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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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So busy. So, so busy! With 40 quizzes to mark, four lectures to write, a conference paper to edit, and all the regular reading, emails, meetings, and survival tasks coming up just for next week, things are frantic and I'm not even into the heavy part of the term yet. I haven't watched any of the summer anime releases, and the fall shows are already coming out. >.<

Also, I finally got my copy of Saitou Tamaki's Beautiful Fighting Girl in translation and read through the intro and first chapter with interest. Now, it sits on my couch-side Ottoman, Ayanami Rei glaring sideways off the cover at me, and I just can't find the time to get back to it. It's actually less offensive than I expected so far. But it still does that "let's mention female yaoi fans as a kind of otaku in passing and then keep talking about otaku as if they're all the same as the psychoanalytic idea of men" trick Azuma Hiroki also does. Maybe I'll bring it on the plane to Minneapolis and read it then instead of writing more lectures.

Anyways! This is just to say that things are good but busy. I like my classes, I have some excellent students who say they like my classes, and my proposal for a Japanese Film course was unanimously passed by the English and Film Dept. yesterday. (It goes on to the Curriculum Committee next.) I'm pushing myself very hard and it's cutting into my personal/fan time, but hopefully I can find a balance in the coming months.

Over and out!

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April 2014

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