One of the key goals of the Anime and Manga Studies Symposium / AX Academic Program has been to push the envelope on anime/manga scholarship by responding to emerging trends and new, or at least recent works. The 2016 Symposium very much achieved this goal, with explorations of titles such as Osomatsu-kunAttack on Titan, Gate, and From Up on Poppy Hill. In addition, much more so than in previous years, the program emphasized uses of anime/manga in education, at both the secondary/high school level, as with Stevi Grimm’s Creating Confident Readers Through Unconventional Texts (one of three talks on the topic in a special session organized by Prof. Brent Allison (Department of Teacher Education, University of North Georgia), Mia Lewis’s talk on “teaching popular culture through the lens of translation”, or the Symposium’s keynote address, presented by University of Southern California’s Prof. Ellen Seiter, and based on her own experience designing and teaching the Japanese Anime class at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts.

As in previous years, the overall program was a mix of unique talks and content that speakers were already working on in the course of their academic programs. One more definitely notable feature was the “range” of speakers – graduate students, educators, academics, and several independent scholars at very different stages in their careers – again, highlighting the Symposium’s unique position as something more than just a track of programming at an anime convention – and at the same time, something very different from an academic conference or even a specialized event hosted by a college or university – and also aimed almost entirely at a college/university audience.

AX 2016 Anime and Manga Studies Symposium

Friday, July 1

Keynote Address: Prof. Ellen Seiter (University of Southern California)

  • Anime for Aspiring Filmmakers: Lessons from the USC School of Cinematic Arts
    Why should American film students pay attention to anime? In the AX Anime and Manga Studies Symposium Keynote Address, Prof. Ellen Seiter, the University of Southern California Stephen K. Nenno Endowed Chair in Television Studies, shares her thoughts on the distinctive visual, dramatic and narrative language of Japanese animation in film and television, and on what aspiring filmmakers can learn from anime directors such as the late Satoshi Kon, especially in the contemporary environment of digital production and distribution.

Session 1: Words, Scripts, Implications: Creating Meaning in Anime and Manga

  • Sounding Out the Pictures: Manga Sound Effects, Meanings, and Translation
    Andrew John Smith (Indiana University of Pennsylvania)
    This talk looks to discuss the unique world of comic sound effects, specifically those found in manga. Although many readers may not think about them directly, sound effects affect their ability to read, enjoy, and understand graphic texts—meaning that an inability to understand them can stop understanding, and changing them can potentially cause a disastrous misreading. Sound effects can carry just as much meaning, weight, and import as the dialogue and art they accompany, and this discussion looks to introduce that concept and expand the scope of what can be studied when it comes to graphic works.
  • Can the Pop-Idol Speak?: The Role of Voice in Satoshi Kon’s Films
    John Ballarino (Bridgewater State University)

    Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue is a film about identity: the conflict of the film is driven by the divide that exist between how people perceive the main character, Mima, as a commercial commodity and a woman, and in turn how Mima perceives herself. I analyze how this is portrayed symbolically throughout the film through the motif of Mima’s voice, developing being owned and sold by others to being entirely her own. This provides a useful approach to better understand the outside influences influencing her identity and development as a character, revealing a strong criticism of the expectations of women in a patriarchal society.

  • Drawing Lines between Boys and Girls: What do we Mean by “Shōnen” and “Shōjo”?
    Mia Lewis (Stanford University)

    While manga combines image and text, it divides boys and girls. In bookstores in Japan manga is divided primarily by the gender of the target audience, often separated onto different floors in larger bookstores. This reflects the gendered division that begins in manga zasshi [comics magazines] and continues through the media mix chain. This talk will briefly overview how this distinction has been discussed in previous scholarship, and shifted over the years. This talk will also introduce preliminary results from my ongoing research on the divisions between these genres. One of these research projects examines how the reader’s sections in shōjo manga proscribe the ideal work to readers and aspiring artists to a far greater extent than their shōnen equivalents. The other examines formalist distinctions between contemporary shōnen and shōjo manga in order to explore what it means when we open a comic, glance at it, and declare it to be one or the other.

Saturday, July 2

Session 2: Reflections of a Changing Japan in Modern Japanese Visual Culture

  • Salaryman at the Black Factory: Absurdist Loserdom and Labor Politics in Osomatsu-san
    Danielle Choi (University of Southern California) and Calvin Choi

    This presentation investigates the archetype of the “loser” in Osomatsu-san, the 2015 anime reboot of the well-known Osomatsu-kun (1966-67, 88-89) franchise. Tensions inherent in the image of the salaryman—simultaneously a signifier of socio-economic stability, yet also of soulless drudgery—paradoxically position it as a personally unfulfilling career, and also a desirable marker of traditional (masculine) success that is no longer attainable for a young workforce in Japan’s late capitalist global economy. Osomatsu-san’s structure and content preclude any possibility of financial or personal success for its characters, offering a revealing critique of contemporary labor politics in a post-industrial Japan.

  • Fantastic Damage – Architecture, Anime, Destruction, and Tokyo
    Evan Jones

    Of all of the Earth’s major cities, perhaps none have undergone more cataclysmic changes in a shorter time period than Tokyo. Earthquakes, modernization, firebombings, and urban renewal have changed the three dimensional Tokyo just as much – if not more – than giant robots, angels, or magical girls have changed a myriad number of two dimensional versions. By analyzing the city as both a historical entity and as a narrative setting, Evan Jones will explore Tokyo as a cityscape of limitless flexibility, one which creators and visionaries bend and manipulate at will to satisfy various wants and needs. This presentation will use a number of visuals to highlight various animated interpretations of Tokyo with an emphasis on important representational shifts.

  • Good Eating and Social Meetings: The Semiotics of Food in Goro Miyazaki’s From Up on Poppy Hill
    Verna Zafra (University of Guam)

    Depictions of making and consuming food have been prominent throughout the history of Japanese animation and Japanese comics.. This presentation will overview development, role, and significance that food plays in anime/manga, and the place of Japanese media in the emerging academic field of “food studies”. In Goro Miyazaki’s From Up on Poppy Hill, food can be interpreted as a sign that carries various meanings, which in turn underscore and facilitate specific themes, such as family, camaraderie in the community, and role fulfillment.

Session 3: Examining and Questioning Japan’s Place in the World

  • On This Side of the Gate: Politics and Geopolitics in Contemporary Anime
    Paul S. Price
    presents a right-wing view of Japan by combining an irruption of a fantasy world into Japan with the real world of the Japanese Self Defense Force (JSDF) and Japanese politics and geopolitics. Gate is a tale of the vindication of three underdogs: Japan, the JSDF, and otakus/otaku culture. Japan maybe a small country surrounded by more powerful nations. The JSDF maybe under funded and under suspicion at home and viewed as a joke by other nations. Otaku culture may not be viewed as exemplary or even entirely adult. In Gate, however, all three are more than conquerors.
  • The Real Limit on the Cult of Speed: Attack on Titan’s Ambivalent (Anti-)Fascism
    N. Trace Cabot (University of Southern California)

    Attack on Titan’s engagement with the narrative and visual conventions of Japanese ultra-nationalist manga and anime combines an enthusiastic engagement with these elements, on their own terms and with the full strength of their appeal, with the violent interruption of these elements, their foundational myths being torn apart in an impossible blur of teeth. Situating this analysis alongside an overview of the ideological characteristics of Japanese ultra-nationalism and its history in manga/anime from the 1960s and onwards, this key to reading AoT presents insights into the character of these phenomenon in Japan’s animation and comics tradition and its political imaginary.

  • Ghosts of February 26: The Officers Plot and the Keitai Revolution in Eden of the East and Gatchaman Crowds
    Jordan Marshak
    On February 26, 1936 a group in the Imperial Japanese Military calling themselves the Young Officers attempted an uprising in Tokyo and a series of assassinations, calling on the the people and the  Emperor to lead a “Showa restoration” to end economic inequality through the abolition of capitalism and corrupt party politics. Taking inspiration from the shishi of the Meiji restoration, its low status samurai leaders, they belong to a rich tradition of Japanese radicals who have attempted, armed with unfailing moral clarity, to use symbolic violence to bring about social transformation. This talk discusses two recent TV anime (Eden of the East and Gatchaman Crowds) that engage with this tradition and the memory of the Young Officers as a potential model for addressing the many social crises of post-bubble Japan and wrestle with its continuing legacy and importance while ultimately endorsing different methods of radical action.

Session 4: 50 Years of Anime in America, 50 Years of American Anime Fans

  • What You Watch Is What You Are?: Early Anime and Manga Fandom in the United States
    Andrea Horbinski (University of California, Berkeley)

    How did anime and manga first enter U.S. fandom, and why were people watching “Japanimation”? Using materials from the Fred Patten collection, this paper explores early anime and manga fandom in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s. The problems that early fans faced were similar to those faced by Japanese audiences encountering English-language movies in the 1910s and 1920s, and the fans who watched anime in these years did so for similar reasons: anime offered them content they wanted mixed with appealing foreign-ness. The practices these fans pioneered eventually gave rise to the U.S. anime and manga industry.

  • Anime in the US in the 1990’s and 2000’s: Unauthorized Distribution as a Catalyst for Evolution
    Allison Hawkins
    Whether it was a copied VHS tape or a fansubbed video, chances are that you or someone you know has viewed anime through unauthorized means of distribution. With a consumer base formed partially by fans acting as creators and distributors, how has the anime market continued to grow? How do these fan distributors coexist with corporate distributors in an expanding market? This talk explores the way in which unauthorized distribution played a role in creating the current market of anime fandom and what that history means for the market today.
  • Persuasion or Pleasure: Cosplayers’ Use of Social Media as a Rhetorical Tool
    Caitlin Postal (California State University, Northridge)
    This talk focuses on the fan practice of cosplay through a rhetorical analysis of cosplayers’ use of social media when building their online persona. Through personal interviews conducted with cosplayers and a textual analysis of their social media posts, we can see how Cicero’s three offices of rhetoric (instruction, pleasure, persuasion) work in the minds and pages of well-known cosplayers. From there, let’s consider how social media affects the performative nature of cosplay.

Sunday, July 3

Special Session: Using Anime and Manga in Education

In this session, three practicing educators provide responses to the question of how manga, anime, and other Japanese popular culture texts can be incorporated in a formal classroom setting. Old and new challenges to educators color this question – proscribed academic standards that limit teacher autonomy, barriers to students who struggle with traditional forms of literacy, and persistent conceptions of gender that reinforce certain types of readings of these texts. The session will review strategies to overcome these problems as well as engage the audience to consider how using Japanese popular culture texts can redefine gender, literacy, and ultimately what it means to “read”.

Moderator: Prof. Brent Allison (University of North Georgia)

  • Creating Confident Readers Through Unconventional Texts
    Stevi Grimm (Jefferson Union High School District, Daly City, CA)
  • Digital Literacy: Expanding Students’ Literary Toolkits with Manga
    Alexandra Dean (Eastern Illinois University)
  • Incorporating Anime and Manga into Gender Studies Courses
    Derek S. McGrath (Stony Brook University)

Special Guest Lecture: Prof. Renato Rivera Rusca (Meiji University)

  • Girls und Robots – Re-Evaluating “Genre” Demarcations in Anime
    The evolution of the “Robot Anime” and “Magical Girl” genres since the 1960s has led to an expansion of target audience beyond their initial toy-sale-oriented origins and today the demarcation lines are blurred between the two. Looking at anime series today, we often find aspects of one in the other.  Using the examples of the SF fandom controversy surrounding the original Gundam series, the development of the Macross franchise, and the coming-of-age of shojo manga with Hagio Moto and Takemiya Keiko, we will attempt to describe the various cultural and social factors surrounding how the requisites for anime genres have been maintained throughout the last five decades, while narrative complexity, visual grammar and media literacy have developed the core of the surrounding anime fandom culture.

Special Guest Lecture: Prof. Northrop Davis (University of South Carolina)

  • Anime and Manga in Hollywood – and What Happens Next

    In a fascinating look at the interrelated history of Japanese manga/anime and Hollywood since the Meiji period through to World War II and up to the present day – and even to into the future, Prof. Northrop Davis will bring his extensive experience in the business and artistic intersection between manga/anime and Hollywood to talk about the latest projects in Hollywood live-action adaptations of anime/manga. Which ones have a good chance of working? What others might not work so well. The media industries in the United States and Japan are now accelerating into new forms of hybridization that will drive much of future storytelling entertainment. Drawing on original interviews with top creators in these fields and other research that he used when writing Manga and Anime Go to Hollywood, just published earlier this year by Bloomsbury Academic, Prof. Davis will show how to use this knowledge creatively to shape the future of global narrative storytelling, including through the educational system.

Monday, July 4

Session 5: Applying Auteur, Critical, and Feminist Theory to Anime

  • Adaptation and Evolution in Japanese Visual Culture
    Amanda Kennell (University of Southern California)
    Contemporary media production methods have been theorized in two similar ways, as transmedia storytelling and as the media mix, by Henry Jenkins and Otsuka Eiji, respectively.  This talk introduces adaptation as a way to reconsider how stories come to be (re)told and suggests how art can evolve through adaptation using Yamamoto Sayo’s Lupin the 3rd: A Woman Called Mine Fujiko (2012) as a case study.
  • Anime Archives: Digital Curation and Scholarly Perspectives
    Johnathan Lau
    This presentation explores “alternative” archival spaces (“surfaces”) of Japanese animation and the historical intersections between scholars and fans, shifting ethics, means of viewing and distribution. It proposes that careful consideration of these trends benefits not only fan studies, but studies of the works themselves in an evolving technological context. Here certain parallels are highlighted between comments on streaming video and file-sharing websites, and the tradition of colophons on Sino-Japanese handscrolls. The talk then proceeds to discuss the unstable nature of these “anime archives,” extending this instability to the notion of the digital archive. A case study of the file-sharing website is explored alongside theories of a utopian “archival commons.”

Special Guest Lecture: Mia Lewis (Stanford University)

  • Translating Cool: Teaching Popular Culture Through the Lens of Translation
    The global trade and the advent of the Internet have turned local cultural products into easily accessible entertainment worldwide, including comics, cartoons, dramas, films, video games, etc. These products undergo a wide array of different processes of translation and localization on their way to foreign audiences — from subtitles, to dubs, to edits, to full remakes, and everywhere in between – demonstrating how profit driven corporations and fan culture intersect in translation practices. Based on a 2015 course taught at Stanford University, this talk looks at how Japanese and Korean popular culture can be used to teach translation, to link theory to practice, and to challenge students to critically examine their own consumption habits.