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  • The Soul of Anime: Collaborative Creativity and Japan’s Media Success Story by Ian Condry
  • Lori Hitchcock Morimoto (bio)
The Soul of Anime: Collaborative Creativity and Japan’s Media Success Story by Ian Condry. Duke University Press. 2013. $76.45 hardcover; $19.25 paper. 256 pages.

Ian Condry’s The Soul of Anime: Collaborative Creativity and Japan’s Media Success Story is a unique and much-needed non-Western exploration of the complex relationships of media creators, fans, and—as Condry contends—the objects they collectively produce in a non-Western context.1 There are several excellent books that explore both Japanese and Western fans of anime (otaku), notably Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals and Fandom Unbound: Otaku Culture in a Connected World; but what makes Condry’s book noteworthy among these is the way it puts a variety of historically and socially contextualized Japanese case studies into conversation with the scholarly concerns of media ethnography and institutional history, media production, and work on fandom.2 Together, they make the case for Condry’s theory of the “soul” of anime as social energy engendered through a variety of interpersonal contexts that collectively create anime. In advancing this idea, Condry offers an alternative to research on anime history, texts, and aesthetics that begins with the question “What is anime[?] … [to] [End Page 156] suggest a different entry point: Who makes anime?”3 Condry locates his collaborative creators among not only animators, directors, and studios but also Japanese and overseas fans, whose anime-centered affective energies effectively constitute them all as producers. In posing this question, Condry situates not only his study but also the Japanese anime industry and its fandoms themselves within present-day work on fan-producer relations and fan labor. In recent years, there has been a drive to globalize the fan studies classroom in response to the intensified transnational and transcultural networks within which contemporary media are produced. Yet to judge from the number of requests I receive from colleagues asking for suggestions of work on non-Western fandom to include in course syllabi, this is an imperative that is presently more aspirational than accomplished. The divide between “mainstream” and non-Western fan studies is perpetuated on both sides, driven by unfamiliarity and, sometimes, the perceived inapplicability of culturally contextualized research, on the one hand, and a failure on the part of area specialists to effectively articulate their research with the broader concerns of the discipline, on the other hand. It is in this sense that Condry’s study offers an invaluable means of bridging a significant gap.

Specifically, Condry argues that anime is created out of the enthusiasm born of social engagement between artists and studios, fans and producers, fans and fellow fans—a complex feedback loop that constitutes a critical caveat to scholarly preoccupation with the influence of top-down corporate and even government strategizing in anime production and distribution. Which is to say, he is interested in the question of how “people who care” about anime affect its material production and circulation, in how a shared affective investment in anime engenders new studios, new productions and characters, and new audiences.4 He examines this process in part through ethnographic observation of such social interactions as intracompany meetings concerning the creation of new characters and stories, as well as industrywide brainstorming about what “cutting-edge” anime might look like. Condry’s descriptions and analyses of these contingent communities foreground the collective excitement they generate over both nostalgic anime favorites and possibilities for future projects, revealing the extent to which those most intimately involved in the material production of anime are often its biggest fans. Condry’s exploration of the intricate ethos of online communities centered on the production of unofficial subtitled versions of Japanese anime, called “fansubs,” similarly blurs the dividing line between producer and fan, particularly in fansubbers’ dedication to authenticity and cultural transparency in their own work. Many digitally fansubbed versions of Japanese anime include detailed, if parenthetical, explanations of even the most fleeting or esoteric textual references to Japanese culture and language. As Condry observes, these sometimes exceed the intentions or expectations of producers, thus “amplify[ing] the meaningfulness of anime...


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pp. 156-160
Launched on MUSE
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