Who is Dani Cavallaro? – Part 2

Part 1

At this point, what do we definitely know about Dani Cavallaro? She is the author of at least 22 books, including 13 on anime. These books are available at many academic libraries – the OCLC FirstSearch database indicates that more than 500 own copies of The Anime Art of Hayao Miyazaki. And her work has been acknowledged by other scholars. But what do we know about Dani Cavallaro the person? What is her academic background? How is she actually qualified to write about Japanese animation and comics?

And, more importantly, how have readers evaluated her work?

Comments on the Anime and Manga Research Circle mailing list about Cavallaro include:

“I’ve only skimmed a couple of her books and found them unimpressive to say the least, and would never rely on her work in my own writing. She just seems to be, at best, summarizing other people’s scholarship at a fast-and-furious pace…There’s so much good, original research out there now, there’s no point in having students using what is, in effect, a one-person Wikipedia in print.”

“Her scholarship is dubious, at best; she ‘borrows’ from other scholars without proper accreditation; and her prose is jargony, convoluted, vapid, and incomprehensible.”

And – from a published author who is nowhere near as mysterious as she is:

“I just got a copy of Dani Cavallaro’s new book on Oshii’s films. For now I’ll just say that if (close) imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then some parts of her book compliment me highly… (Sans credit or citation, of course.)”

And those are just comments from readers. What about scholars who have actually tried to draw on Cavallaro’s work in their own?

In their essay Hoodwinked! and Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade: Animated “Little Red Riding Hood” films and the Rashômon Effect (Marvels & Tales: Journal of Fairy-Tale Studies, 27:1, pp. 89-108), Pauline Greenhill (women’s and gender studies) and Steven Kohn (criminal justice) – both at the University of Winnipeg – discuss several studies of Jin-Roh, among them, Cavallaro’s Cinema of Mamoru Oshii: Fantasy, Technology, and Politics. They acknowledge her work – but not necessarily her points. For example, the authors note that Cavallaro presents Jin-Roh as “Oshii’s retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood tale from the wolf’s point of view”, and do not agree with this assessment, arguing instead that it is “taking multiple viewpoints and, ultimately, like Rashômon, preferring none.”

More importantly, they specifically point out Cavallaro’s claim that for Jin-Roh, “Oshii chose to adopt the German version of the traditional fairytale, where the little girl herself consumes her mother’s flesh.” They ask Jack Zipes, probably the leading American specialist on fairy tales, to comment on this claim. “Zipes (personal communication, 2012) affirms that no German version does so; nor is there a German version involving the mother rather than grandmother.”

So, maybe the question is something else beyond “who is Dani Cavallaro?” What reasons do we have to trust Dani Cavallaro as an anime scholar. Should we believe what Dani Cavallaro claims in her books? And, for that matter, should we cite her books, read her books, and especially, buy her books?

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16 thoughts on “Who is Dani Cavallaro? – Part 2

    • Readers are certainly leaving some feedback:

      ‘Anime Art of Hayao Miyazaki’ averages just a bit over 3 stars (over 13 reviews).
      ‘Cinema of Mamuro Oshii’ has 3 reviews – 1 four-star, and 2 one-star. Of these two, one is by by Brian Ruh, the author of ‘Stray Dog of Anime: The Films of Mamoru Oshii (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).
      – Anime and Memory: one 1-star review.
      – Anime and the Visual Novel: one 1-star
      – Art of Studio Gainax: one 2-star
      – CLAMP in Context: 2 average, over 5 reviews, including 3 1-star
      – Japanese Aesthetics and Anime: one 5-star

      So, there’s certainly not a lot there in terms of feedback – and not enough to make any kind of statistically valid conclusions. On the other hand, Amazon also isn’t really known as a venue for reviews of academic books – even Lamarre’s ‘The Anime Machine’ only has four reviews, and Susan Napier’s “From Impressionism to Anime”, two.

  1. You may also be interested in my review of Cavallaro’s “Magic as Metaphor in Anime,” in Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft Vol. 7 No 2, Winter 2012. I went pretty easy on her–I was still a grad student at the time and you never know who it’s safe to be brutally honest about. A colleague’s assessment was more direct: “This isn’t purple prose — it’s ultraviolet!” (K. L. Hamilton, private communication)

  2. I’ve banned my students from using her work. Most undergraduate students don’t yet have the insight to evaluate—and appropriately disregard—shoddy work like this. I do sometimes hold it up as an example of how not to write—(unless you too want to have your “scholarly output” nearly universally shunned by manga/anime scholars because of poor citation practices (at best) and shoddy argumentation).

    I’ve also alerted librarians at a school I was recently affiliated with about the low caliber of her work (and frankly much of what I’ve seen coming out of that press—which seems to have no legitimate peer review process) and suggested they place her works (and possibly the press) on a do-not-purchase list. They were grateful. Unless a school/library has a manga/anime expert on staff, they are likely to have no idea of her standing.

  3. I’m only an undergraduate myself, but being interested in studies on Anime I picked up a recent book of hers on Kyoto Animation. I did find some parts interesting (since from what I’ve seen there’s so little work done on the studio’s output), but a lot of it seemed to be things that I already knew (like the long explanation of “moe”). I think I can understand the accusation of her being a “one-person Wikipedia”.

    • I’m also an undergraduate and read her book on Kyoto Animation, and didn’t know what to think. While reading, I kept a notebook for words I do not know the meaning of so I could expand my vocabulary and one for any interesting facts the book provided. Safe to say the former ended up with more entries than the latter, and most of those entries came from the Filmography. For the most part, I needed to motivate myself to actually finish reading it because there was a lack of learning anything new (outside of words) while trying to traverse through her convoluted language. Originally, there were doubts I held for this book based on publisher and the looking at her bibliography, in which he/she cited BrainyQuote.com (I’m only a sophomore, but even I began to laugh at how I could find this genuinely expectable.). If anything, I wanted to read it to discover how someone can interpret the Endless Eight arch. In conclusion, I just want to thank everyone in the comment section and the author of the post telling me I’m not someone who clearly does not appreciate/understand her methods, and that other authors have made better contributions to the English scholarship concerning anime. Thank You.

  4. I’m doing a senior thesis on Miyazaki’s late 1970s directorial work and have found Cavallero’s book on himto be uninspiring to say the least. The moment she claimed Spirited Away was a comment on child prostitution, I burst into hysterics.

  5. I cited Cavallaro on MIyazaki once in my diss, but only to refute her. She has (he has? it has?) cribbed from people I know. Her arguments are convoluted and vapid. When you deconstruct her sentences, she isn’t really saying anything.

  6. As a student who regrettably bought Anime and Memory for research purposes, as well as The Anime Art of Hayao Miyazaki to read before bed, I’m glad the provenance of Cavallaro’s work is being interrogated. With regards to Anime and Memory, I knew I was in trouble when she begins by deferring to an encyclopedia entry on traditional Japanese aesthetics as opposed to more substantial scholarship, unless you count the dubious “David Pascal” who I’ve never heard of and who I’m struggling to look up with the bibliographical information she supplies.

    Anyway, it quickly became apparent that her “case studies” are compound reviews dressed in academic parlance, in which she gratingly lauds the creators “under discussion”: ‘In the hands of a less inspired director, blah blah blah’. Her work is primarily descriptive and barely analytic at best. Ditto for her book on Miyazaki, in which she has a tendency to incorporate laughable irrelevancies: ‘Disney treated their Japanese guests to a welcome lunch but tastefully refrained from throwing a sumptuous party’. Lol, okay.

    I just wish I’d read this post sooner. While her works may be comparatively cheap, they’re still not inexpensive. And I am kicking myself.

    As a sidenote, according to Goodreads it seems a she’s having another book published later this year (again by McFarland) to cover Miyazaki’s work 2004-2013, despite the fact that this period includes far fewer films, especially where Miyazaki himself serves as director. Hmm.

  7. Pingback: Who in the world is Dani Cavallaro? | Critical Hit!!

  8. I’m so glad I found this article. I too was intrigued by the mystery of who this hyper prolific author was after finding a number of their volumes in my uni library.

    I started reading ‘Japanese Aesthetics and Anime’ by them and found it almost impossible to read – bizarrely structured and full of lengthy descriptive passages that read like jargon heavy Wikipedia passages. Any analysis is surface level at best or just restructuring of what other scholars have said. For the most part though, the experience of reading just felt thoroughly unpleasant – I’ve never encountered anything else quite like it.

    Utterly bizarre!

    • Paul,

      That’s exactly the thing – you would expect an author who is as prolific as Cavallaro, even if she is an independent scholar, to publish her work in journals, participate in conferences, have *some* kind of online presence. With her, there is nothing like that. Although, now that I look into this a bit further, there is at least one book out there (“Cyberpunk and Cyberculture”, 1998) that lists her as “a researcher at the University of Westminster”.

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