Conferences: The Berlin Wall and Master Keaton‘s Germany28 October 2009
In a few weeks, I’m slated to attend and present at the “‘November 9, 1989’—The Fall of the Berlin Wall, Twenty Years After” conference at the University of Cincinnati in Cincinnati, Ohio. [Edited: Since the conference link has expired, here is a suitable news piece on the conference.]
My paper addresses one of the conference themes of how artists, writers, directors, architects, musicians, and performers have captured the contradictions and conflicts of the post-Wall and post-Cold War period in realistic forms. The work I selected is a Japanese manga and anime series called Master Keaton. (The Wikipedia entry on the series is not the most extensive source of information, but it provides a good English-language introduction.) ‘Exploring Master Keaton‘s Germany: A Japanese Perspective on the End of the Cold War’ will look at how the Master Keaton manga and anime series present post-Cold War Germany as a struggle to redefine both personal and national identities, complete with echoes of Japan’s own struggle to redefine its national identity in the wake of World War II.
One of the more challenging (or aggravating, from the researcher’s perspective) aspects of scholarly writing about Japanese animation is that most of the existing research tends to be written by fans who find it difficult to write like academics or by academics who have very little understanding of the social or cultural nuances of anime fandom. It’s only in the past few years, possibly as late as 2005 or 2006, where fannish academics started to push anime and manga as genres worthy of serious study. Many academics tend to be far too caught up in justifying their focus on the medium instead of actually addressing their chosen topic. In an effort to prove that they’re not just writing about ‘porn or Pokémon’, they’ll clutter up their research with literary criticism jargon to make their conclusions sound more impressive (when they could have been phrased far more simply and effectively), or completely isolate the source text from Japanese culture and attempt to interpret it through a Western perspective to make it more accessible to Western readers. (At the risk of singling out one particular academic for criticism, Susan Napier’s writings about anime tend to exhibit both of these flaws to a greater or lesser degree.) But there are some well-written papers on the genre, including Matthew Penney’s 2005 article on the influences of military Germany on Japanese pop culture, so I hope that my own research will make a decent contribution that might be publishable at some point.
Regardless, it’s a little intimidating to contemplate. I’m trying to pull together a discipline I understand (general Cold War studies) with a series I thoroughly enjoy (Master Keaton), supplemented by research in areas where I’m much less grounded (postwar Japanese sociology), and presenting it to an audience that may not be at all familiar with the genre. A fun challenge, but a challenge nonetheless.