English-Language Scholarship on Studio Ghibli Films: Looking at the Numbers

One of the paradoxes of scholarship in the humanities is that often, some questions that seem straightforward do not actually have simple answers. In fact, even coming up with an answer to some questions may be difficult, if not impossible. For example, it is relatively easy to demonstrate that a particular book or comic or movie is popular – the sales figures and box office numbers may not be immediately accessible, but the numbers do exist. But it is much harder to claim that a particular author – or a particular film – is “the most studied of all time” or something similar. Claims of this kind, applied to many different authors and many different films, are not uncommon – but the casual statements I have often seen, such as that “among the most studied films of the last few decades are those that descend from the mid-century fiction of Philip Dick and his contemporaries“, tend not to be supported in any way. Comparing authors or works based on the amount of critical attention they have received is equally challenging, though not unheard of – see, for example, Powrie, Phil, Thirty years of doctoral theses on French cinema, Studies in French Cinema, 3(3), 199-203, noting, among other things, “the most popular directors studied”. And, of course, studying the relative importance or prominence of actual scholarship is a well-established practice – and identifying the “most frequently cited works” and the “most frequently cited scholars” in particular fields is at the core of formal citation analysis.

Nonetheless, again, while providing an answer to the question of what is the most frequently studied anime ever – or the most frequently studied anime director ever – is impossible, narrowing the scope of the question can lead to interesting, and potentially insightful, results. The role that Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli have played in introducing Japanese animation to audiences and critics outside Japan, and in legitimizing academic approaches to anime, is easy to acknowledge. And, as it turns out, now that we are looking at something more narrow in scope than “all anime that has ever been written about critically”, we can, in fact, survey and quantify English-language scholarly writing on Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. The end result, then, can be an actual illustration to the general discussion on how non-Japanese scholars have approached Miyazaki and his films.

English-Language Scholarship on Studio Ghibli Films: Examining the Numbers

Purpose: To compile and present specific figures on English-language research on the anime feature films of Studio Ghibli.

Scope: These figures are based on materials included in the Annual Bibliography of Anime and Manga Studies – books, chapters in edited essay collections, and articles in peer-reviewed journals and professional magazines. Articles in newspapers and general-interest magazines/websites, as well as blog posts and personal essays are not included, nor are dissertations/theses/papers written for class, or conference presentations, unless specifically published in Proceedings. The materials were identified using keyword searches in library catalogs, major and subject-specific academic databases, and Google Scholar, direct review of the bibliographies/works cited sections of many previously identified works, and in many cases, direct submissions by authors. All of the entries are listed separately in Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli: A Bibliography.

Methodology/Organization: For each source publication, I noted the main Ghibli film it discusses – as identified in the title or the abstract or summary, and recorded it appropriately. Examples of the source publications are Taoism, shintoism, and the ethics of technology: An ecocritical review of Howl’s Moving Castle, Only Yesterday: Ecological and psychological recovery, and What will you do if the wind rises: Dialectical cinema by Miyazaki Hayao. If the publication discussed two or more films – and referred to them specifically – as in, for example, Hayao Miyazaki’s mythic poetics: Experiencing the narrative persuasions in Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Ponyo, I recorded all of them. However, if the source publication did not specifically or explicitly address any films by title – even if it most likely does in the actual text – I did not use it for the purposes of the present analysis: an example here is Star-spangled Ghibli: Star voices in the American versions of Hayao Miyazaki’s films.

Results:

I examined a total of 140 unique source publications of 16 separate Studio Ghibli films. Princess Mononoke is discussed in 34 individual publications; Only Yesterday, The Cat Returns, and Whisper of the Heart in 1 each. As explained above, given that one source document can potentially discuss more than one single film, overall, I identified and recorded 161 individual “instances” of English-language academic discussion of specific Studio Ghibli films. The break-down by film is:

Film Number of Publications
Princess Mononoke 34*
Spirited Away 32*
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind 21
Howl’s Moving Castle 10
My Neighbor Totoro 10
Grave of the Fireflies 9
Ponyo 9
The Wind Rises 9
Kiki’s Delivery Service 7
Porco Rosso 6
Laputa: Castle in the Sky 5
Arrietty 3
Pom Poko 3
Only Yesterday 1
The Cat Returns 1
Whisper of the Heart 1

* The total for Princess Mononoke includes the 10 individual essays in Princess Mononoke: Understanding Studio Ghibli’s Monster Princess
* The total for Spirited Away includes one full-length book – BFI Film Classics: Spirited Away

Ghibli

Discussion:

Overall, at least as of right now, Princess Mononoke stands as the single most popular “subject” of English-language scholarship on Studio Ghibli films. This is not surprising – it was the first one to be marketed widely, although, again, a significant portion of the English-language writing on Mononoke is concentrated in a single essay collection. And I would not be surprised at all if very soon, Spirited Away overtakes it. On the other hand, it is also clear that more recent Ghibli films, whether or not directed by Miyazaki, are not attracting nearly as much attention. Of course, just that they are still relatively recent may be a factor – but ultimately, it may be possible to argue that films like Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind simply yield themselves better to scholarly interpretation, analysis and critique than something like Porco Rosso does. This question – what exactly is it about a particular film that makes it more appealing to scholars – is a necessary question too.

Once again, this is a purely descriptive study. At this point, I am not attempting to establish or argue for any kind of correlation between the characteristics of a particular Ghibli film and the amount of scholarly attention it has attracted. I also need to emphasize the point that I am not comparing the individual publications themselves to each other in any way. This survey is also limited in its scope. There may very well be publications I am simply not aware of that I would have included had I know about them, to say nothing of publications in Japanese and in languages other than English. Nonetheless, I hope that even this introductory and descriptive study can serve to inform anyone interested in anime and manga studies to a particular – and important – aspect of this field.

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As always, all commentary on my methodology, the purpose, scope and results of this study, and any further research is welcome and appreciated!

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One thought on “English-Language Scholarship on Studio Ghibli Films: Looking at the Numbers

  1. Pingback: May 2018 Monthly Content Round-up – The Backloggers

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