Please Hunt Me, Onii-chan: The Willingly Poached Anime

Cardcaptor Sakura

Cardcaptor Sakura is a magical girl series released in 1996 (manga) and 1998 (anime) which remains very popular among otaku. Following the life of a young girl who discovers magic powers and must use those new-found abilities to collect magical cards which have been dispersed throughout her city, Cardcaptor Sakura’s main draw is the natural charm its characters possess, particularly the heroine Kinomoto Sakura. Sakura exudes a sense of authenticity in her character that makes older male fans feel for her, and sometimes even develop sexual feelings for her.

While it’s never clear as to whether or not Cardcaptor Sakura was intended to be received by the fans in this manner (even though Sakura creators CLAMP were fans themselves before becoming professionals), there exists little of that ambiguity with a similar show, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. Essentially following the same basic premise as Cardcaptor Sakura, Nanoha features a young girl who receives magical powers and has to go collect items, but the key difference between the two series is that while Cardcaptor Sakura was targeted towards primarily young girls, Nanoha was aimed squarely at those older male otaku who were very fond of Kinomoto Sakura and the world in which she lived. The late-night time slot, the merchandising (posters in the otaku-oriented Megami Magazine, Nanoha-themed hug pillows), all of it points to a show made for otaku. Why then, do the people who make and promote Nanoha go through all the trouble of giving the series this magical girl facade and having it designed to look on the surface as if it were designed for the enjoyment of young girls when it clearly is not? The answer is, because that’s what the fans want.

Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha

“Textual poaching” is a term which refers to the act of engaging a work of media, be it text, television, radio, etc., and taking from it not so much what the author intended, but what is pleasurable or enjoyable to the reader/viewer instead of the work as a whole. Coined by Michael de Certeau in 1984, the term was utilized by Henry Jenkins in his study of Star Trek fans, particularly in the way that fans approached their own creative endeavors pertaining to their chosen fandom. The classic example of this is the notion that Kirk and Spock are romantically interested in one another, based on their close friendship and lines which are interpreted as “hints” towards their “true” relationship.

More recently, Jenkins has talked about how the one-sided conversation between creator and consumer has broken down, and how easy it is now for people to talk to a creator, albeit in the indirect form of shouting into the internet. While Jenkins does not focus particularly on Japanese animation, this is essentially the environment modern anime finds itself in, and in this setting you will find that a number of shows, like Nanoha, are designed to be poached.

At the zoo, chimpanzees are not fed by simply placing the food in front of them. Instead, what the zookeepers do is hide the food in the chimpanzees’ cage so that the chimps may find it themselves, and in doing so are creating a facsimile of the wild setting where chimps would forage for food. Even though the zoo is obviously not the jungle, this artificial foraging is what the chimpanzees prefer to simply having the food given to them. In essence, this is the situation surrounding the otaku and the otaku-conscious creator. The otaku, the fan, gains enjoyment from being able to draw from these works a secondary interpretation of events and characters within, and so the creator responds by making a story which on the surface seems very similar to an “innocent” series, but in actuality is constructed from the ground up as a work meant to simulate the foraging otaku engage in to find aspects of a work they can extrapolate as fans. Another example of this is Prince of Tennis and other similar series which, while running in Shounen Jump, are designed in part to attract the female readers who, similar to the Kirk/Spock fans, saw the “close friendship” theme common in shounen manga as “CLOSE FRIENDSHIP.”

Prince of Tennis

The joy derived from not approaching a work as intended makes sense when you realize that many fans are familiar with the notion of liking things to an extent others may not. Fans, after all, are not the majority. As such, they are experienced with liking things which are not intended for them, to the point that the act of pursuing series not intended for them may become the focus of their activity as fans. Creators understand this desire, and so have responded in kind by making series which are designed to be used in that manner, like a small man-made pond where pre-caught fish are thrown in to make things easier. The relationship between creator and fan/otaku is thus predicated on this willful suspension of disbelief. The otaku are willing to pretend that this series made for otaku is not made for otaku. The creator, in turn, continues to intentionally hide bits of “sustenance” in the fans’ cage, a cage which the fans have willfully constructed themselves and can leave at any time should they choose to do so.

11 thoughts on “Please Hunt Me, Onii-chan: The Willingly Poached Anime

  1. You draw a daring conclusion at the end that I disagree with, but good job nonetheless for doing it.

    As to the poaching, it comes in a lot of different forms, too, beyond merely content or preferential distinctions (eg., BL, lolicon, etc). I’m only superficially familiar with what Jenkins had to say about it, so maybe he has mentioned this in some way somewhere else, but one of the challenges in creating a work that caters to this kind of fanbase (doujinshi, for example) is teasing people via the appropriate framework.

    For example, shipping is a simple example of this kind of poaching, but a work that merely create a n-list of characters available to be shipped tends to fail, because the competition (measured by popularity and profits, I guess) between these works have escalated over the years. Recent works go as far as appeal to entirely different forms of shipping (Setsuna x Gundam versus the normal couples in G00, for example), and meta commentary is prolific (how else can you enhance game if you don’t change the rules, after all?). This is only with shipping characters together, too…

    I think suspension of belief is a good tack when talking about Nanoha, but at some level there is just nothing unbelievable about older men watching Card Captor Sakura. Or just a bunch of adult men watching cartoons. Rather, it’s just a degree of how obvious it is, as in your foraging food example.


  2. I too am not really sure if I agree with the conclusion exactly or not. I don’t think that shows that were deliberately designed to play off “poached” genres (like Nanoha to Cardcaptor Sakura) really fit into this concept in the way described. In those cases, I think it’s more that the references to the original genre serve as a sort of fanservice for the viewer, perhaps triggering nostalgia of shows they watched as a kid.

    You’re supposing that the otaku pretend that it’s a show not meant for them, in order to then enjoy it in the way the creator *actually* intended (a weird sort of reverse psychology), but I don’t think this is actually required. In this case, I think it’s more like the show itself poaches the genre so that the viewers don’t have to. While there can be a certain appeal in enjoying things in an unintended way, I don’t think Nanoha viewers, especially Japanese viewers, would ever have been able to believe that it wasn’t in fact what it really was (given the timeslot in which it aired, the way it was marketed, etc.) Of course, they still left plenty of “poaching material” in the show in terms of the shipping possibilities, so there was still a lot of “teasing” (as omo put it) going on.

    I guess, in strange sort of way, those “poaching” Nanoha would have been those trying to appreciate it as a normal magical girl show?

    I think there is still a sizable middle ground where creators make a show in one given genre for a given demographic, but still recognize that there is this secondary “poaching” market and try to throw them a bone here and there. But as soon as the poachers *become* the market, I think it becomes much harder to maintain this facade. If anything, I would tend to think that those who traditionally poach the genre may find the obvious “rip-off” to be not “pure enough” to be worth watching, and find the clear “pandering” to be distasteful. The analogy that comes to mind, though it may be a bad example, is how many “poaching” yuri fans consider Strawberry Panic to be trashy wannabe material, while shows like Aoi Hana are widely praised. I suspect that part of the appeal to the poacher is when they are seen to be in the minority.


    • When I mean that otaku pretend that the show is not meant for them, it’s on the level that “Smart” fans of Professional Wrestling pretend that everything that happens in a match is real and authentic. It’s a willful suspension of disbelief where both creator and consumer benefit from the whole charade. So your assessment of Nanoha as being already designed pre-poached isn’t that far from my own statement that the elements to be poached are actually prepared bait.

      There is definitely a gigantic middle ground that lies between the extremes of not consciously appealing to secondary audiencess, and turning that secondary audience into a primary one, and like you said, maintaining the facade is difficult. Sometimes you feel that something’s gotta give.

      As for Nanoha, I’ve seen a lot of people talk about Nanoha as “better” than most magical girl series in the way its story progression is closer to that of a giant robot series than that of mahou shoujo, and there the idea is “finally, a magical girl show for people like me.” However, that stance would require them to be into the basic magical girl aesthetic in the first place.


      • Oh man, I just realized I could extend that pro wrestling analogy further.

        Compare Pre-Vince McMahon Jr. pro wrestling with what the WWE is today, and I think you can see a lot of parallels between what can be seen as acceptable or not among fans of wrestling.

        To some extent, the knowledge that pro wrestling was fake was always there, but it was only since wrestling became “sports entertainment” and the advent of the internet that it became truly common knowledge and truly palpable by most fans, and the continual shifts made in pro wrestling can make it hard for a fan of Bruno Sammartino (a humble and charismatic figure skilled in the ring) to enjoy what Hulk Hogan (a wholesome and invigorating character who got by in matches more on his ability to generate excitement in the audience) was, and for a fan of Hulk Hogan to enjoy what Stone Cold Steve Austin was (a rough tough rebel who stuck his middle finger at authority and exuded badass confidence in the ring).

        I apologize if anime knowledge and wrestling knowledge do not cross over for most readers.


  3. My favorite thing about the willingly poached Nanoha is the yuri element. The show is never outright about hte yuri – it is all subtextual, and it does all the things that we yuri fans have been saying ‘they’re actually gay!’ about all this time. And it’s intentional, and we know it because the creators themselves actually stated that Nanoha and Fate were ‘lovers’! So even though the creators admit the gayness of the characters, they still write it in the way that we are used to being a supposed part of our imagination.

    I think this is the spirit behind all of those slice-of-life shows with yuri hints like Hidamari Sketch and Manabi Straight that have now just finally become explicit in shows like Kanamemo. The intent was there all along, it’s just a matter of what the fans were poaching for.


  4. As usual, a fascinating article.

    This is certainly acknowledged and understood within the creators’ purview; I’ve heard studios talking about certain magical girl shows as being explicitly targeted at 40-year-old men. So they’re conscious of the fanbase.

    Moreover, anime creators have been doing this for a while; Gundam Wing’s writers admitted that they fashioned Quatre’s and Trowa’s relationship to be deliberately ambiguous, so that fans could infer a homosexual relationship if they so desired.

    I do wonder how many otaku really believe that Nanoha (for example) was a show aimed exclusively at pre-teen girls.


      • Are you making fun of Narutaki’s favorite video game/anime/manga/cool stuff commentator and sex symbol Jessica Chobot? I do not think he will take well to such slander. Clearly Love Hina was the greatest shojo manga/anime of all time. Jessica Chobot is clearly a genius.

        Your ignorance is both shamefully and vulgar.

        Good day sir.

        I said Good Day.


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  6. I like cardcaptor sakura a little more than lyrical nanoha because of the emphases clamp put on the relationships between the characters and their interactions. i mean in lyrical nanoha to me it seemed alot more fighting going on than anything wehere as in cardcaptor sakura we got to see the characters do everyday stuff while still getting the task at hand done. Don’t get me wrong i love lyrical nanoha especially the combination of both magic and technology, sort of reminded me of outlaw star’s caster guns. all this coming from a girl.


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