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Fan-girl Versions of Anime Stories

June 18, 2009

Girls are gathering online to remake male-oriented Japanese animation videos into romances — and in the process are picking up skills in film editing, storytelling and feminist literary criticism.

“Boys are more into the fighting aspects of anime,” says Elizabeth Birmingham, an associate professor of English at North Dakota State University. “Girls have created this subculture where they cut the animation videos up, mix them around, and create their own stories, often romances.”

Birmingham will discuss her research during a 4:30-5:35 p.m. session on Friday, June 19, in room 6 of Wellman Hall at UC Davis. Her presentation is part of Computers & Writing 2009, a four-day conference of about 250 writing researchers and instructors from around the world. The conference is sponsored by the University Writing Program at UC Davis.

One anime video, “Full Metal Alchemist,” has inspired some 35,000 fan-girl remakes, says Birmingham, who has found that most fan girls are teenagers. She estimates there are hundreds of thousands of fan-girl videos on YouTube and other sites.

Anime is a style of animation that originated in Japan and favors action-filled plots with fantastic or futuristic themes. It is used in comic books, computer games and videos.

Birmingham, who also teaches gender studies, decided to research the fan-girl subculture when she discovered that fan-girl versions of anime stories often involve romances between male characters.

“I’m interested in why straight teenage girls are interested in this sexuality,” she says.

One hypothesis: Fan girls choose to identify with male anime characters rather than create female characters because female anime characters often exist only as monster bait.

“By expressing themselves through boy characters, the girls can experience more active roles,” Birmingham suggests. “They’re dealing with the sexist artifacts of our culture, and deciding ‘I’m not going to let them do this to me. I’m going to turn it on its head.’”

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