Thursday, March 30, 2006

My Thoughts on Anime : An Interview

In 2004, I was contacted by a high school student who was doing a research project on anime. As part of that project, she had to interview someone who was formally studying anime (and/or related topics). She found me through the Anime and Manga Research Circle and interviewed me over email. The questions were fairly general but fun to answer, and the interview allowed me to express thoughts concretely that were previously just floating around in my head.

Here is the interview (republished with permission):

1) What do you like about anime and manga?

I like many different things. First off, I like the stories and the art. I think animation allows one to do things in terms of exposition and special effects that you can't easily do in live action films. In my opinion, Japanese animation is currently doing a better job (than American animation) at expressing the full potential of animated stories.

There are so many anime production companies in Japan, and manga is well-respected as reading material (whereas Americans tend to view comics as being kids stuff). Because of these factors, perhaps, there is a wide variety of anime and manga available, targeted towards specific age groups, genders, etc. There's something for everyone, in other words.

I also like the fact that I can enjoy something produced by people from another culture. By watching anime and reading manga, I can learn about that other culture, or at least get a sense of their perspective on the world.

As an American fan, it's especially interesting that I'm not part of the target audience. These Japanese shows were not meant for me. Nonetheless, I can engage them on my own terms, and I can freely watch whatever genre I want. In Japan, if I was 27 years old, watching a show intended for 13 year old girls, people I know might look at me funny. But since I'm in America, watching something not meant for me in the first place, watching that show isn't as weird for some reason. I'm being entertained, but I'm also learning about a foreign culture, and if I don't care that I'm not part of one target audience, why should I care that I'm not part of another? There's a certain sense of freedom and self-determination I get when watching something that was not specifically marketed to me (and members of my demographic).

2) What got you interested in researching about it?

I've always been interested in extreme fandom, the way that people get involved with media products in ways that some people call "obsessive" and "unhealthy", in ways that the producers of those products never intended or would never hope for. I want to know what it is these extreme fans are doing, and why they do it. Where do they come from, and what do they get out of it? How do they deal with negative stereotypes that are used to characterize them? Japan has the perfect word for these kinds of fans: otaku. The focus of my research is on otaku. One can be an otaku of just about anything, not just anime or manga, but for some reason, anime and manga tends to attract otaku, maybe because the anime creators themselves are otaku and know what it is that otaku enjoy in their anime.

Since anime is my own domain of expertise, and I have participated heavily in American anime fandom, I am researching anime otaku in particular. I am specifically interested in how otaku use scientific methods and technology in interesting and unexpected ways.

This all fits into my broader interest regarding youth subcultures in general. Here are some questions I am trying to address: How are youth subcultures important, and maybe even useful, in mediating adolescent identity? Is it possible to have a "middle-class subculture", and if so, what does that imply? What conditions make "middle-class subcultures" necessary? How can subcultures provide an alternative to self-destructive youth violence?

3) How do you think the Japanese culture influence the America society?

Various aspects of Japanese popular culture are really making strong inroads into American popular culture. Some things, like Pokemon, have actually become mainstream, but I would say that most anime-related things have not yet achieved that status (and most probably never will). Anime is getting more and more popular, to be sure. How popular will anime get amongst the mainstream American population? Only time will tell.

In terms of anime relaying Japanese cultural norms that might be affecting American cultural norms, that is a much harder question. First, it's important to understand that American culture influences Japanese culture as well; for example, many anime creators have expressed their love of American movies. In this age of globalization, it's hard to say what is specifically Japanese culture versus American culture. I think I will leave this question for others to answer. [One aspect of this issue that strikes me as interesting, however, is the question of Japanese sexual norms (as portrayed in certain anime) potentially coming in conflict with American sexual norms.]

4) What are your ideas about cosplay?

I think cosplay is very interesting. I have friends who have done cosplay at major conventions, but I've never done it myself. I'd like to find out what motivates cosplayers.

5) Have you ever attended any anime festivals? If so, what was it like?

Yes, I've been to many anime conventions. I enjoy them very much. It's where otaku (and more casual fans) have a chance to truly be themselves and have fun amongst others who understand them. Cons are a great social experience, and I always look forward to them. Anime _can_ be enjoyed as a solitary pursuit, but sharing it with others has always been strongly appealing to me.