MECHADEMIA VOL. 3: LIMITS OF THE HUMAN

Posted On January - 4 - 2009
  RELEASED BY:   UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA PRESS
  ADAPTATION / ART:  

FRENCHY LUNNING

  PAGES:   303
  RELEASE DATE:   11/05/2008
  REVIEW DATE:   12/04/2009
  REVIEWED BY:   SCOTT CAMPBELL



Japan's pop culture, once believed non-exportable, is now hitting the shores of other nations like a tsunami. In North America, young fans consume vast amounts of manga and anime, while academics increasingly study the entire J-pop phenomenon to understand it. One community has passion while the other has discipline, and what has been lacking is a bridge between the two. Mechademia is the bridge, and with a name like that, how can you really go wrong? Mechademia is a series of books, published by the University of Minnesota Press, devoted to creative and critical work on anime, manga, and the fan arts. Linked through their specific but complex aesthetic, anime, manga, and the fan arts have influenced a wide array of contemporary and historical culture through design, art, film, and gaming. This series seeks to examine, discuss, theorize, and reveal this unique style through its historic Japanese origins and its ubiquitous global presence and manifestation in popular and gallery culture. Each book is organized around a particular narrative aspect of anime and manga; these themes are sufficiently provocative and broad in interpretation to allow for creative and insightful investigations of this global artistic phenomenon.

Though not itself a graphic novel, Mechademia is an inevitable – and arguably necessary-by-product of the anime and manga craze, imported from Japan and embraced by the West. The debut annual journal creates an accessible, regular form for scholars, critics, and fans to discuss the latest and greatest in the phenomenal pop-culture world of graphic novels and beyond. This book is a fascinating read into the many different aspects of history and culture of Japan and how it has affected the world, as well as how it may have affected you yourself.

Limits of the Human — the third volume in the Mechademia series — maps the terrain of post humanity using manga and anime as guides and signposts to understand how to think about humanity’s new potentialities and limits. Through a wide range of texts—the folklore-inspired monsters that populate Mizuki Shigeru’s manga; Japan’s Gothic Lolita subculture; Tezuka Osamu’s original cyborg hero, Atom, and his manga version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (along with Ôtomo Katsuhiro’s 2001 anime film adaptation); the robot anime, Gundam; and the notion of the uncanny in Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, among others—the essays in this volume reject simple human/nonhuman dichotomies and instead encourage a provocative rethinking of the definitions of humanity along entirely unexpected frontiers. Dramatic advances in genetics, cloning, robotics, and nanotechnology have given rise to both hopes and fears about how technology might transform humanity. As the possibility of a post human future becomes increasingly likely, debates about how to interpret or shape this future abound. In Japan, anime and manga artists have for decades been imagining the contours of post humanity, creating dazzling and sometimes disturbing works of art that envision a variety of human/nonhuman hybrids: biological/mechanical, human/animal, and human/monster. Anime and manga offer a constellation of post human prototypes whose hybrid natures require a shift in our perception of what it means to be human, and this book makes such ideas generally understandable and accessible to the reader.

You might not know what to think about a book like this just from looking at the cover or skimming the inside – so it really must be said that this is a very insightful and involving work that most anime fans at a higher maturity level would get a lot out of. The ideas and thoughts presented within the book (and there are A LOT of them) are extremely insightful and thought provoking – all sorts of questions will arise and likely change the way you look at anime, manga, and even the future of mankind as we know it. At times it is a great history lesson, but more of the time it is an engrossing psychological “picking apart” of many of our favourite anime in ways that we can easily understand, despite the complexities. This book doesn’t just talk about anime and Japanese culture – it relates these things to ideas and concepts that may be a real part of our lives in the near future, if they aren’t already so. It must also be said that it can often be hard to find someone who we are able to have a truly stimulating conversation with about deeper subjects relating to an anime or manga we have enjoyed – but with this book there are hundreds of ideas and nuances to ponder over. And better still, the book also discusses many concepts relating to Asian studies and popular culture within Japan and how this culture has affected many other parts of the world. It’s a smart read, but never so smart that it gets ahead of itself or that it isn’t understandable. It has a really great balance, and could easily be recommended to any anime fan with a thirst for insight beyond just watching a show, or being a fan.

Frenchy Lunning (author/editor) is professor of liberal arts at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and also editor of Mechademia 1: Emerging Worlds of Anime and Manga, and Mechademia 2: Networks of Desire.
 


IN SUMMARY: 
Mechademia: Limits of the Human is an insightful look into some complex subjects relating to Japanese popular culture, anime, manga, as well as the very state of human consciousness as we know it. This series of books is like no other – a very interesting read if you are looking for something a bit “outside the box.”

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