Again, continued from previous post, in interest of length.
Click here for Part 1.
Click here for Part 2.
Fan Communities and Fan Activities Around the World
While it is interesting to note the cultural phenomena of media mixes in Japan, this symposium focuses on a much larger scope, including the contributions of fans around the world.
Speaker D Frankel looks specifically at the database model of many references to Japanese anime and other pop culture icons. According to Frankel, the collective of our memories of various anime can be found online or otherwise in a sharing of simulacra, a term in academia that refers to the generation and regeneration of common ideas, models, or references that are used and overused so much, that we inherently pick up on them without knowing where they had originally come from. Simulacrum seems to be synonymous with the more commonly recognized word “meme.”
Simulacra in our media today are used very quickly and are perhaps over-saturated in our “database.” In her example of using the famous ninja Sarutobi Sasuke, the fact remains that his name is popularized in Japanese media culture, regardless of whether the audience even knows who the real Sarutobi Sasuke is! It seems that in this model, simulacra lack the reference to an original; but that’s not nearly as important as what is shown anyway!
Frankel points the origins to this phenomena in our anglophone culture to websites like 4-chan, which generate simulacra at an exponential rate. Little do people know, however, that 4-chan was actually inspired by the Japanese website 2-chan, and there are countless websites which also imitate it as well. The original generator of Internet simulacra? Hardly at all; and frankly, no one really cares where these ideas come from anyway! So long as our references hold value to us, that is what drives the simulacra to hold value as an idea.
Speaking of mass media culture, the next presenter A Leavitt focuses his research on Twitch Plays Pokemon and how it relates to fandom and fan behaviors.
For those who aren’t familiar with Twitch Plays Pokemon, it was a sociological experiment to see if a mass number of players could get through a live stream emulation of Pokemon Red over the Internet. Just imagine: one game, one player, one hundred thousand hands! That was effectively how TPP panned out for the contributors.
While the experiment only lasted about 16 days, much of the frustration of this experiment was laid out, as Leavitt showed the audience a sample clip of a typical segment of the stream, where contributors struggled for quite a long time to get a single command out of a battle against Lt. Surge! He also showed the event list of “Bloody Sunday,” where contributors struggled to change the Pokemon team, withdrawing and releasing many Pokemon in the process.
Regardless of whether one understands the purpose behind TPP or why the game is relevant, the topic was worthy for this scholar’s research as it illustrates a sense of purpose and belonging for the fan contributors. It may also prove that because so many contributors had a sense of nostalgia for Pokemon Red, there is a sense of collective comradery amongst them to complete the game. Perhaps that is the worth of fandom when it comes to a love for these kinds of media.
The final speaker on this panel, L Brenner, focused on the visual lexicon as it is recognized in Japanese media around the world.
Like any other simulacra, visuals in anime are used over and over, and we don’t have to know anything about what it truly means or where it comes from to know that it has value. Brenner illustrates in several points the use of character expressions, such as angry faces, looks of evil intent, and the infamous sweat drop. He also looks into visuals in our own culture as its own lexicon to these references. While so many cosplayers at this convention don’t look at all like the characters they portray, for example, we still are able to recognize that they are the characters they are trying to portray. We don’t need an exact replica of a meme to understand its value; in fact, we have crossover references that allow us to pinpoint the example regardless!
Anime’s Media and Transmedia Mixes
As an endpoint (at least to my attendance) for the symposium, the final set of official presentations dealt with Media Mix as a transition for a vast mix beyond the borders of Japanese culture.
The first speaker, A Kennell, takes a look at Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland and how its main character, Alice is portrayed (or lack thereof) in Japanese culture. According to Kennell, Alice is a very popular icon in Japanese media, as she is portrayed in several manga and merchandise, despite originally coming from an English novel. She lays out two examples of Alice’s portrayal in Pandora Hearts and Are You Alice? but the phenomenon doesn’t end there.
Kennell notes specifically that Alice never has a particular face in Japanese media, as her merchandise always shows her silhouetted or faded out; and the multiple manga that show her never agree on one specific form either. In this light, it may suggest that the true value in Carrol’s novel, at least for Japan, isn’t about Alice, the main character, at all. In fact, the true interest in the series is Wonderland, and as Alice is silhouetted, we can put ourselves in her shoes to engross ourselves in it! Because let’s face it: Wonderland is where it’s at in that book, opening ourselves up to the possibilities of our imagination. How’s that for a media mix?
The next speaker takes on transmedia as it is portrayed in the popular franchise The Legend of Zelda, and more specifically the manga for Ocarina of Time. Foster suggests that the entire storyline behind LOZ is a modern epic, telling the legendary tale of heroism through the boy wonder, Link. He goes as far as suggesting that Link is so heroic, that he is linked (pun intended) directly to all the other Links in the history of the universe, allowing him to do superhuman feats like mastering a sword while having no prior knowledge of ever holding one! This idea of a hero’s story that can last for a long time is very common in all of our literature, as we continue to tell the stories of heroes and legends like The Odyssey or The Aeneid. The Legend of Zelda appears to be on that level of epic proportions for our modern world, and will continue to do so as the franchise continues to grow and thrive.
The final speaker P Wauters takes a look at this transmedia to explain legends found within the Pokemon universe. There is certainly a lot to be said (or unsaid) about Pokemon, and how many legends and discussions are brought up about the creatures and their relationship with humans. Wauters focuses specifically on the discourse found among the legdendary Pokemon throughout the series, and gives some insight, though admittedly inconclusive, about their origins and their value to cosmology and philosophy.
We can say a lot of things or infer a lot of things from various references within Pokemon, but to Wauters, the idea of where it comes from or what it represents isn’t necessarily the essence of the Pokemon universe. Pokemon has created its own set of original ideas in cosmology, composed of a mass mix of human knowledge with ideas created from the lore itself. Whether or not we agree on certain viewpoints seems to matter not in fully understanding Pokemon’s lore. After all, the explanations for many of its phenomena remain incomplete and otherwise very new to the current philosophies we may uphold.
Lectures in this series that I, for whatever reason, could not attend:
Eiji Otsuka, guest lecture: The Rebirth of Saga and the Fabrication of History
K Watabe: Who has the Copyright of Fan Art?
N Davis: Hollywood Turns to Anime
A Horbinski: Record of Dying Days: the Alternate History of Ooku
L Mulcahey: Cultural Amnesia: Constructed Images of Illicit Drug Use in Anime and Manga
Panel Discussion: Anime and Manga in the Classroom
As always, the Manga/Anime Studies Symposium at Anime Expo is a very much loved activity for me while I’m there. Over the years, this series has grown quite a bit, and I have seen quite a bit of growth in attendance as well. Most fans certainly care more about the entertainment value of these media, but at least there is also a venue for the fans who don’t mind or relish in the idea of stopping to think about these media.
Tomorrow, I will have a short list (hopefully in one post) of the highlights of my other activities at Anime Expo 2014.