New Online Course Trades Textbooks for Manga

Photo Credit Elizabeth Fernandez

Sarah DeMond/ Contributing Writer

 

Rachel Levine rang in her very first birthday in a Japanese restaurant. 

Even though she is not Japanese, the asiain studies professor spent her childhood surrounded by the culture. Now she is teaching a class on Japanese media, focussing on anime and manga

Anime is a Japanese style of cartoon, and is characterized by colorful and vibrant animation. It typically has an element of fantasy in its storyline. Manga is very similar in its elements, but it is read in a comic strip format. 

 The walls of Levine’s childhood home in upstate New York were embellished with Japanese art. Despite her family’s not being Japanese, and not knowing many Japanese people, consuming Japanese media was the norm in her family.

Her father, a historian of sorts, grew an intense and lifelong appreciation for the culture while studying World War II. This, paired with her growing up in the height of Sailor Moon, and Naruto’s popularity in America, “subconsciously influenced” as she puts it, her love of anime and manga that she still has today. 

“It wasn’t just a few, it was all of my friends that were into it. I was basically just hanging out with the nerds,” Levine laughs, recalling her anime crazed middle school experience. “My friend’s were in it for the entertainment value, whereas I seemed to just like the culture a lot.” 

Japanese Manga and Anime (ASN3202) is a fully online course that provides students with an introspective view of Japanese culture by  characters in popular anime and manga that have their roots in Japanese folklore.

That’s right all you kawaii quings, instead of cracking a textbook you could be swooning over episodes of Sailor Moon for homework. 

“I really kind of wanted to make the course personal to the student. I didn’t want to be like you need to read this, you need to watch that, you need to do this.” 

The bulk of the classwork will be analytical writing assignments and discussion boards. For some assignments, students will be able to choose whichever anime they’d like to analyze. 

Levine says this open format allows for a collaborative experience. 

“There are a lot of issues that come up that I want students to form their own opinions on, a main one being, does anime have to be Japanese? Is it possible for anime to be Korean or American or Vietnamese?” 

The midterm assignment requires students to look at American made cartoons, and view them in a different way by asking themselves, “Could this be anime?” 

Levine isn’t a hundred percent sure what her answer would be. 

“Seeing students form their own opinions on shows that they may have watched as a kid, and deciding for themselves, is going to be very interesting.” she said.

Levine’s primary field of study isn’t Asian Studies though. She is a gender scholar, focusing on gender roles, discrimination, performativity and sexual violence. The course takes a look at Shoujo, a category of anime that is marketed towards young girls. Typically, the anime follows a young girl on a romantic journey. 

“Of course when you look at something for young girls, gender is going to come into it. So a lot of the articles in the class about shoujo talk about how gender roles are changing, and how that change is reflective in the genre.”

Levine says it is important for students that are attending an International university, to experience media from other cultures.

“What I want students to take away from the course is that Japanese culture and society is multi-faceted and every aspect of culture reveals something about the society in which it is made.” Levine says.

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