Anime from Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation by Susan Napier

Napier, Susan. Anime from Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation. New York: Palgrave Macmillian, 2001.

One of the first long-format works that critically engaged with anime in a critical way, focusing on its narrative aspects (rather than the visual/perceptual).  She examines three broad “expressive modes:” apocalyptic, elegiac, and festival and this allows here to concentrate on themes, images and ideas in a survey of some of the “most memorable” anime created in the 1980s and 90s.  In order to justify it as an authentic subject of study, she asserts anime “is the ideal artistic vehicle for expressing the hopes and nightmares of our uneasy contemporary world.” (11)  Those concerns center around gender roles/transgression, unease/potential of technology, a Bakhtinian notion of festival that speaks to power, thought at heart she sees it all relating to the “shifting nature of identity in a constantly changing society.” (12)

Her discussion of bodies in anime is particularly useful to clarify why it is I do not take them as my explicit research subjects – she proposes that the bodies in anime are intrinsically bodies undergoing metamorphosis, and this protean corporal identity may or may not challenge dominant notions of gender (and thus the social order).  Many anime texts focus on the “process of bodily change” (37) and it is this process that articulates, questions, and destabilizes or reflects fears of gender and gendered identity.  Her chosen evidence, including Ranma ½, Ghost in the Shell, Neon Genesis Evangelion (just to name a few), are particularly apt examples, each in their own way.  But I am not interested so much in metamorphoses, as gender as a process made clear and plain, but instead with the ways that bodies already in play, already ‘finished’ confound gender categorization and possibly lead to a different kind of existence.


About kathrynpagel

Working on my PhD in Japanese literature, visual studies, and new media.
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