Recently I have read the following book. A book summary is attached.
Book title: Condry, Ian. 2013. The Soul of Anime: Collaborative Creativity and Japan’s Media Success Story. Durham & London: Duke University Press.
The goal of the book was to examine the world of Japanese animation in order to explore how this cultural movement could succeed in going global. This book was unique in that it used field work in animation studios etc. to explore the social side of media.
The thesis of the book was that collaborative creativity which operated and connected official producers and unofficial fan production was responsible for anime’s global success. Condry calls this collective social energy the “soul” of anime. The implication was that the global success was not solely driven by big corporations.
Condry asserts that anime was regarded as a success by Japanese because it was a sustainable form of creative expression what went global without the push of multi-national corporation (as least during its developmental stage), thus it was a kind of globalized from the mass. He proposes that we needed to follow its production process in order to see the kind of social energy developed in a space between consumers and media.
The book looks into the interplay between anime as a creative platform, and the social context where it gained meaning and value. The idea of creativity enabled us to map the broader connection of anime beyond their media forms. On the point of creative platform I would like to point out that anime is not unique, some other pop culture could have similar function and feature, for example hip-hop.
The layout of the book was: first it talks about the making of anime by looking at how professional animators designed new anime around the characters and their cyber worlds. It looks into the work of Manoru Hosoda to see the steps in creating animation. Then it focuses on the different anime conveying vehicles: from feature films to TV, in the context of transmedia connection, and its relation with manga.
Condry asserts that the concept of collaborated creativity was meant to remind us anime’s influence, by examining what happened on screen or how it was marketed by studios. More important was that anime illustrated the process of cultural production. It provided new insight into the distribution of power in media, both in terms top-down or bottom up forces. We might think collaborative creativity energy as a kind of a soul that runs through media and connecting viewer/consumers (p.110-1).
On the development of robot anime, Condry asserts that the synergies between anime and anime related toy producer was important: toys would expand audience for anime to adults.
Condry points out the limitation of conventional explanation for anime’s success in Japan. Conventional factors would include the Japanese culture foundation, cultural resonance, the vision of individual company director or economy determinism (p.134). According to him one factor responsible for the global spread of anime was “fansubbing” (he calls it a dark force) which was related the anime copying right violation by transnational anime fans. They translated the recent broadcast Japanese anime and made them available on line for free globally in the Internet much ahead of their official release.
On the social side on consumption, the book focuses on otaku (obsessive fans) to see whether it was a case of closed-off niche or an unusual gesture toward mass appeal. It focused on otaku, and their act in falling in love with anime characters was called “moe”.
Condry’s research approach shows that the value of anime arose from its movement and its fluidity: started from a single production location then spread to global. Its value came from its living social interactive relation.
The book concludes that in the often unprofitable Japanese animation industry, the artists’ interest in the trade, their passion, devotion and commitment had sustained this cultural business and made it an important node amidst a networked global media. Anime was at the leading edge of new combination of business and technologies. The book illustrates that what counted as creative in media depended on not only the vision of directors, but also the dynamic/robust media circulation and fans attachments. Anime could broaden our understating of ‘globalization from below’. Culture was no longer bound by geographic or specific ethnic groups. Like hip-hop, anime at first was dismissed by corporate elites a mere a passing fad or unimportant sector of popular media. Yet it grew global by traveling from Japan to the West. Globalization was not always driven by major corporations or the West. (p.215)
First, when I compare and contrast this book with Condry’s book on Hip-hop that I read, I find both book have one common theme: “ploycentrism in globalization”. While the Hip-hop book was about the spread of hip-hop from American black ethnic groups to the youth in urban Japan; the latter book shows that Japanese anime, through the hard work and passion of Japanese artists teams, and aided by the “dark forces” (illegal up-loading by fan groups) had gained popularity in Europe and the US. The flow of both hip-hop and Japanese anime were basically without the guidance of the multi-national corporation.
Second, there is another common theme: the “death of the masses”, a phrase found in Marilyn Ivy’s article: “Formation of Mass Culture”. The fact that from one single cultural practice (be it hip-hop or Japanese anime) consumers could have their own way of appreciating/understanding (in other words to decode, borrowing Hall’s theory) the meaning encoded into the cultural product by producers. The diversity in the ways in decoding by different groups of consumers on the same produce is fully reflected in the phrase ‘Island in Space’ coined by Condry, or the idea “micromass” suggested by Ivy. Both reflected an undercurrent to the concept of mass culture, challenging the concept of “mass” (or a homogeneous group). These ideas pointed out that there was diversity in understanding, in taste and in the preference among individual consumer groups over the same mass cultural produce, and it was a force that could reduce the size of the mass. The idea of “micro mass” or “Island in Space” was pointing to the breakdown of one single large homogeneous group, and the death of “the mass”.