Popular culture works across different languages and different media – literature, film, television, and comics – frequently draw on historical events for their subjects. In turn, how popular culture uses history is a frequent topic of scholarship in its own right – just some recent examples include American History and Contemporary Hollywood Film, Gone With the Glory: The Civil War in Cinema, and Screening the Past: Film and the Representation of History. And Japanese popular culture is not an exception here – anime and manga also often depict historical incidents and events. These depictions range from the fairly realistic to the unapologetically fanciful – and, again, present obvious “points of entry” for scholars. Jaqueline Berndt’s approach, in “Historical adventures of a post-historical medium: Japan’s wartime past as represented in manga”, is straight-forward. Wendy Hardenberg’s, in Transcending the victim’s history: Takahata Isao’s Grave of the Fireflies, focuses on how “history” is created and the different types or forms of “history”. Andrea Horbinski, in “Record of dying days: The alternate history of Ooku” (in Mechademia, vol. 10), highlights the ways that manga has explored “alternate history”. In fact, just three years ago, Routledge published a full collection of essays on “manga and the representation of Japanese history”. And now, another major publisher, Palgrave Macmillan, is exploring this topic again with Rewriting History in Manga: Stories for the Nation.
A reasonable question to ask is whether the particular topic of history in manga even calls for two separate essay collections in such a short time. Of course, in a way, that these two books – with, between them, twenty-two individual chapters, exist in the first place is a good answer. Clearly, quite a few scholars are interested in it and are looking for outlets for their research. It’s also worth remembering in this context the several essay collections on manga in general that have been published in recent years, such as Japanese Visual Culture: Explorations in the Worlds of Manga and Anime, Manga: An Anthology of Global and Cultural Perspectives, Mangatopia: Essays on Manga and Anime in the Modern World, Manga’s Cultural Crossroads and International Perspectives on Shojo and Shojo Manga: The Influence of Girl Culture – perhaps, at least for now, the supply of academic writing on manga is at most just meeting the demand for it. Finally, while two or more books can certainly cover a given subject or topic, it is always possible that each individual book will take its own approach or focus on a particular and unique aspect of it – an example of this can been seen in the differences in their scope and approaches between 2010’s essay collection Boys’ Love Manga: Essays on the Sexual Ambiguity and Cross-Cultural Fandom of the Genre and last year’s Boys Love Manga and Beyond: History, Culture and Community in Japan.
So, what is Rewriting History in Manga “about”? In the introductory chapter, Nissim Otmazgin directly poses the key question that this book is built around. “Does manga play a significant role in creating, reproducing and disseminating historical memory or is it only a reflective expression of the past in a rather passive and ‘entertaining’ manner?”, he asks. For that matter, how does being introduced to history through manga affect how readers understand or perceive history? And, perhaps most importantly, how does manga “construct” history? The book’s nine main chapters, organized into three parts, answer them in different ways.
Otmazgin, Nissim. Introduction: Manga as “banal memory”.
Part 1: Historicizing Political Manga
- Lewis, Michael. Kitazawa Rakuten as popular culture provocateur: Modern manga images and riotous democracy in early twentieth-century Japan .
- Shaughnessy, Orna. Early Meiji manga: The political cartoons of Kanakagi Robun and Kawanai Kyosai.
Part II: Postwar Manga as History
- Mason, Michele M. Bodies of anger: Atomic survivors in Nakazawa Keiji’s Black Series manga.
- Rosenbaum, Roman. Redacting Japanese history: Ishinomori Shotaro’s graphic narratives.
- Hartley, Barbara. Manga, history, and telling stories of the past: Narrative strategies in Shanao Yoshitsune.
Part III: Decoding and Recording History: Manga Reception and Parody
- Bukh, Alexander. Hate the “Korean Wave” and “Introduction to China”: A case study of Japanese university students.
- Miyake, Toshio. History as sexualized parody: Love and sex between nations in Axis Powers Hetalia.
- Suter, Rebecca. Reassessing manga history: Resituating manga in history.
Once again, what is probably the most important thing about this book is the way it emphasizes the nature of academic fields – including anime/manga studies – as processes. Rewriting History in Manga exists specifically in relation to other books about Japanese comics, other books about history and historiography, engages with them, and adds a new dimension to a conversation that is very much ongoing.