Who are the participants in “Japanese popular culture studies”? Not in the abstract sense, but more concretely – if Japanese popular culture studies is an academic area or field or discipline, do those who are involved in it identify themselves as “professors of Japanese popular culture studies”? For that matter, is such a thing as a “department of Japanese popular culture studies” or a “professor of Japanese popular culture studies” even possible or feasible?
In fact, if we actually do take a closer look at what academic departments scholars who write on anime, manga, and other related topics are actually based in, the patterns that emerge are essentially predictable Thus, when we look at the departments that the authors of the articles in the first seven issues of Mechademia: Second Arc are affiliated with, some of the ones we see include Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Education, Film Studies, Foreign Languages and Literatures, Law, and Musicology. Similarly, the department affiliations of the authors of some of the major recent books on anime/manga include Comparative Literature, East Asian Languages and Cultures, Film and Media Studies, and Film and Television.
What can a professor who is interested in anime/manga as a research subject do to advertise this? One way is to simply mention a book project they are working on, as Prof. Jinying Li (Modern Culture and Media, Brown University) does.
She recently completed her first book, Anime’s Knowledge Cultures
(University of Minnesota Press, forthcoming)
And even if a professor is not actively working on a book, they can mention anime/manga among the subjects, topics, and themes that they are actively pursuing!
His research interests include biblical allusions in literature, missiology, Korean popular culture (e.g. K-pop and K-dramas), and Japanese anime/manga”.
But, a professor announcing what their interests is one thing. A university actively looking to hire a professor who specializes in a particular area is something very different. And, in what I believe is the first time for something like this, a major university has specifically announced that it is seeking to fill the position of Assistant Professor in Japanese contemporary literature and culture – “with interdisciplinary research and teaching interests in manga and animé”. The person who is hired for this position will be expected to teach both undergraduate and graduate courses, including at least one with a specific emphasis on anime/manga, as well as contribute to the development of the collection of original and translated manga in Ohio State’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum.
Requirements for the position include a PhD in “Japanese literature or a related field” – completed by August 2024 – and a good demonstration of what a position can require instead of a “PhD in anime” is the call for a specialization in an area such as “visual narrative media such as manga and animé” or “history of popular media”. The hiring committee will begin screening applications for the position next week (November 1), but screening will continue without any kind of hard deadline, presumably until the position has been filled.
So, what does something like this mean? First of all, it means that next year, there will be at least one new professor at a major U.S. university who is almost definitely interested in both teaching about and researching Japanese animation and comics. This also shows that we are seeing the beginnings of an active process to bring professors. And with this, “studying anime and manga” – an activity and just what you do takes another step in the direction of “anime and manga studies” – a defined area with its own structures, goals, boundaries, aims, and rules.