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The ‘Totoro Meme’ and the politics of transfandom pleasure

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This article is an exploration of the ‘Totoro meme’ as a site of affective, transfandom pleasure. In the Totoro meme, Japanese and non-Japanese fans alike appropriate the now-iconic image of Satsuki, Mei and an umbrella-toting Totoro at a bus stop from Hayao Miyazaki’s 1988 film, Tonari no Totoro (My Neighbor Totoro), to their own fannish ends, creating fan art that inserts favourite characters from other media into the scene in ways that often have a doubled semiotic resonance. I argue that this meme is characteristic not of the global appropriation of a broad ‘Japanese anime style’, per se, but a specific, affectively appealing ‘Ghibli style’, one that is fully part of non-Japanese fans’ own popular cultural repertoires. In its cross-border merging of globally circulating Studio Ghibli aesthetics with other fan-favourite media, I contend that the Totoro meme and its associated fanworks are in fact wholly congruent with, and representative of, what Matt Hills has termed ‘trans-fandom’ (2015), contemporary practices of ‘navigating across and combining and fusing fandoms’ (Hills 2015: 159). I conclude with a consideration of the implications of what might be termed ‘corporate transfandom’ in the context of transfannish citations of Kaze no tani no Naushika (NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind) (Miyazaki, 1984) in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Abrams, 2015).
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Keywords: My Neighbor Totoro; fan art; fan-producer relations; intertextuality; memes; transcultural fandom; transfandom

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Independent Scholar

Publication date: April 1, 2018

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  • The East Asian Journal of Popular Culture is the first academic peer-reviewed journal for scholars, teachers, and students from around the world who have an active and passionate interest in the Popular Culture of East Asia. The journal is devoted to all aspects of popular culture in East Asia and the interplay between East Asia and the wider world. With the growth in popularity of Asian visual products in the Western world and the increasing strength of the Asian markets, this publication fulfills the need for an international journal that allows Western and Asian film, media, literary, music, fashion, digital media, television, art and cultural scholars alike to engage in discussion. In the last few decades there has been a huge rise in the interest in East Asian popular culture. The East Asian Journal of Popular Culture will be engaging directly with that trend. From film to music; art to translation and fashion to tourism, this journal will offer a forum where multidisciplinary work can come together in new and exciting ways.
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