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An Alternative Syllabus

This exercise was inspired by a few things:

  1. The ongoing effort in the academy to diversify, expand, destabilize, etc. the “canon”
  2. A panel discussion I attended the other day featuring a few key figures in Mechademia. One running theme of the conference and journal (and a recurring topic of discussion at this panel): the interaction between (and even hybridization of) fandom and scholarship. In particular, Suan brought up the question of the role of fan-written sources in anime studies.
  3. This excellent essay on personal film canons

This class will never be taught (which is why I have not included legal boilerplate, assignments, or grading policy). For one, I am not in the field. But the deeper problem is this: in an effort to design a class composed of marginal (in some way) works and texts, I have assumed a student who already has an intro-level understanding of things. Whence this understanding? It is a mystery. After all, if an introductory class already exists, then how could this marginal one? Surely university administration could not stomach two classes on anime. Thankfully, this is just an exercise, so it’s not my problem.

Some notes on my choices:

  • An alternative syllabus must use alternative sources: peer-reviewed stuff is great, but academic publishing is slow (so it struggles to keep up with the pace of change) and inertial (so it overdiscusses certain things while ignoring many others). For me, these are some of the gaps that fan works like blog posts and video essays can fill.
  • Naturally, my selections reflect my bias for what I consider to be the most fertile ground for discussion today. They also reflect my blind spots.
  • I have included many “canonical” creators and authors, but I use some of their lesser known works. In my opinion, this is one of the better strategies for balancing the need to include big names and the need to show students something they haven’t seen before.
  • Many of these works and texts have in fact already been assigned in an academic setting. Good! Still, I will try to explain why I think they are valuable in this alternative syllabus.
  • The individual weeks have little to do with each other. It would be possible to extract one or part of one and insert it into a more conventional syllabus as some flavoring.
  • I have not watched or read everything here. After all, I want to design a class that I would take, and I wouldn’t take a class where I’ve already done all the viewings and readings, would I?
    • On a related note, inclusion here is not necessarily an endorsement of quality.
  • I am aware that the marginality of some of these works has largely been the result of issues of access.
  • I am a student, so feel free to cite this as an example of student demand or something.
  • I will probably continue adding to this, paying no mind to the absurdity of having a “Week Eighty-One” on a “syllabus.” So if you’ve got something good, feel free to send it over!
    • I’d want to include more independent stuff (maybe split Geidai into its own week(s)?), prewar stuff, josei anime…the list goes on and on! This is the real challenge with syllabi.
    • Some of the weeks here could probably spin off into full classes. Maybe that’s where this will end up. What we have here is more of a survey course.

Week One

Tuesday

Thursday

Yamada is an interesting case. As probably the most prominent female director in anime history, she seems like an easy inclusion into any anime class (or even film class, or animation class). Indeed, for people of a certain age (“Talkin’ bout my generation”), she is already fully canonical (note the youth of the authors of our readings). Still, the older generations have been, shall we say, slow on the uptake.

Episode 1 of K-On! and Liz are the bookends for the first peirod of Yamada’s career, and contrast each other nicely while still having common thematic and aesthetic concerns. Alternatively, you could go with A Silent Voice and this excellent video on one of the scenes. But everyone’s seen A Silent Voice already.

Week Two

Tuesday

Thursday

Independent animation week! Setting aside the question of whether these are “anime” (the relevance of this question will vary depending on the scope of a course), it can’t be denied that independents exist on the margins of the animation world. In the independent context, however, the selections here are some of the best known names and works. We can discuss how a marginal work can actually be mainstream in a different setting, how these works are in dialogue with both the mainstream and the marginal, etc.

Week Three

Tuesday

  • Panda Kopanda (1972) – Isao Takahata
  • Panda Kopanda Rainy Day Circus (1973) – Isao Takahata
  • Panda in Process (in Starting Point) – Hayao Miyazaki
  • Panda! Go Panda! Creator’s Message – Hayao Miyazaki

Thursday

Takahata week! His name is well known of course, but for some reason people only want to talk about Grave of the Fireflies. Frankly, you can just put any non-Grave Takahata in here (except maybe Kaguya-hime?). My Neighbors the Yamadas is my favorite of his films, so that’s what I went with. It is also a good occasion to discuss the individuality of the animator. Ettinger is very useful here.

Week Four

Tuesday

  • Gosenzo-sama Banbanzai! (1989) episode 1 – Satoru Ustunomiya (Animation Director, Character Design)
  • Paranoia Agent (2004) episode 8 – Satoru Utsunomiya (Animation Director, Episode Director, Key Animation, Storyboard)
  • THE Hakkenden: Shin Shou (1993) episode 3 – Satoru Utsunomiya (Episode Director, Key Animation, Storyboard)
  • Gosenzosama Banbanzai – Benjamin Ettinger

Thursday

  • Fly! Peek the Whale (1991) – Satoru Utsunomiya (Animation Director, Character Design)
  • Ghiblies: Episode 2 subway scene (2002) – Satoru Utsunomiya (Animation Director, Key Animation)
  • Spotlight on Satoru Utsunomiya – Benjamin Ettinger

This is a week centered on Satoru Utsunomiya. Can we discuss works on the level of animation direction and character design? Utsunomiya’s approach is very distinctive, so it could help move us in that direction. In particular, Gosenzo-sama Banbanzai should be a fully canonical work from the perspective of historical and aesthetic significance. Its relative obscurity is a big mistake that should be redressed with vigor.

Week Five

Tuesday

Thursday

  • Ashita no Joe (1970) episode 1 – Osamu Dezaki
  • Space Adventure Cobra (1982) episode 1 – Osamu Dezaki
  • Oniisama e… (1991) episode 1 – Osamu Dezaki
  • Osamu Dezaki | Anime’s Premier Classic Director (Motion, Format, Memories) – Caribou-kun

The theme of this week is TV. While discussions of TV anime and its strategies of “limited” animation are nothing new, it is too easy to overlook the full specificity of the format. On Tuesday, we discuss examples of long-running shows: their production models, aesthetic principles, etc.

On Thursday, we discuss Dezaki. From a certain perspective, Dezaki is anything but marginal (just ask any anime director), but the utter dearth of substantive engagement with his work is the biggest hole in anime academia. Frankly, it is embarrassing. So we include him here.

Week Six

Tuesday

Thursday

This week is probably too much, but as you can see it is about “sakuga.” Some of the clips can be moved into the lecture, I suppose.

Week Seven

Tuesday

  • Take the X Train (1987) – Rintaro
  • On Denpa – Kenji the Engi

Thursday

This week belongs to a couple weird Rintaro movies. No Metropolis (2001) allowed here! X Train is ripe for analysis concerning technological modernity. Genma Taisen, besides featuring the famous Kanada fire dragon, is easy to put into dialogue with Akira and Napier’s discussion of disaster.

Week Eight

Tuesday

Thursday

This week is a lighter week focused on TV shorts and their media mixes.

Week Nine

Tuesday

Thursday

This week is about materiality, I guess? Tuesday features a couple short films that bring to the fore the material construction of animation and film. Thursday is Hannah Frank day. While Frank does not write about anime, her animation theory is broadly applicable and indispensable.

Week Ten

Tuesday

  • Night on the Galactic Railroad (1985) – Gisaburo Sugii
  • Spring and Chaos (1996) – Shoji Kawamori

Thursday

This is a Kenji Miyazawa week. Honestly I don’t know that much about him, so this would be a very educational week for me.

Week Ten

Tuesday

Thursday

Following our earlier discussion on Utsunomiya and the value of focusing on specific aspects of the animated image, we turn to Shichiro Kobayashi and the art of backgrounds more broadly. Kobayashi’s work is easily recognizable, but each of his worlds is unique, so you can really assign anything that he was art director on.

Week Eleven

Tuesday

  • Junkers Come Here (1995) – Junichi Sato
  • Junkers Come Here Pilot Film (2001) – Junichi Sato (Director, Storyboard), Shinya Ohira (Animation Director, Character Design)
  • Karisuma Animators (Hashimoto Shinji, Iso Mitsuo, Ohashi Manabu, Ohira Shinya, Tanabe Osamu) – Benjamin Ettinger

Thursday

Dog week. The animation in all of these works is tremendous. We can discuss the aesthetics of animal animation. Daikuhara’s obscurity is another mistake.

Week Twelve

Tuesday

  • The Case of Hana and Alice (2015)

Thursday

A week on rotoscope! I haven’t seen Aku no Hana or read those papers, but Hana and Alice is good.

Week Thirteen

Tuesday

Thursday

Robot week. I don’t know anything about Zambot, but you don’t see it mentioned that much outside of mecha fan circles, right? The theoretical, political, etc. implications of mecha have been discussed at length, but we should also talk about the animation aesthetics of robots: are they in tension with our political-theoretical considerations of mecha? Are the robots, in fact, cool? If they are, in what way?

Week Fourteen

Tuesday

Thursday

This is an exciting week about the erotic in art animation.

Week Fifteen

Tuesday

Thursday

  • Midori-ko (2010) – Keita Kurosaka
  • Agitated Screams of Maggots (2006) – Keita Kurosaka
  • Midori-ko (緑子, 2010) – Catherine Munroe Hotes

It’s another week on indies. This time, Okamoto and Kurosaka. Much to discuss.

Week Sixteen

Tuesday

Thursday

Tuesday is on gay stuff. You could do a whole class on this, I’m sure, but you’d probably want to loop in manga, literature, and stuff like that. Thursday is on OPs and EDs, which deserve more individual consideration. Any notable OPs or EDs can work here, but I chose these because there are good interviews with the creators.

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One thought on “An Alternative Syllabus

  1. Reading this outline for the first time took me all afternoon. Besides reading the shortest linked articles I couldn’t resist reading contextual offshoots of those. This page exhibits broad knowledge of the field, it’s something to keep for my personal consultation when I need an entrance to one topic (as each week maps very well to one).

    If I were to add my week it would be like this:

    Monday
    – Daicon IV or Otaku no Video
    – Lucky Star Ep. 1
    – Digi Charat
    https://artificialnightsky.wordpress.com/2021/07/18/slowdeath-of-moe/
    – Teekyuu until you get a headache

    Tuesday
    – Perfect Blue
    https://fontsinuse.com/uses/28760/neon-genesis-evangelion
    – Y’all Haven’t Read Beautiful Fighting Girl and it Shows: How to Engage with Multiple Realititties – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YkpLJEFypC8

    Thursday
    – Malice@Doll – Konaka
    – Marebito – Konaka
    – Maid in Japan: An Ethnographic Account of Alternative Intimacy – Patrick W. Galbraith
    – Malice@Doll: Konaka, Specularization, and the Virtual Feminine

    Liked by 1 person

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