Manga Studies #6: Takeuchi Osamu and Manga Expression pt. 2: The Historiographic Basis of Manga Formalism by Nicholas Theisen

09 Jan

In part one, I showed how the manga artist Tezuka Osamu and his body of work function as more than a mere object of analysis within manga studies but as a totalizing discourse upon which a number of larger critical concerns are projected. This has the rather odd effect of rendering “Tezuka” a milieu which can absorb even those critiques which seek to overcome a Tezuka-centric purview as to what manga might be in both historical and formal terms. I used the critical writings of Takeuchi Osamu not to evaluate them as such but to demonstrate the discursive mechanics of this totalizing absorption. In part two below, I will once again use Takeuchi’s critical oeuvre to examine, in addition to how the critic’s own personal predilections can become subsumed into seemingly objective claims, the assumptions underlying manga formalism: how manga fit with other media, how manga is understood as children’s literature, and how manga is treated as, if not entirely presumed to be, a predominantly postwar phenomenon.

Jaqueline Berndt, in her essay, “Considering Manga Discourse: Location, Ambiguity, Historicity,” identifies four generations of manga studies in Japan. The first, emerging in the early 1960s, is identified with the journal Shisō no kagaku (The Science of Thought), and the second, from the late ‘60s into the ‘70s, with the journal Mangashugi (Manga-ism). Both of these generations were largely concerned with manga as a sociological phenomenon. The first sharp turn in manga studies discourse came with the third generation, the so-called “first person narrators” (boku-gatari) for whom manga critique was not only a function of one’s subjective, emotional response to comic reading but, as “reader” rather than “scholar,” the manga critic “functioned as an arbiter of taste and a means for the fan community’s self-affirmation.”[1] The turn away from a sociographic approach to the study of manga was, then, commensurate with an increased parochialism, wherein the values of a limited, fannish readership were held to be the ideal. This turn, while problematic, was nevertheless liberating for women writing about shōjo manga, which in the 1970s and 1980s was still widely denigrated.

Takeuchi most properly belongs to the fourth generation, emerging in the 1990s, which she identifies with Yomota Inuhiko and Natsume Fusanosuke, who seemed to eschew the subjective criticism of the previous generation as well as the sociologically oriented criticism of even earlier ones in favor of semiotics or, more specifically, manga hyōgen/manga expression: “[Yomota’s and Natsume’s] semiotic approach was intended to claim manga as an autonomous medium by explicating its unique means of expression from an internal perspective.”[2] I say “seemed to eschew,” because while the study of manga expression seeks to make objective claims about how manga are put together, those claims quite often betray their origins in the critic’s personal experiences. For instance, I noted in part one how Takeuchi set his own experiences reading Tezuka’s manga as a child against the “fashionable” trends of the 1960s and ‘70s in order to make the rather bald assertion that Tezuka lay at the heart of it all as well as how Natsume, thinking back on his earliest work, could see that it stemmed from his own particular interests and was, as such, rather limited.

The particular kind of manga formalism that followed from the more subjective criticism that preceded it did not entirely leave the “first-person narrators” behind. In fact, the study of manga expression, despite its objective pretensions, is profoundly subjective, though in ways that are not immediately apparent. What is not always clear and yet must be kept in mind is that formalist approaches, while broadly empirical, are not strictly descriptive—rather, something is first presumed to be manga (even while excluding a number of textual artifacts that go by that designation), that “something” is broken down into structural components, and then a formal theory based on those components is used as a lens to look back on manga in toto.[3] One only ever gets the occasional glimpse of what manga is presumed to be, though in Takeuchi’s critical corpus these manga presumptions are somewhat more common and easier to identify.

For Takeuchi, the study of manga expression is but one facet of the study of a much broader range of means of visual [re]presentation in all popular media. He identifies both Natsume and Yomota as initiators of the study of manga expression, but then almost immediately turns the discussion to how he believes it to be much older than the work of those two foundational critics. He locates manga hyōgen (i.e. manga expression) within what he refers to simply as hyōgen (i.e. expression/presentation), by which he appears to mean all visual expression in media, thereby combining the visual aesthetics of forms as disparate as film and children’s picture books (ehon) under one large hyōgen umbrella.[4] This understanding of manga among other media goes all the way back to the beginning of his career as a manga scholar/critic, 1989’s Manga to jidō bungaku no “aida” (“Between” Manga and Children’s Literature), and is central both to his own manga formalism and to the place the study of manga expression occupies within the history of manga studies. It is for this latter reason especially that I have preferred the work of Takeuchi in examining how manga formalism fits within a larger discourse to Yomota or Natsume, even though those two are, arguably, far more influential. It is in Takeuchi’s broader purview that the historiographic assumptions underlying manga formalism, even in those works for which the history of manga seems not to be a concern, is revealingly laid bare. Takeuchi himself does not explicitly point to these assumptions, but because his critical works have been directed both toward the history of manga and occasionally toward the history or, at least, important moments within the ongoing discourse of manga studies, we can see both how certain presumptions concerning what manga is (i.e. its formal properties) are embedded in historiographic treatments as well as how those histories inform what kinds of manga (and, in Takeuchi’s case especially, what kinds of graphic narrative generally) are chosen as the most common object of seemingly objective formal analysis.

In his overview of the study of manga history,[5] Miyamoto Hirohito identifies two rather sweeping though nonetheless useful categories of manga historiography: one which regards manga history as going back to the 12th century illustrated scrolls (emakimono) Chōjū jinbutstu giga, a common locus for the “origins” of manga, and one which takes the end of World War II as the proper point of departure for manga history.[6] Of these two categories, Takeuchi is placed quite rightly in the latter, especially given the title of his most well-known historiographic work, Sengo manga no 50nen-shi (50 Year History of Postwar Manga), published in 1995, which clearly takes the year 1945 as a point of demarcation. These groupings are, moreover, not limited to Japanese language manga studies discourse. Both Paul Gravett’s Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics (published in 2004) and Sharon Kinsella’s Adult Manga take the postwar era as the proper historical locus for the study of manga, the latter going so far as to claim manga, rather dismissively, to be a “strikingly contemporary phenomenon,”[7] with little in the way of explanation as to what that might mean.

The “postwar,” by which is meant not just the immediate postwar period but every year since the end of World War II, works well enough as a historical frame of reference, precisely because the history of modern Japan, in Japanese language discourse especially, is so pervasively, though not universally, divided in two: one period beginning roughly from the Meiji Restoration in 1868 and a second from the Allied occupation in 1945. The postwar as a historiographic frame is not limited to formalist approaches. Tsurumi Shunsuke’s Manga no sengo shisō (Thoughts on Manga in the Postwar) considers the impact of a number of postwar manga artists, but his formal considerations, such as they are, appear in the context of a long historical treatment of doodles (rakugaki) in Japan.[8] Moreover, none of the formalists identified here—Natsume, Yomota, or Takeuchi—simply disregard the significance of pre-war manga. Takeuchi’s Kodomo manga no kyojin-tachi: Rakuten kara Tezuka made (Giants of Children’s Manga: from Rakuten to Tezuka), for instance, closely examines a number of manga artists from this period. Rather, postwar manga is seen as initiating a distinct shift, a novel mode of expression that prewar manga fails to fully encapsulate. This stylistic shift is commensurate with the cultural and political upheaval in Japanese society under the Allied occupation and subsequent economic boom. Arguably more than any other nation, Japan was radically transformed at the end of war with the emperor’s public rejection of his “divinity,” the occupation, the rewriting of the Japanese constitution under Allied pressure, the dissolution of the army, the restructuring of the Japanese economy, and the sudden influx of foreign media after years of privation.

A number of disparate frames of reference—manga as children’s culture, manga expression as media expression, and manga as postwar phenomenon (despite continuities with the prewar/wartime[9])—come together in the opening of the first chapter of Takeuchi’s 50 Year History of Postwar Manga. He begins with the political upheavals of 1945 and continues with the sudden change in lifestyle of the Japanese populace as a result of American films and fashion trends. From there, Takeuchi turns to the subject of his book, so-called “story manga” (i.e. long form[10] narrative manga), about which one might claim a “new style of expression” (atarashii stairu no hyōgen), yet Takeuchi himself considers matters to be not so clear cut. Manga is, for him, a creature of mass media, so his first entrée into discussing manga in the postwar concerns itself less with form (i.e. panels, speech balloons, figures, etc.) than with format. The distinction between form and format here is a crude one but is meant to show how Takeuchi’s formalism is not merely a function of what one sees on any given page but also of the printed format in which it appears, be it book or magazine or whatever.

This, then, leads him into a discussion of akahon, “red books” so called for their predominantly red covers. Unlike the hardbound volumes of popular pre- and postwar manga series, akahon in many ways more closely resembled magazines without actually being so, staple-bound newsprint with cardstock covers, selling for as little as five yen, a price suitable for purchase by and for children.[11] In the postwar era, as Ryan Holmberg notes, “[p]hysically and stylistically, they [were] clearly products of an age of want. They [were] flimsier, sometimes due to lack of high-grade paper and printing facilities after the war, sometimes from simple cost-cutting. The anything-goes energy of the age fueled many artistic innovations, some lost to history, others becoming the foundation stones of story-telling in postwar manga.” Despite going back long before, the akahon of the postwar are, for both Takeuchi and Holmberg, creatures of a very particular time and place, whose innovations become foundational for all manga to follow. The sense that is given, then, is not that manga did not exist in this prewar era but rather that those manga are largely other to what we see nowadays.

This focus on print media and, more specifically, print media for children makes sense of a number of peculiar inclusions and exclusions in Takeuchi’s larger critical practice. For instance, the Gendai manga hakubutsukan, 1945-2005 (The Encyclopedia of Contemporary Manga, 1945-2005), which Takeuchi edited along with Yonezawa Yoshihiro and Yamada Tomoko, omits a number of prominent comic strip (koma manga) artists (Hasegawa Machiko, the creator of Sazae-san, being the most glaring omission) yet includes a number of highly regarded artists/writers of emonogatari (illustrated stories). The inclusion of illustrated stories alongside the rather spare inclusion of comic strips can be accounted for somewhat by the fact that the manga magazines of the midcentury were far more mixed than the monthly and weekly magazines of today. Those magazines contained both manga and emonogatari in addition to puzzles, game boards, glossy photos, and a number of other visual media. Moreover, the koma manga that Takeuchi et al. do include are those that are found in these mixed media periodicals for children. Those they do not include, for the most part, are to be found outside them in newspapers and other periodical media aimed at, if not an exclusively adult, then a general audience.

Thus, what is regarded as manga in the first place, manga at all, as far as Takeuchi is concerned, stems from illustrated narratives produced for children in the immediate postwar. This presumption becomes the object of formal analysis, and the principles derived therefrom become the frame of reference for examining manga from all time periods. How this retrospection works can be seen in how Takeuchi, in Giants of Children’s Manga, characterizes Kitazawa Rakuten’s Chame manga as “for children,” despite the fact that many of the periodicals in which those strips appeared, Tokyo Puck, for instance, could not be meaningfully understood as being exclusively for a younger audience.[12] According to this purview, then, which makes invisible much of the manga “for adults” (or for a general audience) that preceded the war and persisted thereafter, the juvenilia of postwar manga print media grows into the more adolescent and young adult-oriented manga of the late 1950s and ‘60s and so forth and so forth in an easily digestible myth of progress. If permitted to speculate, I would say this is because, as I have argued elsewhere, shōnen manga of the postwar function, in practice if not in intent, as generic rather than as tailored to a certain gender and age demographic. According to this somewhat concealed logic, then, manga “for children” provide the base structure from which later manga presumably emerge.


Berndt, Jaqueline, 2008. “Considering Manga Discourse: Location, Ambiguity, Historicity,” in MacWilliams, Mark W. ed., Japanese Visual Culture: Explorations in the World of Manga and Anime, Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, pp. 295-334.

Gravett, Paul, 2004. Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics. New York: Collins Design.

Groensteen, Thierry, 1991. L’univers des mangas: Une introduction à la bande dessinée japonaise (The Universe of Manga: An Introduction to Japanese Comics). Tournai: Casterman.

Holmberg, Ryan.

— 2012. “The Bottom of a Bottomless Barrel: Introducing Akahon Manga” in The Comics Journal, January 5, 2012. Accessed August 10, 2014,

— 2012. “Manga Finds Pirate Gold: The case of New Treasure Island” in The Comics Journal, October 1, 2012. Accessed August 10, 2014,

Itō, Gō, 2005. Tezuka izu deddo: hirakareta manga hyōgenron e (Tezuka is Dead: Toward an Enlightened Theory of Manga Expression). Tokyo: NTT Shuppan.

Kinsella, Sharon, 2000. Adult Manga: Culture and Power in Contemporary Japanese Society. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Lamarre, Thomas, 2010. “Speciesism, Part II: Tezuka Osamu and the Multispecies Ideal” in Mechademia vol. 5: Fanthropologies. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 51-85.

McCarthy, Helen, 2009. The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga. New York: Abrams ComicArts.

McCloud, Scott, 1993. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. Northampton, MA: Kitchen Sink Press.

Miyamoto, Hirohito, 2009. “Rekishi kenkyū” in Natsume, Fusanosuke and Takeuchi Osamu, eds., 2009. Manga-gaku nyūmon (Introduction to Manga Studies). Tokyo: Minerva Shobō, pp. 96-101.

Nakano, Haruyuki, 2007. Nazo no mangaka Sakai Shichima: “Shintakarajima” densetsu no hikari to kage (The Mysterious Manga Artist Sakai Shichima: The Light and Shadow of the Legend of “New Treasure Island”). Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō.

Natsume, Fusanosuke.

— 1992. Tezuka Osamu wa doko ni iru (Where is Tezuka Osamu?). Tokyo: Chikuma Library.

— 2013. “Where is Tezuka?: A Theory of Manga Expression” trans. Matthew Young in Mechademia 8: Tezuka’s Manga Life, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 155-171.

Natsume, Fusanosuke and Takeuchi Osamu, eds., 2009. Manga-gaku nyūmon (Introduction to Manga Studies). Tokyo: Minerva Shobō.

Ōtsuka, Eiji, 2013. Mikkī no shoshiki: sengo manga no senjika kigen (The Form of Mickey: The Wartime Origins of Postwar Manga). Tokyo: Kadokawa Sōsho.

Schodt, Frederik L., 1983. Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics. New York: Kondansha International.

Suzuki, CJ. “Manga Studies #4: Traversing Art and Manga: Ishiko Junzō’s Writings on Manga/Gekiga” in Comics Forum, August 11, 2014. Accessed August 17, 2014,

Takeuchi, Osamu.

— 1989. Manga to jidō bungaku no “aida” (“Between” Manga and Children’s Literature). Tokyo: Dai Nippon Tosho.

— 1992. Tezuka Osamu-ron (On Tezuka Osamu). Tokyo: Heibonsha.

— 1995. Sengo manga 50nen-shi (Fifty Year History of Postwar Manga). Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō.

— 1995. Kodomo manga no kyojin-tachi: Rakuten kara Tezuka made (Giants of Children’s Manga: From Rakuten to Tezuka). Tokyo: San’ichi Shobō.

— 2005. Manga hyōgen-gaku nyūmon (Introduction to the Study of Manga Expression). Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō.

— 2009. “Manga kenkyū no ayumi” (“A Walk Through Manga Studies”) in Natsume, Fusanosuke and Takeuchi Osamu, eds., 2009. Manga-gaku nyūmon (Introduction to Manga Studies). Tokyo: Minerva Shobō, pp. 248-257.

Takeuchi, Osamu and Koyama Masahiro, eds., 2006. Anime e no hen’yō: gensaku to anime to no bimyō na kankei (Adaptation to Anime: The Subtle Relationship Between Anime and Original). Tokyo: Gendai Shokan.

Takeuchi, Osamu, Yonezawa Yoshihiro, and Yamada Tomoko, eds., 2006. Gendai manga hakubutsukan 1945-2005 (The Encyclopedia of Contemporary Manga 1945-2005). Tokyo: Shōgakkan.

Theisen, Nicholas, 2013. “13a. The Problematic Gendering of Shōnen Manga” in What is Manga?, May 27, 2013. Accessed August 10, 2014,

Tsurumi, Shunsuke, 1991. Manga no dokusha to shite (As a Manga Reader…). Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō.

Yomota, Inuhiko, 1994. Manga genron (Principles of Manga). Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō.

Nicholas Theisen is a research fellow with the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Iowa. His research is interested broadly with textual and formalist issues in poetry, popular music, and comics, and he has written articles on the comics of Dave Sim, Tezuka Osamu, and Miyazaki Hayao. He is currently at work completing a book project which reconfigures comics as a hermeneutic practice rather than as a visual form. He is also the creator of the blog What is Manga?

[1] Berndt, 303-304.

[2] ibid., 304.

[3] Though I have limited myself to a discussion of manga, one could easily substitute each instance of the word “manga” in this paragraph with the words “comics” or “comic,” and the argument would largely remain the same.

[4] Takeuchi, “Manga kenkyū no ayumi,” 250-251.

[5] Miyamoto, 96-7.

[6] Miyamoto’s purpose in identifying these two camps, it should be noted, is to critique them and to show how treating manga as a postwar or as a transhistorical phenomenon are both problematic.

[7] Kinsella, 19.

[8] “Comics [manga] have their origins in doodles, and in the modern day comics are one source of doodles.” Tsurumi, 89.

[9] Ōtsuka Eiji’s Mikkī no shoshiki: sengo manga no senjika kigen (The Form of Mickey: The Wartime Origins of Postwar Manga), for example, attempts to disrupt the convenient distinction between pre- and post-war and tries, to a limited degree, to re-assert continuity.

[10] “Story manga” (sutorii manga) is a relatively recent term, and “long form” here is a rendering of chōhen, a term actually used in the immediate postwar period.

[11] Exchange rates fluctuated wildly during the occupation, but in 1949 the rate was fixed at 360 yen to the US dollar, making five yen roughly equivalent to the purchasing power of a single US penny.

[12] What is more, the trajectory of Giants is one meant to arrive at Tezuka, the most common locus for the postwar stylistic shift.

To read more from Comics Forum’s Manga Studies column, click here.

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Posted by on 2015/01/09 in Guest Writers, Manga Studies


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