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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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

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

Papers on Anime/Manga in New Voices in Japanese Studies

New VoicesAs I’ve mentioned several times already, one of the inevitable challenges that faces anyone who is seeking to publish their research on anime/manga in a peer-reviewed academic journal is simply selecting a journal to submit to – especially given that there is nothing out there, at least right now, like a “Journal of Anime/Manga Studies”. One simple approach is to focus on the obvious and submit to one of the journals that focus on animation and comics, another is to emphasize the “Japan” angle and submit to a Japanese or Asian Studies journal. Of course, it is also possible to approach the content of the anime/manga in question first and foremost – with this approach, that the work itself happens to be a Japanese cartoon or comic is essentially irrelevant; an example of this kind of approach is Algorithmic tyranny: Psycho-Pass, science fiction and the criminological imagination, to be published in an forthcoming issue of Crime, Media, Culture: An International Journal.

Nonetheless, all of these approaches call for a familiarity with the ever-growing universe of English-language academic journals. And one journal that I think will be particularly relevant to anyone who is interested in the developing field of anime/manga studies is New Voices in Japanese Studies (originally, New Voices) – “the only journal dedicated to publishing academic research by outstanding graduate-level scholars with a specific focus on Japan.” Continue reading

Resource Review – Reviews of Peer-Reviewed Journals in the Humanities and Social Sciences

The end goal of “academic writing” is not just producing a piece of writing that follows a particular format and style. Rather, the end goal – at least once you as the author are no longer writing simply to fulfill a class requirement – is a piece of writing that can then be published in the form of a book, a chapter in an edited essay collection, or, most likely, an article in an academic journal. But this kind of end goal implies an immediate and obvious question – how do you, as an author of a potential journal article, first go about deciding which journals to submit your paper to?

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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.

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I Want to Know More: Books on Anime/Manga, Part 3 – Essay Collections

The monograph written by a single author and the article published in a peer-reviewed journal are two of the most common forms or formats of academic writing, and the ones that readers are generally the most intuitively familiar with. But they are not the only possible formats – another major one is a collection of essays, organized by a specific editor around a common theme, with contributions from a number of different authors – potentially from different academic fields, and often, different countries. As Brian Erb notes, in Beyond WorldCat: Accessing scholarly output in books and edited monographs “the importance of the edited book chapter for academic output should not be understated”, but of course, beyond simply academic output, there is also the question of the importance of these kinds of collections to readers – especially to readers who are looking for introductions to particular topics, for general overviews of major themes and issues, or for surveys of a variety of range of approaches.

In previous posts, I described some of what I think are the most useful single general books for anyone who is new to the field, and the major titles on specific creators/directors. Now, I would like to continue with this project, and present an overview of the major academic essay collections on anime/manga

Books on Anime/Manga, Part 1: Introductions and Overviews

Books on Anime/Manga, Part 2: Specific Directors/Creators

Books on Anime/Manga, Part 3 – Edited Essay Collections

Cinema Anime: Critical Engagements with Japanese Animation (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006)

Cinema AnimeBy the mid-2000’s, individual chapters on anime had already appeared in more general essay collections, and in 2001, Susan Napier was the first to publish a monograph with “Anime” in the title. Cinema Anime, bringing together nine leading scholars, builds on them by arguing that the only way to interact with anime critically is to consider that anime encompasses a “diversity of approaches”, styles, and modes of distribution – in short, there is no single or “best” way to examine Japanese animation. At the same time, the essays in it can be organized broadly into three groups: one set broadly examines how anime addresses “the politics of identity”, the next, one of anime’s most consistent themes – post-humanism, and the last set, the relationship between anime and cinema broadly defined.

Sample chapter: “Excuse me, who are you?”: Performance, the gaze, and the female in the works of Kon Satoshi

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The Animation Journal – 25 Years of Contribution to Animation Studies

The establishment of one or more focused academic journals is commonly considered to be one of the major features of academic fields – rather than merely “areas of interest”. In this way, the Journal of Asian Studies “has played a defining role in the field of Asian studies for nearly 70 years”, and Japan Forum, Japanese Studies, and the Journal of Japanese Studies have done for that field.

By the time the Animation Journal was founded in 1991, an extensive body of academic writing on animation had existed already. But that journal’s formal launch in the fall of 1992 can be seen as a major point in the development of animation studies as a field – that is now supported by several other journals, a Society for Animation Studies, an Animation subject area at the Popular Culture Association and American Culture Association’s annual conference, and classes on animation commonly offered by film studies departments/programs. Since that first Fall 1992 issue, it has published over 150 articles on animation – including several on Japanese animation specifically.

But, as per an announcement on the AnimationJournal.com website, the 2017 “Special Issue on Italian Animation” is the journal’s final one – “It will be possible to purchase back issues, but no additional essays will be accepted for publication.” Continue reading