Media Journeys 2018: Animation in Transnational Contexts
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As the name suggests, Media Journeys 2018: Animation in Transnational Contexts represents an exciting new step as the first in a planned series of media studies conferences organized at the University of East Anglia under the Media Journeys name. Convened by UEA’s Rayna Denison and taking place on May 24, 2018, this conference reflected the organizers’ devotion to the comprehensive study of media with papers by a diverse group of media scholars and practitioners. Presentations covered animation, its production, and its reception within the animation hubs of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Japan, as well as the less well-trod territories of Hungary, China, India, and South Korea. The conference was planned in conjunction with the book launch of Princess Mononoke: Understanding Studio Ghibli’s Monster Princess, which was edited by Denison. In celebration of this book, local arthouse Cinema City Norwich brought Princess Mononoke (Hayao Miyazaki, 1997) back for a special screening. Thus, the conference examined animation in transnational contexts across three continents from the perspectives of academics and artists as well as publishers and distributors. Despite the wide-ranging nature of the conference, its various parts displayed a remarkable cohesion and left one hopeful for the future of Media Journeys.
The first panel focused on animated transcultural exchanges between Japan and the United States. Denison presented on Princess Mononoke, specifically the differences in Disney’s marketing strategy for the American release of the film and Tokuma Shoten’s Japanese marketing campaign. Dean Bowman also examined the marketing of a Studio Ghibli work, but he focused on the video game series Ni no Kuni (2010-present) and how Ghibli’s contributions to the games were received compared to their partner on the project, game design company Level-5. James McLean moved away from Ghibli to discuss how the Japanese animated television series Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (1972) became the American series Battle of the Planets (1978). Rounding out the panel, Dolores Martinez presented an insightful analysis of the recent American live-action adaptation of the animated Ghost in the Shell (Mamoru Oshii, 1995). Martinez situated the American version, a Scarlett Johansson vehicle directed by Rupert Sanders, within a body of American remakes of Japanese films wherein the new version removes or limits the heroine’s power.
After examining the transnational permutations of anime’s move to America, the next panel dove into regions less often studied to produce fascinating discoveries. Anna Martonfi and Julia Havas started things off with a bang by revealing that the American television series The Flintstones has played an important role in contemporary Hungarian culture via a wildly popular dubbing that featured translations by Romhányi József. Martonfi and Havas explained that while The Flintstones was popular in the United States due to its appropriation of the sitcom format, Hungary lacked a tradition of sitcoms. Consequently, József appropriated local comedic traditions to craft a loose translation that garnered widespread acclaim. The next presenter, Ian Friend, built on Martonfi and Havas’ presentation by considering how regional audience considerations can affect animation even before a production is released. Based on roughly two decades of experience animating for companies including Sony, the BBC, and Dreamworks, Friend limned how international partners can request subtle changes during the production process that domestic audiences will likely not perceive. Coming roughly midway through the programme, Friend’s presentation neatly connected the earlier presenters’ focus on the visible and audible aspects of transnational animation (e.g., film posters, dubbing) with later presenters’ focus on production and circulation processes, which remain unknown to consumers. The first paper to tackle these invisible elements was Ian Murphy and Saint John Walker’s examination of how British and American studios work with animators. Murphy and Walker used an international animation center in Bangalore, India, to show that successful outsourcing depends on much more than mere numbers.
The afternoon began with an analysis of transmedia storytelling and media-mix theory by Alba Torrents, after which Francis Agnoli detailed the behind-the-scenes conversations that directed the world-building of Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra. Dario Lolli responded to Agnoli’s background stills with a study of mobility vis-à-vis Italy’s reception of Lupin the 3rd (1971-present). Lolli showed that cars were initially a marker of the series’ coolness, then transformed into a necessary medium for its continued popularity. Daniel Martin ended the final panel with a discussion of the Korean animation industry. After introducing early Korean animations like Hong Gil Dong (Dong-hun Shing, 1967), Martin detailed masses of contemporary animations produced in Korea whose origins are often unknown or elided. Noting that Korean animators are often subcontracted to productions such as Batman and Harley Quinn (Sam Liu, 2017), and that the Korean animation industry has pursued international co-productions like Kurokami: The Animation (Tsuneo Kobayashi, 2009) in recent years, Martin concluded that the Korean animation industry is vibrant and growing. At the same time, his talk brought to the fore the underlying question of the conference: why is it so important to discuss not just animation, but transnational animation specifically? Media Journeys made a strong argument that animation is and has always been inherently transnational.
Helen McCarthy brought this subtext to the fore brilliantly in her closing keynote “Re-creating History.” In it, McCarthy described her efforts to gather primary documents related to the early history of anime fandom in the United Kingdom. As one of the primary figures behind anime’s rise in both the UK and the wider Anglophone region, McCarthy is particularly well-situated for such a study. She was the first person to create an anime magazine, Anime UK, and also the first to write a book on anime in English. As she described her evolution from a student of anime to a historian of anime fandom, one was reminded that fandom must after all be the first, if not always the foremost, transnational context for animation. With that happy thought in mind, the attendees repaired to Cinema City to celebrate Dr. Denison’s new volume and enjoy Princess Mononoke once more.
Amanda Kennell is a Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Fellow at the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures. She is currently working on a book, Alice in Evasion: Adaptation/Carroll/Japan, about Japanese adaptations of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland novels from 1899 until today. Dr. Kennell’s work has appeared in The Journal of Popular Culture, and she guest curated the Finding Alice in Japan (2015-2016) exhibit at USC Libraries. She has held fellowships from the Andrew W. Mellon Digital Humanities program, the Nippon Foundation and the Cassady Lewis Carroll Collection. She received a Ph.D. in East Asian Languages and Cultures from the University of Southern California, as well as an M.A. in East Asian Languages and Civilizations from the University of Pennsylvania.