Essay: Lorna Hardwick – Reception Studies

The author of this quote, Lorna Hardwick in her seminal work Reception Studies, was referring to the art of film; however, I would like to argue that it also fits the (quintessentially) Japanese art of anime. In the last few years, several people involved in the study of ancient cultures and civilisations (amongst whom a few students can be found) have dealt with the subjects of Classics in anime and other forms of reception of antiquity, both classical and non-classical, in popular culture; mostly with regard to films and television series. This led to familiarising the academic community with research on these subjects. As an avid fan of several Japanese anime series, I can recall one series in particular with obvious and not so obvious relations to antiquity: Yu-Gi-Oh! (””’ Y��gi��, Japanese for ‘King of Games’). The idea for this Master Thesis stems from a paper on influences of antiquity on western civilisation I wrote at secondary school; in this paper I incorporated Yu-Gi-Oh! quite superficially, for whilst watching this anime series I noticed the obvious references to antiquity. Yet I was vaguely aware that there was more to Yu-Gi-Oh! than met the eye and whilst re-watching the series more recently I noticed more references to antiquity due to my training as a student of Ancient Studies. Combined with a growing interest in reception of antiquity in modern times and in popular culture amongst academia, which I discerned, I realised that hardly any academic research had been done on anime series as media of reception of antiquity.

Therefore, as a student of (the quintessentially interdisciplinary) Ancient Studies I decided to put my academic skills to the test by focusing on Yu-Gi-Oh! and ancient Mediterranean antiquity. The choice for Yu-Gi-Oh! was not a simple one: although it is an anime series with quite a large number of episodes and was therefore likely to contain enough data for me to work with, there are other anime series which more clearly show references to antiquity; examples are Sailor Moon and Saint Seiya. Even an anime series on football such as Inazuma Eleven contains references to antiquity such as a football team made up of ‘Greek gods’ (Zeus Jr. High). My familiarity with Yu-Gi-Oh! and the fact that I had watched most episodes before and could recall them quite clearly played a large part in my choice as did the fact that Yu-Gi-Oh! is present in a wide variety of media (manga and anime series, toys, Trading Card Game, videogames, etc.) with a wide variety of references to antiquity.

In fact, Yu-Gi-Oh! proved to be so potent that I was forced to limit myself to the anime series in this Master Thesis. This narrower scope provided me with the opportunity to compare the original Japanese version and the American English version of the second series with one another and to attempt to identify both versions as part of the Japanese and western world respectively. I realised that a certain amount of pre-existing knowledge on the ancient Mediterranean world in popular culture would have to be available to a wide audience in order for them to understand the references in Yu-Gi-Oh!. Therefore I researched that as well and have come to the following lay-out of this Master Thesis in two sections: the first section provides an overview of the Graeco-Roman world as part of the ancient Mediterranean world and an overview of the reception of the ancient Mediterranean in the western world. A similar description for Japan, focusing on the reception of archaeology and Graeco-Roman classics, is given as well. The second section provides a brief history of anime as a prelude to the remainder of this section, which deals with the first series of Yu-Gi-Oh! and the aspects of ancient Mediterranean antiquity that can be found in it, followed by a similar treatment of the second series which includes comparisons between the Japanese and American English version. Each chapter in these two sections ends with a short summary, briefly relating the main points made in each chapter. The conclusion provides a summary of the Master Thesis as a whole and contains an answer to the main objective as well as to the auxiliary questions given in the previous chapters.

The main objective of this Master Thesis is to determine the manner in which aspects of the cultures of the ancient Mediterranean (mostly ancient Egyptian and Graeco-Roman) world have been incorporated in this anime series and how they fit as part of everyday twenty-first-century life in Japan and the western world. In order to accomplish this main objective, these aspects have been identified and analysed by means of the following auxiliary questions:

– How is ancient Mediterranean antiquity perceived in the twenty-first-century western world and how has this come to be?

– How is ancient Mediterranean antiquity perceived in twenty-first-century Japan and how has this come to be?

– Which aspects of the ancient Mediterranean world can be found in Yu-Gi-Oh! and how do they fit in the wider context of this anime series?

– How can the use of these aspects in the anime series Yu-Gi-Oh! be defined and explained?

– What messages does Yu-Gi-Oh! convey to its audience and what role do the versions (Japanese and English) play in conveying these messages?

My hope is that this body of work will provide a concise but accurate account of the influence of aspects of the ancient Mediterranean world on the highly successful and variegated anime world of Yu-Gi-Oh!. Yu-Gi-Oh!, the popular anime series which has allowed many people ‘ both young and old ‘ to be brought into contact with inter alia the beauty of the ancient Mediterranean and which continues to inspire both those (as of yet) unfamiliar with it and those who have (had) it as part of their paideia.

…(download the rest of the essay above)