Professor Places Anime in Japanese Historical Context

Luke Felty, Maroon-News Staff

On Tuesday, January 26, Visiting Assistant Professor of East Asian Studies, Takushi Odagiri, held a discussion regarding the popular anime series Attack on Titan. In his lecture, he conducted an analysis of Attack on Titan from the perspective of a philosophical anthropologist. During his talk, he introduced several philosophical concepts that he applied to his analysis in order to pick apart the ideas highlighted by the series. The lecture took place in Lawrence Hall.

Attack on Titan, a popular Japanese anime, originated as a light novel series and now has upwards of 50 million copies in print. The anime series was released to critical acclaim and commercial success in 2013. The show’s second season is now in production and is scheduled to release in 2016.

Before delving into his analysis, Professor Odagiri established a context for understanding his ideas, beginning with a discussion of the Great East Japan (Tōhoku) Earthquake of 2011. This magnitude 9.0 earthquake caused a tsunami that resulted in the level-7 meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. This natural disaster spurred a massive public health crisis due to the release of harmful radioactive material. Professor Odagiri argued that the popularity of Attack on Titan is closely tied to this historical event, which for him raised serious questions about the continuation of everyday life and human responses to natural disasters. He likened the sudden arrival of titans and inhuman man-eating monsters to the disastrous effects of the earthquake that ravaged Japan’s

northeastern coast in 2011.

Professor Odagiri played clips from Attack on Titan in addition to a PSA first aired in Japan following the 2011 earthquake to illustrate the tie between the anime series and natural disaster. The event, Professor Odagiri argued, forced people to reexamine their everyday lives. To support his idea of Attack on Titan being an allegory for the earthquake and resultant power plant crisis, Professor Odagiri discussed the role of human interactions with inhuman phenomena before elaborating on the possibility that the titans in the series may represent a reversal of power dynamics in humanity’s interactions with nature.

Professor Odagiri continued to build on his ideas by presenting more concepts from the fields of philosophy and anthropology, such as biopolitics, biopraxis and umwelt, or the semiotic world of an organism. Conversation between Professor Odagiri and attendees expanded when the talk opened up for questions.

Students in attendance expressed the possibility of the titan acting as a metaphor for human anxiety about looming natural disasters.

The latter comment definitely ignited curiosity from many lecture attendees, who could easily connect the fear and anxiety after the Tohoku disaster with the destructive and frightening titans depicted in the clips of an episode that Professor Odagiri screened during his lecture. As the talk drew to a close, the atmosphere lightened and fell upon a discussion of the live-action film based on the series that was released in 2015.

This event was part of an ongoing lectures series organized by Director of the Division of the Arts and Humanities David McCabe.