Introduction: Science Fiction Anime: National, Nationless, Transnational, Post/colonial

By Naylor, Alex; Helford, Elyce Rae | Science Fiction Film and Television, September 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Introduction: Science Fiction Anime: National, Nationless, Transnational, Post/colonial


Naylor, Alex, Helford, Elyce Rae, Science Fiction Film and Television


Animation per se foregrounds its own artifice and offers, as the animators of the Zagreb School put it, not ... the copying but ... the transformation of reality' (Holloway 9). The animator can freely transform the diegesis and 'defy the laws of gravity, challenge our perceived view of space and time' (Wells 11). Such a form offers rich possibilities for science-fictional and fantastic narrative.

In the US, speculative animation has long been relegated to the small screen, dominated by adaptation and imitation of comic book superheroes and pulp fiction tropes.

While in the west, Japan's distinct form of animation - hereafter referred to by its usual name of anime - is still shifting from subculture to mainstream, in Japan it is a firmly established part of mainstream media culture. There, Japanese-produced animated films account for roughly half of all cinema sales (Napier Anime 7) and are embedded into television programming for a wide range of genres and demographics. In the last two decades, anime has also increasingly been the focus of critical attention and scholarship, both in Japan and globally.

Thomas LaMarre has theorised that anime, as a specific mode of animation, has a formally distinct relationship with realism and filmic space. While live-action cinema is characterised by movement into depth, anime in particular, he argues, works with the physical properties of multiplanecel animation, in which 'depth' is a series of flat layers. One of animes charac- teristic movements in panoramic scenes is the non-realist shifting of these layers. Instead of imitating the live-action camera's movement into the frame and seeking to 'composite' or conceal the gaps between layers, as with Disney's use of the multiplane (Telotte 131-55), anime slides layers of representation aside like curtains to open up the layer beyond (LaMarre 39-40) so that onscreen space appears to open up before the spectator rather than the spectator having the impression of moving into onscreen space. This effect, 'animatic' rather than cinematic, preserves the spectator's awareness of a series of flatnesses separated by empty intervals. Thus, animes depiction of space and depth is already non-realist and only partly indexical. Its depictions of the fantastic and speculative call attention to themselves as such, inviting the spectator's contemplation as constructed and imagined spaces. Although anime genres often do not necessarily map neatly onto Western genres, the fantastic, science-fictional, speculative and apocalyptic proliferate within anime output.

The origins of sf itself, John Rieder and others have pointed out, are entangled with colonialism in multiple ways. Imperialism was part of the conditions under which emerged the technocratic society that produced sf readers, spectators and authors. Likewise, both the colonial gaze' and anxieties about its return by the alien Other mark many of sf's foundational narratives (Rieder 27-33). Historical and political engagement in sf texts thus very often incorporates an engagement with these colonialist underpinnings, whether as apologia or critique.

Baryon Tensor Posadas notes in this issue Japan's 'doubled position as both subject and object of the colonial gaze', and that Japanese sf, like sf elsewhere, first emerged as part of the imperialist project. All the articles in this special issue propose that sf anime offers a complex and specific contri- bution to modern sf's engagement with colonialism. This is enabled by the form and content of animation in its investigations of the cultural, historical and political problematics of the Japanese nation-state - and also by animes particular affinity for the transnational.

While Japanese animation existed before the Second World War, largely in the form of children's entertainment and patriotic programming, anime as a distinct form emerged in the 1960s, after Japan's post-war occupation by the US. The form developed during subsequent rebuilding and transformation from an imperialist-militarist state to a demilitarised, late-capitalist state. …

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