British Museum Manga

“As the exhibition winds down, its catalogue is going to form much of its historical footprint. On shelves and coffee tables in years to come, this hefty 350-page book is going to transform into a resource and an aide-memoire, a place for people to remember and revisit what they saw. Undoubtedly, it will form the germ of some new fans’ first appreciation of what manga is.”

Over at the All the Anime blog, I examine the heritage and likely legacy of the British Museum Manga exhibition.


Gaijin Nude

Over at the All the Anime blog, I review Ian Buruma’s snapshot of the literary scene in 1970s Japan: A Tokyo Romance.

“Buruma’s Tokyo tales are a wonderful collage of ghastly poseurs and jocular racists, avant-garde theatrical performances, peep shows and strip clubs, forgotten circus celebrities and lost districts, which he wanders with the same melancholy interest as his literary hero Kafu Nagai. It is a lurid, lost Tokyo before the transforming influences of social media or wi-fi, where one must find books by reaching out and picking them up, and make appointments by speaking to human beings. It is also a world almost as insular as the Shogun’s Japan. Few Japanese, Buruma notes, had the means to leave the country, turning its capital into a side-show of theme-park mockeries of the Other and Far Away. ‘There was something theatrical, even hallucinatory about the cityscape itself, where nothing was understated; representations of products, places, entertainments, restaurants, fashion and so on were everywhere screaming for attention.'”


The new issue of Science Fiction Studies is out, including my long review of Susan Napier’s Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art.

“Perfectly judged for the undergraduate reader, Napier’s book offers a commendable balance of analysis and insight, production gossip and historical contexts. Its references diligently cram in signposts for delving deeper into untranslated sources, but not in such a way as to alienate scholars who can only work in English. There is sufficient material here to turn a fan into a critical viewer, but also to inform artistic appreciation of films that are already well-loved. It is sure to become part of the introductory toolkit for many a course on anime, not the least for its nuanced coverage of the life and works of Japanese animation’s most famous creator.”

Japanese Media Cultures

Over at the All the Anime blog, I review the new collection Japanese Media Cultures in Japan and Abroad — it’s often highly technical, but all the more valuable because it doesn’t demand that you take out a bank loan before accessing it.

Pricing in academic publishing is often a contentious issue in my book reviews. I don’t mind paying £80 for a book, but if I do, it had better be worth it, and if it’s not, I will say so. There are those who take me to task for “forgetting” that academic books are usually bought by libraries rather than members of the public. But libraries have limited funds, too, and librarians could do with fuller and franker appraisals of the books they spend their money on. So you can wait a year or more and wriggle behind an academic paywall to read a journal review of the books I cover. Or you can read what I say about them right now. Or, you know, both, because I’m not a gatekeeper, I’m just a guy who can look over the fence.

Women’s Manga etc.

Over at the All the Anime blog, I review Women’s Manga in Asia and Beyond, a collection of academic essays that somehow manages to be less than the some of its parts, not through any fault of the contributors, but seemingly due to an editorial policy that refuses to acknowledge nuances in translation.

“The elision of the words manga and comics is commonplace in Japan, where the language doesn’t really distinguish between them, but definition is vital in English if Anglophone research is going to have any value. As noted by Casey Brienza in Manga in America, there are all sorts of devious applications and contractual loopholes available to someone prepared to agree that “manga can come from anywhere,” but I expect a good deal more rigour in the wording employed by academia. Otherwise, what is it for?”

The Bells of Old Tokyo

Over at the All the Anime blog, I review Anna Sherman’s book The Bells of Old Tokyo.

“Sherman’s investigation throws in all number of intriguing asides – not merely her red-herring quest to locate forgotten bronzes, but the many places in which the story of time crosses over with Tokyo life. There’s that little ‘xylophone lullaby’ that chimes every now and then, a familiar sound to anyone in the Tokyo streets, but also revealed here as a test for the city’s emergency broadcast system. There’s the business of the Japanese calendar, which changes its name and numbering with each imperial reign. And there’s the grass-roots resistance to foreign ideas, like Summer Time, which was imposed by the US Occupation forces and led to street protests.”

Mutant Mash-Up

To Ibaraki, where a man has been arrested for selling customised dolls. The unnamed criminal, 39, had modified anime character goods, committing such heinous acts as removing the head of a Love Live doll, and sticking it onto the body of a Girls und Panzer character, before selling the mutant result online for up to £100.

Ibaraki police bragged that they uncovered the crime during a “cyber patrol” last autumn – I imagine because that sounds cooler than admitting someone in the office was Googling teeny-bop merchandise. The cops swept down on his home, confiscated a thousand dolls, and commenced a proctologically unpleasant audit of the suspect’s bank records. This produced evidence of £58,000 in “suspicious” payments over the last three years, suggesting that he had been running his cottage industry for some time.

If you’re wondering why this is a problem, you would not be the first. Is it not a consumer’s right to do whatever they want with the merchandise they own? Toy Story’s neighbourhood bully, Sid Phillips, might have been presented as a bad guy, but when he modded his toys, he wasn’t actually breaking the law… right?

Many countries have a “first-sale doctrine” that allows consumers to do whatever they want with the products they buy. You can tinker with your Blu-ray player, although that might invalidate your warranty. You can write the name of your favourite pop star on your pencil case. You can even, should you desire, put Hitler moustaches and cat ears on all the writers’ pictures on the NEO contributors’ page (please don’t do this). This is true over most of the planet… but in Japan, trademark owners enjoy more leeway in enforcing how their products are resold. A fan in his bedroom is free to sell a doll to someone else, but not to take money for modifying it in such a way as to potentially tarnish the intellectual property. The anime companies charge a lot of money for the licences to sell merchandise, and, on paper at least, selling a Love Live und Panzer mash-up would require a double licence, and double approvals from the makers. Fortunately, the lawmen of Ibaraki are on hand to stop such sordid perversions, and hopefully have also found the time to catch murderers and stuff.

This article first appeared in NEO #187, 2019. Jonathan Clements is the author of A Brief History of Japan.