In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • The Emotional Realism of AnimeRewriting Characters and Affective Reception in Evangelion 3.0+1.0: Thrice Upon a Time
  • Nicolle Lamerichs (bio)

Fictional characters are increasingly complex entities that extend beyond specific source texts. Think about a character like Major Kusanagi from The Ghost in the Shell, originally represented in manga,1 but since then remixed in different anime,2 a live-action film,3 and merchandise. The production of characters is an intrinsic part of "transmedia storytelling," a phrase coined by media scholar Henry Jenkins.4 This concept illustrates how the creative industries increasingly use the flow of content that crosses platforms to create coherent, larger story worlds. As a result, characters have become "transmedia characters," constructed in official texts as well as in fan works.5 This is nowhere more visible, perhaps, than in Japanese popular culture, which is filled with iconic characters, such as Goku, Levi Ackerman, and Lady Oscar.

The production of transmedia characters has a global component as well. Think of Sonic, the loveable SEGA mascot, who has been revised in American productions such as the TV series Sonic Boom (2014–17)6 and the live-action film Sonic the Hedgehog (2020).7 These Western productions revisit the beloved character by reimagining him as a student-like character, and largely stripping him of his kawaii features. Beyond the global creative industries, which have a stake in designing engaging characters, audiences contribute to their construction as well. For example, fans create works that help flesh out a character or provide new interpretations of them. Through cosplay, dōjinshi, and other fan practices, fans revise, reenact, and sometimes even completely deconstruct characters.8

In Japanese society, especially, characters' contribution to a wider network of expressions is crucial. Characters are omnipresent, whether as representations of brands, companies, or products. As Azuma Hiroki suggests with the concept of "database consumption,"9 anime and manga characters have become more like databases of elements and tropes (e.g., a cat girl). In other words, they become character types, and audiences align with their broader personality traits. A character may for instance be a tsundere type (distant at [End Page 81] first, but eventually more friendly and loveable), and cannot be interpreted without a wider understanding of this trope in Japanese culture. The desire that fans feel for specific characters and tropes is known as moé (which literally means "burning"). The study of characters requires a pluralist approach that is mindful of these traits, codes, and character types, but also explores this affect further.

One theory around characters is offered by Bruno Latour, who stresses their social reality and impact in his seminal work An Inquiry into Modes of Existence.10 Latour points out that fictional characters are not false, but at once "fabricated, consistent, real."11 They have an impact on their audiences and change their perception of the world. Latour emphasizes that these fictional beings are not just textual signs in a fictional reality, but something larger, more consistent, and systematic. "They come to our imagination—no, they offer us an imagination that we would not have had without them."12 In her seminal work on fandom, Watching Dallas, Ien Ang already suggested that characters and stories have an emotional realism for their audiences.13 They evoke feelings, empathy, and creative imagination in their audiences, even if they are placed in symbolic or highly dramatic situations.

To fully study characters, a narrative approach alone does not suffice. The study of character requires a wider approach, one that recognizes their affective and social impact. In this article, I go deeper into "affective reception" as a framework to explore the responses and emotional relationships between fans and characters.14 Through a case study of Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time (2021),15 I discuss the reality of anime characters, their modes of existence, and their affective appeal toward fans. In particular, I address the affective reception of Ikari Gendo, whose character is emotionally deepened in the final film of the series. Finally, I argue that fictional beings do not just have an associated narrative and a creative potential, but should also be included in the analysis of our...