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Reviewed by Ren Reyes, University of California San Diego, Email: avr009@ucsd.edu

Keywords:

Japanese culture, representation, media studies

Can manga be successfully used as a platform for social action? Yes, argues Yoshiko Okuyama in Reframing Disability in Manga. Using a selection of 5 conditions classified as disabilities in Japan, Okyuama shows the multiple ways that manga narratives can be highly educational about trans-cultural understandings of disability. The book is divided into two parts: Part I, which provides a well-written overview of contemporary disability theory as it relates to different media and Japanese culture, and Part II, the 5 case studies of disability categories that include deafness, physical disabilities, visual impairment, and the Japanese concept of gender identity disorder called seidoitsue shogai. 

What makes Reframing Disability in Manga most compelling is the nuance, personal insight, and care that Okyuama incorporates into the main arguments of the book. Her selection process for the manga narratives she uses as case studies reflects her argument that manga is an effective change agent for disability when disabled characters are not sidelined and forced into stereotypical, marginalized roles. Each chapter in Part II is organized very cleverly to facilitate discussion of overarching themes throughout the manga narratives described within her chosen disability categories. Okuyama includes the manga cover and a brief summary of the manga, noting relevant details such as the circumstances surrounding its publication and locating it within a larger timeline of the works created by the mangaka (manga author). The organization of the case studies is reminiscent of the chapter organization of The Body Multiple by Annemarie Mol, which allows the reader to follow multiple threads of thought within a chapter without forcing the author to bounce between a case study and theory. Okyuama’s writing is easy to follow with clearly demarcated boundaries between the case studies and discussions of concepts that bridge the case studies.

This book, or a selection of chapters that include the Introduction and Part I, would be a strong reading to assign in classes that discuss disability representation in multiple media formats and/or cultures. Some of the disability studies topics Okyuama covers include the medical and social disability models, neurodiversity, narrative prosthesis, the supercrip, and Foucault’s theory of abnormality. These are explained alongside Japanese understandings of the Other through histories of folklore and contemporary tropes that have evolved in Japanese culture. Crucially, Okyuama does not assume any background knowledge from her reader and explains many details in such a way that a reader who had little to no background in either subject could grasp the importance of each of these topics. This is especially helpful given that the audience of this book likely has an interest in disability studies or manga and would like to learn more about how they work together. It is apparent that she is writing from a place of care and her own lived experience as a caretaker.  

Reframing Disability in Manga joins a collection of works that give great depth of insight into the cultural differences between disability in Japan compared to other countries. The book centers Japanese culture while drawing clear connections between much of contemporary disability studies theory. Okuyama’s warm, welcoming writing style allows her to present a lot of information in a way that engages the reader instead of overwhelming the reader, making it a pleasure to read.

Works Cited

Foucault, Michel. 2004. Abnormal: Lectures at the College de France, 1974-1975. New York: Picador.

Mol, Annemarie. The Body Multiple: Ontology in Medical Practice. Duke University Press, 2002. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv1220nc1.
Okuyama, Yoshiko. Reframing Disability in Manga. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2020. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvn1tbm8

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