As the title suggests, Brigitte Koyama-Richard’s book is heavily concerned with “pre-cinema” – the slow growth of anime from two hundred years of sideshows, optical toys and shadow plays. Although anime flourished in the 20th century, Koyama-Richard crams as much of it as she can into as small a space as possible: it takes her 73 pages to get to Oten Shimokawa’s first Japanese cartoon in 1917, and she is in the 1970s only seventeen pages later. This is, however, immensely valuable for its very focus – you can read the story of the twentieth century elsewhere, but Koyama-Richard offers fascinating insights into grotesque Japanese prints and magic lantern shows. The illustrations are rich and informative, although her text is largely unreferenced, and often makes unfounded assumptions, in particular about how “popular” certain shows were – a word that far too many authors, Japanese and otherwise, are happy to sling around with gay abandon. She does, however, have several useful primary-source interviews with figures from many areas of the anime business.
Jonathan Clements is the author of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade. This review first appeared in the SFX Ultimate Guide to Anime, 2011.