Academic journal article Post Script

The Bestseller Recipe: A Natural Explanation of the Global Success of Anime

Academic journal article Post Script

The Bestseller Recipe: A Natural Explanation of the Global Success of Anime

Article excerpt

It has become routine for articles on Japanese animation to set out marvelling at the tremendous global success and spread of anime. But while there is an abundance of texts around to detail the culture-specific peculiarities of anime, universalistic explanations of the success are hard to come by, despite the repeatedly acknowledged fact that viewing anime has indeed become a universal phenomenon. This article sets out to explain the global success of anime by analyzing some of the most striking features of anime from a film-theoretical position informed by cognitive, evolutionary, and neuroaesthetic science. This analysis will thus focus on the more general aspects and on delineating the inherent features of anime that lend themselves to universal fascination. The aim is to outline an explanation as to why viewers from vastly different cultural spheres, equipped with the same biological hardware to decipher meaning, enjoy watching films, which--on some levels and in some but not all cases-are not readily accessible to viewers who are uninformed on Japanese culture. Put simply, the intricacies of referential meaning in films, allusions, and references to Japanese society, history, mythology, and religion, for instance, presumably go largely undetected by non-Japanese viewers. But this, apparently, does not diminish the marketability of anime, or the demand and fascination demonstrated by non-Japanese viewers. In 2005, Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) reported that the TV-series Pokemon was broadcast in 65 countries around the world, and that more than 60% of the animation broadcast worldwide was made in Japan (3-4). However, distribution through legitimate commercial channels only accounts for part of the spread and consumption of anime. The thriving fan cultures of the Internet provide another important channel for the dissemination of pirated anime. According to Leonard, "18.000 fans routinely simultaneously download the latest Naruto episodes from the Internet within 48 hours of their initial Japanese broadcast" (4). And Japanese producers and distributors apparently see little economic motivation in taking legal action against the pirates. The rationale behind this laissez-faire attitude, it appears, is that Internet-piracy boosts and sustains audience interest in anime. But clever marketing and a laissez-faire policy towards piracy hardly accounts adequately for the scope of the phenomenon. There must be other aspects that lend themselves to universal fascination than merely the fact that the works are available through both legitimate and unlawful channels. The films themselves must be capable of catching and sustaining audience attention and interest. Otherwise anime would hardly be as crossculturally contagious as it has proved to be over the last couple of decades.

THEORETICAL CORNERSTONES

A cornerstone of cognitive film theory is that viewers actively piece the cues offered by the film together into coherent narrations (cf. Bordwell), and that humans watch films primarily for the sake of emotional arousal (cf. Grodal 1997)--simply put, we buy tickets to the 'emotional rollercoaster' at the box office. In everyday life, emotional arousal appears whenever we come across anything out of the ordinary-anything salient. Salient features in cinema are sensory phenomena--visual and/or audible--which arouse concern when perceived by viewers. Often such features are conceived of as larger than everyday life, regardless of whether they evoke negative emotions, such as sorrow and pain, or positive emotions, such as joy, or 'value neutral' emotions such as curiosity. The capacity of mainstream film to attract and sustain attention and to evoke emotion to a large degree depends on its ability to show recognizable actions by agents taking place in recognizable environments. Giving the actions, agents, and environments a tweak enhances our interest in moving pictures. It may be just a small tweak, such as elliptic cuts that reduce the duration of certain filmic events, for instance, a character going from location A to location B where the transport time is cut. …

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