electronic journal of contemporary japanese studies

Book Review 3 in 2011
First Published in ejcjs on 31 May 2011


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Mechanical, Academic, Anime

Mechademia 4 and Mechademia 5

By

Timothy Iles

Associate Professor
Department of Pacific and Asian Studies
University of Victoria

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Lunning, Frenchy, ed., Mechademia 4: War/Time, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009, paperback, xiv, 337 pages, ISBN 978-0-8166-6749-9

and

Lunning, Frenchy, ed., Mechademia 5: Fanthropologies, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010, paperback, xi, 379 pages, ISBN 978-0-8166-7387-2


Volumes four and five of Frenchy Lunning's excellent annual journal, Mechademia, continue the tradition which the previous three editions have established of bringing together extremely well written, provocative, and important essays on the state of the art of Japanese animation, both moving and static. The two installments under review here bring us, first in volume four, eighteen contributions discussing the relationship between animated images and war, from a broad range of perspectives, and second, in volume five, eighteen essays dealing with international fans and fan culture of Japanese graphic media. Taken as a whole, these volumes demonstrate why this series remains one of the most vital, important venues for new research into contemporary Japanese graphic-narratives. 

Volume four begins with a concise preface by Thomas Lamarre which establishes the binding principles of the volume: to consider war as a defining feature of contemporary consumer society. 'There are arguments for, and demonstrations of,' Lamarre writes, 'a state of affairs in which war constitutes the very ground of our productivity and our prosperity' (p.ix). Lamarre invokes the touchstones of 'neoconservative regimes and neoliberal corporate interests' (p.x) to suggest that the modern world exists not in 'wartime but war/time, not an equation of war and everyday but a self-propelling operative condition in which war acts as a control on the everyday time of orderly social productivity, while that everyday time spurs the spread of war ...' (p.xi). From this starting point, the volume launches into its five sections: Legacies of Sovereignty, Control Room, History/Memory, Genre Violence, and Mobilisation/Domestication. The essays in each section cover both classic animators such as Tezuka Osamu, Takahata Isao and Oshii Mamoru, as well as recent works such as the permutations around Densha otoko and reactions to Kobayashi Yoshinori's historical revisionism. To say that the essays flirt with politics is to say that the sun is but a candle, yet what is primarily worthwhile here is the overall consistent manner in which the essays centre themselves on their principle texts.

The essays, as one may expect, take many different approaches, from the highly theoretical to the closely textual, and it is from this aspect that the varying qualities of the essays' persuasive achievements come. While they all foreground the importance of textual evidence, some are more enamoured of theoretical flights of fancy than others. Omnibus collections such as this often lack a unified voice, which may in fact constitute their main attraction, but Lunning is to be commended for exercising editorial control to bring a precise organisational logic to the essays. The collection as a whole is remarkably consistent in its challenge to conceptions of war as a disruption, however frequent, of 'normalcy', however illusory. In this, the collection speaks not only to fans of Japanese graphic media, but also to those interested in the conception and philosophy of war, as well as modernity, reality, science, fantasy, representation, and the tortured relationship between all these terms. As the collection of scholars here point out, collectively and individually, the power of Japanese graphic narrative comes precisely from its ability to perform 'simultaneous inversions', as Rebecca Suter has it, through 'creative appropriations' of history and ideology (p.252). The essays here demonstrate the fertile interpretive ground of Japanese art, while pointing to the very broad range of work still to be done in its analysis. Japanese graphic narrative emerges not as the esoteric purview of fans both in and beyond Japan, but rather as a battleground capable of highly intricate social and historical critique. The volume's title, 'War/Time', is an apt choice, signalling not only the issue's theme, but the substance of Japanese graphic narrative.

'Fanthropologies', the title of volume five, is equally clever in its portmanteau guise, while the essays contained in the volume attain the status of outstanding contributions to contemporary scholarship. Here we explore the substance and substrata of 'fandom' in its multifaceted glory, with articles again grouped around key principles: Sites of Transposition, Patterns of Consumption, Modes of Circulation, and Styles of Intervention. The contributors as always are international, with several essays appearing in translation from their original Japanese. The subject matter – international fandom – easily lends itself to the journal's quickly apparent subtext: investigations into, and often pointed critiques of, globalisation, as both motivation for expansion of markets for new media, and looming threat to local cultural manifestations. Essays by Patrick Galbraith (on Otaku in Akihabara) and Amamiya Karin (on emerging Japanese ultranationalism as response to neoliberalism and economic instability) for example, focus specifically on the difficulties of maintaining stable local 'identities' in the face of encroaching internationalisation of, on the one hand, civic districts (Akihabara as tourist destination), but also the global workforce, resulting in the creation of a 'precariat movement (the precarious proletariat)' (p. 254). This collection is less closely textual than volume four, but nonetheless remains centred around specific manga and anime, such as Kon Satoshi's Mōsō dairinin, Ikeda's Berusaiyu no bara, and Oshii's Inosensu. Along the way, we have much work devoted to metacritical issues and the nature of fandom itself, from considerations of 'Comic Market' by Fan-Yi Lam, to Livia Monnet's intricate comparative reading of the work of Hans Bellmer and Oshii Mamoru, to Naitō Chizuko's dissection of loli-con as a paradigm for contemporary issues of Japanese nationalism and gender. From the diversity of the contributions here, one dominant theme emerges: Japanese graphic-narrative media continue to generate a true avant-garde of provocative, socially engaged material, enabling scholarship at the forefront of research into the nexus between art and life.

The journal remains available both in print, and as a free, online version, from the University of Minnesota Press, hosted on Project Muse at <http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/mechademia/>. This is an innovative method of distribution and eminently reasonable, but buy the print version, if only to demonstrate financial support for this richly worthwhile publication. It offers us a model which more scholarship should adopt, consisting of theoretically informed, historically grounded, jargon-free research that highlights first and foremost, not the self-serving virtuosity of the researcher, but the interpretive depth of the material under analysis. This model is refreshing and powerful, in equal measure.

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About the Author

Timothy Iles is Associate Professor of Japanese Studies at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, where he teaches Japanese culture, cinema, and language. He has an MA from the University of British Columbia in Modern Japanese Literature, and a PhD from the University of Toronto, also in Modern Japanese Literature. He has taught courses on Japanese literature, theatre, culture, and cinema in Canada and the United States, and has published articles on those subjects. He is also author of Abe Kobo: an Exploration of his Prose, Drama, and Theatre (Fuccecio: European Press Academic Publishers, 2000), and The Crisis of Identity in Contemporary Japanese Film (Brill, 2008).

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Copyright: Timothy Iles.
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