Pt. 5 – Concluding Thoughts: Challenges of Autoethnographic Research
In the past three weeks, I have been conducting autoethnographic research (through my blog) into the world of anime, with the focus being on the anime show “Death Parade”. This research has really allowed me to delve deep down and evaluate my previous assumptions on anime. This blog series project also allowed me to further my personal understanding on autoethnography and what it entails. That being said, the autoethnographic research process presented me with many challenges, some of which I may not have properly overcome.
Inglo Winkler (2017, pg 12) acknowledges one of the biggest of the fore mentionedchallenges that I faced. Winkler states that ” autoethnographic research requires balancing the “auto” and the “ethno” to the extent
that there is sufficient emphasis on the cultural settings to enable a research or a text to pass as autoethnography”, which for me was the hardest aspect to get around. How do I successfully balance the ‘auto’ and ‘ethno’ aspects to a manner which can be considered both a personal reflection and a legitimate cultural evaluation. However, that is up to you, the reader, to decide.
Another problem, which I may have mentioned in Part Two of the series, was concerned over how to convey my honest preconceptions of anime, without being disrespectful. In order to do this, it is essential to be understanding of other cultures and the notion that what people perceive as ‘strange’or ‘normal’ varies among cultures.
Yet, despite these challenges, I found the autoethnographic experience to be incredibly rewarding. I hope that you have enjoyed this five part blog series and, on a personal note, I highly recommend watchingthe series “Death Parade”.
“Somewhere there exists a mysterious bar. When you arrive at it, you are forced to play a game against another person. It might be darts. It might be cards. If you win, you get to leave. If you lose, however, you die.” (Eisenbeis, 2015)
Now that I’ve discussed the technicalities of my autoethnographic research on anime, I have now arrived at, what is for me, the most important and exciting part of the research: the thematic analysis.
The first thing to say about “Death Parade” is that it is an incredibly hard show to describe. The basic plot revolves around a mysterious bar called Quindecim and the bartender Decim, whose role is to determine whether people go to heaven or hell. Decim uses a series of games to get people to compete against each other, and in doing so, they reveal their darkest secrets and true nature. It is incredibly convoluted, but in the best possible way.
Life and Death
The principal theme that the show explores is life and death. The show is incredibly existential and raises many questions about the purpose of living and what happens to us when we pass on. It’s fascinating to watch, particularly as someone whose not overly-religious and has little understanding into the various beliefs on reincarnation or rebirth. The show also questions whether the concept of death and the afterlife is part of the human experience and whether it influences us and our behaviour. That certainly seems to be the case…
(MAJOR SPOILER AHEAD)
In episode 9, one of the people being judged (Shimada) is told by Chiyuki (Decim’s assistant) that there is no heaven or hell, only reincarnation or ‘the void’. She does this in order to prevent Shimada from carrying out his darkest urge of inflicting pain on the other person, who he believes wronged him prior to his death.
This isn’t the clearest of examples, but it does illustrate the show’s existential exploration of the way humanity’s actions are influenced by the knowledge of death and the possibility of what follows.
The Darkness of Humanity
In addition to life and death, “Death Parade” is also incredibly interesting for its examination of humanity’s inherent darkness and flaws. The use of flashbacks is a key component to almost every single episode as it gives us (the viewer) insight into the actions of the individual prior to their death. This is where “Death Parade” really goes to some dark places. Sexual assault, vengeance, domestic violence and suicide are all represented in the various flashbacks, and these make for uncomfortable but essential moments.
A further issue, that is explored in the later episodes,revolves around the question of whether individuals should be judged solely on the darker aspects of their lives.At one point in episode 9, Chiyuki (Decim’s assistant) says to Decim in a moment of raw emotion that “there are as many emotions as there are people. The fragility of someone who lets their anger get the best of them… The strength to overcome fear because of love… You can’t comprehend anything about them.” It is an incredibly powerful moment, one that I had not expected to see in an anime and it is incredibly effective in highlighting the show’s evaluation of human beings and their flaws.
Through this thematic analysis, I was able to satisfactorily convey my thoughts on “Death Parade”, which surprised me in so many levels. Although I had no real expectations before starting this anime, I had in no way expected such an insightful, soulful and philosophical examination of life, death and human nature. I’m so glad I picked “Death Parade” as my first foray into the anime world.
Everybody loves a good binge, right? Particularly a Netflix binge. However, my binge this week was a significant one for me. This week, I had my first ever anime binge and boy was it an experience.
As I’ve previously mentioned in my last two posts, my current autoethnographic project involves me delving into the realm of anime. The particular show I decided to watch, as part of my research, is the existential episodic show “Death Parade”. Although I didn’t manage to binge the entire season in one sitting, as I had intended, I did manage to set one day where I went through 4 episodes, which for me, satisfactorily replicated a bingeing experience.
The binge took place on the 19th October, whilst I was folding the pamphlets, which I deliver on weekends for money. For me, this was a more ideal way to binge-watch, than the traditional lying-in-bed or sitting -on-the sofa method. It prevented me from constantly checking stuff on my phone and therefore allowed me to focus on the themes and concepts of the show. However, because I was using the free version of Anime Lab (I’m a uni student after all), this meant that my binge was frequently interrupted by ads. Funnily enough though, they were all ads for other anime shows that were available on Anime Lab and surprisingly these frequent ads didn’t make me mad, like the ones on YouTube do.
One thing I will say about binge watching “Death Parade” is that it really elicits an emotional response: one moment I would find myself laughing at the dry sense of humour and within 2 minutes of that I would then find myself trying to fight back tears. It really is a fascinating binging experience, although I do feel like binging the entire season in one sitting would be a bad idea. A lot of the concepts explored in the show, deserve to be thought over, and the show goes to some incredibly dark places (which shouldn’t be surprising considering the show is titled “Death Parade”).
The most rewarding moment of binge-watching “Death Parade”, however, came in the 4th episode, when I finally stopped watching the show as a cultural outsider and became emotionally invested. At this moment, I stopped being consciously aware that I was watching my first ever anime and this really enhanced the rest of my viewing.
As I write this, I find myself still striving to truly understanding the process of autoethnography. AsWall (2008, pg.39) states “autoethnography offers a way of giving voice to personal experience to advance sociological understanding”, which is why it is so fundamental to my research of the 2015 anthology anime series “Death Parade”. Attempting to form a personal narrative out of my experiences of watching the show is proving much harder than expected. Pritchard (2017, pg 108) explains that the positioning of the author’s relation to the research is crucial in gaining the trust of the reader. So, with this in mind, the purpose of this post will be to determine my role and my preconceptions prior to watching “Death Parade”.
Who am I?
Wall (2008, pg. 39) remarks that autoethnography begins with a personal narrative. In my narrative, I am a 21 year-old French male, who has spent most of his life in English-speaking countries. Prior to “Death Parade”, my only encounters with anime were through the consumption of various Studio Ghibli films, which gained mainstream attention. Although I have has had encounters with individuals who are rooted in the anime culture, I was relatively unfamiliar with the anime culture. My research is my attempt to rectify that and to gain an insight into the world of anime.
Part of the challenge that comes with authoethnographic research, is the way one represents themselves and others. It’s therefore crucial that my preconceptions of the anime culture is written in a way that doesn’t appear as dismissive or ignorant and that I thoroughly analyse my own preconceptions, rather than fall into the trap of being overly-subjective.
My first encounter with anime culture occurred when I was around 6, when Pokemon trading cards were absolutely dominating youth culture. I was living in London at the time, and never fully understood the concept. Having thought about this led me to an epiphany:
My experience with Pokemon partly shaped my preconceived idea that the anime genre was tailored specifically for kids.
This conception simply stems from the fact that I had not been exposed to the adult-oriented anime programmes or films such as ‘Ghost in the Shell’ or ‘Akira’ and furthermore I was much too young to fully comprehend the more sophisticated ideas or themes that can sometimes be explored in children-orientated anime programmes.
Years later, when I was around 18 or 19, a friend of mine told me about an anime that he was watching, that had apparently taken the anime world by storm, called ‘Death Note’. When he described the plot to me, I was taken aback by its incredibly dark and rather strange concept. Of course, it is entirely possible that mycultural upbringing was the reason for such a reaction.
Yet, this led me to another presumption about anime: anything could happen. With that in mind, I’m now off to binge-watch a season of “Death Parade”.
Until next time…
Pritchard, J 2017, ‘A Journey to the Centre of Self: Positioning the Researcher in Autoethnography’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 108-127.
Wall, S 2008, ‘Easier Said than Done: Writing an Autoethnography’, International Journal of Qualitative Methods, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 38-53.
For a longtime, in my early days of uni, I was determined to introduce myself to the phenomenon that is anime. Is that okay to say? Phenomenon? Anyway, the problem was I had NO IDEA where to start. Instead of doing further research, I just veered into J-Horror instead (which is fantastic by the way!) Now, a few years have passed, and I have the chance to explore the anime sensation and I get to claim it’s for research (which it is)! But again, the question was: where do I start?
So I did what anyone would do these days: go to reddit. It was then I realized I was truly spoilt for choice and that maybe reddit may not be the right way to approach this. I finally decided to just pick the anime that looks the most interesting. Which is what I should really have done from the start. The anime, that I have chosen, is the 2015 anthology series “Death Parade”.
So, for my digital artifact, I will be writing a series of blog posts that will act as an autoethnographic account of my experience watching “Death Parade”.By experience, I am not only talking about the act of watching the show, but also my preconceptions of what the show would be and also my interpretation of the show after watching it.
I very much look forward todelving into my autoethnographic research and also becomingmore familiar with anime. I must leave you now, dear reader, as I embark on my first anime binge.
If you read my last blog post about autoethnography, you’ll be aware that I had the intention of using J-Horror as the topic for my autoethnographic research. However, as I was browsing the research done by previous Digital Asia students, I noticed that J-Horror had been covered extensively, which led me to consider other possible topics. Although I have been exposed to South Korean horror,through films such as the excellent Train to Busan (dir. Sang-ho Yeun, 2016) and The Wailing (dir. Hong-jin Na, 2016), I am much less knowledgable on South Korean horror than I am on J-Horror, which therefore influenced me into changing research topics. So, in forming this autoethnographic research, I decided to watch the psychological horror film A Tale of Two Sisters(dir. Jee-woon Kim, 2003). My autoethnographic response to the film will be split in two parts:
When I first came across the term “autoethnography” I had initially dismissed it as another tedious, research-related term which I would struggle to comprehend and eventually get frustrated by. However, mid-way through reading “Autoethnography: An Overview” (Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. 2011), I had the realisation that the term referred to the method of using personal experiences as a means to subjectively comprehend cultural experiences (Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. 2011, pg.1), with subjectively being the key word. Because, as the article points out, “autoethnography is one of the approaches that acknowledges and accommodates subjectivity, emotionality, and the researcher’s influence on research” (Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. 2011, pg.4).
When I started to think about this form of research, it occurred to me that I have been an autoethnographer since I started university, although for most of the time unknowingly. Through my blog, I have been using personal experiences to gain an understanding of cultural experience. With a huge interest in film, I realized that film-makers too (especially documentarians) are autoethnographers. They reshape their own personaland cultural experiences and use it to create a narrative which goes on to share a film-maker’s experience.
With this in mind, I am now beginning to think about how I will use auto ethnography to gain a further understanding on Asian horror films, particularly ‘J-Horror’. As someone who is a massive fan of the 1998 classic “Ringu”, I am incredibly excited to use J-Horror as the basis for my autoethnographic research. In the coming weeks, I will hopefully zone in on the specifics of the research process and through what medium I will present it.
Those people who know me well, will (rightly) tell you that I am a massive film geek. So when I found out that we would be watching the 1954 allegorical B-movie ‘Gojira’, I was naturally thrilled. As the film started, I began to think about the differences between the Japanese film industry and the Hollywood film industry.
As I said in one of my tweets posted during the screening, NO-ONE makes genre films quite like the Japanese. Unlike many (there are exceptions) Hollywood blockbusters, Japanese blockbusters always seem to try to incorporate someform of social, religious or political context. With this in mind, it was fascinating to watch the way that ‘Gojira’ uses genre (in this case b-grade sci-fi) in order to make a bold allegorical critique of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in WW2. Contrastingly, if you look at the 2013 remake ‘Godzilla’ (which I actually kinda liked) you’ll notice that it has none of the original’s political undertones, but is more interested in establishing Godzilla as a major player in the new MonsterVerse (as is now the trend).
Having said this, it doesn’t mean that all Japanese films are as smart as ‘Gojira’ and that all Hollywood blockbusters are simply disposable pieces of entertainment that exist solely for financial reasons. It just occurred to me, as I watched ‘Gojira’, that very few American film-makers would be make such a ballsy, political blockbuster.
Another difference between the two film industries, which I briefly discussed with my tutor after the screening, is the perception of their audience. By making such a allegorical film, the director of ‘Gojira’, Ishiro Honda, clearly perceives the audience to be clever enough to understand the ideas and messages that the film is trying to convey. Hollywood, however, often believe that a blockbuster has to be ‘dumbed down’, in order to satisfy audiences and are often very reluctant to finance big-budget films with complicated narratives or concepts (although this trend is starting to die down, thankfully).
In the end,the screening of the 1954 ‘Gojira’ was an eye opening experience which led to a deeper understanding of the way the Japanese film industry works and the differences between them and Hollywood.