Asian Studies

The Sparkling World of the Year 24 Group wins the David Laing Prize 2023

Francesca Lutje-Wilkes, a final year student of Japanese, has won the University’s book collecting prize for her collection of the historical work of female manga artists.

Graduating student Francesca Lutje-Wilkes, who has recently completed our MA Hons programme in Japanese Studies, has won the David Laing Prize Book Collecting Prize 2023.

Photo of Francesca standing in front of a bookcase with her collection
Francesca at home in Glasgow with her Prize-winning collection of Japanese manga from the 1970s and 80s

The £500 prize for the best collection formed by a University of Edinburgh student honours the antiquarian, collector and librarian David Laing (1793 -1878). It is awarded for the interest, originality, thoughtfulness and creativity of the collection, and its owner’s vision, enthusiasm and persistence.

Francesca’s collection centres around the works of the ‘Fabulous Year 24 group’ of Japanese female manga artists who were primarily active in the 1970s and 80s. The name derives from the fact that many of these artists were born in the 24th year of the Showa era (1949 by the Western calendar).

In extracts from her Prize-winning 2,000-word essay, Francesca talks readers through her collection and the inspiration behind it. She also explains how studying Japanese helped her to access the original material and better understand its societal context.

Beautiful artwork and evocative storylines

“My interest in the Year 24 movement stems from childhood summers spent at my grandmother’s flat in Italy”, explains Francesca, when writing about how the collection started and why it's personally important.

“Watching television, I was captivated by an Italian-dubbed rerun of The Rose of Versailles animation. I credit this with being the catalyst that sparked a lifelong interest in Japan and Japanese culture.”

“In my mid-teens I came across a blog post on the Year 24 movement, and discovered that my beloved Rose of Versailles in fact belonged to a much wider movement of female artists creating radical works in the 1970s and 80s. I was captivated by the beautiful artwork and the descriptions of their evocative storylines, and longed to read them".

Before learning Japanese at University, however, Francesca found the language a barrier, saying "No official English language translations existed for the majority of these works, and so I resigned myself to looking at artwork and scavenging online forums for any available fan translations."

I often joke that if it weren’t for a lazy summer afternoon spent watching TV with my nonna, my life would have gone in a completely different direction, and I would likely never have come to study Japanese at university. 

Francesca Lutje-Wilkes
David Laing Book Collecting Prize Poster 2023
The poster for this year's David Laing Prize was designed by Edinburgh College of Art student Aner Wang

“When I entered university and gained access to library resources” continues Francesca “I began reading academic texts about the Year 24 movement.”

“My degree also provided a foundational knowledge about Japan that allowed me to appreciate the societal backdrop against which these works were created, imbuing me with an even greater respect for these artists and furthering my desire to read the original works.”

“Remarkable for the time in which they were written, the artists of the Year 24 movement created shojo comics for girls and young women, a genre which was often derided for supposedly ‘lacking substance’, at a time when women were subject to rigid gender expectations.”

“In the face of this environment, these female artists created subversive works which explored themes of sexuality, gender, homosexuality, racism, and religion. I fervently believe that [these] themes... remain hugely important in today’s cultural landscape”.

Considering what to prioritise and clarifying the collection's scope 

Spending a year abroad in Japan in Year 3 gave Francesca a “long-awaited chance" to finally acquire manga and other materials for her collection, the majority of which comprises reprinted runs from second hand stores, together with artist’s memoirs, essay collections, and fan merchandise.

“Due to cost and space limitations, I mainly bought ‘bunkobon’ editions, which are much smaller and cheaper than standard size books. I had to pass up on quite a few items I would have loved to own [but] it did give me a valuable opportunity to consider what to prioritise, and clarified to me the scope of my collection.” 

“When I was younger, and these materials were virtually inaccessible to me, it was my dream to have my own personal collection that I could access and enjoy anytime I wanted. As my collection has expanded, I have come increasingly closer to my dream. I often think of my seven-year-old self, and what she would think of my collection - in my eyes, being able to build it has been the culmination of the passion of a lifetime.” 

 “Ultimately, I would be interested in acquiring works in multiple languages. While I am able to read these texts in the original Japanese thanks to my degree, I believe it would be fascinating to compare these original texts with their translations.”

One of the great joys that building my collection has brought me is that it has allowed me to operate a library of sorts, recommending and loaning works to friends. Japanese friends have also told me that after hearing me speak passionately of the movement, they have gone home and read their mother’s or grandmother’s collections and enjoyed them greatly.

Francesca Lutje-Wilkes

Francesca's final year undergraduate dissertation on the Year 24 movement is a comparison of the works of Takemiya Keiko and Hagio Moto and how their historical works use male protagonists to address female fears of puberty and sexualisation. In addition to £500, winning the David Laing Prize Book Collecting Prize gives her the opportunity to select a book for the University of Edinburgh’s Special Collections and exhibit a selection of her collection in the Centre for Research Collections. 

In her second year at University, Francesca took part in the Japanese Speech Contest – Group Presentation Category as a member of Edinburgh-based group The Nessies. Earlier this year, her classmate Hannah McCormick won second place in the Speech Category of the annual contest for her presentation “Japan and Autism – how can we make a good environment?”

Are you interested in Japanese Studies at Edinburgh?

Edinburgh is the only university in Scotland to offer undergraduate honours degrees in Japanese. Our four-year MA Honours programmes enable you to learn the language in the context of Japan’s history, politics, philosophy and culture, past and present. We specialise in teaching students with little or no prior knowledge of Japanese. You will spend Year 3 in Japan. 

Find out more about studying undergraduate Japanese

Related links

Find out more about the David Laing Book Collecting Prize