The Indigenous Shôjo
Transmedia Representations of Ainu Femininity in Japan’s Samurai Spirits, 1993–2019
Keywords:Ainu, transmedia, bodyscape, race, shôjo, indigenous, representation, gender, Samurai Spirits, Samurai Shodown, SNK Playmore
Little scholarly attention has been given to the visual representations of the Ainu people in popular culture, even though media images have a significant role in forging stereotypes of indigeneity. This article investigates the role of representation in creating an accessible version of indigenous culture repackaged for Japanese audiences. Before the recent mainstream success of manga/anime Golden Kamuy (2014–), two female heroines from the arcade fighting game Samurai Spirits (Samurai supirittsu)—Nakoruru and her sister Rimururu—formed a dominant expression of Ainu identity in visual culture beginning in the mid-1990s. Working through the in-game representation of Nakoruru in addition to her larger mediation in the anime media mix, this article explores the tensions embodied in her character. While Nakoruru is framed as indigenous, her body is simultaneously represented in the visual language of the Japanese shôjo, or “young girl.” This duality to her fetishized image cannot be reconciled and is critical to creating a version of indigenous femininity that Japanese audiences could easily consume. This paper historicizes various representations of indigenous Otherness against the backdrop of Japanese racism and indigenous activism in the late 1990s and early 2000s by analyzing Nakoruru’s official representation in the game franchise, including her appearance in a 2001 OVA, alongside fan interpretations of these characters in self-published comics (dôjinshi) criticized by Ainu scholar Chupuchisekor.
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