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Review of The Anime Ecology

By Zack Shaw

LaMarre, Thomas. The Anime Ecology: A Genealogy of Television, Animation, and Game Media. University of Minnesota Press, 2018.

Television’s evolution from a few broadcast stations to a network that is interconnected with other aspects of life evidences how we care about the efficiency with which we receive modern media. “Television” no longer refers specifically to the television set and one-to-many broadcast structures alone; instead we consider various kinds of media platforms like Netflix, on-demand streaming, YouTube, Twitch, and others as forms of television. We now have access to television through mobile device applications, desktop computers and laptops, videogame consoles, and even wearable tech like smart watches. New media critics and scholars alike are quick to cite the social and medical concerns of television’s ubiquitous integration with society (Reeves and Thorson, Kubey and Csikszentmihalyi, McIlwraith and Jacobvitz); parents everywhere continue to urge their children away from excessive media consumption in the form of videogames or television because “it will hurt your eyes,” echoing a larger societal fear of what changes in media ecologies and human consumption can do to personal health.

It is within this cultural conversation about new media ecologies and neurological ramifications that Thomas LaMarre’s The Anime Ecology: A Genealogy of Television, Animation, and Game Media resonates, interrogating our relationship with television and animated media. He observes our current “Telecommunicational drive towards immediacy, simultaneity, and synchronicity,” without attacking media infrastructures; his book analyzes them and often defends their ontology, citing the value of examining the various power dynamics in animation ecologies (4). I expect to see LaMarre’s book emerge in new media and media ecology classrooms in higher academia, as it effectively counters many fearmongering narratives surrounding media use while calling attention to critical events in animated history, namely the Pokémon Shock incident.

Divided into three sections, “The Screen-Brain Apparatus,” “A Little Social Media History of Television,” and “Infrastructure Complexes,” The Anime Ecology speaks to several different branches of scholarship surrounding media. “The Screen-Brain Apparatus” section calls upon the connections between human health, social norms, and media consumption to discuss neurology and the notion of blinking. In “A Little Social Media History of Television,” LaMarre relates several media histories, including Japanese television in the 50s and 60s, new media in Japan throughout the 90s and its dissemination to the rest of the world, and scholarship about media mix and media genealogy. The “Infrastructure Complexes” section entails conversations about media and broadcast within the home, portable media, and videogames as they have become networked in the twenty-first century. As each section and chapter are interrelated, and as the later chapters depend upon a readerly knowledge of the initial ones, it becomes difficult for readers to pick up specific chapters and read them in isolation. Yet, perhaps this chapter connectivity, or ecology, allows for a reflective moment for readers; such infrastructure is often a metatextual function of longer scholarship principally focused on ecologies.

In his first section, his chapter on neurosciences arises naturally from his historical relation of the Pokémon Shock incident and the resulting seizures for audience members. His neuroscientific aims are motivated by his argument that critics of modern media consumption lack nuance and novelty, and that television can be beneficial in appropriate doses (55). He does not, however, have a perfect answer to statistical attacks on television consumption, instead invoking Delueze to argue for consumers exercising greater self-control and management (59). LaMarre ultimately reaches a bit far in the chapter, discussing black holes and space time singularities, though even such discussions become relevant in his ecology. He writes, “The political middle ground is already appearing in the screen-brain apparatus, with its incitement for work on self and care for self through media. With and through this apparatus, a brainstorm gathers, vortexlike, around a singularity, spinning elements into new trajectories” (75). Perhaps his wackiest, yet most innovative intervention in media ecologies occurs during his discussion of the “stuff called blink.” His observation about the lack of blinking in anime (in this case Pokémon) and argument that audiences become reluctant to blink brilliantly marries his neurological motivations with his earlier conversation about media consumption (79). What he calls “blinky stuff,” or the networked relationship between the screen, brain, and animation, encourages his readers to consider bodily reactions to media intake. His conversation about realist tradition in chapter four feels relevant in connection to these visual networks and offers a reason why animation scholarship hasn’t yet become significant in film theory dialogue using Bazan’s ontology. He states that “The psychoanalytic and realist models have tended to rule out the study of animation and television, or at the very least to make it exceedingly difficult. This is because television and animation entail the wrong kind of temporal mediation: animation is considered too removed from an indexical relation to reality, while television is too much in the present” (100). LaMarre ultimately becomes uninterested in dwelling on either the psychoanalytical or realist approaches, instead grounding his observations about his anime ecology in neurology.

Though LaMarre’s first section effectively links animated ecologies and more traditional film and media theory, his most innovative and resounding moments are within the second section, analyzing sociality, the modern condition of media and the screen, and what he calls “platformality.” While chapters five, six, and seven within “A Little Social Media History of Television” relate a series of histories that are certainly valuable, chapters eight and nine expertly delve into the sociality of media mix and the different technologies that have altered our relationship to media. He defines the culturally relevant notion of the otaku as the multimedia consumer “who allegedly prefers isolation within his or her media world” (178) and discusses the sociality associated with performing isolated consumption of media. He effectively articulates the social norms involved with media consumption:

“Learning and practicing a skill makes for a genuine encounter with reality, with external objects, via affordances. In contrast, media—ads, e-mail, television shows, websites, and so forth—are construed as internal objects, which cut off all relation to the external world, leaving you locked inside the world in your head… As a consequence, it becomes impossible to think of media in terms of affordances, skills, or a structuring of attention—that is as an attention ecology. Media are just the modern condition, nothing more” (185).

Working with Foucault, Baudrillard, Latour, and Plato’s cave, LaMarre claims that television media serves as a form of disciplinary power rather than sovereign power, and discusses parasocial entities on the screen (200). He writes that “The parasocial entity—the character or persona from the TV screen—is construed as a blockage, as a wall, which encloses the subject in a nonreal world, once again Plato’s cave” (192). Making the connection between parasocial entities on screen and the antisocial societal view of media consumption, LaMarre resoundingly claims that “Calls for reality serve to feed reality into animation, not into the real world. This is how animation becomes characterized in terms of a production of self-contained artificial worlds or simulations, which are in turn easily characterized as antisocial, or at best as minimally social enclosures” (195). It is precisely this antisociality that LaMarre breaks down over the course of The Anime Ecology, claiming that television does not hinder sociality like these social perspectives suggest but that it rather encourages people to socialize with virtual others; the realist, psychoanalytical, and social critical perspectives become unimportant claims to reality in the wake of neurology and perception. He smartly moves towards the parasocial companion, stemming from notions of the digital cyborg (evidenced by Ghost in the Shell). A Pokémon Go handheld “intimate parasocial companion,” he argues, feels less like a cyborg and more like a parasocial other “unburdened by wires and infrastructures” (225).

Chapter ten smartly introduces his “Infrastructure Complexes” section by relating addiction to his earlier notion of blinking and media as a substance. He writes,

“The Pokémon Incident effectively placed television animation high on the list of dangerous media substances, that is, substances whose intoxicating effects might cross the threshold into full toxicity. The fuzzy relation between cause and effect also allowed the incident to cross easily into the general discourses on media addiction, which are fuzzier still, precisely because the criteria for safety and toxicity remain wide open to interpretation” (231).

While his re-articulation of the divergent broadcast structures (one-to-many and point-to-point) begins to feel redundant by this point, his observation that the rhetoric that many use to talk about media has become the same rhetoric that people use to talk about intoxication and addiction is an astute one. Chapters twelve and thirteen entice readers to consider how videogames, virtual reality, and augmented reality play a role within the anime ecology; his discussion of the playable avatar effectively brings him back to notions of self-work, self-production, and self-animation that resonate with his earlier assertions about capitalist and neoliberal self-care (310).

LaMarre’s work in politicizing these various media ecology conversations in his conclusion brings us back to an important consideration of rhetoric and capitalism. Though he devotes much of his energy throughout to defending modern media interconnectivity, his work ultimately allows for different kinds of scholars who are critical of media ecologies or fascinated by them to participate in the conversation. In an age where devices and consoles individually serve multiple media roles and are ubiquitously networked to form a mesh of techno-human assemblages, LaMarre’s work in The Anime Ecology serves as a crucial and relevant additive to scholarly media conversations.

Works Cited

LaMarre, Thomas. The Anime Ecology: A Genealogy of Television, Animation, and Game Media. University of Minnesota Press, 2018.

McIlwraith, Robert, Robin Smith Jacobvitz, and et al. “Television Addiction.” The American Behavioral Scientist 35.2 (1991): 104. ProQuest. Web. 10 Dec. 2018.

Robert Kubey, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. “Television Addiction Is No Mere Metaphor.” Scientific American, vol. 286, no. 2, 2002, pp. 74–80.

Reeves, Byron, and Esther Thorson. “Watching Television: Experiments on the Viewing Process.” Communication Research, vol. 13, no. 3, July 1986, pp. 343–361, doi:10.1177/009365086013003004.

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