starlady: Sheeta & Pazu watch the world open out before them (think in layers)
[personal profile] starlady
LaMarre, Thomas. The Anime Machine: A Media Theory of Animation. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009.

I'm going to pound this out while I wait for my dad to get home so we can go to the shore. Landmark book of animanga scholarship in half an hour or less: go!

Disclaimer: I am personally acquainted with Tom Lamarre; he wrote one of my reccomendation letters for my graduate school applications.

Tom Lamarre's overarching concern in The Anime Machine is polemical; as I've discussed at greater length before, he has a bone to pick with the vast majority of (English-language) anime and manga scholarship heretofore, namely that people tend to focus on the minutiae of narratives over technical means and that in these narratives, moreover, people go looking for and thus find some sort of amodern, tautological Other "(traditional) Japanese culture" or whatever. In defiance of this tendency, Lamarre insists on reading anime as what it is, a carefully calculated global entertainment phenomenon, and on looking not at what anime talks about but how it talks, how it thinks, what it does.

In service of this argument, Lamarre looks at three main works: Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki Hayao's Tenkuu no Shiro Laputa | Castle in the Sky, Gainax and Anno Hideaki's Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, and CLAMP's manga Chobits. Castle in the Sky and Nadia actually both derive from the same story treatment, written by Miyazaki in the 70s, which makes the striking differences between them, and in how they deal with their subject matter, all the more fascinating.

What's key to Lamarre's intervention in anime scholarship is his focus on the animation stand, the device that allows animators to arrange layered cells in front of the camera. Lamarre's fixation on his rather freeranging concept of a "machine" here is characteristic--when he speaks of the anime machine, he means not just the animation stand itself but the animators who operate it and the anime they create, all working together in a complicated clockwork whose output is not, Lamarre argues, deterministic, but is at least partially bounded by the constraints of the technology involved, and in how that technology "thinks" anime. Lamarre's earlier book Uncovering Heian Japan ends with the image of the entire Heian court as a "song machine," and now that image finally makes sense. Quite honestly for those interested in the film studies theory Lamarre draws on I recommend [ profile] merin_chan's incisive review of the book, since I am only by serendipity, not training or inclination, a media studies person at all, and am only indifferently interested in questions of the "time-image" versus the "action-image", for example. (Heck, you should read that review anyway, because it's great.)

In essence Lamarre sees in anime a variety of ways to think technology, i.e. the modern era, the era of modernity post- and otherwise, that we live in globally. In Lamarre's analysis, Miyazaki and Ghibli use what Lamarre calls "full limited animation" to create a sense, not of cinematic movement into depth, but of space between planes that allows the animators and the characters to develop a different, alternate way of relating to technology: technology, through the figure of the Shojo, becomes not a tool but an existential state, something to be saved from (and which thus requires a savior). This results in at least a potential problem w/r/t the enshrinement of Nature and the limits placed on the girl--I wrote this review of Laputa under the influence of Lamarre and his thoughts on Miyazaki, for a more concrete explanation of these issues.

Gainax and Anno, by contrast, use limited animation to explicate brilliantly the conditions of postmodernity, when everything is always already past saving and the only answer is the extremely personal, a micropolitics that is constantly in danger of devolving into narcissism (and if you've seen Eva, that is basically the arc of the show, from grand dreams of salvation to the petty, frivolous concerns of a very flawed bunch of individuals)--and indeed, perhaps even simply oscillates between narcissism and the micropolitical. I tend to sympathize more with the Gainax view of the world, particularly in light of Anno's indictment of otaku.

Someone else who criticizes otaku is the well known Japanese psychoanalyst Saitou Tamaki, and in the final section on Chobits Lamarre gives a lot of space to deserved criticism of Saitou, whose views quite frankly are offensive in that way that only unthinking reiteration of patriarchal, heterosexist views can be. I disagree with Saitou down to the last fiber of my being (which he would probably say only demonstrates the symptomatic nature of female desire. I say, fuck you!), and for my money Lamarre spends too much time accepting Lacanian psychoanalysis as a valid critical system, despite his repeated avowal of dissatisfaction with it. All that being said, his reading of Chobits is fascinating, and there absolutely ought to be more of this sort of in-depth critical study of manga, right down to how characters' eyes are drawn and what that indicates about them.

What I find particularly valuable is Lamarre's reading of manga; in his view, manga is the action-image frozen in time, and it is dominated by "character functions", which integrate motion and emotion across panels and pages but are never fully contained by them. It's a fascinating idea, and in outlines I think it may be widely applicable to fandom. (It's also an example of Lamarre's fondness for largely unexplored mathematical metaphors.)

I also really, really loved Lamarre's choice evisceration of Murakami Haruki's ballyhooed "Superflat", which in Lamarre's analysis almost winds up self-orientalizing Japan and Japanese history and society in order to deny the reality of Japanese modernity (do not pass the Meiji period, do not collect ¥200! or something like that)--Murakami would have us jump straight from the Edo period to the postwar, but it doesn't work like that. Another thing I really liked is Lamarre's insistence on reading anime fans doing doujinshi and AMVs as an intervention into the global flow of media images, which I think is absolutely portable to all kinds of fandom (vids, vidders, media fanworks of all stripes, ahoy!).

All this being said, and as much as I loved this book and despite its focus on Sheeta, Nadia, and Chii, as a woman and a media fan and an anime fan (an anime fan before I even knew what fandom was) I finished dissatisfied--if fujoshi aren't being completely ignored in favor of otaku (which Lamarre rightly designates a set of practices rather than a character type), they and women are being denigrated and dehumanized by Saitou and by "fan service"--do you see how that very term presumes that only men and boys are fans? Yup. Where are we in this schema, and how do we find our way to the center where we belong? Are we going to have to write ourselves there? More than bloody likely.

I also think Lamarre stops too soon--Chobits is more than a decade old at this point, and in some ways I find the works of people like Shinkai Mokoto and the other practitioners of the sekai-kei style to be the apotheosis of Lamarre's theories about movement across planes rather than into depth; had the book at least mentioned Shinkai (whose favorite movie is Laputa!) I think it would be even stronger. I also find it boggling that Lamarre fails to mention that Studio Ghibli, whose art and politics he terms an "artform of the wind" (cinema itself being an artform of the wind), is itself named after a particular wind that blows off the Sahara into southern Italy. Boggling.

Still, I absolutely have to recommend the book to anyone who thinks it sounds interesting. It's quite reasonably priced for an academic book (I ♥ you, U of MN Press!) and Lamarre does a respectable job of explaining the theory he draws on before actively deploying it. The copy editing could be better (at times I wondered whether they'd gone to press with a beta version of the text), particularly in the area of occasionally dropped prepositions, but overall the text reads very well, even conversationally. Really, Lamarre is probably the foremost scholar in the field today, and the book is both original and brilliant. He's blazed a trail here, and now it's up to the rest of us to follow him, and to expand on what he's done here.

P.S. Lamarre has a post about the book here at the press blog.
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