The Shortcomings and “Blind Spots” of Anime and Manga Studies – a survey of the critical commentary

Recently, a colleague passed around a call for “more good scholarship on shonen as a genre” and voiced frustration with how little such scholarship currently exists – essentially the only one that addresses the genre as a whole, rather than specific works, is Angela Drummond-Matthews’ “What Boys Will Be: A Study of Shonen Manga” (in the 2010 essay collection Manga: An Anthology of Global and Cultural Perspectives, pp. 62-76). One recent article that I recommended – and that he found useful – is Straddling the Line: How Female Authors are Pushing the Boundaries of Gender Representation in Japanese Shonen Manga (New Voices in Japanese Studies, 10, 76-97) – as I noted, “pushing the boundaries” first requires establishing just what these boundaries are, and in fact, the paper does include an extensive discussion of “the framework” of shonen manga. But the original question, and the frustration at not there not being more material available, led me to some thinking of my own.

The first English-language academic article on anime was published more than twenty-five years ago. It’s now been about twenty years since the first full class on Japanese animation at an American college. Anime is an accepted and acceptable area of scholarly interest, and anime and manga studies is as established academic field. And, as the field continues to define its its shape, it becomes particularly important to highlight not just what it is about, but the internal discussions that are taking place within it – the debates and the critiques. So, since that first article – Susan Napier’s Panic sites: The Japanese imagination of disaster from Godzilla to Akira appeared back in 1993, what kinds of comments have scholars made identifying particular shortcomings in anime/manga studies?

Thomas Lamarre’s The Anime Machine: A Media Theory of Animation can, at this point, be considered one of the foundational texts of anime/manga studies – it is the most cited English-language book across all 10 volumes of Mechademia. And, right on the first page of the book’s preface, Lamarre states – although without providing any concrete examples:

“The bulk of anime commentary ignores that its ‘object’ consists of moving images, as if animations were but another text. Such a treatment of anime as textual object has tended in two directions. On the one hand, even when anime is treated largely as text, some commentators will call on the novelty and popularity of anime to bypass the tough questions that usually arise around the analysis of texts. Anime is, in effect, treated as a textual object that does not or cannot pose any difficult textual questions. Analysis is relegated to re-presenting anime narratives, almost in the manner of book reports or movie reviews. [emphasis mine]. On the other some commentators treat anime as text in order to pose “high textual” speculative questions  (such as the nature of reality, or the relationship of mind and body), again ignoring the moving image altogether but for different reasons. In this kind of textual treatment, the anime stories serve as the point of departure for philosophical speculation, without any consideration of the materiality of animation.”

Lamarre, “The Anime Machine: A Media Theory of Animation”, ix-x.

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Call for Papers – Mechademia: Second Arc, 13.2 “Soundscapes”

In a few weeks, the University of Minnesota Press will launch the new Mechademia: Second Arc series of books – the successor to its Mechademia: An Annual Forum for Anime, Manga, and Fan Arts titles that appeared between 2006 and 2015. This first volume’s theme will be “Childhood”, the next two, “Transnational Fandoms” and “Materialities Across Asia” are scheduled for release later in the year, it will then move to a twice-a-year publication calendar. The Call for Papers for Volume 13.1, “Queer(ing), is open until June 1, and the CFP for 13.2 is now available.

The theme for Mechademia: Second Arc issue 13.2 is “Soundscapes”, and it will be edited by Dr. Stacey Jocoy, Associate Professor of Musicology, Texas Tech University.

“This issue of Mechademia will consider sound and soundscapes, broadly conceived, as an aspect of the deeper narratives of anime, manga/ manhua, gaming, and related fields. The editors invite papers of 5000 to 7000 words revolving around critiques, musicological, socio-cultural, musico-psychological, music theory and analytical approaches, and acoustical considerations toward the investigation into the global ramifications of soundscapes.”

The full CFP is available on the Mechademia website, and submissions are due by June 15. Some potential topics it suggests include:

  • Music, sound, and narrative in anime, manga, gaming, and other East Asian media, including sound effects and musical iconography
  • Musical allusions to notable compositions, performers, or genres (e.g. classical, jazz, rock, traditional folk musics)
  • Media representations of idol singers, musicians, bands
  • Image songs, character albums, podcasts, and other tie-in audio media
  • Fan creations: AMVs, MMVs, Vocaloids, Desk Top Music (DTM) software
  • Voice acting, seiyû, voice-based celebrities

The issue will be published in the fall of 2020.

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Manga Studies in the 2019 Eisner Awards – Eligibility

2016 Eisner AwardsThe first months of the new year are, among other things, awards season – definitely for television and film (and animation), with the Golden Globes now finished, the Annie Awards coming up next month, and of course then the Oscars. The academic world does not and will never have anything like these awards ceremonies, but research that deserves recognition can receive it. The Society for Animation Studies presents its Norman McLaren/Evelyn Lambart Award for the best scholarly book and best scholarly article on animation – Marco Bellano received the 2010 article award for “The Parts and the Whole: Audiovisual Strategies in the Films of Hayao Miyazaki and Joe Hisaishi” (Animation Journal18, 4-55), and Tzu-Yue G. Hu and Jonathan Clements were runners-up for the best scholarly book one with Frames of Anime: Culture and Image-Building (2011) and Anime: A History (2015). It also presents the Maureen Furniss Award for Best Scholarly Paper in Animated Media – in 2017, to Jacqueline Ristola, for Realist Film Theory and Flowers of Evil: Exploring the Philosophical Possibilities of Rotoscoped Animation. Similarly, when the Comics Studies Society launched its program of prizes last year, it recognized Andrea Horbinski with an honorable mention in the Best Graduate Student Conference Presentation category for her talk “Something Postmodern Going On: The Queering of the Manga Sphere in the 1970s”, at On Belonging: Gender, Sexuality, and Identity in Japan.

The Eisner Awards – the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards – are the Oscars of the comics industry and really, the world of comics. But, unlike the Oscars and other awards ceremonies, the Eisners do have a “best scholarly/academic work” category. And the judges for this year’s awards are now accepting submissions for consideration to be nominated for the award in all categories – including this one. There are no formal criteria for eligibility other than that the title had to have been “shipped to retailers in the U.S.” or available online between January 1 and December 31, 2018. Continue reading

New College Classes on Anime/Manga – Spring 2019

With another academic term now finished, it’s once again a good time to highlight how colleges around the U.S. are actively including anime and manga in their course offerings! At this point, in of itself, a class on anime/manga is no longer anything particularly unusual – since Susan Napier taught what was likely the first such class almost twenty years ago now, there have been dozens of others, at colleges and universities of all types, and all around the country. More are announced frequently – and the ways they are described in marketing and publicity materials are themselves interesting to consider.

wsu-signature-defaultFor example, several days ago, Washington State University’s WSU Insider news website profiled “Transnational Anime: Japanese Animation History and Theory”, which will be offered through the School of Languages, Cultures, and Race in the spring. The number of students in the class is capped at 30 – and 30 students are currently listed as enrolled. A noteworthy thing about this class is that in order to hire an instructor to teach it, the School successfully applied for a $30,000 grant from the Japan Foundation, Los Angeles.

College classes on comics and graphic novels in general – Western and non-Western – are even more common. But only a few colleges offer not just single classes, but actual formal academic programs in comics studies. Among them is San Francisco State University, which just recently launched an undergraduate comics studies minor. The minor requires a total of 12 credits, and starting in the Spring 2019 term, one of the possible electives that can be used to fulfill the requirement will be Topics in Comics: Manga!

SFSU_manga“Curious about manga or want to test your otaku knowledge?  Discover the hidden histories of manga in Japan and worldwide; read pioneering works and become familiar with the culture and circumstances that gave rise to one of the most famous exports of Japan!   We will focus on transformations in the look and feel of manga over the last century, examining relationships with fashion trends and visual arts.  We will also pay attention to the kinds of relationships manga set up with their audiences, and look at the reception history of manga in popular culture (including cosplay, dojinshi, fan-fiction, manga cafés, and more) and scholarship. “

These two are probably not the only classes on anime/manga to launch in the Spring 2019 term. So, if you know of others – and especially if you are taking one yourself – or teaching one – I would very much like to hear from you! And, for that matter, I am currently working on additional materials about these classes, such as more background, and potentially, even interviews with the professors.

 

Intersections: Fan Studies in Conversation in Japan Symposium

Sophia ICCSunday, December 16
10:00 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Sophia University Yotsuya Campus – Building no. 2, Room 1702
7-1 Kioicho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 102-8554 JAPAN

As an academic field, fan/fandom studies is robust and well-established – with its current state covered by comprehensive surveys such as Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World, 2nd Edition and A Companion to Media Fandom and Fan Studies, new research appearing in the Journal of Fandom Studies, teaching in programs like the Fandom, Cult Studies, and Subculture Studies minor at DePaul University, as well as various individual classes, and the Fan Studies Network connecting scholars around the world. And, as the field evolves and expands, certain conversations develop and certain questions are asked. For example, one of the chapters in A Companion to Media Fandom and Fan Studies is “The Unbearable Whiteness of Fandom and Fan Studies” (although the author acknowledges,  in a note, that “there is work, however, on the practices of media fandom outside of Europe and the United States that focuses on fans who would in the United States be understood as people of color, such as, for example, work on fandoms in Asia” – perhaps largely negating the hyperbolic title). One kind of conversation that is crucial to the continuing development of fan studies is one that acknowledges global perspectives on fans and fandom, and builds connections between scholars in different countries and with different approaches.

And it is to facilitate just these kinds of conversations that the Sophia University Institute of Comparative Culture is hosting a one-day symposium entitled Intersections: Fan Studies in Conversation in Japan. Organized by leading fan studies scholars Lori Morimoto, Nele Noppe, and Patrick W. Galbraith. It will be be free, open to the public, and conducted entirely in English. The Symposium will serve “as a step in the direction of greater contact between scholars based in the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan, who all focus on media and fan cultures, but in diverse ways. The goal is not only to encourage conversation and collaboration across dividing lines, but also to critically assess some of the assumptions and blind spots in fan studies today.” Several of the talks will directly address anime/manga and anime/manga fans and fandom. Continue reading

Highlighting New Publications – Princess Mononoke: Understanding Studio Ghibli’s Monster Princess

Princess Mononoke (Bloomsbury)Editor: Rayna Denison
Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic
Table of Contents

When, on October 29, 1999, Princess Mononoke premiered in U.S. theaters, Hayao Miyazaki was not completely unknown to American audiences, but he was still far from being the worldwide-famous director that is now. And neither audiences nor critics really knew what to expect from the film itself, either. Of course, now, it is one of a few films, along with Akira, Ghost in the Shell, and probably My Neighbor Totoro, that often represent the idea of “anime” outside Japan. For that matter, it is also the most “frequently studied” Ghibli film – with, by my count, at least 34 unique “discussions” that have been published so far. And now, Princess Mononoke is the first anime that is the subject of a full edited collection of English-language scholarly essays (the two feature anime that have merited individual book-length studies are Akira and Miyazaki’s Spirited Away – with volumes in Bloomsbury’s BFI Film Classics series). So, what does Understanding Studio Ghibli’s Monster Princess actually add to the literature – what is the reason for this book, and for its specific shape, form, and structure?

The first part of this question is very easy to answer – Rayna Denison, the volume’s editor, does an excellent job of outlining it in the opening chapter, “Introducing Studio Ghibli’s Monster Princess: From Mononokehime to Princess Mononoke“. Mononokehime/Princess Mononoke, Denison notes, “became a ‘monster’ film event” and “marked changes in the Japanese animation industry” – as well as a major shift in the course of Miyazaki’s career, his standing as an animator and director, and his worldwide perception and status. Another factor that presents itself particularly well for analysis is the film’s “lasting global cultural presence”. And overall, its “verdant and varied cultural legacy and history” simply mean that open the possibility for a variety of different scholarly approaches. Continue reading

Anime/Manga Studies Article Publication Trends – A 2018 Update

Two years ago, I examined the “publication trends” in anime/manga studies by tracking the actual number of articles on anime/manga that have appeared in English-language academic journals starting in 1993 and through 2015. At that point, I was able to identify 965 such articles – though of course, the determination of what exactly constitutes an “anime/manga studies” article is ultimately subjective. And, as I continue the work of compiling the Annual Bibliography of Anime and Manga Studies, I am also able to extend this analysis forward to the present.

English-language academic articles on anime/manga, by year, 2015-2018:

2015: 91
2016: 101
2017: 91
2018 (to date): 86

Total: 369 Continue reading

American Anime Fans – An Initial Research Guide

An easy way to approach the presence of anime and manga in the U.S. is to think about “firsts” – the first Japanese animated film to be screened in American movie theaters, the first Japanese cartoon aired on American television, the first anime released on home video, the first published manga, the first anime convention, and so on. And there is certainly a lot of value to identifying these kinds of firsts and establishing the history of anime/manga in the U.S. For anime in particular, for example, Brian Ruh has done excellent work in this area with “Early Japanese animation in the United States: Changing Tetsuwan Atomu to Astro Boy”, in The Japanification of Children’s Popular Culture: From Godzilla to Miyazaki (pp. 209-226) and Transforming U.S. anime in the 1980s: Localization and longevity (Mechademia, v. 5: Fanthropologies, pp. 31-49).

But, what kind of research is out there on the “present” state of anime in the U.S., especially, on the audience for anime in the U.S.? In fact, a few days ago, I came across just such a request for recommended articles or other scholarship specifically on American anime fans. I immediately realized that there are actually very few out there – compared to commentary on particular fan activities and practices, such as anime music videos, cosplay, fan fiction, and fan subs. So, I think it will be useful to list several that I am aware of and can readily recommend.

To begin, for any understanding of American anime fans, a key source are a pair of essays by Lawrence Eng:

Strategies of engagement: Discovering, defining, and describing otaku culture in the United States. (pp. 85-104). Continue reading

Kumoricon 2018 Anime and Manga Studies – Final Schedule

Kumoricon logoFor the first time, the program for this year’s Kumoricon anime convention, which will run from Friday, October 26 to Sunday, October 28 at the Oregon Convention Center is going to include a track of academic panels and lectures under the heading Kumoricon Anime and Manga Studies (KAMS). As described by its organizers, “KAMS is a new series of programming featuring academic panels and lectures, hosted at Kumoricon, with the goal of bringing together anime and manga scholars and fans and exposing the discipline’s insights to a larger audience of enthusiasts. Our 2018 presenters hail from 11 different universities from 3 different countries.”

The Call for Papers for KAMS was distributed starting in April of this year – the resulting program is as follows:

Kumoricon Anime and Manga Studies – Intertextual Anime Continue reading

Academic Hoaxes, “Sokal Squared”, and Anime and Manga Studies

It is rare to see any kind of discussion of academic publishing in mainstream media. Probably predictably, if academic journals are mentioned in general-interest newspapers it is probably because of some kind of controversy. And this is currently the case with the “Sokal Squared” hoax and the responses to it.

The hoax itself, as disclosed in Academic Grievance Studies and the Corruption of Scholarship, was a project by three authors to write academic papers that were “outlandish or intentionally broken in significant ways”, including outright fabrication of data, but that allegedly “blend in almost perfectly with others in the disciplines [“loosely known as ‘cultural studies’ or ‘identity studies’ (for example, gender studies) or ‘critical theory'”] under our consideration” and submit these papers to leading journals. They submitted 20 papers; 7 were accepted, and 4 actually published. Since it was disclosed earlier in the month, the hoax has been covered extensively – in The Atlantic, the New York Times, Vox, and other publications. As the authors claim, the goal of the project was to study a “peculiar academic culture”, rather than to make and support any specific arguments beyond the general statement that “in certain fields within the humanities…scholarship based less upon finding truth and more upon attending to social grievances has become firmly established.”

The question I have to ask, of course, is what lessons, if any, does this latest hoax have for anime and manga studies in general, and for anyone interested in academic publications on anime/manga and related topics? Continue reading