Only Yesterday and the Transnational Power of Anime
Though the medium of animation has existed since at least the 1900s, scholarship in the field of animation has been largely neglected in favour of the academic study of live-action films. This trend in film academia has gravely overlooked the cultural importance of animation, in particular mainstream animated television shows and feature-length films, as a medium that has historically been consumed voraciously by child and family audiences. Anime, or Japanese animation, has drastically increased in popularity in North America, spurring a wave of English-language subtitled and voice-over versions of anime television shows and films, with list of titles that are available to English viewers growing rapidly since the 1990s. Where the works of Walt Disney Studios have traditionally been the most popular and well-known in North America, Studio Ghibli takes that role in Japan as a critically acclaimed animation studio. A fundamental difference between the work of these two studios is the role of gender in the heroines that are depicted. Anime as a Japanese cultural export has become a transnational media form, in which international and particularly North American viewers have found value. This dissertation argues that Disney’s distribution of Studio Ghibli titles in North America has played a major role in anime gaining a place in the Western media landscape, therefore increasing the popularity and demand for anime being available to English-speaking audiences. It goes on to argue that there is a shift in the attitude from North American audiences towards and expectations for female characters in cinema, that can be linked to the popularity and cultural recognition of anime, and Studio Ghibli films in particular which are famous for their strong female characters. These points are evidenced by the retroactive English localization of Studio Ghibli’s 1991 film Only Yesterday (Isao Takahata dir. 1991), which only received its first English release in 2016. By exploring the ways in which anime is localized for Western audiences, this dissertation illuminates the transnational nature and potential of anime as it is interpreted by international audiences, as it contributes to the evolving role of female characters in both animated and live-action film.
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