One of the inevitable challenges of attempting an academic approach to anime/manga is the simple question of selecting particular works to examine – out of hundreds. In a way, it is this challenge that leads many scholars to limit their discussion of anime to discussions of Hayao Miyazaki’s animated films – if nothing else, this kind of limitation allows them to easily connect such new to the significant amount of scholarship on these films that exist already. Similarly, as Mitsuyo Wada-Marciano points out, scholars who write on anime all too frequently limit their studies to straight-forward textual analysis – this leads to a “marginalization” of anime series that air on television – and, maybe, are just not that interesting from a pure textual analysis point of view.

This is precisely why examples of new contributions to anime studies that do go beyond Miyazaki and a handful of other directors are always worth paying attention to. And one such example appears in the February 2016 issue of the Journal of Popular Culture . The full issue is currently available in open access on its publisher’s website.

Kennell, Amanda. Origin and ownership from ballet to anime. Journal of Popular Culture, 49(1), 10-28.

Princess Tutu“‘Long ago and far away…’ begins each episode of Princess Tutu. An anime steeped in century-old ballets – themselves steeped in older folklore, opera, history, and fairytales – Princess Tutu does not quite fit into an easily recognizable mold. It features a magical girl, or mahō shōjo, but she seems to take a back seat to other characters, and the reward waiting for her at the end of the series is a quiet life as a single duck, rather than as the partner of a handsome prince. The story revolves around a battle between a beloved prince and an evil raven, but the prince first lacks interest in battle and then eventually allies himself with the raven. A young man trying to become a valiant knight plays an important role, yet he becomes most important when he throws away his sword and absents himself from the climactic fight, allowing a wimpy bookworm to defend him valiantly against attack. Finally, a young woman falls in love with the prince, but she is dating him before the series begins and they ride off into the sunset at the end with little change in their relationship. Not a mahō shōjo-type coming-of-age story; not a love story; not, really, the story of a battle between good and evil, Princess Tutu emerges from a frothy ocean of stories without really belonging to any of them. Yet, an in-depth examination of the relationship between Princess Tutu and one of its sources, the ballet Swan Lake, reveals that Princess Tutu is representative of a process of creation common to classic ballets.”

Author: Amanda Kennell is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, University of Southern California.

Source: The Journal of Popular Culture has a long history of publishing scholarship on anime/manga, going back to the 1970’s and 1980’s. Since 2011, at least one such article has appeared in every volume – such as Transnational transformations: A gender analysis of Japanese manga featuring unexpected bodily transformations (August 2012), Blood, biceps, and beautiful eyes: Cultural representations of masculinity in Masami Kuromada’s Saint Seiya (December 2013), and The Rose of Versailles: Women and revolution in girls’ manga and the Socialist movement in Japan (February 2014).

Previous history: The author presented earlier versions of this paper at several conferences, including the 2014 SGMS/Mechademia Conference on Asian Popular Culture, and last year’s Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference, where it received the PCA/ACA’s William E. Brigman Award for Outstanding Graduate Student Paper in Popular Culture.

Summary: Most anime series that air on Japanese television are based on stories that previously appeared in other formats. Adaptations of manga and light novels are by far the most common, but anime can also be based on videogames, “literary novels” (both Japanese and Western), and other types of works. But, what does it actually mean for an anime to be an adaptation? What features of the original work are retained, which ones are modified, which ones are ignored? And of course – why? These basic questions lie at the center of Origin and ownership.

It is easy to talk about Princess Tutu, the anime that this article examines, as being “based on” the ballet Swan Lake. But, even making that kind of statement raises the question of what exactly we mean by Swan Lake – which is not a single object, but rather, itself the product of a continuous process of modification and reinterpretation. More importantly, as Kennell notes, Princess Tutu “adapts a host of other works…operas, folk and fairy tales, plays, poetry, books, and other ballets.” What this means, she argues is that ultimately, it is not about any single particular thing, and cannot be easily pinned down as belonging to a particular genre, or even having a single particular creator. At least implicitly, whatever else Princess Tutu may be about, it is also about the very process of creating a story.

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