Three Directions

Title: Three Directions: teamLab, Tenmyouya Hisashi, Ikeda Manabu
Editor: Kirstin Pires
Publisher: Chazen Museum of Art and Japan Society Gallery
Publication Year: 2014
Pages: 83

Three Directions was published on the occasion of an exhibition of the work of Tenmyouya Hisashi and Ikeda Manabu at the Chazen Museum in Madison and the Garden of Unearthly Delights exhibition at the Japan Society Gallery in New York, which lasts until January 11, 2015.

The “three directions” of the book’s title refer to the artists’ interpretations of early modern and modern Japanese art, specifically the Nihonga “Japanese-style painting” of the Meiji period (1868-1912). In her short essay on the works of the artists featured in Three Directions, curator Laura J. Mueller provides insight into the influences they have received from medieval and Edo-period (1600-1868) Japanese paintings, prints, sculpture, and garden design. Mueller also explains how the themes of the older art, such as the theme of anxiety surrounding the relationship between humankind and the natural world, have been translated into the work of the contemporary artists. In the main body of the book, which is comprised of extended interviews, the artists discuss their own perceptions of their influences, which are far more temporally immediate.

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teamLab, whose work must be seen to be believed (check out the video above), is represented in Three Directions by its founder Inoko Toshiyuki, who talks about the power of participatory media in the twenty-first century. Although he references manga such as Dragon Ball and One Piece and the masume ga (mosaics) of the eighteenth-century painter Itō Jakuchū, his most interesting description of the philosophy behind teamLab’s video installation Life Survives by the Power of Life (Seimei wa seimei no chikara de ikite iru) is that Chinese characters function like summon spells from the Final Fantasy series of role-playing video games. Inoko’s emphasis on a range of interlocking influences is deliberate, as teamLab’s work is designed to illustrate the blurring of the boundaries that supposedly separate contemporary media as they collectively exist both as entertainment and as cognitive enhancements.

Tenmyouya Hisashi expresses a markedly different attitude concerning his relationship to contemporary and premodern artistic media. According to Tenmyouya, his “Neo Nihonga” reflect “the subculture of the ‘street samurai,'” which “represents a counter to the traditional values of wabi sabi, zen, and otaku,” aesthetics that are “far from the reality of contemporary Japan.” Instead, he sees himself as tapping into the energy that originally drove the artistic movements of the Sengoku period (1467-1600), an era of intermittent civil war. Tenmyouya envisions his work as being representative of an aesthetic he terms BASARA – the Sanskrit word for “diamond,” which seems to mean “rebellious” in the context of his art and ideology. As one of his primary influences, he cites the yakuza films of Kitano Takashi, especially the violence, chaos, and dynamism they portray.

Ikeda Manabu is less concerned with aesthetics than he is with process. Stating simply that the most dominant theme in his work is “the conflict and coexistence between man and nature,” Ikeda speaks of being influenced by news reports and the ephemera he encounters in his daily life. The rest is a matter of design, focus, and patience, with the result being that many of his ink paintings function almost like diaries.

Ikeda is currently in residence at the Chazen Museum – you can read his residency blog here – where he is putting together a large and richly detailed masterwork. Three Directions includes an eight-page section on Ikeda’s tools, methods, and progress, which are fascinating even from the perspective of a non-artist.

These interviews with the artists, combined with Laura Mueller’s short contextual essay and the many high-quality images on display, make Three Directions an incredible resource for anyone interested in contemporary Japanese art, aesthetics, and culture. A commonality between the artists is the 3.11 “triple disaster,” which each references and responds to either obliquely or quite directly, so the interviews in particular will be of interest to students and scholars curious about how recent events have impacted mainstream art in Japan. I can also imagine the catalog becoming a useful classroom text, as it’s full of discussion points and allusions to both Eastern and Western art history.

Unfortunately, the book is almost impossible to acquire without either physically visiting the Chazen Museum or Japan Society Gallery or writing to one of their curators, as it’s not available through the online shops of either institution or through other online retailers. If you’re on the East Coast and can make it out to the Japan Society, I highly recommend checking out both the Three Directions catalog and the exhibition itself, which is running until January 11, 2015.

Review copy provided the Japan Society Gallery.

Ikeda Manabu, Meltdown

Ikeda Manabu’s Meltdown, image courtesy of Spoon & Tamago.

Emily

Title: Emily
Japanese Title: エミリー (Emirii)
Author: Takemoto Novala (嶽本 野ばら)
Translator: Misa Dikengil Lindberg
Publication Year: 2013 (America); 2002 (Japan)
Publisher: Shueisha English Edition

There are two short stories and one novella included in Takemoto Novala’s collection Emily, which was nominated for the Mishima Yukio Prize (for popular established writers) in 2003. “Readymade,” which is only a few pages long, is written in the form of a confession of a young female office worker to an older male colleague who takes her on a date to an exhibition of French Cubist art at the Ueno Royal Museum. “Corset” is told from the perspective of a male illustrator in Kyoto who plans to indulge in a short romantic relationship with an engaged woman before committing suicide in honor of a deceased friend. The novella Emily is about two high school misfits devoted to street fashion.

The two short stories are wonderfully atmospheric and can be read as treatises on Lolita aesthetics. Both stories follow the pattern of an older and self-assured man aggressively offering instruction to a naïve younger woman characterized as a tabula rasa, and they’re less about suspense and development than they are about establishing a colorful and stylized worldview.

To give an example from “Corset”:

“Wouldn’t it have been great if you and I had been born in the nineteenth century?”

“Yes. Sometimes I really think so. But I also think that if you and I had been born in the nineteenth century, maybe we’d still be complaining, saying, ‘Wouldn’t it have been great if we’d been born in the eighteenth century?’ Perhaps it’s not this era that we dislike, but the state of being in the present that doesn’t agree with us.”

“You mean no matter what era we were born in, we’d always long for the past and have nothing but despair for the present? Maybe you’re right. So there’s no way out except death.”

“Regardless of how the times change, as long as you are alive, you’ll be full of nothing but discord with the world around you.”

Such sentiments provide a fitting prelude to the novella Emily, in which the narrator truly is out of sync with the world in which she lives. This is not her personal failing, but rather a failing on the part of a society that refuses to accommodate diversity and always seeks a scapegoat. Emily‘s narrator, who enjoys visiting the Laforet shopping center in Harajuku and dressing in cute street fashions, has become a target for the other girls in her high school, who subject her to bizarrely cruel forms of bullying:

They sometimes made me stand in the middle of the court with my hands bound, as they spiked balls at me. I had to take the hits directly to my body as the seniors spiked and then ordered others to spike. There was no way I could run. If the balls had been coming from one direction, I could have escaped, but they came from all directions. Every ball hit me. It was a game to them. If a ball hit my body, they scored one point. If it hit my face, they scored five points. And if it knocked me over, they scored ten points.

The narrator isn’t subject to abuse just from her classmates and volleyball club teammates, but also from her mother, who is disappointed that she was unable to become a child television star, a path the narrator refused to follow after she suffered abuse of another kind. Instead of becoming bitter or resentful, however, the young woman finds joy in the self-expression she realizes through clothing that flies in the face of conformity and social expectations. In fact, it seems only natural to the reader that she would use street fashion to carve out a comfortable refuge for herself away from her school and family.

Through a shared interest in the Emily Temple Cute brand, the narrator becomes friends with a boy who also hangs out around Laforet. It turns out that he’s a student at her high school, and he’s also being bullied because he came out as gay to another male student. After one particularly frightening incidence of bullying that threatens the life of the narrator, her friend flies into a rage and attacks her tormentors before fleeing the school grounds. The narrator tracks him down in Shibuya, and they have a long heart-to-heart conversation that is both touching and extremely painful.

Although Emily addresses real social issues, like the two other stories in the collection, its themes are exaggerated, and the style in which it is written is clearly stylized. Readers searching for absolute mimetic realism probably won’t be impressed, but fans of young adult fiction – including young adults – will be moved and swept away by the entire collection.

Included at the end of Emily is a lengthy and illuminating interview with the author, Takemoto Novala.

Although the translation is only available as an e-book, its short length (probably fewer than 150 pages) would make it a perfect classroom text should it ever become available in a paperback edition.

So, you’re intrigued by Emily. You should be! The publisher, Shueisha English Edition, has put up a lovely website to help promote the book. But you’ve searched on Amazon, on Barnes and Noble, on Kobo, and on iBooks, and it’s nowhere to be found. What gives?

It turns out that Shueisha English Edition titles were only available through the Sony Reader digital storefront, which was shut down earlier this year (2014). When the Sony Reader store closed, an announcement was posted stating that all Sony Reader titles would be transferred to Kobo. An April 2 post on the Shueisha English Edition Facebook page reads as follows:

We’re very sorry but our move to Kobo won’t happen very soon. We’re still talking with our possible representative in the States.

On June 29, the following update appeared:

Ours is an editorial team only working for Shueisha English Edition, and has no connection to Shueisha’s other operations. We’ll restart our publication soon when we reach an agreement to our next retailer. Please don’t send any inquiries about Shueisha’s other publications and rights/licensing business. We simply cannot answer to any such questions and requests. Thank you for your patience and we’re working hard on our future titles. Please wait for some more for our official announcements and new titles.

Since then, nothing.

It seems as though the publisher has disappeared, which is a shame, since it was off to a fantastic start, regularly putting out lovely digital books with excellent bonus materials and carefully crafted promotional websites (such as those for Shimizu Yoshinori’s Labyrinth and Makime Manabu’s The Great Shu Ra Ra Boom). In an interview on the SCBWI Japan Translation Group’s webpage, the Shueisha English Edition editor in chief, Yoshio Kobayashi, outlines the care and attention put into the translation, editing, and presentation of each of the publisher’s titles. Although I don’t have access to any of these other titles, Emily is a cool little book, and I imagine that it would have been able to find a sizeable audience through the appropriate distribution channels.

Although I understand that the collapse of the Sony Reader Store must have been a major blow, I can’t even begin to imagine what’s going on with Shueisha English Edition, especially since the publisher is working with such fantastic and high-profile authors and translators. I can only hope that good news is forthcoming from them soon.

Review copy provided by Shueisha English Edition.

Vibrator

Title: Vibrator
Japanese Title: ヴァイブレータ (Vaiburēta)
Author: Akasaka Mari (赤坂 真理)
Translator: Michael Emmerich
Publication Year: 2005 (America); 1998 (Japan)
Publisher: Soft Skull Press
Pages: 155

Vibrator is not an easy book to read.

In the first twenty pages, the 31-year-old bulimic narrator describes her strategies for throwing up after meals. Apparently, the trick is to not allow the food to digest. Soda water helps too, it seems. Alcohol complicates matters, but it’s difficult to give up entirely, because it makes the voices go away.

As you might imagine, the narrator of Vibrator has Issues. The first third of the novel is occupied by her nerve-wracking, stream-of-consciousness jabber. What’s perhaps most disturbing about the narrator’s ranting is not that it so accurately reflects narratives of self-hatred and self-doubt, but that the circumstances she describes make her anxieties and self-destructive behavior seem entirely justified. Being an independent woman in a man’s world is hard, and the narrator knows that her beauty will fade as she grows older, thus depriving her of her only advantage over her male colleagues. Moreover, as a female journalist, the narrator is placed in situations in which she must comment not as a professional but as a representative member of her gender, which she finds banal and insulting. To anyone – male or female – who’s ever resented her job or lamented her relative lack of professional success, the narrator’s complaints will be painfully familiar.

One snowy night, after buying a liquid dinner in a Family Mart on her way home, the narrator almost runs headlong into a tracker-trailer on the edge of the convenience store parking lot. The driver, a twenty-something named Okabe, invites her into the cab. The narrator wants to spend more time observing the white world generated by the snow flurry, and she feels as if she has nothing to lose, so she accepts his offer. They talk while drinking, and before long they’re on the road to the northern Tōhoku region. Sex is involved, but more interesting than the smut is the intimacy of Okabe’s story about dropping out of high school to become a low-ranking member of a yakuza clan.

Vibrator is not quite a love story. At the end of the book, there’s no indication that the sudden relationship between the narrator and Okabe will amount to anything beyond the single ride they share. Still, it’s lovely to witness the garbled voices in the narrator’s head slowly fade as she is calmed by vibrations of the truck’s engine (the “vibrator” of the title) and Okabe’s placid self-assurance. Even if the narrator is unable to achieve any deep or permanent connection with Okabe, her escape from her own head and engagement with the landscapes flashing past the truck’s windows is satisfying and meaningful.

Vibrator may not an easy book to read, but it’s certainly worth reading, if only to witness the skill with which the translator, Michael Emmerich, has rendered its narrator’s many voices.

If you live in the United States, Hiroki Ryūichi’s 2003 cinematic adaptation of Vibrator is streaming on Netflix. The film features gorgeous long shots of the Japanese countryside, and the director effectively removes the characters from the narrator’s incessant stream-of-consciousness commentary, which creates an entirely different atmosphere for the story. Tom Mes highly recommends this movie, and it’s a beautiful interpretation of the novel.

What A Professor Should Look Like

One of the great sources of frustration in my life is when female grad students act as if I’m insulting them by explaining how difficult it is to be on the academic job market. These women are brilliant, talented, and hard-working; and, in their minds, there is no reason for them not to succeed. A common response I’ve received both online and in person is that it’s nothing more than a pessimistic attitude that has been holding back not just me but my entire graduate cohort.

I couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps gender might have something to do with our frustration and relative lack of success. Certainly, we wouldn’t be the first women in history to find ourselves at a disadvantage on any given job market.

To satisfy my own morbid curiosity, I made a list of the job announcements in the field of Japanese Studies during the past two job markets (2012/13 and 2013/14). I then asked three questions of each position:

(1) Was it tenure-track?

(2) Did the job posting make it clear that the position requires Japanese language instruction?

(3) Is the person who was eventually hired male or female?

I found that the candidates hired for tenure-track positions that did not require language instruction were exclusively male. Tenure-track positions that did require language instruction could go to men or women but were largely filled by female candidates. Non-tenured positions went almost exclusively to women (with only one exception).

The category of “teaching Japanese” might require explanation. To make a long story short, the majority of Japanese Studies PhDs from top graduate programs are not trained in linguistics or second-language acquisition, so jobs that do not require language instruction are considered to be the most desirable. Positions that follow this elite model tend to be elite positions, and positions that require language instruction tend to demand a heavier course load for a lower salary. In essence, teaching language is a burden that is almost never fairly compensated in the field of Japanese Studies.

Perhaps gender has nothing to do with the overwhelmingly gendered statistics I was able to gather. Correlation does not equal causation, after all. What I hope to highlight here is an apparent hiring trend that requires a great deal more research in order to be understood and corroborated.

Without further ado, here’s the data.

* * * * *

2012 – 2013 Job Market
______

Total Jobs: 24
Tenure-Track, No Language: 7 men
Tenure-Track, Language: 4 women, 1 man
Non-Tenure-Track: 6 women, 1 man
Unknown: 5
_____

Bates College
Tenure-Track: No
Language Teaching Required: Yes
Result: Unknown

Beloit College
Tenure-Track: Yes
Language Teaching Required: Yes
Result: Female Hired

Boston University
Tenure-Track: No
Language Teaching Required: No
Result: Unknown

Chapman University
Tenure-Track: Yes
Language Teaching Required: Yes
Result: Unknown

Centre College
Tenure-Track: No
Language Teaching Required: Yes
Result: Female Hired

Earlham College
Tenure-Track: Yes
Language Teaching Required: No
Result: Male Hired

George Washington University
Tenure-Track: Yes
Language Teaching Required: Yes
Result: Female Hired

Kennesaw State University
Tenure-Track: Yes
Language Teaching Required: Yes
Result: Female Hired

Lehigh University
Tenure-Track: No
Language Teaching Required: Yes
Result: Female Hired

Macalester College
Tenure-Track: Yes
Language Teaching Required: No
Result: Male Hired

Middle Tennessee State University
Tenure-Track: Yes
Language Teaching Required: Yes
Result: Male Hired

North Central College
Tenure-Track: No
Language Teaching Required: Yes
Result: Female Hired

The Ohio State University
Tenure-Track: Yes
Language Teaching Required: No
Result: Male Hired

Sewanee: The University of the South
Tenure-Track: Yes
Language Teaching Required: Yes
Result: Female Hired

University of British Columbia
Tenure-Track: Yes
Language Teaching Required: No
Result: Unknown

University of California, Los Angeles
Tenure-Track: Yes
Language Teaching Required: No
Result: Male Hired

University of Arizona
Tenure-Track: Yes
Language Teaching Required: No
Result: Male Hired

University of Denver
Tenure-Track: Yes
Language Teaching Required: Yes
Result: Unknown

University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Tenure-Track: No
Language Teaching Required: Yes
Result: Female Hired

University of Pittsburgh
Tenure-Track: No
Language Teaching Required: Yes
Result: Male Hired

University of New Mexico
Tenure-Track: Yes
Language Teaching Required: No
Result: Male Hired

University of Notre Dame
Tenure-Track: No
Language Teaching Required: No
Result: Female Hired

Williams College
Tenure-Track: No
Language Teaching Required: Yes
Result: Female Hired

Yale University
Tenure-Track: Yes
Language Teaching Required: No
Result: Male Hired

* * * * *

2013 – 2014 Job Market
_____

Total Jobs: 13
Tenure-Track, No Language: 5 men
Tenure-Track, Language: 1 woman
Non-Tenure-Track: 2 women
Unknown: 5
_____

Bates College
Tenure-Track: No
Language Teaching Required: Yes
Result: Female Hired

Dartmouth College
Tenure-Track: Yes
Language Teaching Required: Yes
Result: Unknown

George Mason University
Tenure-Track: Yes
Language Teaching Required: Yes
Result: Female Hired

Haverford College
Tenure-Track: Yes
Language Teaching Required: No
Result: Unknown

Michigan State University
Tenure-Track: Yes
Language Teaching Required: Yes
Result: Unknown

Middlebury College
Tenure-Track: Yes
Language Teaching Required: Yes
Result: Unknown

Northwestern University
Tenure-Track: Yes
Language Teaching Required: No
Result: Male Hired

Princeton University
Tenure-Track: Yes
Language Teaching Required: No
Result: Male Hired

University of Kentucky
Tenure-Track: Yes
Language Teaching Required: Yes
Result: Unknown

University of Michigan
Tenure-Track: Yes
Language Teaching Required: No
Result: Male Hired

University of Notre Dame
Tenure-Track: No
Language Teaching Required: Yes
Result: Female Hired

Wake Forest University
Tenure-Track: Yes
Language Teaching Required: No
Result: Male Hired

Wellesley College
Tenure-Track: Yes
Language Teaching Required: No
Result: Male Hired

* * * * *

Totals

Total Jobs: 37

Tenure-Track, No Language: 12 men

Tenure-Track, Language: 5 women, 1 man

Non-Tenure-Track: 8 women, 1 man

Unknown: 10

Attack on Titan Before the Fall

Title: Attack on Titan: Before the Fall
Japanese Title: 進撃の巨人 Before the fall (Shingeki no kyojin: Before the fall)
Creator: Isayama Hajime (諫山 創)
Author: Suzukaze Ryō (涼風 涼)
Illustrator: Thores Shibamoto (THORES 柴本)
Translator: Ko Ransom
Publication Year: 2014 (America); 2011 (Japan)
Publisher: Vertical
Pages: 199

The year 743. Mankind was facing extinction at the hands of the Titans that had suddenly appeared at the center stage of history. Where had they come from, and what was their purpose? Some said that they were natural disasters, while others insisted that they were divine retribution. Either way, mankind had been reduced to a simple, clueless prey whose total population had plummeted to 500,000.

I am heavily invested in the Attack on Titan franchise, and I enjoyed this book. If you are as invested as I am, then you will more than likely enjoy this book as much as I did. In fact, you’ve probably already read it.

If you have no idea what the Attack on Titan franchise is, this book is not a good introduction. Give the opening episode of the anime a shot! It’s worth your time, I promise.

This review is for people who have some experience with Attack on Titan and are wondering if the first volume of the Before the Fall light novel series is any good. I think it is! Despite being a bit shallow, it’s a fun read.

The story is set before Isayama Hajime’s original Attack on Titan manga, when the human race has only been living within a massive walled city-state for a few generations. The action of this novel occurs before the events of the Attack on Titan: Before the Fall manga, which adapts the events described in the second and third books in the Before the Fall light novel series.

The first novel in the trilogy is an account of the development of the Three Dimensional Maneuver Gear that allows human beings to fight the giant murderous creatures roaming outside the city walls. This equipment, along with the swords that accompany it, are the work of a young engineer named Angel Aaltonen, who is aided in his efforts by his bright assistant Corina Ilmari and his older colleague Xenophon Harkimo, who specializes in gunpowder and chemical flares. Jorge Piquer, the leader of the Survey Corps military unit specializing in missions outside the walls, is interested in this equipment, hoping that it will allow a human to finally bring down one of the Titans, which are considered immortal. Titans are not the only enemies Angel and Jorge will face, however, as there is considerable political pressure to seal the gate leading outside the wall and thus disband the Survey Corps.

Attack on Titan: Before the Fall is a light novel, and it reads like one. Paragraphs and sentences are short, and the writing is simple and straightforward. There’s also not a great deal of complexity in terms of characterization or character motivations. The reader is assumed to be familiar with the world in which the story is set, so the book doesn’t offer much world building, and nothing is learned that isn’t already covered in the first season of the anime series. As a result of this “lightness,” most of the plot developments in the novel seem too easy. For example, Angel’s inventions are made possible by the discovery of two materials in the lands enclosed by the walls: Iron Bamboo, which is strong and durable despite being light and flexible, and Iceburst Stone, which provides an endless supply of steam energy under certain conditions. Both of these materials are impossibly convenient, and Angel’s team experiences almost no hardship in learning to manipulate them.

What the book can offer the reader are finely crafted action sequences which work well without a visual element, which is no mean feat. Although someone who hasn’t seen the animated adaptation of Isayama’s manga may be confused regarding how large the Titans are relative to humans and what sort of movement the Maneuver Gear allows, a reader already familiar with the visual stylizations of Attack on Titan will be treated to several tense battles. The universe created by Isayama is like Westeros in that important characters can die horribly at any point in the story, so the suspense generated by these fight scenes is gripping.

Suzukaze Ryō’s vision of the world of Attack on Titan is interesting and entertaining, even if it discloses no major revelations. The light novel style of writing makes the book a quick read, and the action scenes are fast paced and attention grabbing.

If you’re not into the animu and mangos, feel free to give this novelization a pass; but, if you’re intrigued by walled cities, government conspiracies, and postapocalyptic struggles against an incomprehensible enemy, you should totally check out Justin Cronin’s The Passage, which is the perfect blend of Attack on Titan madness and highly accessible Stephen King-style storytelling.

His Dark Materials Trilogy

This weekend I am guest posting over at Lady Geek Girl and Friends, a multi-author blog devoted to geek culture with a refreshingly feminist perspective. I adore their articles on topics such as Beauty, Morality, and Magic and The Problem of God in His Dark Materials, so I contributed an essay on Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy in which I talk about how weird it is that Lyra Belacqua, the amazing female protagonist of the first novel in the series, gets sidelined in favor of a less amazing male protagonist in the next two novels. I argue that it doesn’t make sense to revoke narrative interiority from that character whose nascent sexuality is the key to one of the story’s major themes, namely, the transition from innocence to experience.

The essay is divided into two parts:

In Which the Protagonist is Suddenly Male

Why I Wish the Protagonist Were Female

A Brief History of Manga

Title: A Brief History of Manga
Author: Helen McCarthy
Publication Year: 2014
Publisher: ILEX
Pages: 96

In the December 2014 issue of Otaku USA, Erin Finnegan opens her review of A Brief History of Manga by writing, “If you’re a librarian, buy this book! If you’re a school librarian, buy two copies!”

For the most part, I agree with her assessment. Helen McCarthy is a wonderful writer, and this cute little book is beautiful published, meticulously researched…

…and very unfortunately sexist.

If you don’t want to read a short essay in which I call Helen McCarthy’s work sexist – which I understand is upsetting – then feel free to scroll on by; but, if you’re still with me, please understand that the reason I’ve written this essay is because the sexism of A Brief History of Manga reflects many mainstream discourses on manga, and I find it concerning that no one has adequately challenged it.

Essentially, the vast majority of manga titles discussed in A Brief History of Manga are written and drawn by men. I counted all of the manga named in the text, and this is what I got:

Created by men: 104 titles, or 82%
Created by women: 23 titles, or 18%

Perhaps it’s simply the case that the author discusses more titles by the same big-name male manga artists but showcases many smaller, lesser known female manga artists? Nope. I counted all of the manga artists (and writers) mentioned by name in the text, and this is what I got:

Male manga artists: 87, or 81%
Female manga artists: 20, or 19%

Well, okay, but this isn’t a discussion of cinema, in which idiotic auteur cults erase the artistic contributions of everyone who isn’t The Male Director. There are plenty of people involved in the creation of manga and its promotion overseas, and they are all well worth mentioning in even a brief history of the medium. I counted all of the people who aren’t manga artists and writers mentioned by name in the text, from Frederik L. Schodt to James Cameron, and this is what I got:

Men: 64, or 95.5%
Women: 3, or 4.5%

For the record, the three women mentioned are Kurimoto Kaoru, the author of the Guin Saga fantasy series, and Yosano Akiko and Morita Tama, whose essays appeared in an early twentieth century magazine called Shōjo sekai.

What you may be wondering at this point is whether women are included in fewer numbers in a history of manga because there are in fact fewer important women in the history of manga, but oh my goodness, that is totally not true! Women have always been involved with manga, either directly as artists, indirectly as editors and assistants, or as artistic influences, cross-media marketing specialists, or overseas translators, editors, and licensing managers. There are also plenty of female manga scholars and historians – like Helen McCarthy herself!

To give you a sense of what’s been omitted by the overwhelming focus on men, here are a few key players in manga history that A Brief History of Manga glosses over or omits entirely:

* The Shōwa Year 24 Group, which includes hugely influential artists such as Ikeda Riyoko (Rose of Versailles), Hagio Moto (The Heart of Thomas), and Takemiya Keiko (To Terra). Not only were these women popular and groundbreaking manga artists, but many of them were political activists as well. They lived close to one another, worked together, shared ideas and inspirations, and changed the face of shōjo manga forever. Their work covers genres ranging from gothic romance to historical fiction to speculative sci-fi, and many scholars consider their manga to be the prototype of niche genres such as yuri and shōnen-ai. Although McCarthy devotes a two-page spread to “Fighting Females and Girl Heroes,” she spends the majority of it talking about Tezuka Osamu and Ishinomori Shōtaro, which is a shame.

* Sailor Moon. Takeuchi Naoko did not invent the magical girl genre, of course, but her work shaped it in a major way. Not only did the Sailor Moon franchise attract adult males to the genre, giving us titles such as Pretty Cure and Madoka Magica, but it was also successfully used by overseas licensing companies like Tokyopop to attract young women to anime and manga, and many artists and animators in Japan and abroad consider Sailor Moon to be a major influence.

* CLAMP. It’s true, McCarthy devotes one of her two two-page spreads exclusively featuring the work of female artists to Card Captor Sakura (she’s got thirty two-page spreads exclusively featuring the work of male artists, by the way). What McCarthy never mentions, however, is what an incredible powerhouse of artistic creativity CLAMP truly is, authoring such seminal titles as X:1999 and Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicles while being intensely involved with high-profile anime franchises such as Code Geass and Blood: The Last Vampire. Their manga Chobits is particularly important in the history of manga, as it helped to spark two major trends: seinen series meant to appeal to a female demographic, and moé series about adorable innocent girls being cared for by slightly older yet socially awkward men.

* Fullmetal Alchemist. Arakawa Hiromu’s shōnen series was a major big deal in every global territory lucky enough to have it licensed. The demographic crossover appeal was engineered carefully by Square-Enix’s Monthly Shōnen Gangan magazine, which championed titles that would prove to be equally popular with male and female readers. The magazine also went out of its way to promote video game titles to female readers, which was a pretty big deal in the early-to-mid 1990s and had a major impact on domestic and overseas fandom cultures.

* Fruits Basket. Takaya Natsuki’s 23-volume shōjo series was enormously popular in North America and paved the way for a slew of other shōjo titles in translation, from Nana to Ouran High School Host Club to Vampire Knight. Here in the United States, we also got a bunch of epic sci-fi and fantasy shōjo manga from the 1980s and 1990s, such as Tamura Yumi’s Basara and Shinohara Chie’s Red River. The enthusiastic reception of all this shōjo manga inspired Tokyopop to launch OEL shōjo series like M. Alice Legrow’s Bizenghast. Although Tokyopop eventually folded, Yen Press later went on to commission enormously popular shōjo manga versions of young adult novel series such as Twilight and The Parasol Protectorate.

* Yoshinaga Fumi. Not only is her work absolutely brilliant and worthy of mention on its own merits, but it also managed to create an audience for josei manga in Europe and North America, which is an impressive accomplishment. Although Yoshinaga isn’t currently writing yaoi as much as she used to, you might argue that discussions of semipornographic manga have no place in a book meant for a broad audience. If that’s the case, though, why does McCarthy devote so much attention to the work of Nagai Gō and the infamous Legend of the Overfiend?

I’m not trying to say that Helen McCarthy is stupid or lazy or evil, or anything silly like that, but rather that she has reproduced a male-dominated narrative that is extremely unbalanced. Women are a huge driving force in the manga world, and there’s no logical reason why they should be erased from its history.

The systematic paucity of representations of women in media is referred to by the term “symbolic annihilation,” which helps to convey the violence of eliminating women from our stories. In essence, by taking women out of the history of manga, McCarthy conveys the impression that manga is a medium for men and by men shaped primarily by the great men of the past and currently dominated by men. Not only is this not true, but it also sends a clear message both to young women (STAY OUT NOT FOR YOU) and to young men (WOMEN ARE WORTHLESS KEEP THEM OUT). Imagine what it’s like for a young woman (or even an older woman such as myself) to flip to the appropriate section of A Brief History of Manga, looking for the title that defined her life and her generation, only to find that obscure niche titles are more worthy of inclusion just because they were written by men.

So Kathryn, you might be thinking, if that’s so distressing to you, why don’t you go out and publish your own book about women in manga? I have three responses to this line of thinking.

First, that’s not the point. The point is for women to be included in mainstream history, not to be accorded a separate and secondary history. The history of women’s contributions to the world should be part of the core curriculum, not an elective.

Second, I shouldn’t have to. There have been plenty of books, articles, essays, and exhibition catalogs about women in manga written in English, French, German, and of course Japanese. I know from experience that many of these publications can be found in the library of the Kyoto International Manga Museum, where McCarthy did her research.

Third, I’m trying. It’s difficult to publish anything these days, and I haven’t yet found myself at the right place at the right time with the right connections. If you’re associated with a website, magazine, or press and want to publish my work, you know where to find me.

A Brief History of Manga is an amazing little book. It will teach you things you did not know, it will draw connections between people and events you had no idea were related, and the archival images the author has chosen to include are a world of information unto themselves. Still, the inherent sexism of the book’s dominant narrative is a major flaw that is impossible to overlook.

Again, I wrote this review not to cast blame or to point fingers – I will still read everything Helen McCarthy writes while stalking her on Twitter – but rather to illuminate what I see as a disturbing trend in the way that people from many countries and cultures write about manga. Women are just as important in the history of manga as men are. Previous histories have marginalized them, but future histories don’t have to. From now on, let’s include both women and men in the conversation, okay?

A Brief History of Manga Sample Pages