Sharalyn Orbaugh

Professor

Relevant Degree Programs

 

Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - May 2019)
Beyond 8-bit : trauma and social relevance in Japanese video games (2016)

This dissertation examines three Japanese video games, each of which critically engages with a different social issue or national trauma important to Japan. I argue that video games are important not only as cultural phenomena, but because, as media, they can and do bring about profound positive emotional and behavioral changes in our lives. This project builds on current research in Japanese studies and game studies by elucidating how narrative and gameplaymechanics communicate practical knowledge to potential victims, and how playing a game might instill both an understanding of one’s own life and empathy for the lives of others. Each chapter contains an analysis of a socially relevant video game and a corresponding discussion of the specific hallmarks of Japanese game design that promote players’ empathetic engagement.Chapter one analyzes natural disaster trauma in the PlayStation survival game Disaster Report (Irem, 2002, 2003 North America). I discuss how the game teaches real-world survival skills to players, and how it uses “limited engagement,” or a form of enforced vulnerability, to simulate what it would be like to survive an earthquake. Chapter two examines anxiety over Japan’s declining birthrate and aging population as represented in the puzzle game Catherine (Atlus, 2011). I introduce the concept of self-reflexivity or “distanced engagement” to contend that players critically reflect on their own lives through the act of answering in-game opinion polls about marriage and childbirth. Finally, chapter three investigates the working through of post-traumatic stress and wartime atrocities in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (Kojima Productions, 2015). I illustrate how the game deploys ludic strategies of “external engagement” to encourage a merging of the player’s lived experience with the actions of the in-game protagonist. The result is that players feel more direct involvement in the game content. In sum, these affective tools simulate and allow players to “experience” different social situations to which they are unaccustomed, prompt them to critically reflect on their lives and values along the way, and, just maybe, help them transport what they have learned outside the confines of the game in order to enrich their everyday lives.

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Changes in the conceptualization of body and mind in Japanese popular culture, 1950 - 2015 (2016)

This dissertation investigates changes in the conceptualizations of technologically-enhanced beings and bodies in contemporary Japanese science fiction anime, manga, and literature. These stories/images and real-life transitions make us consider such issues as what constitutes the body, how the body is now changing, and what the relationship between the body and the self/mind might be. In order to understand ourselves and contemporary conditions and issues, which occur in specific relation to differences inherent in each body—sex, race, disability, disease, and so on—it is essential to analyze these changes in body notions as contemporary visual media themselves critique and discuss them.Emerging from a close reading of texts from the 1950s to the 2010s, and utilizing theories from Donna Haraway, Yōrō Takeshi, and others, this project argues that, since the 1950s, Japanese popular culture has created a wide range of imagined technological bodies, the depiction of which engages with important philosophical and ethical questions. In addition, although some works from the 2000s and 2010s present sentient beings that are essentially bodiless, we see a generally steady trend toward an emphasis on the importance of the material body, as well as increasing monism as opposed to Cartesian dualism. Another trend exposed through this study is the surprising persistence of the categories of sex, gender, and sexuality, even in depictions that are otherwise radically posthuman.

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Non-binary trans subjects : exiting the attachment to the transgender metanarrative of man/woman (2016)

This dissertation examines the emergence of what I call the Transgender Metanarrative. It demonstrates how the Transgender Metanarrative functions as a form of confessional identity politics and biopower, in line with the sex and gender binary, by elevating awareness of binary transpeople (transmen/boys and transwoman/girls) while excluding non-binary trans subjects (trans subjects who identify as neither man nor woman). It investigates the ramifications and pervasive effects of this Transgender Metanarrative whereby some parts of the trans movement have created a new sex/gender binary in their attempts to escape it in the first place. The Transgender Metanarrative has exclusionary consequences in further marginalizing people who identify without a gender or gender(s) beyond man and woman. My research focuses on the early twenty-first century’s transgender phenomenon in academia (‘transgender/trans studies’), social discourse (legislative efforts and organizational policies), and popular culture (particularly fiction and non-fiction film). The film analysis identifies in both binary trans and non-binary trans films key thematic motifs that work to cement the ideology of the Transgender Metanarrative, while signaling an emerging counter-culture of non-binary trans discourse that poses a direct challenge to society’s binary-based understanding of gender and transgender. Using film analysis and poststructuralist theory, particularly queer theory, the dissertation calls for a critical deconstruction of the Transgender Metanarrative. I posit that a non-binary notion of gender will influence gender studies the same way queer theory has influenced understandings of sexuality. My identification as a non-binary transperson is employed as a form of feminist positionality and queer methodology throughout the text. I call this methodology an autoethnography of disidentification (Muñoz), to by reasserting non-binary transgender subjectivity to disrupt the hegemonic Transgender Metanarrative. This intervention happens in both visual (images) and written form. My autoethnography of disidentification, challenges Butler’s theory of gender performativity to make an autonomous break with the ‘doing’ before the ‘being’ of gender identity. I argue that this creative autonomous break allows for non-binary genders to be imagined and recognized. The autoethnography of disidentification articulates my non-binary subjective experience in order to invite the reader/viewer to understand the social reality for a non-binary transperson.

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A world like ours : gay men in Japanese novels and films, 1989-2007 (2014)

This dissertation examines representations of gay men in contemporary Japanese novels and films produced from around the beginning of the 1990s so-called gay boom era to the present day. Although these were produced in Japanese and for the Japanese market, and reflect contemporary Japan’s social, cultural and political milieu, I argue that they not only articulate the concerns and desires of gay men and (other queer people) in Japan, but also that they reflect a transnational global gay culture and identity. The study focuses on the work of current Japanese writers and directors while taking into account a broad, historical view of male-male eroticism in Japan from the Edo era to the present. It addresses such issues as whether there can be said to be a Japanese gay identity; the circulation of gay culture across international borders in the modern period; and issues of representation of gay men in mainstream popular culture products. As has been pointed out by various scholars, many mainstream Japanese representations of LGBT people are troubling, whether because they represent “tourism”—they are made for straight audiences whose pleasure comes from being titillated by watching the exotic Others portrayed in them—or because they are made by and for a female audience and have little connection with the lives and experiences of real gay men, or because they circulate outside Japan and are taken as realistic representations by non-Japanese audiences. In this dissertation I argue that positive, supportive, indeed overtly political messages can be found, even in texts with problematical representations. I show that, over the nearly twenty year period covered by the novels and films I study, it is possible to discern a tendency towards less stereotyped, and more overtly political, portrayals. The novels and films I discuss in this dissertation represent a disparate range of genres, producers, and representations, and characters who are straight, gay, bisexual, transgender and transsexual. Yet all have in common the universal themes of overcoming or becoming, ranging from journeys to coming out, growing up, and finding the self to stories of triumphing over homophobia and prevailing over discrimination.

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Dreams from below : Yumeno Kyūsaku and subculture literature in Japan (2013)

Since the middle of the 2000s and the rise of Cool Japan, manga, anime, video games, Japanese horror films and J-Pop music are more popular than ever throughout the world. Both in Japan and abroad, these popular culture products are often synonymous with subculture. Sabukaruchā, as it is known in Japan, is a hot topic even as the concept itself remains unresolved. In this context, what role does literature—a field no longer atop the cultural hierarchy—have to do with the ongoing negotiation of what subculture means in modern Japan? The elements of what we now consider subcultural media and narratives have roots in the literature of past decades, and in this dissertation I explore the possibility of a new analytical framework: “subculture literature.”By thinking of subculture as a reception category—not unlike cult film—rather than in terms of concrete genres such as manga or anime, I adopt the concept of “subcultural affects” to examine notions of marginality and how society defines itself (and responds to external definitions). Similar to what might be considered narrative elements in a literary context, subcultural affects are the aspects of a text that are drawn out by readers to form affective constellations predicated on minorness.As a case study, I turn to the texts and reception of Yumeno Kyūsaku (1889-1936), a writer of mystery fiction who, despite achieving modest popular success in the late 1920s and early 1930s, was largely forgotten until his writing was revived in the context of 1960s sub- and counter-culture. For a politically-engaged youth, Kyūsaku offered an alternative model of being in the world: romantic and darkly comic, and engaged with questions of authority and madness. But how was his work received when it was written? Using the subcultural affects of henkaku, nansensu and dochaku, I consider the long-term reception of Kyūsaku’s work as a way to begin to bridge not only the gaps between historical eras, but between center and margin, major and minor, and popular and elite.

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Apocalypticism in postwar Japanese fiction (2011)

This dissertation discusses modern Japanese apocalyptic fiction in novels, manga narratives, and animated films. It begins with an overview of the apocalyptic tradition from ancient times to the modern day, and reveals the ways in which apocalyptic narratives have changed due to major socio-cultural transitions. It focuses on two themes of apocalyptic narratives: the relationship between self and Other; and the opposition of conflicting values such as life/death and natural/artificial. Through a close study of these themes in apocalyptic fictions in postwar Japan, it becomes clear that such narratives primarily target a male audience and function as a tool to stabilize the damaged identities of the nation and the modern individual after the defeat in World War II.The study focuses on the period of transition after the end of World War II: Until the 1970s, Japanese apocalyptic narratives, targeting adult men, attempted to bring ideals into reality in order to reestablish the damaged national identity. The failures of social movements in the 1960s meant that it was no longer possible for Japanese to participate in real movements that aimed to counter the United States as threatening Other. This is reflected in the shift in apocalyptic narratives from the 1980s onward toward quests for ideals in fictional settings, targeted at younger males.After 1995, the Japanese apocalypse becomes totally postmodernized and explicitly targeted at young boys. Apocalypse after 1995 features characters who lack serious interpersonal relationships and those who inhabit an endless and changeless simulacrum world. It becomes difficult for the youth to establish their identities as mature members of society, for they are increasingly losing their connections with the wider community. In the contemporary Japanese apocalypse, there is no one left but a hypertrophic self-consciousness. This raises the question of whether it is possible for contemporary Japan to become fully mature. Japanese postmodern apocalyptic narratives suggest two different responses: one is to affirm that Japan is an eternally impotent adolescent state that tries to criticize power by subversively manipulating its relationships with the powerful. The other is to wait for an infinitesimal change of maturity in mundane daily life.

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Bodies in motion : the films of transmigrant queer Chinese women filmmakers in Canada (2011)

This dissertation examines the representations of racialized, gendered, queer sexuality in selected films produced by four transmigrant queer “Chinese” women filmmakers in Vancouver, with a main focus on body images. Personal interviews with these filmmakers about their lives and films were collected and analyzed in-depth using feminist qualitative method informed by standpoint epistemology. The analyses are framed by discussions of what it means to be “Chinese” outside of China, in relation to what it means to be female and “queer.” Selected films were analyzed drawing on feminist film theory, postcolonial and poststructuralist theories, and transnational feminist theory. Judith Butler’s ideas on gender performance and performativity and José E. Muñoz’s concept of “disidentification,” and their application to theories of the body serve as a framework to examine the following research questions: How do these filmmakers re-present “Chineseness,” “queerness,” and “femininity” by deploying their own bodies or those of others? How do they evoke or challenge mainstream stereotypes, and what kinds of narratives and film techniques do they exploit in order to re-conceptualize the non-conforming and transmigrant queer female body? Chapter 2 provides a detailed, contextualized introduction to the filmmakers, based on the interviews, and information on the Canadian context. Chapter 3 explores how racialized, queered, and gendered bodies are presented, appropriated, or subverted in a selection of films. Chapter 4 examines three major strategies of disidentification in the films: the appropriation of dominant stereotypical images; the use of hybrid genres and technical effects; and the reinvention of language(s). The analysis of the films and interviews shows that these filmmakers produce alternative forms of embodied knowledge based on their lived experiences, showing that there is no essential queer “Chinese” women body. Their sense of “Chineseness” is highly contextualized and intersectional, which opens up the possibility that transnational “Chineseness,” like gender and sexuality, could be cited and re-cited in ways that disclose its vulnerability and instability. These filmmakers and their films contribute to new articulation of mobile queerness in the context of transmigrant “Chineseness,” and create a temporary and transnational “utopian performative,” a safe and hopeful space for queer women viewers.

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Animation and "otherness" : the politics of gender, racial, and ethnic identity in the world of Japanese anime (2008)

In the contemporary mass-mediated and boundary-crossing world, fictionalnarratives provide us with resources for articulating cultural identities and individuals’woridviews. Animated film provides viewers with an imaginary sphere which reflectscomplex notions of “self’ and “other,” and should not be considered an apolitical medium.This dissertation looks at representations in the fantasy world of Japanese animation,known as anime, and conceptualizes how media representations contribute both visuallyand narratively to articulating or re-articulating cultural “otherness” to establish one’s ownsubjectivity. In so doing, this study combines textual and discourse analyses, takingperspectives of cultural studies, gender theory, and postcolonial theory, which allow us tounpack complex mechanisms of gender, racial/ethnic, and national identity constructions.I analyze tropes for identity articulation in a select group of Disney folktale-sagastyle animations, and compare them with those in anime directed by Miyazaki Hayao.While many critics argue that the fantasy world of animation recapitulates the Westernanglo-phallogocentric construction of the “other,” as is often encouraged by mainstreamHollywood films, my analyses reveal more complex mechanisms that put Disney animationin a different light.Miyazaki’s texts and their symbolic ambiguities challenge normalized gender andrace/ethnic/nationality representations, and undermine the Western Orientalist image of the“Asian Other.” His anime also destabilize the West-East binary, by manifesting what HomiBhabha calls a space “in-between”—a disturbance of the dominant system of identitycategorizations. This suggests that media representation acts not only as an ideological toolthat emphasizes conventional binaries (e.g. “Western”=masculine, “Oriental”feminine),but also as a powerful tool for the “other” to proclaim an alternative identity and potentiallysubvert dominant power structures.Miyazaki’s anime also reveal the process of Japan’s construction of both the Westand the rest of Asia as “others,” based on the West-Japan-Asia power dynamic. I argue thatthis reflects Japan’s experience of being both colonizer and colonized, at different points inhistory, and that Japan also articulates “other” through anime to secure its national identity.My dissertation will contribute to the understanding of mechanisms of subjectivityconstruction in relation to visual culture.

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Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2018)
Finding the power of the erotic in Japanese yuri manga (2015)

Yuri is the genre of Japanese manga and anime that focuses on romantic and sexual relationships between girls and women. Although what is perceived to be its counterpart, yaoi or BL, has received a great amount of scholarly attention in the past years, yuri, however, is still a nascent topic in academic discourse. Upon briefly delineating Japanese prewar girls’ culture and its influence on the romantic and erotic spaces found in female-authored manga made for a female audience, several female-authored narratives from the erotic yuri manga anthology Yuri hime wildrose are analyzed in regards to their depiction of relationship dynamics, the female body, and the space in which both are explored. These yuri narratives are considered in relation to Audre Lorde’s ideas of the erotic to show that despite their lack of explicit lesbian identity and social realism, they manage to carve out a positive erotic space that is ultimately empowering for female readers.

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Female authorship and implicit power in women's erotica : Japanese "ladies' comics" and Fifty Shades of Grey (2013)

Can female readers perceive empowerment through sexually explicit, fictional stories that feature depictions of misogynistic relationships or encounters? In this thesis, I will attempt to answer this question by examining English- and Japanese-language examples of sexual writing for women, specifically the genre of women’s erotica (erotic fiction for a female audience). I will describe how women’s erotica in both languages is predominantly populated by female authors, and will argue that this allows readers to perceive sexual empowerment even when encountering storylines that feature female protagonists disempowered by male characters. The knowledge that the author is a woman perpetuates a belief on the side of the reader that the female protagonist is safe, and that she will enjoy the sexual acts that take place within the story. To illustrate this point, I will compare the recently-published Fifty Shades of Grey with Toraware no yoru (Captive night), a 1990s example of “ladies’ comics” (sexually explicit Japanese manga created for a female readership), which was re-published in e-format in 2009. I will demonstrate how the female sex of the authors enables readers to feel in control and empowered despite the often submissive role of the stories’ protagonists. I will also argue that both works have been marketed and framed in a manner that alludes to Japanese- and English-language autobiographical sexual writing that developed from the early 20th Century. I will establish how the confessional nature of these works helped construct a shared reality between reader and author in regards to sex and womanhood. The solicitation of stories from ladies’ comics readers and the emergence of Fifty Shades of Grey from the fan fiction community re-enforces the perception of a women-only space where text is influenced solely by a dialogue between female author and female reader. Although this female-centred space may in itself be a source of empowerment, the sustainability of such a space is precarious in the virtual environment, where the gender of author and reader cannot be guaranteed.

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Keroro Gunsô : carnivalization in Japanese anime (2013)

This thesis explores the playful world of Keroro Gunsô, a manga-turned-anime comedy that is immensely popular in millennium Japan and starting to gain popularity on a global scale. Drawing from a parody of Japan’s military aggression during World War Two, the anime plays with the public memory about Japan’s imperial past and the binary opposition between war and peace, invader and the invaded, and ultimately, patriarchy and matriarchy. This paper will examine the text of Keroro Gunsô as a symbolic site of what Mikhail Bakhtin called “carnival,” a discursive space for renewal, festivity and laughter freed from ordinary social restrictions and conformity. I would argue that Keroro Gunsô offers a playful fantasy for Japan’s “post-postwar memory” (as Carol Gluck calls it) to deal with social anxieties associated with Japan’s imperial past and its tragic defeat in the war. I will start my argument by looking at the increasingly significant role of carnival/festival anime in today’s global culture. Then, after a brief reading of the story of Keroro Gunsô, I will locate its text in the framework of “carnival” to examine its carnivalesque features: the attack against historical facts through parody as well as the reversal of Japan’s patriarchal hierarchy through the mobilization of its symbolic characters. Finally, I will examine how Keroro Gunsô embraces/celebrates Japan’s playfully weak, irresponsible, and ultimately, emasculated identity as a response to the social anxieties surrounding Japan’s defeat in World War Two. Through the alternate reading of this incredibly popular comedy, this paper attempts to explore a different side of Japanese society encapsulated in this carnivalesque anime behind its humor and festival laughter.

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Drawing the self : race and identity in the manga of Tezuka Osamu (2012)

This thesis explores the construction and mutability of the Japanese race and ethnicity in the print comics of Dr. Tezuka Osamu (1928–1989), Japan’s “god of manga” and the creator of such beloved series as Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion. By investigating three of Tezuka’s mature, lesser-known works from the 1970s and 80s, I will illustrate how Tezuka’s narratives have been shaped by his consciousness of racial issues and his desire to investigate the changing nature of Japanese identity in the postwar era. First, the works are contextualized within the larger manga history of the 1960s and 70s, specifically the gekiga (lit. drama pictures) movement that heralded more mature and sophisticated stories and artwork. Chapter one analyzes Ode to Kirihito (1970–71, 2006 English), and introduces Julia Kristeva’s theory of abjection to show the ways in which Tezuka bestializes his ethnically Japanese protagonists and turns them into a distinct class of subaltern. Chapter two examines intersections between race and war narratives using Adolf (1983–85, 1995–96 English), Tezuka’s WWII epic about the Jewish Holocaust. The concept of hybridity is utilized and the case is made that Tezuka ultimately denies his racially mixed characters the benefits of their Japanese identity. Chapter three investigates the manifestation of Japanese masculinity in Gringo (1987–89), one of Tezuka’s final works. In this chapter, Japanese identity, masculinity, and sexual ability are linked to the national sport of sumo wrestling. A discussion of diasporic communities is included in order to discuss how the Japanese race is conceptualized as it moves through different geographical and cultural spaces.

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Editors' intentions and authors' desires : how junbungaku affects the Akutagawa Prize and Japan's commercial literary world (2012)

In this thesis I explore the current literary culture of Japan by examining the commercialization and politicization of junbungaku, “pure” literature. In particular, I focus on the most prominent award for new authors, the Akutagawa Prize, which is widely acknowledged as authoritative. My intention is to shed some useful light on the role of publishing company editors as the masterminds of the publishing industry. Chapter One provides an overview of issues surrounding junbungaku and taishū bungaku (“mass-oriented literature”). At present, junbungaku is defined in opposition to taishū bungaku, but ambiguities and boundary issues remain. This survey will enable us to identify the situations where the notion of junbungaku is defended as authoritative and how its relationship with the Akutagawa Prize increases its legitimacy. Chapter Two examines the origin and history of junbungaku, and discusses how the notion has changed over time. I also address questions such as what junbungaku is and how it can be defined, and uncover how junbungaku came under question as the Akutagawa Prize became more successful and began to overshadow junbungaku itself. The ultimate purpose of the Prize is to sell books and magazines; this affects not only literature but to some extent Japanese society as a whole. Chapter Three therefore deals with the Akutagawa Prize and junbungaku as a business. I examine the “Akutagawa Prize industry” led by the editors and Bungeishunju Ltd., including the nomination, selection, and announcement processes; distribution and sales; winning works; and judging. I analyze the process from the viewpoint of the publishing houses and editors. Finally, in the Conclusion I argue that the Akutagawa Prize endangers the very concept of pure literature by tying it to a commercial enterprise, compromising writers by making them dependent upon the financial goals of a corporation, which trains a reading public conditioned to accept the Prize as authoritative to receive the work in particular ways through the process of commercialization and commodification. As a result, “amateurization” is inevitable. I also examine the implications of this project for future research on Japanese literature and on the intersections of Japanese literary culture and commercial literary awards.

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