Post Reply Reading Into Anime
261 cr points
Send Message: Send PM GB Post
32 / M / Canada
Offline
Posted 3/5/15 , edited 3/5/15
Reading into anime is certainly a hobby of many of ours. Finding the deeper meanings, the hidden themes, the layers upon layers of meaning within shows where we find it. Learning about the culture, the history, and the ideas from Japan that go into anime are all interesting as well because of how limited our education is of Eastern mythology and history is in the West (at a base level, anyway).

To get on with the point, when does "reading into anime" become too much like a high school literature class? When do we find ourselves looking for meaning that isn't there, especially in the circumstance of the creator not being there to comment or able to comment? Some other questions:


1) There are shows like FLCL which the general consensus (at least among my friends who have at least casually watched anime) is that it is packed full of meaning. Is this the case? How difficult is it to pick up on new things every time and when are you just clutching at straws?

2) What about shows that were essentially made to have no real deep meaning but get attributed deep meanings anyway? Gurren Lagann is one example I always use as, from what I recall, the team who worked on it at Gainax (now known as Trigger) pretty much said that they didn't put a lot of thought into it. But there are fans who attribute deeper meanings to it.

3) How much weight do we put on Word of God when it comes to looking into this stuff? Hideaki Anno has said that at the very least the religious symbolism in Evangelion is meaningless. Does that make it true? What about troll level directors like Kunihiko Ikuhara, who give different answers based on the same question (common when being interviewed about Utena)?

4) Does a show get better if you realize that a lot of effort was put into references, themes? For example, I still don't think Kill la Kill is the best thing ever (Very exciting still) but I at least appreciated it more when I learned how many references the show had.

5) What about when evidence points to a certain occurrence in a show? The most famous example would be Code Geass. I won't go into heavy detail here but there is plenty of hints and clues in the show that lead to certain conclusions about the ending. Does that make them canon or not?

6) As my last point I guess I'd ask what are you favorite shows to examine? Are they the usual suspects that pop up when you talk about rewatching or studying the shows or is it something completely out of the blue (do you search for all the layers upon layers in EVA)?


Thanks for reading.
71056 cr points
Send Message: Send PM GB Post
27 / M / USA
Offline
Posted 3/5/15 , edited 3/5/15
1) Meaning can be supposed if a compelling argument can be made based on textual evidence. For example, the prevailing interpretation of Shakespeare's Henry V wasn't fielded until the early 1920s following the First World War. It effectively rewrote how we understand Henry's character, and the arguments for it have proved so considerable that productions attempting to cast him in a more positive light have had to omit offending portions of the source material.

    The centuries-long controversy over Machiavelli's The Prince is another example. Many found his approach to statecraft deeply disquieting ("this son of Satan [...] has written things which stink of Satan's every wickedness") while others found it to be an ironic attack on tyranny ("This author was an enemy of tyrants"). Today it's mostly considered a work of political science intrigued by what is objectively effective in statecraft without a didactic cant.

    Historical and biographical information can inform us of the context of the work and what Machiavelli thought (or told others that he thought) of it, but this turns the work into a historical or social artifact. It can help us read it, but not interpret it. That is to say, it can help us understand what the words are signifiers of (in the same way you may need a meme explained at first) but once understood the context of the meme becomes contextual and interpretive.

2) Creators have no say in what their works contain, only what they intended them to contain. This leads to two possibilities: they intended something and it is present in the work, or they intended something but it is not present in the work ("not intending" is the same question, just in the negative). In both cases whether or not the presence of the thing can be shown in the work is the true authority. This is the basis of Roland Barthes' The Death of the Author.

3) Zilch, see above. There is, of course, nothing stopping authors from making their own arguments about what is or is not contained within their work, but those arguments are not themselves exempt and must still hold up on their own.

    For example, later in his life Machiavelli attempted to discredit his own work on The Prince. This is widely disregarded when it comes to interpreting it since he had very big real-world reasons for distancing himself from it.

4) Yes, because that's an argument based on textual evidence. When you can identify those references and themes and show they exist, that adds to the understanding of the work. Being able to analyze those types of signifiers for what they are can be central to a compelling interpretation of the material, or they could be easter eggs, or they could have meanings just contained within themselves, or whatever. From there evidence is gathered and arguments made.

5) The "canon" is an interesting concept because it gives deciding authority over the text to an external entity, group, or collective who decides what interpretations are and are not canonical. But I do not think this makes those interpretations "true" so much as "the accepted truth" or way of reading the work, which could still be invalidated or overthrown by textual evidence. However in the case of a truly open-ended situation you can never really entirely rule out either option.

At that point a broader interpretation of the work can come into play; for example at a point there may be two or more interpretations, but when combined with other facts and further interpretations from throughout the work as a whole they may allow for considerable divergences in the overall interpretation of the story or various parts of it (for example, how you interpret the ending of Code Geass leads you to two very different interpretations of Lelouch's character).

If you are able to refute either interpretation, that's a blow to the understanding of Lelouch it supported. However if that understanding of Lelouch were to be refuted elsewhere that might also make the initial interpretation a logical dead end.

    Another idea of "canon" would be that the text is an imperfect reflection of a story that exists intangibly, in which case you can knock on the author's door and ask him to tap into that intangibility to give you an answer, at which point they put on their high priest hat visit the Holy of Holies and bring back the words of God. However in this case we have abandoned interpreting the text and are instead querying the author's intent as its own separate entity.

    Alternatively "canon" is all the things that must be accepted in order to make all the parts of the story work together, particularly if it is comprised of multiple texts. In which case it can be logically derived insofar as it needs to be.

6) Probably Serial Experiments Lain since I think it can be read on a lot of different levels in interesting ways. While comparatively I think most stories mainly exist on one level where interpretations vie back and forth with one another.

PS: There are interesting critical parallels between the dual readings of the titular Henry V and Lelouch in Code Geass, in how you end up with two very different people based on different interpretations of points in their respective texts.
Sogno- 
45742 cr points
Send Message: Send PM GB Post
Offline
Posted 3/5/15
what, there's more to it than for my pure entertainment?! /
38909 cr points
Send Message: Send PM GB Post
24 / M
Offline
Posted 3/6/15
1) Well, FLCL was nothing but a huge mess to me when I first watched it. I didn't like it very much and I certainly didn't dredge up a lot of meaning out of it. But, overall, I think it's plenty easy to pick up new things upon multiple watches—assuming the anime actually has the material there. For example, I rewatched Toradora! back in December and was writing a post per episode per day. Now, if Toradora! wasn't the superbly crafted show it was, it could have been a wash, but I got tons of news stuff out of the second watch: I was picking up on some themes I hadn't noticed the first time (childhood vs. adulthood), finding tons of additional meaning in the visual language of the show, and even came to a new understanding of Ami's character. But I don't think, for example, I'll ever gain anything new (besides laughs at the hilarious jokes) when I watch Kill Me Baby again and again.

As long as you can make an argument for the meaning you're pulling out of a show, it has the potential to be a valid interpretation.


2) The fact is that any writer is going to (consciously or unconsciously) inject their worldview into the stories they tell. Furthermore, as Insomnist said above, it doesn't matter if the creator didn't intend there to be any meaning in the story. That doesn't preclude the story from conveying meaning. Gurren Lagann unquestionably has some pretty obvious themes—even if the Gainax crew didn't really plan much of it out, it's still there and no amount of the creators saying, "Oh, that doesn't mean anything," can change that. You can set out to make a show with no deep meaning; that doesn't mean you'll succeed. It's the same as how some shows are built to actually have deep meaning, but fail.


3) I mean, you can still listen to what the creators are saying, but once the creation is out there, they're interpreting it just as much as anyone else is. The creator has their perspective on the work; individual members of the audience may have other perspectives. Ikuhara's answers, which you cite here, seem specifically designed to avoid exactly this problem. If Ikuhara were to say, "Utena means this," then you can bet there would be a legion of fans who would instantly take that as the one and only reading of Utena. Ikuhara clearly doesn't want that, thus he obscures his own interpretations of the work to keep it open for others.

tl;dr—the author is just another perspective on a creation, but there's a tendency to imbue their interpretations with more significance than they deserve simply because they were the creator.


4) Not necessarily. A bunch of references, no matter how carefully utilized or planned, are useless to me if they don't point to something else. I remember when that big chart of all the references in Kill la Kill was going around and I always looked at it and thought, "Wow, this is one big, meaningless cluster----, isn't it?" In the end, some of the references added depth to individual elements of the show, but overall it struck me more as a "Hey! Hey! Look at all the stuff we know about!" kind of thing, rather than an actually meaningful exercise.

But, in the end, it's not about effort. It's about the final result. As a creator myself, I have the utmost respect for other creators, their passion for the things they're making, and the incredible amounts of work they put into their creations. But if you work really hard on your themes and references, but nothing comes of them, the effort put it doesn't change the fact that they didn't work. It's harsh, but that's what I think.


5) Haven't seen Code Geass myself, but I think things have to be explicitly stated for them to truly be canon. Especially in anime, which can be incredibly noncommittal due to serialization and similar market forces, anything left unstated is up for interpretation. In an original shows like Code Geass, though, if something wasn't explicitly made clear, that says something about whether it should be assumed as canon or not.


6) Revolutionary Girl Utena, Monogatari, and I'd love to write more about Blast of Tempest.
261 cr points
Send Message: Send PM GB Post
32 / M / Canada
Offline
Posted 3/6/15 , edited 3/6/15

Insomnist wrote:
2) Creators have no say in what their works contain, only what they intended them to contain. This leads to two possibilities: they intended something and it is present in the work, or they intended something but it is not present in the work ("not intending" is the same question, just in the negative). In both cases whether or not the presence of the thing can be shown in the work is the true authority. This is the basis of Roland Barthes' The Death of the Author.


iblessall wrote:
2) The fact is that any writer is going to (consciously or unconsciously) inject their worldview into the stories they tell. Furthermore, as Insomnist said above, it doesn't matter if the creator didn't intend there to be any meaning in the story. That doesn't preclude the story from conveying meaning. Gurren Lagann unquestionably has some pretty obvious themes—even if the Gainax crew didn't really plan much of it out, it's still there and no amount of the creators saying, "Oh, that doesn't mean anything," can change that. You can set out to make a show with no deep meaning; that doesn't mean you'll succeed. It's the same as how some shows are built to actually have deep meaning, but fail.


Thanks both of you, I enjoyed reading these. I just want to give a quick reply to both your number 2 answers since I had a discussion similar to this with one of my friends.

I agree with with you two, the creators are within the field of art, and art is a form of expression and it is inherently portraying the author's values and beliefs one way or another, now if they are aware of that or not becomes apparent from critical readings. I found that you need to be emotionally engaged with it somehow. However when their expression is used as a mirror to your own values, you can find a lot more meaning coming from you. While it is fun and a rather intriguing mental practice, it is still over analyzing and putting more value in a series.

If anything, reading into anime, I've found to be more emotive and requiring an active mental and emotional participance of the viewer. All critical, analytical and emotional skills are required to make notes of something that intrigues you. Or if the show has something to emote from.

Of course there are those few great series that are thematic, expressive and want to communicate clearly to the viewer(GTO, Princess Tutu), or want to challenge them and their values(King of Pigs, Texhnolyze). Series that intentionally draw themes and concepts, culminating in an emotional expression are rewarded with praise by engaged viewers who acknowledge their greater value.


Thanks for the reminder on Blast of Tempest, it has been on my list of anime to view from a recommendation.
712 cr points
Send Message: Send PM GB Post
26 / M / In Your Waifu
Offline
Posted 3/6/15 , edited 3/6/15
1. I haven't seen FLCL yet, but as a general answer to "How difficult is it to pick up on new things every time and when are you just clutching at straws?" I have to answer with gut feeling. I've seen people attribute things to a show that I can't ever get behind, and I've also been won over by others who showed me why believing show X is about theme Y because of reasons 1, 2 & 3. It's about how you feel in the end, even if the push comes from others you still make the final decision to believe whether a work reflects a certain message or not (or to a certain extent).


2/3. Isn't question 3 the same as question 2? But rather than as a generic question just about religion? If people want to see a religious message in Evangelion then I honestly don't blame them. With it's talk about Angels and Adam and Eve I get that it's easy to start searching. I can't get behind it, and I disagree wholeheartedly with people who do, but if they believe so and can present me a theory that I can't prick through easily then I'm willing to engage (well, if I were to have that show in recent memory again, right now I can't remember much about NGE).


4. Hardly. For me at least, references are comedy material or cop-outs. Referencing religion and expecting the viewer to go "Oh shit, that's deep man" without ever exploring the subject as a show itself is just lazy and, in general, pandering weakness. If you want to do something, you don't reference it but you explore the theme and show the viewer what the writers look on it is. And the public can still diverge from that, and agree or disagree, but it's either exploration or easy comedy. Nothing in between.


5. SPOILERS HERE -- I'm a hardcore believer of the Lelouch lives! theory that's been circling the internet ever since Code Geass finished, even if the creators deny it, which I personally think they did to stir things up and get some new PR on the show. Everything clicks together too perfect for it not to be possible or have happened.
I'm on the fence on whether or not it's canon.

"Everything the writer says is, is canon is canon, and everything he says isn't, isn't." But once again: gut feeling. How much do I want to believe in it being true, and how much can I support my theory without the show and it's in-universe laws speaking against me? I'd say Lain is canon, while Code Geass isn't canon, although I still believe that to be true.


6. Haibane Renmei will require another re-watch or three before I'll probably get close to completely picking it apart. Lain is a show that blatantly shows off it's theme, but picking up on every detail in the show to represent a detail in the theory of the impact of the internet on society is a hassle in its own.

Although honestly I decide to decipher a show when I feel I can put in the effort to search for what my intuition tells me is there. I did so with Hyouka and Haibane Renmei, and I was planning on doing the same thing to Shonen Hollywood and its take on "What does life mean to us as individuals? How do we experience our own happiness compared to what others expect us to get happiness out of?", but I couldn't get farther than E3 because I didn't give a rats ass about idol shows.

Gatchaman Crowds is a great example as well, because of its great diversity and how it subverts exploration you would expect to take an entire show and finishes it up in three conversations spread over an episode and a half, only to build upon that conclusion that probes a new question.
51985 cr points
Send Message: Send PM GB Post
41 / M / Oakland, CA
Offline
Posted 3/6/15
1) An element with shows like FL/CL and NGE is that there becomes a strong element of groupthink, especially as the show ages. As the community becomes more and more certain that a show is meaningful, the idea of it's meaning becomes more and more reinforced. I personally think in the case of FL/CL people are overreading (and I love to freaking overread into anime).

2) There's a subsection of this where people want to read deep meaning into shows they like. We have a prejudice against 'shallow entertainment' so we want it all to mean a lot, sometimes when it doesn't (this isnt' in reference to any specific show, note). I make a special note that there's a huge trend to unintentional negative themes and narratives in a lot of shows stereotypes and actions that we don't even notice that have significant (and negative) impact and meaning, especially about gender and violence.

3) I think it's worthwhile taking their word at it. There's just a ton of unintentional themes and concepts in any creative work, but we can at least believe the creators as to their intent.

4) If they['re intentionally pursuing difficult themes then I'm all for it, but pop culture and anime culture references leave me cold. The inside baseball references are about as relevant as interesting as "Hey remember the Snorks? What was up with them?" standup jokes.

5) If it's not explicitly stated, it doesn't really fit under any definition of "canon". Otherwise I feel it's mad fun. Puttign together hints and clues is one of the great joys of anime for me.

6) I'd go 2 ways. There's always a ton of meat in anything by AB (Yoshitoshi Abe~ Lain, Haibane Renmei, etc), but the winner has to be Any show in the revamped Tatsunoko lines . CROWDS, Yatterman Night, even Casshern Sins they're all engaging and complex in their themes and approach things in an exceptionally metatextual way.
You must be logged in to post.