For various reasons, I missed a Year in Review post for 2017. But, with 2018 now several weeks behind us, it is definitely appropriate to review the highlights of the year for anime and manga studies in the broad categories of new and notable publications, conferences and other events, and classes.
After a relatively quiet year in terms of major new English-language books on anime, this past one was anything but, with some of the most well-known authors in anime and manga studies publishing new titles.
Christopher Bolton, who teaches comparative and Japanese literature at Williams College, led the way with Interpreting Anime, the first book on anime I am aware of that is designed specifically for classroom use – and so, aimed at both instructors and students – and priced accordingly, at just $24.00. It has already received excellent reviews, including in Choice and in the Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies, where the reviewer praises Bolton for “a meaningful contribution to the scholarship of reading, one able to transcend its subject matter – anime – and speak to readers everywhere, those who seek as full, as complete an engagement with their texts as possible.” To promote the book further, Prof. Bolton has also created a dedicated web page for it, and a YouTube trailer.
[And, in what may be a personal first, alongside the books, chapters, and journal articles that Interpreting Anime’s bibliography lists, there is also a citation to a post in this blog.]
For many years, the introductory title in anime studies – more or less by default, was Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation, first published in 2001. And even though it saw an 2005 update (as Anime from Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle, now, in 2018, it is still inevitably dated. So, something like Interpreting Anime, along with Anime: A Critical Introduction, published in 2015, is absolutely invaluable. Probably the only caveat when considering this title is that it is based almost entirely on essays that Bolton published previously, although all of them have been revised and expanded to fit into an overarching structure.
With his The Anime Machine: A Media Theory of Animation (University of Minnesota Press, 2009) Thomas Lamarre established himself as “one of the most significant voices in scholarship on Japanese animation in particular and contemporary animation theory in general”. The book itself has gathered wide praise – “a landmark within the study of animation and its relationship to technology and media”, “a fundamental rethinking of the study of Japanese animation… that has significantly revised and updated methodological debates on Japanese popular culture“, ” a rare work of theoretical rigor and clarity that breathes new life into fundamental questions about studying Japan”, although probably one that was too complex for either casual readers or undergraduate students. As it turns out, it was the first in a planned three-book sequence – with The Anime Ecology: A Genealogy of Television, Animation, and Game Media being the second. In this, Lamarre shifts and expands his focus to “the relation between television and animation…how television affects animation, and how animation allows for a different perspective on television media, one more in keeping with the contemporary situation in which what has traditionally been designated as television is now thoroughly mixed with a host of other media and media practices.” Every indication points to it becoming another landmark title in anime studies, one that marks a major new way of approaching Japanese animation critically, and so, is referred to extensively in future research.
From 1993’s Panic sites: The Japanese imagination of disaster from Godzilla to Akira, through Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke, Anime from Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle, From Impressionism to Anime and the classes she has taught, first at the University of Texas at Austin, and now, at Tufts University, Prof. Susan J. Napier has been working in anime studies for more than two decades now – for what it’s worth, she can rightly claim to have single-handedly invented the idea an academic approach to Japanese animation. As the titles of her books, and several of her other publications (Confronting master narratives: History as vision in Miyazaki Hayao’s cinema of de-assurance; Matter out of place: Carnival, containment, and cultural recovery in Miyazaki’s Spirited Away) exploring Hayao Miyazaki’s work is a major focus of her writing. And, in a way, Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art is what Prof. Napier has been building up to in all of her own research and scholarship. As I mentioned in an earlier profile post on this book, the approach it takes is evident in the subtitle – Prof. Napier’s focus is on the commonalities, the common themes and elements that are present throughout Miyazaki’s films and other work (TV episodes and manga), the specific sources that he draws on, and, most importantly, Miyazaki’s personal history and the personal experiences that inspired, influenced, and shaped his work.
In addition to these three monographs, 2018 was marked by the publication of several noteworthy essay collections. Princess Mononoke: Understanding Studio Ghibli’s Monster Princess is a thorough evaluation of the film’s different themes, the influences that went into its creation, and how it was received in Japan – and then marketed around the world. So far, it is the only such collection that deals with a single specific anime. Introducing Japanese Popular Culture is similar to Interpreting Anime as intended for classroom use, but of course, is broader in scope. Its 40 chapters are organized broadly into 12 “popular culture categories”; anime and manga are two, with seven chapters between them, and they are addressed significantly in additional chapters in the “Fan Media and Technology” (“Managing manga studies in the convergent classroom” and “Studio Ghibli media tourism”) and “Sites and Spectacles” (“Akihabara: Promoting and policing ‘Otaku’ in ‘Cool Japan'”) sections. Each of the chapters is relatively brief, only about a dozen pages, and as per the book’s introduction, the overarching design in them is to introduce a specific Japanese popular culture “product” (“tangible object or phenomenon”), and use it as an illustration. The risk, of course, is that it is too easy for a reader to assume that the illustrations are comprehensive – that the examples the essays provide of anime/manga are all there is to say about Japanese animation and Japanese comics, or that the approaches demonstrated in them are the only valid ones. But that is also why it has to be emphasized that this book is an introduction and a tool to open discussion. One particular feature of the book that is definitely worth noting is the companion website, with summaries of each chapter, discussion questions, suggested readings, and, as appropriate, links to additional useful resources. Law and Justice in Japanese Popular Culture is a highly specialized collection – definitely not aimed at the “casual” reader or the introductory class. The chapters in it are equally specialized in their discussion of topics that involve anime/manga, as in “the interplay of law and justice in Psycho-Pass”, and the consumer cultures that develop around anime/manga – “the internal regulatory practices of global online fan communities”. It is also worth nothing the kind of coverage that topics related to anime/manga received in other, more general essay collections – though those where discussion of anime/manga would be at least thematically appropriate. One such example was the Routledge Handbook of Japanese Media – discussion of anime/manga in it was limited to the chapters Fire! Mizuno Hideko and the development of 1960’s shojo manga, Nature, media and the future: Unnatural disaster, animist anime, and eco-media activism in Japan, and Anime’s distribution worlds: Formal and informal distribution in the analogue and digital eras. Another, the Cambridge History of the Graphic Novel had a single one – The influence of manga on the graphic novel.
Given that there were at least 97 academic journal articles on anime/manga published in English (or at least with titles and abstracts in English) in 2018, it’s difficult to identify any real trends or patterns beyond pointing out some particularly highlights. Both of the 2018 issues of the East Asian Journal of Popular Culture had special themes – Studio Ghibli for the first, and the use of anime, manga, and other Japanese popular culture products in Japanese language education in the second. The online-only – and open-access journal Arts also published a “Japanese Media Cultures in Japan and Abroad: Transnational Consumption of Manga, Anime, and Video Games” special issue, although given its format, the individual articles were published as soon as they were formally accepted, and the “issue” was essentially just a page all of them could be listed on. And, another special issue was Manga, Comics, and Japan: Area Studies as Media Studies, no. 156 of Orientaliska Studier – also available online in open access, with a total of 15 individual essays generally on the topic of “manga-style” images and works, and on the challenges related to approaching and interpreting manga outside the Japanese context.
These four special issues together accounted for 36 of the total of 97 articles – 37%. This leaves 61 more. Of these, many are in the journals on animation, comics, popular culture, and Japanese studies that would be the expected venues for scholarship on anime/manga. But, as has been consistently the case, a paper that is analyzing or referencing anime/manga or a related topic can appear in another journal, as long as the specific approach that the paper is taking fits the journal’s theme and scope. So, When an energy drink exalts a table tennis hero: Brand placement and subvertising in the manga Ping-Pong Dash!! by Honda Shingo is published in the interdisciplinary Society and Leisure. Voices of the hero: Dominant masculine ideologies through the speech of Japanese shonen protagonists is an easy fit for Gender and Language. And Kawaii Asian girls save the day! Animating a minor politics of care – “through an analysis of the anime Madoka Magica and Ruth Ozeki’s novel A Tale for the Time Being, this essay demonstrates how the invocation of kawaii need not be read as a simple resignation to structural inequities” is in MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States. Overall, 9 journals each published more than 1 article ; 34 carried 1 title each; these top 9 journals (21% of the total) accounted for 64% of all articles on anime/manga published in 2018. Of the 97 articles that were published, 51 (52.5%) are currently available in open access – i.e., can be accessed online without a subscription or a user ID/password.
The full list of all books, book chapters, and journal articles on anime/manga and related topics that were published in English in 2018 is available as the Annual Bibliography of Anime and Manga Studies, 2018 Ed.
In addition to the “regularly scheduled” Mechademia conferences that were held in May of 2018 in Kyoto and in September in Minneapolis, there were several events held in 2018 that are particularly relevant to anime/manga studies. The program of the first annual conference of the Comics Studies Society included five separate papers on manga – interestingly, each one in a session on a more broad or general topic such as “When Comics Studies and Children’s/YA Literary Theory Intersect” and “Graphic Medicine”. On the other hand, the three papers on manga in the inaugural Fan Studies Network North America conference were all run together in a Manga and Anime session. An entirely different kind of “event” was Intertextual Anime, the Anime and Manga Studies panel track at the Kumoricon anime convention, held in Portland, OR – a successor in spirit, if not an official one, to Anime Expo’s Anime and Manga Studies Symposium.
It is always challenging to identify exactly when a college/university is offering a class for the first time – the only really reliable indicator is an announcement about it. Nonetheless, 2018 saw a number of new classes on anime/manga at colleges and universities around the U.S. – in addition to the easily dozens that were available already. Princeton University’s Department of Asian Studies began offering Manga: Visual Culture in Modern Japan. The University of Rochester’s 2018 course list included “Life and Anime”, which “employs a comparative approach to the study of anime: each anime is paired with excerpts from germane works of philosophy or literature”. And students at the University of Southern California were able to take Dreams and Madness: The Art of Japan’s Golden Age of Animation – “An in-depth look at the art, politics, and cultural impact of several Japanese filmmakers including Isao Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki, Satoshi Kon, Mamoru Hosoda and Makoto Shinkai” – 82 students registered for it. On a related note, the Asian Studies Program at the State University of New York’s University at Buffalo announced the hiring of a new faculty member, Dr. Amanda Kennell, to teach a number of classes, including The Fantastical World of Japanese Anime – “This course introduces students to this unique subculture and introduces an academic approach to viewing the anime art form”. Previously, Dr. Kennell was the Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Fellow at the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures (Norwich, UK), where one aspect of her work was organizing the symposium Adaptation, or How Media Relate in Contemporary Japan, with presentations by several leading anime/manga scholars.
One more new development that took place in 2018 – small, but actually, quite significant – was the launch of the Anime Studies Special Interest Group within the Society for Animation Studies. This kind of formal structure is a crucial and a concrete step towards acceptance, recognition – and therefore, growth.
On to 2019
Looking forward, I already know about some of the new developments and new projects in anime/manga studies that I can look forward to in the coming months. Among these are at least two new essay collections on manga, the re-launch, after a three-year break, of Mechademia, with three new issues due to be published by the end of the year, and potentially, the unveiling of a brand-new journal that would specifically focus on manga. And of course, these are only the developments/new projects that I know about; I’m sure there are many others that I don’t. So, I’m looking forward to all of the new developments and announcements that anime and manga studies will see this year, to reporting and commenting on them, and hopefully, to even making some of my own!