- Posted by Ed Sizemore on June 25, 2007 at 7:44 am
- Category: Books and Prose
- CREDITS: edited by Frenchy Lunning
- PUBLISHER: University of Minnesota Press; $19.95 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
Mechademia is the first academic journal for anime and manga here in America. Edited by Frenchy Lunning, Mechademia is published annually by the University of Minnesota Press. The inaugural issue came out last December and the second issue is scheduled for this December. According to their mission statement, Mechademia is “devoted to creative and critical work on anime, manga, and the fan arts.”
Mechademia is divided into three sections; creative, academic, and reviews and commentary. The creative portion opens the journal with an illustrated poem titled “Anifesto”. Neither the drawings nor the verse are inspiring, but both are competent. The poem tries to articulate the tension of being both a fan and a scholar. It’s the classic tension of heart versus mind. I think the subject matter would have been better served by a poetic prose essay that gave room for more details about the struggle.
The review and commentary section is a standard part of academic journals. This is Mechademia‘s weakest section. Most of the pieces here read like summaries of the works (films and books) discussed with no actual critique of the work. At minimum, a brief academic review should let the reader know if the reviewer thinks the work is of any worth, who might best benefit from the work, and point out either the work’s most significant strength or flaw. Also included in this section was a collection of very brief, 3 or 4 question, interviews. There is no context given for either the interview or the questions. These interviews read more like randomly selected quotes. I hope in the future Mechademia will choose to do one interview with several questions, say 10 or more, and provide an appropriate introduction to give a context for the interview.
The core of the journal is the academic essay section. This is the strongest section and is well worth the cover price. I will give a very brief review of only some of the articles here for brevity’s sake, and not because the other essays are inferior in any way. The unmentioned works in this volume are all well-written and worth the read. A quick caveat: I’m quoted in the Susan Napier article. I am the “thirty-eight-year old utility company tech support worker…” on page 47. (Ah, to be thirty-eight again.)
Thomas Looser’s essay “Superflat and the Layers of Image and History in 1990s Japan” is a bit unfocused and disjointed. I thought the ideas needed to be grouped together better and a stronger narrative flow was needed to establish connections as you move from one idea to another. Also, none of the woodblock interpretations on pages 101 and 102 were convincing to me. Looser’s attempt to force these prints to conform to the Superflat theory feels unnatural and forced.
Wendy Siuyi Wong’s essay, “Globalizing Manga: From Japan to Hong Kong and Beyond”, was a poor choice for a general academic journal like Mechademia. First, the essay needed further editing to eliminate some filler discussion. Second, the article includes a lot of technical language and assumes the reader is well read in current theories of globalization. This piece would have been better suited to a journal specializing in globalization. There are some interesting ideas here; however, the article needs to be re-written so it’s accessible to a wider audience.
Thomas LaMarre’s exploration into the history of the multiplane camera in Japanese anime avoids the mistakes of Wong’s essay. This could have easily been an article for professional animators, but LaMarre keeps the technical jargon to a minimum and uses multiple illustrations to explain his ideas. We are given a fascinating look into the way anime is made and the amount of scientific consideration of perspective needed for this art form to work well.
Antonia Levi is one of the great scholars of anime. Her essay, “The Werewolf in the Crested Kimono: The Wolf-Human Dynamic in Anime and Manga”, explores the differences between Japanese and the traditional European versions of lycanthropy. This insightful essay demonstrates how Levi’s writing continues to help define the standard of excellence for this field of study.
Another scholar whose writing is a benchmark of excellence is Susan Napier. Her essay, “The World of Anime Fandom in America”, looks at the fandom found in the Miyazaki Mailing List. This superb essay is part of a book that will be published later this year. After reading this article, I look forward to Napier’s book exploration on this subject.
Tatsumi Takayuki’s essay, “Mori Minoru’s Day of Resurrection” introduces us to a forgotten master of manga. This short article was such a persuasive portrait that I now hope Vertical, Viz Signature, or Drawn & Quarterly will publish Minoru’s manga here in America. I enjoyed this article so much that I purchased one of Takayuki’s books.
I will offer two concerns about Mechademia. First, it appears that future volumes of the journal will be theme-based. Since Mechademia is only published annually, I would prefer that they simply published the best submissions they receive each year. I hate to think an essay by Susan Napier, Antonia Levi, or Frederick Schodt would have to wait a few years to be published because their article doesn’t fit any of the current themes.
This leads to my second concern. I would like to see Mechademia published on a biannual basis. Again, this gets the essays into the hands of readers sooner. Also, it is less daunting to read a hundred-page journal every six months than a two-hundred-page journal every year. Bi-annual publication might allow for rebuttal or response articles to be written in a timely fashion and this would aid academic discussion.
Overall, Mechademia‘s first volume is a solid foundation. I will definitely be buying the future volumes. I strongly recommend this journal to anyone who wants to explore deeply the themes, culture, and history of anime and manga.