As an alternative reading of anime’s global consumption, this paper will explore the multiple layers of transnationality in anime: how the dispersal of agency in anime production extends to transnational production, and how these elements of anime’s transnationality are engaged with in the transnational consumption of anime. This will be done through an analysis of Shirobako (an anime about making anime), revealing how the series depicts anime production as a constant process of negotiation involving a large number of actors, each having tangible effects on the final product: human actors (directors, animators, and production assistants), the media-mix (publishing houses and manga authors), and the anime media-form itself. Anime production thus operates as a network of actors whose agency is dispersed across a chain of hierarchies, and though unacknowledged by Shirobako, often occurs transnationally, making attribution of a single actor as the agent who addresses Japan (or the world) difficult to sustain. Lastly, I will examine how transnational sakuga-fans tend to focus on anime’s media-form as opposed to “Japaneseness”, practicing an alternative type of consumption that engages with a sense of dispersed agency and the labor involved in animation, even examining non-Japanese animators, and thus anime’s multilayered transnationality.
If animation allows us to envision a world of active objects through animating their movement, then surely how the objects are made to move through the animation changes how they are constituted as actors. In other words, how bodies move in animation, human and object alike, also entails certain conceptions of ” self ” as it is constituted through the dynamics of its animation. This study aims to (re) consider Donald Crafton’s conceptualization of animation performance forms (embodied and figurative performance), specifically in relation to Japanese anime. In embodied acting, the expression of character is produced through distinctive movements, where characters are constituted as individuals, each with their own discrete inside and outside. Figurative acting, on the other hand, utilizes various gestures and codified expressions. Due to this reliance on codified expressions, figurative performances build from previous ones, replaying and reiterating them in different contexts. Each of these forms enacts a different conception of selfhood: embodied acting performing the modern conception of individualism bound to the singular body on the object which performs the movement; figurative acting performing a type of “particularity” entailing a different conception of the strict internal/external borders of ” individuality, ” where the self is a composite configured through the citation of codes. Figurative performance thus facilitates an aesthetic well attuned to the contemporary performance of self under the conditions of neoliberalism, selecting from a vast array of options, jerkily moved from one product and expression to another.
Anime is a globally prominent media-form with a multitude of styles, yet it maintains a relative uniformity to sustain a recognizable identity as a particular category of media. The performance of the recognizably “anime-esque” is what distinguishes anime as a type of animation, allowing it to be sold and consumed as “anime.” Anime, and its recognizable identity, are performatively constituted by a series of anime-esque acts executed in animation, citing a system/database of conventionalized models in each iteration. What we recognize as “anime proper” are not just “animations from Japan,” but animations that perform large quantities of anime-esque acts. However, anime must continuously work through the problematic of maintaining its identity without redundancy, each performance working through the tensions of diversity and uniformity: in straying too far from a conventional model, it loses anime-esque recognizability and cannot be sold/consumed as anime. As such, anime’s identity negotiates the dynamic divisions between uniformity, repetition, and the global on the one hand, and diversity, variation, and the local on the other. Working through this problematic entails a different type of creativity as combinations of citations from conventional models in each performance negotiates that particular anime’s identity as an anime production and its distinction from other anime. Anime’s problematic is not only invoked through the engagement of conventionalized models of character design and narrative, but also in the technical processes/materiality of animation, which cite character models and conventionalized acting expressions when animated. Yet it is not just the material limits of the medium of animation, there is another limit in the performance of anime in the act of citation that facilitates the doing (and selling) of anime: in the repeated acts of the anime-esque, in the serialization of anime as a media-form, the contours of anime’s formal system becomes a factor of convergence.