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The Sociability of Japanese Millennials in Cyberspace: A Case Study of Barrage Subtitling in Nico Nico Douga

Main Building, SOAS Djam Lecture Theatre
15/02/2018 (18:00-20:00)

Dr Ramon Pacheco Pardo,

Professor Seio Nakajima’s lecture

Professor Seio Nakajima’s lecture addressed the question of how millennials interact with each other in the virtual space of Nico Nico Douda, a Japanese video-sharing website. The motivation behind the research topic is to understand ‘forms of sociation’ – or relational structures of human interactions and associations.

Professor Nakajima introduced two concepts relevant to this research topic based on Niklas Luhmann’s theory of communication. According to the ‘sociality of order’, the purpose of interaction is to avoid misunderstanding and to convey substantive meanings correctly. In contrast, according to the ‘sociality of connections’, the purpose of interaction is the formal continuation of communication without necessarily aiming at conveying substantive meanings. As examples, Professor Nakajima referred to Tomohiko Asano’s discussion of communication among youth as aiming at the construction of relations in and of themselves, as well as Mikio Wakabayashi’s discussion of communication among youth via cell phone text messages as not aimed at conveying information, but as a sort of ‘sociability.’

The case study of Nico Nico Douga barrage subtitling focuses on the ‘sociality of connection’ in more detail. The unique characteristic of Nico Nico Douga is what is termed the ‘N-level creation’. An original production is recreated by users, which is then imitated or parodied and uploaded again as new content. The cycle continues so that there are not one original and numerous derivatives (secondary creations), but one original, and numerous derivatives of imitated/parodied content (n-level creation). What emerges is a blurring of lines between production and consumption; leading to prosumption in art.

Barrage subtitling refers to comments on videos that are put by the users (cf. barrage in military strategy). The comments appear throughout the video but are placed by users at separate times. The effect is that there is a sense of co-presence connection among the users, even if comments may have been placed throughout the space of years. Also, the comments are not so much related to the content of the video, as that role is fulfilled by subtitles, but serve the purpose of continuing communication without substantive meanings.

Professor Nakajima concludes that the concept of ‘sociality of connections’ applied to the case study of barrage subtitling in Nico Nico Douda captures important aspects of youth culture in Japan. One example is ‘sora-mimi’ subtitling, or “mishearing” subtitling where the dialogue is ‘misheard’ and understood incorrectly, but still invokes a shared understanding among the youths concerning the misheard phrase.

In terms of future research, Professor Nakajima explains that contents do matter and that there is a need for rigorous content analysis in addition to the analysis of forms. Moreover, there is a need to take into account the relations among various services provided by Nico Nico, such as relations between Nico Nico Douga and Nico Nico Live. In addition, research will need to consider cross-national effects, such as Nico Nico Douga in Japan and BiliBili, AcFun, Youku in China.

In the Q&A session, a member of the audience asked how the barrage subtitling culture affects the quality of communication. Professor Nakajima explained that some view that Japanese youths are moving from a sociality of order where the focus is on substantive content to sociality of connection where the intention is merely to continue communication. However, Professor Nakajima asserts that such dichotomization may be misleading and that studies on the effect of barrage subtitling culture on substantive communication is needed. Another member of the audience asked about the methodology of the research, specifically, how we can confirm that the users are millennials. Professor Nakajima explained that generally, circumstantial evidence is used; for example, based on the percentage of youths on video-sharing websites. The third question asked about the userability of the social network websites in different countries. Professor Nakajima explained there are some functions on the Nico Nico website that would be more familiar to the Japanese. Also, the barrage subtitling forms may be difficult for people who are not familiar with the Japanese culture. Going further, Professor Nakajima considered how this phenomenon of sociality of connections among younger people differs depending on social contexts.  Finally, a question was asked about the possibility of young users engaged in political issues. Professor Nakajima explained that there is a different platform on Nico Nico where there are political broadcasting and debates. However, in Nico Nico Douda is less political and more focused on songs and animations. However, Professor Nakajima noted that the question poses interesting areas for further research in that youths may make use of barrage subtitling for political communication depending on the platforms they are on.

Summary prepared by Saeme Kim


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