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.
Tag Archives: historiography
Manga Studies #6: Takeuchi Osamu and Manga Expression pt. 2: The Historiographic Basis of Manga Formalism by Nicholas Theisen
Manga Studies #5: Takeuchi Osamu and Manga Expression pt. 1: Tezuka Osamu as Manga Locus by Nicholas Theisen
Takeuchi Osamu, a professor of media studies at Doshisha University, is likely not the best manga studies critic to use as an introduction to problems surrounding the relatively recent turn in Japanese manga studies discourse to formalism or, more specifically, to the study of manga expression (manga hyōgen), since his work is something of a too easy target. It is parochial—his examples, despite pretensions toward general principles, are exclusively Japanese—and has changed surprisingly little since the late 1980s, despite the fact that his contemporaries, such as Natsume Fusanosuke and Yomota Inuhiko, and the manga expression discourse in toto have changed considerably in the intervening years. Yomota’s Manga genron (Principles of Manga) makes reference to at least some non-Japanese comics artists, notably Windsor McCay, and in the introduction to a recent translation of two chapters of his Tezuka Osamu wa doko ni iru (Where is Tezuka Osamu?), Natsume reflects on how limited this early formalist work was and, if reproduced today, would have to be understood within the context of a global comics studies discourse:
At the time I wrote this book, my interests generally centered on postwar Japanese manga, and the scope of my inquiry was almost entirely limited to Japan. If we were to consider European and American influences on manga from the Meiji period [1868-1912], the discussion in this book on transformations related to time and panel articulation would link to world-historical questions of modernity (changes in the expression of time and space in modern times)… Future research will surely depend on sharing knowledge and intellectual exchanges between scholars in different countries.
While a turn away from more parochial concerns is admirable, a broadening of perspective on manga-as-comic expression is not guaranteed to overcome or even make apparent a number of assumptions underlying the study of manga expression as it emerged historically and in direct response to the currents of nearly two decades of manga criticism that preceded it. In order to make those assumptions more apparent, my use of Takeuchi’s critical oeuvre here is directed more toward discourse analytical ends than toward a detailed explication of what his theory of manga expression entails.
Manga  does not easily attract scholarly interest as comics. In the name of manga, the critical focus is usually less on sequential art but rather a certain illustration style or character design, and closely related, fannish engagement in transformative or derivative creations (dōjinshi), up to and including cosplay. In many cases, scholars turn to manga as an entry point for research on girls’ (shōjo) culture and female consumers, gender and sexuality, the subcultures of fujoshi (self-designated “rotten girls” engaged in Boys’ Love, or yaoi) and otaku (geeks). Attempts at elucidating the peculiar role of the comics medium in that regard—for example, by focusing not only on “shōjo” but also “manga” when discussing shōjo manga  —remain a distinct minority whenever sociological and anthropological concerns prevail. Be it “fan culture,” “subculture” or “scene,” user communities are given preference over media specificity, texts and individual readings, at least outside of Japan. This applies especially to Japanese Studies, which is still the field yielding most manga research abroad. Here, manga is taken to represent, if not national culture in general, then Japanese popular culture, in the main understood as a youth culture with significant global impact and economic effects. Consequently, the utilization of manga as mere object appears to matter more than methodological diligence. Whether subjected to symptomatic readings of social issues or to sophisticated critical theory, media-specific contexts and manga-related expertise tend to be neglected. This is as much due to specific institutional requirements as it is indicative of a lack within the institution, that is, the absence of a respective field of research and criticism.