The theme of this issue of Mechademia is “Materialities across Asia,” exploring how attending to materiality and medium can reveal the transnationality of media in/across/from Asia. The articles submitted to this issue tended to focus on East Asia, but the various frameworks employed aim to emphasize media-specifics and cross-border flows more generally. Analyzing contemporary media such as anime, manga, webtoons, 2.5D theater, the labor that produces them, and the sites of their sale and engagement with fans, this issue underlines how materiality seems to both locate us and expose the intensity of movements occurring.
Link to article: Anime’s Spatiality: Media-form, Dislocation, and Globalization
The over-arching tendency of anime research in academia (both inside and outside of Japan) has been to see anime as a “Japanese media product,” analyzing anime for sociological readings of Japan and its society. However, attending to anime’s media-form—its conventionality and the material actualities of its production processes—would reveal that while Japan is a central node in anime’s production, significant portions of the animation of anime productions have actually been produced throughout Asia for decades. In addition, there are an increasing number of anime produced outside of Japan (for Japan and other markets). Such facts invite multiple inquiries: How do we account for anime’s transnational labor, operating inside and outside of Japan? How do we conceptualize cultural production when anime’s visual conventions are animated outside of Japan? Are these merely “copies” of “authentic (Japanese) anime”? Can we conceive of a new geography to engage with this transnational dynamic?
From this standpoint, contrary to the tendency to “read Japan through anime,” there is a complex politics of place that intersects with the framework of the nation, in conflict with the transnational flows that define this moment of globalization, all enacted through the media-form of anime. Drawing on media studies and performance studies, this paper examines how anime’s performance of media-form does not insist on the neat, ordered world of the nation-state, as on multiple different levels anime explores a difficult, complex geography, enacting the tensions of contemporary globalization. Such complexities are revealed through an analysis of place-focused anime depicting locations in Japan and China (specifically the Chinese-Japanese co-production, Shikioriori), highlighting the dynamics of transnationality rather than a (national) locality on multiple levels.
Link to book (chapter): Repeating Anime’s Creativity across Asia
Anime production, which is usually thought of as located in Japan, has a long history of transnational production within Asia. In this chapter, I focus on this creative industry across Asia, instead of focusing on Japan, in an attempt to rethink how transformations of our notion of creative production can alter the concepts we use to consider regionality through the media produced. For this, I take a formalist approach, examining the mechanics of creativity as it applies to anime and engaging with the dynamics of anime’s transnational system of production. I analyze anime’s recognizability, taking anime as a media-form with repeated patterns, showing how anime itself is sustained on a type of iterability with minor variation, providing an alternative to dominant conceptions of creativity, which valorize “originality” and departure from trend. I then consider the implications of this in regards to recent transnational anime productions and propose how to (re)consider anime’s history of outsourcing labor across Asia. While the focus is mainly on recent works that relate to China’s creative industries due to the current production practices in regards to anime, there will also be attention paid to other places in Asia that have been part of anime’s transnational production network.
Article in Japanese: グローバルな舞台でローカルなアニメが演じるアイデンティティ危機 ―『フルメタル・パニック! The Second Raid』を中心に
In TV anime series, narrative and character, among other elements, tend to be highly conventionalized. These conventions are a significant part of how anime is produced, recognized as anime, and interpreted. It is through the performance of these conventions that anime articulates its identity. In this study, I analyze how anime’s conventionalized patterns are performed within the context of shifting tensions between the local and global. This will be explored through an examination of Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid (TSR: 2005), an anime historically situated during the peak of anime’s exportation boom and the JSDF’s deployment to Iraq (2004-06), and which can be read as thinking through identity, globalization, and military narratives. I examine how TSR performs anime’s established conventional patterns in a manner that questions the logic of those conventions, engaging with the anxieties of expanded exportation of a previously local, niche product suddenly exported on a global scale with government backing, and the contemporaneous media discourse on the expanded militarization of Japan. The identity crisis of the main character, Sousuke, acting as the core, conventionalized plot of the series, will be analyzed in relation to the identity of anime itself. Through Sousuke’s identity crisis TSR raises questions about anime’s conventional logic (the narrative and character conventions that appear commonplace), and their connections to the ethics of using lethal force (even in defense), problematizing conventional anime narrative structures and military narratives in general.
The Anime Paradox: Patterns and Practices through the Lens of Traditional Japanese Theater is an examination of the form of Anime—the repeated visual, aural, and narrative conventions performed in Anime texts—exposed through a comparison with the viewing modes and formal conventions of Asian theaters, primarily Noh, Bunraku, and Kabuki. This is not to push for a “cultural” reading of Anime, to construct a “Japanese” lineage between Anime and Japanese traditional theater. Rather, it is an attempt to consider different means of approaching Anime, providing ways yet unexplored of how Anime create meaning in their texts, and how they (consciously and unconsciously) distance themselves from other types of animation, even in Japan (e.g. Sazae-san versus Evangelion), through the repeated performance of Anime’s established conventions. Instead of looking to Manga or film or other mass-produced texts, this project looks to the theater, often overlooked multi-media productions that possess viewing modes and reading styles that can provide alternative methods for readings of Anime. Anime has become a site of various significant discourses (locally and globally), but before we determine what this performance is saying, we need to consider, on a very basic level, how it is saying it and explore various means of examining it; we need to reflect on the means of expression in the performance of the Anime form, often a crucial point of aesthetic attraction itself: Anime sells locally and globally because it exhibits itself as distinctly “Anime.” The Anime Paradox is thus an effort to provide an accessible discussion on Anime form and the mechanics of the type beauty represented through it from the standpoint of a critic and long-time viewer of Anime. This examination through comparison also works in the other direction, further endeavoring to enrich our understanding of theater through Anime.