Resource Review – Japanese Literature in English

In her essay Confronting master narratives: History as vision in Miyazaki Hayao’s cinema of de-assurance, in Positions: East Asia Cultures Critique, 9(2), Susan Napier notes that in his films of the 1980’s and 1990’s, Miyazaki “mined with great box office success a rich vein of global fantasy, legends, and science fiction to create original stories”. Interestingly, this kind of statement is actually an exception in English-language writing on anime/manga – the much more common approach is to highlight how most anime are in fact adaptations. Thus, in her seminal Anime from Akira to Mononoke: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation, Napier also states that “many, if not most, anime are based on stories that appeared first in manga” (p. 20). Gilles Poitras makes a similar statement in “Contemporary anime in Japanese pop culture” (in Japanese Visual Culture: Explorations in the World of Manga and Anime, pp. 48-67). And Jason Yadao, in The Rough Guide to Manga, goes as far as to attach a definite figure to the general statement – “[A]bout sixty percent of anime adaptations can trace their origins directly to a successful manga series” (p. 192). Interestingly, what Yadao implies is that anime adaptations can also trace their origins to something other than manga.

And, indeed, two years ago, at New York Comic Con 2013, a senior executive from the leading Japanese publisher Kadokawa Shoten elaborated on this, noting that in 2013, 33% of all new anime released that year were based on manga, while 56% adapted “light novels” (as Motoko Tanaka notes, in Trends of fiction in 2000’s Japanese pop culture, Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies, 14(2), the term refers to “entertainment novels primarily targeting teenagers and young adults, usually published as bunkobon [pocket edition paperbacks], and often illustrated by popular manga artists). Presumably, this meant that the remaining 11% were either purely original works, or adaptations from other media, such as videogames or “literary” novels, whether Japanese or Western.

Resources like the Anime News Network Encyclopedia make locating information about particular anime and manga relatively easy. But, finding out about the original sources that anime are adapted from – in particular, novels – require using other resources. One such resource is the excellent Contemporary Japanese Literature – but that site is primarily a compilation of reviews of individual titles. In this context, I would like to consider Japanese Literature in English, “a searchable database that compiles all literary works translated from japanese to english and available in the United States (with some exceptions).”Japanese Literature in EnglishPurpose

The goal of Japanese Literature in English is obvious from its title, There is nothing like a mission statement/statement of purpose, or a discussion of how this database fills any real or perceived information need.

Scope/Methodology

Japanese Literature in English covers both fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, It is not clear exactly how many titles the database covers, or what its chronological range is. There is also no way to browse the database, only to search, so it’s also impossible to determine the total number of records. It is also not clear how the entries are selected for inclusion.

Organization

The default search returns all records that contain a particular term or keyword, organized by relevance, though there is no explanation how exactly this is determined. Searches can also be limited to the search terms occurring in the title, author, translator, subject, publication date, and publisher fields. In addition, the search box is able to handle multiple keywords without the need to use the Boolean AND connector – searching for Viz Smith returns records for all titles published by Viz and translated by Alexander O. Smith. It may also be possible to combine searches in two or more categories (such as title and author), but given that most possible search terms are likely fairly unique (i.e., there is a very low possibility that the same word will be used both as a title and as an author’s name), I do not see this feature being used often.

The database does offer one way for users to “jump in” to it, by highlighting the three most popular title, author, and subject searches. In addition, a list of 25 subject headings, from “African Americans, Japan, Fiction” to “Yasunori Kawabata, Translations into English” are displayed next to any search results or individual record.

Annotation

Brave StoryEach record in the database corresponds to a unique book, and includes the book’s ISBN’s, OCLC accession number, the names of the author(s) and translator(s), the names of the English publisher, the copyright year of the original publication and the publication year of the translation, a notes field – used primarily to list chapter headings or individual short stories in collections, and a short abstract/summary. In addition, each record includes several subject headings. It appears that the summaries and subject headings are taken from the OCLC WorldCat service. Whenever possible, the records also include images of the book’s cover, and a button to purchase it through Powells.com.

Evaluation

Given the well-established relationship between Japanese literature and anime/manga, when I first learned about Japanese Literature in English, I was understandably excited. It would be an invaluable “one-stop” resource for information about English translations of novels like Harp of Burma, Hot Gimmick S, Mobile Suit Gundam, or Spice & Wolf. that had anime or manga adaptations, or in reverse, that were based on anime/manga. Unfortunately, at this point, the actual scope of the database is just too limited. It lists a total of 20 books from Haikasoru, the Japanese science fiction imprint of manga publisher Viz, but that leaves out quite a few that are listed on the Haikasoru website. Nor does it include any of the titles that Viz publishes under the SB Fiction and SJ Fiction imprints. Its coverage of the novels published by Vertical, Inc. appears better, but is still not complete. On the other hand, Yen Press seems to be not represented in the database at all.

Having said this, Japanese Literature in English is a unique and useful resource. It has a particular niche and purpose, and serves that purpose quite well. But, at least as of yet, its coverage of English translations of Japanese novels is clearly not comprehensive. But, of course, that may very well change – and hopefully, will change. I also hope that as this database is developed further, it will add some additional features, such as more information about its scope of coverage, an ability to sort the results of any given search, at least alphabetically, and a more robust search function. It would also be useful – though of course not necessary – if the annotations to the entries could provide more than just abstracts – so, for example, the one for Yukikaze would note that it has been adapted into a 5-episode OVA. Again, I do not mean to say that this resource is somehow inadequate or insufficient for all purposes – just that, as it stands right now, it has some limitations. But I look forward to seeing it develop further, and will certainly keep it in mind as something to draw on for my own work, and as a great example of the kinds of resources that are available in the field of Japanese studies beyond those that are only open to paying subscribers!

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