Enacting an Ecological Disposition: Performing Dividuality in Kaiju no Kodomo’s World of Vibrant Matter

Link to article: “Enacting an Ecological Disposition: Performing Dividuality in Kaiju no Kodomo’s World of Vibrant Matter.” Mechademia: Modes of Existence, edited by Sylvie Bissonnette, Frenchy Lunning, and Sandra Annett. University of Minnesota Press. 15 (2), Fall 2022, 193-214.

In its performances in/of animation, the anime film Kaiju no Kodomo depicts a lively world where the human becomes open to the vitality and activity of the nonhuman (what Jane Bennett would call a world of “vibrant matter”), embracing an egalitarian openness to the nonhuman, presenting a method of expressing the self that goes beyond the anthropocentric individualism so coveted under neoliberalism. This is explored through a specific employment of embodied and figurative acting operations, each engaging with different tendencies of performing the self: embodied acting tending toward anthropocentric individualism with a bordered inside-outside bodily division; figurative acting tending towards a self that is enacted through interconnection with others, whose constitutive parts link across bodies. As such, figurative acting embraces what might be labeled as object-oriented dividualism—a conception of selfhood that Bennett develops where dividuals are entities whose constituent parts stem from disparate sites, affecting themselves as well as others.

Through the specific configuration of the spatiality of embodied and figurative acting, specifically in the character Ruka, the film moves through individualism toward transforming into a specific type of dividual. Not suffering from the radical lack of closure and dissolution of self that dividuality can teeter toward, Ruka maintains an internal-external border like the individual of embodied acting, but acknowledges the permeability of that boundary, still embracing the interdependency and openness to the outside employed in figurative acting. As such, the animated film can be seen as presenting, in Bruno Latour’s terms, a fictional mode of existence, exploring a world and beings with distinct dispositions, and the interdependency with the means and materials through which they are performed.

Anime’s Identity: Performativity and Form beyond Japan

Link: Anime’s Identity: Performativity and Form beyond Japan. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2021.

A formal approach to anime rethinks globalization and transnationality under neoliberalism

Anime has become synonymous with Japanese culture, but its global reach raises a perplexing question—what happens when anime is produced outside of Japan? Who actually makes anime, and how can this help us rethink notions of cultural production? In Anime’s Identity, Stevie Suan examines how anime’s recognizable media-form—no matter where it is produced—reflects the problematics of globalization. The result is an incisive look at not only anime but also the tensions of transnationality.

Far from valorizing the individualistic “originality” so often touted in national creative industries, anime reveals an alternate type of creativity based in repetition and variation. In exploring this alternative creativity and its accompanying aesthetics, Suan examines anime from fresh angles, including considerations of how anime operates like a brand of media, the intricacies of anime production occurring across national borders, inquiries into the selfhood involved in anime’s character acting, and analyses of various anime works that present differing modes of transnationality.

Anime’s Identity deftly merges theories from media studies and performance studies, introducing innovative formal concepts that connect anime to questions of dislocation on a global scale, creating a transformative new lens for analyzing popular media.

Praise for Anime’s Identity:

“Stevie Suan utterly transforms our understanding of anime. Using media theory to expand the formal analysis of anime conventions, while calling on a transnational framework to avoid a simplistic opposition between local and global, he not only provides incisive readings of key anime series, but also lays out a powerful and much-needed methodology for thinking anime in the world.”
—Thomas Lamarre, author of The Anime Ecology: A Genealogy of Television, Animation, and Game Media

“Focusing on formalism and performance studies in particular, Stevie Suan proposes a radical alternative for engaging with anime studies.”
—Daisuke Miyao, author of Japonisme and the Birth of Cinema

“[Anime’s Identity] is also a readable and concise digest of much of the theory and research on anime in the last decade, serving as a valuable primer for the new scholar….Suan gets to grip with an issue that has hounded people who write about anime for decades – to what extent can we get away with an essentialist notion that it ‘comes from Japan’?
—Jonathan Clements, author of Anime: A History.

Anime’s Identity provides a multilayered overview of cultural debates on anime for an English-reading audience….As a theoretical treatise, the book equips scholarly readers with a well-nuanced interdisciplinary approach to TV anime.”
—Ana Micaela Chua Manansala, The Journal of Asian Studies

“[Anime’s Identity is a] readable contribution to anime media theory that is both well-grounded and provocative. The text will be of great interest to anyone studying anime, animation in general, media, or global media circulation. This book is in conversation with other works of anime media theory, such as Thomas LaMarre’s The Anime Machine, but is an innovative addition to the field that will likely become required reading like its predecessors.”
—Christopher Smith, Delos: A Journal of Translation and World Literature

Titles of the chapters and subsections:

Introduction: Anime’s Performance of Identity

Anime’s Identity; Macross’s Identity; The Anime-esque; On Forms; Shifting Spatiality; Area Studies and Situating Anime; Media-Form; Historical Moment; Performance/Performativity; Overview of the Book

1. Anime’s Local–Global Tensions

The Bordered-Whole Inter-National; Mapping Anime’s Distribution; Anime’s Inter-national Stasis; Defining Anime; Anime as National Cultural Media-Form; AnimeJapan; Blurring Internal and External

2. Anime’s Dispersed Production

Authorship and Agency in Anime Production; On Anime Production and Publicity; Shirobako; Negotiated Decisions; Media Mix and Materiality; Anime’s Media-Form; Transnationality

3. Anime’s Media Heterotopia

Geographies of Production; Transnational Development; Anime’s Animation Production Network Across Asia; Heterotopic Images; (In)visible Performances; Transnational Hierarchies; Anime’s Media Heterotopia

4. Anime’s Citationality

Anime’s Brand; Felicitous Anime-esque Performance; Database, Citation, Re-performance; Re-performance, Convergence; Decentralized Network of Citations

5. Anime’s Creativity

Anime’s Creative Industry; Creativity and Copying; Citationality and Anime’s Creativity; Citations across Borders; Anime’s Creativity in China; Openly Transnational Anime; Anime across Asia

6. Anime’s Actors

Animation and How Objects Act; Embodied Performance; Figurative Performance; Mutual Implication; Lifestyle Performance and Figurative Acting

7. Anime’s (Anti)Individualism

From Evangelion to Sekaikei; Sekaikei and (Neoliberal) Individualism; Evangelion’s Success and Failure; Deconstructing Individualism; Global Anxieties; Micro-Macro, Local-Global Tensions; After Sekaikei

8. Anime’s Dislocation

Place-Focused Anime; Dislocation in Anime’s Performances; Theatricality; The Animatic Apparatus; Producing Places; Anime Out of Place; Dislocating Differently; Anime’s Complex Spatiality

Conclusion: Anime’s World

Anime’s Performance of Media-Form; Enacting Selfhood; Global Inflections; Shifting Transnationalities; Clashing Forms, Complex Regionality

Anime’s Performativity: Diversity through Conventionality in a Global Media-Form

Link to article: Anime’s Performativity: Diversity through Conventionality in a Global Media-Form. Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal 12 (2017): 62–79.

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.