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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.


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?