December 19, 2008
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.