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Anime World Order



Joined: 05 May 2006
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 11, 2011 1:00 am Reply with quote
I wouldn't call myself a fan of Azuma as a person, but I do respect him as a highly formidable being and recommend this book as almost required reading. There is one particular thing I feel worth discussing, and I'm not quite certain if it arises from a translation issue or people misinterpreting the argument, but it's encapsulated in what you said here:

Quote:
Azuma claims that in recent years, the emphasis on narratives in otaku anime has decreased in favor of an increased emphasis on characters.


Though you do yourself clarify upon this in the sentences which follow, I want to make it extra clear that Azuma is not actually stating that "characters" are supplanting "narrative." Rather, Azuma puts forth the notion that emphasis upon "character traits" is taking the place of narrative.

The distinction between the two is critical. It's not like Japanese animation is focusing more on in-depth characterization and studies thereof. It's a "database-driven," checklist-style focus with "tuples" that are akin to say, tags one would assign to a blog post. Since Black Butler is the current ANN ad, it makes for a fine example: the creation and promotion of the series is built on things where the set of elements would be things like "butlers, maids, kid with weird eye, gothic fashion, supernatural, adult man with young boy." Expand the list out as you please with whatever it contains that floats your boat and you get a "database" entry. This approach is effectively what contemporary otaku evaluate whether they will or will not enjoy something. [Disclaimer: it's 1:00 AM and I don't have the book in front of me.]

The rest of the book seems to support my interpretation, as does your writeup. Just be sure to not give an inch to the LYING LIARS of the Internet that would try and repurpose these statements to mean "entertainment is trending away from concrete plot and more towards character analysis"!
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Mushi-Man



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PostPosted: Tue Jan 11, 2011 3:24 am Reply with quote
This review has completely sold me on this book. I love books that analyze anime/manga and otaku culture in an intelligent manner. And it seems that the ideas set down in Azuma's book are relevant in the modern otaku culture. Otaku: Japan's Database Animals seems like something that might be able to put the current situation, that anime fans find ourselves in today, into perspective. It's a shame that, at this point, many of the references to anime and manga will be a bit dated. But non the less I plan to purchase this soon, thanks for another great article.
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cucuc



Joined: 28 Oct 2009
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 11, 2011 3:35 am Reply with quote
>Anime World Order

And interestingly, a few years ago I've seen a Chinese anime fan express this idea:
Quote:
It does cause the anime/manga industry to shift their focus from narrative to characterization, even if it's bad characterization.

Today I think he was being over-optimistic.


Regarding Azuma:
The otaku old guards (which is different from today's moe generation) don't like Azuma, not because they hate academic types, but because they think that by being an authorial figure to the mainstream society, his (and people like Saito Tamaki's) description of otaku culture would be taken as the full truth, and add to an already inaccurate portrayal of otaku culture. (For example, Okada Toshio has expressed this in his recent book on "the death of otaku".)

And I just read yesterday that the otaku think Azuma's praise of any otaku works would damage their reputation, so they'd rather him not praise their favorites. "Only the most widely acclaimed works like YU-NO, Shizuku and AIR are not affected (by his praise)." "The opinions are split on almost everything except Azuma. No one likes Azuma."

I've also read that in Azuma's later book "The Birth of Metafictional Reality: Animalizing Postmodernity 2", he comes up with a new dichtomy: narrative-oriented vs. communication-oriented. Apparently (being thirdhanded info, this isn't a reliable expression of his idea) today's database otaku works can be read as coming from not a desire to tell a story, but rather a way to communicate to likeminded people.
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Melanchthon



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PostPosted: Tue Jan 11, 2011 7:49 am Reply with quote
Ohh! Philosophy! I love philosophy. Erhm, there are several flaws in Mr. Azuma's theory, though. Firstly, let's start with the idea that “humans are self-aware, social creatures, so we fulfill our desires through our interactions with other people.” Firstly, depending on others to fulfill our own happiness is horribly irrational. If our happiness comes from others, then we are lost if those people leave or die. But if we are able to generate our own happiness, then we can remain happy regardless of the state of things that surrounds us. Epicurus advised his followers to “live in anonymity”. And Thoreau once stated: “I never found a companion so companionable as solitude.” Michel de Montaigne devotes a whole essay on the benefits of solitude, and recommends that:
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“We should have wives, children, property and, above all, good health … if we can; but we should not become so attached to them that our happiness depends on them. We should set aside a room, just for ourselves, at the back of the shop, keeping it entirely free and establishing there our true liberty, our principle solitude and asylum.”
So, I state that while the natural order may be for men to be social creatures, this in no way means it is rational or desired.

This leads me to my second point, the "animalism" of mankind. While we might be the most intelligent of all species here, we can not forget that man himself is nothing more than a clever monkey with a few beneficial mutations. In one of my favorite sonnets, the poet John Keats draws the boundaries of mankind with the line “A man may be 'twixt ape and Plato”. So to say that “contemporary society has become animalistic” is false, because it implies that society was at one point not animalistic. So while he is correct to say that often the otaku act from gut instinct, Mr. Azuma fails to take into count the fact that this instinct has been a part mankind from the beginning (Case in point: the Nika Riots over chariot racing, which nearly dethroned an emperor).

Now when it comes to the database, Mr. Azuma is wholly correct. For example, take K-On (please). K-On was so brazenly built by the database that even the untrained eye can see the puppet strings. The entire show is nothing more than an attempt to create moe and to push product. And they succeeded marvelously. The problem lies in the fact that the database is a dead end, since it is unable to attract new viewers. Without new and creative works, the less fanatical will begin to drop off and there will be no new blood to replace them. So while Mr. Azuma's philosophy is flawed, his conclusion about the database is not. I guess we will have to wait and see if he can force any changes.
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cucuc



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PostPosted: Tue Jan 11, 2011 8:43 am Reply with quote
It should be noted that this idea of "animalization" originated from Alexander Kojeve, who's a Russia-born Frenchman.

http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fb20090726a1.html
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omoikane



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PostPosted: Tue Jan 11, 2011 9:15 am Reply with quote
Melanchthon wrote:
Now when it comes to the database, Mr. Azuma is wholly correct. For example, take K-On (please). K-On was so brazenly built by the database that even the untrained eye can see the puppet strings. The entire show is nothing more than an attempt to create moe and to push product. And they succeeded marvelously. The problem lies in the fact that the database is a dead end, since it is unable to attract new viewers. Without new and creative works, the less fanatical will begin to drop off and there will be no new blood to replace them. So while Mr. Azuma's philosophy is flawed, his conclusion about the database is not. I guess we will have to wait and see if he can force any changes.

I would consider K-ON being a counterexample because a lot of people like cute girls doing cute things, not just otaku. Especially when considering how well it did commercially in contrast with other otaku anime, it is more an outlier.

At the same time, I don't think there are many, if any, "untrained eyes" in this day and age since Azuma's thinking is more pervasive than you think. It applies to not just otaku and anime, but many other forms of mass media narratives today. Again, his thesis is dated before 2001 (that was just the publishing date). So it has been a long time coming.

cucuc wrote:
I've also read that in Azuma's later book "The Birth of Metafictional Reality: Animalizing Postmodernity 2", he comes up with a new dichtomy: narrative-oriented vs. communication-oriented. Apparently (being thirdhanded info, this isn't a reliable expression of his idea) today's database otaku works can be read as coming from not a desire to tell a story, but rather a way to communicate to likeminded people.

I think regardless if that is what he said in that book, it can be independently confirmed by the numerous interviews of people in the industry and what motivated them into becoming a part of that. The excessive meta-ness of some otaku anime especially speaks to directly this aspect.
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vashfanatic



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PostPosted: Tue Jan 11, 2011 10:19 am Reply with quote
Melanchthon wrote:
If our happiness comes from others, then we are lost if those people leave or die. But if we are able to generate our own happiness, then we can remain happy regardless of the state of things that surrounds us.

Oh yes. The "happiness comes from within!" argument. It's nice to note how most of the philosophers who've advocated this sort of thing are rich. See, the reality is that we can only attain happiness from within if we are in certain social situations that allow us to be less dependent on others. If you're part of the underclass who has to work every day or needs government or family assistance, then our happiness is of necessity dependent on others.

Of course the affluent, who generally gain their affluence from the labor of said underclass, are also dependent, but their affluence allows them to shield themselves from this reality and maintain the illusion that their happiness is self-generated rather than the result of their economic and social connections to others. This is part of why we have responsibilities towards the betterment of others. To say your happiness should come from within is the to absolve yourself of responsibility; the poor and suffering should simply learn to depend on themselves, then they'll be happy!

Yes, I like Marx, how could you tell? Laughing Actually, it's not just him, though. So many philosophers, theologians, and sociologists would quickly point out that the idea of an atomistic individual is an illusion. We're social from the day we're born, given our connection to our parents. One of the ways I disparage this perception of disconnected individualism is by dubbing it "unfilial."

Anyway, this sounds like a fascinating read that I need to get my hands on. Erin has referenced it in her columns and has said that it made her reevaluate some of her feelings towards shows. I imagine it may do the same for me, at least with some. Though heavens knows I prefer story-driven series ala Legends of the Galactic Heroes or Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.

Oh: and thanks for writing this article right now. I'd been having trouble mustering any enthusiasm for Fractale on the basis of its cliche synopsis (boy is living ordinary life then suddenly meets mysterious girl! adventures and/or wackiness ensues!), but the details you've added plus knowing the background of the creator has sparked my interest. Now, if only Funimation would confirm whether they'll be simulcasting it or not...
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gwern



Joined: 05 Nov 2009
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 11, 2011 11:35 am Reply with quote
vashfanatic wrote:

Oh yes. The "happiness comes from within!" argument. It's nice to note how most of the philosophers who've advocated this sort of thing are rich. See, the reality is that we can only attain happiness from within if we are in certain social situations that allow us to be less dependent on others. If you're part of the underclass who has to work every day or needs government or family assistance, then our happiness is of necessity dependent on others.


I imagine Socrates, Spinoza, Boethius, or Diogenes - to name only a few - would dislike your dismissal of the argument's advocates as being rich.

A good example of why I dislike so much of continental thought - oh, you're just saying that from a bourgeois perspective! a male perspective! a privileged Western perspective! As if such accusations ever yielded valuable observations that could not have been reached through the usual tools of logic and science.
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Brent Allison
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 11, 2011 12:18 pm Reply with quote
Brian Ruh wrote:
I'm sure my synopsis doesn't do enough justice to his overall case, since in the course of discussing databases and animalization he brings up many other topics like psychoanalysis, philosophy, and Japanese history.


I was wondering about that, because otherwise the concept of "databases" doesn't sound so different from "writing by the numbers", which is a very old idea. Given that this was a 2001 book, Azuma could have well been describing cookie-cutter harem shows, which I recall was that year's critically-loathed (but popular) cancer that was killing anime.

I haven't read the book, so take my writing FWIW, but this idea of "animalization" as it's related to the anime industry seems to beg another question - how does one measure the "decline" of a medium? I could imagine a Likert scale test of titles rated "1" for "banal" and "5" for "insightful" and calculate different types of averages weighted against the titles' viewership, production costs, and the like.

Still, I'm a sociologist, not a film critic, so what do I know about whether or not a creative industry is in "decline", much less how to construct an assessment scheme to measure for it?
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vashfanatic



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PostPosted: Tue Jan 11, 2011 12:39 pm Reply with quote
gwern wrote:
vashfanatic wrote:

Oh yes. The "happiness comes from within!" argument. It's nice to note how most of the philosophers who've advocated this sort of thing are rich. See, the reality is that we can only attain happiness from within if we are in certain social situations that allow us to be less dependent on others. If you're part of the underclass who has to work every day or needs government or family assistance, then our happiness is of necessity dependent on others.


I imagine Socrates, Spinoza, Boethius, or Diogenes - to name only a few - would dislike your dismissal of the argument's advocates as being rich.

Okay, you're right, I shouldn't have said "rich" -- but every single one of those people you just named came from an elite class. None of them were slaves, none of them were poor, none of them were women. Which brings us to...

Quote:
A good example of why I dislike so much of continental thought - oh, you're just saying that from a bourgeois perspective! a male perspective! a privileged Western perspective! As if such accusations ever yielded valuable observations that could not have been reached through the usual tools of logic and science.

I never went after logic or science (seriously, where did that come from?), and in fact most of the people who made the same observation I just did -- that we are mutually interconnected and have responsibilities towards others -- were from upper-class backgrounds themselves, were male, and (some) were Western (however you choose to define that vague term). Human interconnectedness can be very much discovered and confirmed by science and logic, by people both poor and rich. The fact that thinkers are privileged and male does not in and of itself disqualify them from having good ideas. But if any perspective does not take into account the lives of people outside that category as well as within it, then it is a only flawed and partial perspective.

And the "happiness is best gotten in isolation" is precisely such a narrow perspective. In fact, I would argue adamantly that it is untenable; as I said, people who are in the position to derive their happiness completely "from within" are only in that position due to their already-existent connections to others. We cannot avoid interconnectedness. The only thing we can do is adjust the connections to maximize the happiness for as many people as possible -- which perhaps includes finding ways to allow everyone to find some internally-generated happiness, to not be buffeted about by social injustice and total economic dependency.

(Also, I'm from America, and I first started developing these ideas long before I read Marx and other continental philosophers. It was from studying religions: hence "unfilial," from Confucianism.)

But seriously, that Laughing meant I never meant this to go any further into philosophical debates. I'd be very curious to see if this book touches on any of the issues we've been discussing here: how much happiness can really be derived "from yourself" vs from human interconnection?
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oranjeoranje



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PostPosted: Tue Jan 11, 2011 1:17 pm Reply with quote
Anime World Order wrote:
Though you do yourself clarify upon this in the sentences which follow, I want to make it extra clear that Azuma is not actually stating that "characters" are supplanting "narrative." Rather, Azuma puts forth the notion that emphasis upon "character traits" is taking the place of narrative.
While Azuma is putting moe inspiring character traits under focus, his argument can be extended onto anything, not just characters. The whole point of databases is that they've replaced metanarratives of ages past, so they're filled not just with character traits, but narrative elements as well. Fine examples include vampire, zombie or mahou shoujo genres, where every such story today is a rehash of a rehash of a rehash. The only thing creators can do is put a new spin on the genre or mash it with another, which is basically combining two databases, thus creating a new database out of the two. Naturally, there exists the database of databases, and this is how postmodern animalized human beings familiarize, interact and explore the world. There is no hidden set of instructions on how to do this (such was the case in the past), rather we familiarize ourselves with one element and another and another, and we eventually build our own database, our own model of reality.
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gwern



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PostPosted: Tue Jan 11, 2011 1:19 pm Reply with quote
vashfanatic wrote:

Okay, you're right, I shouldn't have said "rich" -- but every single one of those people you just named came from an elite class. None of them were slaves, none of them were poor, none of them were women. Which brings us to...


Erm...

Spinoza was a despised Jew, who was reviled and exiled from even his fellow Jews, eking out a poverty-stricken existence as a prole lensgrinder (which probably killed him). Boethius was the closest to a wealthy elite in the list, but his wealth & titles were confiscated, and he wrote while awaiting execution as a common bankrupt traitor to his people. Socrates was a common stonemason before his execution. Diogenes was an exile, a non-citizen, famously destitute, *and* a slave.

So yes, some of them were slaves, some of them were poor. (And I didn't even bring up the slave Epictetus.) You see how little this perspective buys us? We're all subaltern in some way.

If I threw a woman into the list, well, then one could just find another way in which the finite history of philosophy neglected some one or other of the infinite characteristics people possess. (To use one of my own traits, the hard of hearing or deaf are shamefully underrepresented in the ranks of philosophy!)

Quote:
The fact that thinkers are privileged and male does not in and of itself disqualify them from having good ideas. But if any perspective does not take into account the lives of people outside that category as well as within it, then it is a only flawed and partial perspective.


Then one should be able to easily point out the flaws without discussing who thought of the incomplete perspective.

Quote:

But seriously, that Laughing meant I never meant this to go any further into philosophical debates. I'd be very curious to see if this book touches on any of the issues we've been discussing here: how much happiness can really be derived "from yourself" vs from human interconnection?


Many religious traditions and figures would have it that one can be perfectly happy without human interconnection; look at the whole Christian eremite tradition.
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cucuc



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PostPosted: Tue Jan 11, 2011 1:22 pm Reply with quote
Brent Allison wrote:
I was wondering about that, because otherwise the concept of "databases" doesn't sound so different from "writing by the numbers", which is a very old idea.
The moe otaku's use of the word zokusei 属性 says it all. The word generally means "property; attribute", and in this context means "character trait". They actively seek out and consume these symbols (which they can endlessly rearrange, like switching the body parts, equipments and backgrounds of toy soldiers, creating new stories to their hearts' content) rather than concrete narratives. This Paul Galbraith article provides a fujoshi example under the section header "Fujoshi exposing virtual potential in reality". (I don't agree with the article's view, and find it full of factual errors.)
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cucuc



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PostPosted: Tue Jan 11, 2011 2:40 pm Reply with quote
Still one important topic that has hardly been addressed in any English-language discourse I've seen:

Moe is a topic that divides Japanese otakudom. The part that are more "old guard", more ambitious, composed of what has been called the first 2 generations of otaku, tends to perceive themselves as creators which are entirely separated from the moe generation who knows only to consume.

They are frustrated by scholars such as Azuma and Saito because they feel these scholars are only using otakudom as their theoretical masturbation material, and do not care about the actual living, breathing people in it at all.

Okada's view on them can be summed up as "the word 'otaku' refers to any person who has achieved indepedent thinking and deep understanding in his chosen hobby, be it military, anime or science fiction. Nowadays 'moe' is the only face of otaku, and these scholars are contributing to this misunderstanding."

Personally, I do not buy into any of Okada's views, and don't trust the old guard's self-evaluation in general. However, these sentiments exist, and shouldn't be ignored.
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dm



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PostPosted: Tue Jan 11, 2011 4:13 pm Reply with quote
gwern wrote:

Then one should be able to easily point out the flaws without discussing who thought of the incomplete perspective.

I don't entirely disagree, but I think you need to be careful here: in argument, one needs both logic and evidence. You need both valid reasoning and judgment. Outside of mathematics, what evidence one judges as significant or important does, indeed, vary with the observer's experience and perspective.

Meanwhile, this was an interesting review. I have had Azuma's book on my queue for a long time, I'll have to bump it a bit higher.
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