By Brianna Contreras
Tuff’s University Professor Susan J. Napier discusses the rise of women in the anime community and the importance of animation during the Covid-19 pandemic.
With the increasing popularity of anime, Susan J. Napier of Tuff’s University discusses the departure from the male-dominant “techie” field to a women-centered grassroots independent community. Professor Napier shares her expertise in anime with 30 years of experience in the community. Her most noteworthy book is Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art.
Q: During the pandemic, why do you think people grew more of a connection to anime?
A: Anime is created to draw you in, to entice you, to get you intrigued by the characters, and to get you to follow them along. Which I think is perfect to watch during the pandemic because you want something that’s gonna keep you going for the next couple of weeks. So, Fruit Baskets, Cowboy Depop, and Samurai Champloo have a definite narrative arc. [Especially] at a time where you have a lot of [extra] time. You don’t have school and you’re in a small room watching something on a small screen that you want to keep going. They’re very good at ways of entertaining yourself.
Q: How would you describe anime and its importance to people that don’t know much about it?
A: [Animation] it’s a flexible and creative medium. There’s so much you can do in animation and it’s so exciting because it doesn’t come from a camera looking at something outside. It’s coming from your ideas, your dreams, and your nightmares. So, the animator is creative and free in a way that no other medium can be. Painting is the closest one, but animators can also make their art move. They really do have that creative world, that’s immersive. If you are interested in, a kind of alternative form of reality. These are some of the most heightened versions you can see because animation is like live-action, but it’s not. It creates its own special world, and if you enjoy that then you can be pulled in.
Q: How would you describe the anime community?
A: It’s nice. Gosh, I’ve been studying and a part of the anime community since the early 1980s. When I was first working on anime, it was seventy percent male and a whole lot of techies. Nowadays, it’s predominantly female. In my classes, I get a lot of people coming in from the School of Music of Fine Arts, where people are doing their own animation. A big change over the last 30 years, thanks to computers, people can do their own animation so you’re getting in people who are hands-on or artists. You still get people from engineering or sort of STEM stuff. [Even] people from English and history who just want good stories. It’s a pretty generous community. When I started, I was in my 30s and now I’m an elderly woman, but you know some people tend to be very nice to me. I can’t tell for sure what it’s like to be 18 and an anime person. It seems like from looking at my students they seem happy to share, excited by finding out [new] stuff and talking about their favorite anime. It seems like a very supportive group.
Q: How is the anime community different from other pop-culture communities?
A: [The] Anime community is very grassroots which is one thing I really love. The strings aren’t being pulled by some big organization. There is still a great deal of individual autonomy and effort coming in to create the community. It hasn’t become totally commercialized. The fans and the convention are usually very much, again grassroots. Real people are organizing them, and it’s not like a big machine is taking them over.
Q: What do you think the future of anime holds?
A: It’s interesting. People my age came in and would say, ‘Ah, it used to be so much better in the Golden Age’. Whatever the heck the golden age is. Depending on the generation you are in. [It’s] Akira or the early 2000s, so anime is not gonna go away. It’s gonna have a lot of permutations. So now hopefully, the pandemic is dissipating people can get together and make communal stuff. Which is something that is very much a part of the anime studios that I’ve visited. I’m hoping that there will be some new force of energy, and again definitely I think we’re going to be seeing a lot more foreign collaboration, a lot more kind of intermixing, not just with the West probably China and Korea. So, I think there’s gonna be a whole new wave of interesting anime coming on.
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