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Hi, everybody!

As of last Thursday, I'm back in Japan, in my old neighbourhood (and in fact, my old apartment complex)in the western suburbs of Tokyo. It's a bit odd in its very familiarity: I still remember the train lines, where the shops are, even where to find certain products on the shelves, through a kind of automatic body-memory. For being so "far from home," it's remarkably homey. I just wish the language was coming back to me as fast! Some kind of brush-up language class may be in order. Suggestions welcome!

In anime terms, I found a local Comics Toranoana (time to manga: <1 day) while out getting apartment necessaries and picked up the fourth volume of Hetalia. I don't want to generalize based on one little shop, but the Hetalia boom seems to be fading, and I don't see a stand-out replacement for fujoshi yet. For the male otaku set, I see lots of Madoka doujin (since Toranoana sells both pro and amateur works), and lots of Vocaloid, as expected. Maybe I just notice what's familiar to me more, but I get the impression that the gap between what's popular in N.America and Japan is fairly narrow now. More observations to come once I make it out to Akiba and Otome Road, though.

What is really, bizarrely big on the streets is Mickey Mouse. Classic Mickey & Minnie are EVERYWHERE, much moreso than in 2010. I see them on towels, t-shirts, back-packs, you name it. Oddly, Mickey often seems to be wearing the British flag for pants. There's something to be said here about character goods and twisted brand nationalism, but I don't know what yet.

At any rate, today I'm heading to a lecture on post-90s Japanese art at Sophia University with some folks from the Anime and Manga Research List. I should get going right away, so here's to hoping I can actually find my way to the venue!
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In the year 2000, Saitou Tamaki published Sentou bishoujo no seishin bunseki, an early attempt at (psycho)analyzing Japan's budding otaku culture. I read sections of it in Japanese in 2010, but, frustrated by the psychoanalytic terminology, ended up working more off of others' critiques (notably Tom Lamarre's in The Anime Machine). From that exposure, I came to the conclusion that I did not like Saitou's general attitude towards otaku or fujoshi. Not at all. I thought it was condescending, pathologizing, heteronormative, and universalizing, in the way the worst psychoanalysis often is.

In 2011, the book was translated as Beautiful Fighting Girl by J. Keith Vincent and Dawn Lawson at the U of Minnesota Press. And reading the whole thing in English has changed my opinion, a little. I was surprised to find some ideas that I think do have value for creating a more nuanced and flexible idea of otaku, especially regarding the relation between image, reality, and sexuality. But these ideas are not things Saitou brings out well himself, and he often falls back on frustrating Freudian/Lacanian analyses that foreclose the potential of his own earlier suggestions.

Under the cut is a shorthand list of quotes and ideas I thought were helpful, and others I thought were rage-inducing.

Quotes and thoughts )

In conclusion, there are lots of interesting things to be found in the book, including long excerpts from letters written by Japanese and American anime fans and a comprehensive lineage of the beautiful fighting girl figure from 1958-99, with examples from dozens of series. There are also a few good concepts hiding like diamonds in the rough of lamentable psychoanalysis. It's not a long book or a very difficult one, if you've got some critical theory under your belt. Anyone who wants to study otaku should read it -if mainly as something to move on from.
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I have to say right from the start: I am conflicted about Madoka Magika. So much so that I wrote only personal notes on it when I first watched it several months ago, and decided not to review right away, to give it time to sink in. But given that it was the season's biggest otaku hit, I suspect that it will be a topic of conversation at this year's SGMS con. So I want to go on the record now and say: this is clearly a groundbreaking work in the magical-girl genre, in terms of narrative structure and visual style. But there are a few things about it that are...troubling. To say the least.

More magical girls )

Thesis Link

Aug. 8th, 2011 09:53 am
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Hey, now that there's no chance of compromising my rl identity (because I did it myself) I can post this link freely.

Here you can read or download my PhD thesis, "Animating Transcultural Communities: Animation Fandom in North America and East Asia from 1906-2010." The language and references are pretty academical, but I hope that anyone who likes animation and wants to know more about its history and current fandom might find it interesting. It's committee-approved and chock-full of animated goodness!

I'll post the abstract under a cut as well.

Thesis Abstraction )


Jan. 15th, 2011 01:17 pm
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When Kuragehime (“Princess Jellyfish”) debuted on Japanese television back in Fall 2010, my first thought was: oh my god, they made an anime about me. Ok, not exactly about me. I’m not an 18-year-old NEET living in a Tokyo apartment full of female otaku, like the heroine, Tsukimi. But a jellyfish-loving virgin geek girl? Yes indeed! And it’s cool to see a story about someone like that.

Well, that was my gut reaction to the premise. I’ve been following the series online since then, and really it’s not much like my life or the lives of any fangirls I know. But as far as the fall season’s crop of “otaku meta-anime” went, Kuragehime did turn out to be one of the most enjoyable: a show about some eccentric people who like eccentric things, told with heart and humour, in a non-exploitative way.

Also, the opening credits are pretty fun!

Himitsu, himitsu! )
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I love symposiums. Symposia. You know, those things where people present papers on esoteric topics and then debate over issues you never get to talk about normally, and other things you didn’t even know about before.

Case in point: the “Borderlessness and Youth Cultures in Modern Japan” symposium held in Montreal Oct. 15-16. There was a lot packed into a day and a half, from hikikomori to “precariat” literature to narrative consumption in marketing. What really struck me, though, were two papers following on each other by Livia Monnet and Mari Kotani, who took two different approaches to gender and sexuality in women’s media/performance.

Summaries and thoughts below the cut )
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In this week’s installment of “Notes from Japan:” the time I guided two friends from my summer program around Akihabara, and the encounter with alien maids that ensued.

The names of those involved have been blanked out, Victorian-style, for their privacy and my amusement.

Planet )
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So, this week’s “Hey, Answerman” column on the Anime News Network website has a write-in section about the “moe” trend in anime, which emphasizes cute characters meant to evoke tender feelings of protectiveness. In the course of the postings, someone linked to this article by Patrick Galbraith called Moe: Exploring Virtual Potential in Post-Millennial Japan. I’m generally interested in anything related to otaku culture, but this one particularly caught my eye because besides the usual male otaku point of view, it also has a part on fujoshi, or, female yaoi fans. His basic idea:

"Fujoshi fantasy is based on playfully reading the virtual potential of characters. If, for example, someone is in reality gay, then he cannot be a yaoi character because the transgressive potential, the basis of a separate fantasy attraction, is erased. Fantasy and reality are independent fields, and fujoshi can fluidly access both."

I think Galbraith has a start here. At least, he bases his ideas on open-minded conversations with actual people instead of psychoanalytic bullcrap. But there’s still a problem, and that’s the nature of “transgression.”

“Hidden )

Edit: Hmmm, snazzy in-text links are not working for some reason. Well, Galbraith's article is here:
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So, months ago, I read that McG (the director) did a music video of the 80's hit "Turning Japanese" with Takashi Murakami (the pop-artist) starring Kirsten Dunst (the actress). She gads around Akihabara (anime mecca), the video plays at the Tate Modern museum in London (artsy mecca). Fine and dandy. And odd group, but whatever, people get around.

The video is now streaming online here. (Video is NSFW.)

I This is my thing, my field: transcultural flows of popular culture. The clash and convergence of global fandoms. And I still don't know quite what to say about it.

It has the otaku-metropolis flavour of Akiba, almost. I've been there, and yes, there really are maids in the streets, giant-boobie posters in the shops, and a whole lot of neon lights. But I was surprised that so many men and women in the video (are they actors or just passersby?) looked directly at the camera. People in Akiba when I was there didn't make a lot of eye contact. So it really stood out to me how much this video is constructed around lines of sight. Just check out the blatant eyeline match at 1:57-2:00. It's all about different kinds of looks: watching back and forth, glancing back at the camera, staring blankly into space. Watching anime watchers.

What I can't decide for the life of me, though, is: how much is it about eye contact, making connections, and how much is it about spectacularizing or exoticizing (women/anime girls/feminized Japan), the old power politics of the gaze? Or is it maybe a self-conscious play on both?
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Well, it's back to Winnipeg and back to work with me. The temperature with windchill when I got up this morning was -39, and that's not even a really cold day. (The really cold days come with a five-minute frostbite warning.) Times like this, all you can do is curl up with a blanket and a long book -or at least write a review of one. So here are some thoughts on Tom Lamarre's The Anime Machine.

Now available in Exploded Projection )
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Woo, I'm back from Germany! It was a great trip. I had fun and got things done at the same time. One of the things I finally got around to, on my 7-hour trans-Atlantic flights there and back, was reading the new translation of Hiroki Azuma's influential book Otaku: Japan's Database Animals.

So without further ado, Here are my thoughts about it. )

Next week I'm going home to the Maritimes for a nice long Christmas break. One of the benefits of not being in classes any more! (Ok, I still have to write my thesis while I'm home...sigh...) I might update, or I might not. If not, see you in the new year! ^^


Nov. 7th, 2009 01:08 pm
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As promised last week, are some thoughts on Genshiken and fandom. I'd write more of a preamble, but I need to get some lunch and start reading up on comics/manga history. I'm trying to sneak a half-chapter on anti-colonialism and comics into my thesis. We shall see how that goes. In the meantime...

Genshiken )
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So the spy-bots at Amazon that track my every purchase have sent me a message. They want me to know that Thomas Lamarre has a new book coming out on October 16th, called The Anime Machine: A Media Theory of Animation. Thanks, spy-bots! You know me so well. Too well...

Seriously, though, I'm excited to read this book. Along with anime, I'm also a bit of a philosophy/lit theory geek, and Lamarre knows his theory. So today, instead of posting an anime review, I'll post some notes I took on one of his articles, "Otaku Movement" (2006), as a primer to the book. If this kind of stuff interests you, you might want to get the book -or get a library to order it, it costs many dollars. Would Lamarre endorse scanning and uploading it as a form of theory-otaku labour, I wonder? ^_^

Book is here (Canadian link)

Notes are under ye cut )


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