Oh, dear, Pokemon?!?

You know, when I was admitted into the School of International Service, I did not imagine I’d be blogging about some of my favorite entertainment.  Did I blog about soccer yet? Oh, yes I did. Best. Class. Ever.  Now I just need to find a way to blog about hip-hop or dance music.  Seriously though, it is very informative to look at these things from a different perspective as a class in International Communication forces you to do. After all, as International Relations scholar Martha Finmore says, “in thesocial world, everything is related to everything else” which is true as I continue to be impressed by how far reaching communication as an academic area reaches, and that is also true of the topic of today’s post which is Japanese animation, known as anime.

Lead character from ‘Ghost in Shell’ anime I cringed in dismay in a class discussion today when in talking about anime, another student used Pokemon, and worse, Power Rangers, as examples.  Probably this sounds like something conceited to say, but I feel compelled to give a more complete picture of anime!   As soon as the word anime was mentioned in class, I knew I’d have to blog about this.  You see, anime is not just “cartoons” .  Even though it’s animated, many of the themes, tone, etc. , are for a mature audience.  Still, I wonder, isPokemon what pops up in peoples head when they think of anime?  It is certainly not representative of anime overall.  This makes me realize that probably the dominant imagery associated with other cultural labels such as for example ‘American culture’, ‘hip-hop’, ‘middle america’, ‘africans’, ‘bollywood’, etc might often be just flat out wrong, but I’ll leave exploring that for another day.
For me (in my opinion), anime is a deeply rewarding and complex form of entertainment because of the sheer diversity within it.  And  yes, I’ll concede openly out that much of the anime around, and much of the anime that I watch, is not particularly insightful, and is simplistic and just about a good time (but not likePokemon). There’s haunting animated films such as the Grave of the Fireflies that are as sad and powerful as Schindlers List.  Or the now classic 1995 epic, Ghost in the Shell, which is arguably one of the anime’s that Professor Hayden might have been referring to when he mentioned that elements of anime actually influenced The Matrix (by the way James Cameron , Director of Avatar and Titanic, describes Ghost in Shell as a “stunning piece of speculative fiction”).  I mean there’s lots of goodanimes with philosophical and psychological undertones that’d make one’s head spin. In terms of communications theory, the  discussion came up as an example of a subaltern/contra-flow.  In his article, Mapping Global Media Flow and Contra-Flow,Daya Thussu describes this as new  networks of media flows originating outside of the west.  He points out that, “Japanese animation, film, publishing and music business was worth $140 billion in 2003, with animation, including manga (comics), anime(animation), films, videos and merchandising products brining gin $26 billion.”  Thussu is actually impressed enough by the imprint of anime that he singles it out as the only non-Western genre with a global presence, going as far as elevating it above a contra-flow to the level of a dominant global flow.
Indeed $140 billion is quite a large amount for non-western media and it would be even more impressive if one added video games into the mix, which Thussu doesn’t mention.   Anime elements feature heavily in video-games, and some of the highest selling video game franchises in the world like Final Fantasy and Street Fighter have ‘animeish’ influences—actually video games is really another area in which the Japanese have imported culture so to speak. Lastly, as a student of communication, one cool aspect of anime is that there is A LOT of releases which covers information, information overload, artificial intelligence, and their use by conventional authority structures.   I’ll end this with a trailer of one such anime, a nice movie that I watched recently called ‘Summer Wars’.  I found it interesting because of it’s highlighting of the differences between Gesellchaft and Gemeinschaft, and also because I like their portrayal of a society dependent on culture.  Will facebook be like that in 20 years?
This post also appears at another student group blog that I’m a part of.

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