Sunday, February 24, 2008

Otak-Who?: Anime as Asian American Culture

Though anime has long been a staple of the popular youth culture of Japan, the medium has only entered the mainstream consciousness of the United States in the past fifteen to twenty years. Even now, years after both Time and Newsweek ran feature articles about the phenomenon and almost a decade after the height of the Pokemon craze, the majority of anime followers are members of a distinct subculture, many of whom are not Asian or Asian-American. How does one explain this fascination with Japanese animation? To what extent do animated films and television series reflect Japanese culture, or Asian culture as a whole? And how have anime and its cultural implications changed since traveling to the U.S.?

Anime (a Japanese abbreviation of the word “animation”) can perhaps best be defined by making a comparison to animation traditions of the U.S. While American cartoons (with Disney as the prime example) are usually geared toward children, anime targets a wider age range, including young adults. Perhaps as a result, it also covers a broader range of genres, from fantasy, to post-apocalyptic science fiction, to romantic comedy, and so on. As Susan J. Napier says in Anime from Akira to Princess Monoke, “anime works include everything that Western audiences are accustomed to seeing in live-action films,” which is reflected in a visual style more similar to mainstream feature films.

Another distinguishing feature in anime is the human body, which undergoes some interesting changes, including morphed proportions, Caucasian or racially ambiguous features, and high sexualization. I would like to explore how non-Asians form ideas about Asian bodies-- and Asian culture more broadly-- through watching anime, both on the part of devout fans and of typical Americans who have perhaps seen only a few images of Sailor Moon.

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