After five exhausting, but fun days at the Los Angeles Convention Center, Anime Expo has come to a close. And while I am slowly trying to get back into normalcy (I always have about a week to transition), I will be highlighting a few of my favorite things/events that happened at the convention… in another post!
In the meantime, I will be highlighting what is perhaps my favorite segment of Anime Expo. And as much as I like world premiers, cosplay pictures, industry announcements, free stuff, and staff/volunteer moments, nothing seems to beat feeding my cognitive curiosity and thinking about the things that I love at a very intellectual level.
Click here for Part 2.
Click here for Part 3.
The Manga/Anime Studies Symposium (or Anime/Manga Studies Symposium, depending on whichever one you feel like prioritizing) is a lecture series that has been around at Anime Expo for the past 4 years now. This series of panels features various professors and grad students from the anglophone world who have researched, presented, or even wrote books on anime, manga, fan culture, and other related media, bringing academics and fans together in a lecture-style dialogue.
Unfortunately, I did miss a few of these presentations, as my schedule filled up with various other things throughout the convention. In this post, I will try to summarize to the best of my ability what these scholars had presented to us, but I can’t guarantee that I’ll hit every point correctly, as I am NOT quite at that level of academia to know otherwise (though I do try).
Anime and the Media Mix
First off, I should probably thank my friend (whose name I shouldn’t say due to privacy reasons) for organizing these panels every year at Anime Expo. This year, the symposium cleverly tied together an overarching theme in all of its presentations, and that is the idea of the Media Mix. The keynote speaker Marc Steinberg is the anglophone expert (and possibly the global expert) on this matter as it pertains to Japanese media.
Probably going to miss a few points here and there, but Media Mix is a marketing strategy used heavily in (but not limited to) the Japanese media industry, where any given series will have a manga, novel, animation, video game, soundtrack, movie, merchandise, food ads, etc. all simultaneously running in the product line in order to keep consumers engrossed in the idea of living inside that series. It is not uncommon in Japan to have these media piggyback off of each other; and fans also seem to enjoy them in different orders as well (some will watch before reading while others will play before watching, etc.)
Steinberg outlines his point using several examples, including the Kadokawa Comics model and marketing Astro Boy (Tetsuwan Atomu) in the 1960s. And while Media Mix is generally used in terms of economics, the idea can be crossed over with other disciplines, which are to follow Steinberg’s lecture in this series.
You can also buy Marc Steinberg’s book on Anime’s Media Mix today!
Japanese Visual Culture’s Female Characters and Female Audiences
This panel, as some of you may know, is certainly in my highest interests as one of the louder male feminists. On this panel, speakers T Etherington and E Birmingham (again, probably shouldn’t use their full names unless otherwise stated in Anime Expo advertisements) take a look at the portrayal of female characters as it pertains to shoujo and shounen manga.
Etherington discusses how sexuality is portrayed and addressed in the shoujo manga Black Bird, a series about a girl whose love interest is a bishounen (pretty boy) tengu. Historically speaking, the tengu is a renowned creature in Japanese myth which is often portrayed as a winged creature with very phallic features in the nasal area, and who have been known to possess supernatural powers, particularly in the controlling of winds. In Black Bird, however, the series portrays this creature with modern features that make him look more human, and possibly more desirable, to the female eye.
Etherington further points out some of the mashed-up nuances in this series surrounding sex culture in Japan. There are suggestions throughout the series that portray elements of sexuality from the “olden days” as well as a few parts from the modern world. This dichotomy might suggest a creative originality that lies in bringing both the old and the new together in the context for a feminine appeal today.
Etherington also has a few other points in her presentation, suggesting that the world is cruel to women when they are portrayed in shoujo manga. However, when it comes to shounen manga, according to our other speaker Birmingham, it is often suggested that the world is cruel because of women.
In many shounen anime and manga, there are many girl characters who appear to be capable of feats that are more violent and deadly to others, particularly men, in their series. While Birmingham mentions three different archetypes for these girls (yes, girls), she emphasizes her discussion on the trend of weaponized shoujo bodies, girls who have mechanics and weaponry quite literally built into them! These weaponized girls often seem inhuman, having the desire to kill without question, and are otherwise made that way so that they can be controlled, often by a male character or male-oriented organization.
According to Birmingham, this trend in character archetypes is perhaps due in large part to Japanese men’s anxieties for the changing behaviors of Japanese women. Over the past few decades, girls in Japan have been moving away from their traditions of marrying young and starting families in the immediacy, choosing to live lifestyles that are more “liberating” and otherwise refusing to “grow up.” It’s not saying that all girls in shounen anime are portrayed as dangerous, nor is it saying that girls don’t necessarily like these weaponized characters, but the trend might suggest that these portrayals are the embodiment of a loss to more traditional forms of feminine culture, at least, in the perspective of men. The archetype may also suggest the male desire to be able to control such a character, the dichotomy of both a tool and a girl.
It’s interesting to note that many of these weaponized girl characters are not women, but girls (minors), suggesting a robbing of innocence, or even a change in attitudes of young people. Whatever the case may be, this archetype suggests that girls are dangerous to a male-oriented world; and are possibly either in control or controlled by the men who once held or continue to hold dominance.