An Experience Without Enlightenment


Image by flamoking1, While I wouldn’t watch gore anyway, this anime is the reason I don’t watch graphically violent or gory anime under any circumstance.

Within the subject Digital Asia, autoethnography – a type of research method – underpins the majority of our study. But what is autoethnography? According to Ellis et al, autoethnography is a synthesis of autobiographic and ethnographic techniques that allow a researcher to write about epiphanies which stem from experiences with and being within culture. These cultural engagements can be experienced within a culture itself, i.e. a researcher participates in cultures previously unexperienced, or through material cultural products, e.g. the analysis of clothing, architecture, texts such as books, movies and photos.

Ellis et al say that autoethnographers take their experiences and detail them in length as a kind of personal story that shows how something in that culture changed them or their idea of that culture. As part of this process, autoethnographers’ go further and analyse their experience with theoretical tools, methodological tools, and research literature. Without applying this academic edge to their experience, their story could be just like any other, when they are really trying to use their experience to illustrate the characteristics of a culture and make it familiar for those on the outside and for existing members of that culture.

As part of an exercise, we were asked to examine a digital text and to detail our experience with it from an autoethnographic standpoint. The text that I examined was the 1988 Japanese anime film Akira, directed by Katsuhiro Otomo who is also the author of its original incarnation as a manga.

I’m sure there is more that could be said of this movie, but I will not be mentioning much more here. My reasoning? Because I am terrified of the internet and what it will show me regarding this movie. I have watched a lot of anime, I could probably give you a list of 80 or more anime’s that I have seen, I love anime. But I absolutely refuse to watch Akira and any kind of content like it because I cannot handle the strong, graphic, and bloody violence its R rating tells me it has.

My experience of this film began with excitement when I heard we would be watching an anime film, then when I heard it contained scenes of graphic violence that could be distressing for some viewers, my excitement evaporated and my heart rate skyrocketed out of anxiety. I opened Google Chrome and went to IMDb’s information page regarding Akira, I scrolled down to their message boards and opened one which was literally titled, “How gory is this?” and proceeded to read on in horror. Suffice to say, I didn’t watch a single frame of the movie, and instead, listened to the evocatively throbbing soundtrack and violence while imaging scenes of hyper-real violence and hyper-real representations of gore. My time was much better spent googling wallpaper images of Orange and Anthem of the Heart.

I guess you could say my experience of Akira was an experience without enlightenment. I have no idea how I am going to analyse this. If anyone has any thoughts please share them, I am honestly stumped.


  1. Maybe instead of watching the film, you could read the plot and study it through others’ reviews. The thing about doing this though, is that you’d be interpreting other people’s interpretations. So you can’t fully study the text unless you watch the film. Although I also don’t believe anyone should be forced to watch things that make them uncomfortable. Ellis describes autoethnography as study incorporating personal reflection. I think you could still analyse your knowledge of the text. Perhaps you could analyse your experiences watching gore in the past, why those experiences (or others) influence your refusal, and if there’s a culture of gore-driven anime (and if you think that’s problematic). Hope that helps!


  2. Greetings Jacob, I find that you have started an already capable analysis of Akira when in relation to autoenthnography. Ellis et al mentions that writing down personal stories is a way to understand and make sense of ourselves and our experiences. You have touched on that by connecting visual gore and personal anxiety. While there may be discomfort it is that experience of discomfort that is key to aide in analyzing texts. While the degree of hyper-violence and gore in Akira may be too extreme for you to watch there are certainly different ways in which gore and violence is dealt with in anime. Such as in the genre of Anime, the amount of blood, the colour of blood, the degree of the injury, how someone or something was injured and what class of being has been afflicted. You mention you could name at least 80 different animes that you have seen – to what degree of violence and even gore was depicted in some of them. Understanding the different levels of violence and how it is portrayed can bring you closer in understanding how you measure your own personal anxiety and the text itself.


  3. The detailed yet manageable simplification of Elli’s text was helpful.You went into depth yet were able to hold attention throughout. Your use of auto-enthographic examples make it much easier to understand the simple workings of the term, making it easy for any viewer, even those who have not completely grasped Ellis’ work.
    I definitely agree with your hesitation to watch Akira, the gore at times seems unnecessary but i feel in some ways it does add to the intention of the film. Shocking the audience holds attention and allows the film to evoke thought, the issues that lead to that violence can then be more visible.
    Your experience with anime could help get a really great analysis, all i could suggest is looking into the original manga. I find when reading any manga the horror never seems as brutal and is easily a page-flick away. At least that way you can express the issues of unnecessary violence and look into why it is so prominent in not only anime but a variety of genres and forms
    Or even still look into other post-apocalyptic anime that is more appealing to you. Something like ‘Cowboy Bebop’, as its set in the future with post-apocalyptic world, it might help to cover similar issues that Akira reflects. it is a long series, however you might be able to gain enough insight in just the first episode. It has been years and years since i last saw it and I don’t remember it being especially gory in the first episode, although there is some gang violence.


  4. What an interesting perspective we’ll be getting from you! It would be really interesting for you to describe what it is you think you’re listening to when the unspeakable are occurring on screen. Better yet – a comparison of what you thought you were hearing compared to the synopsis of the film which may have corrected some misconceptions you may have had without knowing the plot in full (this is assuming you listened to it first without reading said synopsis).
    This approach truly emphasises the personal nature of this experience. As James mentioned above, maybe looking into therapeutic writing (Ellis et al) could benefit how you tackle the next post. Looking forward to reading it!


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