- Conceptualizing Anime and the Database Fantasyscape
In spite of the growing body of literature on anime, very few people have examined what the term denotes. Most simply equate “anime” with “Japanese animation”; this is a relatively easy “out” in order to get past tricky questions of definition, and one to which I must admit engaging in on occasion. For example, in Stray Dog of Anime: The Films of Mamoru Oshii, I wrote that “‘anime’ does not denote any particular style or content; it simply means animation from Japan.” 1 Carl Silvio has rightly criticized me for this overly simplistic statement, asserting that “Ruh offers us a definition [of anime] that is virtually invulnerable to refutation.” 2 This definition presents something of a problem because many fans would not consider all animation from Japan as anime. For example, when Yamamura Kōji’s Mt. Head (2002, Atamayama) was nominated for an Academy Award for best animated short film in 2003, it was relatively ignored by “anime” fans. The film’s entry in the online encyclopedia on the Anime News Network website even states “Some people would not consider this as Anime [sic], but rather ‘Alternative Japanese Animation.’” 3 This entry goes into no further detail and does not explain how “Alternative Japanese Animation” differs from “anime,” but it seems clear that some fans [End Page 164] have drawn a line around the concept of “anime” that does not include all animation from Japan.
A useful tool for examining the definitional limbo of the term “anime” is Matt Hills’s study of fan cultures. In his book’s preface, Hills explicitly states that he is taking a “suspensionist” position in which he is “approaching the contradictions of fan cultures and cult media as essential cultural negotiations that can only be closed down at the cost of ignoring fandom’s cultural dynamics.” 4 Like Hills, it is not my intention to arrive at a singular “expert” definition of anime but to pursue how anime is discussed within English-language fan and academic circles in order to explore how the meanings of such terms may change over time, sometimes taking on and discarding new connotations. 5 However, even within this suspensionist viewpoint, “anime” cannot mean just anything. In order for the term to be meaningful, it needs to be given structure, even if this structure does not point in the end to a singular definition.
Before the term “anime” came into widespread use in the late 1980s and early 1990s, such animation had often been called “Japanimation” in English. Anime historian Fred Patten traces the first use of the word “Japanimation” to around 1978, shortly after anime fandom became formalized with the establishment of the first U.S. anime fan club, called the Cartoon/Fantasy Organization (CFO), in May 1977. 6 The term “Japanimation” began to fall from popularity nearly a decade later—one reason was that it got too easily twisted into a racially derogatory term by detractors (e.g. “Jap animation”). Most people now writing use the term “anime,” save a few. Japanese media scholar Ueno Toshiya, for instance, defends his use of the term “Japanimation,” saying, “I use this term to emphasize both geography and the particularity of its characteristic styles, for these are quite different from animations in the general sense.” 7 In this way, such animation becomes territorially marked by the term “Japanimation”; “anime,” on the other hand, does not necessarily carry such connotations and seems to have the potential to be a much more fluid marker.
Some books on anime have introduced their topic of discussion in these ways: “Japanese cartoons (more properly, anime, which simply means ‘animation’)”; “anime (Japanese animation)”; and “Japanese animation, or ‘anime,’ as it is now usually referred to in both Japan and the West.” 8 Other writers take a different approach to examining anime. In his introduction to the edited collection Cinema Anime, Steven T. Brown writes, “What is anime? Anime is so multifarious in its forms and genres, its styles and audiences, that one needs to pose the question differently: Where is the anime screen?” 9 Brown’s reformulated question suggests that the meaning of anime comes about through...