Book review

Manga's cultural crossroads, edited by Jaqueline Berndt and Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer

Nicolle Lamerichs

Maastricht University, Maastricht, Netherlands

[0.1] Keywords—Anime; Transcultural fandom; Transmediality

Lamerichs, Nicolle. 2014. Manga's Cultural Crossroads, edited by Jaqueline Berndt and Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer [book review]. Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 17.

Jaqueline Berndt and Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer, eds. Manga's cultural crossroads. New York: Routledge, 2013, hardcover, $118.75 (282p) ISBN 978-0-415-50450-8.

[1] The hybrid and global designs of contemporary media pose a daunting challenge for researchers. In recent discourses within fan studies, these elements come to the fore most clearly in the analysis of extensive franchises as well as in the tensions between local and global spaces of reception. In the context of manga, subcultural practices of fandom and industry-driven transmediality can be witnessed most clearly. Manga broadly refers to comics from Japan and their aesthetic qualities. The verb manga is also commonly used to connote the transmedia extensions of these stories in games and animation. The reception and distribution of manga outside of Japan is unique in that fans often distribute, translate, and appropriate these manga products themselves. Manga's Cultural Crossroads (2013), edited by Jaqueline Berndt and Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer, is a timely and insightful publication that addresses this global reception of Japanese popular culture.

[2] Kümmerling-Meibauer is a professor at the University of Tübingen, Germany, who is well known for her publications in the fields of children's literature, picture books, and visual media. Berndt is a German Japanologist and a professor in comics theory at Kyoto Seika University, Japan, whose work focuses on manga as a critical and reader-centered culture. With their broad expertise, the editors represent the diversity of Manga's Cultural Crossroads, which focuses not purely on Japan but also on its spillover into other media and cultures. Both the editors and the authors are characterized by their interdisciplinary interests. Although many of them know Japanese, the contributors do not necessarily see themselves as being at the forefront of Japanese studies; rather, they want to acknowledge how manga studies is indebted to, and can help develop and enhance, related fields of cultural studies.

[3] Conceptually, this volume does not approach manga as a cultural export from Japan but as a cultural crossroads or a nexus for intercultural exchange. The guiding concept of the volume is transculturalism, which the authors favor over transnationalism because a primary focus on the nation-state does not resonate with their studies. Instead, the authors stress more complex global patterns, fan activities, and subcultures that are best captured by an understanding of transculturalism as an interplay between cultures. This collection stresses the diversity of manga culture, both in terms of reception and production, as it explores the transcultural history of Japanese manga and contextualizes manga that are produced outside of Japan.

[4] The twofold structure of the collection stands out. The first part, "Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Manga," comprises eight chapters. The second part, "'Naruto' as Cultural Crossroads," comprises six chapters and takes the popular manga series Naruto (1999–) by Masashi Kishimoto as its primary case. This action-packed series about the adventures of an adolescent ninja has been translated into many languages and has been adapted into a long-running animation series, among other TV adaptations, as well as video games. Naruto exemplifies manga and its global fan cultures. Overall, the chapters within Manga's Cultural Crossroads are short and readable. Many have their origins as conference papers at the international conference Intercultural Crossovers, Transcultural Flows: Manga/Comics (2010), which was held at the Cultural Institute of Japan in Cologne, Germany. These studies now appear as full-fledged chapters in Manga's Cultural Crossroads, which is part of the series Routledge Advances in Art and Visual Studies.

[5] An interest in the history of manga characterizes the first chapters in part 1. The section opens with a piece by Frederik L. Schodt, a pioneer in the field of manga studies, who discusses the localization of manga in North America. He reflects on the transformations since the 1980s, when manga was deemed an alternative medium with little economic feasibility abroad. Today, manga has become more visible at comic stores and online, but the distribution of these comics also raises critical concerns of piracy and imitation as a result of its limited availability. The second chapter, by Ronald Stewart, offers a critical analysis of the popular understanding that manga originates in the 19th-century sketches of the artist Hokusai, termed Hokusai manga. By examining the works by Kitazawa Rakuten (1876–1955), who first used the word manga in its contemporary sense, Stewart shows that the interpretation of manga is highly contestable. For Rakuten, manga was a way of differentiating his work from Japanese predecessors, and it characterized his modern style, influenced by Western images. The third chapter, by Shige (CJ) Suzuki, explores the history of the alternative gekiga manga in the 1960s as well as its dark and sexual undertones. The works of Tatsumi Yoshihiro, who coined the term gekiga, are central to this chapter and are contextualized according to a larger counterculture in Japanese society.

[6] The chapters that follow address transculturalism as a complex phenomenon related to shared cultural capital and audience spaces as well as political ideals. Berndt challenges scholars to think more about the sociopolitical implications of manga and their production context as a result of the Triple Disaster of March 11, 2011. Yamanaka Chie examines the comics produced in Korea, or manhwa, which, in Korean discourse, are proposed to be part of Korea's national heritage. As it turns out, postcolonial discourse and national sentiments construct the image of these manhwa, downplaying the hybrid nature of these comics in favor of their unique and local elements.

[7] The last chapters of the section focus on transmediality, with a methodology that relies on cross-comparisons between different media. Kümmerling-Meibauer explores the relations between manga and modern picture books. She analyzes a new strand of picture books that are highly intermedial and rely on specific repertoires. She adds to this a specific case study of Allen Say, taught by Noro Shinpei, considering how manga aesthetics shine through his work. Elisabeth Klar's chapter compares the visual and narrative style of erotic comics, or hentai, to the alternative comic scene in Europe. She uses the notion of parody to explore how comics may disrupt notions of gender and embodiment. Last, Nele Noppe provides a rich study of the social media sites deviantART and pixiv. Although they are potentially global media, she argues that the interface and language of the sites cause a heterogeneous, divided audience.

[8] The second section takes Naruto as its primary case and addresses this popular franchise from different points of view. Omote Tomoyuki discusses Naruto through its specific publication format: the series is originally published in the magazine Weekly Shōnen Jump. This medium-specific format, Tomoyuki argues, and the demands of its publication culture have to be considered when contextualizing and performing close readings of the manga's narrative. Fujimoto Yukari discusses the production context of Naruto as a shōnen manga and the gendering of its characters and readership. She argues that the proliferation of fan-driven yaoi (queer appropriations and readings) is the result of its superficial and conservative female characters. Jessica Bauwens-Sugimoto and Nora Renka continue this interest in gender by focusing on English-language fan fiction written by men. They examine the harem genre, where the male character enters relationships with different female characters. Gender bending is quite common in this fandom, but the authors argue that this must not be understood as queer but rather as a demand for more and diverse female characters to serve the harem genre.

[9] The last articles display an interest in Naruto as a highly intertextual manga with various layers of textual meaning as well as a transmedia franchise that exports its characters to different media platforms. Franziska Ehmcke reads Naruto according to the place Naruto, which it is named after. The connotations inherent in this famous place are echoed in traditional art; they also surface in the manga. Gan Sheuo Hui addresses authorship in times of transmediality and charts the production context of the anime. Sheuo Hui shows that individual producers carry particular cultural meanings and styles to the anime that are relevant to its framing. Martin Roth discusses the Naruto video games and argues that these do not add to the transmedia storytelling process. Rather, they provide instances in which fans can perform these characters anew. Games thus allow players to interact with the narratives in a unique way that is not always coherent with its related media text or overall story world. However, this does not diminish the interpretive experience, which hinges on familiarity rather than coherence.

[10] Overall, the essay collection is appealing and contains some outstanding chapters. I applaud the idea of focusing a section on a single case study, but sadly, the Naruto section in the book is weaker than the first section. Moreover, I found that the chapters repeated each other in their explanations of the Naruto franchise, rather than summarizing it and its themes in the introduction. The Naruto section is addressed only briefly in the introduction, though its separate essays are covered in great detail; further, the focus on the Naruto franchise is neglected in the promotion and title of the edited collection. This is an odd choice because the Naruto case study has the potential to draw additional readers.

[11] This collection is an important contribution to the field of manga studies. In the past, such studies took Japan itself as a unit of analysis, rather than the international reception of its popular culture. Many publications in this field have been in Japanese or focused on Japanese audiences rather than on intercultural reception and exchange. A need for dialogue between Japanologists and Western researchers is needed. This gap is beginning to be filled by the advent of English-language journals in the field of manga studies, such as Mechademia ( Similarly, Manga's Cultural Crossroads clearly shows that manga is not only the product of Japan and Japanese culture, but also a global point of connection and recognition shared by different individuals and subcultures. Such cultural exchanges are always to a degree hierarchical because they are formatted through complex postcolonial regimes, national sentiments, and economic relationships.

[12] Manga's Cultural Crossroads offers a far-reaching and rich collection of essays that address many facets of manga culture. The book intervenes in both the fields of fan studies and manga studies. Its thorough explorations of the history and definition of manga will interest many scholars of Japanese popular culture, and its focus on reception and transculturalism speaks to a broader audience. This edited collection often takes a reader-centered and medium-specific approach that will resonate with scholars of media and their audiences, including scholars of fandom. A reader does not require much knowledge of manga culture beforehand but can understand the field via the essays and can contextualize it as exemplary of other global media dynamics. As fan studies becomes a more prominent field, reading participatory behavior as anchored to a place is not fruitful. Transculturalism will undoubtedly become a helpful tool to examine fan practices as rooted in global and local patterns. Within this conceptual turn toward transculturalism in fan and audience studies, Manga's Cultural Crossroads takes an important stance.