The Cultural Studies Term Paper

ENG 331: Cultural Studies

My seventh semester – which is now – has this subject. I had been planning from last year to take this course. This obviously has good reasons:

  • It is a great expansive course that includes the aspects of what composites culture – the different facets such as postmodern’s famous slogan – “I shop therefore I exist”
  • It was going to be taught by our department chairperson Ms Firdous Azim whose books are also taught at Oxford. I did courses with her before and she is one of the elite. No wonder she is the department head
  • I always wanted to write about anime academically. What affects culture? What aspect of culture is an important phenomenon?

If anime is not a grand cultural phenomenon I don’t know what is ^_^ Though Ms Azim doesn’t take the class anymore because she wanted to hand over the course to a visiting faculty (she was one of our department’s teachers but has gone abroad to work on cultural studies) my term paper remains the same. I am still focused on anime.

Of course now it is the end of the semester and I will finally be writing the paper. I must use the theories I learned to extract information out of those anime and show how they apply themselves to the viewers and society in general. This is really an exciting task and I have chosen the animes I’m going to explore.

Now, I’m not doing the usual anime – not Dragonball series or the Naruto one or the Pokémon one or even Bleach. To me they are mainstream anime – popular and interesting and really engaging but I’m not really their fan. I was a fan of Dragonball Z and still am to some extents but as I got older (I started watching it when I was fourteen) I grew kind of bored of it. There was nothing new in Dragonball Z except maybe a new foe. Though I did laugh at Mr satan’s cowardice (giggle when I remember it now) and loved the battles.  Also, as I am from Bangladesh you don’t know how long it took India and Pakistan’s Cartoon Network to actually show this one show. It started in 2002 then it stopped mid Frieza saga then it started again in 2006 or 2007 – all that time they were just repeating from the beginning to that battle with Frieza! Obviously, I lost the tempo but I also thought it was all action oriented – character dimensions were kind of limited. But Frieza still remains a favourite villain, as Bugs Bunny would say “Diminutive isn’t he?” but really deadly. (Ok, this is SPOILER INFORMATION but I think Frieza is a predecessor to Salem from Full Metal Alchemist that diminutive sadist)

Though I might have to make a contrast on both these considered mainstream anime and the animes I am doing I do have a distinction. The animes I am going to discuss are popular but just not with everyone. In fact one of them has a very limited fan following. The truth is that these animes are not only visually appealing but philosophically, psychologically and socially stimulating. My thesis topic is “The Anime Subculture: The Oppositional Look” basically I might change it to “An Alternative Axis” later on as I have also discuss (as my teacher told) how anime is a subculture in general. These anime explore aspects of  the human psyche and of human decadence, redux and ascension.

Thus the animes I’m going to explore are:

  • Paradise Kiss – not really a dynamic fantasy shoujo manga but it is quite different from other shoujos. It is a slice of life manga where the protagonist grows stronger. Unlike helpless shoujo heroines Yukari is assertive – she may have been passive before but changes throughout the series. She does not like people misbehaving with her nor does she accept her own boyfriend’s eccentricities when they affect her negatively. It is uniquely presented – despite following shoujo’s tradition of lush, vibrant colours and fashionable characters it does not dwell superficially on them but encourages both insight and empathy. You might hate some characters or some of their characteristics  but perfection is not a tool of reality and this is what this manga beautifully illustrates.
  • Hot Gimmick. Teacher’s Pet and Bitter Virgin Hot Gimmick is a manga I love to hate as you have seen in my previous post. Though some say it is not a slice of life manga due to its horrid details I disagree. Due to its insufferable romanticizing of horrendous acts it is slice of life as it imitates Harlequin novels and Mills and Boon romance trash. Its settings and origins were beautiful, its storytelling was addictive however; it failed to establish what it set out to do: cure the adversity and set a decent romance. As Wikipedia expertly stated that “it shows the normalization of an abusive relationship” without any redeeming qualities whatsoever. It sets out to pacify, nurture and develop the characters but in the end succeeds at doing none of these things. It attempts to be reasonable but it fails to do so. Thus I am using it as a contrast to Paradise Kiss in the sense of Gender and Sexuality – are the women and men who are good natured always passive idiots? Are abusive spouses/partners meant to overlooked at being intensely romantic? I am also looking at Teacher’s Pet where Miki Aihara shows how a woman can fall in love with her rapist just for sex (no reasonable reason given) and accepts abuse from her boyfriend who is  not her rapist but gets to play ball with her too. I’m using this to contrast too. What is the mangaka attempting to prove?
    Bitter Virgin on the other hand does not cloud the psychological repercussions of emotional, sexual and physical abuse. It also may have Shoujo traditional passive females and femme fatales but it does see the heroine as a masochistic-dysfunctional entity (sans any reason even masochism has deep psychological reasons: boys and girls do not simply become masochistic for their hearts telling them or they have a rush of hormones. The gratification gratifies on other deeper levels). It shows the protagonists attempting to act out, protect, develop and fall in love via nurturing and understanding thus it succeeds in doing that. Maybe not introducing greatly independent philosophies of sexuality and psychology in individual decision but greatly allows psychological aftermath of rape victim.
  • Ghost In The Shell – the accessibilities of this anime is phenomenal: spiritual, psychological, emotional, political, philosophical, medical, and digital and you can’t totally put it in the standard taxonomy of anime.  It showed identity-crisis entering a whole new axis when the inner universe (Origa’s theme ^_^) is virtually an interconnected cosmos of knowledge and information via brain-space and via body-swapping. The token of this anime is not merely the graphic illustrations of the making of cyborgs and dolls but also the pioneering aspects of the medium (anime) to enter the vortex of the postmodern. The makings of the cyber world and the inner world fuses in so many volumes, layers and vessels that separation, homogeneous, heterogeneous and alienation all become hard to distinguish or hard to make definitions of. Matoko Kusanagi, the protagonist is her own antagonistic vehicle but also her own transportation of being her own saviour. An excellent anime – Allah Almighty bless Shirow Masamune!
  • Revolutionary Girl Utena – need I say more of this postmodernist masterpiece? Aside from the accolades it deserves for being a shoujo milestone it is also, to quote HigevsOtaku, a canon for those who need to inaugurate themselves into the spherical diversities of anime. Its artwork is exquisite, its imagery crisp and the story devices delicious to the tongue and earnestly devoured. Never have I been so engrossed in an anime that I felt greatly concurring with a person who said that Revolutionary Girl Utena should be a novel and we would read it in University/College. The beautiful protagonists Utena and Anthy and their strife to achieve liberation through societal standards of sexes and genders and proper citizenship – their rebellion in dressing unique and staying indifferent to what people consider normal. The role reversals of prince, princess and witch is also fantastic – no definitions are absolute in these titles and manipulation and/or transformations are inevitable truths. The psychological traumas, fluxes, logic and emotions that  motivate these characters despite their ugliness or their beauty are aesthetical models of truth and realism. Aesthetical does not always equate fiction or imaginary but rather versatility in composition and direction.  Masterpieces of masterpieces – Allah Almighty bless Chiho Saito and Kunihiko Ikuhara!

Well those are the reasons why I am covering those anime – I wanted to cover more but there was no time. Actually my visual powerpoint presentation didn’t go so well due to some facts:

  • There were too many students this time in this course so we were allowed 10 minutes maximum. Everyone exceeded this, naturally, as a  3000-5000  term paper cannot easily be condensed in 10 minutes especially when Ms Azim herself stated (she was one of the guest judges) that we all had diverse topics to speak on.
  • Not everyone is an anime fan like me in fact those who do watch anime still haven’t watched these titles (I asked someone about these titles and she was only familiar at this time with Naruto) so my teacher kept on telling me to introduce the animes. So, a large portion of my time went on that.
  • Basically, I am also following a lot of theories to support my ideas thus it is hard for me to condense those theories as well.
  • Ms Azim gave me suggestions but said that it seemed that my paper began at the end of the presentation (:P  *_*) But the truth was that it was hard to chop down the contents I was exploring. So Ms Azim went like “So what?” even if anime prevails as such how does it affect society? But I tried answering again her questions. Basically, our TA told me that I should have kept on referencing to the theories but in a limited time frame that is hard to do.

So, yeah I might talk about those other animes as references; they are:

  • Jigoku Shoujo/ Hell Girl – this anime’s first season may have had a linear style of storytelling with the “cause and effect” approach but it gains popularity and applause due to exploring the reasons why people envy, hate, get confused and eventually want vengeance in the form of sending someone to hell. It is not typically Shoujo as some of the materials present are dark and disturbing including abuse, incest and paedophilia.
  • Full Metal Alchemist – Michel Foucault conversation called The Eye of Power with Michelle Pierrot and Jean-Pierre Barou can be put into application in this anime. The forces that wield power also wield knowledge be it the ones who are seeking the secrets of alchemy, or seeking resolutions for the aftermath of a violent war or even seeking the very philosopher’s stone of truth. The humans, homunculi, ghosts and philosophers stones are the four pillars of power and they will fight for either supremacy or freedom.
  • Death Note – isn’t is obvious ^_^? The Eye of Power works here as well – Kira and the people against this human believing himself to be a deity. Is the deity always in control? No. Are the humans without the power of the note sans power? No. The roles are reversed many a times and the evolution of the characters is fascinating.
  • Angel Sanctuary – Angels and Demons: who are the pure? Truly man Kaori Yuki is one beautiful storyteller that captures the psyche immediately and creates shoujo that transcends cute girls and hot boyfriends. How would you feel if you were the reincarnation of a female angel though you are boy? How would you feel if you were in love with your own sister? How would you feel if Heaven and Hell were waging a war to gain you in their favour? If this postmodern I don’t know what is.

Ok, well this is my current update for my term paper. As it was related to anime and my love for it I thought I should post it here. Though, I think this is my longest post yet 😛 ^_^

Well, I guess Ciao for now guys ^_^

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