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.

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“I’m an Anime Scholar! Why Should I Watch Anime?”

I love the idea of applying a scholarly or academic approach to anime and manga. If you’ve been reading Ogiue Maniax, I think that”s obvious. Whether it’s studying the works themselves, tracing parallels between fantasy and reality, observing the effects of fan subculture, or any other number of relevant topics, I welcome such discussion and discourse and I think that it’s beneficial to anime and manga overall. There’s just one problem.

Every so often you’ll see scholars writing about anime without taking the time to actually understand it. These are not stupid people, but their approach to anime can be misguided. I want to explain why.

The first issue relates to a problem I posted about previously, the “false positive.” This is where you believe you’re making insightful comparisons, but your lack of experience with anime and manga (and by extension analyzing anime and manga) results in what amounts to grasping at straws of logic and connection. This in itself is not that bad, but we all know that at least in the English-speaking community scholarly exploration of anime is a relatively recent development. The result is a lack of accountability, as writers, whether intentionally or accidentally, try to cover their topic in broad strokes and there’s no one to call them out for the moments where they reached just a little too far. This needs to stop.

The second issue again has to do with understanding the topic you’re studying. It’s one thing to take a detached approach to studying anime so as to avoid being influenced by bias, but become too detached and your words become baby’s first anime lesson only using a more complicated vocabulary. In other words, you begin to say things that are either obvious to people who actually KNOW anime and manga, or that come across as vagueries resulting from again, not actually looking at your material and investing your time in it.

That brings me to the third and last issue, which relates very much to the first two. One should not presume to speak authoritatively about anime and manga without at least understanding a little about the “language” that accompanies them. I of course am not saying you should literally study Japanese (although it can certainly help) but that you should not pigeonhole anime and manga entirely into the context of your own field, subordinating it to your greater topic while simultaneously denying its own creative and artistic language and structures. Even if you do not develop the “vocabulary” commonly used in anime and manga, what’s important is that you develop the ability to convey and translate those ideas. You do not have to be completely “fluent,” but if you’re only a first-year student of this “language” don’t be surprised when your translation is full of errors, and do not try to deny those errors in the first place.

Here’s my overly simplified solution to alleviating these problems: WATCH ANIME. READ MANGA.

Don’t sit back and watch it from the sidelines, engage every show you watch, and when it’s over, grab another and get to work. Love it, love the thing you’re studying even if you don’t think the actual works you’re looking at are any good. Let it become a part of you so that when you do talk about it the words flow naturally. Instead of sounding stiff and awkward, your words will carry the proper weight because you actually WATCHED it instead of just reading about it.