Graphically Speaking (JPNT 179)

JPNT 179 – Graphically Speaking: Japanese Manga and Its Buds

Japanese manga guru Frederik Schodt once noted, “Japan is a awash in manga.” In recent years cell phones have eclipsed their ubiquitous presence, but they are certainly here to stay, although now the ever escalating mode of distribution is the cell phone (an estimated $655 million in 2010). Read by children and adults, girls, boys, men and women in their country of origin, they are generally gendered, targeted to specific age/hobby/interest/audience and feature a depth and breadth much exceeding that of “traditional” American comic books. Name a topic and there is probably a manga about it. At their peak in 1995 manga sold 1.9 billion volumes, roughly 40% of all books and magazines produced that year. Sales have fallen in Japan, but still amounted to 418.7 billion yen ($4.63 billion) in 2009, and, as noted above, digital access seems to be on the rise. In the U.S. translated versions rang up $210 million at its peak in 2007, but have receded to a mere $140 million in 2009. (Thanks to Dylan Mendoza for these figures gleaned from the ICv2, 4/18/2010 and AnimeNewsNetwork, 3/17/2010, publications.)

In the course of the semester, we will not just read manga, but will examine the contexts in which they developed, acquaint ourselves with their technical innovations, and place them within the pop culture of contemporary Japan, on the one hand, and visual literacy in part, on the other. “Multimodal (hybridised [sic] visual and linguistic) texts” in the words of Bryce, Davis, and Barber, manga function at the interstices of word and image, art and literature—and provide a rare opportunity to explore what that intersection/interdisciplinarity mean. Attention in the course will also be focused upon, in the words of one scholar, “the formal relations between image and text, image to page, and image to image that are differently developed through the medium of manga.”

Student Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of the course, students should be able to

▪ Contextualize individual works of manga within Japanese manga, Japanese popular culture, and visual culture.
▪ Examine the formal relations between image and word, image to page, image to image as deployed in manga.
▪ Interrogate the notion of “genre” and its relevance for manga studies.
▪ Critique and interrogate theoretical assumptions behind individual texts and their cultural production.
▪ Develop the ability “to think on one’s feet” and actively participate in a high level of discussion.
▪ Synthesize information and present it in a formal oral presentation.
▪ Write abstracts for papers.
▪ Write essays that critically examine manga as works of literature/popular culture/visual culture and their interstices.

Reading Assignment will include manga as well as theoretical examinations of manga, word and image, and visual literacy.

Sample readings include:

1. Arakawa Hiromu, Full Metal Alchemist, vol. 1
2. Azuma Kiyohiko, Azumanga Daioh, vol. 1
3. CLAMP, Chobits, vol. 1
4. Himaruya Hidekaz, Hetalia Axis Powers, vol. 1
5. Inoue Takehiko, Vagabond, vol. 1
6. Kariya Tetsu, : The Joy of Rice
7. Matoh Sanami, Fake, vol. 1
8. Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art
9. Ohba Tsugumi and Obata Takeshi, Death Note, vol. 1
10. Otsuka Eiji, Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, vol. 1
11. Stan Sakai, Usagi Yojimbo: Fathers and Sons, vol. 19
12. Sakurazawa Erica, Angel
13. Frederik Schodt, Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics
14. Tanemura Arina, Gentlemen’s Alliance, vol. 1
15. Takaya Natsuki, Fruits Basket, vol. 1
16. Urasawa Naoki, Pluto: Urasawa X Tezuka, vol. 1
17. Other readings on Sakai.
There will be no midterm or final. In lieu of a final will be there will be a 10-minute oral presentation and submission of a final project of the student’s choosing. We will talk further about what the project, but it could entail a translation of a Japanese manga, an exploration of fan translated sites, an examination of the kinds of manga in translation and for sale in the U.S. today, or even a manga strip/text of one’s own making. I have some super examples of manga creations from previous classes, should you like to see them, and you can also use computerized programs for the drawings as long as your story is original or an original adaptation of a work.