Looking back on the past two posts about K: Missing Kings and Hiroki Azuma’s Otaku, I realize now how confusing Azuma’s “Theory of Database Consumption” is. This post will attempt to straighten out his theory and how it is a starting point to understand fandom studies and perhaps fujoshi consumption.
When Azuma introduces his database consumption theory, he first mentions Ostuka Eiji’s Theory of Narrative Consumption, an 1989 book among the first to discuss otaku in an academic arena.
Here is a break down of this theory of narrative consumption:
-Media, be it be it books, anime, etc, draws from a “grand narrative”
-A “grand narrative” comprises of larger ideologies, settings, and world-views that shapes how the consumer interprets the world
-The media acts as packets of a “smaller narrative,” though at times, they posit themselves as a “grand narrative” in and of itself
-To gain a grasp of the larger “grand narrative,” otaku consumer these smaller narratives that act as gateways to the larger narrative
-Derivative works, for example doujinshi, operates within the same scope of original work’s worldview in order to be counted in a gray space between “real” and “fake.”
-The rise of derivative works, i.e. simulacra (see this link for an explanation) blue the line between “real” and “fake” so long as the work operates with the same worldview
For an example…take Pokemon. With each Pokemon version, we are buying a “narrative,” a game mediates how we view the world (or at least the video game world.) However, there are multiple versions of Pokemon games, and each game is really a small part of the bigger Pokemon world.
With narrative consumption, meaning is predetermined by the grand narrative. However, Azuma worked in an era during the 1990s when ideas of the “grand narrative” began to deteriorate with the popularization of postmodernism (see here for an explanation of postmodernism). Azuma instead operates with the idea that meaning is determined by the consumer “reading up” the database. Here is a breakdown of Azuma’s theory of database consumption.
-Database consumption arises with postmodernism
-Database consumption or the database model has a double layer, the first layer consisting of a “database” of information, or more concretely, traits or motifs
-The second layer are the former “small narratives,” or media that uses various parts of the database
-The consumer, who both gives meaning to the bits of information in the database and consumes these bits, reads these “small narratives” and gives meaning to it
-Agency lies in the consumer, and so derivative works do not need to align themselves with the “worldview” of its origin and instead gain its own meaning from the consumer
-The consumers desires can be mediated by the database, or in other words, tastes can be categorized and articulated by components of the database.
Working from this view, let’s look at Tiger and Bunny doujinshi. More often than not, these works have very little to do with the original Tiger and Bunny anime series. However, these works are still recognized by consumers as a viable and purchasable work because it is deemed worthy by the consumer and fits their desires mediated by the database. Such as the fujoshi who prefers Barnaby x Kotetsu. She turns to doujinshi that fit her tastes and determines the work’s meaning and importance through consumption and “reading up” the database components that would be in this case a specific coupling or how the characters are drawn.
Hopefully this clears up Azuma’s theory…for more on this, check out his book Otaku: Japan’s Databse Animal. It is a bit dated and neglects female fujoshi, but a surprising palpable academic work.