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  • Speciesism, Part III:Neoteny and the Politics of Life
  • Thomas Lamarre (bio)

In part one of this series, drawing on Sergei Eisenstein and Ōtsuka Eiji, I called attention to the "plasmaticity" of animation, which becomes pronounced in animated characters. Implicit in my emphasis on plasmaticity was a move away from representation theory and the politics of representation.1 If we look at wartime animation only in terms of what it represents, we quickly reach an impasse. We might say, for instance, that pigs in Norakuro represent the Chinese, or the jungle critters in Momotarō: Umi no shinpei (1945, Momotarō's divine navy) represent inhabitants of the islands of (what the Japanese at the time referred to as) the Southern Seas. Yet even the context of Norakuro and Momotarō, where the references appear more stable than in Tezuka's Chōjin taikei (1971-75, Birdman anthology) or Janguru taitei (1951-54, Jungle emperor), the power of these animations does not come primarily from representation. The materiality of the medium or media is integral to the actual experience and impact of speciesism, that is, of the transformation of "peoples" into nonhuman animal species.

Among the examples of speciesism explored thus far, it is clear that different media present a distinctive set of material orientations. There is, of course, overlap between different media in terms of their material [End Page 110] orientations, which allows for translation across media, not only at the level of narrative devices or generic conventions. Nonetheless, if we are to grasp something of the specificity of manga and animation, materially and experientially, we need to consider some basic differences.

Numa Shōzō's Kachikujin Yapū (The domesticated people Yapoo; also translated as "Yapoo, the Human Cattle" on the book cover) novels foreground textual techniques and discursive strategies of instrumentalization: the encyclopedic and clinical presentation of cruel, painful techniques for reengineering Yapū bodies for various uses frequently overwhelms the events that compose the story. Pierre Boulle's novel La planète des singes (1963, Planet of the Apes) uses a venerable literary device: two space travelers find a message in a bottle in which a human recounts his journey to a planet on which monkeys (chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans), not humans, are the intelligent species; as it turns out, however, the two space travelers reading the story are chimpanzees and find the story shocking and incredible. In other words, the novel plays with the absence of images to encourage us to assume that the readers are human, which device is designed to shock our assumptions about the primacy and universality of the human species. Speciesism in film will draw on other kinds of material orientation. In the Planet of the Apes films and Star Trek series, for instance, makeup plays a crucial role, and sometimes animatronics or models are used for special effects. This is often the case with speciesism in live-action cinema, with digital effects and digital animation in recent years gradually supplanting and recoding earlier "species effects." Manga and manga films present yet another set of material orientations.

The Life of Characters

In the formation of a specific set of manga and animation orientations, the 1920s and 1930s are particularly important, and those orientations continue to affect animation and manga today. In Japan, as in other parts of the world, the emergence of mass culture in the 1920s brought with it a new sense of distinct markets and audiences. This era saw, for instance, the mass production of a set of cultural materials for women (women's journals and other female-directed commodities),2 as well as the mass production of a children's culture, with new journals and books intended for children, which would increasingly include manga.3 This process was not merely a matter of discovering and developing new markets or niche audiences but of actively isolating and shaping them, economically, legally, and politically. As early as the Film [End Page 111] Laws of 1917, for instance, the Japanese government displayed a concern for segregating audiences by gender (mandating separate seating for men and women), and, as film become associated in the popular imagination with juvenile delinquency, particularly in the course of the 1920s, children...