As an academic field, anime studies may not be quite as “hot” as it was a few years ago, at the height of the anime boom/bubble, when it could very well seem that images drawn from Japan were everywhere in Western visual culture. And even though that bubble burst, and Japanese animation is nowhere near as popular or prominent in the U.S. and other Western countries as it was a decade ago, one particular effect of that bubble, an effect that we are still seeing now, is a steady stream of academic books on various aspects of anime and manga. There were eight such books published in 2014, although of the eight were new editions of previously published titles. 5 such books were published in 2013, 6 in 2012, and 4 in 2011 (all of these numbers are for monographs, not essay collections or reference titles). When thinking about explanations for this particular effect, perhaps the one that comes to mind right away is simply that at least some of the high school and college students who first became interested in anime at the height of the bubble ten years ago are now in academia, as graduate students and early-career professors. Anime and manga is what they know intimately, what they have been interested in for years – and topics related to anime and manga make for obvious candidates for their first major publications.
The activities and practices of anime fans have attracted the attention of scholars throughout the history of anime/manga studies. Annalee Newitz wrote about “Japanese animation fans outside Japan” in 1994 (in Bad Subjects: Political Education for Everyday Life, 13, 1-17), and Susan Napier “discovered” what anime fans do, and wondered why, in her 2001 Anime from Akira to Mononoke: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation, the first full-length study of Japanese animation published in English by a major academic publisher. Other notable studies of anime fans’ activities and practices include Laurie Cubbison (2005) Anime fans, DVDs, and the authentic text, The Velvet Light Trap, 56, 45-57, Jin Kyu Park (2005) ‘Creating my own spiritual and cultural bubble’: Case of cultural consumption by spiritual seeker anime fans, Culture and Religion: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 6(3), 393-413, Brent Allison (2008) Interviews with adolescent anime fans, in Mark I. West (Ed.), The Japanification of Children’s Popular Culture: From Godzilla to Miyazaki (pp. 119-146), and especially, the writings of Lawrence Eng and Mizuko Ito, in Fandom Unbound: Otaku Culture in a Connected World.
However, these works are generally snapshots – focusing on particular types of kinds of activities, or on particular points in time. Until now, no scholar has made an attempt at putting together a broad study of anime fans, anime fandom, and simply the popular reception of Japanese animation outside Japan that would extend back to the origins of Japanese animation before World War II. Anime Fan Communities fills in this gap, but it does more. It’s not simply a chronology of “significant events” – rather, it examines fan communities and practices over the years and across countries and cultures to demonstrate how these communities create international and inter-cultural connections.
The book’s publisher, Palgrave Macmillan, summarizes it as follows:
“Anime fans are often seen as part of a globalized entertainment system, for better or worse. They are framed as obsessive consumers, creative artists, “cultural dupes,” and technological revolutionaries. Who are these anime fans, and what kinds of connections can they form across cultural difference? This book explores the world of animation fandom in East Asia and North America from its roots in the 1920s and 1930s to the online fandoms of the twenty-first century. Drawing on rarely seen gems and popular hits alike, it provides exciting new case studies of key moments when animation’s changing technologies opened new avenues for audiences to connect. These cases illustrate how anime fandom today works as a transcultural community, creating both flows and frictions between viewers of different nationalities, cultures, ethnicities, and genders.”
The author, Sandra Annett, is an assistant professor in the department of English and Film Studies at Wilfred Laurier University (Waterloo, Ontario, Canada). The book is based on her PhD dissertation, Animating transcultural communities: Animation fandom in North America and East Asia from 1906-2010, and Annett has previously published portions of it as Imagining transcultural fandom: Animation and global media communities (Transcultural Studies, 2011/2) and New media beyond neo-imperialism: Betty Boop and Sita Sings the Blues (Journal of Post-Colonial Writing, 49:5, 565-581). Her most recent publication, from earlier last year, is The nostalgic remediation of cinema in Hugo and Paprika (in, the Journal of Adaptation in Film & Performance, 7:2, 169-180).
From everything I can see so far, this book is a significant – and welcome – addition to the growing literature of anime studies. It does a great job of considering and building on existing research on its component themes – what is meant by the term ‘transnational’, the term ‘animation’, and the term ‘fan community’, and how these terms themselves have evolved over time. In it, Annett moves from looking at what anime fans do as practices that are decidedly local, disconnected, and meaningless, and demonstrates that these practices are responses and ways of addressing and interacting with the “global experience” that we, living in 2015, are all a part of.