As a person deeply involved in the area of manga studies and research, Jaqueline Berndt holds a variety of important positions related to the field. She is a professor of manga studies at Kyoto Seika University, acting head of the Graduate School of Manga as well as serves as vice director of the International Manga Research Center at the Kyoto International Manga Museum. As vice director of the center, she organised the annual International Manga Studies Conference from 2009 to 2011 and edited its essay collections. These include Comics Worlds and the World of Comics (2009) and Intercultural Crossovers, Transcultural Flows: Manga/Comics (2010) which are available both in English and Japanese. She has also authored, co-authored and edited a number of notable books in addition to her numerous essays which include Manga Biken - Toward an Aesthetics of Comics (2002), Reading Manga: Local and Global Perceptions of Japanese Comics, co-authored with Steffi Richter (2006) and Manhwa Manga Manhua: East Asian Comics Studies (2012). Her background in aesthetic theory and cultural comparison grounds her approach to manga research and her research interests concern the aesthetics of comics/manga and the role of manga among readers of the wider society after the 3.11 nuclear crisis.
Online articles she has written for the Goethe Institut on 'Manga in the German-speaking World' and the 'Intercultural Potential for Comics Research' are accessible via her university profile page. A renowned academic in manga studies, she has lectured around the world in places such as the Ateneo de Manila University in Philippines and at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Q1. You mentioned together with some examples of young Japanese kids and your students that 'most manga readers have no interest in linking the manga they read with social problems or politics'. Contrasting your research interests and the different perspectives held by audiences, how do you think students and teachers can be on the same page when trying to study manga as a serious academic subject?
In contrast to the concept of students learning from teachers, I think there are many opportunities for professors to learn from students. Interestingly, students usually know more about manga than me, or say, other professors. Conversely, I know more about methodologies which students can learn from as many students who are fans are not able to put their tastes or experiences into a language which strangers can understand. The basic purpose of scholarship is to cross contexts; not to be dependent on one specific context but to make knowledge or experiences available across times, countries and generations. University classes help facilitate such exchanges between different backgrounds, genders, tastes, intellectual and aesthetic backgrounds.
In addition, when engaged in academic studies, it is also important to be opened to the idea of being surprised by new [art]works. More often, theories are first learnt and then applied to examining actual works. While theory is important, nothing new is revealed from the examined works if theories are applied mechanically. Doing so only confirms things one already knows. It is crucial to keep an open mind to the variety of aesthetic experiences and probe deeper into one's feelings when reading manga as these can also be good starting points for study.
Q2. In earlier discussions you mentioned some difficulties in manga research. For example, some critiques accuse manga researchers of 'just being interested in the [Japanese government's] grant money'. What do you feel are the most important yet overlooked aspects of manga and its contribution to society?
Firstly, manga research isn't directly related to the manga industry as the latter sees little importance in studying manga for intellectual purposes. Funding for manga research therefore has to come from the government. Nobody can foresee the kind of consumer demands in the future so one of the tasks of manga research would be to maintain a range of options rather than to raise narrow specialists to respond to the present needs of the industry. Coming up with a few different perspectives rather than just relying on one methodology is important so that we can weigh the merits of each option in order to arrive at a proposal when approaching problems in manga culture.
Secondly, related to this point about the future of the industry, we need to look at areas beyond the dominating scope of economics. Manga has shown itself to be a great tool of communication among people as big newspapers sponsored by the big power companies fail to convey information during the nuclear crisis. Manga can fill the gap created by a lack of information and biases due to political censorship because it is a possible site of exchange - of feelings, fears and hopes related to nuclear power among people. In this sense, manga studies is much broader than it seems because research has so far been more interested in fujoshi, otaku and fans in general and has left out the average readers - those who don't consider themselves 'fans'. While it is important to take fandom seriously, to acknowledge the productivity and creativity in such activities, we should also be paying attention to the multitude of voices which have tended to be left out of manga research.
Q3. What do you see as upcoming challenges or tasks ahead for people such as yourself doing manga research in the manga industry?
Manga, anime and games are receiving a lot of attention in Asia, but only in production, business or the content industry. Rather than mainly focusing on producing future artists, I feel that universities can afford to nurture creative readership because readers too are a part of the future of the manga industry. For example, if readers' tastes are not flexible enough to support unique and new works of young artists, this can negatively affect the future of the industry.
Manga studies is also not a discipline in itself and therefore does not have one sole methodology or a specific way to approach a topic. While this is a problem, it also presents new possibilities. For example, it requires good team work and communication with others in the field. Furthermore, the numerous social critiques against the content of manga and fans alike forces us to broaden our view of manga - to learn multiple positions and check communication between different dispositions or context. Because of this, scholars are also constantly challenged to revise their methodologies. People, myself included, may go to Comike and think everything looks the same but what defines originality and creativity is always changing. One is forced to rethink what constitutes authorship and artwork in these parodies, fanzines or works you find at Comike. Manga really challenges you to relativise your notion of fanart work. Consquently, while traditional scholars may be more interested in asking about the meanings in manga I think it is also important to ask what manga does in terms of interrelationships between the text and reader.
In terms of other kinds of scholarship outside manga studies, scholars not necessarily specialised in comics but use comics as study materials need to have a good knowledge about the specific context in which manga is read. When reading a manga series, one may have an impression of certain elements in volume one, but through further reading get used to these elements and no longer view them the same way one did at the beginning. So it makes a difference if a viewer sees an image for the first time or the hundredth time and if a reader is familiar with comics or not. Understanding the act of reading as a continual process and thnking about whether we are dealing with seasoned or inexperienced readers are important because they clearly affect how manga is read.