- Posted by Ed Sizemore on April 11, 2010 at 9:27 am
- Category: Books and Prose
- CREDITS: edited by Frenchy Lunning
- PUBLISHER: University of Minnesota Press; $21.95 US
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).”
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.)