Category: Commentary

“Where do I start?”: Anime/Manga Studies in Major Multidisciplinary Databases – A Preliminary Study

A few days ago, I received an e-mail from a graduate student asking for suggestions about “an area in the field of anime & manga that deserves more exploration or doesn’t have enough research at the moment”. Not an uncommon question by any means, especially in the middle of a fall semester – and one I would be glad to answer. But once I started actually considering the question and the possible answers to it, I realized that these answers themselves lead to a whole set of further questions. (more…)

Comment/Response – Found in Translation

How Japanese animation actually reaches audiences outside Japan has been a major topic in anime studies going back to the field’s earliest days, such as with Jonathan Clements’ essay “The mechanics of the US anime and manga industry”, in Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction, 64, 32-44 (1995). Interest in this topic surged in the mid-2000’s, as Western scholars were being introduced to anime – in many cases by their own students – and even by their own children, and as anime fans moved on from high schools to colleges and graduate schools, and were able to publish their own work. Some examples of the seminar research on the relationship and the conflicts between anime creators/producers, anime distributors, and anime fans that were published around this time include Anime fans, DVDs and the authentic text (Laurie Cubbison, The Velvet Light Trap, 2005), Anime fandom and the liminal spaces between fan creativity and piracy (Rayna Denison, International Journal of Cultural Studies, 2011), Dark energy: What fansubs reveal about the copyright wars (Ian Condry, Mechademia v. 5, 2010), and my own Fighting the fan sub war: Conflicts between media rights holders and unauthorized creator/distributor networks.

The structure of the relationship, and the actual technological affordances that have directed it, have changed significantly since then. And so, it is particularly interesting to see a new publication that sets out to “examine recent systems, both legal and illegal, of North American anime and manga distribution” and positions itself specifically as a follow-up to 2005’s Of otakus and fansubs: A critical look at anime online in light of current issues in copyright law and an evaluation of whether the arguments that Jordan Hatcher presented in that article can still be used to understand “the relationship between fan translator groups and licensed distributors of anime and manga” in the present.

Tremblay, Alyssa (2018). Found in translation: Rethinking the relationship between fan translation groups and licensed distributors of anime and manga. The Journal of Fandom Studies, 6(3), 319-333.

“… it is possible that fan translation groups will become obsolete, perhaps to the benefit of all parties.” (more…)

Defining Anime and Manga Studies

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of the essay collection Japanese Popular Culture (Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle Co.), which contained what I believe are  the first two English-language scholarly essays on Japanese comics. As with the other chapters in the volume, both are actually translations of articles that had already previously appeared in Japanese; nonetheless, they can be treated as marking the “origin” of anime and manga studies.

Now, sixty years later, “anime and manga studies” encompasses numerous publications (such as various recent monographs, essay collections, and the almost 30 individual book chapters and journal articles on anime/manga and related topics that have appeared so far this year), academic conferences, classes at colleges and universities around the U.S., and perhaps even the beginnings of an institutional structure, via the establishment of an Anime Studies Special Interest Group within the Society for Animation Studies.

Nonetheless, one thing that anime and manga studies does not yet have is an actual definition – and I would argue that presenting one is crucial to the further development of the concept – and its evolution into something more – into an actual academic field.

Based on trends and directions in scholarly activity involving anime/manga, I would, then, propose the following definition:

Anime and manga studies is

“the exploration of Japanese animation and comics as creative works, their historical, cultural, sociological and economic dimensions, their production, distribution, global reception, and related topics.” (more…)

Guest Response Essay: Kawaii Aesthetics from Japan to Europe

Earlier this year, I announced a Call for Contributors inviting “essay submissions responding to any other article-length scholarship on anime/manga or related topics published in English in the last five years”. These kinds of short essays would, I believe, add an important new dimension to the developing field of anime and manga studies by encouraging and facilitating conversation within and about it.

Now, I am pleased to present the first response to the Call:

Dora Vrhoci – on Kawaii Aesthetics from Japan to Europe: Theory of the Japanese “Cute” and Transcultural Adoption of Its Styles in Italian and French Comics Production and Commodified Culture Goods, Arts 7(3), article 24

Ms. Vrhoci is a student of European politics and culture at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. Her main areas of interest include the politics of social movements, popular culture, and Euro-Japanese interactions. She recently co-authored a forthcoming chapter on town twinning between Eastern and Western European cities in E. Braat, & P. Corduwener (Eds.), 1989 and the West: Western Europe since the End of the Cold War, London: Routledge.

Marco Pellitteri’s article explores how Japanese kawaii culture and aesthetics are appropriated in Europe. The article centers on the question of how and whether ‘kawaii’ has found its place in contemporary Europe, with a particular focus on Italy and France. Pellitteri acquires a transcultural perspective and observes ‘the kawaii phenomenon’ as a “culture of cuteness” which (1), although originating in Japan, has become fused with European aesthetics in certain areas of youth subcultures and pop-culture products. As an example of such fusion between Japanese and European cultures, Pellitteri uses the so-called “Euromanga”—comics made by European creators, but influenced by aesthetic and/or narrative elements of  Japanese manga.

Pellitteri begins his article with a theoretical account of the ‘kawaii phenomenon’. Taking up the bulk of the text, the theoretical discussion includes an overview of the semantic and/or linguistic origins of ‘kawaii’ and highlights ‘kawaii’s’ association with an “emotional attachment to creatures”, a “girl/girlish culture” (vs. a more ‘manlier’ aesthetics), and, among other things, a nostalgic sentiment about one’s childhood. Аs another important aspect of ‘kawaii culture’, Pellitteri mentions its pattern-crossing ability, that is, the ability to move across media, industries and “juvenile tendencies” (5). The theoretical discussion closes with a note that ‘kawaii aesthetics’ are interpreted and appropriated differently in Japanese and Western contexts (i.e., West-Europe and America); while ‘kawaii’ is an integral part of contemporary Japanese culture and aesthetic, in Europe, it does not, according to Pellitteri, appear to be a dominant aesthetic trend among Japanese-inspired youth subcultures. (more…)

Highlighting New Publications – Translating Cultural References in Japanese Animation Films

SpiritedAwayPORAsakura, Kaori. Translating cultural references in Japanese animation films: The case of Spirited Away. Translation Matters, 1(1), 61-81.

Looking at “dictionary definitions” of terms may not necessarily lead to conclusive results – a “dictionary definition” is only one possible use of several. Nonetheless, the way a particular term is defined – and what is emphasized in the definition – can suggest certain approaches and interpretations. Something as straightforward as, for example, the definition of “anime” in the online Oxford Dictionaries – “A style of Japanese film and television animation, typically aimed at adults as well as children” – suggests that to reach viewers outside of Japan, anime must be translated. How this translation process actually takes place, under what conditions, and subject to what kinds of influences, can be a subject for extensive research.

SpiritedAwayENGAnd in fact, there is already a significant body of scholarship on translating anime and manga. General introductions include the “Translating manga” chapter in Comics in Translation (St. Jerome Publishing, 2008), and the article “History and philosophy of manga translation in North America” (International Journal of Comic Art, 2016). An example of a more theoretical approach can be seen in Perceptions and (re)presentations of familiarity and foreignness: The cultural politics of translation in the subtitling of Japanese animation by fans. And beyond these more general ones, there are several specific case studies that examine particular translations, or compare how the same original materials are translated into English and into other languages – as in “The translation and adaptation of Miyazaki’s Spirit Princess in the West” (in Princess Mononoke: Understanding Studio Ghibli’s Monster Princess), Strategy and style in English and French translations of Japanese comic books (Edinburgh Working Papers in Applied Linguistics, 2001), “A textual analysis of Japanese and Chinese editions of manga: Translation as cultural hybridiziation” (International Journal of Comic Art, 2006), The cultural transfer in anime translation (Translation Journal, 2009), and Dubbing of silences in Spirited Away: A comparison of Japanese and English language versions (Perspectives: Studies in Translation Theory & Practice, 2016). (more…)

Anime/Manga Studies in 2018: The Year in Review

For various reasons, I missed a Year in Review post for 2017. But, with 2018 now several weeks behind us, it is definitely appropriate to review the highlights of the year for anime and manga studies in the broad categories of new and notable publications, conferences and other events, and classes.

Books:

interpreting animeAfter a relatively quiet year in terms of major new English-language books on anime, this past one was anything but, with some of the most well-known authors in anime and manga studies publishing new titles.

Christopher Bolton, who teaches comparative and Japanese literature at Williams College, led the way with Interpreting Anime, the first book on anime I am aware of that is designed specifically for classroom use – and so, aimed at both instructors and students – and priced accordingly, at just $24.00. It has already received excellent reviews, including in Choice and in the Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies, where the reviewer praises Bolton for “a meaningful contribution to the scholarship of reading, one able to transcend its subject matter – anime – and speak to readers everywhere, those who seek as full, as complete an engagement with their texts as possible.” To promote the book further, Prof. Bolton has also created a dedicated web page for it, and a YouTube trailer.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SWx277kDS9A&w=560&h=315]

[And, in what may be a personal first, alongside the books, chapters, and journal articles that Interpreting Anime’s bibliography lists, there is also a citation to a post in this blog.]

For many years, the introductory title in anime studies – more or less by default, was Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation, first published in 2001. And even though it saw an 2005 update (as Anime from Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle, now, in 2018, it is still inevitably dated. So, something like Interpreting Anime, along with Anime: A Critical Introduction, published in 2015, is absolutely invaluable. Probably the only caveat when considering this title is that it is based almost entirely on essays that Bolton published previously, although all of them have been revised and expanded to fit into an overarching structure. (more…)

The Shortcomings and “Blind Spots” of Anime and Manga Studies – a survey of the critical commentary

Recently, a colleague passed around a call for “more good scholarship on shonen as a genre” and voiced frustration with how little such scholarship currently exists – essentially the only one that addresses the genre as a whole, rather than specific works, is Angela Drummond-Matthews’ “What Boys Will Be: A Study of Shonen Manga” (in the 2010 essay collection Manga: An Anthology of Global and Cultural Perspectives, pp. 62-76). One recent article that I recommended – and that he found useful – is Straddling the Line: How Female Authors are Pushing the Boundaries of Gender Representation in Japanese Shonen Manga (New Voices in Japanese Studies, 10, 76-97) – as I noted, “pushing the boundaries” first requires establishing just what these boundaries are, and in fact, the paper does include an extensive discussion of “the framework” of shonen manga. But the original question, and the frustration at not there not being more material available, led me to some thinking of my own.

The first English-language academic article on anime was published more than twenty-five years ago. It’s now been about twenty years since the first full class on Japanese animation at an American college. Anime is an accepted and acceptable area of scholarly interest, and anime and manga studies is as established academic field. And, as the field continues to define its its shape, it becomes particularly important to highlight not just what it is about, but the internal discussions that are taking place within it – the debates and the critiques. So, since that first article – Susan Napier’s Panic sites: The Japanese imagination of disaster from Godzilla to Akira appeared back in 1993, what kinds of comments have scholars made identifying particular shortcomings in anime/manga studies?

Thomas Lamarre’s The Anime Machine: A Media Theory of Animation can, at this point, be considered one of the foundational texts of anime/manga studies – it is the most cited English-language book across all 10 volumes of Mechademia. And, right on the first page of the book’s preface, Lamarre states – although without providing any concrete examples:

“The bulk of anime commentary ignores that its ‘object’ consists of moving images, as if animations were but another text. Such a treatment of anime as textual object has tended in two directions. On the one hand, even when anime is treated largely as text, some commentators will call on the novelty and popularity of anime to bypass the tough questions that usually arise around the analysis of texts. Anime is, in effect, treated as a textual object that does not or cannot pose any difficult textual questions. Analysis is relegated to re-presenting anime narratives, almost in the manner of book reports or movie reviews. [emphasis mine]. On the other some commentators treat anime as text in order to pose “high textual” speculative questions  (such as the nature of reality, or the relationship of mind and body), again ignoring the moving image altogether but for different reasons. In this kind of textual treatment, the anime stories serve as the point of departure for philosophical speculation, without any consideration of the materiality of animation.”

Lamarre, “The Anime Machine: A Media Theory of Animation”, ix-x.

(more…)

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. (more…)

Anime/Manga Studies Article Publication Trends – A 2018 Update

Two years ago, I examined the “publication trends” in anime/manga studies by tracking the actual number of articles on anime/manga that have appeared in English-language academic journals starting in 1993 and through 2015. At that point, I was able to identify 965 such articles – though of course, the determination of what exactly constitutes an “anime/manga studies” article is ultimately subjective. And, as I continue the work of compiling the Annual Bibliography of Anime and Manga Studies, I am also able to extend this analysis forward to the present.

English-language academic articles on anime/manga, by year, 2015-2018:

2015: 91
2016: 101
2017: 91
2018 (to date): 86

Total: 369 (more…)

American Anime Fans – An Initial Research Guide

An easy way to approach the presence of anime and manga in the U.S. is to think about “firsts” – the first Japanese animated film to be screened in American movie theaters, the first Japanese cartoon aired on American television, the first anime released on home video, the first published manga, the first anime convention, and so on. And there is certainly a lot of value to identifying these kinds of firsts and establishing the history of anime/manga in the U.S. For anime in particular, for example, Brian Ruh has done excellent work in this area with “Early Japanese animation in the United States: Changing Tetsuwan Atomu to Astro Boy”, in The Japanification of Children’s Popular Culture: From Godzilla to Miyazaki (pp. 209-226) and Transforming U.S. anime in the 1980s: Localization and longevity (Mechademia, v. 5: Fanthropologies, pp. 31-49).

But, what kind of research is out there on the “present” state of anime in the U.S., especially, on the audience for anime in the U.S.? In fact, a few days ago, I came across just such a request for recommended articles or other scholarship specifically on American anime fans. I immediately realized that there are actually very few out there – compared to commentary on particular fan activities and practices, such as anime music videos, cosplay, fan fiction, and fan subs. So, I think it will be useful to list several that I am aware of and can readily recommend.

To begin, for any understanding of American anime fans, a key source are a pair of essays by Lawrence Eng:

Strategies of engagement: Discovering, defining, and describing otaku culture in the United States. (pp. 85-104). (more…)