Almost three years ago, when I first began writing about the mechanics of anime/manga studies as an an area of academic activity, one of the questions I posed was whether “it possible for an author to self-publish a book of criticism/commentary on Japanese animation or Japanese comics”? The short answer was yes, as with Patrick Drazen’s A Gathering of Spirits: Japan’s Ghost Story Tradition from Folklore and Kabuki to Anime and Manga, and Derek Padula’s multi-volume series of books on Dragon Ball.
These books, along with Otaku Journalism: A Guide to Geek Reporting in the Digital Age, by “Otaku Journalist” Lauren Orsini, follow what is the standard or traditional model of self-publishing – use of print-on-demand for producing actual physical books, and a heavy reliance on Amazon for the e-book versions. But, is it the only possible model for self-publishing on anime/manga? Turns out, it’s not. Anime companies have recently made several attempts at using Kickstarter to fund new releases of anime series in the U.S. – and just last month, a creator successfully ran a Kickstarter campaign, with a goal of $1,000, to fund the publication of Animated Discussions: Collected Writings on Anime – a set of “collected essays on anime, from Akira to Erased, revolutionary girls and EVA pilots to Puella Magi and alchemists, and beyond!”
Over the course of the month that the campaign ran, it attracted a total of $1,240. But, just learning about its existence leads to several questions. Who is the author? How is the author actually qualified to share his views with the audience? For that matter, is there an audience for this kind of book? In of itself a collection of columns or short essays on anime is not unheard of – consider, for example, Watching Anime, Reading Manga: 25 Years of Essays and Reviews. But, again, that book was authored by someone who had been there at the very start of of anime in America, and who was then a witness to the birth and growth of the American anime industry, clubs, conventions, and anime fandom in the U.S. broadly defined.
Given that the funding that the Kickstarter campaign did attract came from a total of 41 individual backers, it seems that the total number of readers it will reach will be miniscule. Could the author have achieved his same goal simply via a series of blog posts on his selected topics? Perhaps a more critical underlying question is simply – what is this book looking to accomplish, and what kind of reader is it looking to attract? For that matter, to what degree is it – despite the title – an addition to the ongoing critical discussion about Japanese animation. Does it, to any degree, interact with any other scholarship, add to it, intend to serve as a basis for further research? Finally, how does it compare to other book-length projects on anime that have been published so far this year – The Moral Narratives of Hayao Miyazaki, Manga in America, Manga and Anime go to Hollywood. And ultimately, making the comparison leads into an even deeper set of questions about the different types and formats of non-fiction writing, and about the distinction between commentary and scholarship.
In fact, I would argue that at this point, self-publishing, whether via iUniverse or another self-publising company, or using the crowdfunding approach, is probably the only way for an author to bring “non-scholarly” commentary on anime/manga out as a print or electronic book – while if an author is willing and able to write a more formal academic/scholarly volume that positions itself as such, that author will be able to attract the attention of a for-profit publisher without too much difficulty.