Dr. Rayna Denison, Senior Lecturer in the UEA Department of Film, Television and Media Studies, introduces her newly released book: Anime: A Critical Introduction (See here for further details!)
There’s a lot of debate about what “anime” is, and even about what to call it. Ideas like Japanimation may still linger at the margins of anime for some, but for others, and particularly fans, we know it to be a cultural category that has expanded to include a plethora of genres. And more.
Japanese animation began long before anime, back in the earliest years of global animation production. Back then, as Jonathan Clements and others have explained (for a review, see: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jan/17/anime-history-jonathan-clements-review), Japanese animation wasn’t what we would picture today, including all kinds of experimentation with cut-out paper animation and other forms of un-anime content (for an example see the following video). Even in Japan, then, anime is a relatively late invention. And, anime is only just occasionally a ‘genre.’
More frequently, it is a term used to describe a whole category or mode of cultural production in Japan, one that ranges from mobile phone content, to online short videos, to television, sometimes straying into the realms of high profile globally distributed films like Akira and Spirited Away. I have routinely tried to argue that what we see here in the UK, even in the age of online anime streaming, is still just the tip of a huge cultural iceberg. Because anime isn’t just texts. Anime also includes theme parks (notably Universal Studios theme park in Japan frequently features special anime theatrical shows and rides, usually based around popular franchises like One Piece, its characters can adorn public spaces from signage to statues and anime is everywhere in advertising imagery in Japan. So, more than a genre, anime is a huge cultural industry, and one that is thoroughly entangled with Japan’s wider industrial landscape.
So, when anime becomes part of our, and other country’s popular animation cultures, it does so at a huge step removed from its meanings in its home culture. This may help to explain why early distributors of anime in the USA and UK tended to like its more “extreme” edges; preferring adult-oriented science fiction anime that was obviously distinct from US family-friendly animated films. But, in the years since the global rise of Pokémon and Studio Ghibli, anime has started to contort, becoming widely recognised by fans and general viewers alike for its generic diversity. Terms like shōnen (boys’) and shōjo (girls’) anime are widely understood, and while anime imports are still dominated by the former, the girls (and women’s) markets are diversifying fast thanks to streaming websites like Crunchyroll (http://www.crunchyroll.com/) and Animax UK (http://www.animaxtv.co.uk/). In these wider worlds of online distribution, anime’s cultural iceberg is being revealed to global fandom as never before.
It is here that I hope to enter into the fray by partaking in the debates about anime’s ever-shifting and changing global meanings and categories. My book, Anime: A Critical Introduction (http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/anime-9781472576811/), tries to map some of those shifts and changes in order to think about how anime has meant very many different things to its fans and antagonists over time. I have, for example, tried to pick out some of the big generic moments in the process – thinking about anime’s relationship to science fiction, and the many debates about anime’s (post)human bodies. Overall, though, I hope to make some contributions to rebalancing our perceptions of anime. To that end, I have focused on the many anime genres and personnel who tend to get ignored, from the rise of children’s anime in the early days of the medium, to the proliferation of horror anime today. I’ve also attempted to think about how anime is produced, focusing on Studio Ghibli’s main producer, Toshio Suzuki, and his creative behind-the-scenes roles in turning Miyazaki into a global brand of animation. From sometime-genre to a meta-genre or mode of production, anime offers us a chance to think across cultures and to look deeper into our own.
Dr Rayna Denison, Senior Lecturer in Film, Television and Media Studies, UEA
See more about anime at my website: http://www.mangamoviesproject.com/