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Breaking Binaries: Transgressing Sexualities in Japanese Animation

As a visual medium that articulates all genres of fiction, from children’s card games to extreme pornography, Japanese animation, better known simply as ‘anime’, is an art form that has gained international recognition among both academics and passionate devotees. The central purpose of this thesis is to closely examine representations of sexuality in mainstream adult anime – in this context, non-pornographic anime primarily aimed at teenagers and adults – and to interrogate the main themes and concepts which are used to engage in discussions of it. Using specific anime titles as literary texts and thereby analysing the symbolism, characterisation, and key scenes being depicted, this thesis investigates the ways in which sexuality is portrayed, and how this portrayal through animation entails radically distinctive forms of representation and narrative. I also employ the current body of anime criticism to illuminate these anime titles, in conjunction with a contextualisation of these sexual representations within a Japanese cultural context. As an aid to analysis, I utilize the aesthetic philosophy of Robin George Collingwood and the gender theories of Judith Butler, whose arguments on the topics of art as artistic expression and on gender as a performative act respectively allow for both an exploration of the aesthetics of anime, as well as a means of navigating the often distinctively complex representations of sex and gender in anime. Both Collingwood and Butler have been chosen for their utility in opening up the highly aestheticized representations of gender and sexuality in anime – a medium well-known for its artistic sensibilities – combined with formalised and, at times, ritualised extremes. These are to be read as closely as possible in terms of the anime-ic art form itself, rather than in terms of psychoanalytic categories or abstract symbolism. The aim of this thesis is not to interpret anime through one or more specific conceptual lenses, as has been done in the past, but instead to critically examine what Collingwood calls the imaginative space, and to make observations based on Butler’s approach to gender and sexuality gender as it appears when no longer defined by biological or binary fact. This thesis is therefore structured around a breakdown of dualistic thought, with the main sections designed to transcend boundaries of dualism, even – or especially when – this requires the viewer to step back from what is considered as being ‘normal’ or ethically acceptable. In studying a form of popular art that has been written about extensively in terms of its history, aesthetic design, and audience consumption, this thesis explores new territory in that it examines a topic which has not previously been the subject of much academic discussion from the perspective of aesthetics that predates post-modern theory and post-World War II psychoanalysis. From harems and sexbots to portrayals of homosexuality and incest, the primary interest of this thesis is to study how representations of sexuality in anime – no matter how unconventional, fantastic, or disturbing – are brought to life on screen as art.
Type of thesis
Gibbs, C. R. S. (2012). Breaking Binaries: Transgressing Sexualities in Japanese Animation (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/6746
University of Waikato
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