Anime, as anime scholars will never tire of repeating, is not a genre, it is a “form” or “mode” of animation, and anime films and television series can include a wide variety of genres. At the same time, it is also true that anime’s stereotypical genre is science fiction. The two films that first really got anime noticed outside Japan, Akira and Ghost in the Shell – are the epitome of science fiction cinema. And so, one of the most common approaches to anime that scholars take it to focus on anime as science fiction.
For example, the only anime director (in fact, the only animator) profiled in Fifty Key Figures in Science Fiction (“a collection of engaging essays on some of the most significant figures who have shaped and defined the genre”, Routledge, 2009) is Ghost in the Shell‘s Mamoru Oshii. “Manga and anime” is a section in the Routledge Companion to Science Fiction (2009). Among the chapters in Science fiction film and television: Across the screens (Routledge, 2012) is one on Cowboy Bebop. And some of the most seminal scholarly essays on Japanese animation to be published in English – among them, Carl Silvio’s Reconfiguring the radical cyborg in Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell (No. 77, March 1999), Michael Fisch’s Nation, war, and Japan’s future in the science fiction anime film Patlabor II (No. 80, March 2000), and the three articles by Susan Napier, Sharalyn Orbaugh, and Christopher Bolton in the special issue on Japanese science fiction (No. 88, November 2002 – appeared in the journal Science Fiction Studies – these include).
With this in mind, ever since Liverpool University Press launched the journal Science Fiction Film and Television, the only peer-reviewed scholarly journal I am aware of with that specific focus, I have been looking forward to the kind of scholarship on Japanese animation the journal would feature. Until now, it was limited to reviews of books (and edited collections containing chapters on) anime, as well as one review of a particular anime film. And now, “science fiction anime” is the specific theme of the journals’ new Autumn 2014 issue.
The issue’s introduction, by its editors, Alex Naylor and Elyce Rae Helford (Middle Tennessee State University). points out that “fantastic, science-fictional, speculative and apocalyptic [themes] proliferate within anime output”. It goes on to highlight a common theme in the issue’s five essays. Each of them addresses anime as an examination of some aspect of the “cultural, historical and political problematics of the Japanese nation-state”, and highlights how Japanese science fiction presents a way of responding to colonialism that is similar in some ways to what has occurred throughout the history of science fiction in Western literature and other media – but different in plenty of others.
The five articles in the issue are:
- Remaking Yamato, remaking Japan: Space Battleship Yamato and SF anime
(Baryon Posadas, University of Minnesota)
“Recent years have seen the development and production of several Hollywood remakes of Japanese cultural commodities, among which are some based on sf Japanese animations. Some of these remakes have provoked criticism from fan communities for their ‘whitewashing’ of casts, settings and storylines. Given the hegemonic position that Hollywood occupies within the world-media system, these criticisms are undoubtedly warranted. Yet insofar as they operate on the basis of a politics of representation, they at once run the risk of fetishising a notion of Japanese authenticity that re-inscribes mutually reinforcing techno-orientalist and cultural nationalist undercurrents in the discourse surrounding Japanese animation. My essay argues that rather than an approach that privileges notions of originality and authenticity, the transnational cultural politics of remakes and reboots can be more effectively apprehended when the intertextuality built into the very structural logic of the sf genre is properly recognised. Taking up the recent live-action remake of Space Battleship Yamato (2010) as an illustrative example, I suggest that the nostalgic desire and staging of retroactive continuities that drive both its story and its critical reception call attention to its repetitions of tropes from not only the preceding titles from within the Yamato franchise, but also a longer legacy of nautical adventure stories from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Informed by this textual genealogy, I highlight the text’s engagement with the linkages between the history of imperialism and the formation of sf as a genre in Japan and beyond.”
“Kon Satoshi’s Millennium Actress remediates film and memory as analogues in order to develop a more plastic indexicality for media without direct material contiguity. Amidst the shift from traditional to new media, Millennium Actress engages the West through intercultural discourses and intracultural responses. Millennium Actress’s plasticised indexicality implies the plastic nature of abstracted referents such as memory, refiguring indexicality as inclusive of anime. By plasticising and abstracting the index through its remediation of film and memory, Millennium Actress reveals anime’s relation to culture, as well as its ability to index subjective and abstracted memories and experiences.”
- The ethics of sekai-kei: reading Hiroki Azuma with Slavoj Žižek
“The aim of this paper is to re-examine the engagement of sekai-kei (world-type) anime with questions of ethical decision through reasserting the usefulness of Lacanian-Žižekian approaches in contrast to the Derrida-inspired ideas used by Japanese cultural theorist Azuma Hiroki. Here I note that although sekai-kei may stage an encounter with the Lacanian real, such texts typically employ strategies by which any form of radical subversion through an ethical act are, in various ways, foreclosed. Sekai-kei thus often, alongside the work of Azuma, supports rather than challenges contemporary capitalism.
- The multiplicities of empire and the libidinal economy in Makoto Shinkai’s The Place Promised in Our Early Days
“This article places Makoto Shinkai’s Kumo no mukô, yakusoku no basho (The Place Promised in Our Early Days; Japan 2004) within the context of Lyotard’s libidinal economy and the desire-laden structures of empire. The film’s unstable narrative frame, its alternate history context and its focus on the dual figures of Sayuri and the Tower as metaphors and objects of colonial conquest are explorations of the system of desires entailed in the colonial schema, particularly in relation to the question of what it means to map or assimilate over the gendered body. I argue that the film embodies the breakdown of the Eros/death drive equilibrium suggested by Lyotard as part of the decolonisation process and exposes the way in which empires are driven both by conquest and desire, but also by an underlying anticipatory consciousness and self-destruction mechanism which compels colonial subjects to action. Rather than a clean ‘revolution’, however, the film’s climactic moment provides a Lyotardian remainder that rejects the permanence of repetitive revolution.
- Empire as mirror: Imperialism and identity in the Crest/Banner of the Stars series
(Christopher Smith, University of Hawai’i)
“As a genre, sf has been criticised for remaining rooted in the colonial narrative. Often, however, it is that very colonial narrative which is of interest. This paper examines representations of empire in Morioka Hiroyuki’s Seikai series. These novels and anime focus on a classical, conquering, expanding empire, but position it as an alternative to postmodern Empire and the global capitalist political model. Empires come entangled with issues of identity; who are the colonisers and who are the colonised? Morioka challenges the idea of ethnic identity in a universe where genetic manipulation is easy. The series challenges Japanese cultural identity by presenting an evolving ‘Japanese’ culture hardly recognisable to the Japanese of today. From within the colonial narrative, these novels and anime grapple with issues of empire and identity, and fully utilise sf’s potential to create a future empire that is relevant today.”