Syllabi, continued

Sorry for the wait, I’m afraid that I got rather busy, then sick, then busy catching up from being sick… it’s been hectic. I’ve got a few things in progress on this blog, and the lack of recent progress on them is due entirely to the busy-sick-busy-ness of my recent life. I haven’t forgotten any of it, though, I promise.

To pick up on the theoretical syllabus for an anime course that I’ve been making, my thoughts have been running along the lines of “how would I organize the class?” I don’t mean in terms of class discussion versus lecture versus Blackboard postings, I mean how will I set up the course so that it builds to a conclusion in a natural manner. I could (easily) go into a classroom and lecture on Miyazaki one day, cyberpunk anime the next, production methods on day three and so on until three months pass and the students have learned a smattering of this and that but don’t have a coherent body of work to take with them in the future. That wouldn’t be very good use of anyone’s time though.

I’m leaning toward using the question “what do anime tell us about Japan?” as an organizing principle. Now, I’m a bit leery of that, for a number of reasons. But I think that it fits into the real world of college (i.e. department structure, diversity and other class requirements) very well, and I think it would let me tie together a number of disparate issues that I think ought to be covered.

I considered other organizational structures, but they feel off to me in various ways. For example, I could start with early animation and move my way up through time to today, looking at what issues were covered when and how alongside evolving production techniques. That has the benefit of giving students a better basis for judging whether a work is derivative or actually represents something new and interesting. However, that also limits discussion in a number of ways, and emphasizes technical aspects, like the CGI or hand-drawing debate, over the issues discussed in individual works.

So, back to the theoretical syllabus as it stands. Focused on seeing what anime tells us about Japan, we start reading a chapter of Peach Girl in class on the first day and then watching the first episode of the anime version. Right off the bat, we’re both problematizing the idea of judging anime without knowledge of the materials on which it was based (assuming it isn’t an original). Then we segue into talking about what the anime tells us about Japan/life in Japan. We can start with simple things – school uniforms, how people refer to each other. But that sets us up for the semester: What do we learn about Japan through anime? If its students wear uniforms, why is that? What does that tell us about the society? In turn, what do the things we learn about Japan tell us about the United States and our lives here?

Hopefully, that will get them thinking.



Inspired in part by talk at Dr. Crazy’s about syllabi (here and here), and challenged by a friend, I’ve been thinking about making a sample syllabus for a course for fun and practice recently. (Wild times at my house, my friends.) The challenge was for an intro contemporary Japanese literature course, but after giving it some thought I don’t feel ready to make a syllabus for that topic yet. Japanese literature isn’t my thing. I’m intending, should I ever make it into a Ph.D. program, to study it more, and I’ve been consciously reading much more of it (in both English and Japanese) recently, but I’m not at that level yet.

I actively avoided modern Japanese literature for a long time. I don’t like I-novels, and since I was such an immature scholar it wasn’t as though I lacked things to study. I’ve taken several courses now that either focused on or included decent chunks of premodern Japanese lit, so despite my contemporary pop culture interests I’m more comfortable with premodern than modern lit. After a lot of thought, I ended up deciding to try making a syllabus for an intro course on anime and manga.

I’m working on that now. I seem to think about syllabi a bit differently from my friend and Dr. Crazy. I can’t just come up with a list of things I want to cover, I have to organize them more. For example, I was thinking that if the class was longer (two or three hours) – which is the length of the pop culture courses I’ve taken in the past – a good way to deal with the first day would be to do all of the standard introductions, have them read the first chapter or two of Peach Girl and then show the first episode of the anime. If I were just making a list of stuff that I felt was important enough to cover, Peach Girl would never make it on there. But when I start thinking about what issues I want to cover, the relationship between anime and manga comes up. The first episode of Peach Girl stands out in my mind as a perfect example of taking each picture and word from the manga directly to the screen and animating the necessary bridging movements. Showing the students such a plain adaptation going in would, I hope, set them up to look for more complex adaptations in everything else we watch.

That’s about as far as I’ve gotten. I’ve got some ideas for themes and concepts that I would want to cover, but I have to figure out how to best get it all together. I think this project might take awhile, but I’m excited about it. After I get a syllabus done for this course, I think I might make one for a course on Japanese film. If the beginning of the anime course came to me quickly, the end of the film course is just early; naturally, Millennium Actress would be perfect last-day viewing.