Reflections on 2016: Anime is Political
2016 has been a crazy year in world politics, to put it lightly. Anti-globalist sentiments and nativism aren’t anything new in the scheme of things, but they were big factors behind some of the major political decisions of this year. Yet in spite of all the heightened anxiety about immigration and foreign trade, globalisation continues to truck on with no sign of stopping.
The anime industry is becoming more international. In 2016, we got a US-Japan anime collaboration in the form of the SHELTER music video, and we also got to see Kimi no Na wa break records around the world. And these are just the most obvious things that happened this year. These days, more and more foreigners are working in Japan’s anime industry (see: Thomas Romain’s cool website for aspiring French animators), and online streaming is getting bigger around the world. It’s never been a more exciting time to be an international anime fan.
Sure, the world might be fucked in the long term, but at least I’ll be watching good anime until the apocalypse…
12 Days of Anime
#9 – Anime is Political
The events of 2016 have reminded me that anime is no stranger to politics. As anime becomes more global, questions like “what is anime?” will be debated even more hotly than before. Will anime one day lose its “Japanese” identity? How do we begin to define what is “Japanese” in the first place? This question is inherently political.
I never realised it at the time, but by becoming an anime fan, I was forced to grapple with politics. Getting into anime forced me to become highly aware of translation issues and cultural differences. As an academic, I learned to become wary of Nihonjinron (“discourses on Japanese exceptionalism”), and as a translator, I have become painfully conscious of the language barriers that make anime so much more elusive to grasp. Above all, I have learned to be sensitive of the context in which anime is made and consumed.
It’s a wonder that my head doesn’t explode from how complicated it all is! I wouldn’t blame anyone for not bothering to engage with those questions at all.
This isn’t strictly a Japanese politics blog (or, god forbid, an American politics blog), but you can be assured that I have political issues in the back of my mind whenever I write my posts and articles. For me, at least, it’s important that I don’t force assumptions on another culture, not if I can help it. I’m not without my biases, but I at least try to be honest about the perspective I’m tackling any particular issue from.
But it’s not just the struggle to understand the Japanese cultural context that causes so many problems. What makes things even more complicated is how politicised my own social media circle is. As much as I like the people in my twitter community, I can’t say I’m a fan of all the political punditry that goes on there. Yes, there’s a political dimension to anime, but I don’t necessarily follow anime fans on twitter to hear about their opinions on current events in America. The community is also extremely divided when it comes to things like social justice issues. When discussions become charged with moral judgements, it can be difficult to actually talk about, you know, anime.
But that’s just another reminder that you can’t escape politics, not even in an entertainment medium. People can identify strongly with media, and I would just feel like a jerk if I told them their feelings were unimportant. And if I’m going to talk to someone in the first place, I need to take into account that the other person will have a different worldview from me.
Talking about politics is annoying. It’s a pain. It causes way too many headaches and communication problems. But trying to understand is the least I can do.
That was the overriding message I took away from the major political events of 2016.