Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Susan Napier's Anime: From Akira to Howl's Moving Castle: The introduction

Usually I write reviews on books after I made an honest attempt to read them, or at least when I've read half of the pages in the book. I make a decision based on the contents, but this one, I'll give an exception.

I've read Napier's other essay in Mechademia Vol. 1 on the "The World of Anime Fandom in America," and gained a negative impression on her. "A recognized expert of anime both in the United States and in Japan," she may be but I reserve my right to disagree.

Perhaps I'm anal. Perhaps I'm overstating this. Perhaps I'm biased. But reading "The World of Anime Fandom in America," I finished reading with an odd aftertaste. To be sure, her analysis was good. She was making some very intelligent remarks on the popularity of anime across all races, religions, and ages, but I had but one problem with her subject.

Her title. Her title bothered me to no ends. For sure, I respected her sample size of participants she chose to inteview and analyze, but they were of limited a complexity. "The World of Anime Fandom in America" is much more complex than what she makes it out to be, for her entire sample size of interviewees in her study were conducted on the Miyazaki Hayao Fan mailing list. Definitely a base of anime fandom encompassing those of a rainbow of races, ages, and backgrounds, but certainly only a small fraction of people who love anime.

It is not to say that fans of Miyazaki Hayao are mutually exclusive from fans of anime, for Miyazaki has become more-or-less a paradigm of what "is" anime in the world. His works delve in to complex political and societal questions all while entertaining viewers with fantasy and science fiction. However, saying Miyazaki fans constitutes the entirety of anime fandom in America is like saying "The World of Cartoon Fandom in Japan" and only analyzing Walt Disney films while completely ignoring the likes of Hannah Barbara, DC Comics Animations, Fox Entertainment, and all those other companies who have produced cartoons for market. Disney is certainly a paradigm and any lover of cartoons would have grown up with Bambi or Aladdin, but that is not to say that cartoon lovers don't enjoy the likes of Batman and Ed, Edd, and Eddy.

What I want to say is, the title Napier chose to head her analysis was too general for the specific nature of her study. A more succinct and accurate title may have been "The Miyazaki World in America" or "Anime Fandom in America: The Mutual Respect for Japanese Culture via Miyazaki." but this paper instead emphacized the entire fandom. Reading her given title I had to ask myself. Was this a mistake on her part? Did she mean A when she said B? Or does her work signify her exact views? Is A effectively associative with B and never exclusive of each other? Facing that question, I had no choice but to be wary of her work. I was unsure of whether her views.

Given that, I started reading Napier's collection of essays regarding anime and its analysis. Where does she stand in otaku culture? She's a fan, but is she going deep enough to study the true trends of anime?

I started by reading her introduction.

I admit that she knows of anime outside of Miyazaki films, though I can argue she certainly likes those films as a point to study; two of her essays contain the title of a Miyazaki film, and about half of her color photos in the center of the book are of Miyazaki films (P. v-vi color inserts 206-207). Further, reading her introduction reveals that at the point of publication (2005) the trends in anime are ever changing and visibility of types and points of interests fluctuate rapidly. Saying that, it is revealed that she understands the complexity in the nature of the anime fandom in both the United States in Japan. The two nations have both changed rapidly in respects to the landscapes of nature and culture.

She cites many titles that point out the increased interest in anime as more than just a children's tv show group (p. X). However I wonder about the nature of what really is popular. Yes, Adult Swim is popular, but the programming recently is no longer that of anime as much. Truely good anime that people wish to see are on DVDs or via torrent. I'd think that with the advent of sub vs. dub that DVDs present the most effective solution to viewers who wish to watch anime to their fancy.

Further, she goes into depth about many creators of anime who have addressed the political and sociological messages. From Yoshitoshi ABe to Kon Satoshi, the works are revealed to present darker moods after the economic bubble burst in Japan. I'd agree with this. There is much to say about Japan through these films and shows and presently, they offer an expansive critique of Japanese life; however she leaves out an incredibly large portion of assessable material. She likes the worldly darker messages that directors wish to pursue. These shows are blatant in their commentary. They are a product of not just entertainment, but of voice to the creator. What of the other shows? What of the shows made for art and for art's sake?

What can we assess from Azumanga Daiho? (Seeing as this book was published in 2005, I'll refrain from using Lucky Star or any other more recent anime) What can we say about films and shows that offer mindless entertainment to children and adults alike. Futari Ha Puricure, Ping Pong Club, Initial D, and Pokemon. Yes, Pokemon is mentioned within her introduction, as is Yu-Gi-Oh, but what about it? The shows are written off as children's entertainment.

True, it is children't entertainment, but what does it say in general? Napier is a professor of Japanese Literature and Culture, surely she can assess. what can we tell about these shows? Pokemon offers a distinct difference of trends from Children's entertainment than the likes of most of what we see in America. The plot is open, it can never end, the characters are timeless. However, the show teaches children the sensibilities of the time. Let your pokemon go and do what's best for them. Be true to your heart, and go forward with courage when you're needed. These messages are presented amidst the, at first, shallow looking surface of pokemon. Where is that analysis? Why do we delve into works such as Haibane Renmei and Mononoke Hime where the lessons are apparent. The author wants to say something there, and the message rings clear, but what about the study of other animes that supposedly have no meaning. How did they come about? What makes them popular? What do they say about society? Surely Pokemon is more of a paradigm for anime than Haibane Renmei, why are we not looking into that?

So, moving on, I read her introduction and found some parts that greatly troubled me. I'm sure you'll balk at why I'm so concerned with these flaws when I said so much above, but bare with me, intellectual thoughts don't bother me as much as inane editorial choices. First, Napier notes that Inuyasha "ran to 150 episodes but remained inventive and imaginative until the end." (P. XIII) I just about threw the book out and into the dumpster at reading those words. The show got repetitive. New characters, more plot, same BS. Sesshoumaru and Naraku get involved. I honestly got sick of it when the gay guy died. What was that? Vol. 24 of Vol. 36?

Though what really made me put down the book and force me to take ten paces before I sat back down and started reading again, was the romanization of Japanese titles for the sake of being true to the Japanese titles (P. XIII, XV, XVII). I don't mind if it were for a title different from the English release: i.e. Princess Mononoke/Mononoke Hime, but I did find it unsettling to read some of the following titles: Cowboy Bebop/Kauboii Kebopu, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence/Inosensu, Perfect Blue/Pafekuto Buru, Tokyo Godfathers/Tokyo Godofazasu. Reading that reestablished my skepticism for this scholar.

How much does she really understand the concept of anime? And is her head screwed on straight?

I'll let the next 300 pages tell me as I go through 14 chapters of her musings. I pray that it comes out in the positive light.

You know I should write my own book on the critical analysis of anime; it'll have hookers... and blackjack! You know what, screw the book.

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