A key feature of Japanese visual popular culture, and especially anime and manga, is the extent to which creative works exist in different forms or formats. A work can – and frequently does – first appear as a manga, and may then serve as the basis of an anime series, a novel, video games, and the driver behind a wide range of merchandise and consumer goods. And even manga and anime are often based on other sources, such as non-Japanese novels. This process has already attracted significant scholarly attention, such as Anime’s Media Mix: Franchising Toys and Characters in Japan (Marc Steinberg, University of Minnesota Press, 2012), as well as more specific studies (“Animating the fantastic: Hayao Miyazaki’s adaptation of Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle“, “Manga, anime, adaptation: Economic strategies, aesthetic specificities, social issues”, The essence of 2.5-dimensional musicals? Sakura Wars and theater adaptations of anime).
Now, the Journal of Adaptation in Film & Performance has published a full special issue with the theme of “Adaptation in/and Japan“, based on papers originally presented at the Adaptation, or How Media Relate in Contemporary Japan symposium that was held at the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Culture in June of 2018. The issue’s editor, Prof. Amanda Kennell (University at Buffalo, The State University of New York), who also organized the original symposium, has herself studied the process and practice of adaptation extensively, with a particular focus on how Alice in Wonderland has been adapted in different contexts in Japan. The majority of the articles in the issue deal with anime/manga – although each of them approaches what exactly can be meant by “adaptation” in a different way.
Nobuko Anan, in Theatrical realism in manga: Performativity of gender in Minako Narita’s Alien Street, highlights “different conceptions of realism in theatre and manga” through a close reading of a classic manga about a “male actor who plays female roles”. Adaptation in Japanese media mix franchising: Usagi Drop from page to screens is Rayna Denison’s effort to shift the focus in studies of Japanese popular culture studies away from centering on anime films and major franchises, and to consider how the adaptation and media mix process plays out with regard to lesser known – but far more common – works. With this, Prof. Denison is able to address directly Mitsuyo Wada-Marciano’s call for scholarship on the kind of “domestic and mass-produced anime TV series” that actually constitute the overwhelming majority of what is meant by “anime”. This article also expands the approaches to the concept of the “media mix” to consider a full range of “media texts”, including manga and live-action films. Kouno Fumiyo’s Hi no Tori (‘Bird of the Sun’) series as documentary manga: Memory and 3.11 analyzes another aspect of adaptation – the way that elements such as “drawings, prose, poetry, statistical data, maps and commentary by the artist” can be integrated into a fictional text and into the medium of comics/manga. Interpretive negotiation with gender norms in shojo manga: Adaptations of The Changelings is a comparative study, addressing the ways in which adaptations of the same source text – even into the same format, but made in different years differ from each other. And closing the issue, Prof. Kennell draws on her major research interests for a study of adaptations of Alice in Wonderland in the work of Japanese “avant-garde sculptor, painter and novelist” Yayoi Kusama.
Taken together, as Kennell notes in the editorial that opens the issue, the five articles stand as a “superb introduction to the diverse media ecology of contemporary Japan and the implications of contemporary Japanese media production for the wider world.” And, beyond that, they really can also easily be seen as cutting edge of anime and manga studies, and a great example of the diversity and wide scope of this emerging field.