In the beginning…
Back when I started watching anime, I didn’t care much about reviews, critiques, and broader academic discussions on “form” and such — I viewed anime the same way I viewed stories (which was not too critically, since I was in high school at the time). I had fun with them, had my life changed by them (I’m looking at you Evangelion!), and spent lots of time watching and discussing them with my friends. Those were good times.
However, it’s almost inevitable the more and more anime you watch, the more nuanced and “critical” you tend to become: you start comparing shows to each other, get into debates on why certain shows are better than others, and appreciating more of the subtler nuances of anime and storytelling. And so it was with me — as I watched more and more shows, my tastes and viewing styles/preferences (i.e. the ways I consumed art) changed as well. While I still enjoyed anime, I found myself becoming a little bit more critical, snobbish, and “judge-y”. In addition, since I was now quickly becoming the go-to anime guy among my circle of friends, I started becoming more interested in recommending shows my friends would actually like rather than just the shows that I liked.
Then Hyouka happened, and it absolutely changed the way I would view anime forever. The show touched something deep inside me, and before I knew it I suddenly felt the need to analyze and interpret the show, taking copious amounts of notes and engaging in very active anime analysis for the first time in my life. This type of thinking percolated into other areas of my life, and before I knew it I was analyzing everything from anime to books to TV shows. It was also the first time I started reading anime blogs.
After subscribing to a couple blogs, I was struck by the multitude of opinions anibloggers (and their viewers who commented) had about different anime. As I found myself agreeing with some and disagreeing with others, I got to thinking about how one can effectively “judge” a show and defend that judgment against others.
Defending judgments is tricky business though. Any time you interpret, review, and/or critique something, you’re bringing in your own set of biases and values. How do you justify your particular critiques (and the values they are based upon) relative to someone else’s? And how those values influence your interpretations? Or your critiques? All of these form the basis for the frameworks with which we perceive and interpret “art” (i.e. “texts”), and as I became more and more obsessed with the inherent defensibility and objectivity of arguments and critiques (plus the fact that these ideas exist to begin with), these concerns likewise became all-consuming. And this isn’t even trying to account for differences in how interpretative frameworks are inherently constructed in the first place, since in the questions above I’ve assumed them to be static constructs (they’re not, since we’re all people — they have to be built out of something). Before I knew it, I had bypassed the role of online “anime critic” to the totally-not-more-elitist online “critic of anime criticism”!
As a wannabe criticism critic, I want to establish some sort of a framework or methodology that gets to the very heart of these issues, especially concerning the original process of interpretation and how it manifests itself. Or, in other words, trying to use core concepts surrounding basic ideas about interpretation as a subsequent lens to examine its offshoots. As the act of interpretation is conducted both through theory and practice, it straddles the realm between the literary (focused often on the abstract and forms) and the sociological (focused on people, their behavior, and motivations).
As a result, I think that interpreting interpretation serves as a fascinating, insightful, and most importantly practical way to go about viewing things that won’t become too far removed from the motivating source material. In addition, it is easy to apply to existing interpretive frameworks — by thinking about the ways I interpret texts, both the overall quality of my writing and my critiques improve. While I know it’s not the same for everyone, hopefully anyone who’s reading these posts will feel similarly! :)
This approach of attempting to interpret interpretation has resulted in a bunch of cool posts, most of which I’ve outlined and hyperlinked to below. Many of these are interconnected and build off of ideas I establish in other posts — most prominently those outlined in Hiroki Azuma’s Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals (review, notes) and my more formal Interpreting Interpretation posts — but should be at least somewhat understandable if read alone.
Besides interpretation proper, I’m very interested what role it plays in “being” a fan (and by extension fandom). Many of my posts are influenced by these types of questions, which can be broadly summarized as follows:
- How does “culture” flow between individuals, groups, societies, nations, etc.? How do these “cultural flows” impact each other? And what is culture in the first place?
- How do fan communities aggregate, grow, change, interact, and spread?
- How does media consumption relate to fandom and constructing fan identities? Why do fans behave the way they do?
- How does fandom provide insight into the (un?)changing aspects of the “human condition” and modern society in general? (This is of course the question I’m most interested in!)
In each of these, questions about how interpretation, viewpoints, and taste fit together become intimately connected to questions about media consumption, identity construction, and (sub)cultural interactions. Fandom serves as a fascinating case where all these questions find their answers and expressions through each other!
In this wider framework, my attempts to try and “interpret interpretation” has led to a wide variety of interesting posts:
- From a sociological point of view, I’ve found that grouping fans based on their internal motivations and interpretive tendencies rather than strict external behavioral practices leads to a natural division that explains quite a bit about how different fandom subtypes interact with anime (and by extension Japanese pop culture) at large. This framework can then be used (in part) to explain larger fan behavior (which are a direct consequence of interpretative strategies/frameworks) in other contexts.
- From the more abstract literary side, in a fantastic collaborative effort, Misfortunedogged and I orchestrated an almost entirely abstract discussion on the nature of interpretation and its limits in a long-winded attempt to defend harems. More generally, I have also attempted to put forward more abstract ideas concerning meta-interpretive frameworks that possibly could govern (cyclic) overarching interpretive strategies.
- Applying these ideas to analyzing content has led to several interesting posts, such as a lengthy post on how light novels (may) contribute to this “interpretation” debate and some thoughts concerning the (meta-)frameworks surrounding light novels themselves and how they manifest themselves in other ways. It also leads to an interest reading of the multiple ways “otaku” are portrayed in Otaku no Video and an lengthy analysis of how we should interpret shows like Kill La Kill and No Game No Life. When applied to images of “geekdom” in popular culture, it also gives a way of viewing minority social groups as attempting to “simulate ethnicity”, which has a host of interesting implications for how we (often unconsciously) construct identity. I also have played around using different interpretive frameworks to analyze the infamous anime bathroom scene.
Of course, I’ve not written everything there is to know on the subject. In fact, it’s more than likely there exists a plethora of academic writing on this same subject using different terminology that I just haven’t run across yet. But, since I haven’t run across it yet, I’ve made do with a random assortment of books and blog posts about the subject from other writers I really respect.
My biggest influence up to this point has been Froggykun. Beside writing a very cool assortment of posts associated with the topic all on his own, we’ve consistently bounced ideas back and forth off each other almost the whole time since I started blogging. This rapport has led to numerous spin-off posts as we attempt to incorporate new modes of thinking into our posts and analysis. While I tend to wax academic and bookish most of the time while discussing these types of things, Froggy instead often creatively works cool ideas surrounding different aspects of interpretations, values, and taste (they’re all tied together) into entertaining and very accessible discussions.
Besides Froggy, other sources for insights into the same area include B0bduh‘s blog Wrong Every Time (see also his ask.fm) and FILM CRIT HULK‘s blog (older version). Unlike Froggy, who I’ve been following for a long time, I haven’t yet gone through and pulled out all the interesting posts. However, everything they right is pretty great, and they both tend to deal with many of these issues much more of “as they come up” manner than in the more systematic way I’ve gone about it.
Obviously, I don’t think these collections of posts encompass everything there is to know about interpretation — there are a lot of very smart people today (and in the past) who I’m sure have written profusely about the subject, and I’m really just scratching the surface of these types of issues. Since there’s a lot that I’ve probably missed here, if there’s anything at all not on this list that you think I should check out, or if there’s something you want to discuss, please let me know!
Last updated: 06/18/2015.