Universiteit Leiden

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Anime as a source of human knowledge

Japanese animated films are often fantastic to watch. What's less known is that anime often has a political message. Mari Nakamura researched this phenomenon. PhD defence 14 March.

What did you look at?

'I studied animated films - particularly Japanese anime - as an alternative source for studying political ideology. I looked theoretically and empirically at whether non-Western and non-textual sources such as anime can be an alternative for the existing mainstream methods of studying politics.'

What did you conclude?

'Anime can be seen as a source for studying important political ideas because it sheds new light on familiar philosophical concepts. You can see this from my research on the Time of Eve series by director Yasuhiro Yoshiura and Psycho-Pass by Gen Urobuchi. Anime illustrates existing ideas of power, domination and resistance discussed by Fredric Jameson or Michel Foucault in lively and accessible ways.' 

'Anime also illustrates existing philosophical ideas in tangible way; and creates original, novel arguments through thought experiments. The series Evangelion by Hideaki Anno and the film Appleseed by Shinji Aramaki contribute to the concept of "emancipation", and refute existing assumptions by philosophers and social or political scientists. The analysis of Evangelion and Appleseed, however, demonstrates how anime can illuminate new aspects of the concept of emancipation by developing thought experiments that challenge existing understandings of the theme proposed by philosophers, social and political theorists.'

Why is it important to know this?

'The general assuption is that non-European and non-textual forms of ideas and thoughts have nothing to do with “the common ideological heritage of mankind”, as American philosopher Francis Fukuyama wrote. Under that assumption, anime could be regarded as a frivolous distraction from philosophy or political science. My research shows that philosophical arguments are discussed, questioned and even formed in animated films. I hope  my work will contribute to anime being seen as an important source of human knowledge.' 

Image: a still from the Time of Eve series.