One of the inevitable challenges of attempting an academic approach to anime/manga is the simple question of selecting particular works to examine – out of hundreds. In a way, it is this challenge that leads many scholars to limit their discussion of anime to discussions of Hayao Miyazaki’s animated films – if nothing else, this kind of limitation allows them to easily connect such new to the significant amount of scholarship on these films that exist already. Similarly, as Mitsuyo Wada-Marciano points out, scholars who write on anime all too frequently limit their studies to straight-forward textual analysis – this leads to a “marginalization” of anime series that air on television – and, maybe, are just not that interesting from a pure textual analysis point of view.
This is precisely why examples of new contributions to anime studies that do go beyond Miyazaki and a handful of other directors are always worth paying attention to. And one such example appears in the February 2016 issue of the Journal of Popular Culture . The full issue is currently available in open access on its publisher’s website.
“‘Long ago and far away…’ begins each episode of Princess Tutu. An anime steeped in century-old ballets – themselves steeped in older folklore, opera, history, and fairytales – Princess Tutu does not quite fit into an easily recognizable mold. It features a magical girl, or mahō shōjo, but she seems to take a back seat to other characters, and the reward waiting for her at the end of the series is a quiet life as a single duck, rather than as the partner of a handsome prince. The story revolves around a battle between a beloved prince and an evil raven, but the prince first lacks interest in battle and then eventually allies himself with the raven. A young man trying to become a valiant knight plays an important role, yet he becomes most important when he throws away his sword and absents himself from the climactic fight, allowing a wimpy bookworm to defend him valiantly against attack. Finally, a young woman falls in love with the prince, but she is dating him before the series begins and they ride off into the sunset at the end with little change in their relationship. Not a mahō shōjo-type coming-of-age story; not a love story; not, really, the story of a battle between good and evil, Princess Tutu emerges from a frothy ocean of stories without really belonging to any of them. Yet, an in-depth examination of the relationship between Princess Tutu and one of its sources, the ballet Swan Lake, reveals that Princess Tutu is representative of a process of creation common to classic ballets.”
“Can anime/manga be adapted into successful American live-action films?” And, for that matter, “which anime/manga would be good candidates for adaptation into American live-action films? These kinds of questions are too easy – and are asked time and time again. In the mid-2000’s, A.D. Vision, then the leading distributor on anime on VHS and DVD in the U.S. was in the early stages of producing a live-action version of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Several years later, a live-action Speed Racer opened in U.S. theaters, followed by a live-action Dragonball: Evolution. And just a few weeks ago, ICv2, a leading website for news about “pop culture products”, reminded readers in a feature article on “new trends in manga” that:
“There’s another trend coming down the pipe that’s also likely to raise the profile of anime and manga even further. Hollywood is taking notice of the global popularity of Japanese pop culture, and the results of that interest are going to start hitting screens soon. Ghost in the Shell, starring Scarlett Johansson, is fairly far along, as is Death Note, which is being cast. At earlier stages of development are Naruto, and Akira.”
The question of how exactly to refer to anime/manga studies – as an academic discipline, a field, an area of interest – is easy to ask, perhaps even inevitable. And it certainly puts “anime/manga studies” into good company – this same kind of question has come up time and time again in relation to topics as diverse as knowledge management, “public diplomacy”, popular music studies, and even film studies.
With this in mind, it is particularly interesting to compare “anime/manga studies” to another area that it is very close to, and in fact, that it can be said to overlap with – comics studies. More specifically, what does “comics studies” have that “anime/manga studies” does not?
At this point, English-language comics studies is characterized by several features. Classes on different aspects of comics/graphic novels are common at colleges and universities around the U.S. and in other countries; in fact, the Department of English at the University of Florida now offers a “comics and visual rhetoric” track in its PhD program, while the University of Oregon allows undergraduate students to pursue an interdisciplinary “comics and cartoon studies” minor. Comics scholars can also present their work at events such as the Comics Arts Conference and the sessions at the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association Annual Conference that are sponsored by the PCA’s Comics and Comic Arts Area, and receive formal recognition for it, for example, via an Eisner Award in the “best scholarly/academic category”.
One of the most interesting trends in the development of the academic field of comics studies over the last two or so decades has been the emergence of several academic journals focused specifically on comics – broadly defined, and including manga. This trend started with the launch of the International Journal of Comic Art; since then, it has been joined by the online-only (and so, open access/free-to-read) Image [&] Narrative and ImageTexT, as well as the more traditional (i.e., distributed primarily to libraries that pay a subscription price for electronic access and/or print issues) Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics and Studies in Comics. Another, The Comics Grid, was first launched as a WordPress-driven blog, but has since converted to a more traditional format, with all pieces published in a given year assigned to a unique volume and given an individual article number – so, The relationship between personalities and faces of manga characters can be identified – and cited to – as being published in Volume 5, and as Art. 3. Its editor provided an in-depth explanation for the reasons behind this change.
One more such journal – and one that I was not previously aware of – is the Scandinavian Journal of Comic Art. The journal’s first two issues were published in 2012, none in the next two and a half years, but a new one is now available. As per its profile, it is “global in scope and aims to publish high quality research regardless of national or regional boundaries” – the “Scandinavian” in the title refers primarily to where its editors are originally from and/or are currently based. The theme of the issue is “Nordic history and cultural memory in comics” – and one of its three articles deals specifically with manga.
“The Japanese comic Attack on Titan has become greatly popular, currently with a circulation of more than forty million. Its worldwide popularity crosses national and generational boundaries, and it has been translated into numerous European and Asian languages. Attack on Titan presents a more than a century long battle between the human race and the Titans, whose ruthless hunting and devouring of human beings has forced the last of humanity into a fortress surrounded by three enormous, concentric walls. This article studies the influence of Norse mythology on Attack on Titan from an aesthetic and philosophical perspective. It focuses in part on the Titan legend, including Attack on Titan’s unique figure Ymir, who is compared with an important creature in Norse mythology, the giant Ymir. It also focuses on similarities between the motif of the wall in this comic and of the Miðgarðr in Norse myth. Finally, the paper analyzes the structure of hero worship in Attack on Titan in relation to mythological concepts, especially the metaphorical ritual of extracting a warrior’s heart and the image of the damaged body of the warrior.”
Academic articles on comics, including manga, can – and certainly do – appear in a wide range of ournals. For example, just this year so far, the East Asian Journal of Popular Culture, the Journal of Neo-Victorian Studies, and Transformative Works and Cultures have all published such articles. However, several English-language journals cover comics exclusively. It is certainly reasonable to assume that they will welcome articles on Japanese comics.
The Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics (Routledge), is probably the highest-profile such journal. It began publication in 2010, at first with two issues in each year’s volume, and has since expanded to four. Within the first year, it published Casey Brienza’s Producing comics culture: A sociological approach to the study of comics, a study of how “the conditions and mode of production help to determine the particular sorts of [comics] texts that are actually created” in the U.S. and In Japan, followed by three other individual articles, and a full “Boys’ Love manga (yaoi)” special section. And, two more articles on Japanese comics appear in the new December 2015 issue.
The goals of the first books on Japanese animation published in English – Antonia Levi’s Samurai From Outer Space: Understanding Japanese Animation (1996), Susan Napier’s Anime From Akira to Princess Mononoke: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation (2001), and Patrick Drazen’s Anime Explosion! The What? Why? & Wow! of Japanese Animation (2002) – were fairly modest, and limited simply to describing the major features and themes that are present throughout anime. The books that individual authors have published on anime since then have been more elaborate, with focuses on themes such as “fan communities” and the “anime media mix”, and in-depth theoretical approaches as with Thomas Lamarre’s The Anime Machine. The exceptions have been 2009’s The Rough Guide to Anime and the 2013 Kamera Books handbook Anime (essentially, a listing of major directors.creators and major films/series). But, no such thing as a current/contemporary critical overview of Japanese animation, from an academic expert but aimed at a general audience, existed – until now.
Anime: A Critical Introduction is a new entry in Bloomsbury Publishing‘s “Film Genres” series that also includes volumes on “Fantasy Film”, “Teen Film”, “Science Fiction Film”, and “Historical Film”. Fittingly, the approach that it takes emphasizes the genres within Japanese animation, such as science fiction, horror, shone and shojo, and the separate and unique “Ghibli Genre”, while acknowledging that genres, as concepts and categories are constructed by both creators, audiences, and third parties such as the media, and are subject to change/evolution over time. In its discussion of anime as a particular “cultural phenomenon” and a “globally significant category of animation”, the author also makes sure to introduce a historical perspective that places “anime” as we usually think of it into the broader context of “Japanese animation”, and to engage with the work of both English-language and Japanese anime scholars, including the ones mentioned above.
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.
(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.]
Earlier this year, when the new East Asian Journal of Popular Culture published its first issue, I was pleased to profile it as a potential new venue for academic writing on a wide range of topics related to Japanese animation and Japanese comics. In fact, the first issue already included two papers dealing with manga – though the two were substantially different from each other in terms of their focus and methodologies. The journal’s second issue is now available, and 3 articles (out of a total of 8 in the issue) again specifically address anime/manga – again, broadly defined. (more…)
Global Manga: “Japanese” Comics Without Japan?, the new essay collection, edited by City University London’s Casey Brienza, on the “global cultural phenomenon” of comics that may be presented as manga but are not actually created in Japan, is now available for purchase in hard-cover and e-book formats.
Dr. Brienza introduces the essays with Manga Without Japan?, an overview of the emergence of “original” (i.e., non-Japanese) manga, largely in response to market pressures and conditions. This essay provides working definitions of both “global manga” and “manga” in general, surveys the current state of “cultural production” of global manga around the world – in the U.S. and Canada, in Europe, and in South America, and approaches the underlying question of how to consider manga/global manga – as styles, as marketing functions or labels, or even as “tools” deployed in support of particular activities. Ultimately, as she points out, just some of the questions this book highlights – and that should be involved in any discussion about manga, whether in Japan or elsewhere, include:
What do the fields of cultural production of “global manga” look like?
Why and under what sorts of conditions do they arise and flourish?
Who gets to decide what counts as “manga,” and who benefits from that decision?
What are global manga’s implications for contemporary economies of cultural and creative labor?
What does it mean…for manga to be “authentically” Japanese and what, precisely, is at stake?