February 25, 2008
When I read the first Mechademia volume, I felt that it maintained a tenuous balance between different kinds of scholarly essays on manga and anime. Mechademia Vol. 2: Networks of Desire has about the same amount of works—23 contributions compared to the original's 20—and more of a focus.
The subtitle of this volume accurately describes the book's theme, and essays are divided into four sections (Shojo, Powers of Time, Animalization and Horizons). Each essay spins "desire"—and sometimes its own section title—in different ways.
Five essays in particular are standouts, and worth the price of the book on their own. Deborah Shamoon's "Revolutionary Romance: The Rose of Versailles and the Transformation of Shojo Manga," Toku Masami's "Shojo Manga! Girls' Comics! A Mirror of Girls' Dreams" and Keith Vincent's "A Japanese Electra and her Queer Progeny" combine to provide a rich, textured history of the origins and progression of shojo manga and their depictions of same-sex relationships. Miyao Daisuke's "Thieves of Baghdad: Transnational Networks of Cinema and Anime in the 1920s" offers a fascinating look at the "Japanification" of Noburo Ofuji's 1926 Bagudajo no kozoku (The Thief of Baguda Castle, incidentally part of the Cinémathèque Québecoise's early-anime retrospective), which was a sort of remake of the American live-action feature The Thief of Bagdad.
For me, the crown jewel of the book is Mizuno Hiromi's "When Pacifist Japan Fights: Historicizing Desires in Anime," an look at how the evolution of postwar Japan's militarism, nationalism and masculinity were expressed in 1977's Space Battleship Yamato and 1995's Silent Service. The piece was so compelling it made me want to rewatch Gasaraki and further appreciate Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig, both of which featured conspiracies to remilitarize Japan. It's worth noting that this essay is the longest in the book, but reads so smoothly it feels like it's the shortest.
Otherwise, the book is hit or miss depending on the kind of scholarly essays you prefer. As a fan of Occam's Razor, I'm a bit wary of essays that read a lot of symbolism into anime that the creator makes no claim to. Granted, there are those shows like Haibane-Renmei and Neon Genesis Evangelion where the creators are specifically adding layers of meaning, but I had to roll my eyes when Christopher Bolton read various shades of meaning into 2000's Blood: The Last Vampire's use of CGI for mechanical objects, specifically airplanes. While it's true that this was a pioneering blending of CGI and cel in anime then, the same techniques had been used elsewhere in the world for almost 15 years in pretty much exactly the same way. It's a symptom of my long-standing complaint that at times anime aficionados wall themselves off from animation history at large.
This same issue comes up in William L. Benzon's review of Takashi Murakami's Little Boy: The Arts Japan's Exploding Subculture book and exhibition, but in a good way: After thoroughly examining Murakami's thesis of how Japan's unique national trauma (the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and their defeat in World War II) explains the frequent use of apocalypse in the country's fiction, he turns around and says he doesn't buy it. Why not? Because "apocalyptic art and fantasy are in no way unique to Japan. For example, apocalypse has been a persistent theme in postwar American culture," despite the fact that the U.S. was never bombed during the war.
It's exactly this kind of intellectual awareness and honesty that anime scholarship (hell, anime fandom) needs more of. There are many things about anime and manga that are unique, and there are many books (including Mechademia) that celebrate that. But if we really want to position these media within the cultures of the world at large, then we need more work that looks at them in relation to what's going on outside of Japan, and there's no better place to do it than within the rigorous structure of academic writing. I'm happy that Mechademia is starting to encourage this kind of thinking, and I hope the next volume takes it further.
January 29, 2008
This weekend, I had the great fortune to attend transculturELLE: How Girls Cross Cultures, a workshop organized by Dr. Thomas Lamarre and sponsored by the East Asian Studies Department at McGill University in Montreal. (fps contributor Kino Kid hosted me, and is such a good hostess that I had to avoid saying "my roommate" when referring to her.)
The two-day workshop revolved around papers that focused on shoujo titles from various eras, including live-action films like Shimotsuma Monogatari (otherwise known as Kamikaze Girls). As a theme, "How girls cross cultures" yielded fruitful results, with papers examining issues of transcultural flow, fashion, intertextuality, national identity, criminality, perversion, and technology in such titles as The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, The Rose of Versailles, NANA, and Denno Coil. The discussion was deep and long-lasting, and the calibre of participants unparallelled.
Although more and more academic conferences like the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts and the Popular Culture Association national conference now hold panels on anime and manga, it's rare to find a conference that's as specific as this one, especially outside the US. Frenchy Lunning, a transculturELLE participant and editor of Mechademia, the top journal of anime and manga criticism, hosts a similar workshop called Schoolgirls and Mobilesuits at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, but SGMS is geared toward a slightly different audience. For academics interested in theory and interdisciplinary thinking, workshops like transculturELLE afford the opportunity to discuss Eto Jun, Julia Kristeva, Michel Foucault, and Toshiya Ueno (or even meet the man) all in the context of anime and manga. This is something I've yearned for since encountering anime to begin with, and it's both heartening and humbling to see established professionals turning the discourse to their interests with such vigour. I eagerly anticipate the next workshop, and hope to tell you all about it soon.
January 16, 2008
Friday and Saturday, January 25 and 26 at McGill University in Montreal, Thomas Lamarre will be hosting a workshop on shoujo anime and manga. Academic papers on gender, genre, and culture will be presented by the likes of Frenchy Lunning, Toshiya Ueno, and Ian Condry. I will attend and cover the event for fps. There is no charge to attend. For more information, contact Thomas Lamarre.
Here is a prospective list of papers:
Session 1: 11:30 – 14:00
August 30, 2006
The Japan Foundation in Toronto, Canada has an upcoming show of interest. Shojo Manga! Girl Power! Girls' Comics from Japan runs from September 6 to October 4, 2006. The exhibits at the Japan Foundation are always top notch, and so if you are in T.O. in the next month, be sure to stop by. There's also a reception & talk by curator Dr. Masami Toku on September 6, 6:30 - 8:30 PM, RSVP required. See upcoming.com or jftor.org for more details.
More from jftor.org: "Shojo Manga! Girl Power! is part of an international touring exhibit that has traveled to California State University, Chico, University of New Mexico, Columbia College Chicago and The Pratt Institute, Brooklyn. Dr. Masami Toku is an Associate Professor of art education at California State University, Chico. Her research interest is the cross-cultural study of children's artistic and aesthetic developments in their pictorial world and how visual popular culture influences children's visual literacy. In her lecture, Dr. Toku will provide an overview of the works exhibited in the current exhibit and examine more closely the individual creators of Shojo Manga, providing a deeper look into the development and impact of this form of visual pop culture. For more on Dr. Toku see csuchico.edu/~mtoku/vc"