Science Fiction Studies
#88 = Volume 29, Part 3 = November 2002
The Mecha’s Blind Spot: Patlabor 2 and the Phenomenology of Anime
Abstract. — The giant "labors" (robots) and their human pilots featured in Oshii Mamoru’s "mecha" anime Patlabor 2 (1993) are split figures that reflect technology’s power to magnify or enhance the human while simultaneously threatening dehumanization. In Patlabor 2, these machines enhance perception while simultaneously creating new blind spots for the humans inside. Through his focus on vision (and its blind spots), Oshii’s labors become figures that critique the related technology of mass media and what Vivian Sobchack’s phenomenology of film defines as the electronic (as distinguished from cinematic) phase of visual culture. While some might contend that anime is itself part of this electronic milieu and therefore unable to mount such a critique, I argue that Patlabor 2 makes its point by an oscillation between the electronic and the cinematic.
Space, Body, and Aliens in Japanese Women’s Science Fiction
Abstract. — Women’s sf in Japan contains many depictions and expressions of the body. This paper will focus on three themes in particular in a number of works in order to examine the history of Japanese women’s sf: A) The Utopia of Women: Suzuki Izumi (The World of Women and Women), Hikawa Reiko (Women Warriors Efera and Jiriora), Matsuo Yumi (The Murders of Balloontown), and Arai Motoko (Tigris and Euphrates); B) The Transformation of Women into Monsters: Hagio Moto (Star Red), Yamao Yuko (The City Where Dreams Live), Ohara Mariko (Hybrid Child), Shinoda Setsuko (Gosainthan), and Shôno Yoriko (The Development of my Mother); C) The Alteration of Masculinity: Kurimoto Kaoru (The Guin Saga), Satô Aki (The Travels of Balthazar), and Takano Fumio (Vaslaf).
Horror and Machines in Prewar Japan: The Mechanical Uncanny in Yumeno Kyûsaku’s Dogura magura
Abstract. — The popular genre known as "irregular detective fiction" (henkaku tantei shôsetsu), the forerunner of Japanese science fiction, flourished in Japan during the 1920s and the 1930s. Yumeno Kyusaku’s Dogura magura (1935) is a representative work of this group of texts and is perceived as the culmination of the author’s literary career. For Yumeno, the mode of horror was an essential ingredient for his detective fiction, and in Dogura magura, this horror arises from what I refer to as "the mechanical uncanny"—the blurring of the line between human and machine resulting from the "mechanization" of human cognition.
When the Machines Stop: Fantasy, Reality, and Terminal Identity in Neon Genesis Evangelion and Serial Experiments Lain
Abstract. — This article examines two major works in recent Japanese anime, the science-fiction series Neon Genesis Evangelion (1997) and Serial Experiments Lain (1999) in terms of their exploration of the human subject vis-à-vis an apocalyptic vision of technology and the real at the end of the twentieth century. While a number of popular anime have dealt with this subject since the 1970s, Evangelion and Lain are characterized by a unique approach: a concern with what happens to human identity when the machines stop—i.e., is there still subjectivity outside of technology? Evangelion answers the question in ambiguous fashion, highlighting the artifice inherent in animation itself to suggest a world of infinite possibilities, where the "real" is simply what the imagination creates. Lain seems more pessimistic, giving its protagonist no choice but to erase herself from reality in order to save it. While they are both groundbreaking works, they are also analyzed in relation to key issues in contemporary Japanese culture, in particular its own increasingly problematic relationship with the real.
Sex and the Single Cyborg: Japanese Popular Culture Experiments in Subjectivity
Abstract. — This paper examines two aspects of subjectivity—sexuality and singularity—that are considered fundamental to a modernist notion of the person. These aspects of subjectivity are under siege as new technologies of reproduction challenge our understanding of sexed bodies and as, simultaneously, a postmodern world-view brings forward the multiplicity of sexual subject positions and embodied hybridity that modernist thinking sought to control or dismiss. In this time of conceptual crisis regarding subjectivity and embodiment, the popular culture media of many advanced countries have produced increasing numbers of narratives about cyborgs, those embodied amalgams of the organic and the machinic. I begin by explaining why the concepts "sexuality" and "singularity" are so important in this context, and why Japanese popular culture is a particularly fruitful ground for exploration of cyborg subjectivities. Then I discuss two recent anime narratives—Shinseiki Evangelion (1995-96, Neon Genesis Evangelion) and Kôkaku kidôtai (1995, Ghost in the Shell)—in terms of their depictions of specific aspects of sexuality and as the nexus of contemporary fears or desires regarding subjectivity that is being negotiated through those depictions. I conclude with observations about what these narratives reveal about new, postmodern conceptions of subjectivity.
Has the Empire Sunk Yet?—The Pacific in Japanese Science Fiction
Abstract. — A significant number of postwar Japanese sf works are set on or under the sea. This topos always raises issues of national identity and territory in the context of technical innovation—also favorite themes of nationalistic Japanese adventure novels around the turn of the twentieth century. But the works that took up the ocean-topos in the three decades following the end of the Pacific War redefined it for use in an age that rejected war and colonialism. The Pacific ocean proved in many cases to be a fruitful means of speculating about the contradictions of postwar Japanese identity. This essay discusses four groups of works that appeared between 1947 and 1973: the lost world fantasies of Kayama Shigeru’s "Orang Pendek" series; two films by director Honda Ishirô, Godzilla (1954) and Atragon (1963); Abe Kôbô’s Inter Ice Age 4 (1959), the first Japanese sf novel; and Komatsu Sakyô’s best-selling novel Japan Sinks.
"Collective Reason": A Proposal
Abstract. — This essay posits the defining feature of science fiction as the investigation of what the author provisionally calls "human collective reason." Encompassing religions, ideologies, and sciences, collective reason is the internal logic of a time and culture, a set of beliefs and practices that have their origin in necessity but that eventually develop autonomously, beyond individual need, understanding, and control. Shibano suggests that the coming computer society will bring about the next evolutionary change in collective reason, rendering our present understanding obsolete. What is needed to cope with this changing reality is a new posthumanist perspective—a flexible understanding that avoids the pitfalls of both absolutism and relativism. Among the people who best embody that perspective are readers of science fiction. (CB)
A Soft Time Machine : From Translation to Transfiguration
Abstract. — Japanese culture inspired English-speaking cyberpunk writers, but the transaction was not a one-way street. For cyberpunk fiction also provided the Japanese with a chance to reinvestigate their own cyborgian identity. I clarify the interactions and negotiations, over four decades, between contemporary Anglo-American and Japanese sf, whether print or multimedia. A major focus of my discussion is Aramaki Yoshio’s New Wave short story "Soft Clocks" (1968-72), which foregrounds the contrast between the imperialist gluttony of "Dali of Mars" and the anorexia of his granddaughter Vivi. In the heyday of the cyberpunk movement, this text was translated by Kazuko Behrens and Lewis Shiner for the January-February 1989 issue of Interzone. While Aramaki in his own way digested and cannibalized outer space-oriented American sf of the 1950s, Lewis Shiner in turn digested and softly transfigured "Soft Clocks" for a later generation and another culture. This kind of "soft translation" or transaction between cultures is becoming more and more significant for the future of global sf.
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