What Do You Mean Not All Anime Involve Philosophical Discussions?

When it comes to anime and manga academia, I commonly see two mistakes.

First is when an unusual work that is elevated by critics and scholars as being artistically significant is considered indicative of other works in anime and manga. Oshii Mamoru’s Ghost in the Shell movies are the most frequently misused in this respect, and while I do like Oshii’s work (including his recent film The Sky Crawlers), he’s pretty much considered an anomaly. And even though he’s much more celebrated and popular, I think Miyazaki is the same way; his works are almost a universe unto themselves when it comes to the Japanese animation industry. If you’re going to analyze the nature and life of the Japanese animation industry, do you look at the rare exception or do you look at the more common works, the middle-of-the-road stuff? I’m not saying you should enjoy crap, of course. However, I think that while the former can give you a good idea of what anime can do, the latter gives you a far clearer image of where anime is.

The second is sort of a mirror image of the first problem. Here, run-of-the-mill works with little to say creatively are considered shining examples of artistic brilliance. Shows that served little purpose outside of making some money and are quickly forgotten due to mediocrity are carted about and displayed as if they were seminal works in the history of anime. For example, Seitokai no Ichizon might be presented as a brilliant portrayal of the difficulties in gender relations in education among students in Japan, when it’s more just a show designed to appeal to otaku and has some entertainment value.

But wait, you might be thinking, “How dare you tell us what’s significant and what’s not! You’re not the boss of us!” But I’m not saying that at all. Ghost in the Shell can say a lot of things about the anime industry. The only thing is that because GitS is an exception, you should probably study it as an exception. And I do think Seitokai no Ichizon‘s story is worth analysis to some extent, but you have to be aware of its origins as a light novel, as well as the otaku subculture it’s trying to appeal to, before you really try to present its ideas as indicative of anything at all.

While I do believe in personal interpretations quite a bit, postmodernism can be a terribly dangerous weapon.

8 thoughts on “What Do You Mean Not All Anime Involve Philosophical Discussions?

  1. I enjoy /any/ analysis of the things I enjoy, however philosophically moot it may be.

    I’d say a lot of anime raises real interesting questions (its sci fi) but I see your point that there are “just for entertainment ” shows that point out nothing new.


    • It’s not really my intent to say that “just for entertainment” shows don’t point out anything new, but to actually consider what those shows are pointing out, whether intentionally or otherwise. Don’t think of them as more than they are, but at the same time you don’t have to write them off entirely.


      • Sorry to put words in your mouth. It’s a bad habit to imply intent of an author.

        I do understand now. I read it several times over.

        A commentary on a real example of point 2 would be a great read : )

        It seems like a run-of-the-mill show can easily lead to a bigger question, at which point the focus/study is on the question itself, not the small connection the show had to it.

        People are killing each other in average shounen title X, which can be portrayed as a brilliant commentary on the true costs of war, but really its more a shounen title geared towards boys who like seeing things explode.

        This sounds like a fun exercise to continue using that format.

        Good night!


  2. I agree that if you’re studying *anime* as a subject, then you need to look at both the good and the bad.. but if you’re just waxing philosophical then it doesn’t matter. Just shooting the breeze about a particular anime, good or bad, isn’t quite the same thing as studying it, however.

    While I’m no coinasseur (to quote Zapp Brannigan) I’m sure every medium with artistic potential has it’s share of people who’d rather just peruse the “classics” or “best-of” to focus their topics. That’s assuming (of course) that they’re only just amateurs playing around.

    So it really comes down to what you want to be doing. If you are seriously trying to tap anime for psychological or sociological reasons then you’d be remiss (at best) to focus on GITS and a few “gems”. You’d be even more remiss to assume that something meant for entertainment purposes is a serious study in anything more than marketing.

    But if you’re just in it to maximize the social value of whatever you’ve watched, then I think it’s perfectly fine to focus on the gems. Personally I wax idiotic about even the shite.. anything to get some value from having spent my time in watching it. I’m not exactly expecting world-class results from pop-psych discussions with otaku.


  3. I think it’s perfectly okay to look at a series like Seitokai no Ichizon in a scholarly way. Even silly works of art reflect a mindset of the times and can tell us something of society. The value increases as time passes, society changes, and the world the anime was created for becomes more distant.


  4. I think box-office returns in Japan probably justify looking at Miyazaki’s works as representative of a Japanese zeitgeist, if not a Japanese industry. The same probably goes for Akira (after all, there’s not been another film quite like Akira, how representative can it be?). That doesn’t explain Ghost in the Shell (or it might — I don’t know how it did in terms of box-office and home-video sales).

    I agree that looking at something run-of-the-mill, like Seitokai no Ichizon may be worth-while. For example, its reflection of and references to other anime and its violation of the fourth wall are perhaps symptomatic of the narcissism of the otaku audience (Ghost in the Shell at least references Ecclesiastes).

    Didn’t there used to be a minor cottage-industry of Utena-studies? Is that at the Ichizon or the GitS end of the spectrum?


  5. “First is when an unusual work that is elevated by critics and scholars as being artistically significant is considered indicative of other works in anime and manga.”

    I agree to an extent on this point. I think most fans confuse the terminology – “significance”, artistic or otherwise, does not necessarily mean that the show is a good example of the medium as a whole.
    Rather, “artistically significant works” are trend-setters that push the envelope of what can be done. Artistic significance is not an effect, it is a cause.

    Consider the commonly tossed around Neon Genesis Evangelion. It’s unlike virtually every other mecha anime out there. But it’s tropes have undoubtedly influenced a large number of mecha anime since.
    Miyazaki, likewise, has a particularly idiosyncratic style, but his incorporation of traditional Japanese folktales and the like are arguably a huge influence in many works.
    The same goes for Ghost in the Shell – it is an artistically significant work in the sense that it laid the groundwork for a number of tropes – not necessarily anime tropes, but the film was acknowledged as a major influence in live action films such as the Matrix.


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