“Diegetic and Non-Diegetic Music in Anime: A Film Studies Perspective"

Presented By: Heike Hoffer, The Ohio State University

The relationship between anime and music is still greatly ignored in modern scholarship, despite there being many analytical tools from film music studies that are highly applicable to the genre. One of the most prominent methodologies is examining the relationship between diegetic/non-diegetic music and narrative space, a mode of analysis that has been used to great effect since it was standardized in Claudia Gorbman’s seminal study Unheard Melodies (1987). This dichotomy between diegetic and non-diegetic has held firm for decades despite scholars offering numerous alternative frameworks, most notably David Neumeyer, Jeff Smith, and Robynn Stilwell. Of these, Stilwell’s model of the “fantastical gap,” a destabilized liminal space between diegetic and non-diegetic that filmmakers can exploit to introduce ambiguity into the narrative, is especially useful when examining music in anime. According to Japanese theater scholar Karen Brazell, one of the major characteristics of Japanese art is a conscious destruction of the barrier between the audience and the work itself that draws attention to the artifice of the creative spectacle (think of kabuki’s frozen mie poses, the flexible delivery of text in noh, or the distinctive look of “limited animation” in anime). Using examples drawn from major animeseries including Neon Genesis Evangelion, Dororo, and The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi, we can observe how animedirectors manipulate the gap between diegetic and non-diegetic music in the process of world building, in promoting character development, and to highlight the ever-shifting relationship between the audience and the anime world.