Spotlight on New Publications – Folktales and other references in Dragon Ball

One of the easiest, most straight-forward ways of finding new publications on topics related to anime or manga is simply to identify journals that have published anime/manga articles in the past, and pay attention to these journals’ upcoming issues. Of course, plenty of times, a journal might feature an anime article once – and never again. Other times, relevant articles may be few and far between. But, just as with many other academic areas, anime/manga studies has a list of “core” journals that specifically welcome papers on Japanese animation and comics.

Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal is definitely one of these core titles. Its goal is straight-forward – the journal “provides the first cohesive international peer-reviewed publishing platform for animation that unites contributions from a wide range of research agendas and creative practice.” And, since the journal began publication, in 2006, it has been one of the most consistent and reliable sources for new research on Japanese animation.

The latest issue – Volume 9, Issue 1 (March 2014), is now available. And once again, it features a new and noteworthy paper on a Japanese animated series.

Minguez-Lopez, Xavier (2014). Folktales and other references in Toriyama’s Dragon Ball. Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 9(1), 27-46.

Thoughts and impressions: One of the first things that came to my mind when I found out about this article is the paradox that the more popular or successful or prominent a particular anime series is, the less likely is it to receive any kind of scholarly attention. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, this is the only English-language paper that analyzes the actual Dragon Ball text (although Rieko Okuhara contributed the chapter ‘The censorship of Japanese anime in America: Do American children need to be protected from Dragon Ball?’ in 2009’s The Japanification of Children’s Popular Culture: From Godzilla to Miyazaki). And for that matter, when looking at writing on the other shonen manga/anime that have dominated the sales charts in America – Naruto, Bleach, and One Piece – the same pattern persists.

I’m aware of another article that discusses both and Naruto and Bleach – Christopher Born’s ‘In the footsteps of the Master: Confucian values in anime and manga’ (ASIANetwork Exchange, 17:2), and a chapter by Andrew Terjesen in the decided non-scholarly Anime and Philosophy: Wide-Eyed Wonder essay collection that covers all four of these under the title ‘The possibility of perfection’. Granted, Lawrence Rubin, a leading psychologist and play therapist, presents a case study of using Naruto in his work in ‘Big heroes on the small Screen: Naruto and the struggle within’ in Popular Culture in Counseling, Psychotherapy, and Play-Based Interventions and Amy Plumb includes it with several other anime in Japanese religion, mythology, and the supernatural in anime and manga (International Journal of the Humanities, 8:5). And it is true that the 2010 essay collection Intercultural Crossovers, Transcultural Flows: Manga/Comics, and last year’s Manga’s Cultural Crossroads both included sections on Naruto specifically, but it’s always more difficult to take an edited collection as an indication of genuine scholarly interested in a particular topic (or title) than is it to take an essay that is not submitted in response to a call for papers.

But, excluding these two essay collections, the four shonen manga/anime that are probably the most popular Japanese comics/cartoons in the U.S. account for a grand total of six pieces of published scholarship. So, what is it about a popular series like Dragon Ball (or Bleach or Naruto) that makes anime/manga scholars essentially ignore it – especially when compared to Akira, Evangelion, the work of Satoshi Kon – or almost any given Hayao Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli film?

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One thought on “Spotlight on New Publications – Folktales and other references in Dragon Ball

  1. And I thought I was just too blind to find articles. Totally agree with the paradox – it’s also true for shōjo manga. There are I think five (English) articles about Sailor Moon.
    I guess Miyazaki is different because he is popular with so many different groups (i.e. children and adults), offers series topics AND does so in a style that is not too far removed from Disney (aka not TOO exotic). I guess serious series/movies are sometimes easier to market (or justify?) to non-anime fans.
    Though if that’s really true, it could indicate a brighter future. Fewer and fewer articles and books find it necessary to “justify” research on manga and anime.
    (Then again, the overseas market for manga and anime appears to be shrinking, so who knows what the future will bring…)

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