College Courses on Anime – Introduction to Anime and Manga Studies

https://www2.gmu.edu/sites/all/modules/features/feature_core_theme/templates/resources/images/mason-logo.pngScholarly writing on anime and manga is, of course, a major component of “anime/manga studies”, but not the only component – and classes that focus on Japanese animation and Japanese comics are an equally important part of the field. But, while the first English-language academic publications on Japanese comics appeared in the late 1970’s, and the first such paper on anime that I am aware of was published in 1993, it wasn’t until the late 1990’s/early 2000’s that colleges began offering such classes, with Susan Napier’s The World of Japanese Animation: Aesthetics, Commerce, Culture, at the University of Texas at Austin being if not the first, then certainly among the first.

Since Prof. Napier (who has since moved to Tufts University) first taught it, these kinds of classes have expanded to a wide range of schools – the Ivy League, other major research universities, both public and private, and smaller regional and liberal arts institutions. Just some recent examples include Anime as Global Popular Culture (Harvard University), Critical Analysis of Anime (Rice University), Anime in Text and Film (Stevenson University), and Explore Japanese Manga and Anime (Union College). Generally, they have taken an introductory approach, and the course description of the one at California State University, Long Beach is typical: “Students examine, analyze, and discuss selected topics in Japanese culture and modern society by analyzing Japanese animation (anime) and printed cartoons (manga)”. But, again, with anime and manga studies as a field now firmly established, clearly, it’s about time for ways of dealing with anime/manga in the post-secondary classroom setting that go beyond the introductory.

And, the best demonstration of just what this can involve is presented by the new Introduction to Anime and Manga Studies course that George Mason University will be offering during the Fall 2016 semester. As per its syllabus, the course’s focus will be not just on anime/manga, but rather, on the “four main strands of scholarly inquiry into anime, manga, and their related media and fan practices”. These four are the historical approach (“where did anime and manga come from, and where are they going?”), the cinema/literary studies approach (“How can we read anime and manga as cinematic and literary texts?”), the cultural studies approach (“How are anime and manga shaped by culture, and how do they shape it in turn?”), and, finally, the fan studies approach (“What can the activities of fans teach us about how media is consumed and produced?”).

Over the course of the semester, students will be introduced to four different manga, including volumes of Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack and Fumi Yoshinaga’s Ooku, as well as complete works by Satoshi Kon and Moyoco Anno, several anime films, selected episodes of particular anime TV series, and more importantly, a variety of of scholarly responses to anime/manga. One of the class’s explicit goals will be to give students an opportunity to analyze these responses and engage in a conversation with them – in this way, it is much closer to others like “Introduction to Japanese Studies” or “Introduction to Film Studies” than it is to the previous “Introduction to Anime” ones.

So, whether this class ends up being a one-time thing or actually begins a trend is something that we will find out in a couple of years. For my own part, if I was designing a syllabus for something of this kind, I would try expand it a bit to introduce students to some of the recent scholarship on concepts of “academic fields” in general, and the always-there debates about the kinds of “topics” or areas that do/do not qualify as “academic fields” – such as Animation studies, disciplinarity, and discursivity and Building a new academic field – The case of services marketing on one hand, and Asking the question: Is martial arts studies an academic field? on the other. I would also strive to mention at some point the ways that scholars such as Thomas Lamarre, Jacqueline Berndt, and Mitsuo Wada-Marciano have critiqued many of the recent academic approaches to anime/manga.

But, of course, I am not the person who designed this syllabus – or who, in a few weeks, will begin teaching the class. And, the person who is,  Dr. Kathryn Hemmann, is well on the way to establishing herself as a leader in the field, with recent publications on anime/manga in Transformative Works & Cultures and the U.S.-Japan Women’s Journal, talks at both academic conferences and fan conventions around the world, and a monograph on Japanese comics currently in development. So, at this point, all I can really do is thank Dr. Hemmann for all the hard work that went into developing this class, in making it evolve from a general idea to something that students are now able to register for, and for making sure it has a place on George Mason’s Fall 2016 class schedule!

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