Guest Post – The ‘So Far’ of Anime and Manga

From the editor: One of the major activities that Anime and Manga Studies Projects undertakes is promoting the emerging field of anime and manga studies by highlighting new academic writing on Japanese animation and Japanese comics. The ongoing Bibliography of Anime and Manga Studies is one aspect of this activity, and pieces I post highlighting new books, book chapters, and journal articles are another. Throughout my work, though, I have always wanted to ask the question of how do authors of new scholarship on anime/manga actually view their own research. How did it come about? What are its connections to other scholarship? Where do the authors draw their inspirations from? What do they hope to accomplish?

And, I am now excited to present a new and unique type of article on anime/manga studies – an emerging anime/manga scholar reflecting on their work.

The ‘So Far’ of Anime and Manga: A Visual Theoretical Depiction of Possibilities

Kathy Nguyen is the author of Wired:: Ghosts in the s[hell] (Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies) and Body upload 2.0: Downloadable cosmetic [re]birth (Ekphrasis: Images, Cinema, Theory, Media). She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in multicultural women’s and gender studies at Texas Woman’s University.

Living in an increasingly rapid digital era, where scrolling, tapping, being wired and plugged in may be the few solitary sources for connectivity – that is, if connectivity will eventually become technologized – problematizes several issues once the world becomes updated. I am especially interested in studying about the philosophies of technology; I continuously go back to Wendy Hui Kyong Chun’s book, Updating to Remain the Same: Habitual New Media. Chun writes: “New [technology] live and die by the update: the end of the update, the end of the object” (2). These updates are interesting because if human bodies, animals, objects, and such are constantly being updated and/or upgraded, what does death look like in the digital age, especially when there are apparatuses such as the E-Tomb, where information of the deceased continues to live on? Perhaps eternally – or at least, if the network maintains its connectivity signals.

Perhaps the stories and Buddhist philosophies about death and dying have influenced my research trajectory, especially after working with the aging population in the past, but living and dying with technology is increasingly becoming much more interesting. Of course, it has been difficult to theorize what life and death looks like in the current – and future – technological landscape. But at the same time, in recent years, the rise of mechanized bodies such as cyborgs, robots, and AI have led to the blurred boundaries between life and death. Donna Haraway, for instance, argues that the cyborg is a liminal figure that represents both life and death.

This is where my interest in anime and manga derived from, not so much the cyborg, but the figure’s interesting, interpretative visual take on theoretical endeavors. I am always fascinated by the cutting-edge facets of anime. In most of my work, I often refer to anime – mediums that I believe have allowed me to contribute to the ongoing scholarship of anime and manga and other disciplines.

Anime and manga, I think, are rich theoretical visualizations of what might be, the possibilities of the future landscape, technology, and the interesting mangling between philosophy, science, and technology. In the first article I published, “Wired:: Ghosts in the S[hell],” in the Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies , I write:

Japanese anime are highly theoretical and have the potential to visualise and examine the inner/intra and outer workings of the network. Cowboy Bebop and Hell Girl are just two anime features that scratches the ideas of how data, information, death, and a possible hell and/or heaven are envisaged in the digital age of networks. Although I have briefly examined one episode of Cowboy Bebop to introduce some of the primary concepts of this paper, the purpose of the introduction is to present how two particular anime series have “visually theorised” how bodies, death, and information function within the network.

Of course, there are no current literature that supports my claim; however, I do see anime as complex visual theories that have predicted and/or influenced current technological and digital innovations in the present (and future).

The way I employ anime and manga in my research is quite similar to studies of SF, which Haraway – though coming to SF “late” –  defines as “sf worlding, for speculative fabulations and speculative feminisms in the big, generous knottings that open up ways to think, play, connect, distinguish, work, and live” (ix). Haraway also expands on this idea of SF by suggesting that it also denotes the “so far,” which simply means that the “yet-to-come” inventions are part of the world’s “pasts, presents, and futures (4). Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr., another scholar who focuses on SF studies and is the author of The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction, defines SF as:

embed[ding] scientific-technological concepts in the sphere of human interests and actions, explaining them and explicitly attributing social value to them. This may take many literary forms, from the resurrection of dead mythologies, pseudo-mimetic extrapolation, and satirical subversion, to Utopian Aufhebung. It is an inherently, and radically, future-oriented process, since the exact ontological status of the fictive world is suspended. (387)

Like SF, anime, particularly cyberpunk and/or SF anime, I am interested in the philosophical imaginings of a completely digitized, networking/networked future where things entered into a database – the network – are eternally archived and accessible to those who are a part of the network. It is this “so far” that I am most interested in. The network is the developments of this so far.

In “Wired,” I defined the network as a: highly advanced, connective digital space where information is [re]entered, [re]processed, and [re]stored. Thus, I contend that [the anime I consciously selected] explores how the body drifting network functions as a regenerative, linked system where multiple entities, consciousness, and information are hoarded together for preservation. The main considerations shared by each anime exemplify a striking vital physical concept about the network: information can never be lost, deleted, or die. The network, therefore, becomes a living tomb, where it is constantly drifting and amassing bodies and piles of data to an uncertain point.

I should note that this idea did not randomly occur to me. I am not that imaginative nor am I a creative person. I owe that to the anime I watched. Two anime features that I always refer to are Serial Experiments Lain, directed by Nakamura Ryūtarō and Oshii Mamoru’s 1995 Ghost in the Shell. In fact, my definitions of the network were/are influenced by Lain and Ghost. In fact, the idea of a “body drifting network” was not only further expanded by Arthur Kroker’s theory of body drift, but in the beginning of Ghost, Kusanagi quite literally drifts into the network. Basically, I am just working with the visuals and the theoretical support, fleshing them out further for possible scholarly contributions.

It makes sense to me at least.

Though both are older and cyberpunk stapes in anime culture – not to mention both features have been thoroughly analyzed and discussed, they visually dissect what constitutes information and how it drifts and/or flows in and out of the network. I think what I find most fascinating is how Lain and Ghost both seem to metaphorically depict ghosts as information – they never truly die and are constantly wandering in a limited zone. That’s where I got the idea from. The ghastly specters, especially present in Lain, can be described as “flowing streams of information.” Thus, what does information and data look like?

I will once again reference Luis Hernan’s project, Digital Ethereal, reported by DL Cade. Hernan uses a camera to capture “streams of information pouring out” from different locations to determine what information looks like. Hernan’s project represents hauntology as information here also represents flowing streams of “informational torrents.”

But I must say, Oshii’s film has made a lasting impact on my work. I once told a professor, who I very much respect and who most likely reshaped by interests in technology and cybernetics, that I always find something new in Ghost, furthering my initial queries, making my project bigger than it should be. I remember reading an essay about Ghost and the Buddhist parables embedded in it, further intriguing my queries about life and death in a digital network and that’s when I wanted to interrogate Eastern philosophies and lore in my research. Christopher Bolton’s article, “From Wooden Cyborgs to Celluloid Souls: Mechanical Bodies in Anime and Japanese Puppet Theater” influenced me to make interesting connections with Buddhism, anime, and modern thoughts on technology.

Scholars have continuously examined topics such as genders, bodies, sexualizations, and the visual culture of Japan. With such enriching possibilities, why are anime and manga not used more as theoretical [visual] tools? There are several possibilities that not only contribute to academia, but anime and manga studies will push boundaries, in the present, future, and the so far. Anime culture is more than part of the otaku culture; several anime has a lot to offer, academically and non-academically.

Update = so far.

I think anime and manga have predicted that in their narratives.

Works Cited

Cade, DL. “Ghostly Images of WiFi Signals Captured Using Long Exposure Photography and an Android App. PetaPixel. Accessed 18 April 2016.

Chun, Wendy Hui Kyong. Updating to Remain the Same: Habitual New Media. MIT Press, 2011.

Csicsery-Ronay, Jr., Istvan. “The SF Theory: Baudrillard and Haraway (De La Théorie: Baudrillard Et Haraway).” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 18, no. 3, 1991, pp. 387-404.

Haraway, Donna. “Donna Haraway SF: Speculative Fabulation and String Figures/SF: Spekulative Fabulation and String-Figures.” Hatje Cantz, dOCUMENTA, vol. 13, 2012, pp. 4-18.

—. “Foreword.” Networked Reenactments: Stories Transdisciplinary Knowledges Tell. Duke University Press, 2011, pp. ix-xiii.

—. “SF: Science Fiction, Speculative Fabulation, String Figures, So Far.” Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology, no. 3, 2013, http://www.adanewmedia.org/2013/11/issue3-haraway/. Accessed 20 January 2017.

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