Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Appeal Of Anime

"Japanese science fiction texts have frequently been double coded, evoking Japanese national concerns and popular myths while resonating strongly with foreign audiences."
-Christopher Bolton, Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr., Takayuki Tatsumi, Introduction, Robot Ghosts And Wired Dreams: Japanese Science Fiction From Origins To Anime (2007)-

It is precisely this foreign aspect to science fiction Anime with which we find so appealing in contrast to our normally American-centric perspectives and diet. The foreign viewpoint is often refreshing, strange and different. It is this prevailing foreignness that is so appetizing to the Anime fan.

In the book Robot Ghosts And Wired Dreams one of the writers alludes to the Pacific Ocean as a body of water that both "connects and separates." This "ambiguous space" as it is referenced is indeed an image that spoke to me regarding this love affair that fans like myself have with Anime. It is that distance that allows us to embrace the foreign art form and yet separates us from fully understanding it thanks to such a wide cultural divide and that great body of water that physically imposes itself on both our understanding and appreciation of the art. That expanse is what makes the Anime world so special to me and to many others.

Referenced another way in author Brian Ruh's The Stray Dog Of Anime: The Films Of Mamoru Oshii, commentator Toshiya Ueno noted of a book by Antonia Levi called Samurai From Outer Space that "anime is more interesting for 'western' people than for the Japanese because of its cultural specificity" (p.134). Again, we indeed connect with Japan's unique cultural celebration and focus and all of its associative wonders.

This love of otherness as I call it was interestingly touched upon another way by author Dani Cavallaro in The Art Of Studio Gainax (2009, p.17). She cautions casual fans who enjoy the assimilation of all things anime to proceed accordingly. "The danger, while this process unfolds, is that Western fans might indulge in a spurious "Othering" of Japan grounded in slapdash misreadings of its traditions and mores." Unquestionably there are countless fans who will indeed take anime strictly on its face in terms of sheer enjoyment. Still, there is an intellectual component to the medium and many fans, like myself, look to dig deeper into its richer meaning and intent beyond sheer entertainment.

Not enough? Even the Japanese government is aware of the appetite for anime in the West. Author Brian Ruh notes the White Paper (2000), written by the Japanese government, called Japanese Government Policies In Education, Science, Sports And Culture. It denotes Japanese animation as a "fine and unique form of expression due to the techniques of Japanese artists, and there are high expectations for it in the future." As Ruh notes, the Japanese government itself sees the art form as "a cultural export of note" (p.135). Even Japan recognizes the economic strength of something as unique as Japanese anime and its appeal to Western consumers.

Clearly the advent of the Internet and the proliferation of various media options has allowed for that space to shrink to a degree and allow formerly isolated places to enjoy and experience these other cultural outlets. Nevertheless, the Pacific Ocean is a symbol of that great expanse and that divide that represents an inability to completely and utterly understand the pop culture and otherness of another country. We welcome it.

Neon Genesis Evangelion: one of the great examples of double-coded otherness. Unit-00, Unit-01 and Unit-02 were clearly in a hurry for me to inform you.

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