William H. Foster III, comic book historian, on representation in comic books. From PBS’s Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle.

Because a post crossed my dash recently asking why we need to push for more representation in comic books and media in general. 50 years later, this man still tears up because in one panel, Peter Parker spoke to an unnamed black kid. That’s why we need representation.

(via racialicious)

"Tiger Lily Doesn’t Equal Human Torch" plus a very long rant



The other day I posted this tweet:

"Wait they cast a white chick for Tiger Lily in the new Peter Pan? Did they not remember Lone Ranger last year? Or, you know, racism?"

(If you didn’t hear, Rooney Mara is supposedly playing Tiger Lily, who is a princess of the “Native” tribe, in the reboot.)

I got tons of Tweets agreeing with me, and then a lot of Tweets like this as well:

"I agree they shouldn’t screw around with classic characters. Oh wait they cast a Black Guy as Human Torch."

"Are you actually retarded? Black men were cast to play Heimdall and the Human Torch, why aren’t you complaining about that?"

Well, no sir, I’m not “retarded.” Thanks for asking. But from the general tone of the responses (most were civil, for the record), seems like there are lot people upset about black people replacing white people in the Marvel Universe. And they consider that issue a valid counter-argument to my comment about Tiger Lily’s casting. (I guess because they think both have “changing canon” in common?) 

I’d like to clear up some stuff here, especially with regards to my initial tweet:

I am not upset about Tiger Lily, a role originally written for a Native American female character in the book, being cast as white because it upsets the canon. Screw canon. I am upset about a role that was expressly written as a female minority being given to white actor instead. And here is why. 

Most lead characters and lead actors of movies are white. Period. I even dug up a recent study to back that up, like this is some fucking term paper or something: Across 100 top-grossing films of 2012, only 10.8% of speaking characters were Black, 4.2% were Hispanic, 5% were Asian, and 3.6% were from other (or mixed race) ethnicities. Just over three-quarters of all speaking characters are White (76.3%). 

(In referring to “speaking characters”, I also assume that’s counting judges and store clerks and taxi drivers with just a line or two. You see a lot of casting stick minority characters to check the boxes of “yeah, we had diversity, look!” So we’re not even talking about opportunities to carry the whole movie here.)

Another thing to note from the study: “These trends are relatively stable, as little deviation is observed across the 5-year sample.” Gee, no movement towards reflecting the country or world we live in! Fantastic. 

Bottom line, actors of ethnicity don’t get a lot of work to begin with. And that very fact creates a scarcity in the number of actors of different ethnicities to choose from when casting. It’s a chicken and the egg syndrome. In what instance can you point out a role where a Native American actress has a chance to be a lead in any movie? Almost none. So why chase a dream that doesn’t seem like it could come true, because the system would never allow it? 

It’s a self-perpetuating reality we live with, so the only way to change it is to break the norm, and cast more leading characters with more diversity. At the very least give roles that are intended to be ethnically diverse to ethnically diverse actors, I mean, BARE MINIMUM, PEOPLE. 

So for me, the opportunity to give a leading role that could be a Native American, a possible protagonist role that the audience could relate to and live the story through, to a white actor, is kind of shitty and backwards to me. And that’s why I posted my initial tweet. 

To compare Tiger Lily being cast as a white women to Human Torch or Heimdall being cast as an African-American is not equivalent, because I don’t think this issue is about violating or adhereing to “lore,” I think it’s about providing more representation. And that’s why I think that the Human Torch being cast as African-American is an awesome thing, because that move evolves Hollywood and storytelling and the Marvel universe. 

Remember in the past, lead characters were most likely written as white in the first place, because they were created in an even more white-centric world. Fantastic Four debuted in 1961, segregation was outlawed in 1964. You can’t say that the culture at large at the time didn’t influence the creator’s choices when making these characters! Fast forward fifty years, the culture at large NOW doesn’t match up with the lore from before, and we should be open to changing it. 

Tiger Lily, in the book, is actually portrayed in an EXTREMELY racist way. But hey, it could be a great opportunity to re-invent the character as a Native American to be proud of, rather than dodge the issue entirely, and take the role away and give it to a white woman. 

Why NOT re-imagine Tiger Lily so that the audience can fall in love with and admire a woman of color? Or reimagine a superhero as an African-American, one among a TON of white ones we see every day? Let’s show the audience that they can live through anyone’s eyes! 

We have to make an effort to change the pattern of only seeing stories through white characters’ points of view, so that in the future, diverse protagonists are just a given. So that we can have heroes and villians and judges and love interests of all backgrounds, and not have to point it out as “look how special this is!” Evolving stories and lore is a GOOD THING FOR OUR WORLD. 

And bottom line, if you feel so disenfranchised by one role out of TONS of roles being changed up ethnically, if you are saying you can’t possibly relate to a character who is another race from you, well, I think that’s more a problem of your own than anything else. But don’t worry, the stastics say you’ll have lots of other entertainment for your point of view to choose from. Around 75%, actually. Hooray, I guess? :/

So yeah, I guess that’s my expansion on my previous 140 character Tweet, haha. Happy weekend!

Since the 1990s Australian law has recognised sexual persecution as grounds for refugee asylum. Still, applicants are forced to go through a protracted process of proving their “gayness.” This excellent video features University of Sydney researcher and activist Senthorun Raj telling the story of Ravi, a Bangladeshi asylum seeker, who was forced not just to establish his sexuality, but to defend his commitment to his queerness. Ravi’s problem was that he was not “visibly” gay in the way the law expected. Yet refuge law on persecution is not simply about looks or physical persecution. Raj writes:

LGBTIQ persecution does not always involve physical violence. Persecution can manifest in persisting psychological abuse, coerced concealment, the inability to subsist, or systemic discrimination that is legitimated/ tolerated by the state. 

In the video, Ravi notes that while his first sexual encounter with a man was consensual it was not pleasurable. This is part of sexuality: we can be attracted to people and not necessarily always enjoy sex equally with everyone. Ravi had also had sex with a woman in the past. This undermined his case as a gay man in the eyes of the Refugee Tribunal. They did not believe that Ravi had “made up his mind” about being gay because of this prior experience.

As Raj points out, sexuality is fluid. Some people can be gay and yet still have had sexual experiences with the opposite gender, or they can gay and not have slept with many people, and you can be gay and not necessarily have enjoyed all your sexual encounters. This works the same for heterosexual people, and yet this somehow doesn’t invalidate their heterosexuality.

This is such an important video to explore the sociology of refugee law and the intersections between migration and queer theory. The story is illustrated wonderfully by Australian artist on Tumblr, Sam Wallman (penerasespaper).

This comic by xkcd is a great conversation starter for the sociology of moral panics. In 1871, Sunday Magazine lamented the lost art of letter writing. They bemoan the fact that as it becomes cheaper to write and send letters, people value “quality” letter writing less. This is seen to be to the detriment of society. The proliferation of letter writing evolves as new technologies make paper, ink and postal services more available to the masses.
The rest of the comic charts excellent examples from prestigious books, journals and professionals fretting about how technology changes the quality of human communication. We see these arguments continue today as some traditional media owners and some intellectuals decry the advent of social media and blogging, as well as how the internet in general supposedly ruins our collective intelligence. A couple of years a go, I wrote about how philosopher Edward De Bono said social media causes laziness.
What is at play behind these arguments is actually a moral panic about the control of cultural capital: technologies shift power over who controls information (in Marxist terms, the owners of the means of production). Technology doesn’t drive social change as it’s not some overpowering social force that we accept mindlessly. Instead, social relations change in response to people finding new uses for technology, and this is a feed back loop that pushes innovation in communications.
Take a look at the expanded comic and see what you think. 
Credit: Link via Brian Glick on Google+.

This comic by xkcd is a great conversation starter for the sociology of moral panics. In 1871, Sunday Magazine lamented the lost art of letter writing. They bemoan the fact that as it becomes cheaper to write and send letters, people value “quality” letter writing less. This is seen to be to the detriment of society. The proliferation of letter writing evolves as new technologies make paper, ink and postal services more available to the masses.

The rest of the comic charts excellent examples from prestigious books, journals and professionals fretting about how technology changes the quality of human communication. We see these arguments continue today as some traditional media owners and some intellectuals decry the advent of social media and blogging, as well as how the internet in general supposedly ruins our collective intelligence. A couple of years a go, I wrote about how philosopher Edward De Bono said social media causes laziness.

What is at play behind these arguments is actually a moral panic about the control of cultural capital: technologies shift power over who controls information (in Marxist terms, the owners of the means of production). Technology doesn’t drive social change as it’s not some overpowering social force that we accept mindlessly. Instead, social relations change in response to people finding new uses for technology, and this is a feed back loop that pushes innovation in communications.

Take a look at the expanded comic and see what you think. 

Credit: Link via Brian Glick on Google+.

Open University puts the (animated) spotlight on two sociologists who were critical of organised religion. This one is on Karl Marx and his enduring dictum: “Religion is the opium of the people.” Marx used this phrase to argue that religion is a mechanism to entice poor and disadvantaged people to accept suffering and inequality as part of life (through the enticement of higher rewards in the afterlife). The original quote is drawn from the Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. In context, Marx’s original quote reads:

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower. The criticism of religion disillusions man, so that he will think, act, and fashion his reality like a man who has discarded his illusions and regained his senses, so that he will move around himself as his own true Sun. Religion is only the illusory Sun which revolves around man as long as he does not revolve around himself.

The video is from the series: Religion as Social Control - 60 Second Adventures in Religion.

Video link via: Brain Pickings.

One of the rarely commented-upon things about The Avengers was that every member of the team — in fact, every major character in the movie, with the exception of one — was white. That isn’t to declare an ulterior motive, but it’s something that a Justice League movie could easily avoid, considering some of the characters that have served with the team throughout their 50-plus years of comic book service.

While the movie Green Lantern may have defaulted to the Caucasian Hal Jordan in its choice of hero, there’s no reason that a Justice League movie couldn’t feature the Ryan Choi Atom, or the Jason Rusch Firestorm.

And there is, of course, a very deserving current member of the team ready for the big screen: Victor Stone, a.k.a. Cyborg. A character with the everyteen-in-unexpected-circumstances appeal of Spider-Man who is already known outside of comics thanks to the Teen Titans cartoon, not to mention a higher profile in the comics thanks to his Justice League induction, he could — and should — serve as the audience’s point-of-view character, and act as the center around which the movie revolves.

The current spate of superhero movies have been depressingly pale when it comes to central characters; this is an area where Warner and DC could steal past Marvel very easily.

“10 Things We Want In A Justice League Movie” 

(via fyeahlilbitoeverything)

(via nothingman)

Banksy directs the opening sequence to the 2010 episode of The Simpsons, MoneyBart (Season 22, Episode3).

Arguably the world’s most famous street artists, Banksy storyboarded and directed this opening scene, which I first read about on the Wooster Collective in October 2010 (you see, we don’t get The Simpsons episodes for another 10,000 years after they first air in the USA). The shot opens with one of the show’s recurring symbols, a three-eyed raven, carrying a rat in its beak. The raven is an ominous representation of the seedy side of Springfield, specifically the radioactive waste from Mr Burns’ Nuclear Power Plant polluting the town’s wildlife. The rat is a symbol of anarchy that Banksy often uses in his art and which often signifies his artistic signature.

Banksy’s tag can be seen on the billboard and wall outside Springfield Elementary School. Bart is seen scrawling on the blackboard as he does at the beginning of every episode. He writes ‘I must not write all over the walls’, another tongue-in-cheek reference to Banksy’s graffiti. Following the iconic final frame of the opening credits, where the Simpsons are seated together on the couch, we see a darkly-lit and dingy factory where rows of identical-looking women work on animation frames while a severe-looking man dressed in a military-style uniform watches over them. The women are tired, drab and sullen. A little boy takes one of the frames, dips it into hazardous liquid and hangs it out to dry. We see a pile of bones in the corner.

The camera pans down into a lower level of the factory, where the only colourful objects are rows of Simpsons t-shirts being produced and handled by young children. A chorus of melancholic, religiously-themed music plays in the background, as we see white kittens thrown into a wood-chipper-styled machine. White fur comes out in tuffs on the other side, which a woman stuffs quickly into Bart Simpson plush toys. The cart of toys is guided away by a man and pushed along by a down-trodden panda that is chained to the cart by its neck. Another man seals up boxes labelled ‘The Simpsons’ (using the tongue from a dolphin’s head stuck on stick). Another man packs CD cases, perforating the hole in the centre of the CDs on the tip of an emaciated unicorn’s horn. The unicorn is chained to the wall. It falls to the ground from exhaustion as the 20th Century Fox logo looms large across the screen. The camera pans out as the logo appears on the Simpsons’ TV set and the familiar Simpsons theme music plays in the background, drowning out the gloomy music from the previous scene.

Darkly humorous and thought-provoking, this opening sequence offers a political comment on the nefarious machinations of animation production. The use of women and children denotes the labourers who are exploited in order to create this highly successful show. The panda implies the scene is set in China. The juxtaposition of the enslaved unicorn and the 20th Century logo represents the ugly reality of Hollywood fantasy, as unicorns are a recurring feature of beauty and magic in children’s cartoons.

I see this video as a clever postmodern critique of pop culture, as well as a neo-Marxist comment on the mass production of art. Banksy has reached a level of notoriety and relative success that has contributed to the elevated cultural legitimacy of street art. As far as pop cultural animation institutions go, The Simpsons cannot be surpassed. The Simpsons is the longest running scripted television show, showing in at least 60 countries as of 2002. Over the past 21 years, the show has retained a core audience of dedicated viewers. The show maintains its cultural significance in large part by embedding cult and pop references as well as celebrity appearances into its weekly series. Banksy fits all of these categories. By becoming part of The Simpsons legacy, Banksy manages to simultaneously integrate his personal anti-establishment ethos (a critique of the animation production process) whilst seeding street art into mainstream pop culture.

Final Fantasy Final Fantasy

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001). I know it’s a controversial one for fans of the video game, but given I had never played it, I came to this film fresh and I really enjoyed it. Here’s what the Anime News Network has to say:

Not generally considered anime, Final Fantasy - The Spirits Within was produced in Hawaii at Square USA by an internationally assmbled staff of animators and artists. With over 130 million dollars invested in the establishment of Square USA and the production of this film, it is no surprise that it featured some of the most advanced CG of its time. However the movies failed to capture audiences and only grossed $52 million worldwide ($32 Million in North America). Following the complete commercial failure of the movie Square USA created one more mini movie, The Final Flight of the Osiris segment of The Animatrix, before being shut down.

Image Credits:

Dire Critic.

Reel McCoy.

The Simpsons use of parody to tell Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven.

Björn Erlingur Flóki Björnsson argues that The Simpsons’ comedy rests on ‘intertextuality’. This is a narrative form that involves referencing oneself and/or other popular culture and historical texts as part of its comedy.  The Simpson’s intertextuality is self-reflexive because it often references its creator (Matt Groening) and the show’s producers, as well as past storylines. For example, in one episode The Simpsons children make reference to Marge’s gambling addiction and Comic Book Guy walks past saying ‘Worst episode ever’.

Björnsson establishes that The Simpsons’ humour rests on the postmodernist concept of pastiche (a form of parody that mimics other works without the satire). The Simpsons superimposes its characters and landscape into other beloved books, iconic films, significant historical events, and other cultural forms of art. The Simpsons achieves pastiche by using celebrities to do voiceovers and by incorporating the likeness of characters, sets and plots from other cult texts.

Björnsson uses the episode Bart of Darkness as an example of pastiche. The title of this episode is an allusion to Joseph Conrad’s book Heart of Darkness, and the plot is similar to Hitchcock’s film Rear Window (in which Bart is forced to stay indoors with a broken leg, consequently spying on his neighbours and possibly witnessing a murder). This episode also uses many of the same camera angles from Hitcock’s film.

The Simpsons has referenced several cartoons such as Family Guy, Tom & Jerry, The Flintstones, The Road Runner Show, The Jetsons and Yogi Bear. The Simpsons has also emulated the period scenery and visual styles of films such as Tron; the classic plays The Odyssey and Henry VIII; renowned films such as Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, as well as The Shining. Björnsson writes:

The Simpsons is easily able to represent its borrowed works’ visual styles by taking full advantage of the medium of animation. The endlessly mutable forms of animation allows The Simpsons to mimic particular settings, moods, lighting techniques and camera angles with accuracy, and incorporate it into their story in any way they please. This distinguishes The Simpsons from live-action television shows employing similar intertextual techniques: its possibilities of representation are seemingly infinite.

I use the clip above as an example of intertexuality. The clip comes from The Simpsons’ first Treehouse of Horror special. This episode uses pastiche to represent Edgar Allan Poe’s classic poem The Raven in its entirety, yet with a Simpsons spin. Christopher Maligec argues that Poe’s poem is influenced by a Greek style of poetry known as a ‘love elegy’ (paraclausithyron) used to convey a lover’s ‘sorrow, helplessness, and self-pitying despair…’. Poe’s poem has been referenced in countless popular culture media. (Also see my Raven posts.) The Raven is used as a narrative trope to evoke despair and anguish. Ravens and other corvids are used to establish an ominous sense of gloom in many films and TV shows, but in animation, they have also been used as a comedic device to frustrate hapless characters. In The Simpsons version, the raven reflects both an omen of despair and a trickster persona.

In this pastiche production, Homer plays the haunted man reminiscing over his lost love, Lenore (personified by Marge in a portrait hanging on Homer’s wall). Bart plays his tormentor, the raven. The Simpsons brings Poe’s masterful words into the realm of popular culture by having James Earl Jones recite the poem. Jones has one of the most recognisable voices in English-language popular culture (having voiced Darth Vadar in the original Star Wars trilogy, Episodes IV-VI). The Simpsons have regularly referenced Star Wars, so Jones’ appearance is a reference within a reference. Moreover, this retelling of Poe’s story also references The Simpsons’ own mythology by having Bart-the-raven jovially bringing the narrator/Homer to anger, which is a recurring source of comedy on the show.

It is specifically the medium of animation that makes possible the translation of Poe’s narrative of love and loss into a self-referencing story for a new audience.

(Check out my other Simpsons posts or my other examples of the sociology of animation.)

Video via Buzznet.

Anime and the Social Construction of Race

imageA common misconception about anime cartoons amongst uninitiated audiences in majority-English-speaking countries is that anime characters are drawn to look ‘White’ rather than ‘Asian’. First of all, neither of terms are factual fixed categories - they are social constructions. That is, the meaning attached to race, whether ‘White’, ‘Black’, ‘Asian’ and so on, and the groups classified under these labels, change from one society to another, depending upon culture, time and place.

In an excellent exploration of the social construction of race in popular culture, sociologist Julian Abagond shows that Japanese animators do not, in fact, draw anime characters to personify their aspiration to be ‘white’. Instead, these characters reflect the animators’ own cultural biases - which is that Japanese people are the prototype model of the ‘default human being’. Abagond writes in Sociological Images:

imageIf I draw a stick figure, most Americans will assume that it is a white man. Because to them that is the Default Human Being. For them to think it is a woman I have to add a dress or long hair; for Asian, I have to add slanted eyes; for black, I add kinky hair or brown skin. Etc.

The Other has to be marked. If there are no stereotyped markings of otherness, then white is assumed.

Americans apply this thinking to Japanese drawings. But to the Japanese the Default Human Being is Japanese! So they feel no need to make their characters “look Asian”. They just have to make them look like people and everyone in Japan will assume they are Japanese – no matter how improbable their physical appearance.

You see the same thing in America: After all, why do people think Marge Simpson is white? Look at her skin: it is yellow. Look at her hair: it is a blue Afro. But the Default Human Being thing is so strong that lacking other clear, stereotyped signs of being either black or Asian she defaults to white…

When you think about it there is nothing particularly white about how anime characters look:huge round eyes – no one looks like that, not even white people (even though that style of drawing eyes does go back to Betty Boop).

  • yellow hair – but they also have blue hair and green hair and all the rest. Therefore hair colour is not about being true to life.
  • small noses – compared to the rest of the world whites have long noses that stick out.
  • white skin – but many Japanese have skin just as pale and white as most White Americans…

Some Americans, even some scholars, will argue against this view of anime. They want to think the Japanese worship America or worship whiteness and use anime to prove it.  But they seem to be driven more by their own racism and nationalism than anything else.

As Abagond’s analysis shows, perceptions of race and gender influence how people ‘read’, understand and draw meaning from animation. For Japanese animators, their characters reflect their view of normality - that everyone in their creation is Japanese (or Korean or Chinese or wherever the anime is produced). Audiences that have an uncritical view of race and Whiteness presume that ‘Asian’ drawings should look ‘Asian’. Yet this term - Asian - means different things to different groups. In Japan, the category of Asian is not very meaningful. Instead, mainstream Japanese culture portrays the Japanese people as the ‘default human being’. Gender and class also affect how this default human being is imagined (usually male, affluent and lean).

Just all art forms embody the biases and taken-for-granted cultural assumptions about the world, what audiences see in anime drawings are mediated by the ethnocentrism of the animators and audiences. Ethnocentrism is the belief that one’s group is superior to others. Viewers who think Japanese anime characters are trying to look ‘White’ are therefore viewing this artform through ethnocentrism.

Quotation originally from Abagond’s blog, via Sociological Images.

Image of Jubei from Ninja Scroll from Jinni.

Sociology of Anime: Ninja Scroll

imageAs part of my sociology of anime series, here’s a discussion of Ninja Scroll, the 1993 Japanese cult classic, which was directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri.

Ninja Scroll is concerned with a familiar anime trope - the battle between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ ninjas. Set in feudal times, Ninja Scroll tells the tale of Kibagami Jubei, a solitary warrior who is tricked into fighting for his life as he is pursued by a band of demons in a war against the government. The narrative is filled with visually rich martial arts scenes interwoven with complex depictions of sexuality. This includes heterosexual sex and connotations of gay love and bisexuality (these representations warrant discussion on their own right, which I will address in another post). 


Ninja Scroll is filled with visceral images of pestilence, poison, revenge, vigilantism and solitude. These ideas are cross-referenced to themes of love, redemption, honour, obligation, nationalism and social justice.

Canadian sociologist Jay Goulding argues that Ninja Scroll's narrative concerns with sexual fantasies, demons, violence and vengeance represent a new technological interpretation of traditional Buddhist ideals and a modern appreciation of Japanese history.

Similarly, as I discussed in my previous anime post, Jin Kyu Park argues that the international appeal of anime is its integration of ideas from various cultures and its elaborate spirituality. Anime represents fantasy and escape, as well as counter-cultural and anti-authoritarian aspirations. This is signified in Ninja Scroll by Jubei’s role as an avenging rogue who reluctantly fights against supernatural and state forces. image

If you haven’t seen Ninja Scroll - get to it post haste! Otherwise how will you know what to do when you are tricked into going on a quest to overthrow a group of demons after you’ve been poisoned and you fall in love with a martial arts imperial food tester? Pfff - you wouldn’t know what to do, that’s what!

The sociology of animation - saving your life.

Image credits:

Jubei: IGN

Yurimaru: Gary’s Ninja Scroll Page.

Kagero: Gary’s Ninja Scroll Page

The Sociology of Anime - Origins and International Appeal

imageThe history and influence of anime is rich and complex, from its origins in early 20th Century Japanese manga comics to its present-day popularity around the world. Korean communications researcher, Jin Kyu Park, has explored the influences on anime and its appeal to international audiences. Park documents that the growth of anime links back to Japan’s economic boom in the 1960s, which enabled the development of new television genres, including anime.

The first televised anime series was Otagi Manga Calendar in 1962, but its successor Tetuwan Atomu in 1963 achieved greater popularity. Over the next two decades, the scope and influence of anime had spread beyond Japan. By the 1980s and 1990s, Park establishes that anime had developed a strong cult following around the world. Technological advances facilitated this process. With the diffusion of video recorders, fans were able to obtain copies of anime series and share them through anime fan clubs and conventions. image

Several anime series contain the some of the most internationally recognised animated characters, including Astro Boy - the manga cartoon of the 1950s which was turned into an anime TV series in the 1960s. Anime took off to a wider  worldwide market through Pokémon, a late 1990s video game which was turned into an anime (and which I, incidentally, could never get into).

To uninitiated audiences, the most easily observable and perhaps the most shocking aspects of anime are its graphic depiction of violence, sex and supernatural themes. Park has explored the international consumption of anime by its fans in a different light. Park argues that this popularity is due to the way anime integrates various cultural, historical and religious ideas from Japan and other societies. In particular, Park sees that anime’s concern with spirituality marks it out as distinctive from other popular cultural animation genres.

It is not simply that anime regularly depicts non-human characters, such as demons, monsters, angels, aliens, magical animals, gods and other mythical beings. Instead, Park argues that the transcendental appeal of anime is that these beings often represent aspects of ‘good’ and ‘evil’, in a way that is less clear-cut than other religious representations of morality, such as in mainstream Christianity.

imageThe fact that anime cartoons borrow from various religious traditions makes it simultaneously distinctive and appealing to international audiences. Park interviewed American anime fans, one of whom explains the appeal of anime this way:

I guess I would say that because anime is so all encompassing, they aren’t afraid to step into different cultures or ideas and then draw and make a storyline out of it and create something that’s entertaining and beautiful at the same time. I think that’s one of the reasons I like it so much. ’Cause they aren’t restrained by anything. The sky is the limit. They can draw anything they want to. And still keep a cheerful attitude about it. I really like that.

Park’s research shows that fans of anime see it as distinctive and ‘beautiful’, with its themes of social resistance, adventure and sacred quests. The appeal of social rebellion in anime films is expressed through the idea that anime is not ‘restrained by anything’.

Anime, like other forms of animation, might be easily dismissed as light entertainment - thus falling into the realm of the ‘mundane’. The longevity and international appeal of anime speaks to its unique contribution to transnational popular art.

In future posts, I will consider other issues related to the international value of anime as a cultural export and I will discuss case studies of some of my favourite anime films.

If you have any favourite anime shows or films, let me know which ones and why.

Image credits

Otogi Manga Calendar. Via: Opisy-Anime.

Astro Boy. Via: Glen Johnson’s 60s Anime!

Spirited Away. Via Anime News Network.