recuperate, replug, short-circuit


As you may know, I often think of anime characters as being played by shadowy actors.  The last time I discussed this was in a post called Metapher und Kritik (practical).  I didn’t realize until very recently that Osamu Tezuka, who pioneered just about everything under the illustrated sun, was thinking along these lines decades ago.

I had heard of his Star System, and how he liked to reuse characters and such, but I didn’t know how far he had taken the metaphor.  Let me quote from Susanne Phillipps in the 2008 book Japanese Virtual Culture: Explorations in the World of Manga and Anime:

“An unpublished manuscript from Tezuka’s, on exhibit at the Tezuka Memorial Museum (Tezuka Kinenkan) in Takarazuka, hints that he actually imagined his characters to be actors that he had hired (Tezuka Productions 1994).  He had drawn a lineup of their faces, provided a short description of them, a curriculum vitae of their acting careers (who worked when for which studio), and a salary chart of the fees they should receive for appearing in the manga.  Since his readers understand that Tezuka’s manga are ‘cinematic’, most Japanese critics rarely mention this idiosyncratic way in which Tezuka conceived his characters as real actors” (page 78).

Wow.  I like the use of the word “cinematic” here.  The perfect example is Akira Kurosawa and his real-life “Star System”, including Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura.  What are the implications of this cinematic view of manga and anime?  I imagine that Tezuka would take care not to exploit his actors by putting them in roles they wouldn’t feel comfortable with.  This respect should be apparent somehow.  Also, a dynamic should develop across different works, an extra-cinematic dynamic that only the long-time fan would appreciate.  I don’t know Tezuka’s work at all so I can’t say, but I know that in Kurosawa all of these factors are present.


If you’re an Eva fan, as I am, your first reaction to the pic below might be “What the hell is going on here?!”

The cosplayer doesn’t capture the Rei Ayanami vibe at all (I could put up more pics but what’s the use..), the pose is of course pure invention, the fact that this is an officially-sanctioned photoshoot (Gekkan Eva 5th magazine) takes away even the rogue charm of amateur cosplaying, and if the hall of mirrors motif is supposed to be a shout-out to Ayanami’s multiple selves and the Room of Gaf, well, that’s so clumsy as to be criminal…

I look at this and think: Wow, this is just exploitation plain and simple: men (producers, consumers) exploiting the young woman in the picture (=Miu Nakamura) and exploiting the anime character (=Rei Ayanami).  Of course, you could oppose this impression with ease.  First off, Miu is getting paid for this.  And if you get paid then it’s not exploitation, right?  Right?!  And Rei isn’t even a real human being, so how could she be exploited??  So the two charges of exploitation fall to the ground: the first one because the act is nonexistent, the second one because the victim is nonexistent.

Or you could take a more perverse view and say that Rei and Miu are rather similar, because, as far we are concerned, they are both merely objects for our consumption.  Miu has been modeling for seven years at least, and she’s barely 20.  Rei was born to be exploited.  That’s why she’s in our world in the first place.  Heck, if you’ve seen Neon Genesis Evangelion then you can see how her exploitation is replicated within the show itself.  There’s a way (a creepy way) in which Rei and Miu are similar, and so for Miu to put on a plugsuit and cosplay Rei is an admission of the real state of things, of the truth of her public life.  Can Truth be in the service of exploitation??

I don’t buy into that last paragraph at all.  Maybe I’m going against common sense, but common sense might just turn out to be a bunch of nonsense in the service of a higher power.  And by that I don’t mean god, but the Machine.


Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari gave a lot of thought to the capitalist system and Marx’s failed prediction of its collapse.  They figured that capitalism has immense recuperative power based on adaptability.  Here’s a good meaty quote from Deleuze:

“When capitalism can no longer deny that the proletariat is a class, when it comes to recognize a type of class bipolarity, under the influence of workers’ struggles in the 19th century, and under the influence of the revolution, this moment is extraordinarily ambiguous, for it is an important moment in the revolutionary struggle, but it is also an essential moment in capitalist recuperation: I make you one more axiom, I make you axioms for the working class and for the union power [puissance] that represents them, and the capitalist machine grinds its gears and starts up again, it has sealed the breach. In other words, all the bodies of a society are essential: to prevent the flowing over society, over its back, over its body, of flows that it cannot code and to which it cannot assign a territoriality.

Need, scarcity, famine, a society can code these, what it cannot code, is when this thing appears, when it says to itself: what is up with these guys? So, in a first phase, the repressive apparatus puts itself into motion, if we can’t code it, we will try to annihilate it. In a second phase, we try to find new axioms which allow it to be recoded for better or worse.” [here]

The labor union and the welfare system are two examples of this capitalist recuperation.  “Recuperate” comes from the Latin “re + capere”, to seize again, to retake.  Try to escape the machine and it’ll just grab you and plug you back in again.  There’s no escape.  A stark example is the work of Deleuze and Guattari itself, which is now included in the reading lists of armed forces in various countries around the world.  This is no joke: the Israeli military has been using Deleuzian principles to suppress Palestinian resistance.  Read about it [here].  It starts to make sense to me that Deleuze would throw himself out of a window to his death.  Now that’s a joke, and a bad one, but you get what I’m driving at.

The media world is full of these recuperations.  When people began to complain about the lack of diversity in advertising etc. what happened?  Benetton happened.  The Italian conglomerate began to advertise models of all colors.  “Isn’t that what the fuss was all about?  Here you go!”  And of course Benetton was terribly crass about its recuperation of minorities and suffered a lot of criticism (its clashes with native people in Argentina didn’t help).  But many companies are far more resourceful and discrete.  You might laugh at a brutal multinational that donates a fraction of its profits to charity, you might say it’s obvious to everyone what they’re doing, but the fact is these measures do work well enough, we keep buying their products and no one is burning their stores down, and that’s all that matters in the end.

Look at the career of Miu Nakamura.  She has a problematic family, apparently with criminal connections.  At the end of 2007 it was announced she was in the hospital for some undisclosed reason.  This was a cover story.  It seems she had been kidnapped by members of her family, subsequently escaped and went into hiding.  This saga lasted several months.

I imagine Miu could have become a poster child for what’s wrong in society today (manipulative families, child exploitation, the whole Fame complex).  She might have retired, her absence a statement in itself.  Neither of these things happened.  She went back to work.  Soon after a photobook was released called Real Fake Doll.  Here the recuperation begins.  As the title indicates, the book is in the tradition of those hip fashion editorials that address criticisms of the industry and/or deconstruct themselves.  Racism in the industry?  Have a Dutch model in blackface.  Drug use in the industry?  Here’s a rehab shoot.  You and your friends can go sit at Starbucks and debate whether this is a bold statement, pure exploitation, or whatever.  Just make sure you buy a tall mocha and don’t just sit there.

In Miu’s photobook she plays a doll, a fake doll (as the title helpfully reminds us) pretending to be real.  Miu looks like she’s drugged throughout.  I guess this is a commentary on how models are treated as lifeless products for our consumption…or something.  Miu doesn’t do nudes, but there’s plenty in this book that would disgust most people anyway (fake guro, a creepy dude playing with her and so on).  I see the book as an exorcism of the scandal, or rather, the almost-scandal that never was: Miu’s people are saying “Ok, yeah, some bad stuff happened that pretty much confirms that Miu is being manhandled all around, so we’ll say it out loud: she’s a doll, and then you forget about this business and move on”.

What makes this case really remarkable is what happens next.  After everyone’s pretty much forgotten about the kidnapping incident, out comes a comic book based on Miu’s life and her relationship with her family in all its sordidness.  The 2010 comic is named Miuman (~Miu manga) and subtitled “We’re the Nakamuras, even if we stink”.  Miu is credited as the original creator, the actual mangaka is not a known figure as far as I know.  The ad blurb reads: “The amazing non-fictional account of gravure fallen angel Miu Nakamura and her insane family!”  The tragic has become a comic.

This axiom is fully part of American culture these days.  If you get screwed by the system, don’t get mad.  Just write a book, sell it and get wealthy.  Be grateful.  Maybe you can get your own film.

And with that Miu is plugged back into the Machine.

Fans are impressed with her openness.

One reviewer on borrows from English and calls the manga “heartful”.


Chinese megastar Fan Bingbing has 1 billion scandals.  People are taking stabs at her left, right and center.  So she does this:

People say she’s a bully and she thinks too highly of herself.  She goes to Cannes wearing a longpao dress complete with Imperial dragons:

So critics complain: even if she’s going to be arrogant enough to go Imperial, it’d be more appropriate to sport phoenixes instead of dragons, because she’s a woman.  But Fan is way ahead of them, because the year before (2009) she already did this:

This is all very fun and proof that her people are fiendishly clever at keeping their star on the map.  Bingbing does a great job of keeping her own star in the light of day, for example by signing her name in such a way that it resembles the character for “shit”.  But to me the most striking sign of the Machine acting at its most outrageous is another Esquire China cover mimicking the signature photograph of a man whose signature was itself extremely famous:

How much exploitation is in this picture?  Then again, isn’t there liberation in this picture too?  (consider where this is being published and who the most famous man with a star on his cap is over there)  It boggles my mind.  The whole thing spirals out of control and I can’t figure it out anymore.  Was Tezuka a conscious slaveholder, and thus far crueler than all of his fellow artists put together?  I don’t know.

~ by Haloed Bane on May 3, 2011.

8 Responses to “recuperate, replug, short-circuit”

  1. Wow. Just…wow.

    I had to read this post twice to understand it because of the wide range of data you were covering from begining to end.

    Tezuka always has had a reputation of being an eccentric genius I think? Or maybe I’m confusing him with Anno, but they both have ridiculous, yet innovative methods. Tezuka might’ve been astonishingly manipulative, but don;t you think that his means justified the ends? If not for his eccentricities and twisted mind, we wouldn’t be discussing anime here, would we? I don’t think he realized he was “slaving” his workers. Just a pawn for him, maybe?

    Absolutely no idea on the middle.

    Fan sure is a rebel, but I don’t see how that’s exploitation – from my point of view, it looks like she is exploiting the publicity she is getting, which is what most celebrities do. Fan might be a bit off her rocker, but as you said, she’s just trying to stay in the limelight. Going Che Guevera was way out of line… Definite exploitation. Liberating her own soul? Doubtful.

    I hope I interpreted right. In any case, great post!

    • Tezuka is very complicated indeed. and so is Anno! I’m sure Tezuka would have been aghast if someone accused him of exploiting his characters, but I don’t know whether he was or not.

      Che Guevara…it’s just such a complicated thing!! I feel that however you may feel about Che, his image is being exploited here…but I don’t know what Fan’s stake in all of this is…. Mao comes to mind. Doing a Mao cover on Esquire China would be impossible (or maybe not, I don’t know).

      Anyway, I’m happy you liked the post. There are a lot of issues to consider here and if it gets people thinking of these matters, then this post has been a success. For what it’s worth, I can’t make out Miu’s career either…

  2. Great read.

    It’s an interesting thing to cross-reference with the idea of trolling, in this sense provoking and baiting an audience to keep responding to you by assaulting their sense what should and shouldn’t be regarding a thing.

    That’s probably a less baggage-laden way to say ‘exploit’ something. Fan Bingbing seems to do it very well. I’d suggest Anno Hideaki is particularly good at this too, with such gems like “After 10 years I don’t there has been any anime that is as original as Eva. There is nothing new.”

    He backs it up by rebuilding the show (as if there is no other worthwhile animation project), fucking brilliant.

    People may disagree by and large, but look at how people talk about newer anime now, so many use Eva as some kind of metric or touchstone:

    Madoka Magica is the Evangelion of magic girl anime (as Eva was the Eva of robot anime)…
    Haruhi is the Evangelion of moe anime…
    Utena is the Evangelion of shojo anime…

    …and so on.

  3. Trolling implies you’re in control right? Who controls the trolls??

    Anno is definitely an interesting character. He seems to want it both ways. I bet you he wakes up some mornings and wonders: am I exploiting or being exploited?

    It’s a tough tough issue to untangle.

    • Trolling implies you want to take control. You only do with those who get baited etc. There are those who remain indifferent, avoid the trap, or are better than you and show you up.

      The binary is false. It’s not mutually exclusive.

      • Everybody wants to Troll the World, would be the way to describe this musically then 🙂

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