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Japanese animation has been given fulsome academic commentary in recent years. However, there is arguably a need for a more philosophically consistent and theoretically integrated engagement. While this book covers the key thinkers of contemporary aesthetic theory, it aims to reground reflection on anime within the aesthetics of R.G. Collingwood.




Japanese animation has been more broadly recognised and given fulsome academic commentary over the last two decades. However, there is arguably a need for a more philosophically consistent and theoretically integrated engagement with animation in terms of aesthetic philosophy.1 Of course, there are some notable exceptions which, as is acknowledged in more detail in the ensuing chapters, are certainly important to return to. Thomas Lamarre’s work, for example, has set an important agenda for discussing significant issues pertaining to animation as a medium in general as well as anime in particular. He has developed a distinctive theory of the composition of visual space and movement in Japanese cinematic animation works through his analysis of the “multiplanar image”, itself also rooted to a significant extent in an acknowledgement of the craft’s debt to 2D graphic imaging and cel animation (Lamarre, 2009: 3–44). In addition to Lamarre, Paul Wells has made an invaluable contribution to the analysis of animation in a more general sense and is accordingly referred to at a number of junctures. And of course there are key thinkers of contemporary aesthetic theory often invoked in relation to contemporary media, — Deleuze, Ranciere, Massumi, Shaviro and Žižek, to name the most obvious figures — who will also be discussed as appropriate.2

Alistair D. Swale

1. R. G. Collingwood and a “Philosophical Methodology” of Aesthetics

R. G. Collingwood’s The Principles of Art has enjoyed something of a resurgence in interest thanks to the endeavours of scholars such as Aaron Ridley who have proposed a reading that refutes the charge of ontological Idealism as articulated by Richard Wollheim and engages with the dimensions of Collingwood’s aesthetic philosophy that deal with expression and imagination. David Davies has endorsed Ridley’s argument and taken this “revisionism” one step further by proposing a “performative” interpretation of Collingwood’s theory of art based on Collingwood’s conception of the work of art as an activity rather than the product of an activity.1 Nevertheless, he also highlights a series of puzzles that Collingwood cannot fail but generate when he attempts to reconcile the conception of art as activity with the art/craft distinction. He concludes by suggesting that, despite these ambiguities, it is Collingwood’s novel conception of art as a “language” that enables us to better understand the structure of The Principles of Art and Collingwood’s significance as a commentator on the role of imagination in the experience of art.

Alistair D. Swale

2. Anime as Craft

Anime provokes a number of fundamental questions with regard to technique. The overwhelming majority of Japanese-based productions maintain an attachment to 2D or hand-drawn character design within a backdrop and texturing that is aided by 3D design and digital imaging. This is a markedly distinct trajectory from North American production houses such as Pixar which have opted for an entirely immersive adoption of 3D design (Elsaesser and Hagener, 2010: 180–181). Clearly, animation in general is becoming more deeply integrated with what we might describe as the “cinematic vision”, but the question that arises here is whether these present two distinct instances of digital design in cinema or two instances of practice on a continuum of interface between cinematic imaging and animation as a separate art. Collingwood’s characterization of “art proper” suggests that art always transcends technique and can be embedded in a highly fluid inter-relation amongst potentially several disparate media simultaneously. The answer that seems unavoidable, then, is that the aforementioned seemingly divergent approaches to the moving image are indeed part of a continuum of practice.

Alistair D. Swale

3. Anime as Representation

As we have attempted to demonstrate in the previous chapter, the avenue by which we understand anime as art is, perhaps somewhat counter-intuitively, not through craft, or even technique. Naturally, there has been no attempt to deny that technical, or technological, elements in the creative process will have some capacity to constrain or shape artistic expression. But so far as “art proper” itself is concerned, the focus of our consideration should be the imaginative dimension of both the creative process and the viewers’ engagement, and it is by keeping the focus on this that we avoid mistaking the essence of the art in the externalities of the process, rather than where it properly resides. As Collingwood himself acknowledges at the end of the chapter on art and craft, it is the desire to ground aesthetics with the “real” or the “tangible” that drives the attention to these quantifiable and identifiable elements in creative practice, but we would do well to avoid reifying this dimension (Collingwood, 1938: 40–41).

Alistair D. Swale

4. Anime as Amusement

Though not explicitly articulated as “amusement” within animation, Thomas Lamarre’s discussion of the traditional propensity of animation to be associated with a form of comedic “play” fits well with anime’s inherent tendency to evoke tropes of visual amusement (Lamarre, 2006: 161 – 163). Drawing on some of the seminal commentary on animation from Paul Wells, we can suggest that this proclivity arguably stems from the pure “novelty” of animated figures — shapes and forms that metamorphosize and defy the conventions of mass and velocity on a routine basis (for a particularly detailed discussion of this see for example Wells, 2009: 69 – 76). As discussed earlier, Lamarre is correct to identify the infusion of 3D design in anime production as transforming the potential of this hybrid “cinema anime” to in fact subvert and subsume cinema as we know it, presenting on occasion works that are worthy of association with the epitome of tragic expression as opposed to the comedic.

Alistair D. Swale

5. Anime as Magic

“Magic” for Collingwood takes on a special meaning and needs to be understood as a correlate to amusement which was treated in the previous chapter. While amusement is the relatively benighted and problematic mode of artistic expression that comes in for some extended analysis in relation to “pathological” instances of pseudo-art and cultural malaise, magic enjoys a status that places it closer to the mode of expression and experience that approximates the character of art proper, while not fulfilling the definition quite as it ought (Collingwood, 1938: 68–69). As with amusement, magic is a craft, a technique which can be honed down and employed to great effect — but Collingwood continues to insist that an artist’s capacity to produce it is not the same as being an artist per se. Some definitions and examples help to clarify why this might be the case.

Alistair D. Swale

6. Anime as Art: Digital Cinema and the Anime Aesthetic

In the introduction we considered the anime aesthetic more broadly in the context of current discussions of “digital cinema”. Thomas Elsaesser and Malte Hagener’s Film Theory: An Introduction Through the Sense s was briefly discussed as having one of the most accessible overviews of the key symptomatic features of a post-photographic, or “post-cinematic” experience of the moving image. They highlight the inherent paradox within the very term “digital cinema” and explore the significance of another expression that has now become accepted within the language of contemporary film studies, but warrants greater contemplation for its ineffability nonetheless: “virtual reality”. Through a discussion of several film texts (both conventional cinema texts with extensive digital design elements and 3D cinematic animations from Pixar) they persuasively illustrate how the infusion of digital imaging has led to the transformation of the screen from “window” to “portal”. Furthermore, they highlight the transformation of narrative conventions, character physiology and persona, along with the increasingly innovative exploration of space and time that seem to have become increasingly de rigeur features of the new media form (Elsaesser and Hagener, 2010: 170–185).

Alistair D. Swale


At the conclusion of a book it is to be expected that the questions posed at the outset have been roundly addressed and all the outstanding issues resolved. In certain respects it is hoped that at least some degree of clarity has been achieved with regard to two objectives that were outlined at the beginning: on one level we have arrived at an illustration of what could be achieved if we attempted to thoroughly review anime cinema on the basis of a particular kind of aesthetic philosophy. Considerable space has been devoted to developing an exposition of Collingwood’s theory of art, and despite some perhaps seemingly “obsolete” observations and examples being raised directly from Collingwood’s own analysis, it is hopefully clear that Collingwood, for all of his at times arcane and even dogmatic polemics, provides a framework that works well for animation. It is perhaps even possible to suggest that in certain regards he was ahead of his time.

Alistair D. Swale


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