Mechademia 4: War/Time

Review by Ed Sizemore

The theme of this volume of Mechademia is “War/Time”, which is defined by Thomas Lamarre as

“…not an equation of war and the everyday but a self-propelling operative condition in which war acts as a control on the everyday time of orderly social productivity, while everyday time spurs the spread of war, of its technologies (weapons), and its networks (bases).”

As with previous volumes, Mechademia has limited success getting all the articles to fit within this framework.

Mechademia 4 cover
Mechademia 4
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The articles by Gavin Walker, Tom Looser, and Mark Anderson are double-edged swords. They are the kind of theory-laden writing that Mechademia needs to establish and maintain a solid reputation in academia. However, they are exactly the kind of writing that fans, myself included, find tedious at best.

There has been some discussion about anti-intellectualism among fandom by academics recently. I don’t object to academic writing; in fact, there is much that I rather enjoy. I object to abstract theorizing for the sake of abstract theorizing. Reading theory-laden articles is like listening to two obsessive Star Trek fans discussing the most arcane details of the show. What they’re talking about might have significance for them, but it fails to connect to the majority of fans. Most anime and manga fans see academic writing as insular and disconnected from the concerns of fandom. I agree.

Rei Okamoto Inouye’s article on the history of manga criticism and theory is the kind of research that I find exciting. I learned that the first serious writing about comics and comics theory in Japan dated back to 1907. That’s only 10 years after the first comics criticism appears in the US. I had no idea that comics criticism and theory was that old in any country. It’s a great article, and I recommend any serious fans of any comic genre read it.

The most disappointing piece was Timothy Perper’s and Martha Cornog’s review of Satoshi Kon’s Paprika. It reads like a ‘hipper than thou’ review with lots of name-dropping to let us know the authors are well-versed in Japanese pop culture. I’m not sure what they intended by “middlebrow”, but it comes across as condescending in the article. They glossed over all the deeper themes of the films. It was a very dissatisfying read.

An example of academic analysis that I find truly enlightening is Zilia Papp’s article on the various versions of the story “The Great Yokai War”. Papp shows how the symbolism of yokai (Japanese folk spirits) has changed over the years. In World War II, yokai represented foreign invaders. Today, yokai have become the defenders of indigenous Japanese culture. It’s also fascinating to see how the themes in the story change with each retelling. Papp’s analysis provides fans a new understanding of both yokai and the story without getting lost in unnecessary attempts to tie it to the latest academic theories.

Christine Marran should get a medal for the research she’s doing. Just her summary of Numa Shozo’s Beast Yapoo filled me with disgust. I don’t know how she was able to read both the novel and its manga adaptation. Marran is made of much sterner stuff than I. It was a wonderful article, and she has my full respect.

Overall, the vast majority of the articles in Mechademia volume 4 are accessible, and fans will find lots of valuable information and insight in the pages of this book. I’m always going to be at odds with the articles that are written solely for fellow scholars with no attempt to reach a wider audience. Thankfully, those are in the minority, and I hope that will continue to be the trend in future volumes. Now that Mechademia has hit its stride, it remains a valuable resource for fans looking to go deeper in their understanding of anime, manga, and Japanese culture. (The publisher provided a review copy.)


5 Responses to “Mechademia 4: War/Time”

  1. Rush relaunches, Marvel manga bite the dust « MangaBlog Says:

    […] Johanna Draper Carlson on Manga for the Beginner: Chibis (Comics Worth Reading) Ed Sizemore on Mechademia 4: War/Time (Comics Worth Reading) Todd Douglass on vol. 2 of Mikansei No. 1 (Anime Maki) Diana Dang on vols. 1 […]

  2. Mikhail Koulikov Says:

    Ed,

    For all that’s worth, what makes you think that somebody like Looser *is* writing ‘for the majority of fans.’ I would say that he is pretty obviously not – and in of itself, there is also nothing wrong with that. The conversation he is joining (and maybe starting) is a very particular kind of conversation, and casual passers-by are not really welcome in it. For all that’s worth, the fact that Mechademia is now accessible through one of the major academic/research databases means to me that what the journal ultimately wants is to give scholars a permanent space for placing intensely theoretical papers on Japanese popular culture much more so than it wants to give fandom a quick tour through the world of scholarly communication.

  3. Johanna Says:

    And yet the publisher sends us review copies, so clearly they do want to reach out in some fashion. I think they’re trying to balance both approaches.

  4. Ed Sizemore Says:

    Mikhail,

    I would hope that Mechademia is trying to be a bridge between fans and scholars. One end of will be the theory-laden works like Looser’s piece which will appeal to scholars and be respected as ‘serious’ research in academia. On the other end will be works like Okamoto’s piece which is more fan-friendly in it’s approach. It would be a lost oppurtunity if Mechademia simply became an insular academia journal. There are fans, like myself, who are instrested in a more analytic and historical approach to manga and anime. I hope it doesn’t have to be either/or.

  5. Mechademia 5: Fanthropologies » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] let’s just dive in to the latest issue of this journal of anime and manga studies. I’ll start with the articles I had problems […]




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