- Historicizing Anime and Manga:From Japan to the World
With the popularity of Japanese comics and animation, it is surprising that nobody has yet written a comprehensive history in English about anime or manga. This is not to say that we lack an understanding of how these forms developed—indeed, several books provide a general outline of this history. For anime, the most comprehensive historical book is Jonathan Clements and Helen McCarthy's Anime Encyclopedia (2001). For manga, the oldest book is still the best: Frederik L. Schodt's Manga! Manga! (1983), an engaging account that highlights the manga universe. Both books do have drawbacks. Although The Anime Encyclopedia is an eminently useful (and occasionally delightfully snarky) reference book, it is more a compendium of titles than a history per se. Schodt's book sets the stage for an in-depth analysis of manga but does not emphasize how the medium developed historically.
Chapter 1 in Sharon Kinsella's Adult Manga: Culture and Power in Contemporary Japanese Society (2000) is close to a sociocultural history of manga, but, at only thirty pages, it is just a thumbnail sketch. The two books under review both initially seem to remedy this lack, given that each refers to significant time spans. Although neither fulfills my wish for a comprehensive history of manga or anime, they each have strengths that make them useful research tools.
At first, Gravett's book seems like a slicker, more up-to-date version of Schodt's Manga! Manga! The layout is similar—each page bears one or more manga illustrations, and the chapters are arranged by theme rather than chronologically. But the seeming similarities between Schodt's and Gravett's books arise more from the seminal position of Schodt's book in English-language manga studies than any intentional structural similarities. In Manga! Manga! and his later Dreamland Japan, Schodt sketches the workings of the manga industry in such detail that it has become difficult to write a general look about manga without rehashing Schodt. Certainly, a new book is needed to keep up with recent trends in manga and manga scholarship. Nonetheless, Gravett faces considerable challenges in writing Manga in the wake of Schodt's books.
Gravett distinguishes himself from Schodt and other manga scholars on several points. Most obvious is Gravett's position on the development of manga. Anyone familiar with Schodt's work would be surprised that Gravett limits manga to a span of sixty years, essentially marking manga as a postwar phenomenon. (Indeed, Schodt's second chapter in Manga! [End Page 180] Manga! is titled "A Thousand Years of Manga.") In Gravett's formulation, modern manga owes much to the influx of comics and American popular culture after World War II. Writes Gravett, "American comic books swept into Japan from 1945 via the occupying forces. Imagine the impact of these strange new artifacts, all in pictures and in striking colors, on children who for years had suffered the deprivations of war. Comic books proved irresistible. Like chewing gum, they came and they stuck" (12–13). Gravett disputes the continuity other scholars find between manga and earlier narrative work like Bishop Toba's twelfth-century parodic "Animal Scrolls." In fact, Gravett writes that what we now think of as manga "might never have come into being without Japan's long cultural heritage being soundly disrupted by the influx of Western cartoons, caricatures, newspaper strips and comics" (18).
Gravett's take on manga's modern origins is supported by Kinsella's position. Kinsella writes, "The opposition to the manga and animation industries by conservative elements in post-war society has encouraged the defenders of manga, namely professional manga critics, to emphasize or even invent stylistic origins for manga in ancient Japanese history. . . . This defensive argument has drawn attention away from the fact that manga is a strikingly contemporary cultural phenomenon" (19–20). Kinsella seems to suggest that Western writers on...