Tuesday, April 21, 2015

[DC009] Azuma vs. Kaiyodo: Technology, Capital, and Toys

Previous: [DC008] A History of Kaiyodo

                In weighing the validity of Azuma's Era divisions against Kaiyodo's history, a number of apparent conflicts arise. 

                For example, Azuma's Era of Fiction, in which Grand Narratives supposedly lost weight, begins in 1970, a time at which Miyawaki Osamu was still very much concerned with social issues of art, education, and social responsibility. His conflicts with art critics over "art plastic" as a legitimate form of art shows a concern with overarching social narratives of aesthetic value. Miyawaki Osamu was not satisfied until "art plastic" was accepted as legitimate by those he saw as social authorities; in this case, prominent Osaka businessmen and art connoisseurs. 

                We could also look at the year 1995, the beginning of the Era of Animalization in Japan. Kaiyodo showed no sign of moving toward Database Consumption, which Azuma claims is the main characteristic of this period, until the 2006 release of the Revoltech series.

                How can we account for these discrepancies between Azuma's timeline and Kaiyodo's history? Should we move the beginning of the Era of Fiction forward to 1980 and the rise of garage kits, or the beginning of the Era of Animalization forward to 2006?

                I think there are two main ways to explain the discrepancies between Azuma's periodization and Kaiyodo's history. First, Azuma does not base his periodization around the toy industry, but rather around major historical events and the release of influential anime. For example, the Era of Fiction begins in the 1970s due to the 1970 Red Army Incident, the 1974 broadcast of Space Battleship Yamato and the 1979 broadcast of Gundam. The Era of Animalization begins in 1995 for Japan due to the Aum Shinrikyo terrorist attacks and the broadcast of the final episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion.

                But these social changes and developments in the anime industry had surprisingly little impact on the hobby industry. No matter the level of technical detail Gundams had, no matter how detailed the fictional history of its alternate timeline, Miyawaki Shūichi laments the poor level of detail in Japanese toys up to the advent of garage kits. While the low price of printing allowed dōjinshi artists to reinterpret the fictional histories of Gundam or Captain Tsubasa according to their own interests, the high cost of casting metal forms prevented modelers from doing the same.

                So no matter what social changes or changes in consumer preference took place, the hobby industry lagged behind the anime industry due to technical and financial limitations. As a counterexample, the Bikkuriman chocolates, released in 1977, were able to successfully attract the attention of Second Generation otaku due to the much lower relative cost of producing chocolate and collectable cards.

                Second, if we look at the birth dates of Azuma's Generations of otaku in comparison to the personal histories of Miyawaki Osamu and Shūichi, we get a much closer fit. Miyawaki Osamu was born in 1928, well within the period of Modernity. It should not be surprising that he continued to have an interest in social Grand Narratives well after 1970. While the Red Army Incident in Tokyo was naturally a national news item and Space Battleship Yamato was nationally broadcast, it should not be altogether surprising that an Osaka-based small businessman with a young child to care for did not consider them major life events.

                1970s anime, however, did have a major impact on Miyawaki Shūichi, a First-Generation otaku born in 1957. Azuma gives 1960 as the average year of birth of First-Generation otaku, and indeed Miyawaki Shūichi describes himself as being up to four years older than his fellow modelers (Miyawaki Shūichi 90). His concerns over the lack of detail in officially produced merchandise is very much in line with an Era of Fiction otaku.

                Now, Azuma does not cover this in Otaku since it was published in 2001, but I think it is important to remember that there is now a fourth generation of otaku, born around 1995, who have only ever known the Database Consumption model. These Fourth-Generation otaku would have been around ten years old when the first Revoltech was released and well into their teens in 2010 when Revoltech Woody was released.

                The toy industry once again lagged around ten years behind social changes and the anime industry, just as garage kits came a full ten years after the Red Army Incident. Garage Kits and Revoltechs were not agents of change, but rather emerged in response to social change through technological innovation. While the toy industry is not an indicator of recent social change, it may perhaps be an indicator of more long-term social changes. Even in 1970, the future of Kaiyodo did not lie with Miyawaki Osamu's "art plastic," artistic vehicles of real-world cultural heritage, but with Miyawaki Shūichi's obsession with the fictional technical details of Ultraman and Godzilla.

                For a more detailed look at how Database Consumption applies to the Revoltech line in particular, let’s take a look at Sci-Fi Revoltech Series No. 010 Woody.

Next: [DC010] Pixar's Woody: Normativity in Toy Story

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