2nd-3rd December 2021

Medievalism in East Asia – I: From Printed Story-Worlds to Digital Role-Playing Games



Due to Covid-19, this workshop is being held as an online one, via the institutional virtual platform (Blackboard Collaborate). Access details will be provided in due time.

Please be reminded that the workshop will follow the UK time-zone.

If you have any inquiries regarding the organisation, please, feel free to contact us.


Images of the European Middle Ages, refashioned through the lens of fantasy or not, are massively present in our contemporary imagination and can be seen everywhere around the World. Such an ubiquity has pushed Academia to finally give the field of Medievalism Studies the recognition it deserves, ensuring that the phenomenon of medievalism, from its early beginnings to its neo forms, manifestations and impacts, can be scrutinised with much attention. Surprisingly though, one cultural area remains either under-appreciated or marginal at best in research on medievalism, despite becoming one of the most remarkable providers of neo-medieval creations: that is, East Asia, and in particular, Japan.

In facts, altered representations of the European Middle Ages have long been present in Japan – on the front cover of the first issue of children’s magazine Akai Tori (1918), in the manga Nazo no kurōbā (1934) by Matsumoto Katsuji, or via the surprising fact that the Japanese translation of The Hobbit (1937) by J.R.R. Tolkien was one of the earliest (1965). Nowadays, neo-medieval images and narratives enjoy colossal success in Japan, and can be found across a great variety of genres, media and fields – manga, anime, games, light novels, movies, even radio drama and architecture; it has come to a point where their presence can hardly be missed in daily life, and where leading a “neo-medievalist life” through adventuring and socialising every day in neo-medieval MMORPGs has become normal.

And through the successful reception of Japanese popular culture overseas, neo-medieval images “made in Japan” have been seeping into foreign contemporary imaginations, from Europe to the USA and East Asia, to such an extent that they have heavily altered the flow of circulation of Medievalism as a whole: today, Japan has become one of its main driving forces. This process is gaining even more momentum if we consider the massive success of the neo-medieval MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV, which in 2020 reached the most impressive number of 20 million users world-wide. With the rise of such a global community, Japan’s neo-medievalism confirms its change of status: it is not just a cultural entity capable of crossing borders anymore; it now transcends them, creating a new sense of belonging and shared images way beyond local differences.

Meanwhile in East Asia, China and South Korea have been narrowing the gap with Japan, establishing themselves as strong receptors and providers of medievalism. One has only to look so far as their numerous trendy neo-medieval manhua, manhwa, and (web)novels (i.e. Overgeared by Park Saenai, or Only I level up by Chugong), or the success of both local and foreign games pertaining to medievalism there, from League of Legends and World of Warcraft,to the recent Genshin Impact.

But, how, and when did altered Japanese representations of the European Middle Ages emerge, and come to be ubiquitous? What are the European medieval texts and images that have been, or are being transferred in East Asia? How deep is the influence of modern fantasy authors (e.g. J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula Le Guin, Robert E. Howard)? What of the role-playing game Dungeon & Dragons? How do Japanese Middle Ages images and folklore co-exist with the European Middle Ages in neo-medieval story-worlds? What are the characteristics, the internal movements of Japanese Medievalism? How do other East Asian Medievalisms differ? What part has Japan’s mangaesque and digital culture played in the rise and success of its neomedievalism, locally and globally?

Never before in the history of Medievalism, has a culture outside of the European and US-American spheres been able to challenge in such a way the essentialist presumption that the European Middle Ages is “theirs”. In what ways Japanese Medievalism, and East Asian Medievalisms in general, are shaping contemporary Europeans’ reception of the European Middle Ages, their relationship to its heritage, and to the notion of “Middle Ages” itself? Medievalism is commonly understood as “the reception, interpretation or recreation of the European Middle Ages in post-medieval cultures” (Louise D’Arcens 2016). If so, how, then, should we theoretically address works that play with the “Japanese Middle Ages”? Should they be kept under notions such as jidai shōsetsu (“Period fictions”) and rekishi shōsetsu (“Historical fictions”)? What about Chinese works categorised as Xianxia, which often involves local medieval elements? Should the notion of “Medievalism” encompass any “medieval” period – if such wording can be applied to another cultural area to begin with –, or should it be used only when it involves the European Middle Ages?

December 2021 will mark the 20th anniversary of the cinema’s release of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, directed by the New Zealander film director, writer and producer, Peter Jackson; an adaptation that rekindled the flame of Medievalism all over the world. What better occasion, then, to look at Tolkien’s influence in East Asia, as well as extend our observations to the general state of Medievalism in, and from East Asia, and particularly in, and from Japan? Moreover, with the dramatic passing of Miura Kentarō – author of the manga Berserk, one of the most iconic and influential neo-medieval manga – in May, such a research endeavour appears even more necessary than before.

As such, we, at Mutual Images Research Association, have decided this year to start a sub-series of our annual International Workshop, dedicated to Medievalism in East Asia. This first edition, done in co-operation with, and hosted by the Digital Curation Lab at the University of Salford (Manchester), aims to explore the reception, interpretations and refashionings of the European Middle Ages across all genres and media in East Asia, from early to most contemporary creations, from printed story-worlds to digital role-playing games. Participants are asked to consider the cultural, ideological, or theoretical implications of such recreations of the European Middle Ages.

We invite proposals for 20-minute papers. We encourage submissions characterized by interdisciplinary approaches and based on frameworks coming from all disciplines of humanities and social sciences. This workshop is open to PhD students and academics at any stage of their career. Papers for this workshop can fall into, but are not limited to, the precedent questions and the following categories:

  • Historical evolution of Medievalism in East Asia (e.g. Japan, South Korea, China)
  • The reception and legacy of Tolkien in East Asia
  • The influence of Dungeons & Dragons in East Asia
  • Adaptation of European medieval texts, folklore, mythology and/or medieval history
  • (Neo)medievalism in serial narratives (anime, manga/manhwa/manhua, novels)
  • The isekai phenomenon in Japanese neomedievalism
  • East Asian game industries and neomedievalism
  • The impact of digital technology on medievalism in East Asia
  • The reception of Japanese, South Korean or Chinese (neo)medievalism in Europe
  • Musical (neo)medievalism in East Asia
  • Eco-medievalism in East Asia
  • Theoretical approaches of Medievalism when applied to an East Asian context


Maxime DANESINMIRA Vice-President & Independent Researcher, France

Manuel HERNÁNDEZ-PÉREZ Salford University, UK

Juan HIRIART VERASalford University, UK


Björn-Ole KAMMKyoto University, Japan


Raúl FORTES-GUERREROUniversity of Valencia (Spain)

Ice Sorcerers, Magic Swords, and Enchanted Maidens: (Neo)medievalism in Isao Takahata’s Little Norse Prince Valiant

Tōei Animation movie The Great Adventure of Horus, Prince of the Sun [太陽の王子 ホルスの大冒険 (Taiyō no Ōji Horusu no daibōken)], also known as Hols, Prince of the Sun, was the directorial feature film debut of Isao Takahata, and still remains one of the most perfect examples of (neo)medievalism in Japanese anime. The story follows Horus/Hols, a boy with a mythical sword that wants to protect a village from an evil ice wizard and his minions —who destroyed his family’s village—, despite the distrust of the villagers and the dark secret of Hilda, a mysterious girl who befriends him. The plot is based on Kazuo Fukazawa’s puppet play The Sun Above Chikisani [チキサニの太陽 (Chikisani no taiyō)], which in turn is a reinterpretation of an epic from Yukar, the oral tradition of the Ainu people, the indigenous people of the island of Hokkaidō. The Japanese language title of the originally Ainu epic is オキクルミと悪魔の子 (Okikurumi to Akuma no ko). However, in order to avoid any controversy due to depiction of the Ainu people, the setting was changed to medieval Scandinavia, which explains the following alternative title for the film: Little Norse Prince Valiant.  My paper deals precisely with the influence of traditional Norse iconography and Germanic music —specifically, the tradition of the Minnesänger— in this work, released in 1968, nine years after the first performance of The Sun Above Chikisani and just three years after the Japanese translation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit (1937), which resulted in a boom of (pseudo-)European (neo)medieval images in Japanese manga and anime, Hols, Prince of the Sun being one of the earliest and paradigmatic examples of that.

Heike HOFFERThe Ohio State University (USA)

Medievalism in Anime Music: The Enduring Chant of Kajiura Yuki, Part 1 – Composer Kajiura Yuki and Neo-Medievalist Anime Soundtracks: The Early Years

Kajiura Yuki’s music for anime is easily recognized by its eclectic mix of sounds and styles gathered from across the globe. Her early scores employed a compositional method practiced in Japanese popular music since the 1990s, which treated the creative act as a process of musical curation or “domestication,” to borrow Tobin’s term. Composers took inspiration from a wide variety of musical genres, embracing their personal artistic preferences to generate unexpected musical combinations without concern for the original context of their models. This technique is evident in Kajiura’s handling of medieval Gregorian chant, which – as she has explained in interviews – she did not learn from a music history class but rather from the German band Enigma and their hit album MCMXC a.D. from 1990, where samples of chant were mixed with Euro dance pop and French rap. Kajiura emulated Enigma’s process of looping chant and dance rhythms to make music that was, in her words, “trippy” and “hypnotic,” bringing this feeling into her scores. The anime Noir from 2001 contains an excellent example of her approach, combining chant-based vocal tracks with energetic dance rhythms. Enigma used chant to call on modern neo-medievalist tropes that highlight the pleasures of mysticism, religious devotion, and sexuality freed from morality, and Kajiura has replicated this imagery in Noir, making chant the symbol of an ancient criminal order that both worships and overtly sexualizes the main female characters. In Noir, Kajiura perfected one of her most recognizable musical hallmarks, a pair of female singers performing a slow-moving, chant-like melody in tightly interconnected harmonies over a propulsive electronic accompaniment. This sound is prominent in her other scores of the same time period (Mai-Hime, .hack//Sign, etc.), now using her created language of Kajiurago instead of Noir’s Latin and Italian.

Stacey JOCOY Texas Tech University (USA)

Medievalism in Anime Music: The Enduring Chant of Kajiura Yuki, Part 2 – Kajiura Yuki, Medievalism, and the Reimagining of the Past: Recent developments

Kajiura Yuki is known for her many successful anime soundtracks that musically create modernized reimaginings of past soundscapes. Although she has commented on her perceived musical eclecticism, critics recognize a prevalent style in, “her blend of synth, choral, and orchestral music” (Anime Instrumentality, 2011). Additionally, the use of female voices, often in imitation of chant that vacillates between the timbre of Bulgarian women’s choirs and traditional Filipino chant, is an element that Kajiura favors. The latter is the expanded expression of the Gregorian chant-influenced sound she developed in her earlier works: shifting away from Latin lyrics to her created language of Kajiurago, her ethereal chant has a pronounced focus on female voices. This is partially due to her collaboration with FictionJunction (since 2008) and is also a reflection of the strong female anime protagonists.Kajiura delivers aspects of her signature sound in the blockbuster soundtrack for Demon Slayer. The track “Brace up and run!” opens each episode highlighting female voices chanting Kajiurago as a musically-haunting reminder of the otherness of the past. Another piece, “Survive and get the blade, boy,” is a rock-influenced, orchestral work featuring shakuhachi solo. The largely orchestral nature of the soundtrack creates an overarching epic tone that suits the dark, historicized fantasy of this story. Though she has been criticized as “consistent,” her soundscapes have come to aurally signify emerging anime genres, especially fantasy and isekai. Kajiura has created a genre-defining sound that blends orchestra with high, strident chorus, often incorporating hōgaku instruments that strike a note of exoticism—neither past nor future, but capable of conveying both the fantastical and the folkloric. This presentation considers Kajiura’s soundtracks for Fate/Stay Night and Demon Slayer to semiotically interrogate the historical imaginary evinced in the medievalist topoi of these popular anime.

Simon James BYTHEWAYNihon University (Japan)

Fantasy and Funding: on the reception of Jackson’s LOTR in 1990s Japan 

Many people, including the Beatles, had dreamed of turning J. R. R. Tolkien’s beloved novels into theatrical films for worldwide release. Throughout 1995 and 1996, Peter Jackson and his partner Fran Walsh (and Phillip Boyens too) believed that they, with the Weta Workshop, knew how to make the movies, and began to pitch their ideas to the executives of Hollywood’s largest studios. Despite diverse and complex ownership to the film rights of Tolkien’s works, Miramax was able to win the rights to the Lord of the Rings (LOTR), but being unable to fund it, the project passed by Disney and others, before New Line Cinema agreed to fund the production of a trilogy of films in 1998. The scale and complexity of the LOTR project required production (read, investment) partners all across the globe. It was not just about raising capital so that all three movies could be made essentially in one mammoth shoot, but also about locking LOTR into the largest possible regional distribution, and crucially providing effective marketing and subtitles services to each national audience. Almost a decade after the heady days of Japan’s bubble economy, New Line Cinema was thus searching for a large media organization – preferably with television, print, and distribution networks – to become its Japanese partner. Here, for the first time, is an [anonymous] inside story of an up-and-coming executive at the front lines of Japanese film deciding whether or to invest in Jackson’s LOTR in the late 1990s.

Maxime DANESIN – MIRA Independent Researcher (France)

Mangaesque neo-Medievalism: the Japanese’s path to Global Medievalism, Part 1


Manuel HERNÁNDEZ-PÉREZ Salford University (UK)

Mangaesque neo-Medievalism: the Japanese’s path to Global Medievalism, Part 2


Mujeeb KHAN – University of Utah (USA)

European Medievalism and Fantasy in the Construction of Islam in Japanese Manga

Japanese manga, which has been used to develop complex, fantasy worlds, also educates individuals both through fictional and nonfictional accounts of historical and cultural events. Taken as such, manga provides ample evidence for the presence of European medievalism within the conceptualization of Islam in Japan. The depiction of Islam, treated as ‘Eastern’ in the Euro-American mind but geographically western to Japan, is often biased. This is especially true in the retelling or representation of Islam in a Japan disconnected from the multileveled cross-cultural connections of premodern Asia, in which Islam and the Islamicate world played a major role. This paper will take multiple examples from manga for a detailed examination of this European medievalism. For example, in One Piece, the long-running and most popular manga of Japan, European medievalist imagery of Islam is present in the Kingdom of Arabusuta, whose name supposedly derives from alabaster but whose Japanese phonetic representation invokes ‘Arab.’ It is no wonder then that the denizens of this desert region don clothes representative of the European medieval imagination and much of the Arabustan culture is similarly Middle Eastern with obvious ancient Egyptian iconography. Muslim naming, on the other hand, is only employed in a later arc for the two backstabbing, uncouth individuals whose lack of moral compass is their only characteristic more outstanding than their decrepit facial expressions. Similarly, the world of Magi (pronounced with a voiced g in Japanese), along with its prequel Sindobado (Sinbad), is almost entirely constructed in the world of Islamic myth, whose mythology is a rendering of European medievalism more than it is a depiction of anything Islamic if any objective lens is applied. With these two case studies, the paper will also gloss manga such as Satoko to Nada and Allah-kun, which offer greater insight into the role of medievalism in manga authors’ depiction of Islam. The paper also hopes to shed light on the reason this European medievalism dominates in the popular imagination of a country whose encounters with and academic study of Islam has a history dating back over 1200 years.

Andrea MARIUCCI – Independent Researcher (Italy)

From Dungeons&Dragons to Dragon Quest: material shifts and cultural dialogue

Arguably one of the most popular genres in today’s video game market is the Japanese role-playing game (JRPG). The distinguishing traits of the genre are often matter of debate. The final decision on whether something is a JRPG usually relies more on general feelings, than on rigid criteria (Mallindine 2016). However, one shared trait among the exponents of the genre is that they find its roots in Western tabletop role-playing games, such as Dungeons&Dragons (1974). As a matter of fact, Dungeons&Dragons served as an inspiration for many other role-playing games (RPGs). One such example is Wizardry (1981), which, together with Ultima (1981), was among the most successful computer role-playing games of its time(Barton & Stacks 2008). The two games served as the beginning for long-spanning series, which enjoyed wide success in Japan (Adams 1985), where the RPG genre as a whole was soon integrated, through various platforms, into the local media ecology (Steinberg 2015). Wizardry in particular was also among the games which influenced Horii Yūji (Horii 2018a. 2018b) to create Dragon Quest (1986), one of the earliest examples of JRPG. This paper seeks to draw a connection between Dungeons&Dragons and the early JRPGs. First, I compare Dungeons&Dragons, a tabletop RPG, to its most well-known digital counterparts of the time, Wizardry and Ultima. By doing this, I expose the differences between ‘pen and paper’ and ‘screen and software.’ Then, I observe the differences between Wizardry, Ultima, and Dragon Quest in terms of both aesthetics and gameplay, in order to understand how Japanese developers and distributors negotiated the concept of RPG for the Japanese market. In both comparisons I consider how characters, avatar, gameplay, and narrative are mediated by the platform and the cultural milieu hosting them.

Gerard ALMEIDA – Independent Researcher (Spain)

A new neo-medievalist paradigm? Japan as seen through Genshin Impact’s Inazuma

The launch of Genshin Impact on the 28th September 2020, a free-to-play, gacha game for android, PC and PlayStation 4 has caused a big commotion among the members of the gamers’ community. The possibility of exploring many regions, each one based on an ancient or actual real-world country or region, but with a medieval setting, has stolen the heart and captured the interest of many players. After many patches bringing no new regions to explore at all, on July 20th 2021 Chinese developer MiHoYo has finally launched version 2.0, featuring the region of Inazuma, consisting of an archipelago based off real-world Japan. Set in the Edo period, its shogun has decreed a sakoku ruling, closing the country to external influences and interferences. Not only its setting and landscape disposition is a nod to actual Japan, but the region’s plot, quests and side-quests also relate to Japanese Edo period’s actual history, politics, culture, social atmosphere and even folklore. The following patches are scheduled to be released every six weeks and will only delve further into the Inazuman secrets by adding up more islands to explore lore, width and variety story-wise, characters, enemies and bosses. Thus, the neo medieval Japan recreated through Genshin Impact’s Inazuma will expand and reveal more clearly the sources behind this gaming experience. The aim of this paper is to analyse the representations and recreation of the neo medievalist Japan featured in the videogame in the matter of (1) politics; (2) social atmosphere; (3) folklore, myths and mythical creatures (ayakashi or yôkai) and (4) NPC’s, playable characters and enemies.  The results of this study will show if it is just a ‘’neo copy’’ of medieval Japan or if Genshin Impact has created a new paradigm of how a neo-medieval Japan should be represented from now on in pop culture.

Juan HIRIART VERA – Salford University, UK

Design Workshop Experiences Communicating Chinese Medieval History and Heritage Through Game Design

In many ways, the process of designing historical games can be seen as an adaptation from one or more historical sources (academic texts, simulations, spreadsheets and so on) to ludic forms of interaction. As such, this process can be compared to the translation between different languages (Hutcheon, 2006). However, in the same way that no linguistic translation can be completely perfect, no adaptation between two different mediums can fully preserve the original source’s meaning. In this presentation, I would like to analyse three design workshop experiences, where teams of undergraduate students from the China Academy of Arts designed physical and digital games to communicate Chinese history and heritage. The first project centres on translating “The Classic of Mountains and Seas” or Shan Hai Jing to a board game prototype. Second, I will continue with the presentation of a digital game where students imagined how different the Ming and Qing dynasties would have been if China at that time would have opened to the West, adopting foreign ideologies and technological innovations. Finally, I will close the presentation with a project centred on the beginning of the Land Silk Road, the legendary story of Zhang Qian’s journey to the western regions around 138 B.C.



THURSDAY, 2nd of December 2021

13.00 Opening: Toni Sant, Digital Curation Lab Director (Salford University, UK)
13.10 Keynote speaker: Björn-Ole Kamm (Kyoto University, Japan)
“Of Castles and Ninjas: Snapshots of a History of Analog Role-Playing in Japan”

14.00 – Break

Panel 1 – Medievalism in East Asia – Animation & Cinema

14.10 Raúl Fortes-Guerrero (University of Valencia, Spain)
“Ice Sorcerers, Magic Swords, and Enchanted Maidens: (Neo)medievalism in Isao Takahata’s Little Norse Prince Valiant
14.30 Heike Hoffer (Ohio State University, USA)
“Medievalism in Anime Music: The Enduring Chant of Kajiura Yuki, Part 1 – Composer Kajiura Yuki and Neo-Medievalist Anime Soundtracks: The Early Years”

14.50 – Break

15.00 Stacey Jocoy (Texas Tech University, USA)
“Medievalism in Anime Music: The Enduring Chant of Kajiura Yuki, Part 2 – Kajiura Yuki, Medievalism, and the Reimagining of the Past: Recent developments”
15.20 Simon James Bytheway (Nihon University, Japan)
“Fantasy and Funding: on the reception of Jackson’s LOTR in 1990s Japan”

15.40 – Panel Discussion

FRIDAY, 3rd of December 2021

Panel 2 – Mangaesque Medievalism in Japan

13.30 Maxime Danesin (MIRA Independent Researcher, France)
“Mangaesque neo-Medievalism: the Japanese’s path to Global Medievalism, Part 1”
13.50 Manuel Hernández-Pérez (Salford University, UK)
“Mangaesque neo-Medievalism: the Japanese’s path to Global Medievalism, Part 2”
14.10 Mujeeb Khan (University of Utah, USA)
European Medievalism and Fantasy in the Construction of Islam in Japanese Manga”

14.30 – Break

Panel 3 – Medievalism in East Asia – Analog and Digital Games

14.40 Andrea Mariucci (Independent Researcher, Italy)
“From Dungeons&Dragons to Dragon Quest: material shifts and cultural dialogue”
15.00 Gerard Almeida (Independent Researcher, Spain)
“A new neo-medievalist paradigm? Japan as seen through Genshin Impact‘s Inazuma”
15.20 Juan Hiriart Vera (Salford University, UK)
“Design Workshop Experiences Communicating Chinese Medieval History and Heritage Through Game Design”

15.40 – Panels 2 & 3 Discussion

16.00 Closing roundtable and remarks:
Dr. Maxime Danesin & Dr. Manuel Hernández-Pérez