Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category
Many books purport to explain the world of anime to readers. Many of those get lost in the weeds of fandom or fly so high in the clouds they’re no more useful than anime’s Wikipedia entry.
Simon Richmond’s The Rough Guide to Anime blew me away with its breadth, depth, and clarity.
Its first chapter, the 30-page “Anime Chronicles,” leads the reader on an in-depth journey through anime’s history, from the experimental cartoons of the early 1900′s to today’s world of Mamoru Hosoda‘s films and multimedia franchies like .hack (this edition was published in 2009). I learned quite a bit about anime during its formative years in the 1960′s and 1970′s. Richmond’s style sings here, as he packs clear information into relatively few pages.
The second chapter is the longest, consuming nearly half of the book, and lists “The Canon” of the ”50 greatest anime.” Much as I cringe at this attempt to canonize works of art, as well as the existence of yet another “top X list,” the author chose legitimately revolutionary, hugely popular, or otherwise remarkable works.
The third chapter returns to history and describes various anime studios and creators chronologically, dividing them into “waves.” The first wave consists of early studios like Toei, Tatsunoko, Studio Pierrot, and Tezuka Productions. The second and third waves (oddly, both combined into one section) are made up of studios spawned by the first wave: Sunrise, Madhouse, Studio Ghibli, and Gainax. The fourth wave contains more modern studios like Gonzo, Production I.G., and Studio 4°C (I’m surprised that he neglects Kyoto Animation). We’re then treated to three more lists: influential directors and their works, including lesser-known names like Gisaburou Sugii and Osamu Dezaki, major Japanese voice actors, and composers (which only has two major entries: Joe Hisaishi and Yoko Kanno).
The first half of this chapter focuses on studio history that is likely uninteresting to all but dedicated otaku. Meanwhile, the latter half isn’t as useful to hardcore fans; we know most of the major names in anime. That’s part of the nature of a rough guide, though; it’s a mixed bag that offers information for a wide variety of readers.
We move on to ”The Manga Connection,” which describes manga’s history in brief but satisfying detail, and describes the difficulties of translating manga to anime. And then we get another list: manga-ka whose work has been tapped deeply for anime (Rumiko Takahashi, Masamune Shirow, etc.).
“Decoding Anime” attempts to explain some of the peculiarly Japanese aspects of anime, from Shinto to Japanese folk tales. Unfortunately, while sidebars helpfully explain terms and influences, this chapter devolves into a list of titles categorized by genre, so it’s more useful if you’re looking for shows that match a particular genre.
The final two chapters describe some of the global events and groups inspired by anime, and point to further anime resources (web-based and otherwise). The former is most useful in showing to a skeptical parent to prove that anime’s cultured, and the latter is most useful to those who aren’t yet completely plugged into anime fandom. That’s a bit harsh: I’d never heard of several of the sites listed.
Overall, The Rough Guide to Anime serves a rich buffet with a variety of flavors; at least something is bound to satisfy.
Author: Kazuki Sakuraba
Length: 9 volumes
Manga adaptation: Yes
Anime adaptation: Yes
Gosick is fundamentally a gothic thriller. The mystery is not nearly as important as the mood. Gosick wants to freak you out, not challenge you with an intellectual puzzle.
Now, this may be my bias. I grew up reading Agatha Christie novels, so I’m used to adult mysteries, with a large cast of suspects and a complex murder investigation. Christie and her ilk provided cerebral challenges, spiced with interpersonal drama.
Gosick is, well, gothic, in the sense of Victorian gothic novels filled with cloudy skies, crumbling manor houses, strange servants, and eccentric house guests.
Volume 1 of Gosick introduces us to Kujo, a bland Japanese teenager whiling away his days at a prestigious European boarding school, and fellow student Victorique (“Victoria” in some translations), a doll-like young girl who is clearly modeled on Sherlock Holmes: aloof, perceptive, unbelievably intelligent, and horrified of boredom.
She’s a tsundere, yes, and she has a reason for being one. Her rapacious intellect has consumed so much information that most people are perfectly predictable to her. Nobody interests her. I appreciate this; so many tsundere characters have no motivation for their behavior.
However, I grew tired of Victorique’s attitude by about the halfway point. Kujo’s a nice guy sacrificing a lot of his time for her, and she consistently puts him down. There’s a strong streak of unjustified brattiness to her behavior. Fortunately, the reader can basically ignore those bits.
And by the end (no spoilers here), they do grow a little closer. As with any good adventure story, the plot of this volume allows for a bit of welcome character development, particularly on Kujo’s part.
Fair warning: the plot includes some disturbing content, including violence towards children. I personally had a tough time with that material, and ended up skimming a few pages.
It’s also a bit strange to read a light novel that feels like it’s being written for animation. There are several bits–particularly the police assistants who hold hands and talk in unison while skipping together–that made absolutely no sense and felt like sight gags.
But overall, this is a moody, fun read, with intense characters and a strong atmosphere. I’m looking forward to reading the second one.
I love this book, but man was it a tough read.
Dr. LaMarre builds a theory of anime as a medium of expression that is fundamentally different than American animation and other mediums.
He offers a complete argument for this position, and wonderfully, he repeatedly insists that he’s not arguing against other theories; he’s offering a new one. He is consistent in his respect for existing work and his refusal to establish himself in a position opposite to others’.
His basic theory: anime’s “limited animation,” which focuses on panning across the image and other easy kinds of movement, encourages different kinds of stories than Disney-style “full animation.” Because of anime’s history of limited animation (and Japanese aesthetics of simplicity and artificiality in its art), anime doesn’t even try to be realistic in the same way that cinema does, which opens up different possibilities in storytelling.
I did have two problems with the book:
First, LaMarre’s writing is dense and full of academic language. I had a tough time parsing his long sentences and jargon. It all makes sense, but it requires one’s full attention in a way that I felt could have been expressed more clearly and simply.
Secondly, he spends a large percentage of the book singing the praises of Chobits, presenting that series as a brilliant analysis of family issues, sexual issues, etc. I haven’t watched the series beyond a few clips, but I have a tough time believing that the protagonist’s sexual behavior is an ingenious statement about Japanese pathology. Chobits is meant to be popularly entertaining, and I argue that the protagonist is paranoid about his sexuality more to get laughs than to comment on general Japanese sexual identity.
But the rest of the chapters prove this book’s worth. It’s a brilliant analysis of anime as anime, as a medium unto itself with its own standards and devices, that deserves intelligent analysis like this.
First off, some of the feedback I’ve received on my criticism of this book included the defense that this is an old book. That’s not a defense against these criticisms. The mistakes here are timeless.
But first, I want to praise Professor Napier for her early and incisive analysis of anime. This book filled a critical gulf in early scholarly works about anime.
The book covers several major themes: body transformation (e.g. Akira and Ranma 1/2), hentai, high tech, shoujo, World War II, apocalypse, and the elegiac style in anime.
However, it falls into a common fallacy in scholarly analysis of pop culture: forgetfulness that the work being discussed is pop culture. It’s designed to be broadly popular. Stories often go in a certain direction not to make a point, but because any other direction would lose the audience.
This book repeatedly violates Occam’s Razor in attributing deep psychological import to plot twists that can much more likely be explained by catering to the audience’s desire for wish-fulfillment. Several sections in the chapter on hentai attempt to psychoanalyze Japanese sexual identity via plot twists in Twin Dolls. I’m sorry, but a mildly popular pornographic anime is no evidence of anything.
Fortunately, Napier does provide much insight in other sections of the book, particularly in how she analyzes Nausicaä as an idealized shoujo character, and her comparisons of Barefoot Gen to Grave of the Fireflies, pointing out that Barefoot Gen is arguably the more powerful work because of its straightforward presentation, as opposed to Fireflies‘ cheesecloth elegiac style.
So, a mixed bag here, including some infuriating over-reaches of analysis and some interesting points.
Ever wondered about Gainax’s early days?
Yasuhiro Takeda’s The Notenki Memoirs will tell you about Gainax’s really early days. Before Evangelion, before The Wings of Honneamise, even before DAICON IV, Takeda reveals in this chatty memoir the events that brought Gainax’s core members together.
He actually spends very little time on Gainax’s anime production years, focusing instead on the years in the 1980′s they spent organizing science fiction conventions and running General Products, their garage kit store. A few interesting bits:
- The core Gainax group got their start as SF fans who organized a good
sci-ficon, then got involved in ( then-new) resin-basedmodel kits.
- They never intended to be an anime studio.
- They actually organized Daicon IV, and brought in Hideaki Anno to animate the opening sequence (he was a rising animator at the time, who’d leave them to work on Super Dimensional Fortress Macross and Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind).
- The Wings of Honneamise came about because Bandai approached Gainax with a film budget. A similar thing happened with Nadia and the Secret of Blue Water: the TV studio was shopping around the basic idea (which had originated with Hayao Miyazaki, actually), and one of the studios who passed on the project recommended Gainax.
This origin has always been their biggest problem. They weren’t businessmen; they just did stuff that sounded interesting. They lucked into things that made money. For example, General Products always turned a profit, and ended up partly funding their anime productions for a long time.
Ironically, Takeda points out another fundamental issue for the studio. Before they made Evangelion, they moved forward on four different anime adaptations of existing manga properties. These would be “easy money;”
All four projects failed. Takeda explains that Gainax staffers just couldn’t get passionate about a story that wasn’t their own.
And here they are, so many years later, doing mostly adaptations of existing manga properties. Their original projects crackle with energy and passion (Abenobashi, Gurren Lagann), while their manga adaptations are mostly just there — what I saw of Hanamaru Kindergarten was cute, but could’ve been done by practically any anime studio.
Maybe they’ve changed; maybe they’re okay with that. I just wish they’d do more Gurren Lagann and less He Is My Master.
The book offers a remarkable window into American anime fandom over the decades. Yes, decades. A few interesting takeaways:
- Early on, Patten worried about anime fandom establishing its own subculture outside of SF/F fandom. He pointed out that the vast majority of anime has some science fiction or fantasy element, so why don’t anime fans consider themselves part of SF/F fandom? I wonder if the
much-complained-aboutelitism of anime fans can’t be traced back to this.
- He was writing articles about anime and manga for trade journals and other serious publications starting in 1980. This stuff’s been around for a long time!
- He was shown a
full-blownloli hentai magazine during a trip to Japan in 1984. Which he wrote about in the prestigious Comics Journal, as part of a long article about the state of manga in Japan.
- He was writing about anime soundtracks in 1986.
- American anime companies cracked down on bootlegs in 1995, as part of their “JAILED” initiative (Japanese Animation Industry Legal Enforcement Division). They were going after the major operations who operated
full-blownbusinesses by selling fansubs, but the crackdown quickly fizzled when fans worried that anime companies were going after them. Think about that: when American anime companies realized that fans were afraid of legal action, they stopped (publicly) going after major bootleggers. (They still pursued obvious illegal activity, of course; they just didn’t trumpet it.)
- There’s a great article on the origins of Robotech. Patten is good friends with Carl Macek (who wrote the forward to this book), so Patten got an insider’s view of the activity leading up to the creation of Robotech. Did you know Macek was an anime fan before he got involved with Harmony Gold, and that he was the one who recommended they license Macross?
- Speaking of which, in 1999 Patten listed the 13 most important developments in anime up to that point, from the perspective of American fandom. The list included the internet, conventions, video games, specialty magazines, Disney’s releases of Hayao Miyazaki’s movies, etc. The #1 most important development? Robotech. It was that hugely responsible for turning regular Americans into otaku.
- There’s an excellent article listing the similarities (and differences!) between The Lion King and Kimba the White Lion (a.k.a. Jungle Emperor Leo), plus another doing the same for Disney’s Atlantis and Nadia and the Secret of Blue Water.
You get the idea. All sorts of stuff hides in this book.
In my post Real, Serious Books on Anime and Manga, I stumbled on an academic journal called Mechademia. In Borders a few weeks ago, as I skimmed through the manga bookshelves (and let us not forget how awesome it is that we have whole bookshelves devoted to manga in America), I saw volume 1 of Mechademia! I grabbed it, disbelieving my eyes.
I’ve been skimming through it, and I’m enjoying it from a purely academic standpoint. Most of the articles compare various works on interesting levels (such as the contrast of Marimete and Azumanga Daioh) and dive fairly deeply into their topics, while others stretch their subjects to absurd lengths. For example, one article on Revolutionary Girl Utena suggests complex phallic stereotypes in that show.
Even so, it’s a
And that’s just one of the twelve articles in this book, in addition to the seven reviews and commentaries that are often themselves fascinating.
If nothing else, almost every article is clearly written and presents a fascinating take on an anime or
Don’t we need more of this stuff? Wow. You can find Mechademia on Amazon.