Book Review – Manga: Introduction, Challenges, and Best Practices

Manga - IntroductionEditor: Melinda Beasi
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics (Milwaukee, OR)
ISBN: 1616552786 / 9781616552787

U.S. comics companies first began publishing translated versions of Japanese comics (manga) in the late 1980’s. Since then, the manga market has evolved, reached amazing heights (in the spring of 2007, a volume of Fruits Basket rose to the no. 15 spot on the weekly USA Today list of the nation’s top 150 best-selling books), contracted – and, for the last several years, has been on an upswing again. Manga volumes hold five places in the latest ranking of the top twenty graphic novels of all types sold in the U.S., as compiled by Nielsen BookScan and reported by ICv2.com. When, earlier this year, the Young Adult Library Services Association announced its annual Great Graphic Novels for Teens list, manga – Japanese comics –  accounted for 15 titles on the list, out of a total of 112. And, as Danielle Rich demonstrates in The institutionalization of Japanese comics in US public libraries (2000-2010), and Glenn Masuchika and Gail Boldt do in Japanese manga in translation and American graphic novels: A preliminary examination of the collections in 44 academic libraries, both public and academic libraries have very much embraced manga.

Of course, while many librarians are already familiar with manga, many are still not. So, what kinds of sources can they draw on to get a basic understanding of what exactly the term encompasses, what are some of its particular features, and how manga differ from American comics. At the height of the “manga boom” – ten years ago now, the specialized publisher Libraries Unlimited met this information need with Graphic Novels: A Genre Guide to Comic Books, Manga, and More and Understanding Manga and Anime, a pair of fairly comprehensive reference volumes designed specifically for librarians. But, while certainly useful, both are now rather dated. Plus of course, both of them may simply cover more ground than a librarian interested only in manga would need. Another option is to consider any one of the edited essay collections on manga that have appeared in recent years, such as Japanese Visual Culture: Explorations in the World of Manga and Anime, Mangatopia: Essays on Manga and Anme in the Modern World, and Manga: An Anthology of Global and Cultural Perspectives. Again, though, an academic essay that is a close reading of the work of a particular manga artist or a study of particular themes across several manga may not really be of any use to a reference librarian or to one working in collection development. Finally, librarians who work with manga have published quite a few case studies in professional magazines, but as with any case study, these focus on activities that took place in particular, specific environments, and may not necessarily yield themselves to replication in other settings.

So, what may be useful for librarians – in addition to all of these kinds of materials – is a relatively concise introduction to Japanese comics that would also be written specifically for a librarian audience. And, as it turns out, Manga: Introduction, Challenges, and Best Practices, published by Dark Horse Comics, itself a leading English-language publisher of Japanese comics, with financial support provided by the Comics Book Legal Defense Fund, “a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the First Amendment rights of the comics medium”, and drawing on the expertise of a group of journalists, librarians, and manga industry professionals, is exactly this kind of book.

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Highlighting New Publications – Rewriting History in Manga

rewriting-historyPopular culture works across different languages and different media – literature, film, television, and comics – frequently draw on historical events for their subjects. In turn, how popular culture uses history is a frequent topic of scholarship in its own right – just some recent examples include American History and Contemporary Hollywood Film, Gone With the Glory: The Civil War in Cinema, and Screening the Past: Film and the Representation of History. And Japanese popular culture is not an exception here – anime and manga also often depict historical incidents and events. These depictions range from the fairly realistic to the unapologetically fanciful – and, again, present obvious “points of entry” for scholars. Jaqueline Berndt’s approach, in “Historical adventures of a post-historical medium: Japan’s wartime past as represented in manga”, is straight-forward. Wendy Hardenberg’s, in Transcending the victim’s history: Takahata Isao’s Grave of the Fireflies, focuses on how “history” is created and the different types or forms of “history”. Andrea Horbinski, in “Record of dying days: The alternate history of Ooku” (in Mechademia, vol. 10), highlights the ways that manga has explored “alternate history”. In fact, just three years ago, Routledge published a full collection of essays on “manga and the representation of Japanese history”. And now, another major publisher, Palgrave Macmillan, is exploring this topic again with Rewriting History in Manga: Stories for the Nation.

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Highlighting New Publications – Manga Vision

One thing I have always found a bit curious about English-language academic writing on Japanese animation and comics is that while anime has been the subject of a number of full-length books, such as Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke, The Anime Machine: A Media Theory of Animation, Frames of Anime: Culture and Image-Building, Anime: A History, and, just last year, Anime: A Critical Introduction, the last general/comprehensive book on manga published in English has been Frederik Schodt’s 1996 Dreamland Japan – the ones that have appeared since are either introductions like the Rough Guide to Manga, or more focused titles such as A Sociology of Japanese Ladies’ Comics and Straight from the Heart: Gender, Intimacy, and the Cultural Production of Shojo Manga.

At the same time, every year, plenty of other writing on manga does appear – in the form of articles in various scholarly journals and chapters in edited collections. In fact, several collections deal with manga specifically – among them are Manga: An Anthology of Global and Cultural Perspectives, Manga’s Cultural Crossroads, Manga and the Representation of Japanese History, and International Perspectives on Shojo and Shojo Manga: The Influence of Girl Culture. Now, one more such collection can be added to the list of English-language academic books on Japanese comics.

Manga VisionManga Vision: Cultural and Communicative Perspectives

Editors: Sarah Pasfield-Neofitou and Cathy Sell
Publisher: Monash University Publishing (Australia)
ISBN: 978-1-925377-06-4

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Manga Studies in the 2016 Eisner Nominations

2016 Eisner AwardsRecently, the judging panel for the 2016 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, which will be presented in July at Comic-Con International: San Diego and serve to “[highlight] the best publications and creators in comics and graphic novels” from around the world announced this year’s slate of nominees. As has been the case for years now, manga titles are only honored in the Best U.S. Edition of International Material – Asia category. But, for the first time, a book on Japanese comics has received a Best Scholarly/Academic Work nomination.

Boys Love Manga and BeyondBoys Love Manga and Beyond: History, Culture, and Community in Japan is published by the University Press of Mississippi – which has already contributed significantly to anime/manga studies with God of Comics: Osamu Tezuka and the Creation of Post World War II Manga (2009) and Japanese Animation: East Asian Perspectives (2013). It has been particularly active in comics studies in general – in fact, every year since the Eisners first introduced an award category for academic books on comics in 2012, at least one of their titles has received a nomination.

 

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Annual Bibliography of Anime and Manga Studies – 2004 Ed.

Stray Dog - 1st Ed.2004 marked another year of steady growth in the number of academic English-language publications on anime and manga. One clear highlight was Stray Dog of Anime: The Films of Mamoru Oshii, the first book-length examination of the works of an anime director other than Miyazaki. Interestingly, it grew out of work that its author, Brian Ruh, completed while he was a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, studying under Susan Napier, already the author of 2001’s Anime From Akira to Miyazaki: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation.

Pikachu's Global AdventureThe one relevant essay collection published in 2004 – Pikachu’s Global Adventure: The Rise and Fall of Pokemon – is notable immediately for its rather unfortunate title. As the years since have shown, 2004 was clearly too early to talk about a “fall of Pokemon”. Having said that, the book itself was certainly timely, and included a very wide range of approaches to the “Pokemon phenomenon” in Japan and around the world, such as an excellent case study of the process of “localizing the Pokemon TV series for the American market”. Perhaps because of its timeliness – and maybe because it was coming from a high-profile academic publisher (Duke University Press), it received favorable reviews in several different academic journals, such as Popular Communication, Social Science Japan Journal, and The Journal of Asian Studies.

The 45 articles on anime/manga that were published in 2004 in English-language academic journals were spread out over 33 different journals. The International Journal of Comic Art published 5, Femspec, another 3, and 6 journals had two articles each, with 25 others only publishing one. Some of the journals that accepted publications on anime/manga in 2004 included English Journal, M/C: A Journal of Media and Communication, Publishing Research Quarterly, Refractory: A Journal of Entertainment Media, and Sex Roles.

Only 6 of the articles (13%) appeared in journals published by for-profit publishers, rather than university presses, academic departments, or non-profit organizations. 20 of the articles were published in open-access journals or are now available in open access. And, two of the 45 articles are particularly worth highlighting:

Oishinbo’s adventures in eating: Food, communication and culture in Japanese comics, by Laurie Brau deserves the award – if there was ever such an award – for appearing in the most unlikely subject-specific academic journal to accept a paper on anime/manga. It was published in Gastronomica: The Journal of Critical Food Studies.

In The creative commons (Montana Law Review), Lawrence Lessig, then a professor of law at Stanford University, and recently, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for President, specifically uses dojinshi as an example of the kind of creativity that can only flourish when it is not subject to the kind of burdensome copyright regime that is currently in place in the U.S.

English-language books, book chapters, and academic journal articles on anime/manga – 2004

This list is also permanently archived as a separate page. Any additional items will be added to the archived list only.

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Highlighting New Publications: Global Manga

Global Manga: “Japanese” Comics Without Japan?, the new essay collection, edited by City University London’s Casey Brienza, on the “global cultural phenomenon” of comics that may be presented as manga but are not actually created in Japan, is now available for purchase in hard-cover and e-book formats.

*** Special discount: 50% off (hard-cover only) ***

Dr. Brienza introduces the essays with Manga Without Japan?, an overview of the emergence of “original” (i.e., non-Japanese) manga, largely in response to market pressures and conditions. This essay provides working definitions of both “global manga” and “manga” in general, surveys the current state of “cultural production” of global manga around the world – in the U.S. and Canada, in Europe, and in South America, and approaches the underlying question of how to consider manga/global manga – as styles, as marketing functions or labels, or even as “tools” deployed in support of particular activities. Ultimately, as she points out, just some of the questions this book highlights – and that should be involved in any discussion about manga, whether in Japan or elsewhere, include:

  • What do the fields of cultural production of “global manga” look like?
  • Why and under what sorts of conditions do they arise and flourish?
  • Who gets to decide what counts as “manga,” and who benefits from that decision?
  • What are global manga’s implications for contemporary economies of cultural and creative labor?
  • What does it mean…for manga to be “authentically” Japanese and what, precisely, is at stake?

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Call for Proposals – “Critical Approaches to Comics Artists – Osamu Tezuka”

UPM LogoThe University Press of Mississippi has consistently been one of the most active publishers of English-language scholarship on comics, including manga. UPM is now accepting proposals for books in a series of collections of “original, multidisciplinary essays by established and emerging scholars on a major cartoonist or graphic novelist.” And, one of the cartoonists/graphic novelists that the call for proposals specifically identifies as being of interest is “God of Manga” Osamu Tezuka. Continue reading

Highlighting New Publications: Boys Love Manga and Beyond

Boys Love Manga and BeyondAs a particular genre in Japanese comics (and to a lesser degree, animation), Boys’ Love and the related generic/content label of yaoi has attracted significant scholarly attention from English-language scholars of Japanese popular visual culture. Boys’ Love, often abbreviated to BL, refers to texts with homosexual or at least homoerotic romance themes, created primarily by, and primarily for women. Yaoi is used generally for explicitly pornographic fan-created works, depicting sex between male partners, and using characters from established media properties such as novels, films, and anime/manga. Some of the ways that scholars are writing on BL/yaoi can be seen in book chapters such as Suzuki, Kazuko (1998), Pornography or therapy?: Japanese girls creating the yaoi phenomon, in S. Inness (Ed.), Millennium girls: Today’s girls around the world (pp. 243-267), and McHarry, Mark. Girls doing boys doing boys: Boys’ love, masculinity, and sexual identities, in T. Perper & M. Cornog (Eds.), Mangatopia: Essays on manga and anime in the modern world (pp. 119-133), and journal articles like Welker, James (2006), Beautiful, borrowed, and bent: “Boys’ Love” as girls’ love in shojo manga, Signs, 31(3), 841-870, McLelland, Mark (2006), Why are Japanese girls’ comics full of boys bonking? Refractory: A Journal of Entertainment Media, 10, and Pagliassotti, Dru (2008), Reading Boys Love in the West, Particip@tions: Journal of Audience and Reception Studies, 5(2). In addition, out of the less a dozen edited collections of essays on anime/manga that have been published in English before this year, one specifically focuses on “Boys’ Love manga”.

The publication by the University Press of Mississippi of Boys Love Manga and Beyond: History, Culture, and Community in Japan now brings the number of English-language essay collections on shounen-ai/Boys Love/BL/yaoi to two. And the obvious question is – what makes this essay collection unique. Is it anyhow different from the already-published five years ago now Boys’ Love Manga: Essays on the Sexual Ambiguity and Cross-Cultural Fandom of the Genre (Jefferson, NC: McFarland), or is it just more of the same?

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