At this point, what do we definitely know about Dani Cavallaro? She is the author of at least 22 books, including 13 on anime. These books are available at many academic libraries – the OCLC FirstSearch database indicates that more than 500 own copies of The Anime Art of Hayao Miyazaki. And her work has been acknowledged by other scholars. But what do we know about Dani Cavallaro the person? What is her academic background? How is she actually qualified to write about Japanese animation and comics?
And, more importantly, how have readers evaluated her work?
Comments on the Anime and Manga Research Circle mailing list about Cavallaro include:
“I’ve only skimmed a couple of her books and found them unimpressive to say the least, and would never rely on her work in my own writing. She just seems to be, at best, summarizing other people’s scholarship at a fast-and-furious pace…There’s so much good, original research out there now, there’s no point in having students using what is, in effect, a one-person Wikipedia in print.”
“Her scholarship is dubious, at best; she ‘borrows’ from other scholars without proper accreditation; and her prose is jargony, convoluted, vapid, and incomprehensible.”
And – from a published author who is nowhere near as mysterious as she is:
“I just got a copy of Dani Cavallaro’s new book on Oshii’s films. For now I’ll just say that if (close) imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then some parts of her book compliment me highly… (Sans credit or citation, of course.)”
And those are just comments from readers. What about scholars who have actually tried to draw on Cavallaro’s work in their own?
In their essay Hoodwinked! and Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade: Animated “Little Red Riding Hood” films and the Rashômon Effect (Marvels & Tales: Journal of Fairy-Tale Studies, 27:1, pp. 89-108), Pauline Greenhill (women’s and gender studies) and Steven Kohn (criminal justice) – both at the University of Winnipeg – discuss several studies of Jin-Roh, among them, Cavallaro’s Cinema of Mamoru Oshii: Fantasy, Technology, and Politics. They acknowledge her work – but not necessarily her points. For example, the authors note that Cavallaro presents Jin-Roh as “Oshii’s retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood tale from the wolf’s point of view”, and do not agree with this assessment, arguing instead that it is “taking multiple viewpoints and, ultimately, like Rashômon, preferring none.”
More importantly, they specifically point out Cavallaro’s claim that for Jin-Roh, “Oshii chose to adopt the German version of the traditional fairytale, where the little girl herself consumes her mother’s flesh.” They ask Jack Zipes, probably the leading American specialist on fairy tales, to comment on this claim. “Zipes (personal communication, 2012) affirms that no German version does so; nor is there a German version involving the mother rather than grandmother.”
So, maybe the question is something else beyond “who is Dani Cavallaro?” What reasons do we have to trust Dani Cavallaro as an anime scholar. Should we believe what Dani Cavallaro claims in her books? And, for that matter, should we cite her books, read her books, and especially, buy her books?