This is a status update of sorts, for anyone who is following this blog and wondering what happened.
Work. School. Random internet entanglements.
All three somehow happened around the same time and squeezed out that free time I used to write about anime. These days, I’m grateful to be able to watch anime.
And now, for something different, I present the words of Quentin Tarentino, putting film crit hulk in his place:
“And I mean if you want to do this for a fucking living and you’re absolutely serious, then never hate a movie. You can learn so much about the craft from bad movies. I man you can’t like fucking look at Kurosawa and be all “Oooh just do what Kurosawa did. You know, it’s easy!” Fuck no! Bad movies teach you what not to do and what to correct in your process and that’s way more helpful. You know how many feet of film I burned on this thing [Kill Bill] when I was trying to be like something else that was great? Like fucking Pole Fighter, like what you said? No, all the best stuff came out of me just trying to avoid mistakes.
And fuck man, hating movies closes you off to stuff that seems like whatever you hate. Or stuff by the same guy. And who knows? That other stuff could be awesome. Some of my favorite filmmakers made bad movies. It won’t help you. It just won’t. It stops your development right in its tracks, okay? I mean like everything and I ain’t trying to get you to be like fucking me or anything. I’m just saying I think it’s better for you. And it makes me way, way happier. Never hate a movie. They’re gifts. Every fucking one of em.”
There is a contradiction to Azuma’s arguments thus far; within otaku culture, there is an increasing interest in the drama within a work. If there is no need for a grand narrative, real or fake, then why is there more interest in narratives?
To answer this question, Azuma first goes off and looks at eroge. This is a type of visual novel that gained popularity in the late 90’s, the basic format is that the player tries to win over a female character and if successful, is treated to some erotic illustrations. However, the main features of the game are simply text and illustrations, the player is much less active than in most games. Due to the fact that they were mostly images and text, they evolved over time to effectively trigger emotion with the texts and evoke moe through the images. This development has made them into a genre that efficiently reflects the passions of the otaku.
Today, we go back to Azuma’s second question:
If, in postmodernity, the notion of transcendence is in decline, what becomes of the humanity of human beings?
First, we look for the meaning of the rise of database consumption within a broad world historical view, rather than a Japanese one. To do this, we start by looking at an idea of Hegel’s (a philosopher from the early 19th century). In Hegel’s philosophy, History is the process of struggle between the Human and the Other that moves us towards knowledge, freedom, and civil society. In his opinion, this process ended in the beginning of the 19th century for Europe. In other words, the arrival of modern society was the end of History.
The Evangelion TV series and films can still be seen as a more or less exclusive entry into the database. However, following Evangelion, even this kind of entry point wasn’t needed. This is partly due to the nature of multimedia. A card game could lead to fan anthologies of which one gets adapted into a popular novel that is then adapted into an anime and manga simultaneously. In this case, the original is no longer the entry point, the entry point can be anything. Consumers are often not even aware of the distinction of which is original and which is derivative, or if they are often little importance is placed on it.
We left off last time with 2 questions, the first of which we will address now: In modernity, the cause of birth of an original was the author. What is the cause of birth of the simulacra? How do they overtake the originals and copies?
To answer this question, Azuma first will draw our attention to Otsuka Eiji’s Theory of Narrative Consumption. In essence, the theory states that comics or toys aren’t consumed in and of themselves, but rather their consumption is tied to a larger narrative. (He calls this a “grand narrative”, probably because in the situation he wrote this, the 1980’s, it seemed like the embrace of fictional realities was a coping mechanism for the loss of the grand narrative, i.e. the traditional Japanese identity lost in WWII. However, I avoid this terminology for obvious reasons.) So, for example, when one purchases a Gundam figure, he is consuming a single fragment of the Gundam universe. The more Gundam figures he buys, the larger of a section he has obtained. This activity, of consuming more and more of the larger narrative (in this case referring to the Gundam universe), is called “narrative consumption”.
So let’s say that a consumer consumes all of the pieces of a larger narrative. He can still participate in this narrative consumption if he chooses by adding to this narrative. Rather than make a knockoff Gundam figure and get sued, he invents a new Gundam. Is it fake or real? This distinction is not applicable.
So, for the second entry of the Analysis Series, I chose my favorite scene from an unpopular anime. This is by no means an attempt to convince you that the anime was actually good; if you’ve been following my blog since the beginning you would recall that I think reducing the series down to one word such as “good” or “bad” is shallow and over-simplifying. However, I will not deny that I hope to convince you that at least this scene is well thought-out.
Now, analyzing this scene, set in the center of the series, will necessarily spoil the first half of the series. It is the climatic scene that splits the series into two-halves, and after this scene the tone of the series changes somewhat. This is the scene that transforms doubt into faith, this is the scene where lines are drawn and love is affirmed. The first half questions, the second half answers. So even though there is a climax at the end of the series, it lacks in significance compared to this scene. Continue on if you have seen it or if you don’t mind spoilers.
The nucleus of otaku culture is the derivative works market (keep in mind my conclusion from the last installment that this interpretation of otaku culture is specific to modern Japanese otaku, and that applicability to those of us in other countries who call ourselves otaku might vary). Failing to consider these derivative works means we can’t grasp the trends of otaku culture. Baudrillard predicts that in a postmodern society, the distinction between original and copy weakens, and the “simulacrum”, neither original nor copy, becomes dominant. Even the originals are simulacra if they create worlds through citation and imitation of other works (instead of real life). Thus, the insular nature of otaku culture propagates simulacra.
Welcome to the Analysis Series. In this series, a single moment is taken apart and analyzed. This moment could be 1 second or it could be 10 minutes. What I hope to accomplish is to inspire readers to wonder more about what makes anime tick, to see anime as creative process rather than just a final product. I will also hopefully hone my skills of analysis over this series, since I am not trained in this sort of thing at all.
The first thing I wish to analyze is a moment from Death Note. I am simply going to observe techniques here, and speculate on what the techniques accomplish. Read on if you have either seen Death Note or you don’t mind spoilers.
Anime fuses the east and the west together. Sailor Mars, named after planet and Roman war god, part of a superhero team, totally hotheaded and modern, yet in touch with tradition, is a great example of how this looks. Azuma makes the claim that those able to embrace this hybrid imagery as “Japanese” are able to accept otaku works, and those who can’t find them unbearable.
His analysis obviously applies more to Japanese viewers, but to Azuma, this is part of the heart of anime as a cultural phenomenon. Traditional identity was decisively lost in the defeat of WWII, and the psuedo-Japanese of anime and manga is appealing because it helps fill that void. It’s also potentially repulsive seeing how it isn’t the real thing.