This chapter focuses on Virtual YouTubers (or Vtubers: actors using 3D model anime-like characters to post on YouTube), examining how they are performed through two modes of acting utilized in concert with certain technologies: embodied acting (where unique gestures express individualized personality) in the usage of motion-capture, and figurative acting (where pre-existing codified gestures constitute characters) in the facial expressions from anime performed on a digital avatar after getting filtered through facial recognition technology. Analyzing the varying tendencies of embodied and figurative acting of Vtubers, this chapter concentrates on the popular Vtuber Kizuna Ai, who is an “official cultural diplomat” for Japan, but also has an official Chinese “version” of herself on BiliBili. Her existence across platforms, nations, and languages raises questions about the contemporary intersection between digital, national, and cultural boundaries, and how we perform ourselves in digital media. Kizuna AI’s character performance operates across technologies and platforms in a manner which brings into relief how the contemporary tensions between distinction and duplication play out in our transnational, (trans-)platform society as we perform at the intersection of different modes of selfhood.
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, rather than taking a phenomenological or sociological approach, Stevie Suan proposes a radical alternative for engaging with anime studies.”—Daisuke Miyao, author of Japonisme and the Birth of Cinema
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
Link to English article: Colorful Execution: Conventionality and Transnationality in Kimetsu no Yaiba
The sustained achievement of the Kimetsu no Yaiba film in the number 1 spot at the box office and claim to the highest grossing film of all time in Japan marks an important achievement for late-night TV anime. While two other anime, Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi and Kimi no Na ha, have reached similar levels of sales and popularity, neither of these works were based on an established late-night TV anime like Kimetsu no Yaiba is. This may invite questions of what makes Kimetsu no Yaiba so special as to achieve this degree of fame. However, instead of pursuing the question of Kimetsu no Yaiba’s uniqueness, this presentation will instead explore how conventional the anime actually is, through an examination of its media-form, exploring how Kimetsu no Yaiba performs as an anime. Such an exploration will examine some of the recent trends in anime that are employed in Kimetsu no Yaiba, including certain character types, narrative tropes, and character designs. In addition, I will examine some of the patterns of production, and, in comparison with the manga, reveal how the media-formal elements of both mediums reveal divergent types of transnationality.
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.