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Manga Studies #7: Shōjo Manga Research: The Legacy of Women Critics and Their Gender-Based Approach by Masafumi Monden

Shōjo manga varies in style and genre.[1] But despite this diversity, there is a certain conception of shōjo manga aesthetics, dominated by images of flowers, ribbons, fluttering hem skirts, and innocent-looking girls with large, staring eyes.[2] Traditionally, the beginning of shōjo manga has been equated with Tezuka Osamu’s Princess Knight (Ribon no kishi), but more recent studies have instead focused on prior texts,[3] namely the creations of Takahashi Macoto, who was influenced by the so-called lyrical illustrations (jojōga) of artists such as Nakahara Jun’ichi, Takabatake Kashō and Takehisa Yumeji.[4] Manga influenced by jojōga have arguably prioritized visual qualities.[5]

The importance of visual qualities has increasingly been recognized in shōjo manga studies.[6] However, most critical examinations of shōjo manga place emphasis on the role of narrative structure and representation of gender. This applies particularly to those who read shōjo manga as a medium to challenge conventional gender roles. As Iwashita Hōsei points out, female manga researchers especially have tended to focus on biological and socially constructed gender (2013a: 58). This column discusses two such works, Fujimoto Yukari’s Where is my place in the world? (1998, revised edition 2008) and Oshiyama Michiko’s Discussion of Gender Representation in Shōjo Manga: Forms of “Cross-dressed Girls” and Identity (2007, revised edition 2013).

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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.[1]

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.

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Posted by on 2014/10/08 in Guest Writers, Manga Studies

 

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Manga Studies #4: Traversing Art and Manga: Ishiko Junzō’s Writings on Manga/Gekiga by Shige (CJ) Suzuki

I. Who is Ishiko Junzō?[1]

Arguably, one of the first Japanese critics to discuss graphic narratives (story manga) for mature audiences is Ishiko Junzō (1928 – 1977).[2]  Initially active as an art critic who explored a wide range of contemporaneous artistic and popular movements, he began to publish writings more specifically on manga between the mid-1960s and mid-1970s. To many English-language readers his name might be obscure, perhaps even more so than his contemporary, philosopher and cultural critic Tsurumi Shunsuke, whose book Sengo Nihon no taishū bunkashi (A Cultural History of Postwar Japan 1945-1980)—a chapter of which is devoted to postwar manga—is available in English. Yet, in present-day Japanese-language manga research, Ishiko is repeatedly referenced, especially in relation to his media-specific discussion of manga. This article shall introduce art critic Ishiko Junzō and his scholarship, concentrating on his contribution to Japanese comics criticism and manga studies.

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Posted by on 2014/08/11 in Guest Writers, Manga Studies

 

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Manga Studies #3: On BL manga research in Japanese by Jessica Bauwens-Sugimoto

As with the larger field of manga studies, the earliest attempts at theorizing what we now call Boys’ Love (hereafter BL) manga were made by Japanese critics and authors in the 1980s when the genre itself surfaced. Academic BL studies, however, had to wait until the 2000s, with some key works published after 2005, and these are the main focus of this article.

The first analyses of the roots of BL manga were written by Nakajima Azusa.[1] She traced the genre back to shōnen’ai manga (boy love)[2], stories about romantic and sexual love between boys that were serialized in shōjo [girls] manga magazines.[3] While shōnen’ai has become a popular loanword within non-Japanese manga fandom, in Japan, the most widespread term — not just for graphic narratives, but also novels, audio-dramas, and games — is BL, which overwhelmingly tends to signify the commercially published variant of this cross-media genre as distinct from the fandom-based, and often more sexually explicit yaoi variant. The shōnen’ai stories of the 1970s were revolutionary as they replaced the conventional girl protagonists of shōjo manga with boys, and they appealed to female fans in a way which went beyond the act of reading. In her early essays, Nakajima dissected not only BL narratives as such but also fans’ motivations for consuming and creating them. However, her psychoanalytical focus was often interpreted as fans of the genre being unable to cope with societal gender roles, to the extent of being, at best, escapist, and at worst, pathological. Nakajima herself was an author and editor of BL literature (which is often accompanied by single-image manga-style illustrations), and she played a seminal role in June (1978–2012), the first magazine dedicated to BL manga and fiction.[4] It goes without saying that her creative involvement in the formation of the genre shaped also her stance as a critic.

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Posted by on 2014/07/29 in Guest Writers, Manga Studies

 

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Early manga translations in the West: underground cult or mainstream failure? by Martin de la Iglesia

The comic market in the Western world today is heterogeneous and complex. However, I suggest it can be divided into three main segments, or groups of readers (see also the American market commentaries Alexander 2014, Alverson 2013): the first segment are manga fans, many of which also like anime and other kinds of Japanese pop culture. The second segment are comic fans in a narrower sense, who, at least in America, read mostly superhero comic books, and other comics from the genres of science fiction and fantasy. These are the ‘fanboys and true believers’ that Matthew J. Pustz writes about in his book Comic Book Culture (Pustz 1999). Finally, the third segment is the general public. These readers are not fans, but only casual readers of comics – mostly so-called “graphic novels”, newspaper strips and collections thereof, and the occasional bestseller such as the latest Asterix album.

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Posted by on 2014/07/14 in Guest Writers, Manga Studies

 

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