The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Investigating Unacceptable Academic Practises in Dani Cavallaro’s “Kyoto Animation: A Critical Study and Filmography”, with a case study on the K-On! Movie

“Taking something from one man and making it worse is plagiarism.” —George A. Moore

  • This post is a little lengthy and formatted differently to ensure that the message in the paragraphs below are not lost: the take-away message is that as an academic author, one must ensure that their sources are credible and reliable. Blogs do not qualify as a reasonable resource, and so, when an author makes extensive use of them, the possibility exists that the opinion expressed by blog’s author winds up being considered to be “credible” as an academic source. Thus, this post will aim to offer insight as to why Kyoto Animation: A Critical Study and Filmography should not be regarded as a serious, much less as a correct, source for K-On! analysis.

On the first lecture for my health research literacy course five years ago, the topic of what constituted as acceptable sources for academic writing was presented. The lecturers stressed the importance of using peer-reviewed primary literature, which process ensures that a source’s contents are accurate, correct and meaningful, making them useful as the grounds for future research. The message from lecture has since guided all of the research and papers that I partake in, and while this process is far from perfect in academia, it does prevent poor articles from being used as sources. Undergraduates are encouraged to stick to peer-reviewed articles, and informed that online resources, such as websites, are typically discouraged (unless they are authoritative in their field, such as the Protein Data Bank). Blogs happen to fall under this latter category, and students who cite blogs in their coursework will likely receive a failing grade for that submission. Similarly, a paper submitted to a conference or a journal may be rejected for citing blogs, given that blogs are not peer-reviewed and therefore do not follow any standards outlined by journals or conferences. However, at least one text out there appears to have quietly slipped by these standards: Dani Cavallaro’s Kyoto Animation: A Critical Study and Filmography is purportedly intended as an academic reference on Kyoto Animation. While it sounds exciting, a closer inspection of the text will prove disappointing: Kyoto Animation: A Critical Study and Filmography is poorly-written and convoluted, making use of archaic jargon that demands a dictionary for comprehensibility. More significantly, Cavallaro’s passage contains assessments of the K-On! Movie that are completely incorrect, and additionally, appear to be plagiarised from anime blogs and personal reviews. These are red flags in academia, signalling that the source is not going to be meaningful.

The entirity of Kyoto Animation: A Critical Study and Filmography is filled with errors, but for this discussion, the focus will be on a few of the errors concerning the K-On! Movie for brevity’s sake; the list of grievances with Cavallaro’s take on the K-On! Movie is sufficiently large to comfortably fill a separate volume . It is necessary to reinforce the idea that the K-On! Movie has two main goals: to convey the story of how Tenshi ni fureta yo! came about, and to emphasise the fact that Houkago Teatime is Houkago Tea time regardless of where they are in the world. These are the factors that are driven home by the movie. However, in the lengthy passage introducing the movie, Cavallaro erroneously claims that the K-On! Movie faced two challenges pre-production. The first of these is that supposedly, Yamada and the others had to somehow “conjure a drama [that] could be deemed sufficiently engrossing to stand the test of the big screen”. This is false, given that the movie would have lost the very elements that made it appealing to begin with, had drama been the focus. Instead, the K-On! Movie is able to convey its message by means of an overarching story to show how the girls’ graduation gift for Azusa leads them on this journey, and that, true to Yui’s words, the girls retain their carefree approach even in a city like London. Thus, the challenge Yamada et al. faced was deciding on the appropriate story to tell that could make the film memorable for the viewers. Cavallaro cites the second challenge to be making the film stand out from The Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi, which had been a critical and commercial success following its release in 2010. The second challenge directly contradicts the first: K-On! stands out from Haruhi precisely because of its laid-back atmosphere, which allows for each of the characters’ personalities to be developed and differentiated from one another. K-On! was already intrinsically accessible, which means that Yamada et al. would simply needed to retain these attributes if their film were to be enjoyed by both existing fans and a more general audience. Neither of the listed factors affect the artistic decisions in the film to the extent that Cavallaro is conveying: at one point, Cavallaro mentions that the artistic details in the movie were specifically adjusted to appeal to the general audience. If the film was meant for a general audience, and the art shows this, does this not already make the film unique from The Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi? It is clear that Yamada et al. were aware of the film’s intended audience, so their goal could not have been (and is not) to create a film that could outshine The Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi. Aside from the pair of contradictory challenges, Cavallaro also misidentifies the performances in the film, claiming that “the girls never played for a nameless crowd but[sic] always somebody important to them”. Within the film, Yui and the others put on an impromptu concert for the patrons of a newly-opened sushi bar, and later, agree to a performance at a culture festival in London. It is only the final two performances in the film that are performed for familiar faces (classmates, and Azusa, respectively). When taken together, the intent of these performances is to highlight the fact that the Yui, Ritsu, Mio, Tsumugi and Azusa retains their unique approaches to doing things that is independent of where they are; as noted earlier, this serves as the major theme to the movie that Cavallaro somehow misses.

As one might intuitively proceed, after encountering these serious errors in Kyoto Animation: A Critical Study and Filmography, the first thing to do was to follow the citations, which are provided in-text. One might reasonably expect that when a paper with flawed information arises, tracing through the citations to the source of that information may find that the source was incorrect. When reading through Kyoto Animation: A Critical Study and Filmography’s bibliography, a large number of personal blogs are found. Upon closer inspection, it turns out Cavallaro subsequently (and crudely) paraphrases from these, using them for her book’s passages. These behaviours toe the line for what is considered to be plagiarism and should have warranted the removal of the books from distributors. These are serious faults, meaning that what was intended as an academic reference for Kyoto Animation is in fact meaningless for any serious discussion. Aside from the obvious issue of plagiarism, Cavallaro’s extensive use of blogs for information, as observed in Kyoto Animation: A Critical Study and Filmography, gives rise to several problems. The most notable of these is that blogs are not peer-reviewed and therefore, follow no set standard (as would peer-reviewed literature) that ensures the writing’s quality and value are acceptable. In the case of the anime blogs Cavallaro cites, the blog passages were written from a strictly personal perspective and offer insights into how the blog’s author viewed the K-On! Movie: they are not meant to inform the reader of what Kyoto Animation intended to do with the K-On! Movie and therefore, would be meaningless for any sort of analysis. Moreover, by citing blogs for the purposes of academic writing, Cavallaro potentially allows a single blog writer to dictate the discourse for the K-On! Movie and its interpretations within an academic setting. With this singular perspective now in a book (considered to be an acceptable resource for academic research), this means that bloggers can potentially influence how scholars ought to look at anime. After the blogger’s interpretation is published, other individuals may unknowingly accept this view as true even if it contradicts with the author’s view of the work. In this case, while a blog’s author is (and should be) free to express their opinions on the K-On! Movie, any one interpretation cannot be accepted as fact suited for academia because there is no evidence to show that they are in fact consistent with Naoko Yamada and Yoshihisa Nakayama’s view points on the movie. Through these actions, Cavallaro potentially enables bloggers to displace Naoko Yamada and Yoshihisa Nakayama’s intents for the K-On! Movie. Another problem that arises from citing blogs is that blogs are non-permanent: should the author choose to modify the post, delete the post or even the entire blog, the record disappears, and it will be as if the source never existed to begin with.

For all the damage that Kyoto Animation: A Critical Study and Filmography has the potential to do towards any scholarly publication concerning Kyoto Animation, the fact remains is that such a book has been published, fraudulently taking what bloggers intend to be a personal reflection and transmuting that into a purported fact. When everything is said and done, there are two things that scholars should be mindful of. The first is that as an academic writer, one should not depend on personal blogs as reliable sources of information. The second is that Kyoto Animation: A Critical Study and Filmography should not be regarded as a meaningful or serious resource for scholars looking publishing papers about Kyoto Animation (and especially not on K-On!); there is no indicator that Cavallaro possesses the academic background and qualifications to be writing about Japanese animation (from the sound of things, Cavallaro has not even seen the K-On! Movie). The validity of the book’s contents are of questionable value, merely regurgitating what bloggers are saying rather than coming up with any novel or meaningful interpretations of Kyoto Animation’s works. As it stands, one hopes that no scholar will use the book as a means of corroborating their own points and only apply it towards pointing out flaws with Cavallaro’s passages. A little bit of background reading shows Cavallaro as a reasonably well-known author who has applied similar techniques towards talking about other anime genres. Given my experience with Kyoto Animation: A Critical Study and Filmography and Dani Cavallaro’s background (or lack thereof), I find that this author gives readers little reason to trust her credibility as a scholar. The claims in her books are fraudulent, and therefore are not meritorious of being used as a reliable resource for those who aim to conduct research of any kind surrounding Kyoto Animation.

  • Am I more qualified than Dani Cavallaro to talk about K-On!? I wonder if the real Dani Cavallaro will stand up to contest my assertion that the short answer is “yes”: the full answer is long and uninteresting, but I do have the advantage of having seen the movie for myself.

2 responses to “Investigating Unacceptable Academic Practises in Dani Cavallaro’s “Kyoto Animation: A Critical Study and Filmography”, with a case study on the K-On! Movie

  1. criticalhit009 November 17, 2015 at 11:39

    Wonderful post. You’ve highlighted a key problem with Cavallaro’s work: that she merely paraphrases the works of other, and contributes nothing of value to the discussion.
    Basically plagiarism hidden under the shambles of academic jargon.

    Like

    • infinitezenith November 17, 2015 at 13:22

      Thanks for the feedback🙂 My initial motivations for writing this was to refute a post that misinterprets the K-On! Movie’s aims and thematic elements, but as is wont to happen during the literature search process, I stumbled across Cavallaro’s book. Suddenly, the stakes were elevated: instead of merely refuting a blog post, I was up against a published volume that was trying to pass off opinion as fact.

      Further investigation led me to some interesting articles that eventually allowed me to directly challenge Kyoto Animation: A Critical Study and Filmography. As I constantly reiterate, I hope that no serious academic author or student takes Cavallaro’s work seriously, given Cavallaro’s disregard for proper academic practise: to use this (or her other) work as a citation will allow falsehoods to be propagated, in turn, acting as a disservice to the anime and manga’s original authors.

      Like

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