- (Trans)Cultural Legibility and Online Yuri!!! on Ice Fandom
Over the past decade, English language research on transnational anime fandom has proliferated in books and journals, each contribution enriching our understanding of not only the complexities of how people become transnational media fans but also the many cultural lenses far-flung fans bring to bear on Japanese popular culture. In particular, work on the transnational circulation and consumption of anime, including Mizuko Ito, Daisuke Okabe, and Izumi Tsuji's 2012 anthology, Fandom Unbound: Otaku Culture in a Connected World, has foregrounded the extent to which anime today at once exceeds "Japaneseness" and is emblematic of transnational media reception and fandom writ large. 1
This essay is intended as both a contribution to such scholarship and a consideration of the transcultural implications of real-time global anime distribution and reception; that is, "the coming together of things that were previously separate[d]" by time and distance. 2 In the dark ages before the internet, anime-while often initially encountered by happenstance in video rental shops, university clubs, and the like-was often in short, secret supply outside Japan and certain South and East Asian markets. This required (would-be) fans to actively seek out the media they wanted to see, which had the ancillary effect of bolstering their fan cultural capital along axes of authenticity and esoteric knowledge. Today, overseas consumption and, in particular, fandom of anime has come to be both characterized by digital convergence and created by it as well. Simulcasts of anime series and the global reach of the sites that stream them, combined with the visible chatter they engender between rhizomatically connected fans on social media, have the potential to conduct anime far outside the imagined fandoms of corporate and government strategizing, and into fan cultural "reception communit[ies]" relatively unconcerned with dichotomies of "Japanese" and "Western." 3
One example of such reach can be found in the transnational and trans-cultural reception of Yuri!!! on Ice (2016, hereafter YOI), a twelve-episode stand-alone anime broadcast during the overnight hours on TV Asahi and its [End Page 136] affiliates, and simulcast online, with multilingual subtitles, by Youku Tudou in China and Crunchyroll.com elsewhere. It garnered 1.4 million tweets between November 24 and December 14, 2016-the highest number for the autumn anime season-and over 400 percent more tweets during the same period than second-place anime, Haikyuu!! (2014–16). 4 YOI was also named the top trending anime of 2017 on the online media fandom hub Tumblr, as calculated by tag use. 5 Moreover, to date it has amassed the fourth highest number of anime/manga-centered stories on the predominantly English-language fanfiction archive, Archive of Our Own (AO3 ), close behind those for the longer- running transmedia series Haikyuu!!, Attack on Titan (2013–present, Shingeki no kyojin) and Naruto (2002–17). 6 As I discuss below, given AO3's strong ties to English-language (and particularly Anglo-American) media and fanfiction culture, YOI's popularity there reflects its transcultural reach in intriguing ways. The decentered mélange of subjectivities that commingle in the "contact zone" of Twitter-based YOI fandom further suggests the inexact nature of transcultural fandom, in which language may be decoupled from nation, and cultural belongings are as likely to be found in "nonnatural" communities of affect as those of geography, race, sexuality, age, ethnicity, religion, and so on. 7
I do not intend here to suggest that such communities are somehow free from the limitations of how they are imagined; as Bertha Chin and I have argued elsewhere, it is precisely because of disparities between how they are constituted through shared affective and experiential attachments and how they are imagined from both within and without, that "contact zone" encapsulates transcultural fandoms (and transculturally-situated fans) in all their sometimes-combative disarray more effectively than "community." 8 As theorized by Mary Louise Pratt, a contact zone is first and foremost a site of contestation over what may be superficially or otherwise imperfectly shared cultural practices and interpretations, "often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power." 9 In the context of the intensified convergence of anime...