Research Project – AT3: Evaluation – Nguyen Gia Minh SACE 5

Research Question: How has media derivative of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita diverged from the novel’s depiction of sexuality and relationship dynamics?

My research followed the prompt of “How has media derivative of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita diverged from the novel’s depiction of sexuality and relationship dynamics?” – one spurred by an intersection between my interests: in Nabokov; in Japan; and in the reappropriation of culture. Of greatest importance was secondary research – the compilation of academic perspectives (journals, books, etc.) on Lolita the novel, its movie adaptations, Lana Del Rey’s early discography, Lolita fashion, and lolicon (media); corroborated/contended with personal observations and analysis of the above (providing alternative perspectives if needed); along with a Reddit thread inquiring the modern American perception of the novel. Key findings culminated in the conclusion that most of the original novel’s context of abuse has been lost through years of dilution, romanticization, and dissociation – resulting in a false modern Lolita; and are formatted in the magazine format.


1, Reading of Academic Materials (Articles, Journals, Books)

Preliminary research, facilitated via skimming Wikipedia articles pertaining to Lolita fashion and the novel, revealed scholars of interest in Sharon Kinsella, Perry R. Hinton, and Terasa Younker, assured in their credibility via associations with renowned institutions (i.e., Younker with Harvard). Compiling works of the above scholars allowed an immediate, accurate, yet detailed understanding of Lolita fashion – providing a solid, infallible foundation for one of the project’s core tenets with one sitting. Of particular interest was Kinsella’s Schoolgirls, Money and Rebellion in Japan (2014), a comprehensive observation of Japan’s fixation upon the shoujo and its translation into contemporary youth fashions, as seen through the Japanese schoolgirl. Though the book does not fixate on Lolita fashion or provide information directly related to the matter, it does provide essential context and adjacent information on all subsequent observations of Japanese culture through its divulgence of the history of Japan’s fixation on the shoujo, and the struggles of modern Japanese women (and young girls) in Japan’s social hierarchy and cultural/media landscape’s pervasive sexualization. Another point of interest was found in Hinton’s The Cultural Context and the Interpretation of Japanese “Lolita Complex” Style Anime (2014) and The perverse stereotype of the Japanese man in the British media (2015), which referenced Hiroki Azuma’s Otaku: Japan’s database animals (2009), a renowned post-modern analysis of Japanese “otaku” (or nerd) culture as a means of rebutting associations between lolicon and paedophilia, asserting a contentious academic perception that prompted further inquiry.

2, Personal Media Consumption

Hinton’s and Azuma’s contentious perspectives were examined through personal consumption of lolicon. Consultation of lolicon, and what constitutes lolicon was done in prominent anime/manga discussion forums (i.e., Reddit, 4chan). Eventually, I decided on the Fate Kaleid Prisma/Illya manga, a spin-off of the non-lolicon visual novel Fate Stay/Night (due to existing familiarity). This allowed the eventual comparison and dissertation on lolicon greater detail. My lack of credentials/proficiency with dissecting culture brings some contention to the credibility of the exercise, but with no alternative academic perspectives available, the only thing to do, for academia’s sake, was to offer my own untrained perspective, aided by readings of Kinsella. For matters pertaining to youth culture, current, contemporary discourse is essential – making my youthful perspective one of importance, especially considering Hinton’s advanced age and bias (his articles intended to contend UK media’s prejudiced portrayal of Japan) and the oldness of Azuma’s analysis (based on Japan’s 1990s culture).

Consumption of lolicon proved to be of use: providing a divergent yet considered contemporary perspective that suggests a mirroring of paedophilic tendencies, as observed through the reference material’s constant sexualization of its prepubescent cast. This is further corroborated by observing forefather lolicon, particularly Hideo Azuma’s Hizashi (1982)[i], – an “erotic manga” exorbitant in its strange sexual depictions of schoolgirls – affirming perceptions of Lolicon’s media intrinsic association with the sexualization of prepubescent girls.

3, Forum Discussions

Primary research was yet again ventured via forum discussion, with the intention being to create forums discussing modern perceptions of Nabokov’s Lolita in the US and Japan. Whereas a sufficiently demographic-accurate representation of Americans was found on the Reddit forum r/AskAnAmerican, naught was found for Japan – with prior considerations of using the Japanese forum 2chan dropped upon revelations of its disproportionate, maladjusted demographic of incels; leading to an unbalanced accumulation of information.

Primary research ventured through Reddit was successful – receiving a whopping 202 comments at the time of writing, revealing that Americans have managed to remember the context of abuse integral to the novel’s characterization – information that was eventually applied to the outcome’s conclusion – which pondered the survival of the novel’s context of abuse – an apt, if not lacklustre implementation. A more earnest use of my many resources – referring to my mother’s many Japanese contacts, interviewing personal Japanese/American perspectives – should’ve been ventured in place of this half-hearted measure.


Overall, the project accomplished its goal well – detailing prominent derivative interpretations of Nabokov’s novel and their divergent ethea using strong academic references, establishing a rough timeline for American interpretations. Further insight into the creation and development of lolicon would have been desirable, though considering its relative obscurity and controversy – the lack of substantial personal and academic exploration is to be expected.

Aided by a detailed, nigh over-abundant use of endnotes, the outcome’s solid academic base is well exemplified, with use frequent use of renowned scholars. Considerations of alternative/opinionated perspectives were well-implemented – as seen in directly quoting Alyssa Harad’s description of the Lolita archetype and the section on Lolita complex’s associated legal (Takeuchi), academic (Hinton), philosophical (Azuma), and youth/personal (self) perspectives.

Among the strengths of solid academic base and well-imposed references, the outcome possesses clarity and purpose, with nary a sentence wasted – as prompted by the word limit and my teacher’s guidance on refining my formerly frivolous prose (aided by Orwell’s Politics and the English Language). The “solid academic base” is also bolstered by a constant review of media mentioned as to assure correspondence in academic/old and modern/personal perspectives, helping to reveal contentious viewpoints that the outcome could discuss, as seen through Hinton’s assertion that Lolicon media bears no association with paedophilic tendencies through referencing the manga Elfen Lied, uncategorized by manga/anime communities as “lolicon”.

The outcome, however, lacked a core theoretical framework for analysis – something observed in academic sources referenced (i.e., Monden), though this is to be expected from my educational circumstances. Desires for more creative writing (per the magazine format) were stifled to befit clarity in conveyance and the word-limit. Primary research was minimal and stiffly implemented in the conclusion, robbing the outcome of a crucial intimate lenses.


Issues germane to the application of primary research plagued the project, as I could not find a sufficiently representative vehicle of research delivery for the project’s inquiry of Japanese perspectives. Prototyping involved the Japanese forum of 2chan, with less than satisfactory results as the demographic proved unrepresentative of the average Japanese – possessing of uncommon paedophilic-adjacent tendencies. Initial ambitions of consulting Japanese academia were dashed by the pervasive language barrier – translations produced from my rudimentary understanding of Japanese (with the aid of Google Translate) were, as reviewed by my fluent mother, deeply flawed, and my mother’s limited time meant that only a few sources were assured in legibility. Only Hiroki Azuma’s works were translated into English by reputable authorities, but his was a philosophical perspective, lacking in desired intimacy. This prompted a more in-depth consultation of Western scholars respected/involved in Japanese academia, in the hopes that these scholars, in their proximity to Japanese academia, would be capable of exemplifying the Japanese perspective. Sharon Kinsella proved essential to this exercise – being affiliated to multiple renowned Japanese universities for her comprehensive dissertations on modern Japanese culture. Of particular interest was Schoolgirls, Money and Rebellion in Japan (2014), which comprehensively detailed the Japanese cultural proclivity towards youth fashion and the shoujo (or young girl) throughout the ages; and What’s Behind the Fetishism of Japanese School Uniforms? (2002), which exemplified the pornographic origins of lolicon and provided further leads in Hideo Azuma, the “godfather of Lolicon”. Though desires for an intimate understanding of the Japanese perspective were yet satisfied, a strong academic framework for researching Japanese interpretations was acquired, along with a surer understanding of Japanese cultural proclivities core to this project’s fixations.

A generally free schedule allowed me to employ a “rambling” research style, wherein one would also explore information adjacent and irrelevant to the topic, as befits aspirations of greater depth/detail. This otherwise inefficient research style led to an exploration of Vladimir Nabokov, with hopes of deciphering author intent/reaction to divergent reinterpretations. Of particular interest was Brian Boyd’s Vladimir Nabokov: the American years (1991), Stacy Schiff’s Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov) (2000), which led to readings of interviews with Nabokov via Strong opinions. (1990) and academic papers done by Nabokovian scholars – Nabokov at Cornell (2003). Beyond insights garnered on Nabokov, a long-time favourite, an in-depth understanding of the American interpretation of “Lolita” was acquired – through details on pre-production on Lolita (1962), Nabokov’s original screenplay, and academic analysis of Lynne’s adaptation (via Ellen Pifer).


[i] Kinsella, S. (2002). What’s Behind the Fetishism of Japanese School Uniforms? Fashion Theory6(2), 215–237.

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