Earlier this year, after returning from my semester in Kyoto, I decided to pursue the composition of a book. The idea of writing a book intrigued me, excited me, and inspired me to devote a “page” of this blog to my plans:
Otaku Movement Book
• “Otaku Movement: The History and Fans of Anime in America”
• “Fan Tribe: The Cultural Economy of Anime in America”
“Otaku Movement: The History and Fans of Anime in America” is a future publication about the history of the anime fandom in the United States and its implications on media institutions, intellectual property, and cross-cultural reception.
I sent out a dozen emails to a number of academics and even met with Professors Ian Condry (MIT), Susan Napier (Tufts), and Henry Jenkins (MIT/UCS Annenberg) to discuss organizing research and arranging plans for graduate school.
During the spring semester, I decided to begin writing a lot about my personal interests, critiques, and analyses of anime & manga on this blog (which has previously housed the same tripartie then reserved for developments in digital media, Internet studies, etc.).
In May, I contacted the Convergence Culture Consortium, a major think tank in the Comparative Media Studies department at MIT, about potentially working there as a research assistant. Instead, and much to my surprise, I was awarded the opportunity to submit a proposal for a year-long research project of my own to pursue during the next academic year. Of course, I chose a focus on anime, manga, & fan culture.
This past Monday, my proposal was accepted, and I’m happy (and relieved) to announce that beginning in September, I’ll be working with the Convergence Culture Consortium, pursuing research and publications about developments surrounding and the maturation of the American anime & manga fandom. Basically, I was awarded my dream job (especially since after I applied for the graduate MA program in Comparative Media Studies in December ’08, Henry Jenkins announced his move to USC Annenberg, propelling the termination of the CMS program).
The news that I can announce right now is that this project (and any subsequent publications) will replace the book proposal (see above) that I initially hosted on this blog.
While the exact details of my project will be evolving over the coming weeks, I’ve posted my initial proposal below, in case anyone’s interested in reading it. We’ve narrowed the project down a lot from this foundation (Joshua Green, the head researcher at C3, stated that this proposal would form a solid 4-year PhD project, but was too broad for a “case study” in the Consortium).
While Japanese popular culture has achieved relative popularity on an international level, critics have targeted fans — the loyal consuming audience of these comics and cartoons — as one potential cause of the currently faltering commercial market for anime and manga. Particularly in America, though, the relationship between audience and media has played an important role in the development of both the fandom and industry. Given the fifty-year history of this media in the United States, the developments related to the growth of the fandom and industry provide a historical context with which to analyze and assess the progress of contemporary convergence culture.
This white paper proposes a narrative of value over time in a specific fan economy. How do fans attach value to media? How does that value compete with the value imposed on fans by the industry? The American anime fandom, originating in the 1960s and coordinated in the 1970s, developed a profit-oriented market from a tradition of fan-to-fan practices. Initially, fans spread copies of taped, untranslated anime through the United States postal service to fellow viewers interested in seeing something new. Eventually, translations entered the network, first as scripts, then followed by fan-composed subtitles (fansubs). While the Japanese industry attempted to intersect this development in the 1980s, the Japanese withdrew, allowing the market to evolve independent of Japanese exportation. Once the commercial sector matured, American companies reapproached Japanese producers to import and spread media to foreign audiences, through print and broadcast. The early, pre-2000 history of this fandom presents a unique yet discordant convergence of business and fan practices, as well as an instance of cultural dissonance, that exhibits a changing landscape of fan interest in foreign entertainment.
In the past decade, the fan demographic has begun to change, and participation by a new generation of fandom, propagated and shaped by developments in broadcast and Internet technologies, has introduced both beneficial and destructive potential to commercial growth in the American market space. The proliferation of fansubbing and scanlations caught the attention of a large portion of Japanese producers, who now decry the fan activities as much as American companies. However, fans across the globe find value in free content as much as in the media they purchase. The question of how much value fans of anime and manga locate in the media they consume may provide a scope for analyzing commercial trends for the near future, particularly as Japan establishes foreign policy around cultural exportation. From NBC in 1963 to Crunchyroll.com in 2007, fan practices continue to inform theories of convergence culture and the ever-evolving nature of audiences.
Unexpectedly, given the recent trends in declining sales of comic books and DVDs, attendance numbers at anime conventions in the United States have increased. Whether this increase depends on changing fan demographics or an evolution in fan-centric values, it provokes a new realm of thought that complements the narrative: What succeeds convergence culture? This white paper aims to construct a narrative of the development of value fans derive from media alongside the value assumed by the industry. While the report primarily attempts to examine a historical period in light of recent convergence culture discourse, the continual advancements in the American anime fandom may shed light on the direction in which this specific converged culture, as well as other converging cultures, will proceed. An account of the forty-year history of the American anime fandom provides critical analysis of a previously-established intersection between producers and consumers, with implications for both Japanese and American economies.