The Soul of Anime: Collaborative Creativity and Japan's Media Success Story

The Soul of Anime: Collaborative Creativity and Japan's Media Success Story

by Ian Condry


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The Soul of Anime: Collaborative Creativity and Japan's Media Success Story by Ian Condry

In The Soul of Anime, Ian Condry explores the emergence of anime, Japanese animated film and television, as a global cultural phenomenon. Drawing on ethnographic research, including interviews with artists at some of Tokyo's leading animation studios—such as Madhouse, Gonzo, Aniplex, and Studio Ghibli—Condry discusses how anime's fictional characters and worlds become platforms for collaborative creativity. He argues that the global success of Japanese animation has grown out of a collective social energy that operates across industries—including those that produce film, television, manga (comic books), and toys and other licensed merchandise—and connects fans to the creators of anime. For Condry, this collective social energy is the soul of anime.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822353942
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 02/11/2013
Series: Experimental Futures Series
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 694,612
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Ian Condry is Associate Professor of Comparative Media Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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Collaborative Creativity and Japan's Media Success Story

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2013 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-5380-5

Chapter One

Collaborative Networks, Personal Futures

In March 2010, the anime director Mamoru Hosoda visited MIT to screen his feature film Summer Wars. When the credits rolled and Hosoda skipped down the steps of the enormous classroom, physics equations still scribbled on the blackboard, the audience of 450 people broke into thunderous applause. Hosoda and his extended production staff had clearly created a film with a global and contemporary appeal. They had done something more, as well. In both Summer Wars (2009) and in his previous feature, The Girl Who Leapt through Time (2006), Hosoda and his team developed characters and worlds that dramatized broader developments in media and culture. The two films highlight seemingly paradoxical trends: today's increased potential for collaboration and networking in contrast with an increasing personalization and individualization of our media worlds. New kinds of mass culture are emerging, sometimes made by amateur producers, at the same time that niche obsessions are becoming more specific and widespread. These developments suggest shifts in the workings of economic and political systems as well. We get pulled in two directions at once, encouraged to individualize our media experiences, whether by choice or through automated filtering systems (Pariser 2011), and at the same time motivated to reach out to others through networked interactions across platforms (Benkler 2006; Jenkins 2006). How is the future trending in terms of the individual and the collective? A look at Hosoda's work in animation—and specifically at how he envisioned his films—provides ethnographic context for the films and introduces perspectives on the work that characters and worlds can do.

Summer Wars opens with a seventeen-year-old boy from the city who is asked by a female upperclassman to accompany her to her family's home in rural Japan for a part-time job. It turns out that the "job" requires him to pretend to be her fiance. As a math geek who has never had a girlfriend, he is hardly the type. Moreover, he has to play the role in front of her entire extended family, who have gathered in the family's main house in the Nagano countryside to celebrate the matriarch's eightieth birthday. Birthday plans are thrown into disarray, however, when trouble comes to Oz, a vast online realm that facilitates communication, entertainment, and a wide variety of official transactions. A rogue online artificial intelligence (AI) bot known as "Love Machine" starts causing havoc in the online metaverse of Oz. The repercussions extend throughout society—not only in Japan, but around the world—as traffic and commuter systems, water and power supplies, emergency notification systems, and so on all go haywire as a result of the malevolent program. The boy and girl and her extended family find themselves embroiled in a potentially life-threatening battle with the AI. They each draw on their own social networks and their own resources, bringing together computer equipment, power from a fishing boat, and ice from a shop (among other things) to wage war with the evil troublemaker. The film draws on metaphors from various games, from online fighting games to hanafuda, an old-fashioned but still popular card game. The world is interactive and networked in a digital sense, but in the end, it is a matter of engineering the social world that makes the difference.

An anime fan and MIT graduate student at the time described her appreciation of Hosoda's film this way: "I really liked the ways the whole family worked together to hack their surroundings and solve problems." She noted that many hacker movies follow a formula of a good-looking teen boy solving most of the problems while helped by a few "sidekicks." But in Summer Wars, she noted, "There were teenagers and older folks working together. Even the eighty-year-old grandmother did some good old-fashioned social engineering using a rotary telephone." For the student, the film portrayed something new: an extended-family approach to hacking the world.

After the screening, Hosoda spoke to the audience about his goal to create a film with a different kind of hero. Heroism is often portrayed in terms of the courage and talents of an individual, he explained. In Summer Wars, heroism arises from the collective efforts of a range of characters, each with specialized capabilities, whose connections and collaborative work generate solutions to seemingly intractable problems. In this, the premise of the film offers a metaphor for the collective labor that goes into making animation. It also suggests an effort to redesign the ways heroes, and problem solving, are imagined. One of the film's posters emphasized this idea in the catch phrase "Connection itself is our weapon" (Tsunagari koso ga bokura no buki) (see figure 5).

It's interesting that Hosoda presents the potential of connection as both frightening, as when the rogue AI runs amok, and empowering, as when the family pulls together. The language of "virtual worlds" and "cyberspace" as places apart from our living social worlds is gradually disappearing as a way to think about our connections online. Summer Wars dramatizes that process of shifting. As Hosoda explained to the MIT audience, "We tend to see the virtual world as 'fake (feeku)' and our family relationships as 'real,' " but we are coming to the realization that virtual worlds are spaces with real relationships with real consequences. There are often real people behind those avatars.

The Making of the Summer Wars Characters

In making animation, part of the challenge of creating characters is giving the sense of a real person when none in fact exists. How did Hosoda create the characters that appeared in Summer Wars? In a published interview, he laughed at the intensity of the process. Hosoda worked with Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, who also designed the characters for Gainax's Neon Genesis Evangelion and other projects. The process was grueling and involved holing up in a hotel room away from all distractions. "Yes, we were living together, twenty-four hours a day.... We did that four times, usually four days at a time," Hosoda said. The goal was to work out the characters for all of the relatives who would appear in the film, and he and Sadamoto did that by talking about their own families. This in itself introduced some tension, Hosoda says, because "Sadamoto was from a main family house (honke), and I was from a branch house (bekke), and generally the branch house doesn't get along with the main house." But Sadamoto introduced Hosoda to the challenges of residing at an extended family's main house, where the bulk of the action in Summer Wars takes place. Sadamoto had a keen sense of the weight of the responsibilities that fall on the main house: "We were drawing as we were talking, on and on, and we realized we were making a family story (kazoku mono). Up to now, I really hadn't thought much about families for my animation. Even though there were families [in The Girl Who Leapt through Time], the protagonists were a high school girl and two boys. But for this film, the hero was going to be a family.... We realized that would make this a very different kind of work" (quoted in Hobby Shosekibu 2009: 125).

In thinking about how characters operate as a platform of creativity in anime, what can we learn from Summer Wars? As Hosoda and Sadamoto struggled to draw the characters, they realized that working together successfully meant connecting their drawings to a wide range of experiences. For example, Hosoda described the challenge of making Kenji, the eleventh-grade boy: "Despite being a genius at math, [Kenji] is the kind of kid who doesn't recognize his own abilities. How do you draw that?" The problem was even more complex because Natsuki, the twelfth-grade heroine, had to like Kenji. "Since he's an underclassman boy (kohai), he had to seem somehow cute to her, and we had to think about what that might mean," Hosoda said. With Natsuki's character, he and Sadamoto went against the grain of anime generally: "In normal anime, the hero is the most flashy and conspicuous character, the person who has to display the most amazing skills." Even though Sadamoto tends to draw gorgeous-type characters, Hosoda pressed for a different direction:

Sadamoto and I had worked together on The Girl Who Leapt through Time, so he knows I tend not to like decorative styles. I think the protagonist should be as simple as possible. After all, the camera is going to follow her through the whole movie, so there's no need to create a drawing where everything gets explained in one glance. Besides, a variety of audience members have to get close to her (yorisotte miru), so it should be someone who people feel they can contribute their own feelings to. That's why we made the characters simple. (quoted in Hobby Shosekibu 2009: 126–27)

This logic of character design emphasizes an idea of openness so audience members can add something of their own to the characters.

The characters were central to how Hosoda and Sadamoto conceived of making the film, but the challenge was to really understand those characters as people. "We didn't just draw pictures, and we didn't just think up personality types (kyara)," Hosoda said. "Instead, we thought, 'If this person was actually around, what kind of person would she be?' That's what we thought about while drawing" (quoted in Hobby Shosekibu 2009: 129). They also watched a lot of Juzo Itami movies, partly because, as Itami does in his films, Hosoda and Sadamoto wanted to include many characters without relying on the star power of celebrities to define them. Hosoda notes that his approach to creating feature films contrasts in some ways with TV series work: "For TV series, you have to think in terms of the character goods business," especially when it comes to design. "You might even think of the character business as driving what happens in TV anime." For standalone, original films, the character businesses aren't well established, he said, "because films are only in theaters for one or two months. In that period of time, you can't say, 'Let's make a lot of money on character merchandise!' Obviously, in the case of features, the films themselves are the merchandise" (128–29).

Hosoda's dramatization of heroism partly reminds us of how collaboration in anime extends production from the studios through thinking about audiences. Hosoda said he did not want to make a film that focused on a hero saving the world while everyone else said, "Thank you!" He wanted to make "a movie where normal people put their strength together" (130–31). Early in the design, he realized the film was going to contain "family action," Hosoda said, "even though I had no idea what that would mean." A benefit of this approach was to allow people in their twenties, thirties, and forties—"not just teenage girls"—to see characters their age in anime. In this, Hosoda hoped to push anime in new directions, especially by thinking in terms of filmmaking rather than just in terms of anime. "That's how I want to expand the possibilities for animation," he said. "Especially with anime, it has to be made by everyone, so we all have to get on board. With many different kinds of people watching animation, we want everyone to feel a kind of joint ownership (kyoyu). When I say everyone, I don't mean just the anime world, but for everyone in Japan, and around the world too, I want to spread the message of the wealth of potential in animation" (131–33).

Revisiting Intellectual Contexts for Cultural Analysis

Hosoda's comments about Summer Wars reflect a common mode of discussion about directors and films. As he looks back over the process of production, he explains, in retrospect, how it unfolded and to which larger ideas, even philosophical realms, the film speaks. As a tool of cultural analysis, however, we can use these musings to explore the making of cultural worlds: not only within the film but also in everyday life. "Cultural analysis has become increasingly relational, plural, and aware of its own historicity," says Michael Fischer (2007: 40) in his overview of a century of anthropological theory and practice. This openness makes it capable, "like experimental systems, of creating new epistemic things." The "jeweler's eye" for ethnographic nuance and conceptual experimentation, he adds, often provides insight into both "local crucibles of cultural conflict" and "multisited detailing of networks and transduction from localities to transnational players" (2007: 40). In other words, a goal of ethnographic methods today is to portray these crucibles, along with their broader networks, to see in the making of cultural worlds the possibilities for innovation.

The cultural anthropologist Anne Allison brings a particular perspective to questions of world-making through her study of Japanese toys, such as Power Rangers, Sailor Moon, Pokemon, and Tamagotchi (virtual pets), and the ways they promote a certain kind of global imagination. She finds that children use these play worlds as kinds of platforms for socializing, but children are also taught to view certain logics of consumerism as natural. Ultimately, Allison sees something hopeful but also "chilling" in "this capitalist dreamworld." In particular, "The drive to press forward is ever-present," she says, but "one can never definitively reach the goal, given that it is a frontier stretching out endlessly" into ever more consumption of toys, games, and merchandise. But she sees a glimmer of hope, too, "something more promising and possibly new" in the imaginative strategies provoked by Japanese toys. Pokemon centers on "morphing and disassembling (and reassembling) ... [and thus] offers kids a way of dealing with a world and identity premised on flux" (2006: 278–79). Thus, the cultural workings of capitalism are reproduced and naturalized through children's play, but they also can give children tools to subvert dominant logics through a sense of multiplicity and self-fashioning. This provides a nice contrast to—or, perhaps, extension in a new direction of—Fischer's inspiration from biologists' making of new organisms to "write with biology," whereby Allison shows how both corporations and children might be said to write with play.

In The Anime Machine, Thomas LaMarre (2009: 15) takes a somewhat different tack toward questions of world-making when he explores the "material essence or specificity of animation." He is careful to note that his point of reference is "the moving image not the apparatus." Still, he draws inspiration from the apparatus of animation, namely the animation stand, which allowed a movie camera to film multiple still images stacked in adjustable layers. The animation stand, says LaMarre (2009: 302), "channeled the force implicit in the succession of moving images into the gap between planes of the image—through the animetic interval." Through this focus, he aims to create a "media theory of animation" that understands anime in terms different from that of live action cinema, for example, in the latter's focus on a ballistic, monocular camera rushing through space. LaMarre emphasizes a different perspective that arises from the multiplane camera that looks down through layers of drawn cels so that the movement of the cels in relation to the other layers is what gives the sense of motion and life. Thus, animation offers a different perspective on worldmaking by emphasizing the relationships between layers of drawn material, for example, characters and background. This, too, we should note, is quite a different theory of animation from one that focuses on the movements or actions of the characters (e.g., in the contrasts between full and limited animation). In this respect, LaMarre also concerns himself with the disciplined structuring of creativity. "By allowing animators to work with the relation between layers, the animation stand at once highlighted the animetic interval and promised to control, contain, or harness it" (2009: 303). Because different studios made different uses of this potential, for example, LaMarre uses the contrasts between the work of Studio Ghibli (especially Hayao Miyazaki), Gainax, and CLAMP (an all-women group) to portray alternative ways anime can help us think through our "relationship to technology"—or, as he puts it, "how anime thinks technology." It's a provocative approach, and he includes a challenge to those of us who think more ethnographically: "If we do not consider the material essence of animation (the animetic interval) in its divergent series, we have no way to think about the relation between animation and communication networks; we risk doing no more than endlessly amassing anecdotes about studios and commodities, producers and fans" (2009: 312). What is at stake is a question of what counts as theory and, in turn, what constitutes evidence and findings. One might counter, however, that the material essence of anime could also be viewed in terms of labor and collective action so that fieldwork "anecdotes" are precisely what are required to help us think about the relations between animation and communication networks.

At the same time, LaMarre does not quibble: His book is about "how to read anime" (2009: ix), and in this he offers what Raymond Williams has referred to as a critical theory of consumption. But if we look for a critical theory of production, the materiality of anime (though not its "essence") would better be seen through the social in media, whether commercial or noncommercial activities. In this case, theory could not proceed primarily from a machinic constraint on production, but rather, a multiplicity of entry points, so that "endlessly amassing anecdotes" is not a pitfall but a necessity in trying to portray the multidimensionality of creativity in today's media worlds. At the risk of underplaying the centrality of this animetic interval, I opt to extend the platforms of creativity in other directions. That said, LaMarre makes a strong case, especially in driving at the heart of what distinguishes animation from other media forms, and in doing so, he offers a constructive model of how to conceive of anime as a particular kind of crucible of creativity.


Excerpted from THE SOUL OF ANIME by IAN CONDRY Copyright © 2013 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Note on Translations and Names ix

Introduction. Who Makes Anime? 1

1. Collaborative Networks, Personal Futures 35

2. Characters and Worlds as Creative Platforms 54

3. Early Directions in Postwar Anime 85

4. When Anime Robots Became Real 112

5. Making a Cutting-Edge Anime Studio: The Value of the Gutter 135

6. Dark Energy: What Overseas Fans Reveal about the Copyright Wars 161

7. Love Revolution: Otaku Fans in Japan 185

Conclusion. Future Anime: Collaborative Creativity and Cultural Action 204

Acknowledgments 218

Notes 221

References 227

Index 237

What People are Saying About This

The Anime Machine: A Media Theory of Animation - Thomas LaMarre

"Through an exploration of multiple dimensions of the anime object, from studio production to fan production, piracy, remix, and virtual idols, The Soul of Anime issues a bold challenge to our understanding of the social side of media. Ian Condry's attention to the singularities of this universe takes us far from the normative horizon of analysis of fans and commodities, highlighting how intimacy arises from impersonal affective life. The social side of anime is the soul of anime, and the dark energy of fans is nothing other than the psychosocial stuff, the vibrant matter, of this emerging constellation."

Eric Nakamura

"Does anime have a soul? In The Soul of Anime, Ian Condry explores the lives and work of the creators and consumers of one of Japan's great contributions to popular culture. Condry shows how the genre has moved from the margins to a place of respect and influence. This is a book that will appeal to all the otaku out there, as well as to those with a more moderate love of anime in all its forms."

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