The Anime Machine: A Media Theory of Animation by Tom LaMarre

LaMarre, Thomas. The Anime Machine: A Media Theory of Animation.  Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009.

LaMarre’s interest in “looking at the specificity of animation is the possibility for thinking the modern or postmodern technological condition with greater specificity.”  He does so by deploying an idea of the “anime machine” that is consonant with Guattari’s work on stripping the word “machine” “of its mechanistic connotations, when I call animation a thinking machine…[it] is a heteropoietic process in which human thinking happens differently than it would otherwise, in another flow of material forms and immaterial fields.” (301)  This requires a thinking through of the technological specificity of anime itself, the way it functions differently from film, in particular the way it contrasts with film’s ability to move/be mobile (both moving into the frame, thus achieving depth, and out of it).  Al la Schaffer (who is reacting to Deluze’s Cinema), he notes the fixed camera of animation then places a primacy on “the invisible insterstices between layers” (xxix), the composting and planes of the image, not the characters and not the hand of the animator.  He suggests that the anime machine thinks technology in very specific ways, and the rest of the book is spent attempting to examine the way the animes of Miyazaki, Anno and CLAMP think.  The anime viewing position is not stable, but anime stabilizes different kinds of viewing positions (panoramic; enclosed) and flattens out the “multiplanar image” into an assemblage that can be taken apart and put back together (and indeed, he suggests this is what anime viewers do as they view).

He proposes Miyazaki engages in a “critical minimization of animation technologies which goes hand in hand with a strategic reprisal of the classic body of full animation in a world of open composting.” (315)  He suggests Miyazaki is creating a neo-classisism that asserts bodies “coordinated to the slow human-scaled world” in which Nature is the dynamic entity.  For all of the innovativeness of Studio Ghibli, Lamarre notes this in some sense threatens the very innovativeness that it seems to value.  On the other hand, Anno operates “a critical optimization of animation technologies, which builds on the crisis of the classic body of full animation…” (315) The flat composting “promises the advent of a boundless and horizonless world, a distributive field, in which anyone might now participate.” This dehierarchizes the classical, but also flattens the notion of worlds into characters who become the sites of serialization.  Finally, it is in CLAMP there is “a critical perversion of information technologies (computers), wherein computerization and hystericization” go together, taking up the issues of movement/image in ways that disallow stable and fixed meanings but instead insist on dual readings.

The real benefit of this work is the way in which LaMarre is continually attentive to the mechanics and specificity of production – anime is never treated as synonymous with film, and it is particularly helpful to think of it as not only a distinct medium with attendant affordances and problems in representation, but in requiring a distinct set of abilities to see/read it that are acquired only through continual engagement with the genre.  In that way it is much like Delany’s assertions about science fiction.  The only issue I have with this is that, while Lamarre does attempt to diverge from Azuma on the way in which anime viewers are consuming/viewing their work, they often seem to uncritically consume (or at least are occasionally held hostage by) the medium itself – it would have been interesting to see his take modified a little bit with Fiske’s ideas of the difference between mass and popular culture, especially as his discussion of CLAMP and Gainax anime acknowledge their position as both producers and consumers (otaku).


About kathrynpagel

Professor of Japanese literature, visual studies, and new media.
This entry was posted in japanese history, japanese media studies, sci fi, theory and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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