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Japanamerica-An Intercultural Animation

Fisher Center Speaker Discusses Anime’s Impact

Last week, the HWS campus was animated about watching, discussing and attending lectures about Anime, the recognizable and renowned form of Japanese animation. A four-day Anime Event organized by the Fisher Center  came to a soaring close with the lecture, titled “Pop Culture in a Multipolar Japan,” given by Roland Kelts.

Explaining the genesis of “Japanamerica,” his acclaimed cultural study of Anime, Kelts explained that it was not only his dual ethnicity as Japanese and American that made him aware of the cross-cultural exchange between the two countries. “I didn’t believe that there was a book that could or should be written on the topic until I came back to the U.S. after spending a number of years in Japan,” Kelts said. “A growing number of American children were watching the Anime ‘My Neighbor Totoro.’ Hipsters in New York and L.A. as well as pro athletes were starting to adorn their skin with tattoos of Kanji characters.”

Following up this intercultural phenomenon, Kelts outlined the drafting of Anime throughout its evolution, both in his book and in his lecture. By studying the life and works of animation masters, such as Osamu Tezuka, Kelts found that the humiliation and emasculation post-war Japan was at the core of Anime. In Kelts’ view, this led to a “twin experience” in Japan. “In Anime, you see two distinct styles: a highly advanced, technically exact and often dark approach and a cute, flat and inexact aesthetic style.”

Contextualizing these styles into Japanese pop culture and exploring why Japanese pop culture is currently so present in the U.S., Kelts proposed two key cultural anchor-points: Pokemon and the Internet. As a $25 billion multimedia empire in 68 countries, Pokemon, for Kelts, embodies and symbolizes the wide-spread introduction of the Japanese Anime style to American audiences. “As ‘superflat’ animation, to use Takashi Murakami’s term, Pokemon is visually flat, constructed by lines and outlines but without the complex shading and dimensionality of a lot of American animation,” Kelts explained.  “Likewise, the characters themselves have no relation to biological reality in a kind of never-ending storytelling, both of which are common to Anime.”

Kelts also emphasized the importance role that the Internet has played in this cultural exchange. “Japan as a setting in Anime is extraordinarily attractive and rich because of its presentation in these films and because the Internet allows its viewers to realize that this place really exists, deepening their engagement with the work and the culture that it reflects.”

In closing, Kelts left his audience with a deepened understanding of this ever-growing artform.

“I enjoyed Professor Kelts’ talk, especially because of my academic work in Asian studies, anthropology, philosophy and literary criticism,” said Nichole Rollason ’10. “In a number of classes, I’ve been able to study Anime and Manga from various, interdisciplinary points of view. That background certainly helped to engage me in his lecture on a number of levels.”

Agreeing with her peer, Bailey Meeker ’09 said that, “It’s really neat that HWS decided to host this four-day Anime event. It allows the campus to explore a topic that we really haven’t seen before and look at it in a sophisticated, academic light.”

“Tonight’s lecture and the entire week of events has been awesome-both educational and fun,” said Joelle Rudnick ’10. “It’s exactly what events on campus should be.”

The Fisher Center Series will continue its study of Animation and Gender with a performance, titled “La Cuchilla” (“The Razor”), given by Mayan-Lebanese artist Astrid Hadad on Wednesday, March 25 at 7:30 p.m. in the Smith Opera House.