Get to Know Asia Podcast – Episode 2: Anime and Dr. Amanda Kennell

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


University at Buffalo Asian Studies Program | Podcast Transcript, Episode 2, November 5, 2019 with Dr. Amanda Kennell (University at Buffalo, Asian Studies Program)

Prof. Kennell Podcast Transcript

Huodong Lin: [00:00:00] Welcome to Asia. Hi guys, my name is David Lin. Today we have invited Dr. Kennell from the Asian Studies Program. Hi, Dr. Kennell, can you tell us a little about yourself, please?

Dr. Kennell: [00:00:11] So I’m a clinical assistant professor of Japanese Studies here at the University at Buffalo. Prior to coming to Buffalo, I did a postdoctoral fellowship at the Sainsbury Institute for the study of Japanese Arts and Cultures in Norwich, England.

Huodong Lin: [00:00:27] Our topic for today is Animation in Asia. Do you watch animations during your free time? 

Dr. Kennell: [00:00:32] Well, it’s always kind of worked for me, so technically I will watch them outside of the hours of nine to five, but it’s always kind of half work and half fun. 

Huodong Lin: [00:00:44] Do you enjoy it? 

Dr. Kennell: [00:00:45] Oh yeah. 

Huodong Lin: [00:00:46] Nice. First of all, let’s talk about what’s animation. Some people think it’s just something made for kids. What do you think?  

Dr. Kennell: [00:00:53] So animation is a medium like any other. Just as you get novels that are written for different age groups or aimed at specific interest groups, you get animation in the same way for different ages, for different interests, different genres.

Huodong Lin: [00:01:07] Can you please explain the different types of genre in animation? 

Dr. Kennell: [00:01:11] So you get pretty much every genre in animation that you get in any other medium, in particular literature. 

So for example, there are mystery animations. There are shows aimed at children, fantasy shows, adventure shows, science fiction, pretty much anything you can imagine. There are even westerns. 

Huodong Lin: [00:01:31] How did you become interested in animation? 

Dr. Kennell: [00:01:34] My interest in animation originally came from the fact that Japanese animation is generally plotted and organized more like novels than, like most of the animation that you’re used to. 

There are the stereotypical examples like Pokémon that run on forever and ever and ever, but most Japanese animation actually run for something in the range of 13 to 52 episodes, and they have an entire plot organized and arranged with a climax and a clear ending, before they even begin filming.

Huodong Lin: [00:02:10] Right. Next question is how you end up as a professor who focuses on animation for research, because from what I know, there are many options in the field of animation to choose from.  

Dr. Kennell: [00:02:22] There are definitely production animators, which I think is what you’re referring to, right? But that’s a completely different skillset than I have.

I’m particularly good at analyzing animation that has been produced by other people, and that is where my interests lie. Understanding how animation is produced from a more holistic viewpoint, everything from how it’s made to, how it’s distributed and how audiences receive it. 

Huodong Lin: [00:02:51] Okay. As you have accomplished many research animation, was there any part during this process you would like to redo to make your research better?

Dr. Kennell: [00:03:01] Well, you can always…that’s sort of a central issue in research.  

You can keep researching things forever. At some point you have to stop and say, no, I need to produce something based on this research. So that other people gain value from it, and it’s not just me looking into something I enjoy.

Huodong Lin: [00:03:21] Okay. Well, thanks for sharing. As a professor, what kind of anime do you think is well known in the U.S. and why did it become so successful? 

Dr. Kennell: [00:03:32] The best known anime in the U.S. are just the same really everywhere. Children and family, anime such as Pokémon, Sailor Moon to an extent.

Really the big behemoths is Pokémon, probably. But also Studio Ghibli films, which are generally compared to the Walt Disney Company animated films. These works have a very large audience. They are enjoyable. 

In particular by children, but they are the sort of thing that parents can at least sit through and hear about at some length without just tearing their hair out. So they tend to be the most widely known works. 

Huodong Lin: [00:04:14] Well, as you said, Pokémon and Disney films, what are different between those?

Dr. Kennell: [00:04:19] So Pokémon is made as well. There’s a basic structural difference, which is that Pokémon is a TV show mainly, and as well as a series of games, right?

Disney focuses, or is best known for their feature length films. Though, they also have the Disney Channel TV shows, but their Disney Channel TV shows are primarily live action. Disney crosses media boundaries very easily and very well these days, in particular. 

But Pokémon is always centered on the monsters of the poke. You know, the pocket monsters themselves. 

Huodong Lin: [00:04:57] Okay. As we all know that it cost a lot to produce a movie, but I know that it costs more to produce an animation. How’s that possible?

Dr. Kennell: [00:05:08] If you think about it, it makes complete sense. Especially today, anybody can take their smartphone and just film a friend, you know, saying some lines. So the initial costs to make a film is quite low. 

The initial cost to make an animation though is much higher. Even if you use computer technology to try to cut back on some of the animation that you have to do, you have to plan out every single key shot and you have to hand create it, invest. Well either way, whether you use computers or not, you need someone who is very skilled at what they’re doing to do it. So you have far more in the way of man hours to create it.  

Technology as well, depending on the types of technology needed, can be cheaper. It depends though. Because of course, some of the big blockbusters have so much computer animation, computer graphics and special effects. There’s no difference in costs there.

Huodong Lin: [00:06:10] Alright. I don’t know if you feel the same, but from what I seen and known, that most of the best anime came from Japan. Do you know any other Asian country that will produce good quality of anime? 

Dr. Kennell: [00:06:24] So in English, when we say anime, it only refer to Japanese animation. So no other country produces anime, in that sense.

But, actually a lot of anime have sub-contracted workers who are often working in Korea, and the Korean Animation Industry is therefore quite well-developed. Even though you don’t necessarily think of the works themselves when you see them as coming from Korea. There is also a history of animation within China. 

Neither industry is as well developed as Japan though. So Japan is kind of the preeminent animation power in Asia. 

Huodong Lin: [00:07:07] Okay. So, if there’s a study abroad in animation field, where do you recommend? 

Dr. Kennell: [00:07:15] To study abroad within animation? So if you’re going to study abroad for animation, I would suggest Japan.

There aren’t, I think any specific animations, study abroad or animation, focus study abroad programs within Japan. But there are a number of universities and opportunities within the Tokyo area, in particular with Kyoto as sort of a secondary locus of opportunity.  

Huodong Lin: [00:07:47] Okay. That sounds good. Here’s that. As a professor, what would you recommend to us as a first starters in the animation field? 

Dr. Kennell: [00:07:57] Oh, to get started? So the Studio Ghibli films are wonderful examples of the art form. They are very accessible, and you can see a lot of the techniques that are just at their height or develop to their best within Studio Ghibli films. 

Added to that, there is an animator. Well, anything by Kyoto Animation as well is well done. So that’s includes works such as, “The Sound of Your Voice”. I think, but also anything by the animator, Shinkai Makoto, who did the recent world blockbuster, “Your Name”.

Huodong Lin: [00:08:48] Thank you for your time, Dr. Kennell. That is it for today of Getting to Know Asia. Thank you for listening. See you next time.  

This podcast was produced in the University at Buffalo Asian Studies Program, November 5th, 2019. Enhao Zheng, Julie Zeng, and Huo Dong Lin wrote, recorded, and produced the podcast. 

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