English-language writing on Japanese comics is not by any means a new thing or even a recent thing. Fred Schodt’s Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics is 40 years old this year, and a couple of journal articles and book chapters are even older. But if we look at the way book length studies of Japanese comics written in English have developed over these last 40 years, one thing that’s easy to notice right away is that these studies can be grouped together around several common themes and approaches. Three recent titles simply bring together “explorations” and “perspectives” (Japanese Visual Culture: Explorations in the World of Manga and Anime, Manga: An Anthology of Global and Cultural Perspectives, Manga Vision: Cultural and Communicative Perspectives). Two analyze boys love manga / boys’ love manga. And four others have as their subject “ladies comics”, women’s comics, shojo manga, and “shojo and shojo manga”.
Examples of a different kind of focus can be found in Manga and the Representation of Japanese History, Rewriting History in Manga: Stories for the Nation, and The Representation of Japanese Politics in Manga: The Visual Literacy of Statecraft. One particularly interesting thing, though, these are all studies of particular kinds or genres of manga – compared to the more comprehensive ways that scholars have been approaching Japanese animation the way Susan Napier does in Anime from Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation. Rayna Denison’s Anime: A Critical Introduction, and Christopher Bolton’s Interpreting Anime are similar examples.
One title that is a definite exception to this is Manga: A Critical Guide, just published earlier this year. And another, though it dates from a couple of years ago – and is more complex than an overview, is Manga Cultures and the Female Gaze. With it, Kathryn Hemmann (who currently teaches in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania and writes on a variety of topics at digitalfantasydiary.com) sets out to make the point that while when we think of visual popular culture in general, and Japanese visual culture in particular, we often assume a “default” male audience, it is crucial to consider the female creators and female audiences. “The female gaze” is how female manga artists depict female characters, but as it turns out, this gaze, and essentially, what it reveals simply by virtue of treating “women as subjects instead of objects” then can challenge some of the standards approaches to “trends in the consumption of (Japanese) entertainment media” that (male) theorists such as Eiji Otsuka, Hiroki Azuma, and Saito Tamaki have presented.(more…)