AALL 152, Topics in Japanese Anime

January 31, 2005
relief sculpture on campus

Evil forces from another world are attacking Earth, intent on sucking the life force out of all humanity. The fate of the entire universe rests in the hands of a band of junior-high-school girls known as the Sailor Scouts. Endowed with super powers, they must fight to restore peace and stability to the cosmos while also contending with important concerns like homework and boyfriends.

The young, awkward, and emotionally fragile characters of Sailor Moon have captured the imagination of Japanese audiences, penetrating almost every facet of Japanese popular culture. Now anime, or Japanese animation, seems to be infiltrating American society as well. Television series such as Sailor Moon, and, more recently Pokemon, have not only become popular staples on major American cable networks such as Fox and the Cartoon Network, they have also spawned an enormous commercial industry, incorporating anime insignia into everything, from trading cards to high fashion.

Anime culture "really expands into relationships with all kinds of other mediums, commercial and noncommercial," says Tomiko Yoda, associate professor of Asian & African languages and literature. In AALL 152: "Topics in Japanese Anime," Yoda says she is particularly interested in conveying to her students this notion that "anime is a complicated cross-medium, multi-media phenomenon." She aims to give students the tools to "engage in mass culture and popular culture intellectually"--not only to enjoy anime, but also to think about it critically.

Yoda stresses that not all anime is like Sailor Moon--simple in composition and aimed at younger audiences. The new wave of anime now speaks to a broader audience. However, "my course is focused on the issue of gender and sexuality," she says. The first half of the semester is devoted to viewing and discussing examples of anime that target female audiences, while the second half is spent studying anime geared toward male viewers.

Despite this thematic focus, "Japanese Anime" transcends gender implications to consider the art's far-reaching cultural influences. Yoda says she wants her students to "learn about specific historical and social conventions in Japan that may have contributed to the creation of this anime culture, but also to think locally, about how a lot of these elements are crossing national boundaries."

"Japanese Anime" students investigate the fascinating underground society that anime fans have invented, drawing many parallels to the fandom surrounding Star Trek. Consequently, a significant amount of class time is devoted to understanding how anime can "provoke a lot of interesting ideas and thoughts about the status of contemporary society and culture, not just about Japan, but globally as well," she says.

Yoda also strives to convey the importance of the origins of anime. "In order to talk about anime culture, you also have to talk about comics--manga," she explains. Manga were originally derived from the ancient Japanese art of woodblock prints. Anime is essentially moving manga, comics brought to life, and her course explores the interchange among these three mediums.

Yoda supplements film viewings with academic readings on various topics related to the course. Ultimately, she says, she hopes to "generate a consciousness that things like anime can stand up to intellectual inquiries."

Prerequisite

None

Readings

Various academic articles on e-reserve

Assignments

Reflection papers (250-400 words)
Two 8-page papers
One midterm exam

Screenings

Selected anime films and series episodes

Professor

Tomiko Yoda grew up in Japan watching anime and reading manga as a child and young adult. She was educated in the U.S., earning her Ph.D in Japanese literature at Stanford University. She has been teaching at Duke since 1996, but this is her first year teaching the anime course. Currently conducting research that explores the paradoxical nature of gender relations in Japan, Yoda is especially interested in the role women play in contemporary Japanese consumer culture and in shedding light on gender roles and the resulting tensions in the Japanese workplace since the 1970s.