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  • Anime Fans, DVDs, and the Authentic Text
  • Laurie Cubbison

An enduring question in media studies is how much economic and social power audi- ences have over the commodities they con- sume. A commodity like a DVD consists not only of the object, the disk itself, but also of the film or television program contained on the disk, and the market for the object depends on the market for the film or television program. Over the past twenty years fan studies as a field has examined fandom, a specific kind of deeply engaged audience behavior that media corporations must take into account when marketing film and television on home video. For a film genre such as anime, also known as Japanese animation, the audience may consist of a large group of casual viewers, each of whom may spend some money on a few DVDs, and a much smaller group of otaku, or committed fans, who may spend a great deal of money collecting many DVDs. The amount of influence either group has over the marketing decisions of the DVD makers will depend not only on their market share of the audience but also the audience group's ability to articulate what it wants from the product. Otaku who participate in online forums like Usenet and various web forums have learned to articulate for themselves and for anime home video distributors their product specifications.

Strictly speaking, in Japanese, otaku is a pejorative term for an obsessive geek. The object of the obsession could be comics, cars, animation, sports, television shows, music—any set of objects that inspire an obsessive level of expertise. The obsession is likely to be accompanied by poor social skills and hoarding tendencies (Newitz; Kinsella 310). In short, this variety of geek is known as the fanboy or fangirl, but non-Japanese fanboys and fangirls have adopted the term to identify themselves proudly as obsessive fans of anime. The use of the word otaku by Western anime fans signifies a self-recognition of just those qualities of obsessive expertise and hoarding, qualities that have made anime fans into a market segment popular with home video retailers (Masters 44). The relationship between anime producers, distributors, retailers, and fans can be quite contentious, however, as fans have very specific ideas about the features they want on the products they purchase, features that may not matter as much to the large numbers of casual fans the corporation may wish to reach.

In their discussions of anime fandom, both Annalee Newitz and Susan J. Napier examine the engagement of Western fans with Japanese animation in terms of cultural differences and globalization and the extent to which their engagement with anime can be seen as a form of resistance to Western popular culture. But at the time they were constructing their discussions of anime fandom, anime had not yet exploded on home video, and so their understanding of the experience of watching anime focuses on the club setting. Their discussions of the difference between anime and Western mass media concentrated on the extent to which fans engaged with the cultural origins of anime texts and less so with the barriers that the media format brings to viewers outside its original language community, given decisions made by commercial producers.

In this article I discuss anime as both a work and a text, using Roland Barthes's distinction: "The work is a fragment of substance, occupying a part of the space of books (in a library for example). . . . [T]he Text is experienced only in an act of production" (157–58). While anime fans engage with the texts of anime through their interest in particular movies and series, in identifying themselves as anime fans they connect to the work as it appears in its tangible, mediated format—"the work can be seen (in bookshops, in catalogues, in exam syllabuses)" (Barthes 157). This distinction is important when discussing the relationship between anime fandom and the DVD format, for the anime DVD is the work, and the program contained on [End Page 45] the DVD is the text. And yet the form of the work affects the experience of the text. Just as the text's "constitutive movement...