11. Anime and/or Manga – Manga as Pop Culture Subtext

In looking back through my notes for today’s post, I clearly intended for today’s “lesson” to be more or less a take down of Thomas LaMarre’s The Anime Machine.  The book frustrates me in numerous ways very much analogous to my frustration with Susan Napier from last week: though a variety of philosophers are invoked (in particular Descartes, again in the form of “Cartesianism,” Heidegger, Foucault, etc.), what the reader is proffered is not a reading of their work against a range of media texts (in this case, anime) but rather a reading of a reading of their work (or in one instance, a reading of a reading of a reading of, as it turns out, something completely unrelated).  Combine this with simply dumb statements like “[i]f we recall that the term animation derives from the Greek animus or wind” (it’s Latin, actually, and it means “spirit/mind,” though it is cognate with the Greek word anemos, which does mean “wind”) or “why in the title sequence is it a young woman who generates the wind…” (idk, maybe because of the personification of natural elements in certain obscure paintings), and it makes for a rather unpleasant read, due in no small part to the pressing need to fact check everything.

Girls can also be blown by the wind, as it turns out...

Young women can also be blown by the wind, as it turns out…

But what I find truly disturbing about LaMarre’s book, which, I must admit, makes for a perfectly fine historical account of animation in Japan and the work of a very limited range of auteur directors, is the range of analytical modes he simply sequesters from consideration in his preface: analyses narratological, political, sociological, and cultural.  Though these are what he explicitly mentions, I would also add an omission of any detailed analysis of the circumstances of production (i.e. what people actually do to make an animated text rather than what certain technologies afford [which LaMarre, to be fair, does consider]).  Now, LaMarre would likely object to my characterization of his book as lacking an analysis of production (indeed, his text refers many times to aspects thereof), but I would submit that a glaring omission from his overall analysis not only calls into question his entire project and its aims but also undermines his argument as such: namely, storyboards or continuity, what in Japanese is called e-konte.  More specifically, this omission undermines what he has to say about the relationship between anime and manga.

Limited Animation, Limited Manga

In the penultimate chapter of The Anime Machine, “Anime Eyes Manga, ” LaMarre again points to the limits of his analysis when he notes, “there is no way to do justice to manga in a couple of paragraphs, and so my account will necessarily be cursory and slanted toward my primary concern with animation and technologies of the moving image.” (p. 286)  Fair enough, but this acknowledgement of limits doesn’t seem to keep in check later grandiose claims about manga (in toto, apparently) as an “exploded projection” of anime.  “Manga offers something like an assembly diagram or layout of the overall action-image or movement-image, inviting the reader-viewer to read in the manner of a film projector, recomposing movement.” (p. 288)  You mean, like this?

Kaze no tani no Naushika e-konte 2, pp. 264-5

Kaze no tani no Naushika e-konte 2, pp. 264-5

While this may come off as a bit glib, I don’t mean to be.  The point is that what LaMarre describes in his three page critical fantasy of manga doesn’t really sound like manga to me; it sounds much more like storyboards, an important component of the animation production process that LaMarre grossly overlooks, and to his detriment.  The analogy to an exploded projection, i.e. a technical drawing that attempts to render in two dimensions the components of given manufactured object and their relationship, seems much more apt to a storyboard than to manga, for several reasons.  1) A storyboard, like a mechanical drawing, is an attempt to maintain a degree of consistency across the several “hands” involved in the production process.  2) A storyboard is an image artifact of the production process that breaks down the resulting text/thing in a particular way that such a thing is meant, ultimately, to conceal, meaning the storyboard/drawing is both key and  disposable.  And 3) LaMarre’s characterization of manga is itself unnecessarily limited: “the manga page tends toward a distributive field, on which panels and their accompanying hints of subjective positions are dispersed and deheirarchized.”  What then of strips or yon-koma manga, which are often embedded in other texts with which they have very little if any relationship (like, say, any given New Yorker cartoon)?

Azumanga daioh vol. 1 pp. 6 & 51

Azumanga daioh vol. 1 pp. 6 & 51

Moreover, what of manga that have multiple depictive modes, like, say, Azumanga Daioh?  Which is supposed to be the “exploded projection” of the later anime, the yon-koma strips that most of the manga comprises or the occasional full page, “typical” manga spreads?  Manga itself draws from a wide variety of visual regimes that, I hasten to note, have nothing to do with cinema or animation.  For instance, the depiction of the crystalline trees that support the fukai or “sea of corruption” in the Naushika manga is far more diagrammatic than the panning shot laid out in the storyboard above.

Kaze no tani no Naushika vol. 2 p. 9

Kaze no tani no Naushika vol. 2 p. 9

At any rate, the “cinematic” nature of so-called story manga, upon which LaMarre is dependent here, is itself largely overdetermined.  Nakano Haruyuki, for instance, has tried to show that Sakai Shichima’s background as a continuity artist for manga eiga (i.e. “illustrated films,” with an older, looser sense of manga as “illustration”) is a far better explanation for the cinematic qualities of his and Tezuka’s seminal Shin-takarajima (New Treasure Island) than the classic tale of Tezuka breaking down Disney films merely from watching them.  Moreover, as Ryan Holmberg has shown, it is likely that Sakai and Tezuka were working from a Donald Duck Disney comic, Pirate Gold.  LaMarre, for whatever reason, gets the relationship between anime and manga historically backwards, failing as he does to note how the word anime and the notion of it as a distinct thing are, in fact, relatively recent, for initially animation was regularly understood as a species of manga-as-illustration, thus the now largely invisible phenomena of manga eiga (manga film) and manga terebi (manga TV).  Also, manga has, in its history, “eyed” cinema in ways that have less to do with LaMarre’s “multiplanar image” and more to do with the materiality of film, such as Kitazawa Rakuten’s Saigen no nai eiga (Film Without End) below.

Mugen no nai eiga

Saigen no nai eiga

However, dear reader, if we are to move away from the mere scholarly “takedown,” what then should we say of the relationship between anime and manga?

Manga as [Anime] Subtext

In referring to manga as a subtext for anime, I don’t mean simply the all too common mode of adaptation where first there is a manga that, after it becomes popular, is later adapted into an animated TV series or film, though that is one facet of what I mean by “subtext.”  For this fact alone would be rendered meaningless when you consider how manga are adapted into a variety of media, be it live action television (e.g. Hana yori dango) or [several] feature length film[s] (e.g. 20th Century Boys) or ranobe/light novel (e.g. Ichigo 100%) or video game (e.g. Naruto).  Nor by subtext do I mean to say that manga are a point of origin for these dispersed adaptations but rather that manga is like a nigh ubiquitous focus to which all Japanese popular media return again and again.  Moreover, manga is a subtext, because many of these variants (rather than adaptations) either fail to signal or actively conceal their connection to manga.

Kiyoha on the cover of Anno's manga

Kiyoha on the cover of Anno’s manga

Tsuchiya Anna as Kiyoha

Tsuchiya Anna as Kiyoha

For instance, I recall in 2006 when the film Sakuran (Delirium) came out, there was little mention at all of the fact that it had been adapted from Anno Moyoko’s manga of the same name; I only later discovered the manga while browsing the book section of a Village Vanguard in Hamamatsu.  What drew me to the film and caught the attention of various news segments about its production was (total fucking rockstar badass) Shiina Ringo‘s composition of the film’s soundtrack.  In fact, watching the film for the first time was an eerie reliving of my own fawning fandom as I caught snippets of some of my favorite tunes while Tsuchiya Anna‘s character Kiyoha was, for instance, being whipped with a cane.  While the manga/film relationship is a rather straightforward example of adaptation, I want to focus, rather, on Ringo’s 2006 album (concurrent with the film) and return to her “solo” career (the album is an overt collaboration with violinist and conductor Saitō Neko), Heisei fūzoku (Ringo’s English title is “Japanese Manners” but Heisei indicates the current regnal period [1989-pres.] and fūzoku, while it literally means “manners,” is a euphemism for the sex trade).

Album cover of Heisei fūzoku

Album cover of Heisei fūzoku

Heisei fūzoku is a collection of new versions of old songs, covers, as well as new songs, many of which relate to a common theme in Ringo’s music, the analogy between prostitute and pop icon (a theme well established long before Lady Gaga beat it into the ground).  Though the album is sometimes considered an ersatz soundtrack for the film, not all of its songs appear therein and many of the songs used in the film do not appear on the album.  When I say that manga is a subtext for anime (and for Japanese pop culture in general), I mean something like the relationship between this album and Anno’s manga: while there is no necessary or explicit relationship, I cannot help but read one in the context of the other.


Ringo sees what you did thar…

This is why I find LaMarre’s sequestration of analytical modes so self-defeating and wont to find only that which it sets out to, i.e. the conclusions seem to demand the method.  Manga seems to exist contemporarily in a state where it both pulls from pre-existing visual and conceptual modes and branches out into a variety of media that seem, in the implementation, to want nothing more than to divorce themselves from their “source.”  Nevertheless, these manga foci or points of convergence have an ineluctable draw symptomatic of any reader’s desire to return to a deeper structure or meaning by which something might be explained in analogy to something else, like moving back from Oshii’s film of Ghost in the Shell to see what he has changed/been erased from Shirō’s manga or, in my own research, explaining the supposed “break” in Miyazaki’s oeuvre that Mononoke-hime represents as a natural outgrowth of the Naushika manga that commentators in English regularly ignore or treat only in passing.


Hawt? – Kusanagi in the opening sequence of Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell

Or, to return to my own bloggery origins, consider the difference in the depiction of the nude female body in Oshii’s film.  Regardless of what Sharalyn Orbaugh might say, when I first saw GitS way back when, I wouldn’t exactly say I was turned on.  Outside an adolescent giggle over seeing cartoon “bewbs,” I found it remarkable (though I certainly would not have used this language at the time) how Oshii takes Shirō’s clearly sexualized female bodies (Kusanagi is seen at one point finger-fucking two other women in a virtual retreat, though you wouldn’t know this from the English translation) and rendered them mere objects of aesthetic judgement and appreciation, like the dolls with which his two GitS films are clearly fascinated or a marble Venus.  The language of adaptation might have us say that Oshii’s film simply diverges from its source material, because his artist’s interests differ from Shirō’s.  Fair enough, but what the language of manga as subtext lets us ask are questions like “why are Oshii’s machinic bodies so thoroughly neutered?” or “in what ways might these bodies be read as an allegory for otaku obsessions with character figures and dolls?” (something far more obvious in the manga) or… “how might LaMarre’s own arguments about animation be undermined by the very things he sequesters?”  For, the funny thing about subtext is that, while you may not want to contemplate it, sooner or later it might just contemplate you.


Stay Tuned!

Ba Zi

contact me: uahsenaa@gmail.com

EDIT: I had mugen for saigen in the title of the Rakuten manga above


One comment

  1. Reblogged this on misentopop.

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