Otaku is a word that seems deceptively straightforward at first glance. Adopted into the Oxford English Dictionary in 2007, it is defined as follows:
(In Japan) a young person who is obsessed with computers or particular aspects of popular culture to the detriment of their social skills.
It is notable that the dictionary definition includes the negative perceptions surrounding the word. According to the OED, the otaku is “obsessed” and lacks “social skills.” This description is essentially no different from the columnist Akio Nakamori’s use of the word “bizarre” (異様) when he defined otaku as a label in 1983. While it has become more socially acceptable to identify as an otaku these days, it still retains an air of eccentricity.
One could argue that this is very much the point of adopting it as a loan word—otaku captures a nuance that “geek” or “fan” can’t quite muster. But adopting loan words from another culture is not a simple copy-and-paste process. Otaku has transformed significantly on its Journey to the West (ahem), a sure indication that the meaning of the word was contentious to begin with.
And that’s the theme of this week’s Found in Translation column. Translation is not a simple additive or subtractive process. By its very nature it is both transformative and elusive, a constant reminder that words may not always mean what we assume they mean at first glance.
I’ve been having interesting conversations with various Twitter folk lately about the kind of anime-related criticism they would like to read. One of the main things people said they wanted to see was more writing about the nitty gritties of the animation craft and how it impacts the viewer’s experience (obligatory reference here to the excellent Sakuga Blog, a new animation blog on the scene which all of you should check out pronto). For what it’s worth, I happen to agree with this assessment, but I’m not terribly educated about animation theory, and I don’t think that many anime fans are.
And this is okay! I don’t think you need to know theory to love and appreciate anime. But what if you want to convey to others how much you appreciate the animation craft, beyond just “the animation looked cool!” or “the voice acting was good!”? I think that most of us are aware that the visuals and sound impact the way we perceive the characters and narrative, but we lack the vocabulary to describe what exactly is going on. This can be frustrating when we’re trying to explain why we like (or don’t like) something about a work of art to another person.
Also, for critics who take themselves and their opinions seriously, this sort of thing should matter a lot. Pure formalism may not be a highly-regarded form of media criticism these days, but it does lay the important groundwork for any lens of analysis. So let’s not disregard it out of hand.
Since I’m a beginner too when it comes to animation theory, I figure we can learn about these things together. This post is about the basics of scene composition. I drew most of the information here from the revised edition Art in Motion: Animation Aesthetics by Maureen Furniss, which I think is a really well-written and accessible guide to the main issues in the field. I also encourage anyone with an education in animation theory to do us all a favour and leave a comment and/or some links to further reading. Your knowledge and insight would be very much appreciated!
(Note: While this post draws on general theories about animation, the examples I use are all from Japanese anime. While I’d love to discuss non-Japanese animation too, that’s a topic for other posts.)
This was the burning question on my mind when I read the Welcome to the NHK! novel and saw what Tatsuhiko Takimoto had written in the second afterword. The Tokyopop edition translated his words as follows:
Several years have passed since I wrote, “I still will do my best after this.” I have not done my best. Proof of that is in the fact that I haven’t written a single new story. I’ve been reduced to a NEET, living as a parasite on the royalties from this book.
This afterword was written in 2005, three years after the novel’s original publication. Since then, Takimoto hasn’t penned any major works. He has published a smattering of short stories and serials in literary magazines and journals (among them Faust, which had two volumes published in English), but even Japanese readers refer to him as a one-hit wonder. So what is the author of Welcome to the NHK! doing these days?
Okay, so as I mentioned in my last post, I recently watched Noragami. Like many other anime series aimed at teenagers, Noragami is an urban fantasy, one that imbues old myths and traditions (in this case, Shinto gods) with a sense of hipness and adventure. You can see this reflected in the character designs, music and aesthetics, but the overall plot invokes this theme as well. The protagonist is a stray god (or Kami) who strives not to be forgotten by humans, and the heroine is an ordinary high school girl who gradually comes to appreciate the Kami.
Once you dig past all the flashy battles and shonen shenanigans, Noragami boils down to a rather universal dilemma: In this (post)modern world, how do we humans find fulfillment? How do we tell right from wrong? Like Haibane Renmei, which I discussed not too long ago, Noragami is about spirituality, but it isn’t necessarily about religion in the organised sense. Rather, it’s a work of pastiche. That’s why the world it depicts comes across as both familiar and strange, especially to Western eyes.
Other bloggers have dissected a great deal about Noragami through a Christian lens. Once again, I’ll point you to the good folks at Beneath the Tangles for various discussions and links. What I want to talk about in this post is the act of pastiche. How does pop culture (in this case, anime) reinterpret religious motifs? To what end?
Before I can discuss those questions in detail, we need to take a not-so-brief detour and talk about religion itself.
I recently got around to reading Beautiful Fighting Girl by Tamaki Saito (originally published in 2000 as 戦闘美少女の精神分析, lit. ‘A Psychoanalysis of the Beautiful Fighting Girl’). Despite its status alongside Hiroki Azuma’s Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals as one of the landmark publications on “otaku theory”, Beautiful Fighting Girl has made considerably less inroads in English-language scholarship, partly because the English translation only came out in 2011, and partly because Saito’s scholarship is very obviously flawed.
Nevertheless, I thought Beautiful Fighting Girl was a really fascinating read that helped stimulate my own thoughts about otaku sexuality. Saito’s argument that otaku culture is rooted in sexuality is something I find intuitively appealing, not least because I’ve made some similar observations in the past. So in this post, I’d like to critique Saito’s analysis directly, while also building on his more interesting ideas. In this way, I hope to develop a more workable theory of otaku sexuality, or Why Do People Love Their Waifus/Husbandos?
About two months ago, Foxy Lady Ayame and Neko-kun started a blog carnival to talk about anime which influenced their lives. I thought it was a great idea – you should definitely check out their post as well as the list of other bloggers who have participated in the event. But personally, I found it really hard to come up with something to say about this topic. I feel like I’ve already written quite enough already about the anime titles which have influenced me personally. (Examples: 1, 2, 3)
Then it hit me. It’s not just well-written anime that has an impact on you. In fact, there are plenty of (what I would consider) relatively poor anime that have a special place in my heart. In the end, it honestly doesn’t matter how clever you are or how refined your taste is – the most important thing is what you make of what you watch.
One particular anime has had such an enormous impact on my outlook as an anime fan that I still think about it almost constantly to this day, even when so many others have deemed it trash and moved on with their lives.
This anime is called My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute!
Aldnoah. Zero‘s a funny anime for me. Although I was only ever capable of taking the narrative half-seriously at best (as my dumb shipping posts should attest), I actually did find the themes interesting on paper. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I found how others reacted to these themes interesting. After watching A.Z and reading the reactions on Twitter, Reddit and MAL, two questions have remained on my mind ever since: firstly, what does it mean to be rational? And secondly, is rationality an ideal worth pursuing?
This is just a short post filling you in on some of what has been going on in my life. I have not been blogging as often lately, but this is definitely not because I have run out of things to say about anime.