Book Review: Memoirs of a Johnny’s Fanboy
Thanks to Marcus Herzig for review copies of his book.
Thennary Nak: Some Things Never Change
Before I get started on the review I feel that I need to make some things clear about me. As someone who was a Hey! Say! JUMP and Junior fan since 2007, I have had direct experience with Marcus, or to go by his internet handle Kamichan. In 2007 the fandom for Hey! Say! JUMP and the Juniors was not what it is today. It was smaller and the sources for video were not so easily found or navigated. Kamichan was one of the HSJ/Junior fans that had figured out how to find things, videos and information, and was considered a valued source for those things.
For a while I did follow his blog but over time there were things he would say or some of the attitudes he had that I disliked but it took a private fight that he took public in 2009 to make me stop following him. The fight was with someone I considered to be a friend and I valued her friendship more than following a blog that I did not always enjoy reading. Also, by that point the fandom had grown big enough that there were enough people who could find their own sources to share with others, so there was little need to continue following him.
With that in mind I can outright state that my opinion of Kamichan is not the highest. Especially as the friend I have spoken of is one of the women he name dropped in his book. I will try my best to not allow my bias to get in the way of this review, yet I will not say that I am not bringing some baggage with me for it.
Structurally, the book reads like a journal for the most part, which makes for easy reading as it feels like someone is telling you a story in an everyday conversation. In fact if you have read his blog then you have a very good sense of how the writing style of this book as they are the same.
Though most of the book is linear in the time of the events, from his younger years to his early fandom years and then his blog, there are two oddly placed chapters that do not fit in his story. These chapters are not even about Kamichan but rather Johnny Kitagawa, the president and founder of Johnny’s & Associates, and are in no way tied to the rest of the narrative. Perhaps they were supposed to be used to support arguments in his book but he failed to point out how or even make callbacks to the chapters when he is arguing his points to actually tie them to anything else in the book.
His chapters on his early years in fandom are interesting as they give a look into years of Junior fandom that I was not a part of. It also paints a picture of how someone like him could rise to Big Name Fan status in this part of Johnny’s fandom. Not many foreign fans were going to concerts, musicals, and plays in Japan and yet he had been able to go a few times to see the Junior group Ya-Ya-Yah. So it was no surprise that he caught people’s attention when he began blogging about that. Having the files to share as he did made him a valuable source for them at the time and knowing enough Japanese to share the latest news all played big roles in people coming to his blog.
Once he gets into his blog and actually interacting with fandom, the book begins to suffer the worst of his hyperbole, as this leads directly into his larger fights with people in fandom. The first being with the two fans that were his friends at the time who had felt betrayed about his lying about his age and gender and urged him to let his readers know his real age and gender. This fight highlights a major thing to understand about Kamichan that I learned from my experiences, and that is he has trouble being able to look at things from the viewpoint of others. While it is not impossible for him to do, he has the tendency not to. Thus, I am not surprised that he did not think about how the women would take his lying or omission of those facts, including one he had agreed to actually meet in person but did not tell his real age or gender until the night before the scheduled meeting. To his credit, he at least understood that the one who he had used a sock puppet with would have a valid reason for his lie, but that is the extent of it as he paints himself a victim to them both when they asked him to publicly tell his blog readers the truth as well.
The worst of it all, though, is at the end when he switches styles as he decides to move to try to finish the fight that stopped him blogging in the first place. In his retelling of events, he mentions a few times he knew he should have just reported the posting of his personal information on LiveJournal and done nothing else, which honestly would have been the wise choice. Yet he trapped himself into one of his other major personal flaws, not being able to let things just go. And these final chapters are further proof of it as he tries to use them to restate his original arguments and I can only assume try to convince people that he was right.
His use of ageism, ableist slurs (“stupid” seems to be his favored insult) and misogyny against those who disagree with him are off-putting, especially as he seems wholly convinced that the reason anyone has failed to understand him is because they were too young or mentally deficient. I can only assume this is why he just rehashed his arguments about topics than rethinking them to try to make them stronger. Though he found some more information to try to back up those original arguments, I don’t see how pointing out that the age of consent in a few countries are around the mid-teens holds up when someone points out statuatory rape laws as a counter-argument.
His change in tactics is to attack his accusers and try to indicate that their calling him out to be a pedophile could indicate that they are pedophiles as well. He does this by citing studies about homophobes being aroused by homosexual sex and point out one of his main accusers follows a LiveJournal community about a manga/anime series that has an underage character that is paired sexually with other characters in the fandom. This ad hominem attack does not have the impact he may wish it to, as there is no hard proof and there is an accepted difference between fictional characters and real people.
Honestly, the best thing Kamichan should do is listen to his own advice and stay out of fandom from now on. It would probably not only be best for him but also for the fandom as well. The role he used to play is one that is no longer needed as there are plenty of fans now that can get the news and media that he used to share. And if writing fiction is what he wants to do then he should go with that, as argumentative writing is not his strong suit.
Ray Mescallado: An Uneven Read
Not being part of Johnny’s fandom, Memoirs of a Johnny’s Fanboy is an uneven read for me: the further it plunged into the details of Kamichan’s interactions with that fandom, the less engaged I felt. As a result, I enjoyed the first quarter of the book a great deal, found myself puzzled but intrigued through the middle half of the book, and ultimately disappointed by the last quarter. Nevertheless, the promise of that first section makes me feel like my time wasn’t wasted, and hopeful that Kamichan has more books in him now that he’s exorcised some demons.
The book sets its tone by introducing us to our narrator and his early life, making clear Herzig’s social quirks and demanding personal standards. Cutting ahead to his early thirties, Marcus discovers the Japanese boy band Yah-Yah-yahs while researching a novel he’s writing. Marcus finds himself so moved by this Johnny’s Junior unit that when the opportunity presents itself to go to Japan to see them, he does so without a second thought.
Herzig returned to Japan three more times over the following year, becoming increasingly familiar with Johnny’s and its fandom both domestic and overseas. His immersion leads him to taking part in the online community, and soon he assumed the handle Kamichan and began his own blog.
The enthusiasm and sense of discovery Kamichan describes for Yah-Yah-yah is something that I believe is universal to the overseas fans of Asian idols. There has to be an overwhelming spark, a feeling that this group or singer or model is special and worth pursuing, to make one overcome the language and cultural barriers, to do all that extra work that staying within one’s own culture doesn’t require.
The writing in this section is quite strong: there is a level of self-awareness one would expect from a memoir, balanced by a playfulness that conveys the sense of absurdity and good luck when a seemingly quixotic dream is coming true. He does a good job of explaining the mechanics of Johnny’s fandom – the difficulties in getting tickets, the system for waiting in lines – as well as the emotional roller coaster when in close proximity to one’s idols.
The middle half of the book covers the growing success of Kamichan’s blog, but mainly in terms of the difficulties he faced from others in the fan community. Kamichan was initially mistaken to be a young woman and Marcus did not tell his readers otherwise, even as he grew closer to some of them. In the book, he singles out two young women who he reveals his secret identity to, and the fallout that came from this revelation. Other contretemps would follow, issues within the fandom over such matters as affiliate links, the sharing of video downloads on his blog, and accusations of paedophilia.
Kamichan does his best to defend himself in the memoir, which is the ostensible point of the book. He’s willing to take on some of the blame, attributing some of his bad decisions to naivete and a misunderstanding of the people he dealt with. He also has a penchant for delivering elaborate scenarios to support his arguments. The affiliation link feud leads to a longish fairy tale about a town whose mayor oppresses a lowly merchant trying to make a living.
When Kamichan is accused of being a child pornographer for publishing a fanfic depicting sexual intimacy between two underage Johnny’s idols, he explains that others in the fanfic community had published similar stories. That’d be enough, but he then follows with a theoretical situation meant to explain why such stories should be acceptable (or at least legal), but whose specificity and outlandishness left a first amendment junkie like myself scratching my head in puzzlement. It isn’t that I don’t agree with the civil liberties issue, but that the defense of it just seemed misplaced, somehow.
Around the halfway point of Memoirs are two chapters devoted to a biography of the secretive founder of Johnny’s Entertainment, Johnny Kitagawa. This leads to the oft-repeated accusations that Kitagawa molested his young charges, accusations Kamichan believes lacks any convincing evidence. These chapters felt weirdly out of place, and the intent wasn’t clear to me. Did Kamichan feel the need to better inform the reader on the company whose idols he loved? Did he need to address the elephant in the room – the long-standing accusations of molestation against Kitagawa – because there are fans who keep those rumors in the back of their minds? Was Kamichan comparing himself to Johnny Kitagawa?
I realized that the problem isn’t that the chapters shouldn’t have been there, but that they point out just how far Kamichan’s story had gone off the rails. By this point in the book, it wasn’t so much about Kamichan being a fan of Johnny’s idols but about his travails as a blogger. Which is to be expected, since this is what he is known for. However, the idols were becoming an afterthought to the drama Kamichan encountered on his rise to fan-level fame. I would hope a book about being a dedicated fan would keep the objects of the fandom more in mind, would keep the idols themselves in the forefront of the story. What made me enjoy the first quarter of the book such a great deal was that sense of discovery and joy and far too often that seemed to drop out of the book completely for whole chapters at a time.
And so we come to the last quarter of the book, which tracks the events that led to the closing of the blog. It actually starts off with a very enjoyable bit of detective work – and exactly the kind of engagement with Johnny’s idols I want to see – as Kamichan uses his knowledge of Johnny’s to figure out a new group would debut for the 2011 Volleyball World Cup and guess the likeliest venue for the announcement.
Unfortunately, the group that came of this – rumored to be Sexy Boyz, and actually becoming Sexy Zone – caused outrage in the fan community for a variety of reasons, including the notion that calling underage boys “sexy” was in poor taste. Kamichan wrote posts that defended the name and the decision to form the group. At this point, Kamichan’s enemies tracked down his real life information and harass him with phone calls and threats of reporting him to various authorities as a paedophile. Kamichan is defiant and stands his ground, but what ultimately ended his blog was yet another in a series of oversteps. Responding to a comment, Kamichan engaged in semantic hair-splitting over paedophilia as a condition versus actual child abuse. It really wasn’t called for and only added fuel to an already incendiary situation.
Was he right? In abstract, I’d say yes – there is a clear difference between what one thinks and what one does. No one can deny that. However, the optics of the situation is horrible, and Kamichan should have been aware of that as well. Discretion is not something Kamichan cultivates in his blogging persona, however: he is known for being funny and outspoken and impulsive, but that’s also what drove him to shut down his blog. Faced with the emotional pressure from engaging in a prolonged war of wills, Kamichan exacerbated the situation with posts that his boyfriend told him not to publish. And finally, enough was enough.
This last quarter of the book disappointed me for a few reasons. First, it seemed too reliant on quoting from Kamichan’s blog – posts I’ve read, and which doubtless most of the book’s readers were also familiar with. Further, there was a sharp cognitive dissonance between the caustic, combative tone of the blog entries and the voice that narrates the book overall. The voice of the memoir is gentler, more introspective, and even conciliatory at times. One can’t help wondering if things could have been different if that tone was struck during the drama that unfolded.
Last, but by no means least, I really didn’t get a sense of new information being revealed behind the scenes. I eagerly read the last few chapters of the book to see if Kamichan would return to blogging, but the answers given were open-ended at best, and largely unsatisfactory for me. Maybe I’m being selfish, maybe I just wanted Kamichan to say he’s back in the blogosphere. That said, I really can’t blame him for continuing to stay away, either.
As I’ve said, I can’t help but feel there were lost opportunities presented in the book. The book could have been a stronger introduction into Johnny’s idols and the joys of being an idol fan, instead of a personal catalog of fandom feuds and in-fighting. I imagine a reader new to Johnny’s going through the first section and absolutely wanting to share in the thrill of discovery… then being scared away by the remainder of the book and what Kamichan had to endure.
Also, Kamichan’s blog had a large following for an English-language blog about Japanese idols. Whatever his enemies may say, there was no denying its success. But the way he describes it, his readership just appeared out of nowhere, foreign fans hungry for any information they can lay their hands on. And while I’m sure that is a key part of the blog’s success, there had to be more work than that – not only to retain the audience, but to make a majority of that audience steadfast in its loyalty.
Kamichan does mention several ways he did this: his experience in Japan gave him a certain level of authority in the overseas community; he translated Japanese articles himself, becoming as direct a source of news as possible; he answered most of the comments on his blog, thus building stronger relations; and he included direct video downloads to make the shows that he wrote about more accessible to his readership. However, he doesn’t explore the first three points with any depth, and he treats the last point as the source for another grievance with the Johnny’s fan community.
I’m fascinated by the success Kamichan achieved and would like to know more about how he was able to do this, the decisions he made and the day-to-day issues when running a venue with such a large readership. I’m not saying he should have written a how-to book for bloggers. However, he could have more closely followed his rise, examined what made his blog work and what didn’t. That would be an interesting legacy to leave behind, inspiring others to make their own blogs and try to recreate his success in their own ways. I know this is a case of wishing a book to be something it never intended to be; however, I can’t help but think those directions would have been time better spent behind the keyboard.
For all its flaws and my own misgivings, I would actually strongly recommend Memoirs of a Johnny’s Fanboy for that first quarter of the book. It does an absolutely wonderful job of showing how the right idols at the right time can grab one’s imagination and make the impossible possible. Your mileage will vary greatly on the remaining three-fourths of the book. I think it helps to be a Johnny’s Junior fan, and even more to be a fan of Kamichan’s blogging.
Lastly, I’m hoping this memoir isn’t a missed opportunity so much as a first step towards a more mature, self-aware Kamichan and the books about Johnny’s that could result from that. I’m pretty sure this isn’t the last we’ll see of Kamichan – or Marcus, if that’s what he wants to go by now – and I’ll be interested to find out where he goes from here.