Get to Know Asia Podcast – Episode 1 Anime and Dr. Sean Macdonald

The Get to Know Asia! podcast is written, recorded, and produced by Huodong Lin, Julie Zeng, and Enhao Zheng of the Asian Studies Program


File: Dr. MacDonald Podcast_V1


Huodong Lin: [00:00:00] Welcome to Asia. Today. We have invited Dr. McDonald from the Department of linguistics. Hi, Dr. McDonald. Can you briefly introduce yourself?

Dr. MacDonald: [00:00:08] So I’m working at the Linguistics Department in Chinese program and directing the program over there. My background my own background is actually in, I guess you would say literature and culture. So I did my PhD on modern Chinese literature and in 2016, I published a book on animation in China.

Huodong Lin: [00:00:30] Can you tell us more about what’s the book about?

Dr. MacDonald: [00:00:33] Well, I mean the book is actually it’s kind of like, it’s sort of I guess it’s a combination of two things. It’s kind of like a history of Animation in China that focuses on a very important studio in China called the Shanghai animation Film Studio.

They were active from you know from probably from the late 1950s until the 1980s. And I also just talked about in general animation as a medium and what I think you know what I think the relationship is between animation and China and Chinese culture.

Huodong Lin: [00:01:09] Okay. What was your research about as a professor in University when you did the book.

Dr. MacDonald: [00:01:17] When I did the book, I mean I was really looking at I was really interested to find out about the way that the animation industry seemed to be growing in China. In the early 2000s, the government was putting a lot of money into animation and they were opening up a lot of schools.

For example, universities had animation departments where there were no departments before. So that really made me interested. I like animation. I think it’s a very interesting medium. And so I was really curious to know why and how the animation industry was developing in China. So that was really how I started my research.

In fact at the beginning. I was just looking at databases. And noticing that there were a lot of articles. Ffor example University researchers were publishing a lot of articles in China about animation, Chinese animation, Japanese animation, American animation. They were publishing a lot of Articles.

Huodong Lin: [00:02:16] Okay, sounds great and can you tell us a little about animation because from what I’m seeing is people think animation is only for kids. What do you think?

Dr. MacDonald: [00:02:27] So I think in I think actually China in a way China is similar to the United States. So originally like if you go back even let’s say to the 1970s and 80s animation was largely considered to be a medium for children. Say in the United States Walt Disney made films and even though adults could watch them, I mean the films were targeted for a children audience an audience of children. In China, I think it’s a little bit similar. I think that there’s, even today I think there’s more of a tendency to think in China that animation is for children.

Huodong Lin: [00:03:03] What anime would you recommend for your students and University age school people.

Dr. MacDonald: [00:03:08] I actually before I came to UB, I actually taught a course on Chinese animation. And so when I was teaching the course, I had my students watch older animation like from the 1950s and 60s, and I also had them watch new animation. There’s a lot of new animation that has been put up on YouTube for example. Some studios in China have actually have YouTube channels where you can go and access, but for some reason these YouTube channels are not that well known in the United States, for example, even though the animation is quite good and some of it has English subtitles.

There’s one animated series that I’ve gotten my students to watch a few times, it’s called Rakshasa Street. It’s like a kind of a ghost story and it’s a lot of fun and it’s not for kids. It’s actually for I would think it’s for University age audience like young adults and to late teens early 20s, because the main character is actually a college student.

So that’s one series of I’ve gotten my students to watch when I was teaching at animation and I get my students to watch it now too. If I’m teaching language, I get them to go on and have a look at some of this stuff because it’s fun and they can also learn a little bit of Chinese if they want to.

Huodong Lin: [00:04:20] How did you end up as a professor? Because from what I have known there are many different routes you could take in the field of Animation. What tips your mind that you want to become a professor?

Dr. MacDonald: [00:04:33] Well, I don’t consider myself a professor in animation, but I consider, I just think of myself as a researcher who happened to choose this topic.

Why did I choose this topic? I mean I chose the topic first of all because I like it. I think that’s really important if you if you’re doing research. I also chose the topic because I was I had worked on literature. And I also worked a little bit on film and I think that animation, you know, animation is a type of film and I think that there’s also a relationship between animation and literature. For example in China, when they make films, when they make animated films, often the original story comes from a novel or something or a story a folktale or something like this. It’s similar to you know, again, going to into the United States, right?

Huodong Lin: [00:05:20] Yep, When you mention films I heard that making a animation can cost more than a movie. How is that possible? Do you know why?

Dr. MacDonald: [00:05:29] Well, I mean, it depends. It depends right? It can cost more than a movie can also cost less than a movie. Like, you are talking about a live-action film? Yeah animation can cost more it can cost less. I mean, why would it cost more? Simply because now I mean when people make animated films, in many cases their think, they’re thinking of making computer animated films, and so you’re talking about hardware.

You’re also talking about lots of people working on lots of different facets or [00:06:00] aspects of a film. Right and that really that goes that’s the case anywhere right now anywhere that people make animation. I think all I think right now all animation is digital, right? Even Japanese anime is digital now, so, you know, I think that’s part of the reason.

Huodong Lin: [00:06:19] Yeah, so, Dr. McDonald, what kind of Animation you like?

Dr. MacDonald: [00:06:22] I like old animation. So I kind of get kick out of watching older films because when you watch older films you can kind of get a feel for the history and also you can get a feel for the, how shall I say? You can get a feel for the technique that went into animation.

I think new automation now, you know computer computer based animation is so becoming so perfect, so realistic, I find it a little bit boring to be honest with you.

Huodong Lin: [00:06:50] That sounds so interesting, we that the industry of, we know that the industry of Animation is growing rapidly recently. How does the animation become so successful in the US market?

Dr. MacDonald: [00:07:02] I mean, I think there’s a I think there’s a long history of it. For example at the beginning as far as I know and I know this when I was growing up, I mean, this is when I started was watching television in 1970s, already at that time animated series and live-action series were coming over from Japan.

So there’s this long history, right? There’s a long history of film, television, media coming from Japan to the United States and coming into the market. Then, you know, what happens, I think what’s interesting about animation is it’s very much generational. So what I watched when I was a kid, I get my children to watch and then when they’re growing up there they have this influence and maybe they have kids they’re going to give them…

So animation, I think has that kind of has that kind of aspect to it. When people watch it they immediately think, they kind of feel like they’re kid again because a lot of times we do watch animation when we were kids. And so I think it ends up becoming a part of almost like a part of a person’s life.

Huodong Lin: [00:08:04] Okay, we know most of animation comes from Japan, do you know any other Asian country that produces good quality animations?

Dr. MacDonald: [00:08:11] Well, Japan produces good quality animation. I think that South Korea also has good animation. Actually, North Korea has also produced animation. In fact, North Korean anime, animation Studios were even used by Walt Disney sometimes. I believe that part of Lion King was actually produced in North Korea and China now is making some interesting animation you know.

China’s been doing it for a while. They have a tradition of animation. So they’ve been doing it for a while. Just this summer, there was a big blockbuster in China and it’s supposed to be coming to United States possibly in the next few months.

Huodong Lin: [00:08:52] Would you talk with your students about animation?

Dr. MacDonald: [00:08:56] Yeah. I’ve talked to students about that. I mean in most cases I think in the United States most students, it’s actually quite similar, so students will have watched Walt Disney films when they’re younger and then they’ll watch anime when they get older. So anime is definitely the, I think is definitely the type of animation that most students know in in the United States and I think there’s a good reason for it.

I mean, there’s a lot of really great anime and I think that anime production in Japan has developed to a point where, you know, they can make anime not just for a Japanese audience but also for other audiences outside of Japan. And you know, so a good example is just Netflix right now. They have Netflix anime series, right? Co-productions and this kind of thing. That’s how powerful it is. It’s really quite something.

Huodong Lin: [00:09:44] Thank you for your time. Dr. MacDonald.

Dr. MacDonald: [00:09:46] Okay. Thank you very much. It was a pleasure.

Huodong Lin: [00:09:49] This podcast was produced in the University at Buffalo Asian Studies program, October 25th, 2019. Enhao Zheng, Julie Zeng and Huodong Lin wrote, recorded, and produced the podcast.

If you have any question, please email Thank you for listening. See you next time.

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