One of the most interesting trends in the development of the academic field of comics studies over the last two or so decades has been the emergence of several academic journals focused specifically on comics – broadly defined, and including manga. This trend started with the launch of the International Journal of Comic Art; since then, it has been joined by the online-only (and so, open access/free-to-read) Image [&] Narrative and ImageTexT, as well as the more traditional (i.e., distributed primarily to libraries that pay a subscription price for electronic access and/or print issues) Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics and Studies in Comics. Another, The Comics Grid, was first launched as a WordPress-driven blog, but has since converted to a more traditional format, with all pieces published in a given year assigned to a unique volume and given an individual article number – so, The relationship between personalities and faces of manga characters can be identified – and cited to – as being published in Volume 5, and as Art. 3. Its editor provided an in-depth explanation for the reasons behind this change.
One more such journal – and one that I was not previously aware of – is the Scandinavian Journal of Comic Art. The journal’s first two issues were published in 2012, none in the next two and a half years, but a new one is now available. As per its profile, it is “global in scope and aims to publish high quality research regardless of national or regional boundaries” – the “Scandinavian” in the title refers primarily to where its editors are originally from and/or are currently based. The theme of the issue is “Nordic history and cultural memory in comics” – and one of its three articles deals specifically with manga.
Yamazaki, Asuka. The body, despair, and hero worship: A comparative study of the influence of Norse mythology in Attack on Titan (pp. 25-49).
“The Japanese comic Attack on Titan has become greatly popular, currently with a circulation of more than forty million. Its worldwide popularity crosses national and generational boundaries, and it has been translated into numerous European and Asian languages. Attack on Titan presents a more than a century long battle between the human race and the Titans, whose ruthless hunting and devouring of human beings has forced the last of humanity into a fortress surrounded by three enormous, concentric walls. This article studies the influence of Norse mythology on Attack on Titan from an aesthetic and philosophical perspective. It focuses in part on the Titan legend, including Attack on Titan’s unique figure Ymir, who is compared with an important creature in Norse mythology, the giant Ymir. It also focuses on similarities between the motif of the wall in this comic and of the Miðgarðr in Norse myth. Finally, the paper analyzes the structure of hero worship in Attack on Titan in relation to mythological concepts, especially the metaphorical ritual of extracting a warrior’s heart and the image of the damaged body of the warrior.”
The author is an associate research professor of German theater and literature at Mie University. Interestingly, earlier this year, she authored another paper – The motif of the wound in Attack on Titan (International Journal of Comic Art, 17(1), 569-582). To the best of my knowledge, these two are the only academic articles on Attack on Titan that have been published in English so far.
This actually once again brings to mind the question I have raised a couple of times already – why is it that manga scholars are generally not particularly interested in writing about manga titles that are the most popular, whether in Japan, or in other countries? For example, I’m aware of a grand total of two book chapters and two journal articles on Naruto, two articles on One Piece, and one on Bleach. Perhaps one reason is that for all of their popularity and seeming complexity, with dozens of volumes and hundreds of characters, the actual stories in them are still fairly simplistic – so, there is simply not a whole lot there to write about. In fact, several of the articles that do discuss these titles, such as Fluidity of modes in the translation of manga: The case of Kishimoto’s Naruto, and Translating Japanese typefaces in manga: ‘Bleach’ specifically focus on features other than the actual stories.
So, it will be interesting to see if this same kind of pattern continues with Attack on Titan – great sales, increasing recognition and even “cultural impact” – and little to no academic attention. But, in any case, it’s great to see another journal present itself as a potential venue for academic writing on comics in general – and on Japanese comics in particular!