As Ben Pollack, Madman's publicity manager for their DVD division, describes it:

      Things like 'Director's Suite' and 'Eastern Eye' are both obviously individually labelled as a sub-brand of Madman, but a brand unto their own because they are such significantly different audiences. So Director's Suite are [sic] just as collectible as anime but that's a completely different market. These are all obviously well thought out in terms of the target audience etcetera, and that's what we feel Madman does best in terms of sourcing product and who we market those products to. It's simply a case of having the right people across the right divisions and understanding the product well. We've got a marketing and publicity team that understand the product well and understand the industry well.[46]

    In other words, Madman is still very much a niche industry whose growth continues to be measured by how successfully it plugs into more and more diverse niche markets.
  33. This matching of fan and commercial interest is perhaps best represented by Madman's assistant brand manager Sly (Sylvester Ip). In describing his role, Sly explains:

      I do that primarily by doing a lot of research into the titles that we release every month. We're releasing title X and Y, and my job is to go out there and actually gather as much information as possible and possible sales points; who the audience might be; historically what the vibe is like for this title, and vibes within the community as well…I also do a lot of grass roots marketing. So, communicating with fan clubs and going to conventions and talking to…just getting to know the people I guess and on the Mad board.[47]

  34. According to Pollock, Sly is 'basically…like infantry…whereas my communications are directly to the media, less so to the actual public…Sly actually deals a lot with the anime fan[s] and is often referred to as "the face of the company"…For the fan community anyway.'[48] Sly provides authenticity to Madman's product; he actively sought out opportunities to impress Madman with his abilities and skills, which led to his employment

      out of Super Nova [a fan convention]. I'd been in touch with the guys at the Comic Fest and the Super Nova events previously…I did some promotional work for them on my own…because I thought…this wasn't anything being done to sort of promote any of the titles at the event. So I thought I'd just do something…From the fan, [I] just sort of…persisted, if you will, to get into the company…I saw myself as…you know, I really want to work here; there's got to be something I can do; and just kept at it. Yeah, I guess persistence kind of paid off.[49]

    Madman's strong presence at fan-conventions—including sponsoring fan-conventions—reinforces the role industry can have in fostering and advancing fan culture. Sly himself appears at fan conventions on panels discussing how Madman can further help local anime clubs and events.
  35. In addition to the broader role Madman has played in supporting the local manga and anime fan communities, Madman has also developed a number of online strategies to foster and sell to cosplay otaku. Their use of social networking sites such as MySpace, youtube and itunes are sites where Madman promotes its catalogue of material by actively engaging with (and thereby constructing) local otaku communities. Although cosplayers may see themselves as more 'otaku' than Madman, it is worth noting that the company itself has a large forum community of fans, uses the rhetoric of fan culture within its company biography and maintains many fan club links. A clear example of this may be seen in their 2007 competition 'Essence of otaku: Design your own T-Shirt' where fans were invited to submit T-Shirt designs with the chance of being produced commercially through Madman's Otaku Wear line.[50] This competition made clear use of the term and idea of 'otaku' within the branding strategy of Madman.
  36. Of course, as a niche retailer it is clearly within Madman's interests to maintain and develop these fan connections as fans can become loyal advocates for the company, promoting its name and product through word-of-mouth. Thornton describes these subculture-commercial alliances in niche industries as being a fraternity of interests where staff and consumers share the same 'subcultural capital investments.'[51] This is because many staff were themselves once active fans and consumers of this product or service and 'still espouse versions and variations of underground ideology.'[52] A symbiotic relationship between Madman staff and fans can be seen in their online presence within social networking spaces where fan views and opinions are actively encouraged and their competitions, such as the T-shirt design opportunity, which may also offer a pathway towards professionalisation for fans moving into design and media. These websites and media are demonstrative of Madman's attempts to navigate both the otaku currents (which flow into the mainstream) and the broader fan culture to which both fans and staff belong.
  37. Another reason for Madman investing so heavily in fan communities is the supportive context within which it places their product and services. That is, the act of getting fans to review, use, and involve themselves with Madman clothing, DVDs and online forums is a way of authenticating Madman product. By affiliating the company with fan events and fan communities, Madman is getting credibility with fans, and also contributing to the otaku value system regarding how authentic product and culture are defined and demarcated.
  38. A niche distributor like Madman is more than an agent between content-producer and consumer. The distributor is an essential mediator for fans such as cosplayers within the anime community and provides them with some of the raw elements of their own D-I-Y culture. Madman is actively involved in supporting and promoting fan conventions through their news and events section of their website, as well as providing prizes for cosplay competitions and other events. The Madboard forums on their website are also a location where fans and Madman staff promote and discuss conventions and events. Distributors such as Madman rely on their supporters/consumers/users to be invested in, and committed to, otaku culture and through that relationship become actively involved in the construction and social organisation of otaku culture too, which, of course, also has some commercial benefits for Madman in terms of fans directly purchasing their goods, or becoming 'brand advocates' for Madman.

    The cottage industry
  39. The third group in this cosplay space are the local fans making their own costumes or offering their services to assist others with the design and manufacture of their costumes. These fan-producers offer a type of cottage industry within the cosplay experience working largely from home using 'at hand' materials to make versions of a character's paraphernalia such as swords, clothing or hair design. As we will discuss further below the distinction these cottage industry producers make between their fan labour and the commercial product of mainstream retailers and niche industries gives a further insight into the complex relationship between fandom and industry.
  40. While Madman is involved in selling to the fan community and fostering the broader development of the community, cosplayers construct important differences between their relationship to Madman's Otaku Wear line and the cosplay they produce. As the Haraju2girls commented of Madman's Otaku Wear:

      I think some of it's a bit boring. It's very plain. I can understand why, because you don't want huge amounts going on: 'look at me, I'm in anime fandom'. Like the Autobot insignia they have on the Transformer tops, you go past and think 'that's an awesome design', or you go past and go 'Oh hey, Transformers that's great.'[53]

  41. Recalling the gender ambiguity of Zoltar in Battle of the Planets and the bishōnen characters, part of the appeal of the manga and anime world for these cosplayers is the playfulness on offer with these figures, to blur the categories of male/female, Japanese/Westerner, human/animal. Rather than a more conservative and subdued approach to the manga style taken by Madman's Otaku Wear, cosplayers are actively looking to participate in playing with conventions and interacting with the manga imagining. For the Haraju2girls Madman's Otaku Wear is 'definitely aimed at that demographic that isn't quite as hyper and involved as us—the maniacs like us.'[54] As this Haraju2girl comment shows, there is a contrast between a more passive consumer demographic and the 'hyper' and 'maniac' cosplayer.
  42. Madman's website advertising their T-Shirt line highlights difficulties in balancing product appeal to a core fan audience/customer, and a need to appeal to a broader mainstream consumer base in order to sell the largest amount of product as possible:

      Madman Otaku Wear is not just for the fans of Anime and J-Pop! But for pop-culture obsessives in general! It's is about not taking yourself too seriously, it's tongue-in-cheek, it's playful, good humoured fun, sharing the cultural influences that we grew up on and enjoy today.[55]

  43. Haraju2girls reclaim the creativity and subcultural appeal of cosplay trappings—such as insignia and particular esoteric designs—by negatively valuing the mass culture and mainstream appeal of this clothing line. Here authenticity is located in uniqueness and/or do-it-yourself cultural artifacts, not in mass-produced cultural artifacts. While stopping short of accusing Madman of 'selling out' their culture, they do criticise Madman for being 'boring' and commercially-driven, suggesting a type of elitism (in terms of apportioning value) that is common amongst fan cultures. Haraju2girls' rhetoric of play and commercial imperatives belies an ideological stance to reinforce their sense of belonging to a more authentic cosplay experience. Principally, this subcultural ideology helps cosplayers enforce their social group, as well as challenge the idea that they are just vulnerable consumers of excessively over-priced products and services from an increasingly exploitative industry.
  44. The cosplayer ideology, that unified set of assumptions about the value of cosplay and the relative judgements they can make of others engaging with cosplay, draws upon a different relationship to fan culture than the niche-industry of Madman. Based around a less-commercial imperative, the cottage-industry of cosplayers barter their skills amongst each other to complete their designs. For example, the carpenter crafting the wooden sword in exchange for another's sewing part of their costume. Rather than pursuing direct monetary rewards for their labour, a non-commercial set of values appears to underpin the commitment cosplayers such as the Haraju2girls have both for providing their services and designing for themselves.

  45. Four general points about fan subcultures and industry can be gathered from this case study. First, the cosplay scene is not an organic, grassroots culture that only meets the industry when resisting 'selling out' or not getting what they want by being too extreme (eg: Nintendo and otaku and geeks) —no matter how often cosplayers may tell themselves that they are. Rather than just selling product, all levels of industry are actively involved in the development and demarcation of fan cultures. This supports, and in some ways develops, the findings of previous studies of retailers and fan communities, such as Kurt Lancaster's study of the New York Forbidden Planet store[56] or Taylor and Wills' reference to the Stoke-on-Trent store 'Fantasy World.'[57]
  46. Second, the reason that there is an absolute and essentialist ideological opposition between cosplayers and industry is due to each other's view of cultural capital and social structure. That is, the stories that the Haraju2girls tell about industry and commerce are not meant to give an accurate representation of industry production processes but are all about negotiating subcultural and cultural capital and social structure.
  47. Third, stratifications of popular culture—that is, hierarchies of 'cool-ness'—operate in a symbiotic relationship with industry. Involvement with various industries and their products act as symbolic goods—bestowing distinction upon both the creators and the users. The various types of industry can therefore be reconceived as a network that creates, classifies and distributes knowledge—as do other institutions, such as the education system.
  48. Finally, we're not saying that cosplayers have no agency outside of this industrial framework or that this relationship between cosplay and industry is founded upon the industries' manipulation of fandom. As numerous academics before us, including Hills, have noted, both of these positions would fail to adequately represent the diversity and autonomy of fan cultures, commercial flows and consumer desires.[58] Cosplayers are active and creative participants in building anime fan cultures, but myriad industries are also involved. They are as important to cosplayer and fan ideas of where they belong—and to practices of where they go next—as anything the cosplayers themselves can conceive. Cosplay is therefore not only a play with identity—but also a play on the margins between industry and fandom, between what it means to be a consumer as well as a fan.


    [1] Matthew Thorn, 'Girls and women getting out of hand: the pleasure and politics of Japan's amateur comics community,' in, Shôjo Manga, 2004, online:, accessed 3 Nov 2008.

    [2] Patricia Maunder, 'Dress up and play cool,' in the Age (Melbourne), 17 April 2008, p. 23; Jason Nahrung, 'The fun of character building,' in the Courier Mail (Brisbane), 16 June 2008, p. 39.

    [3] John Hartley, Uses of Television, London, New York: Routledge, 1999; Dick Hebdige, Hiding in the Light: On Images and Things, London: Routledge, 1988.

    [4] Sarah Thornton, 'The Media Development of Subcultures (or the Sensational Story of Acid House),' in Club Cultures: Music, Media & Subcultural Capital, London: Wesleyan University Press, 1996, pp. 116–62.

    [5] Rupa Huq, Beyond Subculture : Pop, Youth and Identity in a Postcolonial World, London: Routledge, 2005.

    [6] Matt Hills, Fan Cultures, London; New York: Routledge, 2002.

    [7] Hills, Fan Cultures, 2002, p. 7.

    [8] Kurt Lancaster, Warlocks and Warpdrive: Contemporary Fantasy Entertainments with Interactive and Virtual Environments, Jefferson: MacFarland, 1999.

    [9] David Rodriguez, 'The Action of Star Wars comes home,' in Performing the Force: Essays on Immersion into Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Environments ed. Kurt Lancaster and Thomas J. Mikotowicz, Jefferson: MacFarland, 2001, p. 155

    [10] Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, New York, London: New York University Press, 2006.

    [11] Hills, Fan Cultures, 2002.

    [12] John Tulloch and Henry Jenkins, Science Fiction Audiences: Watching Doctor Who and Star Trek, London: Routledge, 1995.

    [13] Mark McLelland, 'The love between "beautiful boys" in women's comics,' in Male Homosexuality in Modern Japan: Cultural Myths and Social Realities, Richmond, Surrey: Curzon, 2000, pp. 61 – 88.

    [14] Haraju2girls, interview, 19 June 2008, Hobart, Tasmania.

    [15] Daniel H. Pink, 'Japan, ink: inside the manga industrial complex,' in WIRED, vol. 15, no. 11 (2007):216–23.

    [16] Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, New York: Routledge, 1990.

    [17] Mark McLelland, 'Why are Japanese girls' comics full of boys bonking?,' in Refractory: A Journal of Entertainment Media, vol. 10, December 2006, online,, accessed 23 October 2008.

    [18] Haraju2girls, interview, 19 June 2008, Hobart, Tasmania.

    [19] 'Naruto Jacket,' in Madman Entertainment, 2008, online:, accessed 23 October 2008.

    [20] Haraju2girls, interview, 19 June 2008, Hobart, Tasmania.

    [21] Hartley, Uses of Television, p. 43.

    [22] Efraim Turban, Electronic Commerce 2008: A Managerial Perspective, ed. Pearson International, Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2008.

    [23] Hartley, Uses of Television, p. 51.

    [24] Manuel Castells, The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture, Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 1996.

    [25] Hartley, Uses of Television, p. 161.

    [26] Tom O'Regan, Australian Television Culture, St Leonards, N.S.W: Allen & Unwin, 1993, p. 83.

    [27] O'Regan, Australian Television Culture, pp. 85–86.

    [28] O'Regan, Australian Television Culture, p. 87.

    [29] John Caughie, 'Playing at being American: games and tactics,' in Logics of Television: Essays in Cultural Criticism, ed. Patricia Mellencamp, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990, pp. 44–58, p. 44.

    [30] O'Regan, Australian Television Culture, p. 87.

    [31] O'Regan, Australian Television Culture, p. 81.

    [32] Anthony D. Smith, National Identity, Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1991, p. 11.

    [33] Jay Jays can be found at the following website:

    [34] Haraju2girls, interview, 19 June 2008, Hobart, Tasmania.

    [35] Dick Hebdige, Subculture, the Meaning of Style, London: Methuen, 1979.

    [36] Lisa Taylor and Andrew Willis, Media Studies: Texts, Institutions, and Audiences, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1999.

    [37] Taylor and Willis, Media Studies, p. 161.

    [38] Thornton, The Media Development of Subcultures.

    [39] Hebdige, Subculture, the Meaning of Style.

    [40] Mark Abernethy, 'Anime crackers,' in Bulletin with Newsweek, vol. 123, no. 6471 (2005):8.

    [41] '$21 million: Tim Anderson 35/Paul Wiegard 36,' in Journal, vol. 27, no. issue (2005):115–16; Bruce Andrews, 'The apprentices: Tim Anderson, Paul Wiegard Madman Entertainment Group,' in BRW, vol. 26, no. 46 (2004):50–51.

    [42] Tim Anderson, interview, 27 June 2007, Melbourne, Victoria.

    [43] Tim Anderson, interview, 27 June 2007, Melbourne, Victoria.

    [44] Tim Anderson, interview, 27 June 2007, Melbourne, Victoria.

    [45] Hartley, Uses of Television, p. 43

    [46] Ben Pollack, interviiew, 27 June 2007, Melbourne, Victoria.

    [47] Sylvester Ip, interview, 27 June 2007, Melbourne, Victoria.

    [48] Ben Pollack, interview, 27 June 2007, Melbourne, Victoria.

    [49] Sylvester Ip, interview, 27 June 2007, Melbourne, Victoria.

    [50] 'Otaku Wear Design a Tee,' in Madman Entertainment, 2007, online:, accessed 24 October 2008.

    [51] Thornton, The Media Development of Subcultures, p. 153.

    [52] Thornton, The Media Development of Subcultures, p. 153.

    [53] Haraju2girls, interview, 19 June 2008, Hobart, Tasmania.

    [54] Haraju2girls, interview, 19 June 2008, Hobart, Tasmania.

    [55] Madman Entertainment, 'Madman Otaku Wear,' in MySpace, online:, accessed 24 October 2008.

    [56] Kurt Lancaster, 'Travelling among the lands of the fantastic: the imaginary worlds and simulated environments of science fiction tourism,' in Foundation: The Review of Science Fiction, no. 67 (1996):28 –47.

    [57] Taylor and Willis, Media Studies: Texts, Institutions, and Audiences, p. 192.

    [58] Hills, Fan Cultures.


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