This is a pre-peer review preprint of an article that has been accepted for publication in East Asian Journal of Popular Culture, 9:2, 2023.
When it comes to books that can explain manga to a non-Japanese reader, Fred Schodt’s Manga Manga: The World of Japanese Comics and Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga are the ones that come to mind right away. But important as these two titles are, they are now more useful as historical artifacts – Manga Manga was first published in 1983, and Dreamland Japan last received an update in 2011. Japanese comics have changed a good deal even in the last decade, and how we understand Japanese comics has also changed quite a lot. And while several authors have recently written (or contributed to) in-depth studies such as Boys Love Manga and Beyond: History, Culture, and Community in Japan, Manga and the Representation of Japanese History, and Manga Cultures and the Female Gaze, what we haven’t had is a general survey that would try to explain, or at least summarize “Japanese comics” in a neat and comprehensive package. And this is precisely the task that Manga: A Critical Guide sets out to accomplish – the book’s goal is to serve as both an introduction to the art form of manga, and to its impact and influence around the world, and as a summary of how critics and scholars approach manga and the questions they ask. Accordingly, its focus is on “manga” (exactly what is meant by the term is itself one of the points the book addresses) as a whole, rather than not on particular titles or creators, and while this book is not aimed purely at a scholarly audience, it’s also not designed for fast and casual reading like something like the now out-of-print The Rough Guide to Manga, or the just-released (and translated from French) A History of Modern Manga.
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?
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!
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]
“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. (more…)
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.
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 email@example.com.
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…)
A wide-ranging introductory guide for readers making their first steps into the world of manga, this book helps readers explore the full range of Japanese comic styles, forms and traditions from its earliest texts to the internationally popular comics of the 21st century.
Finally, though, it appears that Bloomsbury Publishing will be filling this gap, and bringing out exactly what the manga studies has needed for so long – a compact and accessible volume that can nonetheless serve as an authoritative source of information about the history of the medium, its role as an art form and as literature, as a commodity, and as an object of fandom and fan activity, various controversies that have surrounded manga, related to pornography, violence, nationalism, and other issues and topics, and how manga can be approached critically. Manga: A Critical Guide will also include an overview of “key texts”, a glossary, and a list of resources for manga studies. All of this – especially given a very attractive price of only $21.56 for the e-book version or $26.00 for the softcover edition make me think that this book will become an invaluable resource for anyone interested in studying or learning about Japanese comics. If not the full book, then at least some chapters from it will be an easy addition to any syllabus for a college class on comics or Japanese literature/popular culture that discusses manga to any extent. about any classes. And of course, the full book will be a perfect fit for the reading list for a full class on manga, whether in one of the Comics Studies programs that are now starting to appear at several U.S. universities, or in the many different such classes that already exist.
The book’s two co-authors are both well-known experts in the field. Shige (CJ) Suzuki is an associate professor of Japanese and comparative literature at Baruch College, City University of New York, and has published extensively on Japanese comics, including in the International Journal of Communication and the International Journal of Comic Art, and the essay collections International Perspectives on Shojo and Shojo Manga and Manga’s Cultural Crossroads. Prof. Suzuki also contributed the “manga” entry to the Routledge Companion to Cyberpunk Culture, and the chapter “Gekiga, or Japanese alternative comics” to the textbook Introducing Japanese Popular Culture. Ronald Stewart teaches in the sociology department at Daito Bunka University, in Tokyo. The focus of his research and writing, in both English and Japanese, is on cartooning in 19th and early 20th-century Japan.
When it is published later this year, Manga: A Critical Guide will be the latest addition to the Bloomsbury series Critical Guides in Comics Studies. A preview is not available yet, but the profile page for it on the Bloomsbury website at least includes a table of contents.
In any case, right now, I would like to congratulate Prof. Suzuki and Prof. Stewart for all of their hard work in putting this book together, and bringing it to readers! Bloomsbury is currently listing September 22 as the publication date, and I will be looking forward to seeing an actual copy of it then – and to sharing my impressions soon after that date!
A key feature of Japanese visual popular culture, and especially anime and manga, is the extent to which creative works exist in different forms or formats. A work can – and frequently does – first appear as a manga, and may then serve as the basis of an anime series, a novel, video games, and the driver behind a wide range of merchandise and consumer goods. And even manga and anime are often based on other sources, such as non-Japanese novels. This process has already attracted significant scholarly attention, such as Anime’s Media Mix: Franchising Toys and Characters in Japan (Marc Steinberg, University of Minnesota Press, 2012), as well as more specific studies (“Animating the fantastic: Hayao Miyazaki’s adaptation of Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle“, “Manga, anime, adaptation: Economic strategies, aesthetic specificities, social issues”, The essence of 2.5-dimensional musicals? Sakura Wars and theater adaptations of anime).
Now, the Journal of Adaptation in Film & Performance has published a full special issue with the theme of “Adaptation in/and Japan“, based on papers originally presented at the Adaptation, or How Media Relate in Contemporary Japan symposium that was held at the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Culture in June of 2018. The issue’s editor, Prof. Amanda Kennell (University at Buffalo, The State University of New York), who also organized the original symposium, has herself studied the process and practice of adaptation extensively, with a particular focus on how Alice in Wonderland has been adapted in different contexts in Japan. The majority of the articles in the issue deal with anime/manga – although each of them approaches what exactly can be meant by “adaptation” in a different way.
Nobuko Anan, in Theatrical realism in manga: Performativity of gender in Minako Narita’s Alien Street, highlights “different conceptions of realism in theatre and manga” through a close reading of a classic manga about a “male actor who plays female roles”. Adaptation in Japanese media mix franchising: Usagi Drop from page to screensis Rayna Denison’s effort to shift the focus in studies of Japanese popular culture studies away from centering on anime films and major franchises, and to consider how the adaptation and media mix process plays out with regard to lesser known – but far more common – works. With this, Prof. Denison is able to address directly Mitsuyo Wada-Marciano’s call for scholarship on the kind of “domestic and mass-produced anime TV series” that actually constitute the overwhelming majority of what is meant by “anime”. This article also expands the approaches to the concept of the “media mix” to consider a full range of “media texts”, including manga and live-action films. Kouno Fumiyo’s Hi no Tori (‘Bird of the Sun’) series as documentary manga: Memory and 3.11 analyzes another aspect of adaptation – the way that elements such as “drawings, prose, poetry, statistical data, maps and commentary by the artist” can be integrated into a fictional text and into the medium of comics/manga. Interpretive negotiation with gender norms in shojo manga: Adaptations of The Changelings is a comparative study, addressing the ways in which adaptations of the same source text – even into the same format, but made in different years differ from each other. And closing the issue, Prof. Kennell draws on her major research interests for a study of adaptations of Alice in Wonderland in the work of Japanese “avant-garde sculptor, painter and novelist” Yayoi Kusama.
Taken together, as Kennell notes in the editorial that opens the issue, the five articles stand as a “superb introduction to the diverse media ecology of contemporary Japan and the implications of contemporary Japanese media production for the wider world.” And, beyond that, they really can also easily be seen as cutting edge of anime and manga studies, and a great example of the diversity and wide scope of this emerging field.
It’s difficult, and probably outright impossible, to put together any real numbers, but intuitively, I am confident in saying that the manga titles that are licensed for translation into English and commercial publication outside Japan represent only a small percentage of all manga that is actually published in Japan. In turn, this means that unless Western manga scholars are fluent in Japanese, they will be limited to only studying a relatively small portion of all manga that is potentially available for analysis. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, comics scholars – and the “comics studies” community, still largely do not interact with manga, or, for that matter, other comics that are not immediately available in English.
Comics scholars Dr Harriet Earle (Sheffield Hallam University) and Dr Martin Lund (Linnaeus University) are both acutely aware of this issue. And to approach it, they are proposing a focused edited essay collection in the new Routledge Global Perspectives in Comics Studies series – “Against Translation: Global Comics History and Memory” – “to bring together original scholarship on comics that are potentially not receiving the scholarly attention they deserve due to their lack of English translation or that have been studied in scholarship unavailable to an Anglophone audience.” Although the Call for Papers that they have prepared does not specifically mention manga, Dr Earle has invited me to share it on Anime and Manga Studies. The deadline for submitting a 300-word abstract is December 20, 2019, with full chapter manuscripts of up to 8,000 words due on May 15, 2020, and final submissions after all revisions and corrections on July 17, 2020.
One of this year’s major cultural events related to Japan has been the Manga exhibition hosted by the British Museum – “the largest exhibition of manga ever to take place outside of Japan.” It opened on May 23, and immediately received significant critical attention. The Economistpraised it as a “dynamic, exuberant and ambitious celebration of Japan’s comic-art narrative form”, as did the Financial Times, while responses in The Guardian (“asking us to compare today’s graphic artists with greats of the past is misguided”) and The Telegraph (“is Manga really as significant as Rodin and the Ancient Greeks?”) were not as enthusiastic. In any case, an exhibition of this scale – and at this kind of venue – attracts attention.
And now, following up on the exhibition’s success, and connected to it, the British Library has announced plans to host a special one-day What is Manga academic symposium that will bring together many of the world’s leading scholars of manga specifically and comics/sequential art in general, as well as museum practitioners, and a range of international perspectives for a discussion on manga in a global context and the role of cultural institutions such as the British Museum in preserving, presenting, and promoting manga. The Symposium is open to the public, but tickets must be purchased via the British Library website.
10:30 a.m. Keynote Address Manga Studies’ “Manga” and the Outsider Perspective: Intercultural Observations Prof. Jaqueline Berndt (Stockholm University)
Dr. Berndt is one of the world’s leading scholars of Japanese comics. He work has included editing the essay collections Manga’s Cultural Crossroads and Reading Manga: Local and Global Perceptions of Japanese Comics, a number of individual chapters and journal articles that have been fundamental to shaping the field of manga studies (particularly important examples include ‘Historical adventures of a post-historical medium: Japan’s wartime past as represented in manga’, ‘Manga, which manga? Publication formats, genres, users’, and ‘Reconsidering manga discourse: Location, ambiguity, historicity’), and teaching several pioneering classes
11:00 a.m. – 1:20 p.m. Panel 1: Manga and Comic Theory and Iconography (manga hyōgenron) (more…)
One of the particular features of working in the academic environment is that individual scholars’ contributions to their fields’ bodies of knowledge are often recognized directly via various kinds of “best publication” awards – usually a combination of an actual cash award, of course recognition, and, perhaps most importantly, a line on the CV!