Fred Schodt’s 1983 Manga! Manga!: The World of Japanese Comics is rightly recognized as the first in-depth English-language survey of its subject. But, already, Western scholars were also paying attention to Japanese comics – first, in 1977, with “Contemporary Japanese youth: Mass media communication” (in Youth & Society, 8:4), and then, two years later, with Salaryman comics in Japan: Images of self-perception, in the Journal of Popular Culture. And, in the more than thirty years now that have passed since that article appeared – and as anime and manga studies has developed into a defined academic field, this journal has continued welcoming articles on Japanese animation and Japanese comics. At least 14 more have appeared in it through the end of last year, with one more (which I already discussed) in February. And now, the journal’s latest issue has a specific focus on “Asian popular culture” – which, as the issue’s editors note, is “an umbrella term for the study of various facets of culture (such as film, television, literature, music, animation, social media, digital media, advertising) across Asia using a range of methodologies and approaches”.

[Ed. note: Here, it would be interesting to also consider how other editors have presented the same term. The editors of Asian Popular Culture: New, Hybrid, and Alternate Media (Lexington Books, 2013) do not see any need to it to be any more complicated than simply referring to “popular culture practices in Asia”. On the other hand, in the introduction to Asian Popular Culture: The Global (Dis)continutity (Routledge, 2013), Anthony Y.H. Fung states that “this book does not present a definition of Asian popular culture – which may practically be unfeasible owing to the diversity of Asian cultural products – but presents the readers cases of highly popular Asian pop imaginaries that can be connected to the discourse of globalization and under the theme of the global (dis)continuity of the political economy.]

Anime/manga and Chinese cinema are certainly the two components of it that are the most prominent in “popular and critical imagination”, but, again, studying Asian popular culture needs to consider not only particular types/modes/facets of popular culture, but also factors and features such as adaptations from one to another – and the ways popular culture moves both within Asian, and from Asia to the rest of the world. Two of the essays in the issue deal with aspects of these issues specifically with regard to anime/manga.

Karatsu, Rie. Female voice and Occidentalism in Mika Nakagawa’s Helter Skelter (2012): Adapting Kyoko Akazaki to the screen. The Journal of Popular Culture, 49(5), 967-983.

helter-skelter“Women are increasingly making their presence felt in the Japanese filmmaking industry, which has long been dominated by men. Epitomizing this trend is Mika Ninagawa through her work Helter Skelter (2012). Like Ninagawa’s debut 2006 film adaptation of Moyoco Anno’s manga series Sakuran, Helter Skelter is a live-action adaptation of Kyoko Okazaki’s 1996 manga. The manga follows Liliko, a cover girl who rose to stardom after her appearance was perfected through multiple cosmetic surgeries. Her downfall comes when she fails to sustain her beauty because of the surgeries’ side effects. Okazaki’s works have enormously influenced the new generation of women’s manga that has emerged in Japan since the 1980s (Iizawa). Beginning her career in the early 1980s, Okazaki discarded the visual style of shojo manga characterized by the use of icons such as sparkling eyes, flowers, and angels, and instead she satirically depicted death, violence, and sexuality in the lives of Japanese girls and women. Okazaki transgressed the aspects of the Japanese traditional shojo manga models and practices that represent girls and women as passive and subservient. Helter Skelter, the most critically acclaimed of all her works, was the first of her manga to be adapted into film. This paper examines Ninagawa’s film adaptation of Helter Skelter in comparison with Okazaki’s original manga with the same title.”

Adaptations of manga (and anime) into live-action television series and films are fairly common – but, with the exception of Hana Yori Dango, have not attracted much in the way of scholarly interest. Karatsu (University of Nagasaki) has already written extensively on Japanese live-action cinema in essays such as After the Wave: Sex, violence, and comedy in the films of Takashi Miike, Questions for a women’s cinema: Fact, fiction, and memory in the films of Naomi Kawase, and  The representation of sea and the feminine in Takeshi Kitano’s A Scene at the Sea (1991) and Sonatine (1993), as well as on “cultural absorption of ballroom dancing in Japan” in an earlier Journal of Popular Culture issue.

Hartzheim, Bryan Hikari. Pretty Cure and the magical girl media mix. The Journal of Popular Culture, 49(5), 1059-1085.

smile-precure“Toei Animation’s most popular and lucrative original television anime are its ‘magical girl’ series, starting from the shojo (girls) manga adaptation of Sally the Witch (Mahotsukai Sally, 1966-68) and climaxing with the globally popular animated television series Sailor Moon (1991-97), and its many spin-offs and sequels. The Pretty Cure series has broadcast for over a decade and revolves around contemporary Japanese adolescent girls who are granted the ability to transform into princesses with magical abilities and physical combat skills. Anime has a particular ability to create a media experience through its integration of media and toy products. The ‘magical girl media mix’ exemplified by Pretty Cure owes its financial and creative successes to the convergence of multiple creators who use such sponsored products as brainstorming and expressive tools.”

In her critique of anime/manga studies, Jaqueline Berndt points out that the tendency to treat the work of Hayao Miyazaki as “typical of anime as a whole”. Similarly, Mitsuyo Wada-Marciano points out that because so many scholars who write on anime are coming from the backgrounds and perspectives of film studies, discussion of anime tends to marginalize the majority of Japanese animation that exists in the form of television series. I agree with both of these points – scholars have published dozens of pieces on Miyazaki’s work, and plenty on the films of Mamuro Oshii, Satoshi Kon, and Makoto Shinkai, but only a few articles on hit series such as Bleach, Full Metal Alchemist, Naruto and One Piece that have largely defined the shape of Japanese animation over the last twenty or so years. Hartzheim’s paper, of course, cannot by itself fill this gap completely, but it certainly at least approaches it. One more notable thing is that it is the result of the author’s direct observation of the production process of the 2012-2013 Smile Precure! series.

[Ed. note: Two more essays in this issue may be interesting to scholars of Japanese popular culture in general, but do not specifically discuss anime/manga:

Miyamoto, Yuki: Gendered bodies in Tokutatsu: Monsters and aliens as the atomic bomb victims. The Journal of Popular Culture, 49(5), 1086-1106.

Lam, Ka Yan. The Hatsune Miku phenomenon: More than a virtual J-pop diva. The Journal of Popular Culture, 49(5), 1107-1124.]

1 Comment on New Special Issue – The Journal of Popular Culture

  1. I would put Hallyu (Korean wave) in as a third often-studied Asian pop culture phenomenon. I’m glad you did a blog entry on this issue to drum up awareness, Mikhail. I was pretty delighted to see what I had in my hands after peeling the plastic off when it came in the mail.

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