Paper “Art History, Japanese Popular Culture and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics” published

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.


Shōjo manga roundup: Crayon Days, Pocha Pocha, Kase-san

It’s been a long time since I posted a straightforward review of a comic. The last one was actually from June 2013 (of Before Watchmen). All the while I’ve been reading comics, of course, some of which I found noteworthy. Here are three short reviews of some of them, united only by the fact that they are all shōjo manga from the last few years.

Painting is still very much a physical activity in Crayon Days.

Painting is still very much a physical activity in Crayon Days.

Title: Kreidetage (くれよん でいず ~ 大キライなアイツ / Crayon Days – Daikirai na Aitsu)
Language: German (translated from Japanese)
Author: Kozue Chiba
Year: 2013-2014 (originally 2012)
Publisher: Tokyopop (originally Shōgakukan)
Pages: 192-196
Price: €6.50 (D)
Website (German): http://www.tokyopop.de/manga-shop/index.php?cPath=872_901
Volumes reviewed: 1-3 (of 3 volumes in German so far; vol. 4 is scheduled for April)

Shima is a 16-year old girl who likes to paint, but is otherwise unremarkable. The story starts with her changing from a regular high school to an art school. A fairly standard love story ensues, her (main) love interest being a rough and unfriendly schoolmate who is already an acclaimed painter. While I can’t say I find the depiction of high school life in Crayon Days convincing, it might be an interesting manga from an art historian’s perspective, as we get to see people painting and talking about painting. For instance, in the world of Crayon Days, abstract expressionism still seems to be en vogue. However, as in many other manga, the setting isn’t all that important here – it just serves as a backdrop for the characters and the story.
Rating: ● ● ○ ○ ○

Katsuyo being caught at what she's best at.

Katsuyo being caught at what she’s best at in Pocha Pocha Swimming Club.

Title: Pocha Pocha Swimming Club (ぽちゃぽちゃ水泳部 / Pocha Pocha Suieibu)
Language: German (translated from Japanese)
Author: Ema Tōyama
Year: 2014 (originally 2011)
Publisher: Egmont Manga (originally Hōbunsha)
Pages: 112
Price: €7 (D)
Website (German): http://www.manganet.de/buch-buchreihe/pocha-pocha-swimming-club/
Volumes reviewed: 1 (1 volume in German so far; vol. 2 is scheduled for March)

When overweight Katsuyo finds out that the boy she fancies only likes slim girls, she decides to lose weight and joins the swimming club of her school. I must admit I hadn’t read a yonkoma (4-panel) manga before, mainly because I thought that format was employed only for gag strips. As Pocha Pocha shows, longer stories can be told just as well in such a rigid layout of 2 × 4 panels per page. I’m not even sure  whether I find ‘comedy’ the right genre designation (though I suspect some of the humour gets lost in translation). Then again, romance isn’t the decisive element either here, as the story revolves rather around swimming, eating, and losing weight.
Rating: ● ● ● ○ ○

Yamada and Kase, our soon-to-be lovers from Asagao to Kase-san.

Yamada and Kase, our soon-to-be lovers from Asagao to Kase-san.

Title: Ipomoea (あさがおと加瀬さん / Asagao to Kase-san)
Language: German (translated from Japanese)
Author: Hiromi Takashima
Year: 2013 (originally 2012)
Publisher: Egmont Manga (originally Shinshokan)
Pages: 159
Price: €7 (D)
Website (German): http://www.manganet.de/buch/ipomoea/
Volumes reviewed: 1 (only 1 volume in German so far)

The shy schoolgirl Yamada meets her athletic schoolmate Kase when watering flowers (ipomoea or morning glories, asagao in Japanese) at their school and gradually falls in love with her. Yuri (Girls’ Love) is another kind of manga that I’ve shied away from in the past, finding it somewhat creepy for adult men to read about lesbian teenage love. Kase-san, however, handles the topic sensitively, as there is no nudity at all in this manga. It is quite similar to a heterosexual romance story, except that the protagonist Yamada struggles to come to terms with her sexuality and that of the eponymous Kase. Their homosexual love is still experienced as a somewhat ‘forbidden love’, which adds an interesting twist to this story. Hopefully Egmont will translate more of this series.
Rating: ● ● ● ● ○