Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Manga and the Academy

From The Chronicle of Higher Education, an article titled "A Scholarly Home for Manga" by David McNeill.

"In the Land of the Rising Sun, as elsewhere, pop culture continues its steady creep into academe.

Meiji University has announced plans to open the world's largest museum of manga and anime, the comic and animation art forms that began in post-World War II Japan and swept the planet. The shelves of a 91,000-square-foot building on the grounds of a disused Tokyo high school will groan with more than 2.5 million items, including comics, magazines, and figurines. A collection of arcade games and other artifacts from millions of misspent teenage years is also planned, along with a weekly fanzine exchange.

The museum — which will be open to students, fans, and scholars alike — is the latest sign that manga has gone mainstream, says its curator, Kaichiro Morikawa.

'The government, universities, and think tanks are increasingly supporting this culture here and abroad and trying to attract people from overseas,' says Mr. Morikawa, an associate professor in the department of global Japanese studies at Meiji, one of Tokyo's most prestigious universities.

Meiji's project follows the 2006 opening of the Kyoto International Manga Museum, a join venture between Kyoto Seika University and the city government that attracted 30,000 non-Japanese visitors in its first 12 months, one of the highest levels of foreign patronage for any museum in the country.

Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently shifted emphasis from extolling traditional arts to pop culture, under the rubric of 'Cool Japan,' a response to the growing worldwide popularity of comics, anime, and Japanese music. Prime Minister Taro Aso, a famous manga fan, has raised the possibility that Japan's otaku (nerd) culture might be used to promote the nation's interests.

Anime Cake's comment: Though extolled by some academics, especially by McNeill in this article, as a long overdue recognition of an artform and a discipline, one must bear in mind the statements in the last paragraph. Japan is embracing manga and anime, not out of some sense of artistic merit, but for purely economic reasons. As scholar Kukhee Choo has argued at a PCA panel I moderated a few years ago, this might (probably) affect what is produced and marketed. Though the market, in a capital sense, does determine what anime and manga is successful, the insertion of govermental intervention could alter the artform in a different way -- as propaganda for tourism and other "interests" of the "nation," whatever they may be.

Last, as a comment on McNeill's writing which at once says "isn't this great?" while dismissing the value of pop culture: the museum will "groan" under the weight of items representing "artifacts from millions of misspent teenage years." Pop culture, instead of being a valid way of interacting with the world, is dismissed as just childish wastes of time. When will we get past such distinctions?


  1. When the old guard die, unfortunately. When my colleagues who find it "interesting" that I write "those kinds of stories" retire -- although they seem to be pretty good at training up people to take their place (cf. most of my grad students). Sigh. well, it took film a long time to become a standard field. Inch by inch.

  2. True. I learned this after spending a semester in a Digital Media class with a bunch of History grads who repeatedly parroted back what their old History professors say: "Do not trust anything on the Internet...it's all lies. You can't use technology with History. History can only be done with a pad and pencil in a library."

    Poor pathetic, unimaginative people...