Tag Archives: #Japan

The Fandom of the Anime

For 5 years now I have been regularly attending anime and manga conventions in and around Sydney and my home town, I’ve cosplayed on occasion, participated in various activities and spent unfunny amounts of money on random display swords, artwork, comics, etc. Anime is infamous for it’s intense and loyal fans around the world but why are anime fans considered so fiercely loyal? Why is anime typically associated with geeks and as such has had a negative stigma? Is this still the case?

It’s Just About Everywhere

There’s no doubt that anime is becoming rapidly more popular over time. In 1991, Japanese Anime film Akira made its way overseas via vhs distributions, it was uncommon in western markets but quickly found itself acceptance among a growing number of cyberpunk fans. The visually stunning, surrealist style allowed for a film that could capture the visuals and themes of cyberpunk that was previously, only successful in a book format. Following the rise of the internet and subsequent digital distribution networks, anime has more readily been accessed by a considerably wider audience.

It’s Re-made

In an article on “Transcultural creativity in Anime” ,Rayna Denison writes, “The phenomenon of ‘digisubbing’,the production of fan-subtitled anime via digital reproduction technologies,is also changing the relationship between fans and anime texts considerably. While on the one hand enabling greater fan creativity in the reproduction of anime texts, it is also enabling a vast increase in the illegitimate flow of anime outside Japan” (Denison, 2010), Digisubbing is the digitisation of the task of subtitling anime, effectively splitting the task among several fans regardless of geographic location, this way, anime texts can be reproduced in various subtitled languages quickly, aiding faster global distribution of these texts. This digitisation of the text has also evolved into various other practices such as abridged versions of anime and animated music video (AMV) just to name a couple.

Abridged anime is the re-cutting and re-dubbing of anime to create a new text or side text while AMVs are the re-cutting of anime to a song or some music as a new text or simply a fan made music video. The popular use of anime to create new texts and concepts such as head canon (fan made lore as an addition to an existing story) simultaneously personalise anime to it’s fans and isolate any new comers to the genre who are struggling to comprehend the scope of anime as a pseudo transmedia/multimedia text, die-hard fans might argue that you don’t really ‘know’ an anime unless you engage with multiple forms of the text.

What’s Not To Love?

The term Otaku is often used to refer to the die-hard fans of anime and manga and while it’s often used endearingly in the west, it has a history of negative connotations in Japan where the word originates. In a blog post on ‘Japanese Level Up’, Adam takes a loot at the word “Otaku”, and what it means. He notes that it can be used as a word for ‘fan’, ‘expert’ or ‘mania’ but specifically within the context of a hobby or interest that is not considered socially acceptable. Despite having overwhelmingly positive reviews around the world, Ghost in the Shell is still considered a ‘cult classic’ that appeals to a ‘niche audience’ with ‘special interests’, why is it that anime struggles to get recognition alongside more classic media forms such as live action film and television?

Anime hasn’t previously been considered ‘mainstream’ due to it’s association with subcultures and not being widely accepted as a legitimate form of media but recently anime has begun to permeate into what is considered mainstream for example, the long running American animated sitcom The Simpsons had an episode as an homage to the films by Studio Ghibli. Mainstream is what is considered normal and anime is not considered normal but following the popularity of anime and it’s permeation into other mainstream media, it’s just about abnormal to have not had any experience with anime.

Denison, R 2010 ‘Transcultural creativity in anime’, Creative industries Journal, vol.3, no.3, pp.221-235.

A Boy and His TV

It’s late at night, the verge of midnight, and the cold glow of my crt television fills the room, most likely turning my eyes square as I sit on the cold linoleum floor of my room. I flick through the channels hoping to find anything worth watching, constantly double checking that the volume is as low as possible so that I can still hear it but it won’t alert the attention of the footsteps outside my door. Late night news, infomercials, static, late 90’s sitcom, static, then something catches my wandering thoughts. It’s a cartoon of some sort but it looks amazing. There’s teenagers, like me but they’re piloting these great machines against these mind boggling monsters. The sexuality, the violence, I feel like I shouldn’t be watching but I shuffle closer and decrease the volume just a little more, I couldn’t look away.

I am a Fan

Besides Pokemon and Yugi-oh, etc. that I’d seen occasionally on tv but preferred the games, Neon Genesis Evangelion was my first ‘anime’. I remember uncovering this show with all these themes that I hadn’t been confronted with before and really enjoying how ‘genuine’ it felt, unlike the family friendly programming I was familiar with, I felt like I wasn’t being patronized. I was (and still am) a huge fan of robots, monsters, mystery, girls and cool visuals and Evangelion brought  it all and tied it in with deeper philosophies and ideologies and the subversion of religion (Which really spoke to me at the time but that’s a different story). Since then few texts have really satisfied me like Evangelion, these few including Code Geass, the Bioshock games, the Muse album ‘Drones’ (Don’t judge me), and Ghost in the Shell.

Not a “Fan of Anime”, Just a Fan

In class a few weeks ago, we were presented with an option, watch Gojira or Ghost in the Shell, much to my surprise, the response was a resounding “Ghost in the Shell”. I don’t know why I seem to think anime is still such a niche thing, almost everyone I know has watched at least a Studio Ghibli film or Dragonball Z or something mainstream. Perhaps it’s because saying you’re a “fan of anime” has a negative stigma, perhaps it’s because the statement would be a gross exaggeration. Brenda Velasquez of Asian Avenue Magazine wrote,

“At first glance, anime, which features handdrawn or computer animation, appears to be simply Japanese-style cartoons for children, but anime in fact caters to a wide-ranging age demographic with a plethora of themes like love/friendship, coming-of-age, good vs. evil and so on. Similarly, anime spans a variety of subgenres from fantasy and sci-fi to horror, romance and comedy.” (Velasquez, 2013)

It’s hard to be a “fan of anime” when there’s so much of it to experience, it’s more likely that you’re a fan of a genre that is explored well in anime or quite prominent within anime as a trope. Being raised on western media and only encountering the very successful anime that transcend national boundaries or is fan subbed by a cult following and not being exposed to it in mainstream media, it’s easy to think that it’s a niche industry, and fans are often mistaken in the assumption that they are a fan of Japanese media and therefore Japan as a culture when in fact Japan has a $350 billion dollar media industry in which anime is only a small section of.

Post In The Shell (Warning: Spoilers)

After watching Ghost in the Shell in DIGC330: Digital Asia, one though comes to mind first: “the dialogue’s complicated yo”. I’ve gotta say as much as I love sci fi settings, anime, cyborgs, tackling philosophical questions, Japan, and so many more elements present in Ghost in the Shell, it’s not high on my list of favorites (Don’t get me wrong, it’s an excellent franchise by all means, it just doesn’t resonate strongly with me). I get the feeling that this may be because I don’t fully relate to some of the themes that reflect certain cultures in Japan.

No Trade And No Tourism Makes Japan a Unique Place

In the early 17th century Japan introduced a policy of sakoku which effectively minimized relations with other countries for 200 years. Following the end of sakoku, Japan caught up in terms of technology relatively quickly. This relatively fast introduction of modern technologies to a previously closed off society arguably gave rise to fears surrounding humanities relation to technology. The character Togusa says he uses his revolver instead of an automatic weapon because he ‘likes’ it but Kusanagi say’s he doesn’t have to “worry about the mechanics jamming up”, this coupled with the fact he doesn’t have many augmentations, to me, reflects a fear of relying too much on technology.

Don’t Dead Spoiler Inside

Despite much of the movie exploring technology in a pseudo dystopian setting, there are montages of suburban settings with a subtle technological presence, accompanied by music containing both classic and more modern aspects of music in harmony. This and the ending where kusanagi awakes in a new, younger body, after merging with the puppet master and the audience is left with this ambiguous feeling for the future reflects a desire to live alongside technology despite these cultural fears.

You Said Someone, Not Something

Ghost in the Shell feature quite a lot of the naked female body and nude imagery but what I found interesting is that it was at no point explicitly sexual. Japan has very strict censorship laws on all pornography, video games, tv and film and anime, where all genitals and depictions of genitals or sexual acts must be obscured with pixelation or bars, etc. Nudity in Ghost in The Shell featured nipples at most. I think the abundance of the naked and semi naked bodies further reflects these fears of technology I previously mentioned but also in tandem with Japan’s arguably stifling sexuality culture with censorship and traditional views and opinions leading to a decline in sexual activity despite Japan’s infamous stigma of a colourful fetish scene.

ghost-in-the-shell-1995-02-g

If You Can’t Say Anything Nice, Explore It Through Metaphors And Fictional Worlds

Watching Ghost in the Shell in a class at uni, I was in a position to be thinking about concepts such as the internet of things, wearable tech, cyberculture and more and it lead me to question why a Japanese anime seems like such a perfect platform to be exploring these concepts through a fictional story? I think a history of isolation and being thrust into modern technology and embracing it so widely most likely puts cyberpunk themes in the public sphere and issues surrounding declining sex ual activity puts issues of sexuality and personal identity in a public sphere.

What do you think about Anime being a platform for exploring taboo topics and fears? Perhaps you disagree and think the relationship between the key elements of Ghost in the Shell and the culture it’s conceived in are more complex than I’ve implied.