- Posted by Ed Sizemore on February 24, 2009 at 8:43 am
- Category: Books and Prose
- CREDITS: edited by Frenchy Lunning
- PUBLISHER: University of Minnesota Press; $19.95 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
With volume three, Mechademia has finally hit its stride. This is the first issue without articles plagued by problems either in English grammar or argument construction. Finally, I was able to completely focus on the ideas being presented instead of getting frustrated with the mechanics. Mechademia has achieved a new level of excellence, and I’m going to hold them to this standard from now on.
This volume further supports my argument that Mechademia should stop trying to develop a theme for each issue. I know it’s easier to solicit for papers if there are defined guidelines for authors. However, I feel that half of the articles in this volume clearly fall outside the motif of “exploring the limits of what it means to be a human and how these limits of humanness are constantly being redefined”. It takes some very convoluted reasoning to make the articles on manga aesthetics, Lolita fashion, and Taiwanese toy collecting fit the stated theme. This issue demonstrates that, in practice, Mechademia is willing to accept and publish articles that meet their quality standards even if they don’t fit the announced focus. So I say give up the pretext of having an overall arcing theme.
The one essay that I didn’t like was the opening piece by Mark C. Taylor, “Refiguring the Human”. It’s a shame, since I read and enjoyed his book Erring: A Postmodern A/theology in seminary. This essay is filled with circular reasoning and academic jargon. It all sounds profound, but scratch the surface and you find it is all veneer and no substance. I’m sorry to see Taylor’s writing devolve to such a state.
Michael Dylan Foster’s essay, “The Otherworlds of Mizuki Shigeru”, only breaks my heart. It seems that in the last year, everywhere I turn I’m confronted with Shigeru’s manga and art. It all started with the seeing an exhibit of his work and later getting books of the exhibit at the Kinokuniya Bookstore in NYC. Shigeru is not simply one of the great fathers of manga, but he has become a respected cultural authority in Japan. We’re really missing out on a significant author by not having any of his works in English. I hope this grave oversight will be corrected shortly.
Of course, this issue was guaranteed to please me, since there were multiple articles dedicated to two of my favorite creators, Osamu Tezuka and Oshii Mamoru. There are three articles discussing the works of Tezuka. I didn’t always agree with Yomato Inuhiko’s analysis of Tezuka, but he did highlight some interesting connections and deepen my hunger to have all of Tezuka’s works available in English, especially the early works where he was refining his craft. Otsuka Eiji’s essay on the two versions of Tetsuwam Atomu (Astro Boy) is wonderful. Lawrence Bird does a great job with the various versions of Metropolis on film and in print.
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence is one of the greatest movies of all time, let alone one of the greatest animated films of all time. It ranks up there with works like Fantasia and The Seventh Seal. Mamoru’s movies are the perfect blend of action and philosophical speculation. In fact, it would be easy to fill up a 500-page book with analysis of Innocence alone. There are two essays dedicated to Innocence in this volume, and it’s no surprise they’re my two favorite pieces. Both Sharalyn Orbaugh and Steven T. Brown write thick analytic pieces that were pure pleasures to read and think through. The philosophy wonk in me was in heaven. I look forward to further work by both authors. I hope at least one of them does a book length treatment of Innocence. I promise to buy the first copy.
Let me also mention the marvelous interview with Crispin Freeman at the end of the volume. Freeman is best know as a voice actor. His roles include Alucard in Hellsing, Hideki Motosuwa in Chobits, Togusa in Ghost in the Shell, and Ebisu in Naruto. He does a lecture called “Giant Robots and Superheroes: Maifestations of Divine Power, East and West” at conventions and universities. His theory is one I completely agree with, that a culture’s vision of a superhero is shaped by the dominant religion of that culture. The differences between the Japanese and American superhero traditions can be explained by the differences in the religious background of the two cultures. After reading this interview, I have to hear this lecture. I’m also hoping the Freeman will develop his thoughts into a book. His ideas are fascinating and I would love to see him explore them to their fullest possibilities.
Four articles were translated from Japanese scholastic writings on manga and anime. I hope that Mechademia will continue to fund translations. I love getting the insider’s perspective on Japanese culture. They’re able to bring to the discussion table a wealth of history and detail in their articles that American scholars haven’t acquired simply because they haven’t lived in Japan all their lives and naturally soaked up the culture.
I don’t want to make light of what Frenchy Lunning and the editors of Mechademia have accomplished in only three issues. They have started a new scholastic journal for an emerging field of academic study and by the third issue have achieve the quality found in other established scholastic journals. I’ve been, and will continue to be, a harsh critic because I care deeply about anime and manga and don’t want the university intelligentsia to think that this is an academic ghetto for people who couldn’t get degrees in ‘real’ subjects. Comics globally, not just in Japan and America, have shown themselves worthy of serious sustained study. I want Mechademia to be proof that comics are a literary form able to explore the deepest and most important aspects of
our humanity. So a heartfelt thank you to Lunning, the editors, and contributors of Mechademia for fighting the good fight. If I have been heated in my criticisms, it’s only in hopes of burning away the dross so the quality of the work can be above reproach.
If you love anime and manga and want to go beyond just the entertainment value of these art forms, then you must get a subscription to Mechademia. It will help you better understand the Japanese culture, history, religion, and philosophy behind these works. Thankfully, Mechademia is easily available through Amazon. You might even try to persuade your local library to subscribe to the magazine if they have a good manga collection. (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)