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2004 Year in Review
Anime/Manga Academic Highlights

by Mikhail Koulikov,
From humble beginnings in the late 1980's and early 1990's, when people like Matt Thorn, Annalee Newitz and Susan Napier first began to present and publish scholarly papers on "Japanese animation," anime and manga have grown to become fully accepted as subjects of academic research. With each passing year, more and more books and papers on all aspects of Japanese popular culture become available. Simply looking at the range of what kind of academic writings on Japanese popular culture have seen the light in 2004 reveals a conclusive answer to the question of whether anime and manga can ever be worthy of serious academic attention.

Probably the most notable anime-related book published this year was Brian Ruh's Stray Dog of Anime: The Films of Mamoru Oshii (Palgrave Macmillan). Not the first book in English dedicated a single anime director (Helen McCarthy's 1999 Hayao Miyazaki: Master of Japanese Animation takes that honor), it is nonetheless an excellent work that fits seamlessly into any list of books on film studies. As an anime fan and an academic, Mr. Ruh maintains an excellent balance; Stray Dog is neither a mindless pro-anime rant nor drowns in pretentious jargon, but is an even-handed assessment of a master film director. The journal Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries recommends it for “all collections supporting film studies or contemporary Japanese culture,” and I wholeheartedly recommend it to all anime fans who are interested in both critical analyses of anime films and in a discussion of the industry of anime production that is still largely unfamiliar to Western fans.

At least two other books released throughout 2004 are also worth commenting on. As essay collections often do, Pikachu's Global Adventure: the Rise and Fall of Pokémon (Duke University Press) covers far more ground than the title would lead one to believe. Some of its chapters address such questions as just how uniquely “Japanese” Pokémon is and what were the challenges of localizing the product for markets in the US, Israel and France, while others (“Structure, agency and pedagogy in children's media culture”, “The multiple identities of Pokémon fans”) approach the subject from entirely different perspectives. Paul Gravet's “Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics” (Harper Design International) is a different kind of work, and not strictly an academic volume. But the author's research into early manga (1940's-1960's) is unique and absolutely invaluable to anyone interested in how the art form evolved to its current state.

The pace of academic publishing being as slow as it is, there are also at least two more volumes scheduled for release sometime in 2005 that will be of interest to anime fans: Masters of Anime: An Introduction to the Creators of Japanese Animation (critical appraisals of a number of leading anime directors, including Leiji Matsumoto, Masamune Shirow, Katsuhiro Ōtomo, Kunihiko Ikuhara, Hideaki Anno, and others); and The Japanification of Children's Popular Culture: From Godzilla to Spirited Away.

As five minutes with an academic search engine like Lexis-Nexis or JSTOR demonstrates, trying to keep up with all of the articles and conference papers on anime and manga that have appeared throughout 2004 is almost impossible. But even a sampling of some paper titles will be representative of the various ways in which anime and manga have been approached in the last couple of years. Thus, we have:

“Between the worlds: liminality and sacrifice in Princess Mononoke” (Journal of Religion and Film, 8:1)
“What Pokémon can teach us about learning and literacy” (Language Arts, 81:2)
“Agency and female gender roles in shoujo anime” (Schoolgirls and Superheroes, Gender and Sexuality in Japanese Anime conference, MIT)
“Cyborgs in anime: figures of pivoting fortune” (Society for Literature and Science 2004 Annual Meeting)
“Anime action and manga mania: how to turn teens (and others) into active library users” (10th Annual Public Library Association National Conference)

On the one hand, this is where the full breadth of approaches to anime and manga can best be seen. At the same time, however, this also shows the biggest difficulty of trying to get a paper on anime out there. The world of academic journals and academic conferences is incredibly fractured. Papers on anime have appeared in everything from Science Fiction Studies to the Journal of Psychohistory to Refractory: A Journal of Entertainment Media. Yet, if “study of anime” is ever to become “anime studies” —not an area, but a defined academic field—it needs structure. And the most exciting news related to anime/manga research made in 2004—and probably the first time this has been announced to the public—is this: March 2005 will see the release of the first issue of “Mechademia: an Interdisciplinary Journal for Anime, Manga and the Fan Arts”, the first-ever English-language academic journal on Japanese popular culture products and fan practices. Published by the University of Minnesota Press and edited by Frenchie Lunning, the organizer of the “Schoolgirls and Mobilesuits: Culture and Creation in Manga and Anime” conference, Mechademia will cover a subject area that extends “from manga and anime to game design, fashion, graphics, packaging, and toy industries” —and if you've always wanted to see your name. in print in a respected academic publication, well, here's your chance.

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