The Soul of Anime: Collaborative Creativity and Japan's Media Success Story I. Condry. Durham: Duke University Press, 2013. x + 241 pp., notes, figures, bibliog., index. ISBN: 978-0822553942. USD $84.95 (Hc.); ISBN: 978-0822553805. USD $23.95 (Pb.)
Article first published online: 12 APR 2014
© 2014 Australian Anthropological Society
The Australian Journal of Anthropology
Volume 25, Issue 1, pages 115–116, April 2014
How to Cite
Pasfield-Neofitou, S. E. (2014), The Soul of Anime: Collaborative Creativity and Japan's Media Success Story I. Condry. Durham: Duke University Press, 2013. x + 241 pp., notes, figures, bibliog., index. ISBN: 978-0822553942. USD $84.95 (Hc.); ISBN: 978-0822553805. USD $23.95 (Pb.) . The Australian Journal of Anthropology, 25: 115–116. doi: 10.1111/taja.12076
- Issue published online: 12 APR 2014
- Article first published online: 12 APR 2014
Ian Condry's The Soul of Anime is an exploration of Japanese animation, impressive in both scope and depth, and of relevance beyond the growing fields of anime and manga studies, and even beyond Japan. As Condry states, ‘anime gives us a concrete example to think through the social dynamics of purposeful creativity in a global context' (p. 14). As issues of unauthorised sharing, global media flows, social media, the ‘real’ versus the ‘virtual’, and fan-produced content move to the forefront of many academic discussions, The Soul of Anime proves a valuable context for their contemplation—as well as a springboard for theorising about the future of media, creative practice, and democratic capitalism.
A cultural anthropologist, Condry makes extensive use of ethnographic fieldwork, spending time in anime studios in Tokyo in order to conduct the research for this book. In addition, he visited Cartoon Network in the US, interviewed directors and anime reporters, conducted observation at the Bandai toy factory, attended conventions, and even acted as an extra voice actor. As Condry notes, fieldwork is often somewhat haphazard in nature, and he reports failing to get access or interviews more frequently than succeeding. Still, Condry's descriptions are vivid, transporting the reader to normally closed studios, and reflecting on ethnographic method throughout. The variety of Condry's fieldwork itself demonstrates one of the book's key premises, namely the importance of transmedia flows, illustrating the relationships between manga and anime, production studios and toy factories, characters and voice actors, producers and fans (and the blurred lines between them). Here, Condry finds the ‘soul’ of anime not in anime itself, but between the object of anime, and the uses of anime—and the relationships between users (avoiding the binary juxtaposition of ‘creators’ and ‘consumers’).
A number of books have sought to explore Japan's popular culture, or ‘soft power’, especially following McGray's famous description of ‘Japan's Gross National Cool’. However, as Condry points out, in terms of economic success at least, anime would appear to be more of a cautionary tale (p. 15). Rather, the ‘success’ of anime is to be measured by other means, such as participation, emotional attachment, social engagement, and collaboration.
The Soul of Anime is written in a fresh, even conversational style, which, while maintaining academic conventions, invites a broad readership, drawing comparisons between Einstein and media theory (p. 29), or the Iraq War and Die Hard (p. 127). Historian Carla Nappi rightly describes The Soul of Anime as a book ‘of obvious interest and import to anybody who is interested in the history of and the contemporary practices of anime and manga, comics, film, and television’ in her New Books in East Asia podcast. Published by Duke University for an audience of popular culture, Japan, and anthropology scholars as part of the Experimental Futures series, The Soul of Anime has also received attention from fan blogs such as It's Comic Book Day, which recommends the book to anyone ‘interested in the depth of anime, [its] pioneers and renowned figures’. This book is sure to be of interest to students, including Japanese language learners. As Condry observes in his interview with Nappi, a large proportion of students enrolled in Japanese classes are anime fans, something I also see as a language educator. Furthermore, while linked by their exploration of the interplay between anime as object and social contexts, the seven core chapters may also stand alone as thematic case studies, making them ideal for inclusion on undergraduate reading lists.
Chapters 1–2 examine the production of anime, providing an engaging theoretical grounding and explaining the connections between characters and worlds. Chapter 3 explores the transmedia relationships vital to the success of anime, including links to manga, and contrasts with other media. Chapter 4 examines the synergies between anime creators and toy companies, with a particular focus on mecha robots and the ‘coming-of-age’ of anime as a medium, moving from a focus on the child to the teenage viewer. Chapter 5 examines teen and adult audiences and focuses on open spaces for creativity, including not only the studio, but fan participation, borrowing from McCloud's discussion of the ‘gutter’ in comics to describe how fan participation makes in-between spaces meaningful (Understanding Comics, 1993). Chapter 6 further explores fandom, weighing in to the debates surrounding online file sharing and fansubbing, which Condry describes as a kind of ‘dark energy’, largely ignored when scholarship and the media focus on questions of ‘online piracy’ as opposed to collaboration and creation (p. 163). Chapter 7 looks at fans’ relationships with the anime characters described in earlier chapters. This final chapter draws together the concepts of small-scale movements and large-scale creations, exploring the ‘souls’ of characters, before Condry turns to conclude the work with a discussion of collaborative networks and globalization. All of these chapters explore, in one way or another, collaborative creativity and social energy as the soul of anime. In addition, Condry offers tantalising insights into the world of fansubbing and unauthorised sharing, and the role of women in anime, both of which appear to be fertile grounds for further research.
As one would expect of a book focused on animation, The Soul of Anime is lavishly illustrated, from the modern reinterpretation of Hokusai's woodblock print, where Unit-01 of Evangelion fame wades through the Great Wave reproduced on the front cover, to the 32 figures scattered throughout the main text. These take the form of storyboards, posters, photographs, and screenshots, all well utilised to supplement the text. The reference list is up-to-date and index comprehensive, covering major authors, titles, and themes.
Condry's The Soul of Anime comes highly recommended as an immensely readable work that provides an impressive overview of the important phenomenon of Japanese animation, with broader implications for media studies, gender studies, global studies, internet research, and other areas. It addresses the challenges facing Japan studies and cultural anthropology in general, demonstrating that globalization is not always driven by major Western corporations, and highlighting the importance of grassroots efforts—‘globalization from below’ (p. 215).