Category: Commentary

Comment/Response – “Do female anime fans exist?”…


Any kind of writing about anime will at some point have to consider anime’s audiences and their activities and practices. And in fact, studies that ask questions like “what anime fans do, and how, and why” are prominent in the field. As far back as 1994, writing for the journal Bad Subjects: Political Education for Everyday Life, Annalee Newitz examined “Japanese animation fans outside Japan“, and in 2001’s Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation, Susan Napier devoted an appendix to the topic of “Western audiences and Japanese animation”. Other notable studies include Brent Allison’s chapter “Interviews with adolescent anime fans” (in The Japanification of Children’s Popular Culture: From Godzilla to Miyazaki and Lawrence Eng’s Strategies of engagement: Discovering, defining and describing otaku culture in the United States (in Fandom Unbound: Otaku Culture in a Connected World), as well as the full monograph Anime Fan Communities: Transcultural Flows and Frictions, by Sandra Annett.

The history of anime fans outside Japan can be traced to at least the 1980’s, if not earlier. Now that this history is established, the conditions are in place for scholarship that engages with the history critically. And one such recent engagement is the essay by Aurélie Petit (Concordia University) that examines the discussions that took place in early anime fan communities, and argues that these discussions have played a major role in shaping how anime fans interact between themselves and with the “external” world, and to some extent how the idea, concept, and image of the “anime fan” is now defined.

Petit, Aurélie (2022) “Do female anime fans exist?” The impact of women-exclusionary discourses on rec.arts.anime. Internet Histories, 6(4), 352-368.

anime is still synonymous with far-right ideologies of white and male supremacy

“Do female anime fans exist?”…, p. 353
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Highlighting New Publications – JAMS v. 4


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.

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Manga Subgenres – The GNCRT View

How do we categorize different kinds of Japanese comics? What categories or labels do we use? For that matter, who even decides what categories or labels we even have access to? These questions are provocative, but as it turns out, they are not rhetorical. Outside Japan, and particularly in the U.S., there are actually specific organizations that are tasked with assigning labels to different kinds of published materials, and probably the most important organization of this type is the Library of Congress. Unless you are somehow involved with the Library of Congress classification system in your work, or have studied it in a library/information science graduate program, the activity of the Library of Congress that are you probably most familiar with is the system of terms to organize entries in library catalogs both by subject and by genre.

Since November 2022, “manga” has been included on the approved Library of Congress list of terms as both a subject heading (for materials about manga) and a genre term – for actual manga titles. And, as it turns out, last year, the Metadata and Cataloging Committee of the American Library Association Graphic Novels and Comics Round Table presented a proposal to the Library of Congress endorsing the establishment of several specific terms that would apply to “manga subgenres”. In particular, the Committee endorsed four broad terms, with these potential recommended descriptions:

  • shonen: “Manga emphasizing action and adventure, often with slapstick humor, a journey featuring personal growth, heroes with spiky hairstyles ,and themes of friendship, determination, and teamwork.”
  • shojo: “Manga emphasizing personal feelings and emotions, often centered on relationships, with a distinctive artistic style featuring lithe characters and big eyes, decorative panel dividers and layered panels.”
  • Boys love: “Romance manga with beautiful, androgynous male leads, featuring exclusive mutual attraction and a plot driven by emotion and psychological obstacles. For comics about realistic gay experiences, see Gay comics.”
  • Yuri: “Manga depicting the homosocial, spiritual bonds and relationships between adolescent girls, often with a floral motif of lilies. For comics about the lesbian experience, see Lesbian comics.”
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College Classes on Anime and Manga – Spring 2024

Just as the idea of a scholarly monograph or a peer-reviewed journal article on anime is long past being anything unusual or controversial, so is the idea of a college class on Japanese animation or Japanese comics. These kinds of classes are now offered at many different kinds of colleges/universities – and how they are structured can be different. Some are just general surveys, while others use Japanese animation and Japanese comics as starting points to explore other related topics. A good example of the “general survey” approach is The Fantastical World of Japanese Anime at the University at Buffalo (State University of New York). The course description is straight-forward – “This course introduces students to this unique subculture and introduces an academic approach to viewing the anime art form”. A similar approach is in Manga and Anime, at City College of San Francisco – “An examination and analysis of Japanese comics (manga) and animation (anime), and the role they play in Japanese culture as artistic forms of expression, an industry, and as representations of history and contemporary social conditions.”

But, again, these are just some possible approaches. Compare them to Japanese Anime and the Idea of the Posthuman (Dartmouth College), Anime as Human/Animal Hybrids – an Iowa State University honors program seminar (“The goal of this class is to unravel compelling inquiries about what it means to be human, animal, or monstrous within literary settings that blur the lines between these categories”), and Anime – Visual Interplay Between Japan and the World (Carnegie Mellon University – “This course explores Japanese animes appeal to the international viewers today, centering around cultural analyses of anime such as the Studio Ghibli production and Cyberpunk”).

A more comprehensive list is as follows, though this is still probably not complete. Of course, many more classes may include some discussion of anime/manga without them being the major subjects. And, as always, if you know about a class that you think should be included in this list – are taking one, have heard about one – or are teaching one – by all means, let me know, and I will gladly add it!

Anime and Manga on Campus Update: Japanese Animation and Japanese Comics Classes at U.S. Colleges, Spring 2024

  • Carnegie Mellon University
    Visual Interplay Between Japan and the World
    Japanese Studies
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Help Wanted – Anime Professor!

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.

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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Manga in the 2023 Eisner Award Nominations – and 2012-2023

On May 17, the organizers of Comic-Con International: San Diego announced the nominees for this year’s Eisner Awards (for materials published in 2022) – officially the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards. Although the Eisner Awards are generally known for honoring specific comics and the work of specific comics artists and writers, since 2012, one of the awards has recognized the year’s Best Educational/Academic Work. The category is now officially titled Best Scholarly/Academic Work, and this year once again, although none of the five titles that have received nominations in it specifically discuss Japanese comics, one is an essay collection with several chapters that do.

The LGBTQ+ Comics Studies Reader: Critical Openings, Future Directions (University Press of Mississippi) includes among its contents 3 very different essays on different aspects of manga, brought together under the section heading “Global Crossings and Intersections”:

First, Prof. Keiko Miyajima (John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York), contributes the chapter XX, XY, and XXY: Genderqueer bodies in Hagio Moto’s science fiction manga, a reading of several classic manga titles including Marginal, Star Red, and They Were 11, that emphasizes depictions of trans* identities “as a site of resistance to any coercive gender norms”.

Following this, William S. Armour is the author of An exploration of the birth of the slave through ero-pedagogy in Tagame Gengoroh’s PRIDE. In this follow-up to the 2010 paper Representations of the masculine in Tagame Gengoroh’s ero SM manga (Asian Studies Review, 34:4), Armour introduces non-Japanese audiences to what he refers to as a “Bildungsroman ero-MANGA”, discusses particular aspects of it that may ” resonate with Tagame’s intended audience”, and makes the point that in addition, PRIDE can be viewed as essentially a “how-to manual” or instructional work.

Finally, with Gay fanzines as contact zones: Dokkun’s adventures with “bara” manga in between Japan and France, Edmond Ernest dit Alban (Tulane University) argues that amateur pornographic comics such as those published in the French-language fanzine Dokkun enable and support “contact zones” for local, regional, and global cultures and communities.

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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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“But I don’t know Japanese” – “Global English” and anime and manga studies

The theme for the upcoming Spring 2025 issue of Mechademia: Second Arc will be “methodologies” – such as “theoretical frameworks” and “methods of analysis”. The Call for Papers for the issue lists several potential topics to consider and questions to ask in connection with this broad theme, and one of these questions is “What hampers the interrelation between English-language and Japanese-language scholarship (including publications by non-Japanese nationals in Japanese, and translations of popular or non-academic Japanese media criticism in English)?”

Asking this leads into another, related question. Is it essential or necessary for scholars working in a field like anime and manga studies, where the objects that the field is about are originally in a different language, to use scholarly materials in that language? And, if someone is not proficient in Japanese to the level where they can access untranslated Japanese books and essays, what kinds of options are available to them if they still want want to make a meaningful contribution to the study of Japanese animation, Japanese comics, and other related topics?

What hampers the interrelation between English-language and Japanese-language scholarship (including publications by non-Japanese nationals in Japanese, and translations of popular or non-academic Japanese media criticism in English)?

As it turns out, this specific question is actually related to a broader question of the role that the English language plays in global scholarly communication more generally. For example, in an innovative 2004 study on “global English in the humanities”, Charlene Kellsey and Jennifer E. Knievel demonstrated that for the fields of history, classics, linguistics, and philosophy, the average number of citations to non-English sources in issues of major journals has increased slightly between 1962 and 2002, while the average number of total cited sources has increased significantly, from 66.8 to 236. The vast majority of citations are to materials either originally published in English, or to translations into English. A similar study with a focus on the scholarly literature for the field of linguistics found that for a random sample of 479 sources used as citations in materials in the Language and Linguistics Behavior Abstracts database, an overwhelming majority – 93.5% – were in English. Additional recent studies on the topic include Can scholarly communication be multilingual? A glance at language use in US classical archaeology, Cross-lingual citations in English papers: a large-scale analysis of prevalence, usage, and impact, and, just recently – and with direct relevance to Japanese popular culture studies – Citing East Asia: A citation study on the use of East Asian materials in East Asian Studies dissertations. For that matter, in my own study of sources cited in the first 10 volumes of Mechademia, I found that out of 2,187 sources that authors cited, 68.22% were originally published in English, and another 7.27% were translated into English from other languages. Materials in Japanese made up 22.54%, and the small remainder was divided between a few items in French, German, Korean, Chinese, Italian, and Spanish.

On average, each dissertation had 44 percent of its citations to East Asian materials. However, the individual dissertations varied greatly in terms of percentage of East Asian citations

– Xiang Li, Citing East Asia

These studies then demonstrate both that scholars in different fields in the humanities that may involve using sources in languages other than English both do and do not actually use non-English sources, and the extent that they do varies widely between fields. So, conceptually, scholarship in the humanities that focuses on literature and media that is originally produced in a language other than English, and does not necessarily refer to sources in that language is possible and accepted. But, the question remains – how do you “do” anime and manga studies without being able to directly access materials written in Japanese?

And, to answer the question, I would point at least four possible approaches. Each of them comes with their own caveats and limitations, but, taken together, these approaches definitely offer some ways to resolve the basic challenge.

1. Consider translations of Japanese scholarly work

The most straight-forward approach simply involves asking the question to what extent is Japanese writing on anime/manga available in English translation? The answer to this question is – somewhat. English translations are available for two foundational Japanese texts in anime studies – Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals and Beautiful Fighting Girl, but in the first case, the original book was published in 2001, and the translation is from 2009; in the second, the book is from 2000, and updated in 2006, and the translation is dated 2011. So, neither can represent the “current” state of anime studies, either in Japanese or in English. And this is essentially also the case with the volume that was published in 2021 with the title Erotic Comics in Japan: An Introduction to Eromanga – the original Japanese edition is dated 2014, and the direct translation of the original title is Eromanga Studies, Expanded Edition: An Introduction to Manga as a “Pleasure Apparatus”.

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Studying Satoshi Kon – The Numbers

The academic area of interest of “anime studies” welcomes many different approaches and even methods. But fairly consistently, authors who study Japanese animation have drawn on approaches based in auteur theory to emphasize the importance of particular creators/directors.

anime, as a form of postmodern popular culture, can be best understood in the West through a triangulation of different approaches that balance issues of form, medium, cultural context, and individual creators.

Kevin M. Moist & Michael Barthalow, When Pigs Fly: Anime, Auteurism, and Miyazaki’s Porco Rosso

Somewhat similarly, and although this is definitely changing, a significant percentage of what actually makes up English-language “anime studies” consists of studies of anime feature films. As Mitsuyo Wada-Marciano notes, in a critique of the field, “Big budget anime films such as Metropolis, Princess Mononoke, Ghost in the Shell, and Akira are frequently discussed, along with their contemporary critical themes of technological alienatation, environmental issues, cyborg feminism, and postmodernity, while the majority of TV anime series have been neglected, since an analysis would require an examination of anime’s connections with local audiences and the complex popular culture of Japan.”

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