When looking at any academic field, one particular feature that’s worth examining is who exactly are the prominent – prolific and highly-cited – authors in this field. What colleges are they affiliated with, what are their positions and job titles, how did they end up where they are. In anime and manga studies, a few prominent names come to mind right away – Fred Schodt, Susan Napier, Antonia Levi, Thomas Lamarre. And one more name that certainly comes up often enough is Dani Cavallaro.
At first glance, it should be easy to assume that Cavallaro is a scholar of the same caliber as someone like Napier – and maybe even more. And if pure quantity of published writing is anything to go by, she is certainly worth noticing. Amazon lists her as the author of 22 books . 13 of them, from last year’s Japanese Aesthetics and Anime, and goign back to 2006’s The Anime Art of Hayao Miyazaki, are specifically on Japanese animation. In terms of individual books authored, this makes her the single most productive scholar currently writing on anime in English.
All of her books are published by McFarland & Co., a publisher, while certainly not comparable to a major university press or a corporate publishing house like Palgrave Macmillan, Springer, or Wiley, is fairly well-known. Its specialty is essay collection is in the humanities, including popular culture. Just some of the books of interest to anime/manga scholars in its catalog include Millennial Mythmaking: Essays on the Power of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature, Films and Games (with chapters on Ghost in the Shell and Spirited Away), Comics as a Nexus of Cultures: Essays on the Interplay of Media, Disciplines and International Perspectives, and the 2010 collection Boys’ Love Manga: Essays on the Sexual Ambiguity and Cross-Cultural Fandom of the Genre. A particularly interesting thing about McFarland is also that, unlike some of the more high-profile academic publishers that pitch their books primarily at major research universities – and price them accordingly – its prices are a lot more reasonable for the individual reader, a small college, or even a public library.
Another important factor to consider when evaluating any kind of academic publication is that publication’s “impact” – that is, do other scholars refer to it in their own work. By that criteria too, Cavallaro’s work is worth noticing – at least several of her books have indeed been cited in journal articles, book chapters, and full-length monographs. Google Scholar, for example, indicates “about 38” citations for The Anime Art of Hayao Miyazaki. Of course, scholars and librarians have long been aware of Google Scholar’s many shortcomings and frequent inaccurate or incorrect citations, so that number is definitely too high, but even if the book has in actuality only been cited half as many times as what Google Scholar indicates, it has still demonstrated its value to the anime/manga studies community.
And yet, for as long as I have been coming across these books, one thing has always made me reluctant to rely on them in my own work, or to recommend them to other readers. In the academic world as it stands in 2014, it is very hard for an author to be anonymous. An author affiliated with a university will have a profile page on that university’s website, or at least a listing in a faculty directory. An independent author will have a personal website, a blog, a LinkedIn profile.
Dani Cavallaro has none of these. I have never seen anything indicating that she is an actual real person who is qualified to write about Japanese animation. I have never seen an announcement of her speaking at a conference or attending an anime convention as a guest. I have never heard anyone who has met her in person.
Who is Does Dani Cavallaro? Does she exist?
…and, as it turns out, quantity is one thing – quality is something else entirely. Dani Cavallaro may be a prolific author. But – and this is a subject for another post – other authors’ responses to her work have been ambiguous at best…and plenty of times, a lot sharper than “ambiguous”…