“Thinking with Anime: Symptomatic Reading and Speculative Writing"

Presented By: Christophe Thouny, Ritsumeikan University

The popularity of courses in Anime studies has made this field one of the economic pillars of Japanese studies / East Asian Studies departments. Yet is there such a field as Anime Studies? The initial growth of popular culture/manga/anime studies in the 1990s was explained and justified by the need to find students in the context of increasing neoliberalization of the university system, at a time when religious studies and literary studies did not, and still do not, sell. At the same time, there was also a collective interest among some scholars of Japanese studies for a body of work that allowed them to come back to the discussion table and revisit the (un-)ground of their field. In a way, Anime Studies followed a pattern similar to new media studies, with its initial promise to reopen discussions of the field, from methodology of analysis, definition of the canon, and aesthetic form to institutional structures, the culture industry, and work reception. Anime allowed non-specialists (of anime) to come and talk together from their own professional background without having to claim for specialty, and this was generative. And as new media, this platform of discussion became more often than not just this, a platform to which one can come shopping and come back doing the same old, albeit with a new body of texts to use in the classroom. Anime Studies exemplifies the problem of the global university thriving on interdisciplinarity in late capitalism, at a moment of crisis, or rather when crisis has become the norm, when crisis is what generate movement across fields, surfaces and platforms, movement and valuation. And when crisis is not about change, even less thinking. What lacks in interdisciplinarity is the work of fiction, collective speculation with and across a text, thinking with a text. As I discuss in the conclusion of the franchise Sword Arts Online, I argue that we need to leave a place in Anime Studies not only for symbolic reading (rather than contextualization) but also for fabulation.