Book review

Anime's media mix: Franchising toys and characters in Japan, by Marc Steinberg

Brandeise Monk-Payton

Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, United States

[0.1] Keywords—Convergence; Industry; Material history; Transmedia

Monk-Payton, Brandeise. 2014. Anime's Media Mix: Franchising Toys and Characters in Japan, by Marc Steinberg [book review]. In "Material Fan Culture," edited by Bob Rehak, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 16.

Marc Steinberg. Anime's Media Mix: Franchising Toys and Characters in Japan. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012, $25.00 paper (304p) ISBN 978-0-8166-7550-0, $75.00 cloth (304p) ISBN 978-0-8166-7549-4.

[1] The topic of anime is much discussed popularly but has yet to gain as much traction in the academic sphere, as its critical analysis has purchase for anyone interested in audience studies, fan studies, and the media's ever-changing format in its local and global circulation. Marc Steinberg's Anime's Media Mix: Franchising Toys and Characters in Japan explores the rich genealogy of Japanese media convergence and its relationship to the emergence of the country's animated television programs in the early 1960s. In particular, he reveals the continuities between what is known as the Japanese media mix system of the 1980s and its postwar precursor, anime. Steinberg argues that what he terms the anime system, referring to the transmedia practice of character merchandising, is a crucial component to understanding how the media mix became integral to the fabric of life under late capitalism. By tracing historical developments in the Japanese creative industries, he articulates the communicative impulse of the figure of the character both locally and globally and examines the important role of things, such as stickers, chocolates, and toys, in establishing circuits of connectivity crucial to the success of the media mix. In conversation with East Asian scholars and critics of Japanese visual culture, the project is a transnational reflection on ideas of convergence, post-Fordist commodity production and consumption, and the materiality of objects that are central to a theoretical analysis of media in the contemporary moment.

[2] Steinberg divides his book into two sections. The first section contains three chapters and locates the important role played by popular 1960s anime television program Tetsuwan Atomu (Astro Boy) for the current Japanese transmedia system, especially through the circulation of the character image across media forms. Such circulation reconfigures dominant conceptions of the commodity through its focus on the communicative value of the object. The second section contains two chapters that expand the synergistic logic of the anime media mix through an investigation of a publishing house, Kadokawa Books, and its entrance into production across diverse media platforms utilizing novel marketing techniques that cultivate entire consumptive worlds and experiences for audiences. By including a plethora of Tetsuwan Atomu images, such as magazine advertisements, sticker sheets, and stills from the television series, the book invites readers to immerse themselves in the commodity culture that the anime character (seen in vivid color on the book's cover) is constitutive of for the media mix.

[3] Central to Steinberg's analysis of the media mix is the visualized character and what he terms the dynamically immobile image. In contrast to classical animation's emphasis on creating an illusion of life to produce realism (most notably seen in the images associated with Walt Disney), the limited animation of the television anime aesthetic ruptures such an impression. In its lack of fluidity and overall disjointed quality, anime's reliance on an element of stillness paradoxically allows for its effective movement across media. Indeed, Steinberg suggests that the dynamic stillness of the anime image incites an affective response at the spectatorial level that creates the desire to consume the image within networks of media connectivity. Such an "expanded economy of return depends on a new form of active consumption that encourages its consumers to follow a series across transmedial incarnations" (7). Steinberg offers historical determinants for this operation in anime's relationship to media forms that existed before it, notably kamishibai (storyboard theater) and manga. For him, anime is actually intermedial, comprising components from these other media that produce a mobile stillness on television while simultaneously having the ability to proliferate and help constitute an entire media ecological system centered on the circulation of the image.

[4] The powerful degree to which the character image circulates is accounted for by its paradigmatic temporality of dynamism and stasis, which contributes to its robust popular reception. Steinberg emphasizes the marketing of Tetsuwan Atomu through an examination of its relationship to product tie-ins. For example, the use of the character for stickers gave the image a degree of autonomy in its potential for "anymovement, anywhere, anytime" (79) in the lived environment of the consumer. Independent of the television program, the sticker image of Tetsuwan Atomu was free to traverse beyond the medium's apparatus and its accompanying narratives, inserting itself into the intimate experiences of the child on a daily basis. In this process, Steinberg argues that the sticker gains an unprecedented vitality in its thingliness that produces an affective investment in the object. In this way, "the character's material expansion intensifies its attractive force, multiplying the number of media and commodities offering the Atomu image. The intensity of the character's attraction as a kind of immaterial force is thus indexed to, and amplified by, the degree of material circulation of the character image" (82). What is important to note in this iteration of the Atomu image is its both material and immaterial qualities, which are necessary for its successful distribution across circuits of media connectivity.

[5] Steinberg states that such a dialectic of image and thing mutually transforming each other creates what he calls the media commodity. Crucial to the media commodity is its emphasis on communication, particularly interobject (thing-thing) communication across a transmedia network. Therefore, the book once again fruitfully delves into Japanese creative industry history, this time of the mass media toy. What is interesting about his analysis is the focus on reconceptualizing participation and play in relation to the media commodity. The visual consistency of the character across media, among other elements, gives children the chance to consume the material object in the openness of the media mix. Pleasure is thus derived from the manifestation of communicative circuits, and consumption is considered active, cultivating sociality and relationality across objects so that it moves from television screen image to tangible toy.

[6] The second section of the book is dedicated to advancing research on the media mix in relation to its roots as a marketing term as well as articulating the development of the anime media mix under the late capitalist global economy. Steinberg argues that the anime media mix operates by a logic of continual reproduction and circulation that is not goal oriented (that is, the consumption of a product as an end in itself) but rather feeds off of its circulating media commodities in the hopes of creating a continually expansive transmedia network. Such synergy contributes to the ubiquity of consumption—so much so that the activity becomes the texture of one's everyday atmosphere. This was an experience commonplace under post-Fordism and exemplified by the Kadokawa media mix of the 1980s, emerging 20 years after anime's influence on the convergence culture of Japan. After this, in his final chapters, Steinberg situates the media mix as a manifestation of contemporary logics of capitalism espoused by Italian Marxists within the autonomia tradition, most notably Maurizio Lazzarato. The turn to experience as integral to the production and consumption (now arguably interchangeable) of commodities helps to promote the expansion of the diegetic universe of anime that is central to the media system. "The displacement of the text as unified totality by the text as a series of transmedia fragments" (169) is ultimately bridged by the character who "permits a series to diverge (allowing transmedia development) and holds things together (allowing these divergent series to be read, despite their incongruities, as existing within a larger, yet unitary world)" (190). The character and its multiple object-oriented variations across disparate media forms—the anime media mix—serve to cultivate a world of connectivity and belonging for the consumer.

[7] In many ways, Steinberg's book centers on the theme of extension. Indeed, he extends the origin of the Japanese media mix to include its anime antecedent; elaborates on the concept of convergence culture more generally; and, crucially, broadens the idea of what actually constitutes media. One of the most productive insights in the book is his discussion of the status of the medium and communication itself. Amid debates surrounding medium specificity, Steinberg retains this analytical framework by taking into account the fact that media are not just conduits for communicating messages from senders to receivers but are historically and materially situated. In this way, they are dictated by the inherent qualities of the technology yet are in turn transformed by external forces. Additionally, reconfiguring the definition of communication to include thing-thing interaction is a notable contribution that demands the consideration of the materiality of the commodity in its circulation across media forms, exploding the object's texture into all arenas of life in an expansive media ecology.

[8] It is clear that Steinberg is engaged in a conversation with East Asian scholars and critics about the continuities and discontinuities between anime and other media forms in the emergence of the Japanese creative industries. Yet while deftly weaving together anime's associations with various media forms, some of Steinberg's own analytical connections to film and television studies as well as critical theory could benefit from more explication. For example, the relationship between anime and Jean-François Lyotards's notion of acinema as well as the intersection between anime and televisual flow through segmentation as espoused by Raymond Williams, John Ellis, and others require more elaboration in terms of the particularities of their apparatuses. He refreshingly and attentively brings media studies to bear on critical theory, but the use of particular poststructuralist thought, such as that of Gilles Deleuze, could be examined more fully in its links to the historical and industrial development of the anime system and media mix. Although Steinberg highlights the importance of consumer engagement and affective investment in the media commodity, it is sometimes unclear how he is defining affect—whether as emotional connection or sensory perceptual schema. It would seem that it is both. The project could benefit from an in-depth analysis of theories of affect, especially as it relates to studies of fandom. Also intriguing is Steinberg's discussion of children as a burgeoning and lucrative market for character images and toys; it would be interesting to include more Japanese sociocultural history in order to explore the gendered assumptions surrounding the media mix and how this may affect its consumption. Within the amount of space in the book—approximately 200 pages, including illustrations—it would be difficult to attend to all of these threads adequately. However, his final gesture toward thinking of the character in relation to branding and legal theory is an exciting and useful direction to take.

[9] Anime's Media Mix is an excitingly comprehensive and perceptive intervention into contemporary media theory and will be an important contribution to the fields of media studies, visual culture, and East Asian studies. Through his examination of the anime system's influence on Japanese creative industries and media franchising in relation to current formations of late capitalism, Steinberg provides a critical analytical engagement with both the material history and political economy of character merchandising. It is a must-read for those interested in the intersections between animation, media industry, and transmedia storytelling in a global context.

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