The potential of détourned anime is significant. In the true spirit of socialism, the means of détournement is directly available to the proletariat at large. A guide will be published after this introductory article detailing the process. The purpose of this introduction is to provide some explanation and justification for the détournement of anime, its merits and possibilities. It is a worthy cause not only due to the bourgeois nature of anime, but its potential as an educational tool of viewers and the détourners themselves. Détournement serves as a reminder that theory is nothing in itself, that it can realize itself only through historical action. Anime provides a means of reviving this old leftist anti-ideological mode of resistance.
Why détourne anime?
In 1956, by Guy Debord and Gil Wolman, A User’s Guide to Détournement was published. They predicted something rather depressing: “we believe that all known means of expression are going to converge in a general movement of propaganda that must encompass all the perpetually interacting aspects of social reality.” Is this not the reality of bourgeois media today? This was only 15 years after George Orwell famously declared that “Literature has been swamped by propaganda.” A very swift development! Today, thanks to the advent of Neoliberalism, and the increasing ideological sophistication of the media since the times of Edward Bernays and Walter Lippmann, art has become intrinsically bourgeois; it has not just been commodified, propagandized, art is now largely a means to reproduce bourgeois social relations. How is this so? Anime is a key example: it fuels commoditization on an industrial scale. Perhaps the most salient expression of commodity fetishism in Japan is the bishoujo figure. A figure is shaped from PVC plastic; the plastic is altered yet nothing more than plastic it remains. But as soon as that form is commoditized, it becomes something mystical, transcendent, a physical embodiment of an imaginary character. A social thing whose qualities are at the same time perceptible and imperceptible. To a person who has never seen the character before, it is nothing more than shaped plastic; to an otaku, it is much more. The figure would likely not have that significance without anime; it is largely a means to sell a brand and all of its associated merchandise; it is propaganda. Anime can be used to promote just about anything: a light novel, which is both light in content as well as thematic exploration, a visual novel, video game, or manga being just some of the more common examples. The occasional original work may be a means for a director or studio to explore certain themes, styles, or technical approaches, but it too is constrained by the social relations which produce it. Debord and Wolman argued “even ‘modern’ cultural objectives are ultimately reactionary since they depend on ideological formulations of a past society that has prolonged its death agony to the present.” Japan exists in a tortured cultural present where feudal relations were converted into bourgeois relations without the associated revolution, so this argument applies far more acutely to Japan than most other countries. To détourne anime, therefore, is to give it an anti-ideological purpose. It is to take a fetishized commodity and give it a use beyond creating value for the bourgeoisie.
How do we détourne?
First, it must be emphasized détournement is, as Debord and Wolman asserted, a real means of proletarian artistic education: the first step toward a literary communism. They also argued that it was in the realm of cinema that détournement could achieve both its greatest effectiveness and beauty. Anime is well-known for its visuals, but, with some exceptions, less so for its artistic impact. In this light, we can see it is almost a duty of the proletariat to take it upon themselves to restore this impact. As the vast majority of anime serves little more than a crass means to sell commodities, there is accordingly a vast array of material which can be turned to greater uses. It is also a vast array of material which is, not insignificantly, easily obtainable and which is not policed as brutally as mainstream Western media. As the main activity is altering subtitles, the creative scope is also wide, not restricted by spoken dialogue but the animation itself. Some may scoff at the idea, but détournement is not about offering rational replies to bourgeois ideology or policy, or turning propaganda against its producers. It is anti-ideology, it is workers educating themselves and others through the praxis of détournement. Anime, outside of movies, is often comprised of short, 20 minute episodes. Leftist literature is well known for its verbosity, and its density of prose and content. Marrying the two forces a simplification and thus, potentially, an accessibility that was not possible before. It also forces the would-be détourner to think seriously about what they want to impart in such a medium, which in turn forces them to examine their own literature from an angle never before considered. Importantly, this is not an activity restricted to those with extensive educations; it can be done by any proletarian with a soft-subbed series and an idea to express. Going back to simplification, détournement is all about elements being altered as simply as possible, and the culmination of those elements as juxtaposed to their original context. You need not alter every single line or word to achieve the necessary impact. The more you twist the content but retain the context, the more powerful the impact; the only exception is when you push the context forcefully into its opposite. Détournement thrives on metaphor, plagiarism, and subtly. You need not stick to leftist literature; anything can be used. Do not be afraid to paraphrase or edit as necessary. If you can subvert something reactionary, all the better. Ultimately, détournement is truth as present critique; keep it radical.
To conclude, the pursuance of détournement has value to the proletariat. Anime can provide an accessible means of reviving détournement as a mode of resistance; lessons learned through this activity can be carried forth into other mediums. Anime is a medium which is all about visuals, and cinema was identified by Debord and Wolman as the best medium for détournement. Seeing as anime has little to say, we can make it say something, give it an impact it noticeably lacks. The only thing preventing anime from fulfilling this potential is the attitude of the left itself. When détournement has all but disappeared, can we really afford to be so discriminating? In the end, if the goal is to provide an accessible means of détournement to all who wish to participate, there is no better medium.