Cinephile: Reassessing Anime

The University of British Columbia’s Spring 2011 edition of Cinephile is now available online. Comprised of six articles under the theme “Reassessing Anime,” the issue aims to explore some of the “overlooked aspects of anime” in response to the art form’s “increasing presence and influence on Western art, literature and film” (Cannon, 2011: 2). And indeed, the journal does proffer insightful analyses on topics that are timely yet strangely neglected. While I do not intend to “review” each individual article in the publication, I will dip into two that I found to be particularly interesting on the topics of moe and music.

Not surprisingly, it is an academic with a keen interest in otaku community and otaku identity that is the one to tackle the moe phenomenon. Scholar Michael R. Bowman’s very necessary article, “Beyond maids and Meganekko: Examining the Moe Phenomenon” (Bowman, 2011: 14-18), offers some much needed clarity on the concept. Bowman attempts to pin down a definition of what moe actually is, untangling it from the slew of contradictory and sexually-based misconceptions rife in the cyber community. He claims that it is in fact “nonsexual” where any “[s]exual feeling should be seen only as a secondary response that sometimes is coupled with, but is still separate from, the more authentic moe response…” (Bowman, 2011: 15). Furthermore he explores moe as a “longing for fatherhood,” a nurturing, rather than a perverse, lecherous and depraved, response (Bowman, 2011: 16). For Bowman, moe becomes a manifestation of kawaii, a masculine escape from the numbing realities of adulthood in Japan, a prolongation of childhood (Bowman, 2011: 17). Also examined are moe’s origins, expelling myths of it being a modern phenomenon (Bowman, 2011: 16). While Bowman’s article was not what drew me to the journal, it soon revealed itself as the most relevant and important piece in regards to the current anime/otaku climate. I highly recommend it to those with an interest in moe, especially those intending to write about it.

Read about moe!

More in theme with this blog, renowned, Australian-based writer Philip Brophy’s piece “The Sound of an Android’s Soul: Music, Muzak and MIDI in Time of Eve” (Brophy, 2011: 9-13) unites my interests of anime, music and technology. The article opens with a description of a scene from Time of Eve (Yoshiura, 2008-9) in which Rikuo decides to give up his aspirations of being a concert pianist after an android performs a piece of music that was not only technical perfect, but that actually emotionally moved him. This opens up a new dramatic and existential space in which humans and androids can “reflect upon and ultimately come to terms with how they as individuals relate to the social complexion of their emotional contrasts with each other” (Brophy, 2011: 10). This theoretical space sent my mind into an excited frenzy. There is vast potential here to marry my previous ontological studies/writings on EDM with more existential and dramatic possibilities and becomings; a heuristic springboard into a comparison of man making machine music (e.g. techno) and machines making their own potentially “organic” music. Stereotypically machine music is soulless and “cold” as oppose to the “warmer” sounds of the organic, of nature (e.g. the voice) (Marsh & West, 2003: 183). The space such a discussion opens up is one of flux, a place where such structuralist constructs and limiting binaries are transgressed.[1] My inner Deleuzian salivates at the lines of flight proffered by Mr. Brophy – pure potential, cyborgian becomings, the overhaul of posthuman identity, the subsequent emotional interactions, a new plane of thought from which to spring forth – it’s the motherfucking Dogon egg!

Oh my. Excuse me.

Man vs. machine.

These are just two of the articles that stood out for me. If you are interested in being at the forefront of anime academia, I suggest going here and feeding your brain with some timely and nutritious anime-focused literature. After all, “It is [an] intersection between globalisation, popular culture and fandom, which makes anime a fascinating subject of cultural analysis” (Leong, 2011: 19). Cinephile’s “Reassessing Anime” understands this, energising anime’s scholarly snowball to grow and continue to gather momentum. Publications like this keep the field invigorated and forward thinking and are, I believe, well worth your time. Check it out.


[1] Marsh & West’s discussion is specifically gender focused, looking at how electronic music works at breaking down the masculine-feminine dichotomy. However I think it also works in making a point about the nature of existence and the betwixt and between space of human-machine coexistence and increasing likeness.

B4XC3K4JSV2U


Maison Ikkoku: The Musical!

No shit.

This has absolutely nothing to do with the theme of this blog, but after such a long unscheduled hiatus I was looking for an excuse to throw something up – and what an excuse!

Yes Rumiko Takahashi’s classic manga/anime series is being ushered onto the stage by the enthusiastic fanboy, Joe Vecchio. I have been lucky enough to receive a copy of the script and what can I say? It’s touching and a lot of fun, with Japanese cultural insights sprinkled throughout. Vecchio does not try and condense a 96 episode TV series/15 volume manga series into an 82 page script. No, what he has done, though, is successfully capture the essence of the series and provide it with an alternative and structurally sound, postmodern artifice through which to reach a new audience – potentially. After all, he is not quite there yet.

Now imagine them all singing...

Vecchio has used Kickstarter to fund his project and still needs some help to reach his goal. If you are for the idea, why not show him some financial love over here. And if you are as curious as I am to see how this project turns out, you can follow it on facebook.

To the best of my knowledge, and other academics that have been commentating on the project including the writer himself, this is the first instance of an anime/manga being professionally adapted for the stage. And I say good luck to Mr. Vecchio!

Of course, the advantage of using my blog to disseminate this information is the feedback I may receive. So. Questions:

Do you think a stage musical adaptation of anime/manga is a good idea?

Will it be a trend that catches on?

Will it draw an audience?

Will the quintessential anime humour of the series successfully translate to the stage?

And with no official rights to the work, and hence lacking the maternal protection of the original creators, are people concerned of it damaging the legacy of one of anime/manga’s most memorable and beloved series?


The Drug(s) of Anime

Throughout the filmic canon, depictions of drug-cultures and drug-users are commonplace. Trainspotting (Boyle, 1997), Reqiuem for a Dream (Aronofsky, 2000), Traffic (Soderburgh, 2000) and Candy (Armfield, 2006) are only a minority of the films that have established themselves on the niche thematic platform. And of course that’s not to exclude the litany of films with more casual references and moments of drug-use or, at the very least, which contain a drug presence. Yet it is with Eastern eyes that we recognize a lack of drug representation in both the anime medium itself and the academic literature surrounding it.

Drugs would only begin to explain Haruko and Excel's antics.

While many anime give the impression of being on a hybrid cocktail of Ritalin, LSD and methamphetamines – ahem FLCL (OVA) (various, 2000), Excel Saga (TV) (various, 1999-2000), Panty & Stocking with Garter Belt (TV) (Imaishi, 2010) and Cat Soup (OVA) (Sato, 2001) ahem, ahem – only a handful address illicit drugs and their effects, fewer still having anything insightful to say on the matter. And furthermore there is even less literature on the topic. In fact the only specific reference I could find to anime and drugs was a brief passage in Patrick Drazen’s work, Anime Explosion (Drazen, 2003). Drazen discusses a scene in the supernatural samurai OVA Sword for Truth (Dezaki, 1990) in which an almost pointless lesbian sex scene takes place under the influence of opium ‘which adds another layer of meaning to the act in a culture where recreational drug use is much more harshly denounced and penalized than in the US’ (Drazen, 2003: 97). What Drazen alludes to here is the harsher penalties for illicit drug-use in Japan than in many Western countries.

Indeed a study carried out between 2002 and 2004 from the World Mental Health Japan confirmed a low prevalence rate of drug use in Japan (Miyake, 2009). The use of marijuana and cocaine was lower in Japan than in other developed countries such as the United States and many European nations (Miyake, 2009: 781). But as the same article reminds, studies have illustrated that punitive illegal drug policies are not necessarily concordant with low levels of drug-use, suggesting that it is more likely cultural factors that are influencing the trend (Miyake, 2009: 781). Interestingly though, the paper, while addressing the prevalence of methamphetamines does not mention perhaps its most common derivative, MDMA, the drug most popular in the form of ecstasy pills. This seems odd considering the drug has been reported as on the rise with police seizures jumping from 150, 000 tablets in 2003 to almost double within the first 6 months of 2004 (Yamamoto, 2004: 437). Another self-acknowledged limitation of the World Mental Health Japan’s study was the neglect of the adolescent demographic where such party drugs like ecstasy, one would assume, would be most prevalent. Yet even given the strong youth market consuming anime, I could only find one reference to MDMA (assuming the pills in Akira (Otomo, 1988) are in fact ecstasy), and none to methamphetamines, the most abused drug in Japan (Yamamoto, 2004: 431). The only other illicit drugs referenced in anime, as far as my studies have gone, are marijuana, LSD, opium and mushrooms. The rest are fictitious drugs (with fascinating technological implications to be explored later).

'So many colours...'

Here is a list of anime that reference real-life drugs that I am aware of:

  • Afro Samurai (TV) (Kizaki, 2007) – marijuana, it is never mentioned but is quite obvious as it is smoked in pretty much every scene.
  • Akira (Otomo, 1988) – ecstasy, assuming that is what the pills are.
  • Cowboy Bebop (TV) (Watanabe, 1999) – mushrooms in episode 17 (whether the events actually happened or not, it is still referenced).
  • Gintama (Takamatsu, 2006) – a hard drug similar to heroin although not labeled as such in episode 7.
  • Gunslinger Girl (Asaka, 2003-2004) – casual and slightly condemning reference to marijuana[1].
  • Kara no Kyoukai Part 7 (Takizawa, 2009) – marijuana and LSD mentioned and combined into a fictitious drug.
  • Oni-Tensai (OVA) (Kendo, 2000) – marijuana is mentioned.
  • Rurouni Kenshin (TV) (Furanhashi, 1996-1998) – an arc of the series deals with opium[2].
  • Samurai Champloo (TV) (Watanabe, 2004) – a field of pot is set ablaze and everyone gets high in episode 7.
  • Sword for Truth (OVA) (Dezaki, 1990) – opium in the aforementioned lesbian sex scene.

That's some good shit.

That totals ten… and this list took some research and thought. I’m sure most could rattle off ten Western films/TV series that reference drugs without too much effort. Within this list, most link drugs to violence, crime and suffering. Of course this is not too far from the truth; many drugs and drug-abuse have strong connections with such anti-social behaviour and the emotional and physical aftermath of such actions. However only Samurai Champloo actually approaches drug-use from a positive perspective, the others are either negative or indifferent.

Drugs and violence.

Samurai Champloo has two opposing groups putting their differences aside and getting along by unintentionally getting high in a carnivalesque celebration. It is funny but also interesting in its depiction of the ego-dissolving properties of such drugs. It works at bringing people together despite ideological differences; it is unifying. And yet this is an anomaly. My opinion, that others in the field of anime scholarship share, is that drugs are stigmatized far more in Japanese culture than in many Western nations such as the United States, Australia, the UK and New Zealand[3].

'Anyone got a light?'

Interestingly, it is the portrayal of fictitious drugs that are far more insightful than their real-world counterparts. Here is a list:

  • Cowboy Bebop (TV) (Watanbe, 1998) – episode 1’s ‘bloody eye,’ a drug that seems to offer an increase in combat abilities.
  • Boogiepop Phantom (TV) (Watanabe, 2004) – episode 4 deals with a drug called ‘Type S’ that leads one character to slavery and eventually insanity. As his dependency grows, his grip on reality slips and he becomes obsessed with an employee whom he starts to believe is his dating sim: infatuation becomes obsession that becomes madness.
  • Fractale (TV) (Yamamote, 2011) – episode 1 references a ‘data drug’ briefly.
  • Serial Experiments Lain (TV) (Nakamura, 1998) – episode 2 deals with a drug called ‘Accela’ that increases one’s brain’s functions by 2-12 times its normal capacity (similar to the new film Limitless (Burger, 2011)). It is used to help access The Wired. (For those unfamiliar with Lain, The Wired is similar to the Net in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (Kamiyama, 2002-2003), a Matrix-like cyber-world where it is easy to lose touch with reality.) The user in this episode commits a murder-suicide. Interestingly, the drug looks machinic (see below).
  • Tales From Earthsea (Miyazaki, 2006) – heroin-like drug that destroys lives in the city of Hortown (one of the few interesting moments in this film).

Accela

That totals five. Three of these are related to technology (techno-orientated if you will… sorry ><). They increase the body’s capacity to act and become, as is also the case with ‘bloody eye’ in Bebop. To borrow a term from rave literature, these drugs are ‘body technology;’ they are ability enhancers, biological upgrades (St John, 2004: 4). Accela is particularly interesting: it is used to transcend corporeal limitations and access another plane of existence, a becoming-other in a cyber-world of possibility. The comparisons between cyber-reality and drugs are obvious; our ’addiciton’ to the internet, blogging, Second Life, WoW (for some…), etc are similar (anti-)social tropes (The Matrix (Wachowski bros., 1999) has also made the comparison with the red pill/blue pill plot device).

The overwhelmingly negative portrayal (and the minor representations) of drugs in anime, while an imbalance, alludes to some wider social values and attitudes. Firstly, it embodies the Japanese stigmatism towards illicit drugs, equating them with crime, violence and suffering[4]. Secondly, the lack of representation reflects the lowered prevalence of drug-use than in most other developed countries. And thirdly, the majority of the fictitious drugs are negatively associated with obsessive, otaku[5] attitudes towards computers and cyber-realms. This is perhaps a reflection of the generally negative stance on losing oneself to technology too completely that I have discussed on other occasions throughout this blog.

'Wanna party?'

Now I’m not saying that we need more drugs in anime (or society for that matter), but I do believe that there should be a more balanced portrayal of drug-use within the medium. But perhaps anime audiences don’t really care about drugs or their representation. I mean if an audience is offered either giant mecha battles or some loner tweaking out in an alley to watch on a Friday night, I think most would choose the former. Similarly, as the research may suggest, drugs are not so prevalent in anime because they are simply not so prevalent in Japanese society. However I think this is too simplistic an interpretation. Rather, I believe the lack of representation is predominantly due to cultural and marketing factors. Perhaps drugs as subject matter just aren’t that interesting. Perhaps drugs just don’t sell.

Now what drug-anime have I missed?

Note: some of the citations to anime are episode-specific and hence may only list the director and year pertaining to the episode discussed. My source for this is Anime News Network (www.animenewsnetwork.com).


[1] I have not seen Gunslinger Girl and have only been told about this scene. As a result, I do not know the specific episode.

[2] I have only seen some of Kenshin and have not seen the opium arc, hence I have referenced the whole series.

[3] Finding specific academic references to cite here proved very difficult. The opinions I refer to have been gleaned from forums and through email correspondence with academics in the field.

[4] Indeed the first time I was in Japan some Japanese friends of ours were talking about drugs and the North Korean criminals who were known to be pushing them. Suffice to say, they weren’t happy about it. Drugs analogous with crime. The Yamamoto article supports this, identifying North Korean organized crime as the one of the main traffickers of methamphetamines (Yamamoto, 2004: 437).

[5] I am, of course, using the Japanese definition of the word here not the internationally adopted one.


Food For Thought I: The puppetry of the animated artifice

Before we indulge in what is no doubt to be a veritable feast of the mind, I wanted to give a brief site update due to a change of circumstances for me – I have recently got a full-time job! It’s a contract and will go through till the end of August. I’m looking at 50-60 hour weeks on top of other commitments. As a result, I will not be able to devote as much time to my blog. That is not to say I will be ending, or even postponing, it. No, sir. What I decided was to undergo a series of shorter posts called Food For Thought (not very original, but nonetheless):

This will be a sporadic series of short posts aiming to proffer bite-sized chunks of insight and perhaps even generate some discussion. Whether it be something interesting I’ve read or a thought that has occurred to me, this series will play out as (hopefully) intelligent filler between my longer, more in-depth posts – something to keep the ball rolling, I guess. These posts may or may not be on the topic of technology.

So without further ado:

Every anime character is a technological body.

Yui!

And I’m not just talking cyborgs and androids. Let’s pick an example, any example… Yui from K-On! say – why not? Yui is a technological body. How, you ask? Let’s take a look:

Christopher A. Bolton’s article ‘From Wooden Cyborgs to Celluloid Souls: Mechanical Bodies in Anime and Japanese Puppet Theater’ aims to investigate the performative aspects of anime’s portrayal of the artificial body by comparing Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell with the Japanese puppet theater, an earlier form of popular drama and representation of the mechanical body (Bolton, 2002: 730).

But how the fuck is Yui a mechanical body?

She is a representation – an illustration – on celluloid, as all anime characters are. Bolton states that ‘any treatment of technology in the narratives or images of anime must also take careful account of the technology of the medium itself, specifically the way that all anime bodies – human and machine – are artificial and the specific language (visual and verbal) of their representation’ (Bolton, 2002: 765-766). The animated medium becomes one of performance and representation; a forum where ideas of the body are exchanged, machinc interactions with the organic. Indeed the medium becomes the message, as Marshall McLuhan would remind us.

'Hey the medium IS the message! I totally get it!'

But what does this say about our own world?

By ‘hooking in’ to this technology, that is participating in the circuit of DVD-DVD player-TV-viewer, we are ourselves cyborgs, a part of the network of high-tech representations. ‘[W]e are not so different from the puppet god or ruler that acts as the puppet’s audience’ (Bolton, 2002: 767). The medium itself creates a space for thought. It is the social implication of the medium that becomes mirrored by the content.

Japanese puppet theater

Similarly, the puppet theater exists as the manipulation of representative bodies distanced from the real. And ‘[l]ike viewers who have become absorbed in the puppets and stopped seeing the manipulators, we must periodically step back and be reminded of the performance’ (Bolton, 2002: 766).

But isn’t it the same with any dramatic visual medium? Isn’t it all performance-based?

It's all in the performance.

Yes, but the dream factory of Hollywood more often than not aims to conceal the performance and has more of an advantage in doing so. Anime and puppet theater, however, hang their obvious representations out for everyone to see. And even when animation does do an incredibly detailed and skillful job of representing reality, maybe consider the graphics of the Final Fantasy games, it seems even more likely to draw attention to itself as an illusion. So animation, and puppet theatre, seem condemned to an artifice of obvious artificiality, the more real the representation, the more illusory the product. And that’s how Yui – and all anime characters – are technological bodies, celluloid souls.

So real, so fake.

Discussion Points:

a) How aware of anime’s artifice are you when you are watching anime?

b) And how, if at all, does this affect your experience?


Stark Raving Mad: The Unsuccessful Nuptials of Rave Culture and Anime

Raving and anime – strange bedfellows, right?

Back in 1999, Toshiya Ueno wrote an article called ‘Techno-Orientalism and media-tribalism: On Japanese animation and rave culture[1]’ (Ueno, 1999). This article combines two of my great interests (both academically and experientially): raving and anime. Unfortunately I’m not convinced by the connections.

Yo DJ, spin that shit.

While not setting out to specifically argue for a sameness of the two cultures (his purpose is more to expand upon notions of techno-orientalism and media-tribalism), the paper does draw upon ‘similarities’ between the cultures that I find problematic. Ueno argues that rave culture and anime share ‘progressive’ sexual politics in their similar representations of women and the machine while also sharing similar future alternative politics (Ueno, 1999: 104-105)[2]. While I have argued in the past that rave culture embodies these aforementioned becomings[3], I do not agree that anime does, too. At least not in the same capacity.

Ueno’s first observation is that both rave culture and anime merge the female with the machine (Ueno, 1999: 104). And I agree. However, what I take issue with is the disparate and misrepresented ethics he attempts to coalesce. While the cyborgian woman experiences a loss individuality to the surrounding body of technology (Ueno, 1999: 104) within both cultures, the implications of this hybridization differ.

Rave culture has been associated with forward-thinking sexual politics (Pini, 2006: 373 & Hutson, 2000: 42). At these raves, women are in many ways liberated from the predatory male gaze. They are not so much seen as sexual objects to be ‘picked up’, but rather treated as equals, dancing towards a larger state of being, a state of unity, a site of non-differentiation (Hutson, 2000: 42), or in rave scholar Maria Pini’s terms, a ‘text of sameness’ (Pini, 2006: 370, 375). Men and women become friends, not genders; the erotic act of penetration is withdrawn and replaced by a ‘polymorphous sense of perversity’ as the focus of the raver’s desire (Reynolds, 1994). The dance floor as a site of sexual seduction is reterritorialised as a rave space in which bodies connect and relate in new, liberating ways. But can we really say this is the case with anime? Let’s consider the nature of fan service[4].

Progressive?

Keith Russell is a Design and Communication philosopher who is currently working on a theory of ‘the glimpse.’ In his article, ‘The Glimpse and Fan Service: New Media, New Aesthetics,’ he examines the role the glimpse plays in fan service in anime (Russell, 2008). While I find his exploration of the glimpse fascinating, I am not entirely sold by the characteristics of freedom and liberation he attributes to it. Nonetheless, his paper, along with its shortcomings, provides an ample base for a critique on Ueno’s work. Russell argues that fan service[5] – analogous with the glimpse – is liberating, resistant, reassuring (not dangerous) and not perverse (Russell, 2008: 108, 108, 107, 109, respectively). Of course, some fan service can be innocent: Russell cites Astro Girl’s short skirt offering panty glimpses (Russell, 2008: 109) and I would include a similar moment with Nausicaa in Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (Miyazaki, 1984). I don’t believe these moments to be overtly sexual. However while they may not be perverse in nature, it is entirely up to the beholder of the gaze, differing from character to character, from audience to audience. And this is my main criticism of Russell’s paper – not his theory, just his paper – while the nature of the glimpse may be all these things above, viewing is a subjective experience, and the vast majority of fan service in anime and manga is intended to be perverse and sexually titillating. So a (contra)distinction needs to be made between the glimpse and fan service, because while they are related, they are not at all the same; cousins twice removed, perhaps.

Russell further argues that fan service occupies an uncontested visual space between desire and satisfaction (Russell, 2008: 108). Yes, maybe so and it is an interesting point, but it does not make fan service any more sanitary or less objectifying. While the glimpse itself in fan service can be celebrated as free, liberating and empowering for the viewer, it simultaneously condemns, at least temporarily, the female figures as eroticized objects, often passive, under the male gaze.

In terms of cyborgian women in anime consider how many texts simultaneously imbue females with cyborgian characteristics while also overtly sexualizing and stereotyping them. (An example of this can be found in Ghost in the Shell (Oshii, 1995), to be discussed later.) So Ueno’s claim that anime and rave culture both provide, in the same capacity, an alternative space for women is slightly shortsighted. And while Russell provides an interesting examination of the glimpse itself, its application to fan service neglects the glimpse’s object. So, with the understanding that there are always going to be exemptions to such a statement, fan service is one factor that undermines anime and manga’s potentially liberal disposition.

Similarly, English professor Carl Silvio explores this ambivalent stance in his article ‘Refiguring the Radical Cyborg in Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell’ (Silvio, 1999). Silvio argues that despite what at first glance seems to be a radical subversion of ‘the power dynamics inherent in dominant structures of gender and sexual difference’, Oshii’s film covertly reinscribes them (Silvio, 1999: 60). This is attributable to the contradictory nature of cyborg politics – it can serve the interests of both liberation and domination (Silvio, 1999: 60). The body can become enhanced and improved – more powerful – but the cyborgian shell also transforms the organic body into something akin to coded information and hence it becomes more vulnerable to social control; becomes alterable and also dispensable (Silvio, 1999: 60). For example, Major Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell explains how her body and certain classified memories are the property of the government. She is free to leave Section 9 whenever she wants, but she will need to surrender both her shell and large parts of her mind (Oshii, 1995). She can simultaneously be read as enhanced and ‘euphorically powerful’ but also commodified and ‘owned by the networks’ (Bolton, 2002: 730, 733 respectively). Russell’s approach to fan service operates in a similar, but perhaps more obviously, dual fashion, both liberal and conservative depending on which side of the glimpse one falls. So while it may seem, at times, that certain anime are unshackling traditional gender and sexual restraints – through the cyborg, through the glimpse – they also reinforce them and hence cannot transcend the ambivalent to the progressive.

Transgressive cyborg or eroticized object? Or both?

The second of Ueno’s links between rave culture and anime is the promotion of future alternative politics, including a hybridization of the body and technology that explores the potential of cyberfeminism and the cyborg (Ueno, 1999: 104). I agree with Ueno that anime is providing a very active arena for posthuman ethics to be contested and explored (Ueno, 1999: 105) (as I have looked at in my post on child-machine weaponry), however, it is the attitudes towards the posthuman that differs in anime and rave culture; attitudes that Ueno overlooks.

On the one hand, rave culture is ‘body culture’ (Pini, 2006: 375); it puts the body back into music amidst cyborgian surrounds. Electronic dance music (a necessary proponent of rave culture) embraces the cyborg, hence disrupting gender boundaries, renegotiating the body and what a body can do. It is a positive move towards posthuman futures with our bodies and (fluid) genders in tact. On the other hand, anime takes a much more cautionary, even negative stance on the idea of man-machine integration[6]. Just look at cyberpunk texts such as Bubblegum Crisis (OAV) (various, 1987), AD Police (OAV) (various, 1990), Cyber City Oedo 808 (OAV) (Kawajiri, 1990-1991), Angel Cop (OAV) (Itano, 1989), and more recent science fiction anime such as Metropolis (Rintaro, 2001) and SaiKano (Kase, 2002). Once again, anime seldom looks favourably upon a directly integrated man-machine future, preferring a less threatening, less encroaching side-by-side harmony with machines; robots and humans separate and distinct (Kaplan, 2004: 3). So while both rave culture and anime act as sites of posthuman consideration, their outcomes and attitudes are contrary.

Ueno’s article does not aim to marry the two cultures, but in engaging with the two very different fields he does invite criticism. As excited as I was about a possible opening up of an academic space between the two fields, I am not convinced. For me, the prominence of fan service cancels out a general argument for anime as progressive in terms of sexuality and gender, and regarding posthuman politics, the two subcultures simply share different attitudes. But let’s reflect:

Besides this post being a somewhat critical look at one particular paper, it also allowed for some interesting points on the different aspects of fan service, contradictory cyborg politics, and posthuman attitudes within two of my favourite subcultures. I’m thankful for the opportunity to engage these two disparate ends of the pop-cultural spectrum in a single post – I just hope I haven’t stepped on too many academics’ toes in the process. Bring on the rebuttals!

Note: As much as I like to wank on about rave culture and the possibilities it offers the body, I have tried to limit such an analysis and rather keep with the blog’s focus of anime.


[1] To clarify, rave culture here refers to illegal raves, or at least raves operating outside the mainstream scene. Commercial raves and club scenes are not a part of this. There is a particular interest in psy-trance events.

[2] There is also a third similarity where Ueno compares the competitive mimesis or mimetic antagonism between the two cultures (Ueno, 1999: 103) but I don’t contest this.

[3] While not a recognized expert in the field, my honours thesis was on rave culture so I’ve done extensive research in the area. However, my work is not published or peer-reviewed (maybe in the future…) and so I have not referenced it.

[4] I am not pretending that my research into fan service is in any way seminal or comprehensive. I am only drawing off the one article by Keith Russell and injecting it with a lot of my own (and perhaps others’) opinions. Surprisingly, I have not been able to find much scholarship on fan service.

[5] I’ll note here that Russell’s definition of fan service only includes ‘the random and gratuitous display of anticipated gestures common in Manga and Anime. These gestures include such things as panty shots, leg spreads (spread legs) and glimpses of breasts’ (Russell, 2008: 107). I find this limited as I have always understood fan service to more broadly include moments designed to titillate the viewer that serve little plot or thematic purpose. Anything from sexual gratuity to explosions, cool mecha, etc. This definition is largely lifted from anime critic Pete Harcoff over at the now defunct review site, The Anime Critic. Also, fellow blogger ghostlightning shares similar views here and here. I would be interested to hear other people’s understanding of the term fan service. (For this post though, I am just discussing sexual-based fan service.)

[6] It is helpful to distinguish here between cyborgs that can be separated from their machines, i.e. hackers, power suit warriors, etc., to those who are technocorporeal, e.g. Kusanagi in Ghost, Gally in Battle Angel (OAV) (Fukutome & Rintaro, 1993), etc..


Cyborg Soldiers: Child-Machine Weaponry

We are deep in the cyborg age. Our daily lives are a series of technological and machinic interactions – computers, cars, mobile phones, not to mention prosthetics, pacemakers, life support systems – where we are hooked up and connected to a range of different mediums and circuits: an integration of man and machine. And these exchanges have surpassed the frivolous to the point of dependency – how is a businessman supposed to function without a phone or computer? Bank accounts, weapon systems, information systems – all computerized. With no intention of reliving Y2K paranoia, what would happen if technology was suddenly to fail, or be usurped by some belligerent entity? Chaos. Our society revolves around technology. We are all, in one way or another, cyborgs.

But how does this effect children and youths? What identity issues come to the surface? And in the face of postmodern war, how do cyborg soldiers come into play? These are some of the questions I would like to address through an examination of children and youth as cyborg soldiers – child-machine weapons – through science fiction anime. The anime discussed in terms of child-machine weaponry will include SaiKano (Kase, 2002), Neon Genesis: Evangalion (Anno, 1995-1996), Akira (Otomo, 1988), Mobile Suit Gundam[1], and Metropolis (Rintaro, 2001) (as well as touching on a few other pertinent titles). Through addressing these questions, I will argue that there is a feminisation of technology taking place in these anime. This post will also examine the nature of the cyborg and how it has translated onto anime’s younger characters within the science fiction field. But first, a closer look at Donna Haraway’s cyborg is necessary.

Traditionally, the West has seen technology as essentially masculine, being both cold and mechanical, whereas the feminine has been reserved to the organic and nature: the ‘warmer’ aspects of our world (Marsh & West, 2003: 183-184). However, the cyborg coalesces the organic with the machine, the masculine with the feminine. Donna Haraway’s image of the cyborg denotes a cybernetic organism that embodies both human and machine characteristics and is as much a part of social reality as it is of fiction (Haraway, 2001: 139). It is an entity that problematises dualities such as mind/body, nature/culture, man/woman, primitive/civilised (Loza, 2001: 350) and most obviously, man/machine. Through the cyborg, the man/machine dichotomy is broken down. And once this boundary has been dissolved, all other dualities also collapse, unifying the disparate elements to the point in which they become indistinguishable (Springer in Loza, 2001: 350).  Take note of gender binaries and, most importantly for this discussion, dualistic cultural assumptions. ‘The cyborg is a threshold at which the possibilities we have hoped for in the past and those we seek in the future become indistinct; we are all now becoming “hybridized”, “biomatic” and “technocorporeal”’ (Sotirin, 2005: 101).  Similarly, as the soldier becomes increasingly cyborgian, their gender identity shifts, often becoming more cyborg than a particular gender (Gray, 2002: 58); they are ‘neither male nor female in any absolute sense’ (Robertson, 2007: 393). For the child-machine weapons, there is a shift from the absolutist, cold, masculine qualities traditionally attributed to technology to a feminisation of technology (that does not completely abolish the masculine element).

Anime scholar Brian Ruh identifies such a trend in Oshii’s first Patlabor film (Oshii, 1989) (Ruh, 2004: 97). The female characters, Noa and Kanuka, are given precedence over the main labor pilot, Ohta, in the film. The climactic end battle is a face off between Noah and a rogue labor, where Noah triumphs, demonstrating an affinity with her machine. Ruh also draws attention to the more feminine look of the prototype patlabor unit as opposed to the bulkier design used by the SV2 team; its main weapon is no longer the phallic gun, but rather an extendable arm that can cut through an opponents armour; and it also proves more agile and effective in combat than the other labor models (Ruh, 2004: 97). Similarly, and more to the point of children as cyborg weapons, Neon Genesis: Evangalion presents high school students (the majority of which are female[2]) in symbiosis with their evas – mecha weapons. Effectively, they must shed their ego-autonomy and corporeal limitations in order to synchronise with their machines (Orbaugh, 2009: 120). And may note the slimmer mecha designs of the Evas and also their brighter colours: a feminised design. Furthermore, Shinji is far from the archetypal male hero, struggling with his masculinity throughout most of the series. The stronger characters (although I am aware that they are all well fucked up in their own ways) are the females. This seems a somewhat refreshing progression from the more dualistic Western approach to technology and gender.

In SaiKano, the female protagonist Chise consents to having her body modified by the military, turning her into a child-machine weapon, female inclined due to her biology but by mixing the organic with the machine – the traditional masculine with the female – we have sporadic moments of gender fluidity. She is a high school student on the cusp of puberty, and really, the whole show can be interpreted as a metaphor for puberty – as perhaps all child-machine anime can. In the show, there is a consistent emphasis on bodily change and development, heightened emotions, and relationships struggling to maintain their childhood innocence. In one episode, Shu-Chan’s (Chise’s boyfriend) classmates mistake Chise’s claim that she is ‘growing’ to mean an increase in breast size. It could also be argued that it is during puberty that girls begin to realise their sexual power, in a sense, their sexual weaponry, working out how to use and control it. It is a turbulent and violent time – blood is spilled, no humour intended – where emotions can strike out like weapons (Akira and Eva are other examples). Chise is a cyborg soldier dynamic in gender identity but with obvious feminine inclinations.

The future into which these cyborg kids are maturing is one that requires an integration with technology, necessary for survival on the battlefield of their pubescent existence, but at what cost? They come face-to-face with the postmodern identity crisis in the technological age. Where do they fit into this information cyberscape? In terms of postmodern war, the military looked to technology to solve their own identity crisis. Dreams of smart weapons and bloodless infowar have been replaced with the new reality of the cyborg soldier (Gray, 2002: 57). And in these anime, the young characters are becoming just this, they are the beating heart, the life force within their technological womb – pubescent emotions turned feral, striking with the force of entire armies. Consider Tetsuo from Akira: a biological weapon in himself, constantly integrating with surrounding technology in mutations beyond his control.

Furthermore, anime scholar Jane Chi Hyun Park has drawn a comparison between Teema from Metropolis and Major Kusanagi[3] from Ghost in the Shell (Oshii, 1995). Park writes that both characters are ‘artificial females who are simultaneously feminine and masculine, strong and vulnerable’ (Park, 2005: 63). They are also both weapons: Teema is the missing piece to the ziggurat, set to be the most powerful weapon in the world, and Kusanagi is a government assassin. Park states that ‘[n]either character performs the male gaze’ and both are androgynous to an extent (Park, 2005: 63). On the one hand, Kusanagi possesses an attractive body, or ‘shell’, but it is not sexualized; in fact, she is a somewhat non-sexual character. On the other hand, Teema is androgynous due to her age, the androgyny of childhood. Both are cyborg beings in futures where technology is no longer seen as an ‘other,’ but something that has converged with our very existence, the organic and the machine as one, masculine and feminine two sides of the same coin, gender fluid and interchangeable.

And in this age of cyborgs weapons, the animes discussed raise a worthwhile question: Does childhood innocence have a place in these posthuman representations of our future? While the cyborg can prove liberating, perhaps for many in terms of gender and organic-machine boundaries, there is also an ethical conflict that seems to be implied through these texts. So, while the cyborg has its positives, the texts discussed seem to suggest an undercurrent of ethical uncertainty for a posthuman future. Despite anime scholar Jennifer Robertson’s belief that due to Japan’s non-monotheistic belief, dualistic thinking is not as embedded in the Japanese mentality (Robertson, 2007: 393), computer scientist Frederic Kaplan concludes that posthuman futures are seldom met with enthusiasm in anime, where a harmonious ‘side-by-side’ coexistence is favoured over more integrated cyborgian becomings (Kaplan, 2004: 3). The anime mentioned support this[4].

So through a feminisation of technology, the child-machine weapons are not abnegating masculinity all together, just moving away from it towards a gender hybridized future, allowing the cyborg to achieve its potential. The weaponry side of things only emphasises this characteristic more, where weapons, suggesting war, are seen as male-dominant areas of society and humanity. It also paints the posthuman in a violent and destructive hue – a corrupter of innocence, the all-consuming machine-monster, abject and transgressive, preys on children’s tears. This only further enforces Kaplan’s point.

As a final observation, the child-machine weapons seem to lack parents. Think of the Gundam children, Chise, Teema and the Eva pilots. They are either without parents, or if they have them, they are either not mentioned or rarely present[5]. Similarly, the cyborg lacks a humanist origin story. By nature, it does not separate itself, and consequently define itself against, a maternal figure. By extension, there is no need for the production of an ‘other’ entity to be overcome and defined against (Schneider, 2005: 63-64). It is not so much pre-Oedipal as it is anti-Oedipal. It does not exist in the transcendental realm of hierarchies and binary systems, and as a result, exists in a more immanent, liminal space in which gender assumptions can be contested and renegotiated. Of course, I am not suggesting that these kids were not born from the womb (although in some instances it may be the case), but in an analytical capacity, the argument could be made that they, as cyborgs, transcend Oedipal existence. In some ways this is liberating, but more so tragic – disturbing reminisces of Huxley’s parentless citizens in A Brave New World (Huxley, 2006), or even Ergo Proxy’s (Murase, 2006) mechanically bred ‘model citizens.’ It becomes a deprivation of our humanity; parents as necessary character-moulding guides to a healthy and organic existence. So the discussion on child-machine weaponry inevitably returns to ethical conflict: the animes seem to be rejecting the tenet of a posthuman existence viewing it as impoverished and ethically problematic. All I can say is at least someone is thinking of the children.


[1] I am only drawing off the Gundam series I have seen recently which are 08th MS Team (Kanda & Iida, 1996) and 0083: Stardust Memory (Kase & Imanishi, 1991).

[2] I understand there are five pilots selected in the original series but two of the males are more temporary than the central three. Therefore, by battle presence and screen time, the female pilots represent the majority.

[3] I am aware Kusanagi is an adult character, but she is interestingly reborn in a child’s body by the end of the film.

[4] With the exception of maybe Ghost in the Shell, but that is open to debate.

[5] Of course, Shinji’s dad is still alive, but for most of the series is absent as a father figure.


Anime/Manga Scholarship of 2010

As part of the anime and manga research circle, I received an email recently from a fellow anime/manga academic linking to his annual list of anime/manga scholarship published in 2010. Looking through it, there are a few titles and chapters that sparked my interest, especially concerning the cyborg and, in particular, the book ‘Tokyo Cyberpunk: Posthumanism in Japanese Visual Culture’ by Steven Brown. I will endeavour to track this last one down, hopefully it will be relevant to my current research into cyberpunk and the cyborg (introduction available here). Also, quite a bit has been published on yaoi manga and one that may be of interest to the lolicons out there is an article titled ‘Kawaii vs. rorikon: The reinvention of the term Lolita in modern Japanese manga’ by Zank Dinah. There is also, what I assume from the titles, specific studies of Satoshi Kon, Cowboy Bebop, Lupin III, Laputa: Castle in the Sky and Princess Mononoke. There are 158 entries in the list and the editor has stated that it is not a complete list, but a comprehensive list – ‘a work in progress’ – drawing from a lot of different disciplines. As it is, I feel it is a very helpful tool in navigating through the current scholarship, and I highly recommend anybody interested in anime/manga academia to check it out. You can find it here.

 


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