Highlighting New Publications – Undergraduate Scholarship on Anime/Manga

“Any [academic] discipline is first and foremost about the people who practice it” – write Gerardo L. Munck and Richard Snyder in Who publishes in comparative politics?: Studying the world from the United States. There are plenty of examples of studies in different areas/disciplines/fields that examine the characteristics of the authors who are actually working in them – some other typical recent examples are International differences in nursing research, 2005-2009, Quantity and authorship of GIS articles in library and information science literature, 1990-2005, and Taking stock of management education: A comparison of three management journals. And, while these kinds of studies often find that the authors of the articles that they examine differ quite widely in terms of their gender, academic rank, university affiliation, and other similar factors, they also generally demonstrate that the authors who publish in a particular field are overwhelmingly affiliated with academic programs in that field. This makes sense – a history professor or graduate student would publish in a history journal; likewise, the most likely author of an article in the Journal of Japanese Studies or a similar publication would be affiliated with an Asian, East Asian, or Japanese Studies program. But, there simply are no academic departments in the U.S. that specifically focus on anime/manga, and scholars who do publish work on Japanese animation or Japanese comics can be based in many different academic departments. A related issue, of course, is whether a person who wants to publish their academic writing has to even be an academic (i.e., employed as a faculty member) to begin with! Here too, the studies find many differences by discipline: 11% of the authors studied in Who publishes in comparative politics are graduate students, as are approximately 9% of those studied in An examination of author characteristics in national and regional criminology journals, 2009-2010, and 5% in Who publishes in top-tier library science journals?

But, even here, a valid question is whether someone who is interested in anime/manga academically and wants to share their work in a formal setting such as a peer-reviewed journal – but is just an undergraduate – is able to do so.

Intuitively, my answer is yes, in no small part because many of the journals that have been publishing work on anime/manga, such as Animation Studies, ImageText, and Transformative Works and Cultures are themselves fairly new, and specifically want to welcome all kinds of authors, regardless of their academic rank. Having said that, an undergraduate will likely not yet be familiar with the conventions of academic writing as a genre, and simply may not know how to prepare a paper that would be ready for publication in a “standard” academic journal. And it’s precisely because of this that I feel it is important to highlight the existence of academic journals that exist specifically to feature the work of authors who are undergraduates, rather than graduate students or faculty.

One such journal is the Columbia East Asia Review, which specifically lists among its goals: “to publish superior undergraduate research of East and Southeast Asia” and “to educate undergraduate contributors and CEAR members about the academic publication process”; Painting Words and Worlds: The Use of Ateji in Clamp’s Manga appeared in its Spring 2010 issue. Another is Forbes & Fifth – “sponsored by The Office of Undergraduate Research, Scholarship, and Creativity” at the University of Pittsburgh, which published Ameritaku: How Goku Beat Superman.

An extensive, though not fully comprehensive, list of these kinds of journals is maintained by the Council on Undergraduate Research. And recently, I found out about another one that is a great illustration of the basic statement that anyone who is interested in approaching anime/manga from an academic perspective and sharing their work with readers in the format of a journal article can find ways to do so.

The journal in question is the Digital Literature Review, published by undergraduates in the English Department at Ball State University and with a stated goal of “showcasing undergraduate student work in literature and cultural studies.” The theme of the current issue is “Monsters”, and two of the essays specifically focus on anime.

Hartman, Emma. Tradition vs. innovation and the creatures in Spirited Away.

Japan is perhaps best known for creating the world-famous film style: anime. Popular with adults and children alike, anime boasts unfamiliar creatures that are sometimes considered strange or disturbing to the Western world. Hayao Miyazaki, perhaps the most well-known anime director, screenwriter, and animator, presents such fantastical creatures in Spirited Away. The creatures viewers encounter resemble kami, or spirits, from Japanese folklore. This paper explores how these spirits illuminate the tension between tradition and innovation within modern Japanese society. Traditions are not only preserved through Spirited Away, but are made relevant for Japanese youth, who are often perceived to be slipping away from Japanese tradition.

Griffis, Emily. Predator vs. prey: The human monstrosity in Attack on Titan.

“The latest phenomenon in the anime world, Attack on Titan, takes a turn away
from the cute, kawaii essence that Japan is known for and plunges into a dark,
fantasy-like war setting, in which human existence is challenged. The fascination
with this anime certainly did not stop in Japan. Instead, it became a worldwide
obsession: memorabilia is sold in stores across the East and West, a two-part liveaction film was produced, and Netflix, one of the most popular streaming services on the market, added the anime to its queue. But what most fans might not realize is that Attack on Titan, while a uniquely contemporary entertainment series, also represents classic Gothic techniques…[I]t employs Gothic undertones as it
delves into the very core of death and survival. Specifically, Attack on Titan depicts
the predatory Titan race in a manner that suggests humanity itself is monstrous.
The Titans, with their eerie human-likeness, are the literal representation of this
repressed fear.”

Of course, both of these essays are fairly straight-forward readings, perhaps not the kind of work that an anime scholar who is a tenured professor would present. But, nonetheless, they each make a valuable contribution to the field – again, again, serve to demonstrate quite well that publishing research on anime/manga is possible regardless of whether the author of this research is an undergraduate, a graduate student, or even an “independent scholar” and not currently affiliated with an educational institution in any way!

For that matter, the Call for Papers for the 2017-2018 issue of this journal – to be entitled “Imagining the Post-Apocalyptic” , is currently open, and submissions will be accepted until January 8, 2018. The basic guideline for the submissions is that they must be essays  on “literary and filmic representations of societal collapse and post-apocalyptic situations”; the author is required to have been an undergraduate at any point in 2017. And I don’t think it is a stretch at all to say that this CFP presents an excellent opportunity for a college student with an interest in this topic and the way Japanese animation and Japanese comics approach it to have their work published in the format of an article in an academic journal!

 

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