Mechademia #2, Return of the Anime Literati!October 26, 2009
We continue our scholarly pursuits by reading book two of the Mechademia series entitled Networks of Desire. I am personally glad to see that the University of Minnesota Press is still able to put of these books with a 4th coming soon. It’s gratifying to see a healthy forum for academic anime publications. This volume was printed a year after the first Mechademia so we are examining not only the essays within book but what changes and improvements have been made since their freshman effort.
We are always trying to broaden our horizons here on Reverse Thieves. One of the quickest ways is to really sit down and read a bunch of essays that you only half understand! Okay, so Mechademia isn’t that impossible to understand, but it certainly makes you take a closer examination of series or parts of fandom that you might not have before. There is a wealth of knowledge in this new volume!
The Shojo section is papers based around female-targeted manga and female otaku related issues. None of the essays had too high a level of prerequisite amount of knowledge needed to understand any of the articles. My favorite essay in the section was the article of the Rose of Versailles and it’s impact on shojo manga. As a huge fan of Rose of Versailles I enjoyed learning of it’s historical impact, back story, and behinds the scenes information on the manga. There is also a fascinating piece in the section about Mori Mari one of the founders of yaoi. The article looks at how yaoi works relate to both it’s primary female audience and the gay community in Japan. I am always interested in the gay community’s reaction to yaoi in any country. There was a solid article on Ranma 1/2 fan-fiction but I felt it was out of place in the section. While I admit the common perception is that most fan-fiction authors are girls this is hardly a hard and fast rule. Still the article was a interesting look at how fan-fiction has grown out of and changed anime fandom and fandom in general.
I was happy to see a paper about the influence of Rose of Versailles for multiple reasons beyond my fervent love for the series. The essay balances what was new and impactful about the story while weaving in the historical aspects of the famous manga. I learned a bit myself and the essay gives access for people to learn and understand a genre that, while not invented by her, was certainly taken by the reins and changed significantly by Riyoko Ikeda. The Doll Beauties essay was not about anime or manga, heck it wasn’t even about cosplay of characters from anime or manga, it was about the gothic lolita trends making it seem out of place while being well thought out. And while I thought the Mori Mari essay was a smart analysis, it was really more about the author and her relation to her father rather than being tied to yaoi’s rise and popularity. I’ll agree that this area of of the anthology is the most accessible, it’s all uphill from here.
The Powers of Time shows how the politics of the time have effected anime. The first essay looks at how the Japanese look the film The Thief of Bagdad and transformed it into The Thief of Baguda Castle a remake of with a distinctly Japanese feel. It uses the differences in the film to gain an insight into pre-WWII Japan. The rest of the articles in the section use various anime such as Blood: The Last Vampire, Space Battleship Yamato, and Silent Service to examine the complicated relationship between Japan and the U.S. The U.S. occupation and Article 9 come up in all the articles and how the various anime anime reflect Japan’s love/hate relationship with America. I was slightly surprised by one of the author’s analysis of Yamato not being anti-American which is not something I usually hear. I have always found the relationship between Japan and the U.S. after World War II complex and at times contradictory so reading some essays on the issues were quite interesting. I can’t say that I agree with all the points made I did find the essay well thought out.
Racial relations and military politics are complicated, sticky subjects but all of the essays in this section take them on rather well. Both the essays involving Silent Service succeed twofold, one in making me think more about the politics at the end of WWII between Japan and America and two in instilling in me with the need to watch the show. I too was surprised but also incredibly impressed with the analysis of Space Battleship Yamato and how it could be interpreted to reflect a Japanese wish to have been a hero in the war against the Nazis in hindsight. The piece on Blood The Last Vampire was well throughout but also came off as a more abstract look at these complicated political ties.
We are then subjected to a very self indulgent piece with pictures from an anime convention with the photographers philosophy called Bridges of the Unknown: Visual Desires and Small Apocalypses. He examines fandom and the role of the observer in its analysis. For some reason more than anything else this just ticked me off. It seemed self obsessed mixture of navel gazing and congratulatory masturbation while not really saying anything that interesting or profound. Following this is the Animalization section about fetishes and sexuality in anime and manga. The Animalization of Otaku Culture is a dense look at the growth and effect of moe on modern anime. There is an excellent translated piece by the cultural critic Azuma Hiroki on moe. Although it it was one of the densest articles in the book I think it would be an enlightening read to anyone who is interested in moe regardless if they like it or not. My favorite article in the book was one that examined Porco Rosso. It shows while hardly being dirty Porco Rosso is the most mature of Hayao Miyazaki works with definite sexual themes. We also have different looks at Japanese sexuality using Malice@Doll and Futari Ecchi. The Futrai Ecchi essay was an interesting introduction to the title and what it says about how the Japanese learn about sexuality. The Malice@Doll I feel reads quite a bit more into a title that might not warrant it.
While the first essay in this section, Malice@Doll: Konaka, Specularization, and the Virtual Feminine seemed atleast partially grounded, I couldn’t shake the feeling of someone just trying to justify a piece of pornography that they thoroughly enjoyed by assigning meaning and depth to everything found in the show. But on the other hand I have not seen Malice@Doll however this essay didn’t make me watch to rectify that. On a similar note, the Futari Ecchi essay I also felt sometimes reached too far with its praise. This work I did go take a look at after my reading. While the series is certainly educational, there is little doubt that it is also meant to stimulate its reader. This is easily seen in its choice of character design as well as camera angles among other things. However, it’s a pretty brilliant way to try to teach young males about sexual relationships. Not straying from the sex themes but decidedly more tame is the Porco Rosso essay which I too found very sharp in its analysis of the underlying meanings and hints given in the story. This felt especially intelligent because of Miyazaki’s somewhat wholesome image from his films. On the tail end was a look at Evangelion which I can with certainty I barely understood at all.
Horizons his three essays on the analysis of four different anime and how they deal with human relations. The is a solid and through provoking article on Haibane-Renmei which attempts to find meaning in a show that is meant to have multiple interpretations. The next article deals with Voices of a Distant Star and the Wings of Honneamise. It examines how both anime series look at relationships over a distance. Both are excellent picks for the discussion and work well even though I am hardly a fan of The Wings of Honneamise (which of course makes me a bad person). There were also two very high level articles on various themes Evangelion and RahXephon respectively. While I generally understood the overall message of both articles I feel much of the nuances were lost on me seeing as I don’t have a degree in psychology.
This section had some solidly written pieces. The essay looking at Haibane-Renmei was provocatively beautiful despite my never having seen the series. The author really captured and created the world in the essay which is so helpful (and probably was to whoever else was reading it and not a fan of anime). As I said, I have not seen it, but this essay had me fully convinced of its meanings. While not having much love for Wings of Honneamise, I make up for it with my intense feelings for Voices of a Distant Star. This was an essay that I felt close to especially since we recently talked about the film as well. I am not sure how solid the RahXephon essay was in comparison because it was way above my knowledge.
Like the first Mechademia the reviews and commentary section holds a collection of shorter essays and reviews. My favorite piece was, Crazy Rabbit Man: Why I Rewrite Manga, the little essay on the art of rewriting manga. I always like a look behind the scenes of manga translation. The essay very effectively conveys the importance of rewriting the possibly dry and sometimes neigh incomprehensible literal translated script into something entertaining to read.
The reviews and commentary section was good but not incredibly striking. Though once again we see a dissenter of Takashi Murakami’s philosophy behind his work. You may remember there was a large essay about him in the previous volume of Mechademia. I also found the Crazy Rabbit Man piece fascinating but also it was quite bitter at the end when she basically states that companies are opting for people who can both translate and do the rewrite, which she can’t. Having met quite a few of these dual types, I can say the companies aren’t losing a great rewrite ability. These short pieces peppered in help to break up the more length and deep discussions posed.
With a year of experience and a wider range of number of contributors I have noticed some changes in Mechademia. For one thing, there are less “what is anime?” type papers. While it means you get more meaty papers it also means more papers that are meant for high level academics. I am curious if it was just I was not well read enough to fully digest those papers or if that is a more common sentiment. They shouldn’t reject those types of papers because they are the type that the journal is trying to promote. I liked the fact that they had themed sections in the book as it gave the papers a much more unified feel. I do feel that some of the papers were shoehorned though. But overall the articles challenged me and most of them taught me something. I look forward to reading the next book soon.
There certainly was a lot less of the introduction to the medium/idea of anime seen here for which I am grateful. Honestly, anyone who is going to pick up this book knows atleast that much about anime. As for the level of required reading before this book, in some instances it was enormously high but for the most part the collection remains accessible. This is one of the most important factors to me. New, difficult, or complex theories can be explored without alienating those who have not done intense research on the subject. The best academic essays enrich the reader, not shut them out if they haven’t gone to grad school. And for the most part, I found Mechademia 2: Networks of Desire to do just that.
Top 5 anime and manga papers I would like to read
5. Eastern Dragon and Western Tiger: A Comparison of Modern Japanese and US Anime Fandom
4. Art inspiring Art: The History of the Doujinshi Movement
3. The Manga Demographic That Leapt Through Time: How Social Issues Have Influenced Shojo Manga
2. Like Master like Student: An Examination of the Influences of Manga-ka on their Proteges
1. Old School Vs. New School: An Analysis of the Ever Shifting Fan Culture of US Anime Fandom