By Keidra Chaney
Few fandoms are as collaborative and interactive as anime fandom. While it is perfectly acceptable to simply watch an anime series, there are traditionally also a multitude of options to share and continue one’s enthusiasm about a show, some “official” and others fan-driven: doujinsjhi, fansubs, collectables, and cosplay. And while this kind of interaction isn’t limited to anime fandom, one could argue that anime fan culture made such collaborative activity much more widely acceptable throughout fan culture.
In The Soul of Anime, MIT professor Ian Condry explores this culture of collaboration and collective activity by looking at the process, rather the product of anime fan culture. That is to say, he doesn’t spend a lot of time describing the finer points of say, magical girl anime vs. mecha anime. He approaches the production of these media texts from an ethnographic perspective, interviewing the animators, character designers and script writers of several animation studies in Japan, and closely follows the online and offline activities of anime fan communities.
While Condry starts the book by asking the question “What makes anime?” he later explains that the true focus of the book is “Who makes anime?” Condry focuses on the transmedia lifespan of anime – from the original stories and universes created by animation companies, to the role of manga creators, anime distributors and fans. Followers of the “aca-fan” work of Henry Jenkins will immediately notice his influence in The Soul of Anime. The fluid relationship between fan and media producers is the framework that Condry centers the book around and he gives significant weight and focus to the economic and cultural role of fanworks – particularly fansubs – and acknowledges that the relationship between fan and producers is never simply top-down or one-way. For example, he references the animation company Gainax – best known for producing Neon Genesis Evangelion, as an example of fan activity that morphs into a commercial enterprise.
He also devotes a significant section of the book on the complicated copyright and ownership implication of fansubs, not from a strictly legal perspective, but also the precarious ethical spectrum that exists within the community. Do fansubs help the anime industry by introducing a series to new fans or is it simply piracy? Old -school TLF wrote a lot about this subject and this is one of the first books I’ve seen to really look at this ethical quandary from multiple angles.
The Soul of Anime will appeal to fans of anime/manga but also to anyone who’s interested in transmedia studies; it’s a book with implications for a number of niche media industries and will likely be a jumping off point for studies in other areas.
Summary: Highly recommended equally for anime fans and cultural studies scholars.