Behind anime lines: U of S student combines Japanese animation and academia

By in Culture

After a long day at the English department’s Honours Colloquium, Reid Braaten found out that he had been accepted into the English master’s program at the University of Saskatchewan — but not in a research area that you would expect.

The project-based master’s degree program in English is a 12-month program in which students take courses and complete a 25- to 30-page project paper. Braaten, a fourth-year English honours student, decided to take his passion for Japanese animation to the graduate level. Braaten’s master’s will focus on three works: Neon Genesis Evangelion, Welcome to the N.H.K. and March Comes in Like a Lion.

For Braaten, the relatability of the characters helped him decide to pursue anime in his master’s studies.

“I want to show the importance of anime as well as [highlight] the main characters of these shows. They all reflect modern societal problems, and the way [the shows] use their characters to talk about these issues and develop [them] is significant,” Braaten said.

Braaten’s passion for anime has been a lifelong journey — beginning with children’s anime, which he describes as “fun and full of action.” As Braaten became a teenager, he started watching more adult-oriented anime, which dealt with increasingly complex issues and concepts.

Reid Braaten is turning his love for anime into an academic pursuit.

“Anime has always been in my life and is something I have a great interest in — not just to watch but [to] study. As I started watching more shows and delving into them, I realized there is a lot that could be analyzed and discussed. After some online searching, I realized there isn’t much scholarly work on anime, so I think it would be valuable to study,” Braaten said.

Since Braaten is pursuing a non-traditional subject for his master’s, he sought out the advice of professors within the department.

“Before I showed anyone what I wanted to do with anime, they were sceptical,” Braaten said. “After I had explained myself, the general reaction was ‘I want to know everything about anime,’ so it was a lot of positive feedback and helped [to] narrow down my topic and [make] sure it sounds good and works on a scholarly level, not just something that could be typed up in a blog post.”

Evidently, Braaten’s focus is not a traditional subject for graduate-level studies. However, he makes a strong case for anime and also for other scholarship of non-traditional subject matter.

“Anime is a fresh perspective on important themes and is especially useful because it is a visual medium — everything is drawn out; every frame is deliberate,” Braaten said. “There is a reason for everything. The three shows I will be studying all have distinct visual styles, and the way they use them [makes] them valuable to study.”

Braaten suggests that the pursuit of non-traditional subject matter has the potential to broaden any department of study at the graduate level.

“Studying writers within the canon is obviously important, but there is work that has been done within the last 20 years that deserves to be talked about outside of internet forums,” Braaten said.

However, does just being interested in something mean you should study it at a graduate level? Braaten believes so.

“I think, if you have a passion for something, it definitely helps,” Braaten said. “If you are invested, it shows in your writing because you want to make a difference with your work.”

As for the future, Braaten is optimistic that his unique master’s degree will not be a hindrance in his career, though he acknowledges the possibility.

“I would like to think it will set me apart,” Braaten said. “People looking at my CV will see that I pursued something different and would want to give me a shot, but it could be a limitation for that exact same reason.”

Carmen Holmes

Photo: Jessa Robb