“Does cult anime still exist? Rethinking “cult” in the age of online fan communities"
Presented By: Natalia Samutina, Higher School of Economics Moscow
The concept of “cult” has a long history in film studies and related research fields. This history reflects important movement from semiotic attempts to find cult qualities within a text (Umberto Eco’s “completely furnished world” of “Casablanca") to more and more sophisticated understanding of cult as a category of reception. “Cult” was connected to the idea of “subcultural capital” and “production of cultural distinctions” (Jancovich), to “active communal following” of oppositional kind (Mathijs and Mendik). Thomas Elsaesser’s reflections on cinephilia in the digital age also provide important insights into the understanding of new digital identities of contemporary cinephiles (and cultists). While having all this in mind, I mostly draw upon contemporary fan studies with their meticulous work with practices of specific fan communities, local sites and archives, and upon Matt Hills’ re-examination of functions of cult in contemporary multi-modal, fast-changing “liquid modernity”. I argue that, when being reconsidered in the context of local fan communities, the concept of “cult” (in particular, cult anime) acquires additional functions. The ways of using “cult”, such as, for example, lists of cult anime produced by different media generations of users, discussions and attempts to defend cult status of some titles and names, comparisons between cult classics of Russian, English-speaking and Japanese fan communities, etc., draw attention to the history of communities. Cult becomes an important mechanism of historisation of local activities, tastes and choices, and while “old anime”/”new anime” divide is more or less about anime itself, “cult anime” is always about the history of a given community. I’ll try to prove this effect with the answers of Russian anime fans to my questionnaires posted in two Russian anime fan communities on one of the biggest Russian social network.