Building an Anime and Manga Studies Bibliography – Tools and methods

It is not easy to make the process of putting together the lists of academic publications on anime/manga that are available in the Bibliographies section of this website sound particularly interesting. But, nonetheless, describing some of the steps in this process can actually be a good demonstration of research skills and techniques – and at the same time, can also highlight the particular “publication characteristics” of anime and manga studies as a discrete field or area. So, as I go about compiling and updating these lists, what do I actually do? (In recording/documenting this process, I am inspired by Robert Singerman’s “Creating the optimum bibliography: From reference chaining to bibliographic control”, in David William Foster & James R. Kelly (eds.), Bibliography in literature, folklore, language and linguistics: Essays on the status of the field (pp. 19-47), Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co – a uniquely pedantic essay, – but it its own way, invaluable.)

My first step is actually rather straight-forward. Over the years, I have identified a group of journals that have consistently been particularly receptive to publishing essays on anime/manga. The whole idea of a journal is that it is a publication with new issues appearing at regular, predictable intervals. So, simply keeping these journals in mind, checking for new issues, and looking through them is that first step. As of today, the expected July issue of Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal has not appeared yet. Studies in Comics last had an issue in October of last year – so the April and October issues for this year may be combined – or maybe, the journal will cease publication entirely. On the other hand, the latest (June 2015) issue of The Journal of Popular Culture is now available – and includes a paper by Verena Maser, Nuclear disasters and the political possibilities of shōjo (girls’) manga (comics): A case study of works by Yamagishi Ryōko and Hagio Moto, that clearly fits the scope of a Bibliography of Anime and Manga Studies – and that I have promptly added to the cumulative list of academic writing on anime/manga published in 2015.

The next step in the process is to search the major interdisciplinary and discipline-specific academic databases for any new publications.on anime/manga. As I mention in the Introduction to the Bibliographies project, just some of these include:

An entirely valid question to ask here is how does someone (like me) who is not currently affiliated with a college or university access an academic database like JSTOR? There are two answers. First and foremost, most public libraries now allow users to access these kinds of databases directly through their websites. For example, the New York Public Library currently offers over 160 databases, including both Academic Search Premier and Academic OneFile. Similarly, academic libraries frequently allow alumni the ability to access at least some of the databases that they normally make available to students and faculty – these are the ones that I can access as a graduate of The George Washington University.

So, a simple keyword search for “anime” in the ProQuest Research Library database, limited to peer-reviewed articles written in English and published since the beginning of this year, returns 36 results. Granted, quite a few of them are false positives – “Manga” is a not-uncommon last name, and many others simply mention either of the terms in passing. But nonetheless, this search does allow me to discover several new essays. One is Japanese cartoons, virtual child pornography, academic libraries and the law, in the American Library Association’s peer-reviewed journal Reference & User Services Quarterly – and I’m already familiar with its author because five years ago, he co-authored what I consider to be the standard “baseline” survey of graphic novel and manga collections at academic (rather than public) libraries around the U.S. And another, “The afterlives of New Testament apocrypha”, in the latest issue of the Journal of Biblical Literature, is precisely the kind of paper that only a full-text search would locate – there is nothing in the title to indicate that it would be relevant to anime/manga studies. But, as per its abstract:

“This essay explores the place of parabiblical literature in biblical studies through a focus on New Testament apocrypha. Countering the assumption that the significance of this literature pivots on its value for understanding the origins of Christianity, this essay calls for fresh attention to the afterlives of these writings. The first section traces the genealogy of the notion of the NT apocrypha as countercanon, as well as the history of the debate over whether “apocrypha” preserve secret or suppressed truths about Jesus and his earliest followers. It points to the influence of post-Reformation anthological efforts and new con cerns for forgery and censorship in the wake of the advent of printing, especially for popularizing a disjunctive model whereby “apocrypha” are imagined to have been systematically suppressed by ecclesiarchs during the Christianization of the Roman Empire. The second section surveys evidence for the elasticity of such writings and for their reception in contexts as far-flung as medieval Christian art and contemporary Japanese anime.”

The third step is to go beyond the subscription databases, and run similar searches in Google Scholar and Microsoft Academic Search. In an earlier post, I already outlined many of the challenges that Google Scholar presents to the researcher. And once again, a Google Scholar search for the keywords “anime” and “Japan”, limited to results published this year to date, returns plenty of false positives – single mentions, book reviews, reprints of books that were first published years ago, dissertations – as well as quite a few that I have already seen – but also, several more results that I would not (or not yet) have been able to locate otherwise, such as:

Google Scholar is particularly useful for locating single chapters in essay collections, such as:

So, these three steps, repeated at regular intervals throughout the year, allow me to build up each year’s list on a rolling basis, rather than waiting until the end of the year and trying to locate and record all of the year’s new publications at once. And of course, they are also not the only methods I use. Another is “reference chaining” – the practice of reviewing the bibliographies or works cited sections of any new publications that I come across to see what kinds of sources the authors used. Understandably, this is primarily useful for locating items that were published several years ago, and simply cannot help bring up a relatively new publication that has not been cited yet, but it is nonetheless an important and useful method. Sometimes, an author will contact me directly to let me know about a new publication, or they will announce one on the Anime and Manga Research Circle‘s mailing list. Another method that comes in handy sometimes requires a familiarity with the publishers that have – or may – recently published books on or containing chapters on anime/manga. Searching their websites means narrowing the scope of any such search significantly – so, for example, a search for the term “anime” on the website of Cambridge Scholars Publishing returns only 3 results (for essay collections containing chapters with “anime” in their titles). I already know all 3, but, as a thorough researcher, I should also take the extra step and try to find out more about their authors. An academic author will almost always have a faculty profile page on their college or university’s website – often with a fairly comprehensive list of their publications. So, for example, the faculty profile page of Dr. Melanie Chan (author of “Representations of augmented humans and synthetically-created beings in Japanese cyberpunk anime”, in the Cambridge Scholars Publishing essay collection Twenty-First-Century Gothic) reveals an article – “Beings in Japanese cyberpunk anime” – that I was not previously aware of, and in a journal that I am not familiar with (Film & Film Culture).

So, in the end, what do all of these methods do?

In his recent review of two books on anime, Shiro Yoshioka (Newcastle University), writes:

“As a research subject, Japanese animation or anime is like a nue, an imaginary Japanese bird that has the head of an ape, the torso of a raccoon, the tail of a snake, and the limbs of a tiger. Depending on the perspective from which you are looking at it, and what you want to see in it, you can academically approach anime from numerous angles.”

The methods I turn to, and the tools I use, are what allows scholars who are working on approaching anime to figure out these angles. To see what kinds of approaches have worked before, to see which ones simply have not been tried yet. And I hope that describing these methods and tools and techniques can in of itself be useful, and again, make a contribution to academic approaches to anime/manga as a process – and to the development of anime/manga studies as an academic field.

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