In the last two decades Natsume Fusanosuke (incidentally, a descendent of Natsume Soseki, the towering figure of modern Japanese literature) has emerged as a central figure in manga criticism. Aside from his encyclopedic knowledge of manga history and his critical acumen, what distinguishes Natsume from many of his fellow critics and scholars is his background as a professional manga author. While the bulk of his recent output falls squarely within the domain of criticism, his intimate understanding of the craft of manga composition and penmanship served to bring to the field a rich awareness of the medium’s formal and stylistic density. Natsume has also inaugurated the new genre of “manga criticism through manga,” an example of which is translated here.1
This piece is the first in a series discussing the frames that divide a manga page into discrete elements. (In Japanese these discrete boxes are called koma, which gives the series its name.) The frame is a particularly salient and fertile embodiment of the question of “limit,” and not only in the literal sense that it serves to limit and to organize the shifting scope of visibility in the unfolding [End Page 65] of a manga work. More fundamentally, it constitutes the most basic order of manga storytelling, the threshold beneath which the basic coherence and legibility of manga unravels. As such a safeguard of manga’s narrative order, the formal question of the frame also resonates with the thematics of order and disorder, self and other, and humans and nonhumans that preoccupy many of the contributions in this issue. While Natsume is here primarily concerned with the formal and narratological functions of the frame, his experiments toward the end of the piece underscore this underlying unity of formal and ideological orders by destabilizing both, literally in one stroke of the framing pen. This insight opens a fertile avenue to explore the ways form and content intersect in manga. One may begin to wonder, for instance, whether Tezuka Osamu’s persistent plays with the frame have something to do with his no-less-persistent preoccupation with the tenuous line dividing humans and nonhumans. This, of course, is the theme explored in many of the essays included in this volume, especially those by Yomota and Ōtsuka.
Natsume Fusanosuke is the author of numerous volumes of manga, essays, and manga criticism, including What Makes Manga Entertaining? He will join the faculty of Gakushuin University in Tokyo in 2008. In addition to his frequent media appearances, he has lectured on manga in Japan and abroad, and more recently has conducted field research into the reception of manga around the world. In 1999 he was awarded the prestigious Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize (Special Prize) in recognition of his contributions to the development of manga criticism. The same year, he curated the large-scale exhibition on manga The World of Japanese Comics, sponsored by the Japan Foundation, which traveled in Europe. Natsume Soseki, the great Meiji-era novelist, is his grandfather.
Hajime Nakatani is assistant professor in the departments of East Asian Studies and Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University.
Margherita Long is assistant professor in the Department of Comparative Literature and Foreign Languages at the University of California, Riverside. She is completing a manuscript called “This Perversion Called Love: Tanizaki, Feminist Theory, Japan.”
1. This manga appears in Natsume Fusanosuke manga gaku: Manga de manga o yomu (Natsume Fusanosuke’s manga criticism: Reading manga through manga) (Chikuma Shobō 1992), 163–68; first published by Daiwa Shobō in 1988. Note that we have omitted the diacritics to conform with North American manga style (and manga fonts). The name we would write “Ōnyūdō” elsewhere in the volume appears here as “Onyudo.” Likewise for Taishō, Shōwa, Shishido Sagyō, and Supiido Tarō. [End Page 66]