“What to take, what to leave”: Thoughts on compiling bibliographies of writing on anime/manga

One of the most basic concepts underlying the practice of organizing and representing information is that it requires making choices. The organization and representation of information, choosing what to present, and how to arrange it is an ideological act, and even to a degree a political act. Guides, indexes, directories, databases, classification systems, and other methods of providing access to information and establishing “bibliographic control” are designed with particular goals in mind, and exist because of particular reasons, affordances, biases and prejudices. And, in turn, being aware of these goals and reasons, and of the effects that they have on information sources, services and tools, is a major component of information literacy, of being an effective user of information and a successful researcher.

For example, Wikipedia is widely acknowledged as a pre-eminent information tool across many different fields, and for many different audiences. But, when considering Wikipedia, as Cindy Royal and Deepina Kapila point out, in What’s on Wikipedia, and what’s not…? Accessing completeness of information, Social Science Computer Review, 27(1), 138-147, it is always important to remember that “[s]ome topics are covered more comprehensively than others, and the predictors of these biases include recency, importance, population, and financial wealth.” Similarly, Ewa Callahan and Susan Herring demonstrate that Wikipedia articles on the same topics or subjects, but written in different languages, differ significantly in terms of both content and style – Cultural bias in Wikipedia content on famous persons, Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 62(10), 1899-1915.

These kinds of differences are not limited to Wikipedia. Major academic databases, even those that do not focus on any particular subject areas or fields range widely in how they cover various subject areas/fields – an excellent evaluation of this can be seen in Kelly Blessinger & Maureen Olle, Content analysis of the leading general academic databases, Library Collections, Acquisitions, & Technical Services, 28(3), 335-346. Similarly the extent to which any specific academic subject will be covered in library databases varies widely between subjects. Kathleen Joswick demonstrates this for psychology – Full text psychology journals available from popular library databasesThe Journal of Academic Librarianship32(4), 349-354 – and I do for law – Indexing and full-text coverage of law review articles in non-legal databases: An initial study, Law Library Journal, 102(1), 39-57.

And, for that matter, not are they exclusive to databases and websites. Hope Olson’s The power to name: Representation in library catalogsSigns26(3), is a classic paper highlighting these as social constructs. Chew Chiat Naun, Objectivity and subject access in the print libraryCataloging & Classification Quarterly43(2), 83-95, and especially, Colin Higgins, Library of Congress Classification: Teddy Roosevelt’s world in numbers?Cataloging & Classification Quarterly50(4), 249-262 update it, and emphasize the argument that subject heading and classification systems are inherently based on the “preoccupations and prejudices” of their original developers.

I am an active participant in the process of “organization and representation of information”. I compile and maintain the various annual and subject-specific lists in the Bibliographies section of this site, the Hayao Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli Bibliography, and the the legacy, but still useful – and definitely used – Online Bibliography of Anime and Manga Research. And so, keeping in mind this idea, I feel that it is important for me to explain or highlight some the “preoccupations and prejudices” that go into into what I do.

For example, as I note under the Purpose heading on the Bibliographies page, what I track there is limited to “academic publications (books, book chapters, and journal articles) on Japanese animation, comics, and related topics that were published in English in a given year.”

…but of course, the obvious question arises – what do I mean by “academic publications” – and for that matter, what do I mean by “books”?

This question is perhaps the easiest to face. The total number of books on “anime/manga” that have been published in English to date runs to just a few dozen titles. Granted, these few dozen range from “straight-forward” academic monographs (A Sociology of Japanese Ladies’ Comics: Images of the Life, Loves, and Sexual Fantasies of Adult Japanese Women; From Impressionism to Anime: Japan as Fantasy and Fan Cult in the Eyes of the West; The Soul of Anime: Collaborative Creativity and Japan’s Media Success Story) to titles that will be of interest primarily to specialized audiences (Graphic Novels: A Genre Guide to Comic Books, Manga, and More; Mostly Manga: A Genre Guide to Popular Manga, Manhwa, Manhua, and Anime), to other books that are clearly aimed at casual readers, such as Anime Classics Zettai!: 100 Must-See Japanese Animation Masterpieces and The Rough Guide to Manga. But, in any case, given such a small overall “universe” of titles, I can be comfortable with including almost all of them.

So, which ones do I have to think about?

Several books that come to mind right away definitely deal with topics related to Japanese animation – but in broader contexts – these include Apocalypse in Contemporary Japanese Science Fiction, The World is Watching: Video as Multinational Aesthetics, 1968-1995, and Tokyo Cyberpunk: Posthumanism in Japanese Visual Culture. And I think that with these, the answer is easy enough – they are each from a major academic publisher, whether a for-profit such as Palgrave Macmillan or a university press, and thus, have undergone at least some level of editorial or peer review. Their authors are each a “known entity”, and have also published articles/book chapters that do focus on anime or manga specifically. And, to the extent that I’m able to determine from the their tables of contents, summaries, and Google Books/Amazon previews, the extent to which these books indeed discuss anime is significant enough that I am comfortable listing them along with the other books that do have anime/manga/Japanese animation/Japanese comics right there in the titles. somewhere in their titles.

Of course, on the other hand, there are a few books that I have no problem leaving out. These include oddities like the obviously self-published Warriors of Legend: Reflections of Japan in Sailor Moon – Unauthorized, and the various titles in DH Publishing’s “unofficial anime guidebook series“.

This then leaves the “problem” – and choice – of how to handle the almost twenty books on different aspects of Japanese animation, from the 2006 The Anime Art of Hayao Miyazaki, and through to Hayao Miyazaki’s World Picture, just published earlier this year, that are all authored by Dani Cavallaro. As I noted in a two-part post (Part 1 and Part 2) this author’s books are all also from a reputable and well-established publisher, academic libraries acquire them, and scholars reference them – but, scholars have also raised a number of significant issues with their quality, to the point of alleging that significant portions of the content of some of them are taken – without attribution – from other, previous works, or even from Wikipedia articles. Nor does it help that there is virtually no information available, from the publisher or from any other source, about the identity, background, and academic qualifications of this author. So, I have to weigh these factors, and then decide how to treat these books. And, at this point, the decision I have made it to include them – but, to continue emphasizing the concerns that I have with them!

Books are the more familiar form/format for commentary and scholarship on Japanese animation and Japanese comics. But, the majority of academic writing on anime/manga exists in the form of journal articles. For example, according to my records, there were a total of 35 new books on anime/manga published in English between 2010 and 2014 – compared to at least 70 new articles in academic/scholarly journals – published during any one of those years. Accordingly, the majority of my work in providing information about and access to academic writing on anime/manga consists of locating journal articles.

What exactly is an academic journal in the first place is one of those questions that beg the cliche “I know it when I see it” kind of answer – though, learning to differentiate between academic journals and popular magazines is a standard feature in the syllabus of a typical undergraduate “introduction to information literacy” class. Once again, my goal is to track academic publications on anime/manga, not all publications – and so, I am comfortable with leaving articles in newspapers and popular/trade/enthusiast magazines outside my scope. This is not to say that a New York Times or New Yorker or Wired – or, for that matter, Home Media Magazine article is somehow “worse” or “less important” or “less relevant” that one published in Critical Studies in Media Communication, Feminist Theory, Transformative Works and Cultures, or any other academic journal – just to say that they are different – written in a different way, and really, for a different purpose and a different audience.

(One slight caveat here too is the type of periodical frequently referred to as the “journal of opinion” – characterized by materials written by subject specialists for non-casual, “educated” readers. Articles in these kinds of publications are not peer-reviewed or meant to be scholarly, but may end up being highly influential – as is the case, for example, with Douglas McGray’s Japan’s Gross National CoolForeign Policy, 130, 44-54. Recognizing this article’s unique importance in furthering the discussion of Japanese popular culture in English-language academic literature, I feel that it is appropriate to include it in any kind of resource on writing about anime/manga that I develop.)

But, just with the books on anime/manga, what kinds of articles give me reasons to think about whether I should be including them?

Really, there are two kinds. One is best exemplified by something like Ting Yuan, From Ponyo to “My Garfield story”: Using digital comics as an alternative pathway to literary composition, Childhood Education, 87(4), 297-301 – a paper in an established, entirely legitimate journal, that, for whatever reason, contains obvious errors – as in this case, referring to Hayao Miyazaki as “one of the most beloved contemporary manga artists in Japan”. It could be that the author is not a native English speaker, and first wrote the article in another language. Or it was just an awkward phrase that slipped by in the peer review process. In any case, I don’t think an earnest, well-intentioned error like that should be enough for me to ignore the article as a whole.

The other, though, is more egregious – a paper that appears to have the standard characteristics of an “academic article”, but it is clear that it underwent minimal to no peer review – most likely, because it was published in a low-quality “predatory” journal that charges authors a fee to present their work. Consider, for example, Niracharapa Tongdhamachart, Japanese animation: Thailand’s perspective, International Journal of Arts and Sciences, 8(2), 129-137, or George Terunao Itagoshi , Marketing strategies for Japanese industry within the U.S. animation market, International Journal of Business and Social Science, 5(8), 280-287.

So, in the end of things, my approach with providing access to different types of publications on anime/manga is to be as inclusive as possible within some particular limits. Even then, though, I think that it is important for me as the content provider to highlight my thinking , and for you as the information user to be aware of all the different dimensions of being able to locate and access books, journal articles, and other academic writing on Japanese animation and Japanese comics.

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