UwUB: Anime class teaches visual appreciation
The Fantastical World of Japanese Anime, AS347, highlights the artform
Students filed into Fillmore 170 Wednesday afternoon in the anthropology department’s lecture hall.
But the students aren’t being quizzed on dinosaur bones or ancient civilizations.
They’re discussing the color theory and character designs in Studio Ghibli’s “Spirited Away.”
The Fantastical World of Japanese Anime, a three-credit Asian Studies course, explores the cultural significance of Japanese animation. The class meets once a week for roughly three hours to stream the medium and discuss the artistry and subculture in relation to Japanese history. The course, which studies work by Studio Ghibli, Makoto Shinkai and Sayo Yamamoto, among others, has remained one of the more popular for undergraduates for over five years, yielding a waitlist every semester.
Douglas Connard, a junior graphic design major, was able to take the course because it qualifies as a UB pathway.
“I’ve seen the typical, mainstream shows like ‘Naruto’ and ‘Bleach.’ When I saw that it was being offered as a pathway, I was very interested in learning about the art form,” Connard said. “I definitely never expected a course like this to be offered at UB, let alone have this many students enrolled.”
Professor Amanda Kennell has been teaching the course for three semesters. She originally came to UB because of her expertise in Japanese anime in order to continue offering the course each semester. Since the course combines visual studies and Asian studies, very few faculty members are qualified to teach the course. The class has a 120-person capacity and currently has 119 students enrolled.
Kennell, who received her Ph.D. in East Asian Language and Culture, discovered her love for the medium through borrowing VCRs from a friend in high school.
“[Japanese anime] was interesting in a general way, but compared to the American TV shows I had been watching at the time –– whose goal was to be renewed season after season, forever –– I found that these Japanese TV shows’ narratives were organized in a more literary way,” Kennell said. “There was a starting point and a stopping point with a classic climatic graph in the middle. That was very attractive to me because I was a big reader.”
Japanese anime has been gaining international acclaim within the last 40 years, surpassing the technology industry to become Japan’s largest export. Japan’s anime revenue recorded its highest sales record in 2017 at $19 billion with almost half of the revenue coming from overseas exportation, according to The Association of Japanese Animation.
The highest-profiting shows within the market, like “Dragon Ball Z” and “Pokémon,” have embedded themselves in popular Western culture. Merchandise is available across the retail markets on licensed t-shirts and collectables and has moved out of typical pop-culture focused shops like Hot Topic and into traditional department store settings.
The course, which introduces students to the rising subculture and trains students to critically analyze anime, is similar to media-focused courses within the department of media studies.
Kennell hopes to coordinate with DMS in order to qualify the class as an elective and broaden the accessibility to interested students.
“A lot of times for students enrolled in this class, this is the only class they take where they’re analyzing anything visually and I feel like that’s a particularly important skill these days,” said Kennell. “I am interested in reaching the students who haven’t had the opportunity to address the study of visuals in a visual world.”
Samual Coniglio, a junior Asian studies major, concentrated his major to focus on Japan. He remembers his excitement when he enrolled in the course.
“This class was something I was incredibly interested in, and needed for my major, so I immediately signed up,” Coniglio said. “I knew [Kennell’s] expertise was in Japan and its culture, so I knew it would be wise to learn from someone who is passionate and knowledgeable about what I wanted to learn.”
Kennell said she plans to focus on the industrial background of anime, which includes art style and cultural impact. From comparing production quality, discussing the significance of this year’s Kyoto Animation Studio fire and the cultural implications of Western live-action adaptations, students will have to keep up with the fast-paced lesson plan.
“Toward the end of the semester I try to open out [my lesson plans] because I don’t want students to think of anime as being a separate form of art that has no relation to any other art form. It’s very much tied to all these other media in Japan, like manga, and it’s also a world-wide industry,” Kennell said.
“[Historically,] I’ve been really pleased with how students show up and really take these works of art seriously because they’re seeing some of the best animation in the world.”
Samantha Vargas is the senior features editor and can be reached at Samantha.Vargas@UBSpectrum.com and on Twitter @SamMarieVargas.