Minor anime

December 19, 2008

Now and Then Here and There

Now and Then Here and There

By Minor anime, I don’t mean Diary of Tortov Roddle or other equally bizarre works. Like Cruelty, the term Minor in this context does not mean “lesser in number or importance”. It’s more related to Deleuze’s concept of Minor. This concept isn’t so obvious so please bear with me for a moment, as I try my best to first explain how Deleuze defined Minor Literature using Franz Kafka‘s (a Jewish writer) stories written in German.

picture from Franz Bonaparta's book in Monster

left: Front cover of Franz Kafka's novella, The Metamorphosis; right: monster from Franz Bonaparta's book in anime, Monster

Written by Kafka, The Metamorphosis is a story about a salesman who wakes up to find himself transformed into an insect and later struggles in his bureaucratic world. Kafka criticised bureaucratic elements of Germany as a Jew living in Prague by writing in what he called “Prague German”. It’s a special kind of German where its pronunciation, syntax and vocabulary is affected by Czech with a Yiddish (or Jewish) flair. For Kafka and Deleuze, you don’t stand in opposition to majority by speaking obscure language. To speak in minor language is to take the form of major language, displace (or de-territorialise) it and replace (re-territorialise) it with something different. The power of Minor language does not lie in standing opposed to Major, but subverting it from within.

As much as I'd like to ZeroRequiem through that big mouth of his, he had a point

Hate to admit it but he had the right idea

The result is that within the confines of the dominant language, there emerges unseen (or oppressed) concepts that force people who speak dominant language to see differently, see something new (something minor). Deleuze later went on to apply this concept to other fields such as politics, art and architecture. But what we are interested in is anime.  So allow me to apply this concept of Minor to what I regard as the most emotionally powerful anime to be made, Now and Then Here and There (NTHT).

Now and Then Here and There

From the very beginning, NTHT opens in a manner that is all too familiar. Main character Shu is an energetic (and annoying to a degree) boy living an ordinary school life, who meets a pretty girl kidnapped by bad guys from different world, so he travels through time and space to save her.  Even the presentation of such a cliched premise is nothing ground-breaking. When Shu fights bad guys piloting robots, actions are exciting and humorous, colour palette is soft, soundtrack is uplifting and rendered by simple and childish design and animation. We are clearly presented a language (such as this scene) of innocent simplicity and fun adventure. This is the element of Major in NTHT; what is dominant, conventional and anticipated.

Now and Then Here and There

As the series goes on,  this sense of innocence and fun is gradually morphed into unbearable brutality. We are given first taste of death (cat, but death nonetheless), uncontrollable madness of a leader and unimaginable cruelties inflicted on helpless children. Language of NTHT still maintains its form of simple character design, colour and low-key music, but its Major elements of innocence, fun and adventure are de-territorialised and re-territorialised into voices of cruelty and depression and other horrors that we did not anticipate. This is the Minor language of NTHT; a Major language that has been de/re-territorialised into something that’s oppressed and yet to be created and anticipated within its genre and conventions. As a result, there is a creation of new concepts (messages), percepts (sensations) and affects (feelings) of death, rape, madness and children dragged to war…which originally didn’t exist when we were given the notion of this childish excitement and harmless journey into the unknown. When we look at the computer screen, we’re seeing the exactly same simplistic art and so on, but from it we start reading a completely different language.

Now and Then Here and There

The key point here is that Minor is always relative and can not exist without Major. For example, a Korean war film Taegueki that realistically portrayed horrors of war is not a Minor cinema because that was already anticipated from its language of stark violence and realism, which were established as conventions by previous war films like Saving Private Ryan. This is where Minor anime differs from those that rejects majority completely. This is where new concept is created and not merely expressed. This is where an adventure of a boy who travels through time to save a girl is reconfigured into horrors and affirmations of human life. This is where Now and Then Here and There exceeds as entertainment and becomes art.

Same sunset. Yet so different.

Same sunset. And never will it feel same again


11 Responses to “Minor anime”

  1. omisyth Says:

    I love this post simply because it’s taken something which could be expressed less coherently and concisely and explained it with accurate and understandable terminology. NTHT is one of my personal favourites and its great to see someone do justice to a series that’s been seen only by the minority of anime fans.

    Off-topic, but what happened to the comments on this post? That is, assuming there were any, which there most definitely should be!

  2. gaguri Says:

    Well omisyth apparently my post was too perfect and no one had anything substantial to add *ducks rotten tomatoes

    And yes, NTHT is special and I too hope more fans new to anime give it a go.

  3. […] warmth through de-territorialising the confines and oppressions of that cold Cyberpunk framework; a minor anime. Like in Lain and Ghost in the Shell, we are at first thrust into a world stripped off its […]

  4. animekritik Says:

    does deleuze actually argue that kafka deliberately subverted the German language? I was under the impression that it was an unconscious thing (and somehow more powerful for all that). I think your point about Taegueki not being minor because of “Saving Private Ryan” is true: what’s minor cannot stay put, but be constantly fleeing from the major discourse’s meanderings, right? I mean, recently Hollywood has embraced subversive/indie elements to the point they’re not subversive any more. So indie must flow somewhere else..

  5. gaguri Says:

    I don’t think he did it deliberately because, well IIRC, Kafka naturally spoke in Prague German. What he does do is creating a concept of “minority” from this example and applying to fields such linguistics, politics, architecture, etc.

    And yea that’s what I was trying to convey about major discourse’s meanderings. To rape Deleuze’s words a little bit (I’m sorry Deleuze!), sometimes we have artists like Cezanne come in, make a “tear” on the umbrella, and make us experience that rain, new sensations, new affects. But as soon as that “tear” happens, imitators rush in and seal that gap to the point that where it no longer is new or unseen. It’s a continuing cycle of few artists occassionally making new tears and imitators sealing it back.

    Another point about minority I tried to make in “Warm Cyberpunk” post was that even though the kind of senses and feelings portrayed in cyberpunk is not so mainstream, it’s the kind of thing we expect from such stories dealing with existential themes/dyspotia, the kind of thing we already experienced. But Kaiba makes that tear within the cold framework that we know and expect, and provides us with a new kind of warmth unseen from that format.

  6. animekritik Says:


    You don’t have to apologize for raping Deleuze. He’s the one that said writing about a philosopher was like sodomizing him and producing monster offspring..

  7. Vanon Says:

    Thank you for an intelligent post to this amazing anime! It’s a shame it’s not that well known but that actually makes it more special to me because it’s like a rare gem or diamond that only a few have seen. With so many new animes out there, it’s easy for a masterpiece like this to get lost in the rubble so it’s nice to come across this post in the sea of web. Nice shout out to Monster as well… another masterpiece.

  8. gaguri Says:

    I feel the same. It’s like, one has to go out and look for it, only then will he find a rare gem like this…let’s just hope that it doesn’t completely get lost as time goes by :/

  9. ayame Says:

    Uhm in a nutshell Minor anime are those who turn the tables of the genre they are supposed to belong to? Like Utena, for example?

  10. beturi Says:

    That was a great post. I haven’t seen the movie yet but after reading this, i’ll watch it for sure. I’m lucky to start reading this blog starting with this post; just when i was thinking why every anime series i encounter seems to have the same “language”. I was even close to stop watching any anime not because they are bad but because they simply cease to offer anything new; anything brilliant or stunning. Hope to see new posts like this one giving us the lonely anime watchers something stunning and powerful to hold on to. I just wanted to thank you for your blog. Thanks a lot~

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