Call for Book Chapters – Explaining Isekai

Anime is not a genre – but considering genres is one of the ways to at least begin critically approaching Japanese animation. In this way, Rayna Denison presents a focus on anime genres “because of the way genres are often seen, like anime, to operate as cultural categories or phenomena”. And, as Denison points out, studying genres calls for an awareness not only of differences between them, but also of their “meanings”, such as the ways that both audiences and critics respond to particular ones. This kind of awareness can highlight instances where particular genres draw popular attention, but remain relatively obscure in terms of criticism and analysis. Denison herself uses the example of horror anime, while Lucy Fraser and Masafumi Monden, in The maiden switch: New possibilities for understanding Japanese shōjo manga (girls’ comics) have examined “early 1980s and 1990s shōjo manga that were primarily targeted at the youngest band of readers, stories with early adolescent heroines in light, romantic, and fairytale-like narratives” – in contrast to “texts that enact more explicit gender subversion”.

isekai (literally ‘different world’) is an anime and manga genre whose plots usually consist in a main character that enters (or is forcibly transported) to a fantasy world, whose setting can combine fantasy Middle Age elements with a science fiction or steampunk appeal.

Oscar García Aranda, Representations of Europe in Japanese anime: An overview of case studies and theoretical frameworks

One genre where this kind of gap between popularity and critical recognition is particularly prominent is isekai. Definitions for it include “(literally ‘different world’)…an anime and manga genre whose plots usually consist in a main character that enters (or is forcibly transported) to a fantasy world, whose setting can combine fantasy Middle Age elements with a science fiction or steampunk appeal” (Oscar García Aranda, Representations of Europe in Japanese anime: An overview of case studies and theoretical frameworks), and “a specific genre of storytelling in which people move from one world to another, usually through some sort of a portal such as a gate or a doorway” (Giovanni Tagliamonte and Yaochong Yang, Isekai: Tracing interactive control in non-interactive media), although these authors add to the definition, noting that “isekai usually refers to a specific set of qualities: amateur-publishing, fantasy worlds with varying levels of game-like qualities, and a self-reflexive commentary aided by platform publishing”, and as a recent Japan Times report notes, isekai has “dominated the manga and light novel markets“. But beyond a few essays and articles such as these and Zachary Samuel Gottesman, The Japanese settler unconscious: Goblin Slayer on the ‘Isekai’ frontier, and Tani Levy, Entering another world: A cultural genre discourse of Japanese isekai texts and their origin in online participatory culture, it remains a genre that is yet to attract significant scholarly attention.

It is with this mind that Dr. Michael Cserkits has announced a call for papers for an Explaining Isekai essay collection. Proposals of 200-400 words for papers on range of topics, such as the history of isekai, gender and social aspects, violence and the military, and case studies of particular titles, will be accepted until January 23, 2023. The expected length for the final papers is approximately 5000-7000 words, with expected submission in August 2023.

The full Call for Papers is available below and at https://networks.h-net.org/node/73374/announcements/11213439/explaining-isekai-%E2%80%93-call-contributions.

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Special Feature – The “I Am Not Alone” Controversy

On April 26, the academic journal Qualitative Research published a “research note” by University of Manchester Japanese Studies PhD student Karl Andersson with the title “I am not alone – we are all alone: Using masturbation as an ethnographic method in research on shota subculture in Japan“.

For the next several months, the paper sat there largely unnoticed. Until, August 8, when it began attracting the kind of attention on Twitter that rarely if ever attaches itself to an academic paper.

And this does not even go into editorials, quick write-ups in tabloids, and, inevitably, social media outrage.

For two weeks, starting August 9, Qualitative Research conducted an investigation into the circumstances that surrounded the publication of the article. On August 22, it issued an official Retraction Notice, and deleted the original article from the journal’s website. It is also not available via the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, and so, for all intents and purposes, has been removed from existence.

On reflection, due to the potential for significant harm caused by the publication of this work compounded by ethical issues surrounding the conception and design, the Journal Editors have made the decision to retract and remove the note.

Needless to say, the controversy surrounding “I am not alone…” raises a number of interesting and troubling questions. And for answers to these questions, Anime and Manga Studies would like to turn to Dr. Casey Brienza, a qualitative sociologist with a record of peer-reviewed academic monograph and journal article publications on both manga and scholarly publishing. Dr. Brienza is the editor of the essay collection Global Manga: “Japanese” Comics without Japan? (London, Routledge, 2015), and the author of Manga in America: Transnational Book Publishing and the Domestication of Japanese Comics (London, Bloomsbury, 2016), as well as journal articles such as Activism, Legitimation, or Record: Towards a New Tripartite Typology of Academic Journals (Journal of Scholarly Publishing, 2015), Sociological Perspectives on Japanese Manga in America (Sociology Compass, 2014), and Opening the Wrong Gate? The Academic Spring and Scholarly Publishing (Publishing Research Quarterly, 2012).

Ed. note: Regardless of the specifics of Dr. Andersson’s research, under U.S. law, receiving “a visual depiction of any kind, including a drawing, cartoon, sculpture, or painting” that “depicts a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct” and is obscene is illegal and may lead to prosecution. Recent cases where individuals were convicted for violating this provision include U.S. v. Whorley, 550 F. 3d 326 (2008), U.S. v. Handley, 564 F.Supp. 2d 996 (2008), and U.S. v. Eyechaner, 326 F.Supp.3d 76 (2018).

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MK: How common are retractions?

Casey Brienza: They’re not common at all, for any reason! You sometimes hear about them in the biomedical field, where findings based upon flawed of falsified data could literally mean the difference between life or death, but the retraction of Andersson’s article is the first that I can ever recall having encountered in any of my areas of interest.

They’re not common at all, for any reason! You sometimes hear about them in the biomedical field, where findings based upon flawed of falsified data could literally mean the difference between life or death

MK: Did Qualitative Research follow common or typical procedure in making the decision to
retract this article?

The Journal Editors stated that they were following COPE (Committee on Publishing Ethics) guidelines. The COPE guidelines for article retractions are publicly available to read (https://publicationethics.org/retraction-guidelines), and I would highly recommend anyone interested in this subject read them themselves. My personal conclusion, from my own reading of those guidelines, is that, no, Qualitative Research did not do a great job of following the procedure they claimed to be following.

MK: What kinds of problems or issues can you point out in how the retraction was announced and implemented?

First off, speaking as someone who has worked on multiple edited collections, I thought the Journal Editors’ lightning-fast capitulation to viral outrage was shameful.

Casey Brienza: First off, speaking as someone who has worked on multiple edited collections, I thought the Journal Editors’ lightning-fast capitulation to viral outrage was shameful. They’re the ones who published this article and, by implication, believed it had merit. The author is just a first-year PhD student, and this article was his first ever peer-reviewed publication.

As an editor I always go out of my way to provide extra support to student writers. Yet the Journal Editors never mounted even a half-hearted public defense either of him or their journal’s overall editorial discretion.

But the biggest problem, in my view, is their decision to remove the article from publication. They did this about a week prior to their formal retraction, which is not in keeping with COPE guidelines, and they decided not to republish it after retraction either, a decision which should be reserved for “extraordinary” circumstances only. Under normal circumstances, the original text of a retracted article would remain freely available, for transparency’s sake. Removing the article from publication makes it more difficult to “check their work,” as it were. And by extension, the Journal Editors seem to be suggesting they believe the article is too dangerous to be read! In the absence of clear evidence of the article’s potential to cause harm, this strikes me as overkill.

Removing the article from publication makes it more difficult to “check their work,” as it were. And by extension, the Journal Editors seem to be suggesting they believe the article is too dangerous to be read!

MK: In your opinion, were there any issues with the methodology that the author used, with how they presented their work, or with the overall publication that would merit a retraction?

Casey Brienza: There are aspects of the article I thought were great and aspects I thought were less great. This is just par for the course; ask two different academics about one journal article, and you’re bound to get a minimum of three different opinions on it. There is nothing about Andersson’s article that I thought merited a formal retraction, never mind a removal from publication.

MK: Do you think the negative reactions to the original article (including both on Twitter and in media) influenced the Journal Editors?

Casey Brienza: Absolutely. Close inspection of the timeline makes it nigh impossible to believe otherwise.

MK: Do you think this particular situation can occur with other journals, such as those not based in the UK?

Casey Brienza: It does seem possible, yes.

MK: How will this retraction affect research on anime/manga (and qualitative research in general) going forward?

The implications for anime/manga studies are positively chilling. Obviously, shotacon is going to be effectively off-limits to many researchers going forward.

Casey Brienza: The implications for anime/manga studies are positively chilling. Obviously, shotacon is going to be effectively off-limits to many researchers going forward. But also, it’s important not to overlook the wider problem areas: People unfamiliar with the visual conventions of Japanese cartoons often have trouble correctly identifying the intended age, race/ethnicity, and/or gender of the characters- meaning that any sexually explicit anime/manga could be rendered criminally suspect.

In addition to the article retraction, as if that weren’t bad enough, Andersson is currently suspended from his university pending the outcome of an internal investigation, and he’s being investigated by UK law enforcement on top of that. Who would want that kind of professional and personal hassle?

Comment/Response – Building a Japanese Manga Collection for Nontraditional Patrons

Comics, graphic novels, and manga have a place in libraries. The Young Adult Library Services Association division of the American Library Association compiles a yearly Great Graphic Novels for Teens list, and just some of the recent books on comics/graphic novels/manga that are targeted specifically at librarians include Graphic Novels Beyond the Basics: Insights and Issues for Libraries (Libraries Unlimited, 2009), Library Collections for Teens: Manga and Graphic Novels (American Library Association, 2010), Mostly Manga: A Genre Guide to Popular Manga, Manhwa, Manhua, and Anime (Libraries Unlimited, 2012), and the collection Graphic Novels and Comics in Libraries and Archives: Essays on Readers, Research, History and Cataloging (McFarland & Co., 2010). Examples of similar coverage in prominent journals in the library science field are the articles Graphic Novels in Academic Libraries: From Maus to Manga and Beyond (The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 2006), The Institutionalization of Japanese Comics in US Public Libraries (2000-2010) (Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics, 2013), and, just earlier this year, A School Librarian’s Journey through Manga Collection Development (Knowledge Quest).

One common thread that links these books and articles is that they generally either present a “high-level” overview of the idea of including manga, etc. in library collections, or actually quantify the extent to which libraries are doing so. What they generally do not discuss, with the exception of some of the chapters in Graphic Novels and Comics in Libraries and Archives are the actual mechanics of this process. How does a library go about purchasing comics/manga, what are some of the different possible approaches to adding records for these kinds of titles to a library’s catalog, where should they even be physically located in the library space?

Another recent collection, The Library’s Guide to Graphic Novels (American Library Association, 2020) does specifically try to answer these kinds of questions. And one of its chapters – Building a Japanese Manga Collection for Nontraditional Patrons in an Academic Library, discusses these same kinds of mechanics as applied to manga in particular.

Of course, the first question that can come up in relation to this chapter is what do its authors even mean when they refer to a library’s “nontraditional patrons”. Presumably, the main goal of an academic library is to collect and provide access to books and other materials that would support the needs of researchers. The Japanese Manga Collection that they describe, on the other hand, is designed to support in-class reading (in the terminology used by the University of Pennsylvania Japanese Language Program, “tadoku” – “extensive reading” – where students “choose Japanese-language books appropriate to their level, then read as much as they can without a dictionary and by skipping difficult sections, grasp the overall content from the parts they can decipher on their own”. Traditionally, this approach used “graded readers” – “easy-to-read books specifically targeted at programmed grammatical and vocabulary levels”, but the authors, one of whom was the University of Pennsylvania Libraries Japanese Studies Librarian, realized that students were more interested in, and would engage with the tadoku approach more – if the books it offered would be titles they were interested in on their own – i.e. manga. Coming to this realization then led into the “mechanics-related” questions on selecting titles to purchase, actually purchasing these titles, creating correct bibliographic records, and then simply advertising the existence of the new collection to potential users.

The aim of tadoku is for students to choose Japanese-language books appropriate to their level, then read as much as they can without a dictionary and by skipping difficult sections, grasp the overall content from the parts they can decipher on their own.

Possible approaches the authors describe for selecting titles to purchase include reaching out to language instructors to solicit recommendations from students, as well as trying to become aware of manga titles that are popular “among a more general population of patrons”, using the recommendation algorithm on Amazon Japan to get a better understanding of “what is both currently popular and relevant for the growing collection”, reviewing records in Wikipedia for details about spin-offs and sequels and such, and drawing on the catalogs and other marketing materials put out by the major U.S. publishers of translated manga for a sense of “currently popular titles” and “important publishing trends”. One such trend that the authors specifically point out is “women-authored gay romance stories” and a “queer lens on manga”, leading to “a selection focus on LGBTQ titles that orient readers to gay history and culture as well as
relationships and everyday life.” Of course, all of these approaches have the potential for a selection bias and can lead to a collection that over-represents certain types or genres to the exclusion of others that are perhaps not as “trendy”, but better represent the full range of the different kinds of manga that are available to readers in Japan.

Students of Japanese as a foreign language are often inspired by their interest in popular culture, so there was naturally a demand for Japanese comics, or manga, to engage with in class for tadoku

Building a Japanese Manga Collection, p. 145

From this, the article describes the process of locating details about two particular manga titles (My Brother’s Husband! and Jūhan Shuttai!), aimed at a librarian with no familiarity whatsoever with manga, such as both the advantages and the limitations of Wikipedia for locating details about these titles, and the challenges of using Amazon Japan to actually purchase volumes. The next section is its most intensely technical, dealing with possible ways of actually representing manga in a library catalog in a way that would make these books distinct from non-Japanese graphic novels/comics. Right now, the best such way is to use the Library of Congress Subject Headings system’s “Comic books, strips, etc.” heading, and add the Japan geographic subdivision. The authors also recommend specifically highlighting that the book is in Japanese, and whenever possible, including the actual original Japanese title (in kanji, not just transliterated) in the catalog record.

In the absence of a widely adopted library-facing thesaurus that establishes “manga” or “manhwa” as freestanding subjects – and the consequent lack of representation for established subgenres in Japan and Korea – libraries should adopt and maintain those conventions that serve their users and describe their collections best.

Building a Japanese Manga Collection, p. 157

Example: Penn Libraries catalog record, 弟の夫 (My Brother’s Husband)


One more part of the article addresses the other key aspect of developing and maintaining this kind of collection – how do you actually make its existence known to library users? This involved deciding on a unique name for the collection, and a dedicated physical location, and even specifically indicating the collection on book spine labels. Nonetheless, the collection remained largely unknown to users other than Japanese language students, and to remedy this, the librarians specifically designed a marketing campaign with both print and digital signs, including signage displayed on the library’s ground floor.

The East Asia Comics Collection has been designed for direct application in language pedagogy and as active circulating resources for student enrichment, and its development represents a shift in how the Penn Libraries’ East Asian-language materials have been advertised and used.

Building a Japanese Manga Collection, p. 161

A conclusion also summarizes the way the collection has actually been used, and how it fits into the library system’s broader mission of “making language learning and the library itself fun for underserved demographics” (such as students in language courses, as opposed to researchers), and even the way it is potentially open to public users who can access university library collections at specified times, as well as other college/university libraries via inter-library loan.

Overall, this chapter is a valuable profile of a unique and important library collection, and a very useful template or guide for other libraries that may wish to establish collections of this type, or simply collect manga titles in the original Japanese. Of course, the methods and approaches that its authors highlight are not comprehensive. They for example do not address the usefulness of other resources, such as the Anime News Network Encyclopedia for locating information about manga titles, using lists of awards winners to select titles for inclusion, or basing at least some of the collection on titles that have been the subject of scholarly research. Nonetheless, Building a Japanese Manga Collection is a valuable addition to the literature on manga in libraries, and to library science/librarianship literature in general, and one that, I hope, will serve as an important resource for and aid to librarians who are interested in manga!

Comment/Response – The contradictions of pop nationalism in the manga Gate

A key feature of scholarly writing as a “genre” is that a new contribution to scholarship on a topic does not just stand by itself, but builds on previous contributions, and in a way, engages in a conversation with them. This feature can be seen in the literature review sections of new scholarly articles, as well as in formal reviews of newly-published books. But while book reviews are common in scholarly writing in many different fields, in-depth commentary on previously published articles and book chapters is not common at all. And I think that anime and manga studies as a field that is relatively new and very much evolving would benefit from these kinds of conversations in the form of response pieces to specific recent articles/book chapters.

In the future, I hope to be able to publish response pieces of this kind that are submitted by other readers/scholars. But, right now, I would like to share my own thoughts on a recently published journal article.

[note: I do not know how common the practice of writing commentary/reflection essays on published articles is in other academic programs, but I had to complete assignments of this type in both undergraduate and graduate classes]

Martin, Paul. The contradictions of pop nationalism in the manga Gate: Thus the JSDF fought there! Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics11(2), 167-181.

“Though Japan’s post-war constitution forbids maintaining the means of waging war, the Japanese Self-Defence Force (JSDF) is one of the most powerful militaries in the world. This contradiction has become increasingly important in recent years as the JSDF has expanded its role and public profile, and as the state has moved closer to re-writing the constitution to allow for a more robust military policy. Alongside this military contradiction is a nationalistic one. The hyper-nationalism of the Pacific War left a general suspicion of overt nationalism amongst Japan’s population, but in recent years casual forms of nationalism have emerged that decouple pride in national identity from political commitment. This article focuses on the manga Gate: Thus the JSDF Fought There! to unpack the relationship between nationalism and the JSDF’s ambiguous position. In this manga, Japan is invaded through a mysterious portal from a fantasy world, allowing the manga to depict the JSDF in combat. While the manga hews close to official JSDF self-representations, in attempting to show the JSDF at war, the manga’s images, characters and narrative foreground contradictions inherent in the JSDF and in Japanese forms of nationalism.”

One common criticism of Japanese popular culture products is that too often, they rely on the same few basic story set-ups that are then explored with only slight modifications and little in the way of innovation. This is why those comics and shows that do significantly buck the expected structures attract so much attention and praise. But every once in a while, a title comes along that doesn’t just “buck” or subvert the expected, but goes in an entirely new direction. An is Gate: Where the JSDF Fought, first a novel series, and then adapted into a manga and a 26-episode anime.

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College Classes on Anime/Manga – Fall 2022 Update

Over the last several years, one of the regular updates that I have added to this site has been a list of new classes at colleges/universities around the U.S. that specifically focus on Japanese animation and Japanese comics. Some examples of these classes include “Transnational Anime: Japanese Animation History and Theory” at Washington State University (Spring 2019), Girls’ Manga and Beyond at Oberlin College (Spring 2017), and Japanese Culture and Society Through Anime at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

And now, as we approach the Fall 2022 semester, it may be useful to present one more such update. This is definitely not a comprehensive list, but I hope that it can serve as a good illustration of the kinds of titles that college classes on anime/manga can have, the different approaches they can take, and even the different departments that offer them.

Of course, if you know other similar classes, are taking one, or even teaching one – by all means, let me know, and I will be happy to add it to the list!

Brown University
Global Anime (Modern Culture and Media)

This course provides a systematic introduction to the forms, history, and culture of Japanese animation (anime). Surveying the historical developments, artistic styles, major themes and subgenres of anime under both the national context of Japan and a wider trajectory of globalization, this course focuses on analyzing the forms and idioms of anime in relation to changing technological conditions and their cultural ramifications. The students are expected to relate anime culture with their experience of new media technologies, and to expand their artistic interest in anime to wider theoretical questions such as posthumanism, globalism, techno-orientalism, and media convergence.

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Interview with the Author – Comics and the Origins of Manga

On July 22, Comic-Con International announced the winners of this year’s Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards. And, for the first time in the history of the Eisners, the award in the Best Academic/Scholarly Work category went to a book on sequential art in Japan – Comics and the Origins of Manga: A Revisionist History, by Eike Exner. Anime and Manga Studies extends ours congratulations to the book’s author. We are particularly excited to be able to ask several questions about the book, the challenges of actually conducting the research that went into writing it, and the kinds of reactions both publishers and readers have had.

Japanese comics, commonly known as manga, are a global sensation. Critics, scholars, and everyday readers have often viewed this artform through an Orientalist framework, treating manga as the exotic antithesis to American and European comics. In reality, the history of manga is deeply intertwined with Japan’s avid importation of Western technology and popular culture in the early twentieth century.

MK: Just for an introduction, can you give us a bit about who you are and your background?

Eike Exner: I’m originally from Germany and like most Germans grew up with the works of Wilhelm Busch, so it was wild to learn during the research for my book that Busch’s work was quite popular in Japan as well. I started studying Japanese because my German high school offered classes in it (no Italian, no) and I liked languages, so I took every language class available. Without that I probably would have never started studying Japanese and hence would have never written this book, which is strange to think about. I came to the U.S. for college and grad school, with several years spent in Japan in between. Since leaving academia I’ve been financing my research with translation work for the most part.

MK: Along the same lines, how would you describe or promote the book that you just wrote to someone who is not really familiar with the subject?

The book explains (with plenty of images) how comics – as in “stories told via successive panels that include dialog between characters (usually in speech balloons)” – took root in Japan in the 1920s. Many manga histories try to establish some kind of connection between Japanese comics and centuries of older Japanese art but the biggest origin point of modern manga was American comic strips hugely popular in Japan between 1923 and 1940. There’s also a chapter on how and why those comics came about in the U.S around 1900 and why it took two decades for them to become popular in Japan as well. If someone wants to really understand how manga started, they’re going to enjoy the book. I spent two years going through early Japanese comic strips in newspapers and magazines at the National Diet Library in Tokyo, so everything is carefully documented with lots of evidence.

MK: What inspired you to study this particular topic, and to write the book?

I always thought it was odd that “comics” and “manga” are basically the same medium but supposedly evolved from two completely different traditions. That never made sense to me. I started out mostly interested in the translation of visual media more broadly but when I saw how many translated comics there were in Japan in the 1920s and how the first Japanese comics looked like a direct reaction to them, I realized I had stumbled on something really interesting. Because the idea that manga and comics are actually the same thing, with the same origins, is so different from the established narrative – Japanese public schools literally teach middle schoolers that manga is an ancient Japanese tradition – I knew I had to be very thorough and specialize in manga history to make my case as convincing as possible.

MK: How did you go about conducting your actual research?

80% of it was sitting in libraries and archives and scrolling (using a literal hand crank) through microfilm reels for hours, looking for comic strips. Newspapers were the primary vehicle for comics back then, but they didn’t index them or anything, so you basically have to go through newspaper pages one by one to stumble upon them, which is a big reason why this history was lost. There’s an excellent book by a Chinese scholar who wrote her dissertation on children’s manga and who documented a lot of them, but she focused on just five newspapers, so there was still lots to do. There probably still is a lot more material to be found, but I had to stop at some point once I had more than enough evidence. A big chunk of the other 20% was reading autobiographies by people active in cartooning back then, scanning for relevant bits, like a mangaka casually mentioning that he started drawing comics because of Bringing Up Father (the most popular of the American comics in Japan back then and the longest-running prewar manga period).

MK: Were there any things you learned during your research that you were not expecting to find?

Eike Exner: The biggest holy **** discoveries for me were just how popular and long-lived Bringing Up Father was in Japan, how frequently its characters showed up in ads and popular culture more generally, and how many foreign comics were read by Japanese people at the time (I almost screamed when I came across Krazy Kat in Japanese), plus various random finds like coverage of the Japan tour of a circus from Hagenbeck’s Zoo in Hamburg, which I used to go to as a child, or a Japanese comic strip about Babe Ruth. It was also interesting, though perhaps not that surprising, to witness the shift in content from cosmopolitan and liberal towards fascist and militaristic over the course of the 1920s and 1930s. The most popular children’s manga of the 1930s, Norakuro, explicitly taught children that it would be noble to die in a suicide bombing for their country, very different from the more lighthearted comic strips of the mid-1920s.

None of the major academic publishers was interested, one publisher focusing on comics lost interest for unspecified reasons and another took so long to complete the peer review process that I withdrew the manuscript. One peer reviewer tried to sabotage the book by grossly misrepresenting its content, probably because it contradicts something they’ve written.

MK: Did you have any difficulty finding a publisher who would be interested in the project?

Definitely, yes. None of the major academic publishers was interested, one publisher focusing on comics lost interest for unspecified reasons and another took so long to complete the peer review process that I withdrew the manuscript. One peer reviewer tried to sabotage the book by grossly misrepresenting its content, probably because it contradicts something they’ve written. In retrospect it’s funny that a senior academic really wrote “this manuscript does not fulfill minimum standards for publication as a scholarly work,” now that the same manuscript has won an award for “Best Scholarly/Academic Work,” but at the time I was genuinely worried that I might never get the book published because it contradicts too many established academics. I’ve definitely learned from the process how petty and childish academics can be. But everything went smoothly after I approached Rutgers. My editor there, Nicole Solano, thought the book had potential and got it through peer review in record time.

I’ve been branded as anti-Japanese by a Twitter mob of netouyo (Japanese online right-wingers) that called my book racist and cultural appropriation, including the cover image of Bringing Up Father, which they assumed was Japanese in origin.

MK: What kinds of reactions have you received in Japan, from your colleagues, or from others in the comics studies community?

Eike Exner: I’ve been branded as anti-Japanese by a Twitter mob of netouyo (Japanese online right-wingers) that called my book racist and cultural appropriation, including the cover image of Bringing Up Father, which they assumed was Japanese in origin. Their relentless tweets actually helped sell a few copies of the book that very day on the Japanese Amazon site, so apparently it’s true that any publicity is good publicity.

A group of Japanese comics scholars who had already helped me a lot with my research have been very supportive and have organized a Zoom event to talk about it later this month. People familiar with pre-1945 manga generally know that the history of manga as an ancient tradition is nonsense, but given that that narrative is actively promoted in schools and elsewhere (don’t get me started on a recent tech company project), it’s been difficult to correct. Kinokuniya started stocking the book in Tokyo after it won the Eisner and I hope there’ll be a Japanese translation some day.

In general the reaction has been positive, but you can often predict someone’s reaction based on whether they like manga for being Japanese or for being comics. Comics scholars around the globe have been overwhelmingly supportive and I’ve received some extremely kind feedback, whereas some Japan studies people familiar with the book are either ignoring it or have been openly hostile to its core argument.

MK: Do you have any personal advice you could give to someone who is interested in studying either comics or manga, or Japanese literature/culture in general.

Eike Exner: Always look at primary sources as much as possible!

Double-check fundamental assumptions, don’t take conventional wisdom for granted. Look up footnotes; they sometimes don’t support what they’re cited in support of.

Other researchers are often your greatest resource. Don’t be afraid to contact them out of the blue if there’s something you cannot find out on your own. Likewise, if you come across something that might be useful to someone else, share it.

Language skills are essential. One peer reviewer suggested I should include more English-language scholarship but virtually all original scholarship on early manga was in Japanese.

If you’re working on something that runs counter to the Japanese government’s preferred narrative, hide that in your applications for funding from the Japan Foundation (or any other organization that might be ideologically opposed to your research; I learned this the hard way).

If you’re doing a PhD, look for alternatives to a career in academia. Academia is an absurd rat race already and the dwindling jobs are getting worse, with no improvement in sight.

If you’re just starting, consider what kind of department would be best suited to the research you’re interested in. There are extremely few comics studies departments in the world, and expectations will vary greatly between an art history department and a literature department, for example.

Mechademia June 2022 – Migration and Transition

When in 2001, the Minneapolis College of Art & Design hosted a “Weekend Intensive study in the culture and creation of Japanese Manga (Comics) and Anime (Animation)” under the title Schoolgirls & Mobilesuits, it was one of the first events of its kind anywhere in the world. In the more than 20 years that have passed since, the idea of an academic workshop or symposium on anime/manga is no longer particularly novel, and that first SGMS event gave rise to Mechademia, a series of annual conferences held first at MCAD, and later, in several locations in South Korea and Japan. The Mechademia conferences also played a significant role in the launch in 2006 of Mechademia: An Annual Forum for Anime, Manga and the Fan Arts, which was then published for 10 issues, went on hiatus, and has since returned as Mechademia: Second Arc, with a twice-yearly publication schedule and a more expanded subject focus.

As was the case with most live events, Mechademia did not take place in either of the last two years, but returned last month, though with a major change in location to Los Angeles, to more closely co-incide with Anime Expo, the largest anime convention in the U.S., also returning live after after a two-year-break. And, although it has now been several weeks since Mechademia 2022, I think it’s important to preserve and present the schedule for this year, even as a guide to the range of subjects and topics that an event of its kinds and scope could cover, and the speakers it attracted.

Mechademia 2022 – Migration and Transition

Tuesday, June 28

10:00 a.m. – Panel 1
Definitions and Delineations

Transcultural Perspectives on Moe: Fan Theories, Discourses
Paul Ocone (University of Maryland, Baltimore County)

Rise of the Weeaboo: Differentiating Japanese Otaku from Global Anime and Manga Fans
Ana Matilde Sousa (CIEBA – Artistic Studies Research Center, University of Lisbon)

10:00 a.m. – Panel 2
Outsiders: Assimilations and Erasures

‘Time is the Last Sacred Territory’: Tenuous Temporalities and Ainu Erasure in Naoko Takeuchi’s Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon
Taylor Janeen Pryor (Cornell University)

Glimpses of the Gaikokujin: Engaging with the ‘Outsider’ in Modern Manga
Ananya Saha (Assistant Professor, English, St. Xavier’s University, Kolkata)

1:00 p.m. – Panel 1
Dislocated Identities

I Love, Therefore I Am: Dismantling the Cartesian Dichotomy and Unifying the Self in Ghost in the Shell
Maria Grajdian (Associate Professor, Media Studies and Cultural Anthropology, Hiroshima University)

Society Eats Their Own: The Transnational Image of the Cannibal
Wendy Goldberg (Lecturer, Composition & Rhetoric, University of Mississippi) (more…)

2022 Eisner Awards – Manga Studies Nominee

This coming weekend, the organizers of Comic-Con International (returning as a live event after a two-year hiatus) will announce the winners of the 2022 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, established with the goal of “bringing attention to and highlighting the best publications and creators in comics and graphic novels”. For a number of years now, the awards have included one for Best Academic/Scholarly Work, and this year, for the first time ever, one of the titles nominated in this category is a monograph on Japanese comics – Comics and the Origins of Manga: A Revisionist History (Eike Exner, Rutgers University Press).

Exner’s basic goal in this study is to go beyond the simple statement that Western comics were introduced into Japan along with other Western cultural products, and present an in-depth examination of how Japanese audiences consumed Western comics. He is able to demonstrate that Western comics directly influenced the form and shape of Japanese visual culture, in part simply by examining the extent to which Japanese readers were exposed to translated comics.

When I started studying the history of comics and manga, I found it odd how two things so similar could have developed independently of each other

– Eike Exner, p. xi

So far, I have not seen any formal reviews of this book. But it has received extensive praise from the comics/manga studies community – Henry Jenkins praises the author for “groundbreaking archival research”, John A. Lent calls the book “a history-altering masterpiece!”, Gennifer Weisenfeld points out the “meticulous and comprehensive” scholarship. An audio interview with the author is available on the New Books Network.

Ed. note: In previous years, two other titles on Japanese comics received Eisner nominations – Boys Love Manga and Beyond: History, Culture and Community in Japan in 2016 and Women’s Manga in Asia and Beyond: Uniting Different Cultures and Identities in 2020. Several other essay collections that have been nominated for the award did not focus on manga, but included chapters that did.

Thoughts and Comments – 100 Animated Feature Films

Over the years, the British Film Institute (BFI) has established itself as one of the leading publishers in the field of anime studies, with Akira, Grave of the Fireflies, and Spirited Away in its BFI Film Classics line, 100 Anime in the BFI Screen Guides, and Anime: A History, Jonathan Clements’ in-depth examination of how animation was actually produced in Japan from the early 1900’s to the present, and how the animation industry developed and evolved over the years. In 2010, BFI published 100 Animated Feature Films, by Andrew Osmond (the author of BFI Film Classics: Spirited Away, as well as other writing on anime, going back to 1998’s Nausicaa and the fantasy of Hayao Miyazaki, in the journal Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction – one of the earliest English-language scholarly articles of any kind on Japanese animation). And now, Osmond and BFI have decided it’s time for an update, with 100 Animated Feature Films, Revised Edition.

(more…)

‘Manga in a Postdigital Environment’ Symposium

On May 30-31, Universida de Vigo, Pontevedra Campus, will host an international academic symposium entitled Manga in a Postdigital Environment. The symposium, organized by the research group DX5 is open to the public, and also will be broadcast online via Zoom. For additional information, including registration instructions, please contact grupodx5@uvigo.es.

The full program will consist of 12 individual presentations, with speakers from a number of leading European and Japanese universities, representing the cutting edge of global manga studies. For more details, including abstracts of the presentations and further details about the speakers, please see full symposium program.

Monday, May 30

10:00 a.m. – Opening Remarks

– Jorge Soto (Vice-Rector, Pontevedra Campus, Universidade de Vigo)
– Ana Soler (Director, dx5 Research Group)
– Jose Andres Santiago (Symposium Coordinator)

10:15 a.m.
From Cover to Page. From Title to the Speech Balloon: An Analysis of Typographic Applications in Naruto and Bleach
– Jose Andres Santiago (Universidade de Vigo)
– Tatiana Lameiro Gonzalez (Universidade de Vigo) (more…)