The Rotoscopic Uncanny: Aku no Hana and the Aesthetic of Japanese Postmodernity
CGI has led to a theoretical revolution in media studies. What is cinema when reality can be created on a computer? What is animation when superflat 2D aesthetics are becoming haunted by 3D digital graphics? This article adds a third term to the debate: rotoscoping. The author analyzes the first exclusively rotoscoped Japanese anime, Aku no Hana (The Flowers of Evil), a contemporary reinterpretation of Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal that reflects on postmodern malaise, rural decay and depopulation, and otaku escapism, in order to examine the aesthetic of the rotoscope in relation to cinema and anime. He argues that rotoscoping is an uncannying of the cinematism and animitism, or a polemical response to both the ideologies of Disney immersive realism and anime flat animation. The article investigates the narrative’s ‘writer of postmodern life’ Sawa Nakamura in relation to Baudelaire’s modernism and the conditions of postmodernity themselves: the structure of Japanese imperialism today and its effect on Gunma prefecture, the setting of the show. Finally, the author analyzes the hostile response to the show among otaku to explore how the hauntology of the rotoscopic machine channels the ghosts of neoliberalism, the super-exploited laborers of the third world.