Antonia Levi’s sadness, environmentalism, and technoterror – in mangaPosted: March 8, 2023 Filed under: review | Tags: Antonia Levi, comics, ecology, manga, mono no aware, subject matter, technology, theory, Women's History Month 1 Comment
When I selected Antonia Levi’s 2013 article “The Sweet Smell of Japan. Anime, Manga, and Japan in North America” (Journal of Asian Pacific Communication 23.1, 3–18) as one of the readings for my manga course, I did so because I wanted to use it as a succinct introduction to, and discussion of, the concept of ‘cultural odourlessness’ (originally coined by Koichi Iwabuchi). But as I re-read the article, I found something perhaps even more interesting in there:
Another factor that explains why North Americans find anime and manga so appealing lies in the themes that dominate many of the offerings: sadness, environmentalism, and technoterror.
This trinity of thematic categories is reminiscent of Susan Napier’s three modes of anime, apocalyptic, festival, and elegiac. Only one of those three terms overlaps, however: both sadness and elegiac refer to the mono no aware aesthetic. Another difference is that Levi not only talks about anime but also explicitly includes manga.
In fact, Levi’s sentence can be broken down into two separate statements: (1) North Americans like (media that deal with) sadness, environmentalism, and technoterror, and (2) those three themes dominate “many” manga. It is the second statement that I’d like to take a closer look at. Levi only discusses very few examples in her article, so is this thematic dominance actually there in manga? Or at least in manga up to 2013, when Levi’s article was published, in case some major thematic shift occurred afterwards. (Ideally, one would also need to consider which manga were available to North Americans at that time… but let’s not make things overly complicated here.)
As a not-quite-but-almost random sample, let’s simply take all the manga (published before 2013) I have reviewed or otherwise discussed on this weblog so far. While certainly pretty much biased, this has the undeniable advantage that I am already familiar with their thematic configuration. This trip down memory lane through more than eleven (!) years of The 650-Cent Plague is going to be fun! For each manga, we can either identify any combination of Levi’s three themes, or the absence of all of them.
- Boyfriend by Daisy Yamada: as I argue in my review, this could have been a sad manga, had the issue of bullying been treated more in-depth. Instead, none of the three themes is present.
- Paris aishiteruze by J. P. Nishi: despite the crying protagonist depicted in my blogpost, this manga is rather lighthearted than sad. None of the three themes present.
- .hack//Legend of the Twilight by Rei Izumi and Tatsuya Hamazaki: a story about the dangers of being drawn into the virtual world of an immersive video game, which one might characterise as technoterror, although it’s not overly critical of technology.
- Shidonia no Kishi by Tsutomu Nihei: not every science-fiction manga needs to be a technoterror story, but that theme is definitely there, at least in the sub-plot concerning experiments on humans by ruthless scientists.
- Kozure ōkami by Kazuo Koike and Gōseki Kojima: one of many action manga in which the protagonist is haunted by a very sad backstory.
- Manga nihon keizai nyūmon by Shōtarō Ishinomori: the antagonist is a somewhat sad character, but by and large, none of the three themes is present.
- Hadashi no Gen by Keiji Nakazawa: definitely a sad story. While a manga about nuclear bombing could also feature environmentalism and technoterror, they are not dominant themes here.
- Haine by Kyōta Kita and Keiko Ogata: Heinrich Heine’s life had ups and downs, and while this manga biography is very dramatic and emotional, one can’t say that sadness dominates. None of the three themes present.
- Mai by Kazuya Kudō and Ryōichi Ikegami: some sinister science experiments here, but not enough to make technoterror a dominant theme. None of the three themes present.
- Asagao to Kase-san by Hiromi Takashima: sometimes sad, sometimes not. None of the three themes dominate.
- Pocha Pocha suieibu by Ema Tōyama: none of the three themes present in this comedy manga.
- Crayon Days by Kozue Chiba: fairly standard romance manga with none of the three themes dominating.
- Kimi ni todoke by Karuho Shiina: quite a sad story about a lonely high-school girl, at least in the beginning of the series.
- Namida usagi by Ai Minase: actually not as sad as the title suggests. None of the three themes present.
- Tempest by Yuiji Aniya: a sad sci-fi parable about gender dysphoria.
- Azumanga Daiō by Kiyohiko Azuma: another comedy manga with none of the three themes present.
- Akira by Katsuhiro Ōtomo: a lot going on in this manga, but at least some parts are clearly dominated by technoterror.
- Kirihito by Osamu Tezuka: quite a few sad things happen to the protagonist, but one can’t say sadness is the dominant theme in this medical thriller. Environmental pollution is only hinted at. None of the three themes present.
- Limit by Keiko Suenobu: sometimes quite sad, particularly the bullying backstory.
- Kiseijū by Hitoshi Iwaaki: some thoughtful environmental issues raised here.
- Tantei gishiki by Ryūsui Seiryōin, Eiji Ōtsuka, and Chizu Hashii: a weird mystery manga. None of the three themes present.
- Shiki by Fuyumi Ono and Ryū Fujisaki: there is some bleak countryside ennui, but sadness is not the dominant theme here. None of the three themes present.
- Orange by Ichigo Takano: what could be more sad than the protagonist’s futile attempts to save her classmate’s life?
- Akatsuki no Yona by Mizuho Kusanagi: another adventure manga that starts, like Kozure ōkami, with the sad events of the protagonist’s family being murdered and the protagonist forced into exile.
- Jikenya kagyō by Natsuo Sekikawa and Jirō Taniguchi: while one could call the protagonist a ‘sad’ figure, sadness doesn’t dominate this manga. None of the three themes present.
- Chichi no koyomi by Jirō Taniguchi: a sad story because, unlike in Harukana machi e, the protagonist revisits but can’t change the past.
- Furi Kuri by Studio Gainax and Hajime Ueda: hard to say what this manga is actually about, but there is the technoterror element of seemingly harmless machines turning into giant fighting robots.
- Ōkami kodomo no Ame to Yuki by Mamoru Hosoda, Yū, and Yoshiyuki Sadamoto: the tragic love story between a human and a werewolf, and the story of their children who are torn between two worlds, maybe has some environmental elements, but ultimately sadness dominates.
- Shinseiki Evangelion by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto and Studio Gainax: definitely a sad manga, and in the ambiguous depiction of the destructive power of giant robots there’s also a prominent element of technoterror.
- Narutaru by Mohiro Kitō: a dark, disturbing, and sad manga.
- Doubt by Yoshiki Tonogai: there is some technoterror potential in this story about a lethal mobile game, but its danger is, quite untechnologically, that the game is enacted in real life. Thus none of the three themes dominate.
- Zekkyō gakkyū by Emi Ishikawa: some of the episodes deal with the horrors of technological devices such as mobile phones and video games, but most of them don’t. None of the three themes present.
- Chikyū hyōkai jiki by Jirō Taniguchi: in vol. 1 of this science-fiction manga it isn’t clear whether the current ice age or the subsequent climate change are man-made. However, there are other elements of both environmentalism and technoterror: the technology that allows the mining company to operate in the Arctic also causes deadly accidents, and the technologically advanced miners are contrasted against the natives who live in harmony with nature, wear furs and ride camels.
- Ore monogatari by Kazune Kawahara and Aruko: in this charming rom-com, none of the three themes is present.
- Uzumaki by Junji Itō: dark and twisted, but not really sad, so none of the three themes dominate here.
- I Am a Hero by Kengo Hanazawa: at least in this first volume, there is a lot of sadness surrounding the protagonist.
- Ajin by Tsuina Miura and Gamon Sakurai: there are some hints of human experiments in vol. 1, but not enough to speak of technoterror. None of the three themes present.
- Icaro by Mœbius, Jean Annestay, and Jirō Taniguchi, on the other hand, very much revolves around the human subject of scientific experiments, thus making this manga an example of technoterror.
- Black Magic by Masamune Shirow: there are traces of environmentalism (e.g. terraforming), but the dominant theme is technoterror: tyrannic supercomputers, cyborgs gone rogue, etc.
- Ōkami shōjo to kuro ōji by Ayuko Hatta: another romantic comedy with none of the three themes present.
- Dororo by Osamu Tezuka: sadness surrounds the protagonist Hyakkimaru, whom his parents sacrifice to demons, and his sidekick Dororo.
- Appleseed by Masamune Shirow: this manga is interesting in terms of environmentalism, as a post-apocalyptic wasteland is contrasted against the lush city of Olympus. However, the dominant theme is once more technoterror: again there are cyborgs and a sinister computer-enhanced government.
- Jisatsu saakuru by Usamaru Furuya: a manga about clinically depressed teenagers is bound to be dominated by sadness.
- Devilman by Gō Nagai: there is something tragic about the protagonist’s transformation into a demon, but perhaps not actually sad. None of the three themes present.
- Furari by Jirō Taniguchi: not much of the sadness of some of Taniguchi’s other manga can be found here. None of the three themes dominate.
- Bonnōji by Aki Eda: another rom-com manga in which none of the three themes dominate.
- Sarah by Katsuhiro Ōtomo Takumi Nagayasu: as in quite a few other science-fiction stories, environmentalism and technoterror are linked here, as a nuclear war has eradicated all life on Earth, and now scientists try to fix that by tilting the Earth’s axis with another bomb.
- Berserk by Kentarō Miura: the protagonist’s backstory is probably sad, but not much about it is revealed in vol. 1. Thus none of the three themes is present.
- Tomoji by Jirō Taniguchi: the true story of the eponymous protagonist’s life is full of sad events.
- K by Shirō Tōzaki and Jirō Taniguchi: another adventure/action manga in which the sadness surrounding the mysterious protagonist remains vague. Nowadays, a story about Himalayan mountaineering would have to deal with environmental issues, but that was not the case in 1988. None of the three themes dominate.
Adding up the numbers, there are only 25 manga (50%) of which we can say that they are dominated by any of the three themes in question. That’s a far cry from “many of the offerings”. It’s also noteworthy that environmentalism and technoterror apply to only 3 (6%) and 9 titles (18%), respectively, i.e. the distribution of the three themes is markedly skewed in favour of sadness (15 titles / 30%). Incidentally, we obtained similar numbers in my manga course when applying Levi’s themes to the manga discussed in class.
Does that mean Levi is wrong? Are environmentalism, technoterror, and, to a lesser degree, sadness, irrelevant to manga and their (North American) reception? Not necessarily. Perhaps her statement is just a bit imprecisely phrased. I suspect that if we take a closer look at the most popular manga in the US in the late 1990s and early 2000s (which is perhaps the kind of manga that her article is actually about), rather than a more or less random sample, we might find that environmental and technological issues play indeed a large role – or at least a larger role than in contemporary American media.
Index to all ‘theory’ posts on this weblog
Manga Intro SyllabusPosted: February 26, 2023 Filed under: shop talk | Tags: art history, comics, manga, teaching 2 Comments
[This course was taught in German, and the following course details are translated from German.]
Course title: Manga – Introduction to History and Theory
Instructor: Martin de la Iglesia
As taught at: Heidelberg University (Germany), Institute for European Art History
As taught in: Winter 2022/23
Level: Undergraduate (B.A. / Proseminar)
Course description: A comics industry in Japan developed relatively late under the influence of U.S. newspaper strips, but since the second half of the 20th century, the Japanese comic market outperforms all others in terms of audience size and amount of turnover. Today, the ‘manga look’ dominates the pop cultural image production in Japan and has also reached a considerable impact abroad. It is appropriate that now the field of (European) Art History also approaches the manga phenomenon with its own methods. In this course we get to know some of the most important manga of the last 100 years (longer series in excerpts), so that at the end of the semester we will have gained an overview of the development of comics in Japan and its major genres and artists. At the same time we will acquire, by reading secondary literature, methods with which not only Japanese but also most other comics can be analysed.
• Miriam Brunner: Manga. Paderborn 2010. [German]
• Paul Gravett: Manga. 60 Years of Japanese Comics. New York 2007.
• Toni Johnson-Woods (ed.): Manga. An Anthology of Global and Cultural Perspectives. New York / London 2010.
• Brigitte Koyama-Richard: One Thousand Years of Manga. Paris 2007.
• Nicole Coolidge Rousmaniere and Ryoko Matsuba (eds.): Manga. London 2019.
In-class presentation assignments
(One per student and – usually – per week. Only the first volume in a series needs to be covered.)
1. Nobutsume Oda & Katsuichi Kabashima: Shō-chan no bōken (Shō-chan Adventures), 1923. Translated and narrated by Nicholas Theisen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_h-th7P1GNg
2. Gajo Sakamoto: Tank Tankuro, 1934.
3. Osamu Tezuka: Janguru taitei (Kimba, the White Lion), 1950.
4. Chikako Urano: Attack No. 1 (Mila Superstar), 1968.
5. Kazuo Koike & Gōseki Kojima: Kozure ōkami (Lone Wolf & Cub), 1970.
6. Riyoko Ikeda: Versailles no bara (The Rose of Versailles), 1972.
7. Shigeru Mizuki: Sōin gyokusai seyo! (Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths), 1973.
8. Katsuhiro Ōtomo: Akira, 1982.
9. Masamune Shirow: Kōkaku Kidōtai (The Ghost in the Shell), 1989.
10. Jirō Taniguchi: Aruku hito (The Walking Man), 1990.
11. Naoko Takeuchi: Bishōjo senshi Sailor Moon, 1991.
12. Masashi Kishimoto: Naruto, 1999.
13. Kiyohiko Azuma: Azumanga Daiō, 1999.
14. Milk Morinaga: Kuchibiru tameiki sakurairo (Cherry Lips), 2003; OR (student’s choice):
Y. Fumino: Hidamari ga kikoeru (I Hear the Sunspot), 2013.
(Usually one per week.)
1. Scott McCloud: Understanding Comics. The Invisible Art. 1993. Chapter 1.
2. Scott McCloud: Understanding Comics. The Invisible Art. 1993. Chapter 3.
3. Nathalie Mälzer: “Taxonomien von Bild-Text-Beziehungen im Comic”, in: Nathalie Mälzer (ed.): Comics – Übersetzungen und Adaptionen. Berlin: Frank & Timme, 2015, pp. 47–63.
4. Ernst Gombrich: Chapter X, “The Experiment of Caricature”, from: Art and Illusion. A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation. 1960.
5. Lambert Wiesing: “Die Sprechblase. Reale Schrift im Bild”, in: Realitätseffekte. Ästhetische Repräsentation des Alltäglichen im 20. Jahrhundert. Paderborn: Fink, 2008, pp. 25–46.
6. Neil Cohn, “Japanese Visual Language. The Structure of Manga”, 2007, https://www.visuallanguagelab.com/P/japanese_vl.pdf
7. Jan-Noël Thon: “Who’s Telling the Tale? Authors and Narrators in Graphic Narrative”, in: Daniel Stein / Jan-Noël Thon (eds.): From Comic Strips to Graphic Novels. Contributions to the Theory and History of Graphic Narrative, 2nd ed., Berlin / Boston: de Gruyter, 2015, pp. 67–99.
8. Jason Dittmer: “Serialization and Displacement in Graphic Narrative”, in: Rob Allen / Thijs van den Berg (eds.): Serialization in Popular Culture, New York / London: Routledge, 2014, pp. 126–140.
9. Lukas R. A. Wilde: “Meta-narrative Knotenpunkte der Medienkonvergenz: Zu den medienwissenschaftlichen Potenzialen des japanischen kyara-Begriffs”, in: Hans-Joachim Backe et al. (eds.): Ästhetik des Gemachten: Interdisziplinäre Beiträge zur Animations- und Comicforschung. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2018, pp. 109–149. DOI: 10.25969/mediarep/11963
10. Marco Pellitteri: The Dragon and the Dazzle. Models, Strategies and Identities of Japanese Imagination. A European Perspective. Latina: Tunué, 2010. Chapter IV until IV-2, i.e. pp. 177–204.
11. Antonia Levi: “The sweet smell of Japan”. Animation in Asia 23 (2013), No. 1, pp. 3–18.
Review, Jirō Taniguchi memorial edition: KPosted: February 11, 2023 Filed under: review | Tags: action, climbing, comics, Jirō Taniguchi, K, manga, Shirō Tōzaki, sports 2 Comments
Attempts at dividing Jirō Taniguchi’s († February 11, 2017) oeuvre into earlier ‘genre’ manga and later ‘mature’ manga are perhaps futile, as his two works in the mountaineering sub-genre show: K was first published in the late 80s, i.e. around the same time as Chikyū hyōkai jiki (Ice Age Chronicle of the Earth), but his other mountain climbing manga, Kamigami no itadaki (Summit of the Gods) – much longer and not written by Shirō Tōzaki – did not begin serialisation until 2000, long after Aruku hito, Chichi no koyomi, and Harukana machi e. Maybe this means that Taniguchi had a special fondness for the topic of mountaineering.
Language: German (originally Japanese)
Authors: Shirō Tōzaki (writer – credited as “Shiro Tosaki”), Jirō Taniguchi (artist)
Publisher: Schreiber & Leser (originally Futabasha)
Year: 2021 (originally 1988)
Number of volumes: 1
Price: € 17
Simply “K” is what the protagonist calls himself. A Japanese climber living near the Himalayan and Karakoram* mountain ranges, his identity and past are unknown, but his mountaneering skills are famous. He is the one to go to when a near-impossibly difficult expedition needs to be undertaken to the highest peaks of the earth, no matter how steep the walls of rock and ice, or how adverse the weather conditions.
And that’s how each of the 5 chapters plays out, more or less: someone (or something) goes missing in the mountain, then K is asked to rescue him. After some hesitation, he agrees, ventures out to the mountain, almost dies there in the rescue attempt, and – spoiler alert – always succeeds in the end.
For such a repetitively structured story to remain interesting, a great deal of realism and clarity in the depiction of the action is crucial. When conveying the spatial situation the climbers are in, their gear, movements, and the effects of the weather, it needs to be made clear to the reader what is at stake. Is the character about to fall off a cliff? Is he about to be hit by an avalanche? Is he in danger of freezing to death? In this, Taniguchi’s highly detailed drawings succeed. Particularly his landscapes – normally bleak, uniform masses of rock and snow, but rendered here in a great variety of techniques, such as different kinds of hatching and screentone – almost appear three-dimensional.
Then again, it should also be mentioned that Tōzaki and Taniguchi rely a lot on captions to tell the story. In a kind of solemn past-tense voice, the narrator often tells us what K is doing exactly, and why. As a result, K is unusually wordy for a Taniguchi manga.
The five chapters are self-contained, and there is little overarching development in the manga. In the final chapter, we learn a little bit more about K’s past, but he still remains an inscrutable character. Perhaps it is just as well that the series ended there, instead of dragging on and becoming boring. Consequently, what we have here is an action-packed, exciting little oddity that shows how Taniguchi could draw pretty much anything.
Rating: ● ● ● ● ○
* Some reviewers of this manga only speak of the Himalayas, but apparently, Himalaya and Karakoram are two different mountain ranges. The K2, which the first chapter is about, lies in the Karakoram range, not in the Himalayas.
Manga review, Halloween 2022 edition: Chainsaw ManPosted: October 31, 2022 Filed under: review | Tags: action, Chainsaw Man, comics, Halloween, horror, manga, Tatsuki Fujimoto 1 Comment
Winner of Shōgakukan and Harvey awards, highest-ranking manga in our 2020 and 2021 best-comics-of-the-year lists… But does it live up to the hype?
Chainsaw Man (チェンソーマン Chensō man) vol. 1
Language: German (originally Japanese)
Author: Tatsuki Fujimoto
Publisher: Egmont (originally Shūeisha)
Year: 2020 (originally published 2018)
Total number of volumes: 12 so far in Japan
Price: € 7
Website: https://www.egmont-manga.de/series/Chainsaw%20Man (German publisher), https://www.mangaupdates.com/series/ylx5wzn/ (Baka-Updates)
The world of Chainsaw Man is similar to our own, except for the constant threat of so-called ‘devils’ – demons in various hideous shapes who seek to enslave or outright kill humans. Thankfully, the Japanese government has installed a devil-hunting task force to protect its citizens. The newest among those devil hunters is Denji, a teenager who himself has fused his body with a devil, which allows him to transform his head into a chainsaw and to grow chainsaw blades from his arms.
So far, so weird. But protagonist Denji has a backstory that endears him to the reader: having inherited his father’s debts to the yakuza, he was destitute before joining the devil hunters. All the money he earned went straight to the mob, and he could barely feed himself and his pet devil dog. It’s not as powerful a poverty narrative as e.g. Hideo Azuma’s Shissō Nikki (Disappearance Diary), but it seems to work well, as pretty much every reviewer on the Internet ends up rooting for Denji.
Unfortunately, as in so many other manga of this type, this origin story is quickly told and done away with, and then it’s monster slaying time. Denji continues to be an interesting and relatable character though, being driven by much more basic needs and desires than his co-workers who have more noble (or enigmatic) motives. The action scenes are also enhanced by Tatsuki Fujimoto’s drawing style. Some people have called the artwork crude, but it’s actually often quite elaborate on closer inspection. Fujimoto deliberately uses coarse-grained screentone effects to diversify the tonality of his artwork, and his sound effects are a masterclass in typographic design.
As for the design of the ‘devils’, however – they look more silly than terrifying. What is it with the Japanese and their rather ridiculous monsters, one is tempted to ask? Kiseijū, Evangelion, Naru Taru… Perhaps the look of those creatures fits the overall wackiness of Chainsaw Man, but that doesn’t mean you have to like it.
Scariest moment: there is a simple but effective sort of ‘jump scare’ when the devil hunters open a door to reveal a ‘fiend’ (a human body possessed and grotesquely altered by a devil).
Rating: ● ● ● ○ ○
Find the previous Halloween blogposts here: 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015.
Griselda Pollock’s feminism – in comics?Posted: March 20, 2022 Filed under: review | Tags: art history, comics, feminism, Griselda Pollock, manga, Moe Yukimaru, Suisai, theory, Women's History Month 1 Comment
Between her two major books on feminist art history, Old Mistresses (1981, co-authored by Rozsika Parker) and Vision and Difference (1987), Griselda Pollock published an article titled “Women, Art, and Ideology: Questions for Feminist Art Historians”¹. In part a summary of the former book, it outlines Pollock’s notion of a feminist art history (or should that rather be “feminism in art history”?). The problem with previous feminist art historians, according to Pollock’s essay, is that they only tried to amend the canon of art history by adding female artists that had been omitted before. Pollock calls this an “unthreatening and additive feminism”. Instead, she argues, “a central task for feminist art historians is […] to critique art history itself”, because art history (as well as its object of study, art) is a system that “actively constructs and secures the patriarchal definitions for the category Woman”.
How, then, is a feminist art history possible at all? “The important questions” need to be asked: “how and why an art object or text was made, for whom was it made, for what purpose was it made, within what constraints and possibilites was it produced and initially used?” The importance of such questions to any art historical analysis seems self-evident today, and in fact they were already being asked back then – Marxist art history and the social history of art were a big thing. But they didn’t satisfy Pollock, who says that Marxist thinking about art, which treats “art as a reflection of the society that produced it”, has some severe shortcomings: it “oversimplifies the processes whereby an art product […] represents social processes that are themselves enormously complicated, mobile, and opaque”; it “condemns women effectively to a homogenenous, gender-defined category” and “effaces the specificity and heterogeneity of women’s artistic production”; it places works of art in ideological categories when in fact “ideologies are often fractured and contradictory”, etc.
So the overall tendency of Pollock’s feminist art history is: specificity, particularity, complexity and heterogeneity instead of generalisation and categorisation. Clearly, such a kind of art history is a radical shift away from scholarship as it is traditionally understood. It is perhaps best summed up in Pollock’s demand that “the relations between women, art, and ideology have to be studied as a set of varying and unpredictable relationships.” However, when Pollock’s essay provides some examples of what such an analysis might look like (taken from Old Mistresses), they don’t seem quite so radical after all. Sofonisba Anguissola’s 1561 Self Portrait With Spinet and Attendant is interpreted as a display of the artist’s aristocratic class position which allowed her to become a professional painter, unlike women of lower classes. Johann Zoffany’s 1772 The Academicians of the Royal Academy, in which the only two female Academy members are not part of the group in the room but represented as portrait paintings on the wall, shows how the system of the art academy actively constructed “distinct identities for the artist who was a man – the artist, and the artist who was a woman – the woman artist.” The late 18th-century family portraits by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun show how the ideal of the woman at that time had changed to that of “the happy mother, the woman fulfilled by childbearing and childrearing.”
Thus, in contrast to ‘mainstream’ art history, Pollock’s vantage point is always the (female) artist’s biography. Let’s see where this approach takes us when applied to a random comic.
The last comic by a female author that I read was Moe Yukimaru’s Suisai (more on that manga in a later post) vol. 1. What can we find out about this mangaka? Born in 1986, Yukimaru worked as an assistant to Nana Haruta (on another shōjo manga, Love Berrish) before debuting as a mangaka in 2006. Most of her manga were published in the shōjo magazine Ribon. Suisai started in 2015, i.e. when Yukimaru was 28 or 29. According to e.g. her Japanese Wikipedia page, her dream for the future is to become a “mangaka and charismatic housewife at the same time”. However, we don’t know when and under which circumstances she said that.
Yukimaru also has a weblog, yukimarublog.jugem.jp. She hasn’t posted for a while and her latest blogposts are about her current manga, Hatsukoi Retake, and transitioning from print to digital-first publishing. But her earlier posts from around the time when she was working on Suisai are quite interesting. In one of them, from late 2014, she apologises for “not having a particularly stylish lifestyle to blog about” and not being one of those “bloggers who write about highly feminine content with fashionable images every day”. Apart from promoting her manga work, though, there is quite a lot of cat content, food pics, and even a post about Yukimaru doing her fingernails.
So the image that we can perceive of Yukimaru is that of a ‘highly feminine’ artist who is firmly associated with the shōjo manga segment. Interestingly, Suisai doesn’t quite reflect this image. Although often labeled ‘romance’, this first volume at least is not so much of a girl-meets-boy story (there is something of that, too) but more of a ‘girl-meets-flute’ story of a high school student who enters her school’s brass band. It is a music manga first and foremost. Other music manga, e.g. Naoshi Arakawa’s Shigatsu wa kimi no uso / Your Lie in April, have been published in shо̄nen magazines. Granted, that one had both a male protagonist and a male author, but the point is that demographic categorisations such as shо̄jo or shо̄nen are often quite artificial, and that Suisai isn’t a particularly ‘girly’ manga.
Taking a closer look at Suisai, however, we find some interesting points being raised in terms of gender. Right at the beginning, we learn that the protagonist, Urara, had been a successful track-and-field athlete in middle school. But now in high school, she wants to “try something new” instead of a sports club – so that she can spend more time wearing the “cute” sailor uniform of her new school. “After quitting the [track-and-field] club, I have grown my hair long just for that”, she says, which prompts her classmate to say: “So there is an actual girl hidden in you after all.”
In the following course of the story, there are several scenes in which Urara’s energetic and bold nature is seen as undesirable and un-girly, and her lack of “cuteness” is pointed out. Thus we could read this coming-of-age story as the story of Urara moving on not only from middle to high school, but also from a sports to a music club, leaving her boyish childhood behind and becoming a woman. As Griselda Pollock would perhaps say, Urara succumbs to the allure of this artificially created category of Woman; a category created both by the fictional society in the manga and real society, including Moe Yukimaru, her publisher, and her readers.
Index to all “[theory] – in comics?” posts on this weblog
¹ First published in Woman’s Art Journal Vol. 4, No. 1 (Spring – Summer, 1983), pp. 39–47, https://doi.org/10.2307/1358100; re-published in Women’s Studies Quarterly Vol. 15, No. 1/2, Teaching about Women and the Visual Arts (Spring – Summer, 1987), pp. 2–9, https://www.jstor.org/stable/40004832.
Review, Jirō Taniguchi memorial edition: TomojiPosted: February 11, 2022 Filed under: review | Tags: biography, comics, history, Japanese culture, Jirō Taniguchi, manga, religion, Taishō era, Tomoji 1 Comment
One of the greatest mangaka of all time passed away five years ago. Today we’re going to look at another of his late works, created after Furari and before The Millennium Forest.
Tomoji (とも路; German title: Ihr Name war Tomoji)
Language: German (originally Japanese)
Authors: Miwako Ogihara & Jirō Taniguchi (writers), Jirō Taniguchi (artist)
Publisher: Carlsen (originally Futabasha)
Year: 2016 (originally 2012)
Number of volumes: 1
Price: € 17
Website: https://www.carlsen.de/softcover/ihr-name-war-tomoji/978-3-551-76104-0 (German); https://www.mangaupdates.com/series.html?id=119718
A very short summary of this story would be that it tells the life of Tomoji Uchida (1912-1967), who, together with her husband Fumiaki Itō, founded a Buddhist sect. But that would be misleading. Instead of a hagiography, Taniguchi (together with co-writer Ogihara) does what he is best at: telling a story of ordinary people living ordinary lives. He is able to pull this off by having the story end in 1932, after Tomoji had married Fumiaki but before they became religious leaders.
What makes this story interesting nevertheless is that it’s also a portrait of Taishō and early Shōwa era Japan. We see Tomoji as a young girl in the countryside of Yamanashi Prefecture, helping out at her family’s shop, working in the rice paddy, going to school, and later going to town to attend a sewing school. Some dramatic events in Tomoji’s life are also shown – e.g. her father’s death, or how her mother abandons the family – but the only historic one is the Great Kantō earthquake in 1923, which is mainly depicted from Fumiaki’s perspective in Tokyo.
This is actually one of the more unusual aspects of the manga: Tomoji and Fumiaki don’t meet until 1932, but the perspective shifts several times from her to him, and it is strongly implied that they are somehow destined to be together. For instance, on p. 111, Fumiaki in Tokyo looks out of the window; the next panel shows a bird of prey in the sky; the one after that shows Tomoji looking up from her work in the rice paddy near her faraway home village – as if they were both watching the same bird – and then on the next page the sequence is reversed until in the last panel we’re with Fumiaki in Tokyo again. The caption on the page after that reads: “Fumiaki was 18 years old, Tomoji 12. Both were looking at the same sky, but some more years would pass before they met.”
With the knowledge of how Tomoji’s life story continues after the end of the manga, one is tempted to look for other hints in the story, apart from her fateful meeting with Fumiaki, as to how and why she became a religious leader. And indeed there are many little episodes which one can read as examples of young Tomoji’s kindness, compassion, humility, studiousness, piety and spirituality, all of which are probably appropriate prerequisites for a future temple founder. That being said, Tomoji remains a charmingly ‘ordinary’ slice-of-life manga.
Art-wise, Taniguchi is once more at the top of his game, which shows particularly in the many landscape panels and the endless variations of the page layout. Thankfully, the German edition also includes all the watercoloured pages (22 including chapter title images) in colour, and I have already sung Taniguchi’s praises as a watercolour painter before. Then again, the colour pages are probably German publisher Carlsen’s reason to charge the hefty price of € 0.10 per page for this book.
If Tomoji can be considered required reading for Taniguchi enthusiasts, it’s because it bridges two gaps in his oeuvre: as some people have pointed out, it is one of only two of his manga with a female protagonist (the other being Sensei no kaban from 2008, adapted from Hiromi Kawakami’s novel). And, chronologically, Tomoji is another piece in the puzzle that is Taniguchi’s manga history of Japan, as it were, as the time period that it covers fits nicely between the Meiji-era Bocchan no jidai (1987) and Harukana machi e / A Distant Neighborhood (1998), small parts of which are set in WWII.
Rating: ● ● ● ● ○
Exhibition review: Manga – Reading the Flow, Zürich, 10.9.2021-30.1.2022Posted: January 28, 2022 Filed under: review | Tags: Christina Plaka, comics, exhibition, manga, medieval Japan, museums, Swiss Leave a comment
A very special manga exhibition is about to close soon: curated by none other than Japanese Studies professor Jaqueline Berndt, it may well be the most scholarly sound manga exhibition yet.
The special exhibition space at Museum Rietberg is basically one large room, divided into five partitions for this show. The first of these contains a reading area with a selection of manga tankōbon in both German and Japanese for visitors to peruse. The second section, titled “Panels – Pictorial Storytelling”, takes a closer look at how manga are made, in terms of both craftsmanship and layout. To this end, a manga has been purpose-made and is displayed in various stages of completion, including a video of the manga being drawn. The short manga in question was made by German mangaka Christina Plaka and is a present-day reimagining of the Japanese fable of the Poetry Contest of the Twelve Animals, which is shown in the exhibition as a 17th century picture scroll (in reproduction – apparently, the original scroll from the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin had been shown in another Japan-themed exhibition at Museum Rietberg which has already ended in December).
The following section, “Genres”, contains more pages of Plaka’s manga, but this time each double page is drawn in a different style that corresponds to the major manga demographics – seinen, shōnen and shōjo (setting aside the question of whether “genre” is the adequate term here). The fourth section is called “Studio” and invites visitors to continue Plaka’s manga story by drawing their own little yonkoma manga. Finally, there’s the “Genji” section which presents three different Japanese manga on the same topic – the 11th-century Tale of Genji – by means of enlarged reproduced pages with accompanying texts in German and English. These manga are Asakiyumemishi by Waki Yamato (1980), Ōzukami Genji monogatari Maro, n? by Yoshihiro Koizumi (2002), and Ii ne! Hikaru Genji-kun by est em (2015).
For the most part, the exhibition works fine and dandy. There are just a few points at which it perhaps oversimplifies things, or which for other reasons are not as convincing as they could have been. For instance, large parts of the exhibition rely on Christina Plaka’s Tanuki vs. Zodiac 12, i.e. a German manga, to explain things about Japanese comics. Of course, Plaka is an accomplished mangaka, and it would have been much more complicated to collaborate with a Japanese mangaka, translate the resulting manga, etc. But no matter how closely Plaka’s manga imitates Japanese manga, it can never fully replace the ‘real thing’. And when people come to the museum to learn something about how the Japanese make comics, they probably want to do so by looking at comics created by Japanese people.
Another somewhat problematic thing – not only about this but also some other manga shows in the past, e.g. Hokusai × Manga in Hamburg, or the more recent Rimpa feat. Manga in Munich – is how contemporary manga are forcibly connected to historical Japanese arts and culture, as in this case the Twelve Animals fable and the Tale of Genji. This carries the danger of perpetuating the myth that modern-day manga are direct descendants from such older Japanese arts. It may also give a false impression when manga as a whole are represented only by manga set in or otherwise concerned with Japanese history, when in fact there are only relatively few of those compared to present-day, futuristic or fantasy settings.
Lastly, the identification of manga as a necessarily participatory fan culture, as claimed by the “Studio” section, is a bit exaggerated. There is nothing wrong with including such an activity section where visitors can draw their own manga in an exhibition, but the accompanying text goes too far when it suggests that manga fandom with its fan art and fan fiction is not only an integral part but even “at the heart of manga culture” in Japan. While that is a common view, it is actually perfectly fine to regard the published manga independently from their readers (and vice versa). Also, not every single one of the millions of manga readers can be considered a ‘fan’, let alone one who creates fan art or fan fiction.
Speaking of the exhibition texts, it is a pity that no proper exhibition catalogue has been published, but at least the texts from the wall placards are collected in a free leaflet (both in German and English). It is available for download here: https://rietberg.ch/files/ausstellungen/2021/Manga/MuseumRietberg_Manga_Handout_EN.pdf
Book review: Rémi Lopez, The Impact of AkiraPosted: January 21, 2022 Filed under: review | Tags: Akira, book review, comics, Katsuhiro Ōtomo, manga, publication, Rémi Lopez Leave a comment
Rémi Lopez: The Impact of Akira. A Manga [R]evolution. Translated by Jennifer Ligas. Toulouse: Third Éditions, 2020. 192 pages. ISBN: 2377842801. Print: $ 29.95, ebook: $ 13.99
When I first heard that there was going to be a book about Katsuhiro Ōtomo’s Akira, I was very excited and could hardly wait to read it – naturally, given that I had spent years studying this manga (and still am). Did it live up to my expectations? Find out in my review in the current issue of Asian Studies: https://revije.ff.uni-lj.si/as/article/view/10358
If my criticisms of this book seem overly harsh, bear in mind that I only tried to assess its value for a scholarly audience (for which it wasn’t even written). For other readers, it might still be an enjoyable book.
Another reason why I am pleased with this little review article is that it marks my first foray into a journal from the field of Japanese Studies or Asian Studies. I have always been bemoaning a certain divide, or at least a lack of communication, between manga scholars from Japanese Studies and comics scholars from other disciplines (like myself). Publishing in journals (or speaking at conferences) of the ‘other party’ might be small contributions to improving this situation.
A review copy of the ebook version was provided by Third Éditions.
Paper “Art History, Japanese Popular Culture and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics” publishedPosted: December 23, 2021 Filed under: shop talk | Tags: anime, art history, awards, comics, Japanese culture, manga, Olympics, PhD, publication, sports, talks, Tokyo 2020, video games Leave a comment
It already feels good to get a PhD thesis completed and submitted, and defended. But the icing on the cake was to receive the ‘August-Grisebach-Preis’ of the Institute of European Art History at Heidelberg University for one of the two best dissertations of the year! Along with the award came the honour of giving a speech at the semester opening of the Institute in October. Usually such a speech would be a summary of the thesis, but I thought it would be more interesting for both the audience and me if I talked about a different topic (that still is loosely related to that of my thesis).
When I received the news in early August, I was engrossed in the Olympics, and I felt that as an expert on Japanese pop culture, I might have an interesting thing or two to say about the manifold ways in which manga, anime etc. were present at that event. At the same time, I wanted to make some statements about the place of (Japanese) pop culture in (European) Art History, and discipline-specific approaches to it. Perhaps that was a bit of a tall order for a twenty-minute talk, but I’m still happy with the way it turned out, so I decided to translate it into English, add some footnotes and publish it on Humanities Commons: https://hcommons.org/deposits/item/hc:43623
(This also marks the first time that I deposited something on Humanities Commons. So far, I’m very pleased with it.)
Here’s the abstract:
Spectators of the 2020/21 Olympic Games were frequently confronted with references to Japanese popular culture, particularly at the opening and closing ceremonies. However, these references to anime, manga, video games and other visual media were often so subtle that they were easy to miss unless pointed out and explained by television commentators. Art historians should not shy away from engaging with such objects and images.
Manga review, Halloween 2021 edition: BerserkPosted: October 30, 2021 Filed under: review | Tags: Berserk, comics, fantasy, Halloween, horror, Kentarō Miura, manga 2 Comments
While usually placed in the ‘dark fantasy’ genre, several people on the Internet rank Berserk among the best horror manga ever. And although there are still quite a few ‘old masters’ of horror manga not covered on this weblog – Kazuo Umezu, Hideshi Hino, Suehiro Maruo – the untimely passing of Kentarō Miura earlier this year makes Berserk a fitting choice for what might be the final installment of this Halloween blogpost series.
Berserk (ベルセルク Beruseruku) “Ultimative Edition” vol. 1
Language: German (originally Japanese)
Author: Kentarō Miura
Publisher: Panini (originally Hakusensha)
Year: 2019 (episodes in this vol. originally published 1989-1991)
Total number of volumes: 40 individual vols. so far in Japan (this German book is a 2-in-1 volume)
Price: € 19
Website: https://paninishop.de/mangas/berserk/ (German publisher), https://www.mangaupdates.com/series.html?id=88 (Baka-Updates)
The beginning doesn’t look very auspicious though. There’s our protagonist, Guts, the “Black Swordsman”, who travels around a vaguely European medieval world, killing people with his giant sword (and other weapons) on a quest for revenge. Not much is revealed about who did what to him, which makes his acts of killing appear all the more haphazard.
The quality of draughtsmanship leaves much to be desired, as the proportions of the characters, especially Guts, look awkward and implausible, as do some of the town buildings and castles in the background. With his tiny head on his excessively muscular and slightly elongated body, Guts looks much like other 80s action manga heroes such as Kenshirō from Hokuto no ken / Fist of the North Star (the writer of which, Buronson, incidentally collaborated with Miura on two other manga). One cannot call Miura’s drawings careless or hasty though, as many of them contain an insane amount of detail, which is probably what makes people believe that the artwork is awesome.
Anyway, things get interesting (i.e. horrific) when Guts has his first hallucinatory vision of a monstrous fetus-like creature crawling towards him, with only one eye, just like him. We don’t get to learn what this creature is exactly, but it continues to haunt Guts in each of the three loosely connected stories in this volume.
However, what makes Berserk unmistakably a horror manga is the true nature of Guts’s enemies. Mere humans he slaughters with ease by the dozen (did I mention he’s half blind? That doesn’t bother him at all), but their leaders are demonically possessed supervillains, which makes for some truly creepy transformation scenes. In one of them, a swordsman grows a tentacle arm, which is eerily reminiscent of Tetsuo’s transformation in Katsuhiro Ōtomo’s Akira – it’s hard to say which of the two chapters in question came first, though; both must have been published in 1990.
The overall atmosphere is enhanced by a sense of nihilism that pervades the manga, embodied by the anti-hero Guts. Granted, the people he fights are evil, but he only goes after them because of his personal vendetta, and when Guts protects the innocent, it’s only because their tormentors conveniently happen to be his own targets anyway. At least that’s what he says. But in his conversations with his fairy companion Puck, the more he denies any feelings of pity and compassion, the less we believe him. Thus Berserk turns out to be not nihilistic at all but rather deeply, almost philosophically, concerned with morality – a concern shared with e.g. Gō Nagai’s Devilman, or Hitoshi Iwaaki’s contemporaneous Kiseijū / Parasyte. This allows the readers to enjoy the protagonist’s murderous rampages while resting assured that he’s essentially one of the good guys.
In the end, Berserk is a mixed bag in terms of both writing and art. Horror purists may want to give this manga a pass, but it’s clear to see why so many action/fantasy fans love it.
Scariest moment: when the demonic Count infests one of his henchmen to imbue him with superhuman strength.
Rating: ● ● ○ ○ ○
It should be noted that Berserk is one of those long-running manga series of which people say that ‘it gets really good once you get past the first x volumes’, and my verdict, of course, refers only to this first volume.
P.S.: if you read German and are considering getting this Panini edition – don’t. The translation is the worst I’ve ever seen in a manga.
Find the previous Halloween blogposts here: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015.