Category: Commentary

“Anime in the US: The Entrepreneurial Dimensions of Globalized Culture” – What Could Have Been

In my critique of the Pacific Affairs article Anime in the U.S.: The entrepreneurial dimensions of globalized culture, I argued that one of the most frustrating things about this essay is that it actually contains the basic shape of a vastly article on the role that individual entrepreneurs played in introducing Japanese animation to American audiences. So, how would this much stronger paper actually look like?

Astro BoyThe most logical way to open it would be with a discussion of how Japanese animated television programs were first brought into the U.S. Much of this story is already described in Astro Boy and Anime Come to the Americas: An Insider’s View of a Pop Culture Phenomenon (McFarland, 2008). Brian Ruh provides additional details in “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). This process could then be traced forward to the present. Aspects of it, in particular, the kinds of changes that anime films and TV episodes were subjected to as they were prepared for theatrical releases, television broadcasts, and distribution on VHS/DVD in the West are discussed in Rieko Okuhara’s “The censorship of Japanese anime in America: Do American children need to be protected from Dragon Ball” (in the same book, pp. 199-208), Rayna Denison’s “The global markets for anime: Miyazaki Hayao’s Spirited Away (2001)” (in Japanese Cinema: Texts and Contexts, pp. 308-321), Ruh’s Transforming U.S. anime in the 1980’s: Localization and longevity (Mechademia, v. 5: Fanthropologies, pp. 31-49), and especially, in his Ph.D. dissertation, Adapting Anime: Transnational Media Between Japan and the United States.

It could then be contrasted with how “anime entrepreneurs” approached Japanese animation. Perhaps precisely because they were not coming from the entertainment industry, and perhaps because they also operated at much smaller scales, with much more modest goals in mind, these entrepreneurs – people like John Ledford, Gen Fukunaga, and Gene Field – did not feel any particular need to subject the anime that they were presenting to American audiences to any major changes; in fact, its non-American nature was a selling point. Academic writing on these entrepreneurial activities is still fairly limited, though two examples are Jonathan Clements’ “The mechanics of the US anime and manga industry”, in Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction, 64, 32-44 (1995), and Laurie Cubbison’s Anime fans, DVDs, and the authentic text (The Velvet Light Trap56, 45-57), but there are plenty of articles in various general-interest publications – such as:

A great way to conclude the piece would be with a case study of Crunchyroll. Launched originally as a Youtube-like website focused on streaming Japanese anime episodes and films, many of them subtitled by fans without authorization – but also without seeking any profit for themselves (the site itself would, of course, receive income from ads), it has since reoriented itself entirely and now works directly with Japanese production companies to license anime series for online distribution to Western audiences. In 2013, The Chernin Group, a media investment company, acquired majority control in a deal valued close to US$100 million; Hollywood Reporter recently ranked it as the 8th-largest video streaming app (by revenue), and according to a Japan Times article, earlier this year, it had “the fifth largest streaming subscription base in the United States“.

This article could still reach the same conclusion as the original paper – that entrepreneurs and their activities are key to the “transnational penetration, distribution, reproduction and consumption of cultural commodities” – but the examples it would draw on would actually support the conclusion vastly more effectively than what Anime in the U.S. is able to present.

Comment/Response – Anime in the US: The Entrepreneurial Dimensions of Globalized Culture

In one of my first posts in this blog, I raised the question of why there were essentially no English-language academic articles on the “business” of anime – the history of the U.S. anime industry, the specific practices that American anime companies used to succeed, how some of these companies were able to adjust to changing economic conditions while others went out of business. Among the possible reasons that I presented were that most of the scholars who are interested in anime come from backgrounds in the humanities, and so, they simply do not have the tools to write about business and business management, that because the U.S. anime industry is primarily composed of small private companies, only very limited data is available to potential researchers, and ultimately, that “the business of anime” in the U.S. is just too small to matter or merit academic attention.

In the same post, however, I highlighted a paper that I had just become aware of, in the March 2014 issue of the journal Pacific Affairs, with the intriguing title Anime in the US: The entrepreneurial dimensions of globalized culture – and promised that I would read through it, and share my thoughts and impressions.

Between my experience as a reference librarian and research specialist, and my academic background, I have read hundreds of journal articles, in many different fields. I do not hesitate to say that I have never come across any that is as disappointing as this one. What is even more puzzling to me is that I actually think the basic argument the author presents is correct. It’s just that he fails to support the argument with any kind of convincing or coherent evidence, while also making it very hard to take him seriously.

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Who are the anime/manga scholars?

One way to characterize any academic field is by looking at the authors who publish in it. What countries are they based in? What colleges/universities? And, more specifically, what are their academic affiliations? Scholars often ask these questions – as, for example, in Who publishes in comparative politics: Studying the world from the United States and Author characteristics for major accounting journals: Differences among similarities 1989-2009. But, at least so far, I don’t think anyone has tried to ask the question of just who are the people who produce English-language academic writing on Japanese animation and Japanese comics.

Most studies of this type that I have seen look at a single journal that is considered to be particularly representative of a field, or at a small group of journals. As I have argued (and worked to demonstrate), academic writing on anime and manga is spread out across a wide range of journals that are quite different from one another. So, limiting a study of the characteristics of anime/manga scholars only to a particular type of journal, whether one focused on animation, on comics, or on Asian/East Asian/Japanese studies, would likely produce a decidedly incomplete picture. But, publications in anime/manga studies are not limited to journal articles.

In particular, at least four major general edited collections of essays on Japanese animation and Japanese comics have been published in the last ten years – and several more with specific themes narrower than anime/manga in general. Two of them focus on anime and manga both, and one each on anime or manga. So, precisely because I think these books do represent the variety of possible academic approaches to anime and manga, they can serve as excellent sources for a study that would answer this question.

In addition, an edited essay collection will usually include short biographical profiles for each of its contributors. This makes locating and recording this kind of information very easy. So, my methodology for this study is straight-forward – I reviewed the tables of contents and the “notes on contributors” sections of each of the four collections, and noted the relevant details about the authors: their general status as faculty, other “non-teaching” academic employees (administrators, visiting fellows, researchers, etc.), independent scholars/professionals (such as librarians), or graduate students, for faculty, the departments or programs they were affiliated with, the countries where they work and/or live, if provided, and their gender. This returned a list of 59 authors. A few published essays in more than one volume – these were counted each time. Two had two contributions to the same volume (as sole author, and with co-authors) – in these two cases, I only recorded the first one. I specifically did not include any authors whose contributions were limited to forewords/introductions/conclusions.

Who are the anime/manga scholars: Author characteristics in four essay collections

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Comment/Response: Japanese Cartoons, Virtual Child Pornography, Academic Libraries, and the Law

Different scholars write about manga in different ways. What a literature scholar can – and may want – to say about Japanese comics will necessarily be different from the perspective of a historian or a sociologist. And, one particular kind of perspective on manga is that brought by librarians and library science scholars. Granted, these contributions to manga studies can also take several shapes. One is the guide for other librarians, to assist them in developing manga collections – such as the books Understanding manga and anime, Mostly manga: A Genre guide to popular manga, manhwa, manhua, and anime, and the article “Basic reader’s advisory for manga: Select popular titles and similar works” (Young Adult Library Services, 5(3), 13-21 – the complete issue is currently available online in open access). Another is the case study based on personal experience – like Paper folding, bento, and tea parties: Programs with a manga and anime twist, Knowledge Quest: Journal of the American Association of School Librarians, 41(3), 42-49. One more is an examination of actual library practices over several years, such as Graphic novels in academic libraries: From Maus to manga, and beyond and The institutionalization of Japanese comics in US public libraries (2000-2010).

This kind of writing – as much of the writing in library/information science is by default and design – is essentially descriptive. Asking questions is not its goal. But, a librarian who is interested in manga from an academic, and really, also from a professional point of view, can find a good way to ask questions.

Masuchika, Glenn. Japanese cartoons, virtual child pornography, academic libraries, and the law, Reference & User Services Quarterly, 54(4), 54-60.

(Ed.: Direct online access to this article is currently available only to Reference and User Services Association members. However, the article is accessible through most major academic databases, including EBSCO Academic Search Premier, Gale Academic OneFile, and the ProQuest Research Library. If you are not able to access any of them, and would like to read it, please contact me for a copy.]

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The “oligopoly of academic publishers” and anime/manga studies

When I am asked to describe my own “academic interests”, anime and manga are actually not the first thing that I bring up. Rather, what I am interested in first and foremost is knowledge sharing – the theory behind drives (or prevents) people from sharing their knowledge with others, the actual tools and techniques that facilitate knowledge sharing, and the specific ways that individuals share knowledge – such as by publishing books or journal articles. And so, I am also generally aware of the major trends and issues that come up in this context, such as the development of the “open access” model of scholarly publishing, and the general controversy over the spiraling costs that publishers charge for access to journals. A related issue is the supposed extreme and excessive influence of a small number academic publishers that control an overwhelming majority of academic journals that scholars across many different fields need to have access to.

This issue has been mentioned plenty of times anecdotally, and recently, a group of scholars at the Universite de Montreal led by Vincent Lariviere (…whose work I consider to be the epitome of excellent library/information science scholarship) has explored it empirically. Their new paper, The oligopoly of academic publishers in the digital era, PLoS One, 10(6), confirms it, by finding that over the years from 1973 to 2013, the share of both journals and individual articles published by a small group of academic publishers has increased significantly.

Percentage of PapersIn 2013, the authors demonstrate, five publishers accounted for 51% of academic journals – and 54% of academic articles – published in the social sciences and humanities broadly defined, and 66% of academic articles in the social sciences (such as “sociology, economics, anthropology, political sciences and urban studies”). However, in the same year, only about 20% of papers published in the humanities were from the five “major publishers”.

These numbers, and their implication that large academic publishers do indeed exert a large measure of “control…on the scientific community” are important – but, for the purposes of this blog, and for the purposes of anime and manga studies as an academic field – they have to lead to a follow-up question.

What percentage of the academic output of anime/manga studies is concentrated in journals published by major for-profit/commercial publishers?

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“What to take, what to leave”: Thoughts on compiling bibliographies of writing on anime/manga

One of the most basic concepts underlying the practice of organizing and representing information is that it requires making choices. The organization and representation of information, choosing what to present, and how to arrange it is an ideological act, and even to a degree a political act. Guides, indexes, directories, databases, classification systems, and other methods of providing access to information and establishing “bibliographic control” are designed with particular goals in mind, and exist because of particular reasons, affordances, biases and prejudices. And, in turn, being aware of these goals and reasons, and of the effects that they have on information sources, services and tools, is a major component of information literacy, of being an effective user of information and a successful researcher.

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The Origins of English-Language Anime Studies

When I talk about anime and manga studies, especially in formal presentations, some questions come up over and over again. How much academic/scholarly writing on anime/manga is out there? How many scholars study (and more specifically, write about) Japanese animation, Japanese comics, and related topics? And, can we really talk about a “history” of anime/manga studies and anime/manga scholarship?

My work has actually put me a in pretty good position to answer the first two questions. I have identified almost 100 individual English-language books on anime/manga (with several more due to be published later this year). When I put it on hiatus about a year ago, my database of English-language publications on anime/manga of all types (books, book chapters, and journal articles), contained over 1,520 entries, and the names of over 900 individual authors. And neither of those numbers include the materials and authors I have identified in 2014 and this year so far.

It’s the third question – “what are the origins of anime/manga studies?” that’s more complicated. (more…)

Publication patterns in anime/manga studies, 2010-2014

Over the last year, I have been using this blog to promote, foster and facilitate the developing field of anime/manga studies, and document various new developments in this field. And, I also hope to be able to say that with this blog, I can  demonstrate just what we mean by the term anime and manga studies. One easy way to do this is simply by highlighting the range of academic books, book chapters, journal articles, and other publications on anime/manga – as I do in the Bibliography section. Another is by noting that many of these publications themselves specifically use the terms ‘anime studies’/’manga studies’.

But, pointing out that anime/manga studies is an academic field then raises a direct question – what are some of the characteristics of anime/manga studies as an academic field? What kinds of programs are the scholars writing about anime/manga based in? What form does the “scholarly output” of anime/manga studies take? What is the field’s “citation landscape” – what kinds of publications do anime/manga scholars cite in their work, and are there particular publications (or even particular individual titles) that are cited with such frequency that they should be considered “core” for the field as a whole? Academic fields or areas can also be characterized by their “publication patterns” – that is, the kinds of journals (or the specific journals) that scholarship in these fields tends to appear in. Do anime scholars seek to publish their work primarily in Japanese or Asian studies journals? Film studies/animation studies journals? Other types? (more…)

Researching the Business of Anime – Resources and Thoughts

In the opening chapter of The Anime Machine: A Media Theory of Animation, Thomas Lamarre identifies what he calls “the book report or film review model” of writing on Japanese animation – “a summary of the major narrative in conjunction with a consideration of major themes”. He does not dismiss this approach, and acknowledges it as “frequently insightful”, but argues that it is only one of several possible or potential approaches that anime scholars can take. However, as he points out, far too much of the scholarly writing on Japanese animation that is published in English falls under this model. Anime scholars select particular themes, and highlight how these themes are expressed in particular anime, or working in reverse, scholars pick a particular anime work and examine the themes and images that it contains. Or they look at how audiences interact with anime – as consumers, but primarily, as fans. Less frequently, authors describe the particular technical characteristics of a director’s work. (more…)

“Predatory open-access” and anime/manga studies

The growth of (free, online) “open-access” to academic publications has made a significant impact on how scholarship is produced, packaged/published, and presented to readers. And it is perhaps inevitable that the open-access model has given rise to actors who work to take advantage of it to generate profits for themselves. These actors – “predatory open-access publishers” – already have a significant effect on scholarly publishing in many fields – primarily in science, technology, and mathematics, but increasingly, in social sciences and the humanities. What are the implications of predatory open-access for anime and manga studies? (more…)