I think it’s safe to say we are comfortably past the point where the appearance of a new scholarly article on a topic related to anime/manga is something remarkable or extraordinary. As other scholars have already noted – and as I have worked to demonstrate – “anime and manga studies” (or the broader area of “Japanese popular culture studies” is now very much “a field in formation”, establishing itself and developing, and evolving.
But, even if a new publication on anime/manga is not particularly remarkable or even groundbreaking, it may still be worth examining. And this is especially true when we are looking not just at a single article, but several that appear at once – as is the case with the new third volume of the Journal of Anime and Manga Studies, the only “open-access journal dedicated to providing an ethical, peer-reviewed space for academics, students, and independent researchers examining the field of anime, manga, cosplay, and fandom studies”. JAMS launched in 2020, and with this latest volume, with nine stand-alone articles, one event report, and two book reviews, continues to make a very significant contribution to anime and manga studies as an academic field.
In November of 2020, JAMS got 322 file views. In November of 2021, this increased to 755 files views. And in November of 2022, this increased again to 1286 file views.
The issue opens with a report from the journal’s editor, including a look at readership statistics and month-to-month trends. At launch in November 2020, JAMS received 322 file views. This number stayed stable at approximately 200 views through much of 2021, but began trending up significantly from September 2021 on. with peaks in January, March, and October of the following year. The final figure the editor was able to provide, for November 2022, was 1286 file views. The major explanations for the growth trends that the editor presented are JAMS’ inclusion in the Directory of Open Access Journals, starting in February 2022, and the related Anime News Network news item. One question the report does not consider is whether the articles that JAMS is publishing are achieving any “impact” in the sense of receiving citations in other publications, or at least mentions in online discussions. Granted, even expecting impact from a relatively recent journal in a specialized subject area may be a lot to ask for – but from what I can tell, at least a couple of the articles that were published in JAMS have already been referenced elsewhere, such as The indigenous shôjo: Transmedia representations of Ainu femininity in Japan’s Samurai Spirits, 1993–2019, cited in Edutaining with indigeneity: Mediatizing Ainu bilingualism in the Japanese anime, Golden Kamuy, and Embedded niche overlap: A media industry history of yaoi anime’s American distribution from 1996 to 2009 included in the online resource What are Fujoshi, Fudanshi & BL? – plus mentions of others, and of the journal as a whole, in blog posts and on social media!
Moving on to the issue’s main content, the essays in the new issue represent a range of approaches and subjects. In 30 years later, Re-examining the “Pretty Soldier”: A gender study analysis of Sailor Moon Cassandra Yatron examines three decades of viewers’ and critics’ responses to the now-classic manga and anime. Drawing extensively on Kathryn Hemman’s arguments in Manga Cultures and the Female Gaze, Yatron makes the case that although “on the surface, the Sailor Moon franchise appears to be a heteronormative and an (arguably) antifeminist series with traditional heterosexual relationships and gender stereotypes”, but “upon closer examination, the manga and anime series subvert patriarchal and gender stereotypes in both obvious and discrete ways.” Plot patterns in manga based on Propp’s narratological elements (Bogdan Groza and Adrian Momanu) sets up a potential method for analyzing Japanese comics using a structuralist approach based on the presence of particular elements, and introduces a range of these elements drawn on the classic structure introduced by Vladimir Propp in Морфология сказки / Morphology of the Folk Tale. Some of these elements, with the authors’ designations, are “Designation β – a member of the family or known to the protagonist absents themselves”, “Designation UpM – the protagonists’ untapped potential”, and “Designation Rs – the protagonist is rescued or rescues himself from pursuit”. Each designation receives an illustration with actual “instances” in major shonen manga. However, the authors do not elaborate on whether this kind of approach is useful for analyzing other types of manga, or, for that matter, whether the structuralist approach has been used effectively to analyze fiction to begin with.
Just as Sailor Moon controls the narrative by calling herself ‘pretty’ and a ‘soldier,’ girls reading the manga and watching the show can find their strength through a girl just like them to reclaim their own narrative and declare who they are or who they want to be.
The key argument that Riley Hanna Levicki makes in Prefiguring the otokonoko genre: A Comparative trans analysis of Stop!! Hibari-Kun! and No Bra is that “these manga offer something unique from Western depictions of transgender lives” – bringing to mind Anne Allison’s argument that one of the major reasons for the appeal of anime and manga to non-Japanese audiences is specifically because of depictions of relatively familiar subjects – but from different and sometimes unexpected perspectives. Arnab Dasgupta in Affective transformation: Other-power and the community of peers in works by Kyoto Animation, presents the claim that “the works of Kyoto Animation” (or rather, four specific “works” that the author selects as a “representative cross-section”) share not just visual features or even plot elements, but also, common and perhaps consistent themes, tropes, and ultimately, messages. This is a similar approach to what Susan Napier proposes in Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art, but one that so has not been applied to analyze the work of other anime studios.
“Why must fireflies die so young?” The picturesque of caution in the works of Studio Ghibli (Samragngi Roy) adds to the already significant literature on Grave of the Fireflies, and the growing list of studies of Howl’s Moving Castle. This close reading of the two films demonstrates the way they interpret the aesthetic of the picturesque, drawn from concepts proposed by the 18th-century English artist and writer William Gilson that emphasize depictions of “roughness, raggedness, and ruins”. In both Grave of the Fireflies and in Howl’s Moving Castle, “images of ruins and disorder, of a kind of beauty that is sprinkled with decay and decrepitude”, themselves influenced by from Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata’s personal memories of their childhood experiences during the Second World War, specifically serve to reinforce the films’ themes and messages.
All the Ghibli films seem to have been very consciously created, always carrying a message, a moral, a warning, and so on. Thus, we have come a long way from William Gilpin and his idea of the picturesque as a purely aesthetic ideal
Two years ago, Michael Cserkits introduced an important new angle to anime studies with Representation of armed forces through cinematic and animated pieces – case studies. He now expands this with Nation building and the role of leadership: The case example of Tensei shitara slime datta ken, demonstrating ways for anime studies to expand beyond a canon, and to consider the full range of Japanese animation works by analyzing how this particular series interprets concepts such as how an “ideal” nation should be organized, who and how can best represent its residents to the “outside”, and the role of names and naming in the nation-building process. The analysis leads into a question whether the popularity of this series, and other similar ones in the isekai genre, has the effect of building a “slow shift in the perception of democratic values amongst their audience”
In Attachment to manga (Japanese comics): Conceptualizing the behavioral components of manga attachment and exploring attachment differences between avid, moderate, and occasional manga readers, Julian Pimienta presents the results of a survey of 279 respondents to questions or statements related to their reasons for reading manga. The results of the survey demonstrate that readers use manga as attachment objects. This suggests that approaches used for discussing “attachment in consumer behavior”, such as by Ball and Tasaki can be meaningfully applied to analyzing the appeal of manga.
Overall, attendees are eager to return with in-person convention experiences, but overwhelmingly support conventions enacting safety measures as COVID continues to be a problem for large group gatherings.
Maria Alberto and Billy Tringali (also the journal’s editor in chief) contribute another quantitative study – Anime Convention Attendance in Response to Covid-19 – with almost 1200 responses to questions such as “What conventions have you attended, in-person, during the COVID-19 pandemic?”, and the open-ended “What, if anything, cannot be recreated from an in-person anime convention through a virtual anime convention?” One particularly interesting and particularly valuable contribution from this study is in the answers to the open-ended prompt “What would make you more comfortable returning to conventions after COVID?” 81% of survey respondents expressed interest in safety measures of some kind, whether mask or vaccination requirements, attendance limits, or sanitation guidelines. On the other hand, “18% (n 222) of respondents selected the option indicating that they preferred no safety measures.”
The concluding essay to the the issue’s main section is an analysis of another “classic” anime franchise – Mobile Suite Gundam. In Mechapocalypse: Tracing the global popularity of Mobile Suit Gundam, Anthony Dominguez highlights Gundam’s role in the always somewhat loosely-defined idea of “Cool Japan”, and “postulates that the destruction of real robots in Char’s Counterattack allegorizes the concept of Cool Japan”. The “destruction of the body” in Gundam texts, Dominguez argues, can be seen as a “metaphorical collapse of the Japanese border”. The “new” Gundam, from Char’s Counter Attack on, that no longer emphasizes a body/machine binary, is similar to Japan’s new place in the global culture and entertainment market.
The issue concludes with an event report from the symposium Manga in a Postdigital Environment (Universida de Vigo, Pontevedra Campus, May 30-31, 2022), and reviews of the essay collection Queer Transfigurations: Boys Love Media in Asia and the monograph Cosplay: The Fictional Mode of Existence (itself by the long-time editor of Mechademia: Annual Forum for Anime, Manga, and Fan Arts and co-editor of Mechademia: Second Arc Dr. Frenchy Lunning).
Overall, JAMS v. 3 continues the journal’s impressive track record of attracting a wide range of authors, and exploring a variety of topics and subjects related to anime/manga. One thing that is particularly impressive is the way in which several of the authors are able to use materials in languages other than English, such as German scholarly publications in Michael Cserkits’ paper, and an Italian study in Plot patterns in manga based on Propp’s narratological elements. Several of them are also excellent examples of effective ways to extent theoretical approaches first proposed in other fields to anime/manga, as Julian Pimienta does with attachment theory. And, though the extent of this differs between the individual essays, the authors also draw on Japanese scholarship to support their arguments.
The call for papers for the 2023 volume is currently open, with a March 31 deadline. The journal “welcomes papers regarding anime, manga, cosplay, and their fandoms as analyzed from any number of scholarly perspectives”, and I am looking forward to the kinds of papers that will appear in it, and to how JAMS will continue contributing to the growing academic field of anime and manga studies.