With the conclusion of my doctoral research, I’m currently engaged in a number of independent projects which build upon my field of expertise and continue investigating production and consumption of popular culture. The research projects outlined below are currently developing in a number of directions, with an aim toward publications in 2020 and 2021.
The Magical Girl Genre and Transformations of Sex and Gender
The popularity the magical girl genre, and its targeted dispersal across a variety of audiences, has led to many developments in the production and consumption of the genre’s texts. In my doctoral research, I found that the media franchise Madoka Magica was being promoted across a wide spectrum of potential audiences-demographics, including men, women, and the average convenience store consumer. Far from being directly marketed toward, and assumed to be consumed predominately by, a young female audience, Madoka Magica — like other magical girl genre franchises — are being actively consumed and courted by producers as being for all audiences, disrupting a commonly assumed binary between “girls” and “boys” media in Japanese popular culture.
On a more textual level, the thematic content of magical girl genre texts has been shifting to incorporate elements outside traditional assumptions of female protagonists. Although gender and sex transformation have long been a convention in popular culture, over the course of the 2000s an increasing number of magical girls texts — including Ore to hīrō to mahō shōjo (I, Superhero and Magical Girl, 2014) and Binan kōkō chikyū bōei-bu LOVE! (Cute High Earth Defense Club Love!, 2015) — present renegotiation of a key convention within the genre: the centrality of the conceptual “girl”. Instead, in these texts men are becoming (or presenting in the coded normativity of) powerful girls; or, vice versa, girls transform into men to acquire power.
Creative Platforms and Design
One of the key aspects underpinning my research into the appeal of the magical girl genre, and Japanese popular culture more broadly in global contexts, is that many of the creative readings of established genres emerge from informal production practices, such as fan communities, or social media and independent publishing platforms. As such, this research has led me to visit amateur creative markets, speak with these creators, and look at how digital publishing platforms are opening avenues for their work to reach a wider audience than may have been possible through legacy media channels. Platforms such as itch.io foster community creativity through game jams, where globally-disparate creators can come together and work on projects relating to a central theme. What emerges from these jams are refrains that reflect a diversity of perspectives and interpretations on commonly-understood themes, emphasising both the original themes of the source works and their relevancy and applicability to global perspectives.
A podcast based on themes connected to this project is currently in production, collaborating with Aura Belle (game designer and Indie Game Design Network Groundbreaker 2016).
Grand (Non)Narrativity in Contemporary Media
A central part of my doctoral thesis was examining Madoka Magica as a clear example of what Azuma Hiroki conceptualises as a grand non-narrative — an aggregate of information, coded elements, and other fragments which combine together into a conceptual “whole”, but are absent a single unifying narrative. In Madoka Magica, this is witnessed through how throughout the published texts and marketing material, the characters and world are constantly shifting in position in space, time, and relationships with each other.
Of particular interest is how this concept then interacts with what I perceive as a common practice in Western fan and consumer culture to attempt to differentiate between true — or “canonical” — incarnations of particular elements and concepts, and their “non-canonical” incarnations. I aim to investigate the applicability of this grand non-narrative framework both within a Japanese context and abroad, with media franchises such as Blizzard’s Overwatch being direct examples of territories where the individual incarnations of characters and related elements are often at odds with their own alternate incarnations.
A paper emerging from this project, ‘Media mix and character marketing in Madoka Magica’, has been published in the East Asian Journal of Popular Culture.