“I’m an Anime Scholar! Why Should I Watch Anime?”

I love the idea of applying a scholarly or academic approach to anime and manga. If you’ve been reading Ogiue Maniax, I think that”s obvious. Whether it’s studying the works themselves, tracing parallels between fantasy and reality, observing the effects of fan subculture, or any other number of relevant topics, I welcome such discussion and discourse and I think that it’s beneficial to anime and manga overall. There’s just one problem.

Every so often you’ll see scholars writing about anime without taking the time to actually understand it. These are not stupid people, but their approach to anime can be misguided. I want to explain why.

The first issue relates to a problem I posted about previously, the “false positive.” This is where you believe you’re making insightful comparisons, but your lack of experience with anime and manga (and by extension analyzing anime and manga) results in what amounts to grasping at straws of logic and connection. This in itself is not that bad, but we all know that at least in the English-speaking community scholarly exploration of anime is a relatively recent development. The result is a lack of accountability, as writers, whether intentionally or accidentally, try to cover their topic in broad strokes and there’s no one to call them out for the moments where they reached just a little too far. This needs to stop.

The second issue again has to do with understanding the topic you’re studying. It’s one thing to take a detached approach to studying anime so as to avoid being influenced by bias, but become too detached and your words become baby’s first anime lesson only using a more complicated vocabulary. In other words, you begin to say things that are either obvious to people who actually KNOW anime and manga, or that come across as vagueries resulting from again, not actually looking at your material and investing your time in it.

That brings me to the third and last issue, which relates very much to the first two. One should not presume to speak authoritatively about anime and manga without at least understanding a little about the “language” that accompanies them. I of course am not saying you should literally study Japanese (although it can certainly help) but that you should not pigeonhole anime and manga entirely into the context of your own field, subordinating it to your greater topic while simultaneously denying its own creative and artistic language and structures. Even if you do not develop the “vocabulary” commonly used in anime and manga, what’s important is that you develop the ability to convey and translate those ideas. You do not have to be completely “fluent,” but if you’re only a first-year student of this “language” don’t be surprised when your translation is full of errors, and do not try to deny those errors in the first place.

Here’s my overly simplified solution to alleviating these problems: WATCH ANIME. READ MANGA.

Don’t sit back and watch it from the sidelines, engage every show you watch, and when it’s over, grab another and get to work. Love it, love the thing you’re studying even if you don’t think the actual works you’re looking at are any good. Let it become a part of you so that when you do talk about it the words flow naturally. Instead of sounding stiff and awkward, your words will carry the proper weight because you actually WATCHED it instead of just reading about it.

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24 thoughts on ““I’m an Anime Scholar! Why Should I Watch Anime?”

  1. Good post. It always bothers me how a lot of the published works about anime outside Japan, i.e. textbooks, news articles, etc., are made by people who don’t really understand anime or Japanese culture and only see it from an observer’s perspective, yet make a lot of generalizations that often end up in error. I’m hoping to write these kinds of academic works about anime someday, but since I’m a major fan, I don’t want people to think I’m biased either. I’ll just have to develop an objective way of writing and give a lot of examples. Knowledge of Japanese language and culture is a major plus for these kinds of works too.

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  2. I was explaining this to a friend how there’s presently a gap in western scholarship exactly in this way. There are very few people who clock in the hours into anime and manga but can also double duty as an academic. Heck, there aren’t enough pop/amateur critics out there even.

    I mean, after all anime/manga is disposable entertainment and if you want to go somewhere in life you kinda have to hold back on that stuff to some extent. It’s tough to grow up not consuming, living and breathing in that stuff, and then turn around and start consuming it “seriously” approaching it either from the POV of an academic, artist, critic, w/e.

    Oh well. It’s an excuse to watch more crap.

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  3. This happens every time a popular form first makes an impression in academic circles. The established people aren’t used to the genre, just as you say — they’re not making mistakes on purpose, they simply see something new and interesting, but don’t quite see what’s making it appealing, even to them. It happened with SF back in the 70s. Famously, one scholar tried to write a book on SF without knowing who Alfred Bester was. Once he was informed, he promptly read Bester and, a few years later, published another work that filled in the gaps.

    I expect the same thing to happen with studying anime in American academic circles. It also calls back to what Yumeka said — once those of us who grew up watching anime start writing and publishing papers on it, the problem basically works itself out. Again, see the difference thirty years have made on the SF criticism being written.

    I keep meaning to come up with something and send out, but I never seem to have the time. But I’m hoping to devote one or two chapters to genre-appropriate anime/manga in my dissertation.

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  4. Your post sounds interesting but really too technically for me to understand. I really only understood the last bit of what you had to say.

    Anyway, going off what people in the comments say makes me wish that there were more papers and books regarding anime. One book I would like to read is a historical overview of Japanese animation from its beginnings to what it is today while going over common themes, stories, animation techniques and what not. That would be something I would be rather interested in reading even if it probably doesn’t have any real life knowledge merit.

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  5. 1. Does Patrick Macias count as one of those academics who need to be falconpunched in the balls?

    2. Academia is seriously disconnected with real life. IT HAS HAPPENED IN SO MANY CIRCLES IT HURTS TO EVEN BE AN ACADEMIC.

    3. The scientific method encourages people to do the experiments themselves to affirm their theories. Academia encourages people to debate over seemingly useless bits of information.

    4. I AM A FAILURE AS A BLOGGER :(

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  6. Given the timing is it safe to assume at least part of this entry is in response to me? If so which part(s) and if not who are you talking to? I’m all for accountability but as you say yourself, if you disagree with someone you should call them on it. If they take their subject seriously they’ll thank you for the criticism.

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    • Actually, I don’t think I’ve heard of you, or at the very least am not familiar with what you’ve written. If you have anything you want me to take a look at, I would be willing to do so though.

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      • My mistake, I thought quoting your posts sent you a notification. I did actually write a response to your post about fujoshi characterization, and if you get a chance to read it you might find it interesting. Sorry to make assumptions! I would still be interested to read whatever it is you are talking about though.

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      • You can edit your WordPress profile so that it includes your url with your username. I recall not doing that at first either, but then figuring out that it’s possible and easy.

        While I disagree with you about moe sucking, I think you make a bunch of good points in that post, namely that it’s a potentially disturbing trend that otaku are purposely being told to lower their standards. While some people do have impossibly high standards despite themselves, I don’t think this has much to do with that issue.

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  7. I’m someone who’s been trying to relate anime and the Japanese otaku subculture to my university studies. While the material is easy for me to comprehend, it’s providing the relevant background for the audience that’s my greatest challenge. Sometimes I find that merely relating my reasonings to appropriate background info can be a chore, mainly due to the dearth of solid academic resources about that subculture. I’ve read several essays on the topic, such as those collected by Tim Craig in Japan Pop!, as well as books by Susan Napier, like From Impressionism to Anime and Panic Sites: The Japanese Imagination of Disaster from Godzilla to Akira. Books are relatively easy to come by. What I don’t have a lot of, however, are good journal articles. I have a literally only a handful of papers from various translation studies journals and a few random journals on law, development, and publishing. Since a lot of your writings seem to have an academic slant, clearly because you have background in academia, I’m wondering if you know of any good resources that you wouldn’t mind sharing.

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    • I don’t have a solid list that I can refer to immediately, but I’ll see what I can do.

      Book-wise, I would recommend Frederick Schodt’s books on manga, particularly Manga Manga! and Dreamland Japan. Both of these books give a very good view of the breadth and depth of manga and are presented in both an introductory and academic matter.

      While not always anime-related, the writings of Henry Jenkins are good for exploring the topic of fan subcultures. He’s written stuff for books and journals, but you can also find his blog here: http://www.henryjenkins.org/

      Honestly speaking though, I don’t read a lot of academic journals, and much of what I write and how I write stems from being an anime fan who’s had a fairly balanced education and a desire to learn.

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    • That, I think, is the true weakness of academic study: the lack of academic resources. Not everyone who has something important, valuable, or interesting to say, argue, or merely observe about any given work (be it a piece of classic literature or The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya) is going to be able and/or willing to subject it to the process of peer review and academic scrutiny.

      Too much writing about anime, manga, and pop culture in general seems far too willing to shoehorn it, however adroitly, into frameworks and contexts where it sticks out like a sore thumb and looks painfully awkward. For academic study of any currently outlying genre or medium such as anime and manga to be acheived, there must 1) be a group of people who were raised on it and feel great passion for it (as SDS said) and have passed academic scrutiny and 2) a different, independent form of study for it.

      You can’t treat anime and manga as though it were English (genre) literature, English graphic novels, English film, or even English animation. Not, at least, until you’ve successfully treated it as anime and manga.

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  8. This post pretty much explains why Ogiue Maniax differs from most blogs about this subject. I feel like I’m reading scholastic articles as opposed to ramblings of a fan(most aniblogs tend to sway this direction) every time I come here.

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  9. It’s best that no names are mentioned here I think. ;) What bothers me – and always has done – is the issue of whether the ‘academic’ approach is appropriate for a given series or movie. Using an extreme example Mamoru Oshii movies definitely DO benefit from this – I honestly believe you have to read around the subjects in question and think at length about what’s shown. The better you understand it, the more you appreciate what it’s trying to say.

    The problem then, if I’m reading correctly, is when people read too much into things and start adding two and two together to make five. I remember some ‘expert’ who tagged a load of subtexts onto an Evangelion episode (but then, that series has been victim of misinterpretations by various parties for years). It’s actually embarrassing to see people miss the point this way – but then, some viewers actually get entertainment value out of scrutinising things and putting meaning into them, whether the creators intended those meanings to be there or not.

    Personally I analyse what I watch or read in order to increase my understanding and in turn appreciation, but some people like to treat their hobbies and interests like schoolwork…which sucks the fun out of it for me, but each to their own.

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  10. Of the couple essays and books I’ve read on the academic dissection of anime, I’m in wholehearted agreement with you, Ogiue Maniax guy, but are there any studious works on the matter that you like? Or is the ‘right kind’ of scholastic paper yet to be written?

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    • This isn’t an anime-related essay, but the paper on Backyard Wrestling in the book Fandom found at http://www.nyupress.org/books/Fandom-products_id-5008.html is a good example of what I like to see in academic writings.

      The gist of the essay is that it presents Backyard Wrestling not as the dangerous jumping-off-roofs-and-injuring-yourself shock treatment that alarmist media presents it, but as a creative outlet for young pro wrestling fans who want to tell their own stories of tag team backstabbings and face/heel turns.

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  11. You mentioned at dinner last weekend to Ed that you were wondering about manga studies programs. Are you looking for one, or just interested in what their approach/scope is?

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  12. Great post. What i wonder about now is the non-english, or rather specifically japanese ,work done on anime and manga – if there is any it would be very interesting to see ideas coming from another culture/tradition. Also i think the work done on films would be at least be helpful in interpreting anime, that is using a film studies perspective. This book which i see rarely mentioned when anime and academia are discussed does so (and with actual watching of the material covered) and is worth looking into:http://www.amazon.com/100-Anime-BFI-Screen-Guides/dp/1844570843

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    • That book, 100 Anime, is an great example of an awful approach to the subject, even worse than the occasional outlandishness that Napier writes. The book tries to be extremely highfalutin, while ultimately remains pretty nebulous in its points.

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      • I actually disagree, i know it’s incredibly dense but you have to understand the background that the guy has. When i first read it, hell i did not get at all what he was saying. But there’s a lot of postmodern philosophy and film theory involved. Which i think is rather appropiate for anime really – a medium where some directors have been influenced by live action films as well as by it’s nature (being shown on a screen etc.) has some similarities to film (just SOME). And also coming from a developed ‘postmodernist’ country .

        Also the author states in the introduction that he absorbed himself in anime purposefully, which probably is not at the level of any of us, but the point is that he tried to go in and experience as much of it as possible in japan.

        So i think it’s at least a step in the right direction – susan napier uses literary theory which i don’t think is right. Anime and film are not like literature. However i think there is a case in linking anime with film at least in the early stages.

        At the end of the day though i think it should be remembered that work has already been done in the field of animation (animation at a global level) in terms of criticism.

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