The Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa

The Autobiography of Yukichi FukuzawaAuthor: Yukichi Fukuzawa
Translator: Eiichi Kiyooka
U.S. publisher: Columbia University Press
ISBN: 9780231139878
Released: January 2007
Original release: 1897

Yukichi Fukuzawa—scholar, translator, author, and educator, among many other things—is one of Japan’s most influential historical figures of the modern era, helping to shape the country as it is known today. As the founder of Keio University whose writings continue to be taught and whose likeness appears on the 10,000 yen banknote, there are very few Japanese to whom Fukuzawa is entirely unknown. Fukuzawa’s life was recently brought to my attention while reading Minae Mizumura’s The Fall of Language in the Age of English which discussed some of his influence and included excerpts of his autobiography. Intrigued by this, I decided to read the work in its entirety. The Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa was originally dictated by Fukuzawa in 1897. The first English translation by Eiichi Kiyooka, Fukuzawa’s grandson, appeared in 1934 and was later revised in 1960. Many editions of The Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa have been released in English, but the most recent was published in 2007 by Columbia University Press.

The Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa originated from a request by a foreigner interested in Fukuzawa’s account of the time period leading up to and surrounding the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Fukuzawa narrated the story of his life fairly informally in 1897 and soon after edited, annotated, and published the transcribed manuscript. He intended to write a more formal and comprehensive companion volume, but he died in 1901 before it was completed. The Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa begins with Fukuzawa’s childhood and follows his life into his old age. Fukuzawa was born in 1835 in Osaka into a samurai family originally from Nakatsu, where he grew up. From an early age, Fukuzawa showed interest in Western learning, first studying Dutch (at the time the only foreign influence permitted within Japan) and the eventually English. He was very passionate about language as a tool to access new knowledge and understanding, and he served on multiple missions to America and Europe as an interpreter and translator. But his interest in the West also put him in danger during a time when anti-foreign sentiment was rampant in Japan.

The various editions of The Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa available in English are primarily distinguished by the accompanying materials included to supplement Fukuzawa’s main text. The most recent release from Columbia University Press offers several useful additions, some of which were available in previous editions or which were published elsewhere. Albert Craig, an academic and historian whose work focuses on Japan, provides the volume’s foreword as well as its lengthy afterword “Fukuzawa Yukichi: The Philosophical Foundations of Meiji Nationalism.” Originally published in 1968 in the the volume Political Development in Modern Japan, the afterword places Fukuzawa and his ideals into greater historical and political context. Also included in Columbia’s recent edition of The Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa are two appendices—a chronological table outlining the events in Fukuzawa’s life and in world history and a translation of Fukuzawa’s influential essay “Encouragement of Learning”—as well as copious notes and an index.

The Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa is a surprisingly engaging, entertaining, and even humorous work. In his autobiography, Fukuzawa comes across as very amicable, down-to-earth, and forward-thinking. I particularly enjoyed Fukuzawa’s invigorating account of his experiences as a young man who was devoted to his studies, but who would also willingly participate in the revelry, antics, and pranks of his fellow students. Speaking of how drunken “nudeness brings many adventures” and such other things greatly humanizes a person primarily known for his impressive accomplishments. As Fukuzawa matured, he played a pivotal role in the development of the Japanese education system. While he introduced many Western concept and ideas in his pursuit of knowledge, at heart Fukuzawa was a nationalist who abhorred the violent methods of many of his contemporaries. The Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa provides not only a fascinating look into the life of Fukuzawa, it provides a glimpse into a particularly tumultuous and transformative period of time in Japan’s history.

Mechademia, Volume 10: World Renewal

Mechademia, Volume 10: World RenewalEditor: Frenchy Lunning
Publisher: University of Minnesota Press
ISBN: 9780816699155
Released: November 2015

Mechademia, one of the few academic journal’s in English specifically devoted to the study of manga and anime, began publication in 2006. Since then, under the editorial guidance of Frenchy Lunning, a new thematic volume has been released every year and the journal has grown to include research and analysis of other areas of Japanese popular culture, such as film, television, games, novels, and fandom. I’ve previously read individual articles published in Mechademia, and even own several of the volumes, but I’ve never actually read one of the annuals from cover to cover until now; I had the happy opportunity to receive a review copy of Mechademia, Volume 10: World Renewal from University of Minnesota Press. It’s an aptly themed volume, signalling the end of one era and ushering a in a new one for the journal—World Renewal, released in 2015, is the last volume with Lunning serving as editor-in-chief.

After Lunning’s acknowledgements and introduction, World Renewal is divided into four main sections which collect articles, essays, stories, and even a short manga. The first part of the volume, Passages of As Not, uses the March 2011 Tōhoku earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster as a touchstone. Akira Mizuta Lippit’s “Between Disaster, Medium 3.11” examines the experience of disaster, time, and space through Koreda Hirokazu’s film After Life. Similarly, “The Land of Hope: Planetary Cartographies of Fukushima, 2012” by Christophe Thouny uses Sion Sono’s film The Land of Hope to discuss fictionalized portrayals of disaster and changing landscapes. Sabu Kohso’s “Tokyo Apparatus (Version 1.0)” looks beyond the Tōhoku disaster towards the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The section concludes with a translation of Tomoyuki Hoshino’s “Good Morning: A Postdisaster Palm-of-the-Hand Story” which I was particularly happy to see as I find Hoshino’s works in general to be especially powerful.

While as a whole I found World Renewal to be interesting and rewarding, the second section, Positions of What If, dealing with alternate histories, presents, and futures, was perhaps my personal favorite. I especially liked Andrea Horbinski’s “Record of Dying Days: The Alternate History of Ōoku” which explores one of Fumi Yoshinaga’s most tremendous manga series. Susan W. Furukawa’s “Deconstructing the Taikō: The Problem of Hideyoshi as Postwar Business Model” is a fascinating analysis of the various interpretations of Hideyoshi Toyotomi in Japanese popular culture of the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. (Eiji Yoshikawa’s Taiko from the 1940s is also mentioned in passing.) Matthew Penny presents a fictional essay outlining a future history of Japan based on the ideals of the political far right in “A Nation Restored: The Utopian Future of Japan’s Far Right” which was a remarkably effective technique. I was also extraordinarily pleased to discover that Moto Hagio’s short manga “Nanohana” was included in this section as well.

World Renewal continues with the third part, Worlds of As If, which collects three case studies investigating possible emerging worlds through an examination of evolving methods of creation, experience, and engagement. Satomi Saito uses Sword Art Online, Vampire Hunter D, and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya as examples of the varying and changing approaches used in the development of cross-media franchises in “Beyond the Horizon of the Possible Worlds: A Historical Overview of Japanese Media Franchises.” Sandra Annet’s “What Can a Vocaloid Do? The Kyara as Body without Organs” in part focuses on how fans use, reuse, and reimagine official characters and narratives to create their own media. The third section closes with “A World Without Pain: Therapeutic Robots and the Analgesic Imagination” by Steven R. Anderson which discusses Oriza Hirata’s dramatic play Sayonara and Katsuhiro Otomo’s Roujin Z anime among other works.

The final and fourth section of World Renewal, Loops of Just Then, largely deals with parallel narratives, worlds, and temporal loops. In “The Girl at the End of Time: Temporality, (P)remediation, and Narrative Freedom in Puella Magi Madoka Magica,” Forrest Greenwood compares the anime’s narrative structure to those that are commonly used in visual novels. Pamela Gossin delves into the complexities and connections between Hayao Miyazaki’s life and work in “Animated Nature: Aesthetics, Ethics, and Empathy in Miyazaki Hayao’s Ecophilosophy.” The Higurashi franchise forms a platform for Brett Hack’s examination of Japanese news coverage and media commentary on youth violence in “Ominous Image of Youth: Worlds, Identities, and Violence in Japanese News Media and When They Cry.” Finally, World Renewal concludes with “Parallel Universes, Vertical Worlds, and the Nation as Palimpsest in Murakami Ryū’s The World Five Minutes from Now” by Kendall Heitzman, an analysis of Murakami’s dystopic alternate history novel which I would love to one day read in translation.

Overall, I found World Renewal to be a thought-provoking and intellectually stimulating volume. Some of the essays can be fairly dense—this especially seemed to be true of those included in the first section—so the volume is difficult to recommend to a casual reader in its entirety, but there are also essays that are more readily accessible. For most people, picking and choosing among the various submissions according to their own particular interests will likely be the most satisfying approach to take. Personally, while I enjoyed reading about some of my own favorite series and creators in World Renewal, I greatly appreciated the analysis of works that I was less familiar with. In fact, my curiosity has been piqued and I’m much more interested in experiencing first hand some of the media examined in World Renewal that I had previously passed over or was unaware of. I also particularly liked the thematic nature of the volume which allows for a wide variety of material to be explored while still retaining some focus and cohesiveness. World Renewal understandably tends towards the academic which will at times prove challenging for a general audience, but the topics and material discussed are fascinating and many of the ideas expressed are quite interesting.

Thank you to University of Minnesota Press for providing a copy of Mechademia, Volume 10 for review

The Fall of Language in the Age of English

The Fall of Language in the Age of EnglishAuthor: Minae Mizumura
Translator: Mari Yoshihara and Juliet Winters Carpenter
U.S. publisher: Columbia University Press
ISBN: 9780231163026
Released: January 2015
Original release: 2008
Awards: Kobayashi Hideo Award

Currently, only two major works by Minae Mizumura have been translated into English. The first, and one of the best works of literature that I’ve read in recent years, was A True Novel. More recently, the English-language edition of Mizumura’s first nonfiction work, The Fall of Language in the Age of English, was released, published in 2015 by Columbia University Press with a translation by Juliet Winters Carpenter (who was also the translator for A True Novel) and Mari Yoshihara. The Fall of Language in the Age of English is actually a revision of its Japanese counterpart, Mizumura rewriting portions of the book, most notably the final chapter, to better suit a non-Japanese audience. The Fall of Language in the Age of English caused something of a stir when it was originally published in Japan in 2008—the work won a Kobayashi Hideo Award, became a commercial success, and even sparked some amount of controversy.

Mizumura opens The Fall of Language in the Age of English with a personal account of her participation in the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program in 2003. Afterwards, Mizumura, who studied French and French literature at Yale, proceeds to outline the rise and fall of French as one of the world’s universal languages. She then discusses the concept and role of universal languages, the development of local languages into national languages, and the relationships among the three in general before specifically turning to the emergence of Japanese as a national language. From there Mizumura describes what she calls the miracle of modern Japanese literature, shedding further light upon its peculiar evolution and how it came to be considered a major world literature. Mizumura then addresses the current prevalence of English and its spread before closing with what she sees as the possible futures in store for non-English languages in the digital age.

The Fall of Langauge in the Age of English is an immensely readable and engaging work examining the place of literature, national languages, and translation in a world in which English increasingly dominates. In addition to the main text, The Fall of Language in the Age of English also includes a newly-written preface by Mizumura specifically for the English-language edition of the work, an introduction by the translators, notes, a selected bibliography, and an index. The volume is written in a very approachable manner and is intended for a general audience, Mizumura presenting ideas and concepts clearly and eloquently. I happen to already have a particular interest in the subject matter of language (I even once seriously considered pursing a career in translation or linguistics), but no specialist knowledge is needed to read, understand, or enjoy The Fall of Language in the Age of English.

I found The Fall of Language in the Age of English to be utterly fascinating. The work deftly combines many differing elements together into a single, coherent whole—autobiography, history, linguistics, literary criticism, and so on. Mizumura begins by examining language and writing from a very personal perspective before placing her experiences within a greater context. She shows how geopolitical circumstances allowed Japanese language and literature to initially develop and flourish and how those circumstances now place them in danger of becoming obsolete in the worldwide arena. Language, culture, and power are all inherently and inextricably intertwined. Though The Fall of Language in the Age of English warns of what could be lost if national languages and literatures are allowed to decline unabated, Mizumura doesn’t come across to me as fatalistic or alarmist, believing there is still time to establish efforts to nourish and ensure the preservation and importance of non-English languages, cultures, and literatures.

The Science of Attack on Titan

The Science of Attack on TitanAuthor: Rikao Yanagita
Illustrator: Maru Fujishima

Translator: Ko Ransom
U.S. publisher: Kodansha
ISBN: 9781632361851
Released: June 2015
Original release: 2014

Hajime Isayama’s ongoing manga series Attack on Titan has become a worldwide phenomenon, spawning multiple spinoff manga series, anime, live-action films, games, and other media and merchandise. The franchise has been such a resounding success that Kodansha Comics, the manga’s English-language publisher, has even broken its rule of not releasing anything that isn’t manga. The first exception was the Attack on Titan Guidebook: Inside & Outside. More recently, in 2015, Kodansha published Rikao Yanagita’s The Science of Attack on Titan as translated by Ko Ransom (who also happens to the translator for the guidebook and the Attack on Titan: Before the Fall novels, among other things.) Since I’m fascinated by Attack on Titan and its immense popularity, I was particularly glad to have the chance to read a review copy of The Science of Attack on Titan. The volume was originally published in Japan in 2014 and is the first work by Yanagita to have been released in English. Credited as the Senior Researcher of the Sci-F/Fantasy Science Research Institute, Yanagita is a fairly prolific writer who has authored other “The Science of” books as well.

The Science of Attack on Titan is divided into four main sections. The first and longest, “Surprising Titan Fundamentals,” focuses on the Titans, specifically investigating their strengths and weaknesses. Once Titans have been established as the fearsome creatures that they are, in the next section Yanagita asks and answers the question “What Should I Do If Titans Attack?!” Appropriately, this is followed by “Anti-Titan Measures: How Effective Are They Really?,” a section exploring in-series technologies such as the vertical maneuvering equipment. (Also included: an entire chapter devoted to the awesomeness of Levi.) The final section, “Simple Questions about Attack on Titan,” is a sort of catchall for remaining topics that didn’t really fit into the previously established categories. There are also shorter one-page investigations called “Lingering Fantasy Science Questions” scattered throughout the volume. Accompanying the text are relevant panels and pages taken from the Attack on Titan manga as well as additional illustrations by Maru Fujishima that can be quite humorous.

The Science of Attack on Titan, page 17Although the readers who will probably be the most interested in or at least the most likely to pick up The Science of Attack on Titan are those who are already familiar with Attack on Titan as a whole, it is only fair to give the warning that the volume does include spoilers for the franchise. Most are fairly minor, but there are a few major twists that are discussed as well. The Science of Attack on Titan is based on the original Attack on Titan series up through the thirteenth volume in addition to the first volume of the Attack on Titan: No Regrets spinoff manga, the Before the Fall prequel novels, and the Attack on Titan Guidebook. Unless readers are trying to avoid spoilers at all costs, they shouldn’t be too daunted by Yanagita’s thoroughness; only a basic knowledge of Attack on Titan, and its characters and setting is required to enjoy and understand The Science of Attack on Titan. There is no need to be well-versed in all aspects of the franchise in order to follow the book. The Science of Attack on Titan is approachable and friendly for novices in science, too.

The Science of Attack on Titan may be inspired by Attack on Titan, but for the most part Yanagita spends more time discussing real-world physics, chemistry, biology, history, technology, and such than he does Attack on Titan itself. The franchise simply provides an excuse or jumping off point to explore interesting scientific concepts and how they might or might not apply to the series. Unsurprisingly, Yanagita’s analysis shows that many aspects of Attack on Titan could be nothing but fantasy, but it’s very exciting when it appears that something from the series could actually work. The Science of Attack on Titan is written to be both entertaining and engaging, though how funny it is will depend on an individual’s personal sense of  humor. While Yanagita address serious science, he recognizes that Attack on Titan is a fictional work and that subjecting it to such critical scrutiny can be inherently funny. As a result, his approach in The Science of Attack on Titan is informal and comedic, but also informative. Ultimately, the volume’s greatest value is probably in encouraging those who are interested in Attack on Titan to discover just how cool real science can be. Even I learned a few things that I didn’t previously know.

Thank you to Kodansha for providing a copy of The Science of Attack on Titan for review.

A Sky Longing for Memories: The Art of Makoto Shinkai

A Sky Longing for MemoriesCreator: Makoto Shinkai
Translator: Maya Rosewood
U.S. publisher: Vertical
ISBN: 9781941220436
Released: June 2015
Original release: 2008

I was introduced to the work of Makoto Shinkai through his animated film 5 Centimeters per Second, which left a huge impression on me. The beautifully melancholic story about lost and unrequited love was simple enough, but the visuals were stunningly gorgeous. A Sky Longing for Memories: The Art of Makoto Shinkai is an artbook that was originally released in Japan in 2008, the year after 5 Centimeters per Second debuted. I was very pleased when Vertical Comics announced its intention to publish an English-language edition. That volume was ultimately released in 2015 with a translation by Maya Rosewood. Vertical hasn’t released very many artbooks, but A Sky Longing for Memories is a good fit for the publisher. Not only has Vertical published other nonfiction works about Japanese film, it has also released two Shinkai manga: 5 Centimeters per Second and The Garden of Words.

A Sky Longing for Memories primarily consists of stills and background artwork from four of Shinkai’s projects initially released between 2002 and 2007. Prominently featured are three of his animated films—5 Centimeters Per Second, The Place Promised in Our Early Days, and Voices of a Distant Star—as is the television commercial he created for Shinano Mainichi Shimbun, “Say Something Important.” More than half of A Sky Longing for Memories is devoted to 5 Centimeters Per Second, the volume opening with some of Shinkai’s most visually refined and impressive work. The three sections that follow are dedicated to each of the earlier films and “Say Something Important.” Also included in the volume is a glossary—useful for readers who are unfamiliar with some of the technical terms used in the animation industry—as well as “Makoto Shikai’s Colors,” a section exploring the methods and techniques used by Shinkai, and “Testimonials of Makoto Shinkai’s World,” a collection of brief interviews with Shinkai and ten other members of Shinkai Works.

Although A Sky Longing for Memories can simply be appreciated and enjoyed as a collection of stunning artwork, the volume also provides insight into the creative processes and artistic direction required to achieve such impressive images. Many of the individual pieces are accompanied by brief descriptions of the decisions that were made in their overall design in addition to the specific considerations and techniques used in their creation. It’s unclear who actually wrote much of the text in A Sky Longing for Memories, but from the context it would seem to either be one (or several) of Shikai’s staff members or someone else who was close to the work being done. Either way, I was glad for the inclusion of the various descriptions and explanations; I don’t have a strong background in visual art or design and so found A Sky Longing for Memories to be illuminating and intellectually stimulating as well as beautiful to look at.

One of the key components of Shinkai’s style is his use of color. With this in mind, Vertical has taken great care to faithfully reproduce Shinkai’s artwork in A Sky Longing for Memories; the volume uses thick, glossy paper on which the colors in particular are beautifully presented. Simply put, it’s a gorgeous book of gorgeous illustrations. A Sky Longing for Memories reveals Shinkai not only as a talented artist but also as a skilled director. While he solely handled almost every aspect of Voices of a Distant Star except for the film’s music, by the time 5 Centimeters per Second was produced Shinkai was guiding and coordinating the work of an entire staff. Interestingly, most of the team members were traditionally trained artists from outside of the animation industry who had to learn digital techniques and illustration methods on the job. As can be seen from A Sky Longing for Memories, the result of their combined efforts is spectacular.