Category: Book Reviews

Book Review – Manga Cultures and the Female Gaze

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.

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Book Review – Manga: A Critical Guide

[Ed. note: Book publishers rarely make an effort to promote new books on topics like manga. Guess leaves it up to people like me, who are interested in these kinds of books, to promote!]

Shige (CJ) Suzuki and Ronald Stewart
Bloomsbury Academic, 2022, 280 pages.
[Amazon] — [Bloomsbury USA]

This is a pre-peer review preprint of an article that has been accepted for publication in East Asian Journal of Popular Culture, 9:2, 2023.

When it comes to books that can explain manga to a non-Japanese reader, Fred Schodt’s Manga Manga: The World of Japanese Comics and Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga are the ones that come to mind right away. But important as these two titles are, they are now more useful as historical artifacts – Manga Manga was first published in 1983, and Dreamland Japan last received an update in 2011. Japanese comics have changed a good deal even in the last decade, and how we understand Japanese comics has also changed quite a lot. And while several authors have recently written (or contributed to) in-depth studies such as Boys Love Manga and Beyond: History, Culture, and Community in Japan, Manga and the Representation of Japanese History, and Manga Cultures and the Female Gaze, what we haven’t had is a general survey that would try to explain, or at least summarize “Japanese comics” in a neat and comprehensive package. And this is precisely the task that Manga: A Critical Guide sets out to accomplish – the book’s goal is to serve as both an introduction to the art form of manga, and to its impact and influence around the world, and as a summary of how critics and scholars approach manga and the questions they ask. Accordingly, its focus is on “manga” (exactly what is meant by the term is itself one of the points the book addresses) as a whole, rather than not on particular titles or creators, and while this book is not aimed purely at a scholarly audience, it’s also not designed for fast and casual reading like something like the now out-of-print The Rough Guide to Manga, or the just-released (and translated from French) A History of Modern Manga.

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Book Review – The Anime Boom in the United States: Lessons for the Global Creative Industries

Authors: Michal Daliot-Bul (University of Haifa) & Nissim Otmazgin (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Publisher: Harvard University Asia Center
Contents

Twenty years ago now, in Anime From Akira to Princess Mononoke: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation, Susan J. Napier presented one leading reason for approaching selecting anime as an object of study. “For those interested in Japanese culture, it is a richly fascinating contemporary Japanese art form with a distinctly narrative and visual aesthetic that both harks back to traditional Japanese culture and moves forward to the cutting edge of art and media. Furthermore, anime, with its enormous breadth of subject material, is also a useful mirror on contemporary Japanese society, offering an array of insights into the significant issues, dreams, and nightmares of the day.” 

Napier’s book was the first full-length scholarly study of Japanese animation published in English, and most others that have been published since – titles such as Stray Dog of Anime: The Films of Mamoru Oshii (Brian Ruh, 2004), The Anime Paradox: Patterns and Practices through the Lens of Traditional Japanese Theater (Stevie Suan, 2013), and Anime: A Critical Introduction (Rayna Denison, 2015) have largely followed its focus on Japanese animation as something to be examined with the approach and tools of literary and film criticism. But, as Napier herself also argued, “…anime is worth investigating for other reasons as well, perhaps the most important being the fact that it is also a genuinely global phenomenon, both as a commercial and a cultural force.” 

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Highlighting New Publications – Princess Mononoke: Understanding Studio Ghibli’s Monster Princess

Princess Mononoke (Bloomsbury)

Editor: Rayna Denison
Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic
Table of Contents

When, on October 29, 1999, Princess Mononoke premiered in U.S. theaters, Hayao Miyazaki was not completely unknown to American audiences, but he was still far from being the worldwide-famous director that is now. And neither audiences nor critics really knew what to expect from the film itself, either. Of course, now, it is one of a few films, along with Akira, Ghost in the Shell, and probably My Neighbor Totoro, that often represent the idea of “anime” outside Japan. For that matter, it is also the most “frequently studied” Ghibli film – with, by my count, at least 34 unique “discussions” that have been published so far. And now, Princess Mononoke is the first anime that is the subject of a full edited collection of English-language scholarly essays (the two feature anime that have merited individual book-length studies are Akira and Miyazaki’s Spirited Away – with volumes in Bloomsbury’s BFI Film Classics series). So, what does Understanding Studio Ghibli’s Monster Princess actually add to the literature – what is the reason for this book, and for its specific shape, form, and structure?

The first part of this question is very easy to answer – Rayna Denison, the volume’s editor, does an excellent job of outlining it in the opening chapter, “Introducing Studio Ghibli’s Monster Princess: From Mononokehime to Princess Mononoke“. Mononokehime/Princess Mononoke, Denison notes, “became a ‘monster’ film event” and “marked changes in the Japanese animation industry” – as well as a major shift in the course of Miyazaki’s career, his standing as an animator and director, and his worldwide perception and status. Another factor that presents itself particularly well for analysis is the film’s “lasting global cultural presence”. And overall, its “verdant and varied cultural legacy and history” simply mean that open the possibility for a variety of different scholarly approaches.

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