Exclusive Preview – Cambridge Companion to Manga and Anime

In the opening pages of the introduction to the textbook Introducing Japanese Popular Culture, first published in 2018 and last year updated in a second edition, the book’s editors call Japanese popular culture studies “a field in formation”. Support for this assertion is easy to find. Scholarly writing on anime, manga, and other categories of Japanese popular culture continues to expand. Just recently, a major research university announced a search for an “Assistant Professor in Japanese contemporary literature and culture – with interdisciplinary research and teaching interests in manga and animé”. For the first time, the winner of the Best Academic/Scholarly Work category at the Eisner Awards is a volume on Japanese comics! And even a quick search of college course lists will demonstrate that Asian/East Asian Studies departments now commonly offer classes on Japanese popular culture!

And now, we can now add another major development to all of these, with the announcement by Cambridge University Press of plans to publish, later this year, The Cambridge Companion to Manga and Anime. Edited by the leading manga scholar Jaqueline Berndt (Stockholm University), and bringing together the work of almost 20 authors, this Companion intends to position itself as a “dialogue on the study of manga and anime” that can serve to specifically introduce questions for further discussion and topics for further research.

For that matter, this kind of book can be many things. Previous publications, especially Japanese Visual Culture: Explorations in the World of Manga and Anime (2008) and Mangatopia: Essays on Manga and Anime in the Modern World (2011) were largely just collections of individual essays, without much of an overarching theme. The emphasis, if there was any, was on the unique features of particular manga and anime. The organizing principle here, on the other hand, is the idea of “forms” – not just anime and manga themselves as forms, but also of a broad scope of forms that are relevant to both manga and anime. What this “form-conscious” approach means is that the Companion is first and foremost a collection of studies of “visuals, voices and storytelling”, the roles of the different parties involve in manga/anime production, and, ultimately, audiences and fans.

…this volume offers a lively and accessible introduction, exploring the local contexts of manga and anime production, distribution, and reception in Japan, as well as the global influence and impact of these versatile media

At the same time, the Companion also makes some specific statements that are key to how any discussion about anime and manga even develops. In this way, right in the book’s opening chapter, Prof. Berndt takes the position that while “Manga is often translated as Japanese comics, just as anime is frequently defined as Japanese animation”, for the purposes of this book, “manga and anime” refer to particular kinds of Japanese comics and animation – “corporate productions published in specialized venues and formats: not American-modeled “comic books” but magazines, trade paperbacks (tankōbon), and webtoons in the case of manga; TV series and related franchise movies of drawing-based animation in the case of anime…”


Call for Papers – Mechademia: Second Arc, 18.2 “Studio Ghibli”

Japanese animation is many things. On the very first page of the excellent Anime: A Critical Introduction, animation scholar Rayna Denison uses the phrase “a shifting, sliding category of media production”, and further in the same book Dr. Denison also refers to anime as a “cultural phenomenon”. But outside Japan, and especially in Western media, Japanese animation is (still) often synonymous with the persona of Hayao Miyazaki and the films he has directed at Studio Ghibli. In fact, Jaqueline Berndt specifically points to this as one of the shortcomings in contemporary scholarly approaches to Japanese animation, writing that “Non-Japanese scholars tend to assume that [Hayao Miyazaki’s] movies are typical of anime as a whole because of their mere presence in Japan”.

But just because some of these assumptions may be incorrect, does not mean that all of them are. Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli are the subjects of almost 20 English-language scholarly books, from Helen McCarthy’s Hayao Miyazaki: Master of Japanese Animation – Films, Themes, Artistry, which will be celebrating its 25th anniversary later this year, to last year’s – and very different in scope and in tone Studio Ghibli: An Industrial History (also by Prof. Denison), as well as a full collection of essays on Princess Mononoke, and two different entries in the BFI Film Classics line of handbooks (on Grave of the Fireflies and on Spirited Away). Miyazaki and Ghibli have also been the subjects of a special section in the Journal of Ecocritical Humanities, and other essays discussing particular aspects of and approaches to Ghibli films, or comparing them to other works, such as non-Japanese animations – appear frequently in edited essay collections and peer-reviewed journals – an excellent recent example is Miyazaki’s monstrous mother: A study of Yubaba in Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away, in a recent issue of Feminist Media Studies.

Now, it appears that plans are underway for another major contribution to Miyazaki/Ghibli studies, with a dedicated “Studio Ghibli” issue of Mechademia: Second Arc, set for a Summer 2026 publication date. Prof. Denison will serve as one of the editors, joined by Dr. Jaqueline Ristola (University of Bristol).

One of the goals of the issue will be to significantly expand the potential critical approaches to undertake in connection with Ghibli, such as “investigations into the studio’s wider politics, its industrial activities, and cultural impact in Japan and around the world”.

Papers for the issues can address topics such as:

  • New theoretical approaches to studying Hayao Miyazaki’s films
  • Analyses of Japanese academic approaches to Studio Ghibli
  • Sound and Studio Ghibli films
  • Studio Ghibli’s animation aesthetics – e.g. background art, CG aesthetics, hand-drawn animation
  • Studio Ghibli’s other directors (Isao Takahata, Yoshifumi Kondō, Gorō Miyazaki, Tomomi Mochizuki, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, etc.)
  • Producers at Studio Ghibli (Toshio Suzuki, Yoshiaki Nishimura, Eiko Tanaka, etc.)
  • Studio Ghibli CEOs/Leaders (Toshio Suzuki, Koji Hoshino, Yasuyoshi Tokuma, etc.)
  • Studio Ghibli’s below the line workers (animators, inbetweeners, colorists, etc.)
  • Studio Ghibli’s Art Museum and the Ghibli Park
  • Advertising, partnerships, sponsors and Studio Ghibli
  • Studio Ghibli’s environmental activism

Authors are invited to submit essays of between 5,000 and 7,000 words. The submission deadline for the issue is July 1, 2024.

Full details about the CFP are available on the Mechademia website.

Call for Papers – Mechademia: Second Arc, 18.1 “Death and Other Endings”

In the classic study Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation, Susan Napier identifies “the apocalyptic” as one of the three major “modes” of Japanese animation. But this is a relatively narrow approach – a much broader one would move to consider both East Asian popular culture products, expressions, and activities in general, and a more abstract idea of “endings”. And it it this approach that Mechademia: Second Arc is proposing for the upcoming Volume 18.1, currently set for publication in the Winter of 2025 with Prof. Anne Allison (Duke University) serving as the issue’s editor.

“Death and Other Endings” seeks papers that address the subject of endings of whatever kind, embedded in conditions of current times, and given a particular narrative, portrayal, or form in popular/media culture.

Some potential topics for the issue can include (the list is not exhaustive):

  • Technological imaginaries and/or development in end-of-life or postmortem care (robots, AI)
  • Surveillance and security apparati used to “end” various threats to public safety
  • Recovery or memorialization following national disasters (3.11 or others)
  • Global warming and/or environmental justice: effects of and activism around climate disaster
  • Shifts in life-stage and life-cycle: What are the “ends” driving social aspirations and lives today?
  • Temporality in an age of never-ending digitality and online connectedness
  • What do reports of sexlessness, disconnection, and solo sociality signal in terms of endings and /or beginnings of desire, sexuality, or relationality?
  • National borders, border-crossing, and (non)citizenship: What is the biopolitics of life, whose lives are valued (and whose is not), is there a necropolitics “ending” certain bodies?
  • How are apocalyptic, end-time or dystopic stories particular to Japan?
  • What has “ended” in the way of work, family, reproduction, and growth today, and is this ending something to mourn?

Authors are invited to submit essays of between 5,000 and 7,000 words. The submission deadline for the issue is July 1, 2024.

Full details about the CFP are available on the Mechademia website.

Call for Papers – AX 2024 Academic Symposium: Edo Japan

Usually – and by their nature – academic conferences are not open to general, non-academic audiences, and for that matter, not really intended for them. But at the same time, nothing requires academic discussions to exclude the public, especially when members of the public may be interested in the same themes and topics that scholars are. And it is this understanding that lies at the heart of the Academic Program track at the Anime Expo convention, the largest in the U.S. I first proposed this track in 2011, and was its Executive Producer through 2017. And now, for 2024, the Academic Symposium is once again accepting submissions for papers with a “scholarly perspective on anime, manga, cosplay, and their fandoms”.

The theme of AX 2024 is Edo Japan, and authors are encouraged – but not required – to consider it. Proposals can address topics and subjects such as:

  • Japanese culture, past and present
  • Japanese festivals and holidays
  • Japan as Place, modern or historical
  • Performing artists like geisha
  • Histories of Japan, real or imagined

So, if you are studying a topic related to anime/manga, and want to share your research with a general, non-academic audience, here is your chance!

For consideration, submit a title, 150-word abstract, and short bio by the April 19 abstract submission deadline. All selected participants will be offered complimentary admission to AX.

Additional details (H-Net Network on Japanese History and Culture)

Online Symposium – Queer and Feminist Perspectives on Japanese Popular Cultures

The full schedule is now available for the upcoming online symposium Queer and Feminist Perspectives on Japanese Popular Cultures, organized by a team of scholars from Concordia University (Canada), UNSW Sydney (Australia) and Tulane University (USA), and supported by the Media, Gender and Sexualities Study Group (University of Tokyo). The goal of the symposium is to explore points of contact between Japanese popular culture broadly defined – including anime/manga, videogames, fashion, literature, and other fields and areas – and feminist studies, with an emphasis on issues of and intersections among gender, sexuality, race, queerness, disability, and class.

Over three days, the symposium will feature more than 20 speakers, representing institutions from the U.S., Canada, Australia, Italy, Japan, and other countries, as well as two keynote addresses. Emory University professor Erika Kanesaka, the creator of the website CuteStudies.com, will speak on the topic of “Cute and the Asian American experience”, and Laura Miller, the Eiichi Shibusawa-Seigo Arai Endowed Professor of Japanese Studies, University of St. Louis-Missouri, will speak to “Taking Girls Seriously”. Dr. Miller is the author of Beauty Up: Exploring Contemporary Japanese Body Aesthetics (University of California Press, 2006) and co-editor of, among other titles, Manners and Mischief: Gender, Power, and Etiquette in Japan (University of California Press, 2011) and Modern Girls on the Go: Gender, Mobility, and Labor in Japan (Stanford University Press, 2013). Just some of the articles on Japanese popular culture she has written include Extreme makeover for a Heian-era wizard, Japan’s Cinderella motif: Beauty industry and mass culture interpretations of a popular icon, Behavior that offends: Comics and other images of incivility, and Rebranding Himiko, the shaman queen of ancient history.

The symposium is free, but registration is required, and a Zoom link will be sent to all individuals who register for the event.

April 15

5:30 p.m. – 6:45 p.m.
BL and queer studies

  • A utopian poetics of female observers inside/out in BL Manga
    Marianne Tarcov (McGill University)
    Emma Wang
  • Who put the ♂ in M♂M? Locating the breedable male body in shōshika BL
    Yoshika Han
    Jaclyn Zhou (University of California, Berkeley)
  • The bishōnen as void, and void again: Understanding Rio Kishida’s Summer Vacation 1999 through a framework of zero
    River Seager

‘Cats, Single Ladies, and Manga: Feminist Fantasies of Cohabitation in East Asian Discourses’ lecture

Over the past ten or so years, the Japanese program at Baruch College (City University of New York) has hosted a series of mini-seminars and talks by individual speakers on topics related to Japanese animation and comics. The series started in 2015 with Globalized Manga Culture and Fandom and continued with Alt Manga: Alternative Manga Symposium (April 2016), Manga/Comics and Translation (April 2017), Manga/Comics against Human Trafficking (April 2018), and, in 2019, Untold History of Japanese Comics: Prewar and LGBTQ+ Manga. And, after an understandable hiatus, it has continued, with the latest one scheduled for next week.

The speaker, Dr. Grace En-Yi Ting is an assistant professor in the gender studies programme, The University of Hong Kong, and author of, among other publications, the essay The desire and disgust of sweets: Consuming femininities through shōjo manga (U.S.-Japan Women’s Journal) and the Gender, manga, and anime chapter in the Routledge Companion ot Gender and Japanese Culture. Entitled Cats, Single Ladies, and Manga: Feminist Fantasies of Cohabitation in East Asian Discourse, the talk is an examination of Japanese popular culture’s approach to themes of “heteronormative pressures regarding marriage and reproduction”, as expressed in particular in the manga The Masterful Cat is Depressed Again Today and its 2023 anime adaptation.

Thursday, April 4
12:50 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Baruch College
55 Lexington Ave, VC-4-165
New York, NY 10010)

The talk is open to members of the Baruch community and the general public, but registration is required. Additional details and the registration link are available on the Baruch Japanese Program website.

Comment/Response – “Do female anime fans exist?”…

Any kind of writing about anime will at some point have to consider anime’s audiences and their activities and practices. And in fact, studies that ask questions like “what anime fans do, and how, and why” are prominent in the field. As far back as 1994, writing for the journal Bad Subjects: Political Education for Everyday Life, Annalee Newitz examined “Japanese animation fans outside Japan“, and in 2001’s Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation, Susan Napier devoted an appendix to the topic of “Western audiences and Japanese animation”. Other notable studies include Brent Allison’s chapter “Interviews with adolescent anime fans” (in The Japanification of Children’s Popular Culture: From Godzilla to Miyazaki and Lawrence Eng’s Strategies of engagement: Discovering, defining and describing otaku culture in the United States (in Fandom Unbound: Otaku Culture in a Connected World), as well as the full monograph Anime Fan Communities: Transcultural Flows and Frictions, by Sandra Annett.

The history of anime fans outside Japan can be traced to at least the 1980’s, if not earlier. Now that this history is established, the conditions are in place for scholarship that engages with the history critically. And one such recent engagement is the essay by Aurélie Petit (Concordia University) that examines the discussions that took place in early anime fan communities, and argues that these discussions have played a major role in shaping how anime fans interact between themselves and with the “external” world, and to some extent how the idea, concept, and image of the “anime fan” is now defined.

Petit, Aurélie (2022) “Do female anime fans exist?” The impact of women-exclusionary discourses on rec.arts.anime. Internet Histories, 6(4), 352-368.

anime is still synonymous with far-right ideologies of white and male supremacy

“Do female anime fans exist?”…, p. 353

Highlighting New Publications – JAMS v. 4

When it first launched in 2020, the open-access Journal of Anime and Manga Studies represented a major new development in the establishment of anime and manga studies as a defined academic field. Since the launch, it clearly thrived, with each new issue a range of new authors, and covering a diverse array of topics under the general umbrella of Japanese animation and comics. JAMS’ latest volume (2023) was formally released on December 3, and its eight articles once again do a great job of representing some of the most innovative scholarly writing on anime/manga that is currently available in English. And – all of it is free to read!

The issue opens with a letter from the JAMS editor-in-chief, summarizing the year’s developments and activities for the journal, the most prominent among them the Mechademia/JAMS track of scholarly presentations held as a part of the year’s Anime Expo convention. The letter also highlights the continuing upward trends in the journal’s readership, to over 2,000 pageviews per month at the conclusion of 2023, as well as the journal’s top five most read articles – the leader by far is A Survey of the Story Elements of Isekai Manga (volume 2) – currently, the 4th-ranking result in Google Scholar for a search for the term “isekai”, and the first result that is an actual peer-reviewed article.

The volume’s main section opens with Inclusive Media Mix: Shaping Communication through A Silent Voice. In this essay, Yuta Kaminishi (Habib Institute for Asian Studies, University of Idaho) expands the concept of the “Japanese media mix” that Marc Steinberg proposes and applies it to activities of different types – and involving different participants – than those that Steinberg envisions.


Interview with the Anime Scholar – Dr. Bill Ellis

Several weeks ago, the American Folklore Society, the leading organization for the study and advancement of folklore and expressive cultural traditions wordwide, broadly defined, announced that its 2023 Lifetime Achievement Award was being bestowed on Dr. Bill Ellis, emeritus professor, Pennsylvania State University. Dr. Ellis is a pre-eminent folklore scholar – and, over the last fifteen years, he has written extensively on the intersections between folklore in general and fairy tales specifically, and anime/manga. Some of his major publications in this area include the chapter “Folklore and gender inversion in Cardcaptor Sakura”, in the 2009 essay collection The Japanification of Children’s Popular Culture, one of the first English-language studies of that particular manga, as well as The fairy-telling craft of Princess Tutu: Metacommentary and the folkloresque, and the chapter Anime and manga: The influence of Tale Type 510B on Japanese manga/anime in the Routledge Companion to Media and Fairy Tale Cultures. Dr. Ellis also contributed the “Anime and manga” section to the Greenwood Publishing Group reference volume Youth Cultures in America.

And, to mark this, I am extremely excited to be able to sit down with Dr. Ellis, and to hear his thoughts on anime, manga, and folklore all fit together!

MK: As an experienced and established folklore scholar, how did you become interested in Japanese comics?

Bill Ellis: To begin with, I should note that I have always been seen as something of an outsider in folklore studies.  My training was in and English program, rather than folklore studies per se, notably Medieval English literature and the American Renaissance.  I was hired by a small campus of Penn State University (freshmen and sophomores only) on the basis of my experience in teaching remedial composition and my work with Ohio State’s Center for Textual Studies, which was preparing a standard edition of everything (yes, everythingI) written by the author Nathaniel Hawthorne.  I edited two volumes of his business letters written when he was American consul at Liverpool and contributed to four other volumes of letters and notebooks.  On the strength of that, I earned tenure from Penn State, which considered my work in folklore a whimsical and irrelevant digression from “mainstream” research.

My first awareness of the anime/manga came in the late 90s by way of my teenaged daughter, who for a time dated a boy who was a fan of Dragon Ball Z.

By disposition I was always something of a lone-walker, doing things not because one gained academic credit by doing so, but because I thought the topics important for some reason.  Examples of these off-beat topics included alien abductions, adolescents’ legend-trips, Satanic cult rumors and panics, topical black humor referencing disasters (e.g., Challenger Shuttle jokes and later the much larger corpus of September 11 humor), and Facebook games.


Manga Subgenres – The GNCRT View

How do we categorize different kinds of Japanese comics? What categories or labels do we use? For that matter, who even decides what categories or labels we even have access to? These questions are provocative, but as it turns out, they are not rhetorical. Outside Japan, and particularly in the U.S., there are actually specific organizations that are tasked with assigning labels to different kinds of published materials, and probably the most important organization of this type is the Library of Congress. Unless you are somehow involved with the Library of Congress classification system in your work, or have studied it in a library/information science graduate program, the activity of the Library of Congress that are you probably most familiar with is the system of terms to organize entries in library catalogs both by subject and by genre.

Since November 2022, “manga” has been included on the approved Library of Congress list of terms as both a subject heading (for materials about manga) and a genre term – for actual manga titles. And, as it turns out, last year, the Metadata and Cataloging Committee of the American Library Association Graphic Novels and Comics Round Table presented a proposal to the Library of Congress endorsing the establishment of several specific terms that would apply to “manga subgenres”. In particular, the Committee endorsed four broad terms, with these potential recommended descriptions:

  • shonen: “Manga emphasizing action and adventure, often with slapstick humor, a journey featuring personal growth, heroes with spiky hairstyles ,and themes of friendship, determination, and teamwork.”
  • shojo: “Manga emphasizing personal feelings and emotions, often centered on relationships, with a distinctive artistic style featuring lithe characters and big eyes, decorative panel dividers and layered panels.”
  • Boys love: “Romance manga with beautiful, androgynous male leads, featuring exclusive mutual attraction and a plot driven by emotion and psychological obstacles. For comics about realistic gay experiences, see Gay comics.”
  • Yuri: “Manga depicting the homosocial, spiritual bonds and relationships between adolescent girls, often with a floral motif of lilies. For comics about the lesbian experience, see Lesbian comics.”