Tag: anime scholarship

Interview with the Anime Scholar – Dr. Bill Ellis

Several weeks ago, the American Folklore Society, the leading organization for the study and advancement of folklore and expressive cultural traditions wordwide, broadly defined, announced that its 2023 Lifetime Achievement Award was being bestowed on Dr. Bill Ellis, emeritus professor, Pennsylvania State University. Dr. Ellis is a pre-eminent folklore scholar – and, over the last fifteen years, he has written extensively on the intersections between folklore in general and fairy tales specifically, and anime/manga. Some of his major publications in this area include the chapter “Folklore and gender inversion in Cardcaptor Sakura”, in the 2009 essay collection The Japanification of Children’s Popular Culture, one of the first English-language studies of that particular manga, as well as The fairy-telling craft of Princess Tutu: Metacommentary and the folkloresque, and the chapter Anime and manga: The influence of Tale Type 510B on Japanese manga/anime in the Routledge Companion to Media and Fairy Tale Cultures. Dr. Ellis also contributed the “Anime and manga” section to the Greenwood Publishing Group reference volume Youth Cultures in America.

And, to mark this, I am extremely excited to be able to sit down with Dr. Ellis, and to hear his thoughts on anime, manga, and folklore all fit together!

MK: As an experienced and established folklore scholar, how did you become interested in Japanese comics?

Bill Ellis: To begin with, I should note that I have always been seen as something of an outsider in folklore studies.  My training was in and English program, rather than folklore studies per se, notably Medieval English literature and the American Renaissance.  I was hired by a small campus of Penn State University (freshmen and sophomores only) on the basis of my experience in teaching remedial composition and my work with Ohio State’s Center for Textual Studies, which was preparing a standard edition of everything (yes, everythingI) written by the author Nathaniel Hawthorne.  I edited two volumes of his business letters written when he was American consul at Liverpool and contributed to four other volumes of letters and notebooks.  On the strength of that, I earned tenure from Penn State, which considered my work in folklore a whimsical and irrelevant digression from “mainstream” research.

My first awareness of the anime/manga came in the late 90s by way of my teenaged daughter, who for a time dated a boy who was a fan of Dragon Ball Z.

By disposition I was always something of a lone-walker, doing things not because one gained academic credit by doing so, but because I thought the topics important for some reason.  Examples of these off-beat topics included alien abductions, adolescents’ legend-trips, Satanic cult rumors and panics, topical black humor referencing disasters (e.g., Challenger Shuttle jokes and later the much larger corpus of September 11 humor), and Facebook games.

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Who are the anime/manga scholars? – a 2022 update

As anime and manga studies continues to establish itself, developing from simply an area of interest to an established academic field, one of the questions that has to be asked time and time again is not just what is the definition of anime and manga studies, but what are its actual features and characteristics. “Where” does anime and manga studies actually take place – or where do the results of “anime and manga studies” appear. And, similarly, who are the actual participants in this field? Having answers to these questions can help establish a profile for anime and manga studies, and can also allow for comparisons between it and other areas of interest, fields of study, etc.

Seven years ago now, I already tried answering one of these kinds of foundational questions with a basic analysis of “who are the anime/manga scholars“. At that point, I examined the institutional affiliations of the authors who contributed chapters to four different essay collections on anime/manga, and determined that of a total of 59 authors, 35 (59%) were college/university faculty, 8 (14%) – graduate students, 5 (8%) – other academic employees (researchers, etc.), and 11 (19%) – independent scholars or not affiliated with an academic institution (including artists, librarians, museum employees, and industry professionals).

Of course,, anime and manga studies, and Japanese popular culture studies in general has evolved significantly since I published my initial 2015 study. For example, the Society for Animation Studies now includes an Anime Studies special interest group. Mechademia, the first regular English-language scholarly journal on anime/manga and related topics, which first began publication in 2006 but went on hiatus after ten annual volumes, has been relaunched as Mechademia: Second Arc, with an expanded focus on “the study of East Asian popular cultures, broadly conceived”, and a more frequent publication schedule. It has recently been joined by the open-access Journal of Anime and Manga Studies. More and more colleges/universities around the U.S. are offering classes on anime and manga, every year, new graduate students are focusing on anime/manga in their dissertations, and major new textbooks, such as A Companion to Japanese Cinema and Introducing Japanese Popular Culture emphasize the place of anime and manga in Japanese culture.

So, with all of this in mind, I think that 2015 “who are the anime/manga scholars?” is due for an update, with some modifications. In particular, just as Mechademia has expanded its scope, it’s appropriate to go beyond just an analysis of authors of chapters in edited essay collections on anime/manga. In fact, the “new” Mechademia, which has now published 7 issues, each with its own subtitle and general theme (such as “Childhood”, “Soundscapes”, and “New Formulations of the Otaku”) is a perfect source to drawn on to identify some of the current characteristics of authors in anime/manga studies, Japanese popular culture studies, and, really, East Asian popular culture studies in general.

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Where do we publish on anime/manga – a select list

If anime/manga studies is to be thought of as a defined academic field or area, then it should have particular characteristics. And, one of the ways to characterize an academic field is by identifying the kinds of journals that scholars who work in this area turn to when publishing their work.

Building up, as I have, a fairly comprehensive bibliography of academic writing on anime/manga, including journal articles, allows me to comfortably state that papers on Japanese animation or Japanese comics can – and do – appear in a wide range of academic journals. At the same time, I think it is also important to present a set of journals that, in my opinion, have over the years specifically welcomed discussions of Japanese visual culture. Some of these journals have gone as far as to publish dedicated theme issues on anime/manga, others have simply carried a significant number of relevant articles over the years.

Building this kind of set can serve several purposes. At its most basic, it may help an author decide which journals to consider submitting a paper on anime/manga to. Additionally, even though this list is essentially subjective, it can be used as one of the criteria for developing a “core collection” of academic journals to support research on anime/manga – so, an academic librarian charged with developing such a collection may refer to it when determining whether the faculty and students that they are supporting have access to the journals that they are likely to need/want to have access to. Having said that, it is also important to keep in mind that this kind of list is not based on any immediately obvious empirical factors. Moreover, again, it is a list, not a ranking – no journal on it is inherently “better” than any other one, and in fact, nor are any of them better than titles that are not on the list at all.

Regardless, so, what kinds of journals publish academic articles on anime/manga? Or, turning the question around, in what kinds of journals do anime/manga scholars publish their work?

Mechademia: An Annual Forum for Anime, Manga and the Fan Arts

Mechademia, described variously as a journal and a book series (the technical term for a publication of this type is “continuing monograph”) is the only English-language scholarly periodical with a focus on anime/manga that has been appearing on a regular schedule, at a rate of one volume per year. Each volume has been organized around a common theme or topic, such as “Networks of Desire” (v. 2, 2007), “User Enhanced” (v. 6, 2011), and “Origins” (v. 9). One of its particularly unique features is that in addition to original scholarly essays, it has also featured translations of seminal Japanese scholarship (both stand-alone articles and excerpts from longer works), as well as photo essays, comics, interviews, and shorter commentary-style pieces. Ten volumes have been published since it launched in 2006, and the contents of each are listed in the Annual Bibliographies section of this site. However, if I understand correctly, publication has ceased with last year’s Volume 10: World Renewal  – although plans are supposedly under way to relaunch it as a “New Series”.

Electronic access to Mechademia is available via the Gale Academic OneFile database, JSTOR, and Project Muse (with free access to Volume 4, 2009, “War/Time”).

Other anime/manga studies journals, by subject:

Each of these groups includes several titles. Many are published by corporate/for-profit publishing houses such as Intellect, Sage, and Taylor & Francis, others by colleges/universities directly or by independent non-profit organizations, and some, essentially by individuals. Several of them have been in existence for decades; others were just launched within the last several years.

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Finding and accessing dissertations and theses on anime/manga

Academic writing on anime/manga can exist in several different formats. Most of these are intuitively familiar to readers – the book written by a single author, the edited collection of essays by several, the individual chapter in a collection, the article in a scholarly journal. But, one format that many readers may not be as familiar with is the Ph.D. dissertation or master’s thesis.

In the Western academic tradition (which, granted, has largely been adopted by academic institutions all over the world), the culmination of a graduate program, whether at the doctoral or master’s level, is a major piece of original scholarly writing that can conceivably be published as a stand-alone book. Doctoral programs always or virtually always require one, in addition to coursework and an oral examination, and many master’s programs (though by no means all) do as well. In its The Doctor of Philosophy Degree: A Policy Statement, the Council of Graduate Schools states that the dissertation both “makes an original contribution to knowledge”, and serves as a significant training experience for an academic career. And, as Paul D. Isaac emphasizes, in Faculty perceptions of the doctoral dissertation, it also plays significant “cultural, informal, and historical academic roles” such as providing a common experience for all Ph.D. recipients, regardless of their specific personal backgrounds, disciplines, or schools/programs.

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“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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“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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Building an Anime and Manga Studies Bibliography – Tools and methods

It is not easy to make the process of putting together the lists of academic publications on anime/manga that are available in the Bibliographies section of this website sound particularly interesting. But, nonetheless, describing some of the steps in this process can actually be a good demonstration of research skills and techniques – and at the same time, can also highlight the particular “publication characteristics” of anime and manga studies as a discrete field or area. So, as I go about compiling and updating these lists, what do I actually do? (In recording/documenting this process, I am inspired by Robert Singerman’s “Creating the optimum bibliography: From reference chaining to bibliographic control”, in David William Foster & James R. Kelly (eds.), Bibliography in literature, folklore, language and linguistics: Essays on the status of the field (pp. 19-47), Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co – a uniquely pedantic essay, – but it its own way, invaluable.) (more…)