Manga and multimodal analysis


In his analysis of Tagame Gengoroh’s Ero SM Manga, William Armour has quite a lot of interesting points to make… seems to me manga, as a form, has a lot to offer in the classroom, especially in terms of multimodal analysis (possibly more tame manga than Gengoroh Tagame’s for a school setting!, but the analyses on offer can still be kept in mind).

He writes: “Given that manga have the important characteristic of employing words and images that construct texts organised into sequential units (Saraceni, 2003, p. 5), I have also drawn on multimodal analysis to understand the way in which Tagame constructs sexual identities. In the afterword to Kimi yo shiru ya minami no goku (Do You Remember the South Island’s POW Camp? [hereafter SIPOW]), Tagame identifies byōga (the drawing of each panel), hyōgen (language), and kōzō (layout) as the three crucial elements of this work (Tagame, 2007, p. 400). Each of these elements, termed ‘‘modes’’, does a specific kind of semiotic work (Kress, 2010). Furthermore, since the interaction between modes is ‘‘inextricably shaped and construed by social, cultural and historical factors’’ (Jewitt, 2009, p. 22), it is appropriate to use multimodal analysis to engage in an interdisciplinary reading of Tagame’s manga.” (446) [and other manga, too???!!!]

Armour’s analysis of Gengoroh:

Abstract: Tagame Gengoroh (1964–) is a Japanese manga writer who specialises in erotic gay male SM themed comics. Though prolific and having a substantial cult following in his native Japan, parts of the US and Europe, his work has not received the academic attention it deserves. This essay explores how Tagame constructs masculinity in three stories set in the context of wartime Japan. By drawing on several interdisciplinary areas to inform my reading of these narratives, I argue that, while on one level Tagame presents stories as graphic cartoon porn, on another level he weaves into the images and wording a much deeper sense of how homosociality can easily transform into homosexuality, despite his male characters being positioned as examples of hegemonic masculinity. The essay comments on how Tagame deterritorialises characters associated with wartime Japan such as the soldier, the POW and the kenpeitai by requiring them to engage in acts not typical of any definition of hegemonic masculinity, and then reterritorialises them into creating equally complex and horror-filled homosexual utopias.” (443)

“By transgressing a range of socially constructed taboos, Tagame depicts in microcosm how some human beings live their lives to understand and reflect on what makes them tick. Like Marilyn Wesley (Adams, 2008, p. 1), I am interested in how Tagame uses manga to comment on socio-cultural assumptions about these taboos.” (444)

Tagame … invests in an emotional vulnerability, traditionally invisible in the representation of men.” (445) 

“It has been argued that ‘‘it was through rigid social construction of the masculine that men were linked to the state. The power of the state flowed through a network of disciplinary codes and institutions intent on conformity, discipline and submission’’ (Low, 2003, p. 83). Tagame therefore positions the kenpeitai, described as ‘‘ruthless’’ and often involved in ‘‘bestial torture’’ (Lamont-Brown, 1994, p. 163, p. 165), as the signifier of one form of hegemonic masculinity imbued with powers enacted by statebased hegemonic institutions run by men to engage in acts that don’t conform to hegemonic masculinity – namely, homosex.” (453)

Armour explains that he explores “Tagame’s transgression of a range of social taboos in terms of the construction of masculinities drawing upon the trope of the carnival” (461) and concludes: “In commenting on the socio-cultural assumptions about these taboos, I conclude by applying Stephens’ (1999) view about Genet’s work to Tagame’s manga – that is, ‘‘all macho spectacularises masculinity, extravagantly enacting something that traditionally represents itself as natural and authentic’’ (Stephens, 1999, p. 60).” (461)

Tagame’s use of montage forces the reader to engage in scopophilia or love of looking. The sex scenes in which white, black and Japanese men are not just touching but penetrating a Japanese man’s body also encourage a type of ‘‘homosexualised hysteria’’. The medium of manga also allows Tagame to create something that cinematic pornography can never achieve – that is, making explicit what is happening inside the victim’s body – and this adds to the carnal savagery Apel so aptly describes.” (458)

“Part of Tagame’s project is to take hetero-normative storylines and homo-eroticise them through processes of deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation.” (461)

Methodologies used:

Susan Napier picked up the motif of matsuri, applying Bakhtin’s term ‘‘carnival’’, to explore narrative structure and themes in several anime (Napier, 2001). ‘‘Carnival’’ is ‘‘a liminal period of topsy-turvy . . . [that] for a brief moment norms are transgressed or actually inverted. The weak hold power, sexual and gender rules are broken or reversed, and a state of manic intensity replaces conventional restraint’’ (Napier, 2001, p. 13). Since ‘‘carnival is a playful approach or a comic art form of social, political and cultural protest and resistance to the serious, dogmatic and authoritarian world’’, it subverts by transgressing experience and this ‘‘transforms power through degradation, disarrangement and deconstruction’’ (Tam, 2010, p. 177, p. 178). Napier suggests that, like the carnival in the West, ‘‘the liminal space of the festival [that is matsuri] allows for a kind of controlled chaos’’ (Napier, 2001, p. 30; my insertion).” (444)

Deleuze’s rhizomic notions of deterritorialisation/reterritorialisation are also useful, especially when related to the transformative trope of the matsuri/carnival. Deterritorialisation is ‘‘the breaking up of order, boundaries and form to produce movement and growth’’ and reterritorialisation is ‘‘the reestablishment of order, boundaries and forms to produce stable embodiments or static identities’’ (Sutton and Martin-Jones, 2008, pp. 142–43).” (445)

Ref: William S. Armour (2010): Representations of the Masculine in Tagame Gengoroh’s Ero SM Manga , Asian Studies Review, 34:4, 443-465

Of the references he cites, a number look interesting (his summary of a couple I include here, with the pagination indicating where in Armour’s article he writes this…):

Adams, Jon Robert (2008) Male armor: The soldier-hero in contemporary American culture (Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press).  [p.462 “Adams points out that society demands a link between rationality and men (Adams, 2008, p. 5).”]

Allison, Anne (2000) Permitted and prohibited desires: Mothers, comics, and censorship in Japan (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press).

Carr, Michael (1994) Yamato-Damashii ‘Japanese spirit’ definitions. International Journal of Lexicography 7(4), pp. 279–306.

Igarashi, Yoshikuni (2000) Bodies of memory: Narratives of war in postwar Japanese culture, 1945–1970 (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press).  [P445 “Igarashi is interested in how memories were discursively constructed through bodily tropes.”  P454 “the fact that Japan remembers the war through the discursive construction of bodily tropes and kokutai (literally ‘‘body of the country’’) or ‘‘a healthy national body’’ is a case in point (Igarashi, 2000, p. 5). Tagame deterritorialises kokutai making it nikutai (flesh). Igarashi (2000, p. 13) argues that ‘. . . the discursively constructed body becomes the central site for the reconfiguration of Japan’s national image. Japanese bodies had already been at the heart of nationalist discourse before 1945 . . . The wartime regime subjected Japanese bodies to rigid regulations: it attempted to create obedient, nationalist bodies by forging ties between nationalist ideology and bodily functions…’”]

Jewitt, Carey (2009) An introduction to multimodality, in Carey Jewitt (ed.), The Routledge handbook of multimodal analysis, pp. 14–27 (London and New York: Routledge).

Kaplan, Danny and Niza Yanay (2006) Fraternal friendship and commemorative desire. Social Analysis 50(1), pp. 127–46.   [P457 “Kaplan and Yanay (2006) research a variety of cultural sites associated with male bonding, such as combat….”]

Kress, Gunther (2010) Multimodality: A social semiotic approach to contemporary communication (London and New York: Routledge).

Low, Morris (2003) The emperor’s sons go to war: Competing masculinities in modern Japan, in Kam Louie and Morris Low (eds), Asian masculinities: The meaning and practice of manhood in China and Japan, pp. 81–99 (London and New York: RoutledgeCurzon).

McClintock, Anne (2009) Paranoid empire: Specters from Guanta´namo and Abu Ghraib. small axe 28, pp. 50–74.

Mirzoeff, Nicholas (2006) Invisible empire: Visual culture, embodied spectacle, and Abu Ghraib. Radical History Review 95, pp. 21–44.

Morton, John (2008) Poofters taking the piss out of Anzacs: The (un-)Australian wit of Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Anthropological Forum 18(3), pp. 219–34.

Nakar, Eldad (2003) Memories of pilots and planes: World War II in Japanese manga, 1957–1967. Social Science Japan Journal 6(1), pp. 57–76.

Napier, Susan J. (2001) Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke: Experiencing contemporary Japanese animation (New York: Palgrave).

Napier, Susan J. (2007) From impressionism to anime: Japan as fantasy and fan cult in the mind of the West (New York: Palgrave Macmillan).

Penney, Matthew (2007) ‘‘War fantasy’’ and reality – ‘‘War as entertainment’’ and counter-narratives in Japanese popular culture. Japanese Studies 27(1), pp. 35–52.

Saraceni, Mario (2003) The language of comics (London and New York: Routledge).

Shibusawa, Naoko (2006) America’s geisha ally: Reimagining the Japanese enemy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).

Silverberg, Miriam (2006) Erotic grotesque nonsense: The mass culture of Japanese modern times (Berkeley: University of California Press).

Slaymaker, Douglas N. (2004) The body in postwar Japanese fiction (London: RoutledgeCurzon).

Steven Cohan and Ina Rae Hark (eds), Screening the male: Exploring masculinities in Hollywood cinema, (London and New York: Routledge).

Tam, Po-chi (2010) The implications of Carnival theory for interpreting drama pedagogy. RIDE: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance 15(2), pp. 175–92.

Wilson, Sandra (2006) Family or state? Nation, war, and gender in Japan, 1937–45. Critical Asian Studies 38(2), pp. 209–38.

Wilson, Sandra (2008) War, soldier and nation in 1950s Japan. International Journal of Asian Studies 5(2), pp. 187–218.

Yoshioka, Hiroshi (2002) The invisible male body. Filozofski vestnik XXIII(2), pp. 111–17.

Two articles on websites also looked interesting:

Don’t call pop culture art – it’s rubbish for a critique of popular culture, available at–its-rubbish-20100209-npjc.html

Dino Felluga, ‘Modules on Butler: On performativity. Introductory guide to critical theory’.28 November 2003, Purdue University. Available at


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