“Anime and Social Imagination: Towards a Media-Social Reading of Texts"

Presented By: Brett Hack, Aichi Prefectural University

While industry studies and fan studies have fruitfully scrutinized anime’s position within global media networks, sociological analyses of anime texts themselves still largely employ reflectionist approaches which, as Thomas LaMarre (2009: 89-92) has noted, emphasize (Japanese) cultural determination while occluding technical and mediated conditions. Taking cues from LaMarre and from strands of Japanese cultural criticism (e.g. Azuma 2008, Uno 2008, Tsuji 2012), this paper proposes that social representation in anime and related media can be usefully conceived as mediated social imagination. This interdisciplinary term refers to the images and narrative patterns deployed by a work, genre, or medium which render a social environment experientially perceptible (Heise 2008), but also to the fundamental “capacity of evoking images” through which a society is instituted and transformed by those who live in it (Castoriadis 1987: 127). Diverging from LaMarre’s focus on technology, I suggest that anime’s mechanisms of image-creation are calibrated for imagining collective experience in the abstract, as deterritorialized nodes of affect which are woven into texts through the distributive and associative modes of expression which characterize the anime media ecology. Examining textual and paratextual examples, I will show how the social imagination produced by this process implicitly imagines social collectivity as a fundamentally tenuous and conflicted concept, thereby feeding into the central experiences not merely of Japan but of all mediated worlds within contemporary capitalism. Ultimately, I will argue that consideration of anime’s social imagination can produce textual readings which complement the methods of industry studies and fan studies and can help elucidate the role of anime-style modes of expression within wider social landscapes.