February 21, 2010
Here we are at my final review for FPS. Although I have been an erstwhile contributor at best, I want everyone to know how much my involvement has meant to me. When I first came to Canada, I could not work or study. I could, however, blog. Emru Townsend gave me the opportunity to do just that, and running around my new home for FPS became a fun, fast way for me to learn about Toronto and about one of my favourite art forms.
Volume 4 of University of Minnesota's annual publication Mechademia edited by Frenchy Lunning and with contributions from Christopher Bolton, Takayuki Tatsumi, Marco Pellitteri and Thomas Lamarre focuses on concepts of war, history and memory in anime. All the usual suspects are here: Evangelion, Grave of the Fireflies, Patlabor 2, Barefoot Gen. While it may surprise some scholars to learn that these titles can still be mined for meaning, the exegesis contained in these pages proves that there is still some blood to be wrung from the mecha, as it were.
Japan's military history is a difficult one. The tensions at play (colonialism, identity and modernity, to name a few) are still painful, and in many ways they still dictate what Japan is as a country today. The critical essays gathered in this volume focus on those tensions and how they continue to shape Japan's national and artistic discourse, from one of Studio Ghibli's most beloved films to the anonymous 2-chan crowds who followed Densha into the battle for his future happiness.
One of the things I enjoy about Mechademia as a publication is the way it examines both obscure and pop culture material from a variety of theoretical standpoints. Some of the essays here are so firmly rooted in critical theory that they can seem almost inscrutable. Christophe Thouny's piece, "Waiting for the Messiah: The Becoming Myth of Evangelion and Densha otoko" falls into this category. It performs the function of all good analyses: instantly alienating a once-familiar text by shining a new light on it, thereby forcing the reader/viewer/participant to re-approach that text.
Other essays are more accessible: Wendy Goldberg's "Transcending the Victim's History: Takahata Isao's Grave of the Fireflies" is a clearly-written piece that nevertheless exposes new areas of investigation inside the film's historical subtext. Similarly, Gavin Walker's "The Filmic Time of Coloniality: On Shinkai Makoto's The Place Promised in Our Early Days" clarifies the multiple narratives and meta-narratives that intersect in Shinkai's stately, almost exposition-free film.
Essays like these, even when they're a tough read or on a topic I know very little about, are one of the reasons I told my students last year to begin reading Mechademia. It's also one of the few peer-reviewed publications that isn't hidden away in the absurd and bizarre labyrinth of university library permissions: you can just order it online like any other book, and then keep it forever. (Though as an academic, I'd really love a digital copy: typing selections out by hand every time I want to use a quotation in an essay is bothersome, compared to cutting and pasting from a PDF. Notice how I haven't really quoted anything, here?) I've had the good fortune of meeting Frenchy Lunning on two separate occasions, and I've corresponded with her and her editorial staff multiple times. I know about the hard work that goes into every issue, and I also enjoy the focus on a single theme for each -- it keeps the volume on point, while gathering all the latest research into one volume for interested scholars. We've needed a publication like Mechademia for a long time, and I'm glad we have it.