If Japanese popular culture studies (and anime/manga studies) is now, in 2021, “a field in formation“, then it is no longer enough just to describe or even analyze. At this point, it is becoming more and important to start thinking about the contours and dimensions of this field, and about what this field encompasses. What topics are scholars who are working in anime and manga studies actually examining? What kinds of approaches are they using?
In this way, Jaqueline Berndt, in an analysis of “the interplay of anime research and the institution of Japanese studies outside of Japan” titled Anime in Academia: Representative Object, Media Form, and Japanese Studies makes the effort to point out that “the bulk of Japanese studies in the humanities pays attention to representations of Japanese culture and society in anime”.
Similarly, in A Coming of Age in the Anthropological Study of Anime? Introductory Thoughts Envisioning the Business Anthropology of Japanese Animation, Ryotaro Mihara has challenged the field with a straight-forward question: “Why do Anglophone anime studies, especially the anthropological studies on anime, show so little interest in anime’s business aspects and so much interest in its non-commercial activities?”
A related kind of approach would be to ask which particular creators – and even which particular works – is anime and manga studies emphasizing or centering, and the way this process can then affect the expected image or “meaning” of anime/manga outside Japan. I presented an example of this approach in an analysis of English-language scholarly publications on the work of Hayao Miyazaki, demonstrating that, as of the spring of 2018, Princess Mononoke was Miyazaki’s most-studied English film (34 publications, including an edited essay collection), followed by Spirited Away (32, including one full-length book), and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (21).
Now, I would like to take this same model, and apply it to Japan’s “God of Manga” – Osamu Tezuka. The goal of this study, then, will be to determine which ones of Tezuka’s works have attracted the most attention from scholars writing in English. The source will be the entries in Osamu Tezuka and His Works: A Bibliography of English-language Scholarly/Academic Publications. As with the Miyazaki study, because the goal is to tally scholarly discussions of particular works, it does not consider general essays that discuss topics such as Tezuka’s life and career in general – examples include “Characters, themes and narrative patterns in the manga of Osamu Tezuka”, “Osamu Tezuka: His life, works, and contributions to the history of modern Japanese comics”, and “Tezuka’s anime revolution in context”.
Based on an analysis of 48 individual English-language scholarly publications (journal articles and chapters in edited essay collections), the most “popular” Osamu Tezuka work is, perhaps unsurprisingly, Astro Boy – discussed in at least 15 publications. This is followed by Phoenix (10), and Message to Adolf (8). Metropolis has been discussed in 5 publications, Jungle Emperor Leo and Black Jack in 2 each, and 8 others (Apollo’s Song, Ayako, Buddha, Dororo, Faust, Gringo, MW, Ode to Kirihito) in a single English-language publication each
What can we take away from these numbers? Perhaps their most immediate implication can be that given the sheer number of manga that Tezuka created over the course of his career (according to TezukainEnglish.com, “more than 400 individual manga series“), scholars who want to be the among the first to write about a particular one have more than plenty to choose from – even from among those that have been translated into English! Of course, every new paper on a title like Message to Adolf has the benefit of being able to build on the arguments made by its predecessors and engage in a conversation with them. And, as anime and manga studies – to say nothing about comics studies proper – continues to evolve and expand – it will be entirely reasonable to expect to see this particular area of the field continue developing as well!