Japanese Fandom Through the Ages: An Introduction

After recovering from mono and finally finishing out the semester, I’ve finally ended my month-long blogging hiatus! And we’ll be starting things back up with a bit of an unorthodox direction. The title gives it away a little bit, but for now let’s look at a quote from the 1890s to see where I might be going with this:

“The whole of Japan is a pure invention.”
– Oscar Wilde, “The Decay of Lying”

Now this seems pretty bizarre. What’s going on here?

If we were to take Wilde’s quote above literally, he’d seem to be crazy. But upon closer inspection, it turns out that there might be some truth to his statement – and a fairly significant one, at that. What he talking about, and why would he say such a thing? What is this underlying truth, and how does it relate to Japanese fandom over a hundred years ago? How does it relate to anime fandom today? The next series of posts will be an attempt to answer those questions. These will be part book review, part context and historical overview, part conjecture, and part narrative, where I’ll be attempting to see differences and similarities between the fandom of the two eras and establish a good framework for thinking about them. Hopefully it should be an insightful look at some of the characteristics of fandom both looking back and going forward. Here I’ll just be introducing the series, but look forward to my upcoming posts on the subject in the next few days!

In terms of texts, the two books that I’ll be using in the service of my viewpoints and arguments are:

  • The Great Wave: Gilded Age Misfits, Japanese Eccentrics, and The Opening of Old Japan by Christopher Benfey
  • From Impressionism to Anime: Japan as Fantasy and Fan Cult in the Mind of the West by Susan J. Napier

The titles are fairly self-explanatory. Much “standard” thought concerning the Meiji revolution and the opening of Japan to the West is that it was really a one-way street of importing modern Western stuff and using it to modernize. Both Benfey and Napier try and argue that the exchange happened both ways, with many Japanese items and ideas flowing out from Japan to the West. This is a bit of a rushed summary, but it gives the general idea.

As for the individual books: Benfey tries to chronicle the lives of several notable American “fanboys” and their obsession with Japan during the 1850s and 60s to around 1913, while Napier tries to deal more with perception and movements in Europe from the 1860s until the present day, with a large chunk of the book dedicated to studying the current anime movement. Both are pretty good, although The Great Wave is much easier read than From Impressionism to Anime, which is a quite a bit more academic.

Vincent van Gogh, for example, was a huge Japanese fanboy, and the influence of Japanese aesthetics can be seen throughout much of his art.

Vincent van Gogh, for example, was a huge Japanese fanboy, and the influence of Japanese aesthetics can be seen throughout much of his art as well as his good portions of his life.

I’m going to attempt to roughly organize my ideas into four posts.

  • In my first post, I’ll provide some historical context surrounding the different eras and the big fandom movements associated with both, as well as define any concepts that I’ll be using going forward.
  • In my second post, I’ll briefly go into the books themselves, giving a brief overview of what they covered and noting any qualms I had or points/qualities I particularly liked.
  • In my third post, I will attempt to bring the first two elements together and compare/contrast the most notable features of each of the fandoms.
  • In my final post, I’ll try to give reasons and a decently believable narrative for why Japan, and later anime, came to prominence in the mind of the West.
And here of course is an example of a modern day otaku, Rayun from Switzerland. Taken from dannychoo.com.

And here of course is an example of a modern day otaku, Rayun from Switzerland. Taken from dannychoo.com.

If this seems a little bit more academic than my usual stuff, that’s because it is based off a paper I wrote for my Japanese History class (I know – can you believe I got them to okay this? :D). I’m hoping that in adapting it for this blog it’ll be more like what I wanted the paper to be (sadly essays are limiting in their format), and I’ll be revising some of my arguments and adding some new stuff which I think will give the topic the treatment I think it deserves. I’ll most likely be uploading the paper itself (slightly modified, of course) at the end of these posts, although I’d be happy to send it to anyone who’d be interested in reading and discussing it with me.

Once you think about it, cosplay is a bit of a strange thing. Avatar cosplay group taken from ~Korbexo (deviantart).

Once you think about it, cosplay is a bit of a strange thing. A:TLA cosplay group taken from ~Korbexo (deviantart).

On another note, I’ve now gone through and thoroughly updated my pages so my Currently Watching list, Blogroll, Introduction, and About Me sections have all been decently revised and brought up to date. Now I feel like I’m back up to speed with blogging, at least to a certain extent. Still got a couple more posts to read and a lot more stewing around in my brain (like finishing up my Interpreting Interpretation series – that’s been on my mind for a while now). I might also throw up a post of Spring 2013 anime or something, if I find that I really have a lot of time on my hands in the next few days.

You know, because this is so romantic. I don't know why I didn't think of this.

You know, because this is so totally romantic and a 100% serious scene. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this.

Anyways, I’ll try and get the first part of this up in the next few days since classes are finishing up, so hopefully the wait won’t be too bad (and the writing isn’t too dry!).

5 responses to “Japanese Fandom Through the Ages: An Introduction

  1. After completing a Japanese art history course (ukiyo-e to be exact) this year, I too came to the conclusion that Van Gogh was a total weeb.

    Can’t be an otaku without an oppai mousepad, though.

    • I’d actually be interested in the material you guys covered in the course, as we didn’t really go into ukiyo-e in very much depth outside of a historical detail and a reading assignment. Would you be able to send some stuff my way if it’s available or chat about it sometime?

      Also – true facts about the oppai mousepad. I have a Saber one myself, and it’s pretty awesome.

  2. Pingback: 12 Days of Anime Day Six: We’re alive! | Chromatic Aberration Everywhere·

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