When it first launched in 2020, the open-access Journal of Anime and Manga Studies represented a major new development in the establishment of anime and manga studies as a defined academic field. Since the launch, it clearly thrived, with each new issue a range of new authors, and covering a diverse array of topics under the general umbrella of Japanese animation and comics. JAMS’ latest volume (2023) was formally released on December 3, and its eight articles once again do a great job of representing some of the most innovative scholarly writing on anime/manga that is currently available in English. And – all of it is free to read!
The issue opens with a letter from the JAMS editor-in-chief, summarizing the year’s developments and activities for the journal, the most prominent among them the Mechademia/JAMS track of scholarly presentations held as a part of the year’s Anime Expo convention. The letter also highlights the continuing upward trends in the journal’s readership, to over 2,000 pageviews per month at the conclusion of 2023, as well as the journal’s top five most read articles – the leader by far is A Survey of the Story Elements of Isekai Manga (volume 2) – currently, the 4th-ranking result in Google Scholar for a search for the term “isekai”, and the first result that is an actual peer-reviewed article.
The volume’s main section opens with Inclusive Media Mix: Shaping Communication through A Silent Voice. In this essay, Yuta Kaminishi (Habib Institute for Asian Studies, University of Idaho) expands the concept of the “Japanese media mix” that Marc Steinberg proposes and applies it to activities of different types – and involving different participants – than those that Steinberg envisions.
In particular, Kaminishi highlights how the media mix can be more than a strategy used by either an anime or manga creator or its distributor. In addition to those, participants in a media mix project can – and do – include government agencies and other entities that are not directly involved in the creative process. This then means that the media mix concept can potentially represent something more than just a business or marketing strategy, and in fact, can have significant social and even political implications.
Taking into consideration public institutions such as schools, local government, and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) as key participants, this article explores an example of inclusive media mix, a changing force for an inclusive society in contemporary Japan.
In The Horror of Serenity: The Romantic Sublime within PSYCHO-PASS, Cassandra Holcombe (independent) adds to the growing literature on this anime, which already includes papers such as Mindless happiness: Presentism, utopia and dystopian suspension of thought in Psycho-Pass, Algorithmic tyranny: Psycho-Pass, science fiction and the criminological imagination, and a chapter in the essay collection Law and Justice in Japanese Popular Culture: From Crime Fighting Robots to Duelling Pocket Monsters. The goal of this close reading is to argue that many of the plot elements and images in Psycho-Pass specifically connect with the Burkean ideal of the sublime as a concept that is perhaps best defined by its opposition to that of “beauty” but that is able to inspire or force a vaguely defined sense of awe
Anime as a medium portrays the sublime well because it often exaggerates expressions, especially in moments of horror.
Jodi Bilkhu (York University) contributes the paper Black Butler: The Child Detective Hunts Jack the Ripper – an in-depth examination that emphasizes the different ways that Japanese fiction has used the “cultural commodity to be packaged and sold” that is Jack the Ripper, and the specific aspects that using Jack the Ripper adds to the “child detective” character.
One can argue that Black Butler has remained popular over the years because Toboso has effectively used a collection of popular cultural and literary figures, namely Jack the Ripper, framed through the distinct genre of neo-Victorianism
Following this is a very different kind of study, exploring some of the mechanics of how anime comes to exist – specifically, the common and defining characteristics of anime that came together following successful crowdfunding campaigns. Using a text-mining approach, the authors reviewed over 6,000 comments that English-speaking fans made in connection with three such campaigns. The analysis allowed the authors to identify enough common themes to be able to argue that when non-Japanese fans are considering a crowdfunding campaign to back, they are generally looking for a small set of key elements. Interestingly, an analysis of Japanese speakers’ comments showed that these elements were not present to the same degree or not considered as important.
It is essential for animation studios to have an appealing track record, frequent communication,and information disclosure. By doing so, the studio will win the trust of its supporters and increase their sense of co-creation.
These four essays represent only half of the content of the issue. Three additional papers each present another close reading (including one that considers Psycho-Pass and its depiction of urban settings – especially as compared to Ghost in the Shell); the last one draws on Thomas Lamarre’s call to move beyond an approach in anime studies that treats anime purely as a “textual object”, and to consider the “technique” of animation. The volume the concludes with a pair of book reviews.
Kanada did more than use the specific limitations of anime’s system to his advantage. He made use of the possibilities of the animated medium and distinguished himself as a master of its three key components: drawing, timing and spacing.
So, once again, anime studies as a field is currently very much in a formation stage. But how the field is being shaped – the kinds of questions that it is clear that it is possible to ask in anime studies, and the kinds of answers that it is possible to present – can be seen clearly in JAMS. In fact, the Call for Papers for the 2024 volume is open now, and will remain open through March 31. And at this point, it is only appropriate to say that I am looking forward to seeing the papers that will appear in the issue when it is published towards the end of the year, and wish the best of luck to anyone who has already submitted an article for consideration, or is working on one.