The academic area of interest of “anime studies” welcomes many different approaches and even methods. But fairly consistently, authors who study Japanese animation have drawn on approaches based in auteur theory to emphasize the importance of particular creators/directors.
anime, as a form of postmodern popular culture, can be best understood in the West through a triangulation of different approaches that balance issues of form, medium, cultural context, and individual creators.Kevin M. Moist & Michael Barthalow, When Pigs Fly: Anime, Auteurism, and Miyazaki’s Porco Rosso
Somewhat similarly, and although this is definitely changing, a significant percentage of what actually makes up English-language “anime studies” consists of studies of anime feature films. As Mitsuyo Wada-Marciano notes, in a critique of the field, “Big budget anime films such as Metropolis, Princess Mononoke, Ghost in the Shell, and Akira are frequently discussed, along with their contemporary critical themes of technological alienatation, environmental issues, cyborg feminism, and postmodernity, while the majority of TV anime series have been neglected, since an analysis would require an examination of anime’s connections with local audiences and the complex popular culture of Japan.”
Some of the reasons for the prevalence of these approaches are essentially structural. Putting it simply, anime films are easier to study than TV series are. It’s often easier to draw connections between the themes explored in them and the ways these themes are approached in other films, animated or live-action – and discussed and analyzed in other scholarship. New scholars can also draw on existing publications specifically to support or expand their arguments, or even to engage in critical conversation – and it’s much easier to do this when you have a body of existing publications to engage with. And the new “Modes of Existence” issue of Mechademia, presents a great example of these kinds of approaches, with the first two articles in the issue focusing on a specific film – Satoshi Kon’s Tokyo Godfathers, and on an application of Bruno Latour’s writing on actor-network theory, and the relationship between philosophy and anthropology to Kon’s films.
Inevitably, even within a particular director’s body of work, not every film will most receive the same level of scholarly attention. This may, perhaps, lead to a perception that some films are “over-analyzed”, but it can also imply opportunities to study others that maybe are still relatively under-studied. But to do that to begin with, it’s necessary to get a picture of how exactly scholars have approached a particular director’s films as a whole.
Previously, I examined how scholars have studied the films of Studio Ghibli, finding that as of 2018 and 140 unique “source publications” with scholarly discussions of Ghibli films, the top three most frequently studied films were Princess Mononoke – 34 publications, Spirited Away – 32, and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind – 21. And now, considering that studies of Kon clearly hold a central place anime studies as a whole, I think it is appropriate to present a similar analysis for English-language publications on Satoshi Kon, his works, his career and life, and other related topics.
Purpose: To compile and present specific figures on English-language research on the anime feature films directed by Satoshi Kon, on other similar publications on his work and life.
Scope: These figures are based on materials included in the Annual Bibliography of Anime and Manga Studies – books, chapters in edited essay collections, and articles in peer-reviewed journals and professional magazines. It does not include articles in newspapers or general interest magazines/websites, blog posts/personal essays, theses/dissertations/papers written for class, or conference presentations, unless specifically published in Proceedings.
The materials were identified using keyword searches in library catalogs, major and subject-specific academic databases and Google Scholar, and where possible, direct review of the bibliographies/works cited sections of many previously identified works.
Overall, Satoshi Kon and his works have been discussed in at least 35 English-language scholarly publications, from 1993’s The revenge of the illegal Asians: Aliens, gangsters, and myth in Kon Satoshi’s World Apartment Horror and to the two Mechademia essays that I already mentioned – In the forest of virtuals: The modes of existence in Tokyo Godfathers and The best part about goth sluts is how versatile our aesthetics can be: Latour, Kon, and animating cosplay performativity. It’s also possible that at least some of the authors who have recently published full books on different topics related to anime also discuss Kon in these at least to some degree, as Christopher Bolton does in a “Anime in Drag: Stage Performance and Staged Performance in Millennium Actress” chapter in Interpreting Anime, but these kinds of discussions are much harder to identify and track.
The break-down by film or other work is represented in this chart:
The “more than one/surveys” group includes both titles such as Blurring the screen: The fragmented self, the database, and the narratives of Satoshi Kon where the abstract specifically notes a focus on only particular ones of Kon’s films, and those like Lucid dreams, false awakenings: Figures of the fan in Kon Satoshi that specifically analyze all or most of his work. For the purposes of this study, I did not include in the final numbers Satoshi Kon: The Illusionist, the only full-length English-language survey of Kon’s work that has been published so far.
Of course, this kind of descriptive analysis itself introduces certain questions. What is it specifically about Perfect Blue that has made it attract more attention than any of the other four films? Is the Paranoia Agent television series “unjustly ignored” – or is there really just not that much to say about it in terms of a critical approach? Asking these kinds of questions – and even making it possible to ask them to begin with – is one of the ways to help the field of anime studies continue to develop further.