2011: The Year in Anime Books

For the last few years, it has been my mission to read through as many Japanese books about anime as possible, with special concentration on personal testimonies from the animators themselves. And I have been annotating as I go. For some reason, many of the people who write books about anime are allergic to indices, so I have been writing my own, of dozens upon dozens of memoirs and biographies, in order to build up a picture of the way the anime business looks to the people who actually work in it. The concordance is currently at 230 typed pages, although I think it will hit 300 before I am done. The work has functioned as a sort of audit of what people think they know about the business they work in, and has allowed me to chart several memes and misconceptions from their birth through to their establishment as industry lore.

And so my neck-deep wade through Japanese-language books on anime has continued, most recently with the NTT collection of scholarly essays Anime in Transition (or Anime Across Borders? or Anime Transnational?). The book is something of a landmark, forming an entire volume of the eight-part Japanese Film is Alive series from Iwanami Shoten, and hence perhaps redeeming anime as just as reasonable a field of study as, say, documentary, performance or audience. Notably, however, five of the eleven chapters in the book are written by foreign authors, with the likes of Marc Steinberg, Thomas Lamarre and Hu Tze-yue providing commentary and perspectives that the Japanese seem unwilling or unable to provide themselves. Is Japanese academia on animation really that lacking in local heroes, or is this a form of auto-orientalism, with the Japanese lapping up foreign attention as a means of validating their own interests in such an unlikely, unloved field as animation studies?

I’d believe it if NTT Shuppan had not answered within the year with an all-Japanese collection. There is no question about the anime book of the year 2011 — that award surely goes to Anime Studies, edited by Mitsuteru Takahashi and the omnipresent Nobuyuki Tsugata. Anime Studies contains ten chapters of detailed commentary on many interesting areas in the anime field, including education, intellectual property and national animation policy. The authors include academics, but also producers and directors, most notably with a chunky section from Ryosuke Takahashi about Tezuka’s anime “revolution”. Anime Studies is the book to which I wish every Western scholar had access, laden with charts and diagrams explaining the way that modern anime works, but also with informed references to peripheral areas, and, that greatest rarity in books on anime, a functional index.

Anime directors continued to be feted with studies and analysis, notably in books about Kenji Kamiyama and the journeyman director Keiichi Hara, now enjoying a new-found fame thanks to his breakout feature Colorful. This has also been a good year for books that analyse anime from the perspective of a producer or manager. Six years after he penned a guide to the anime business, Hiromichi Masuda writes an all-new account of the same subject, incorporating the wild ride of changes since the 2006 production peak. Meanwhile, Kinema Junpo jumps on the bandwagon with books on the below-the-line squabbles that get anime made in the first place including How to Make a Hit “Mundane” Anime and On the Job of the Anime Producer. Meanwhile, Yuichiro Oguro publishes the long-awaited second volume of his Anime Creator Interviews, collating material originally run in Animage at the beginning of the last decade.

You’ll notice, perhaps, that many of the books have dully typographical covers. In a country where Japanese studios will often charge magazines even for illustrations used to accompany rave reviews, the studios are often their own worst enemies when it comes to picture sourcing. I am pleased to note that the current crop of Japanese academics and scholars have simply given up playing the studios’ game, and instead published the texts that they want to publish, without bending over for outrageous fees or assenting to textual tampering — here’s a hello to the idiot who tried to get us to lie about the production details of his company’s movie in the Anime Encyclopedia, and who tried to use image access as the lure to make us cooperate. Anime is, assuredly, a visual medium, but I would much rather have good books published without pictures than see compromised picture-books, defanged of all their interesting content.

There is still a good deal of pretension awash in the anime field. Ani Kuri 15 DVD x Material is an infuriatingly packaged book of interviews and storyboards from the short series of NHK commercials made to order by creatives including the late Satoshi Kon, as well as Yasufumi Soejima and Shinji Kimura. Which is all very well, but it comes with a tight yet flimsy paper wraparound that is sure to tear after a single use, and includes an origami robot by way of apology.

Other books I’ve read this year have included Yuka Minakawa’s two-volume account of the “rise and fall” of Tezuka’s Mushi Production, although the fall is bundled into the final few pages. Like Eiichi Yamamoto’s much-cited 1989 Rise & Fall of Mushi Pro, the book is presented in fictionalised form, although Minakawa presents detailed references, usually to DVD sleeve-note interviews and other ephemera that might elude the more traditional scholar. I also found much of interest in Makoto Misono’s 1999 Complete Book of TV Animation, a forerunner of the Anime Studies collection that diligently attempted to create an institutional memory for television cartoons more than a decade ago. I think I bought it when working on the first edition of the Anime Encyclopedia, but I haven’t properly gone through it till now. I also stumbled across Masaki Tsuji’s long out-of-print The Youth of TV Anime, a memoir of the 1960s and 1970s by the scriptwriter of, among other things, Astro Boy, Star of the Giants and Sazae-san. It’s the last that interests me in particular, since the studio that made Sazae-san has never really had to try since. Go on: see if you can name it without opening a book or another window. It’s not all that famous, despite making Japan’s highest-rated and longest-running cartoon. Whereas other studios have to push and flash and bluster to get attention, the studio that makes Sazae-san just motors along on a job that is essentially below-the-line… certainly below the notice of many foreign fans.

In this periodic round-up, which I have previously run in 2010 and 2009, it’s usually my habit to talk about the English-language books on anime that come my way. In many cases this year, I have already reviewed them elsewhere, such as this piece on the excellent Ladd and Deneroff memoir of early anime in America. I’ve also written a glowing review of Iwao Takamoto’s autobiography, but that won’t appear until later in 2012. In others, I simply haven’t got round to them, since the Japanese-language books are prioritised ahead of them. In a couple of others, I have read them, although they were so awful that I cannot bring myself to even name them. One was an academic account so up itself as to be entirely impenetrable, including an interview with a Japanese creator who actually tells the author to piss off and talk to someone else. The other was a seemingly self-published witter about divinity in anime, by a man who couldn’t even spell Wikipedia, even as he cited it.

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Are You Experienced?

Big corporations are introducing a new job title, the Customer Experience Officer or CXO. His or her job? To understand the “journey” that customers make to buy a product. One suspects that the acronym came first, with some bright young marketer wanting to spiff up his business card with something that looked a bit like “Chief Executive” to the uninformed. If I were feeling cynical, I might even suggest that the entire position is little more than a rebranding exercise to keep companies spending on a particular kind of consultant that doesn’t necessarily do anything. The duties of a CXO, at least on paper, are the sort of thing that any company worth its salt really ought to be filing under “competent marketing.”

But it’s an interesting set of questions for the anime business. What is an anime customer’s “journey”? Where does it take you? Which shops, which town centres, what websites? What snags are there that inhibit your enjoyment – customs fees, posties who don’t bother to ring your doorbell before leaving a “You Were Out” card, or perhaps parents who won’t put Sekirei or Dance in the Vampire Bund on their Visa card on your behalf? These are all variables that a CXO might look at in search of ways of creating happier anime fans, and when explained in that fashion, it seems like a persuasive profession.

One question keeps leaping out at me when I consider the Customer Experience of anime fans, and that’s just how much effort some companies seem to expend appealing to people who are not their customers. One industry insider, who wished to remain anonymous, notes that he had given up offering cosplay prizes, because the amount of costumes for certain shows pre-UK release implied that the cosplayers were too busy torrenting his product to actually fork out for it. His suspicion was confirmed by the alacrity with which one competition winner greeted the receipt of a prize DVD she should, by rights, already have owned.

The question of who is actually buying anime, and who is surprisingly not buying it, is the sort of thing a CXO would answer…

Jonathan Clements is the author of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade. This article first appeared in NEO #92, 2011.

Dreamers of the Day

Some time ago I was asked to contribute something to a very special book, in which several writers approached the subject of Doctor Who encountering Lawrence of Arabia. I chose to concentrate on Lawrence’s attendance at the Paris Peace Conference, and because I could only spare two days to do it, wrote it as a 300-line poem.  The book was made as a very personal wedding gift for a Dr Who fan from his frankly loopy wife, so I think there are only about five copies in existence. And I’ve got one! I usually write for money, so it’s probably the only fan fiction I am ever likely to produce, but I was quite pleased to have crammed all 12 Doctors into a single work. There are many Easter Eggs in here for those who know the worlds of Who… or indeed Lawrence, or I suppose, the Paris Peace Conference.

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Ohana hungered for the gaze

Of others, basking in the praise of their attentions at Grand Balls

At gin-soaked parties, vaulted halls. She waited eagerly for cards

Of invitation – vellum shards for Hotel Somethings, Palais Thats

Where through a sea of diplomats she’d glide in elegant brocades,

Black hair a sculpture in pomades, her skin a doll-like ivory

A beauty there for all to see. Some of the men had brought their wives

Who stared at her with eyes like knives and whispered that this child of Asia

Was merely a transplanted geisha, which was the truth. And to be sure,

She was a youthful twenty-four, a little girl from far away,

Her task to make an evening gay with laughter, jokes or samisen

A haiku line or five or ten. A revered art in Tokyo

But here in Europe, who could know her fine poetic masteries

When only parsed in Japanese? Unable to correct this flaw,

They thought her just Saionji’s whore. Her aging Prince, with leathered face

Could wow the crowd with mots francais. He spoke it well to much delight

And so at every Paris night, when talk soon turned to books and songs,

The Conference and righting wrongs, Saionji got along just fine.

Ohana sunk her woes in wine. She sneaked out to the balconies

For cigarettes in twos and threes. She walked among the breathless throng

A sight that lasted for too long. A striking red-clad Japanese

Amazed Versailles societies, but with the summer turning cold

She felt her novelty grow old. A newer belle called Oei Hui-Lan

Fluttered beneath a feathered fan. She chased the Chinese delegate

And caused the press to speculate that marriage might be on the way,

Which made the news reporters’ day but left Ohana in the dust.

Though stay she did, as stay she must. The jealous women bad enough,

Ohana found it even tougher dealing with the leering men

Who gathered at the bar, and then would proffer drinks or light a match

And always try their best to snatch a foreign woman to their bed.

She hated them. Except for Ned. Continue reading

Operation Yashima

And so, as the nights grow longer and the need for air conditioning reduces, the Japanese government has finally relaxed its emergency power-saving measures. Put in place after the March quake/tsunami and Fukushima shut-down severely compromised the power grid for Tokyo and all points north, these directives urged factories to reduce their electricity usage by 15%.

Some people are still wondering how the loss of a single power station can cause such upheaval. It’s not just about the accident at Fukushima, it’s about the fact that the super-modern nation of Japan has two different power grids, running on different frequencies. Back in the days of Japan’s rapid modernisation, a French company installed the grid in one part of the country, and an American company installed the rest, one on 50Hz, and the other on 60Hz. As a result, diverting power from the south to the north is not so simple.

Although the directives only applied to big corporations, the rest of the Japanese soon rolled up their sleeves and muscled in. Aircon thermostats were cranked up so that they only cut in when the heat was truly unbearable. Office dress codes were relaxed to allow men to take off those jackets and ties. Meanwhile, all over Japan, a grass-roots economy drive began to tweet ideas for saving energy.

Meetings were held outdoors, if a park was nearby. Someone reminded people that it was hot enough to dry clothes on lines instead of in tumble dryers. And so on. And if you’re wondering what this has to do with Japanese cartoons, it is another example of the far-reaching power of the anime image. The hash-tag for all these suggestions, presumably kicked off by an anime fan with a sense of humour, was #yashimasakusen, a reference to episode six of Neon Genesis Evangelion. The titular Operation Yashima, for those that haven’t remembered their Gainax lore, is a military action in which the entire electricity grid of Japan is diverted to power up a massive sniper rifle. This wasn’t played up all too much in the recent Rebuild movie, so whoever came up with it was an old-school fan of the original TV series. And their little joke was the best bit of PR Gainax have had in a decade.


Jonathan Clements is the author of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade. This article first appeared in NEO #91, 2011.

Doctrine of Lapse

Behind the link, James Hidahl in Texas interviews me about regional lockout on DVD and Blu-ray players, and what it all means. Includes a comparison of fan entitlement issues to the behaviour of the East India Company, and allusions to several import/export scandals from the anime business in recent years. Also an entire article by Ben Carter from Manga Max in January 1999, one of the first ever pieces to address lockout in print.

Another Manchuria

I have to spend a lot of money on Amazon Japan – sometimes I remember to write down my better discoveries, so that other researchers don’t have to take pot luck with cripplingly expensive postage.

For the last five years or so, I have been eschewing English-language guidebooks and relying on Japanese ones, not only in Japan, but also in parts of China. My favourite are the beautifully comprehensive Rurubu magazine-format tourist guides, that have helped me navigate the wilds of Amakusa and Hokkaido, Shanghai and Taiwan. But sometimes, you need something a little more specialised…

Manchuria Off the Tourist Track, by Keiji Kobayashi is a marvellous idea – a travel guide to Manchuria that highlights the region’s past as a Japanese puppet state. Kobayashi mooches about the modern-day Chinese provinces of Heilongjiang and Jilin, poking around odd monuments, and old buildings that are leftovers from the days when Manchuria was Japan’s own little exercise in imperialist expansion. This is where Mannerheim led a cavalry charge through the city centre of Mukden, against Japanese gunners, although Kobayashi also has time for the obscurer historical individuals, such as the grave of Verda Majo (1912-1947), the Japanese revolutionary who wrote books in Esperanto arguing for the freedom of China.

Some relics are long gone. The Japanese who remained behind have largely faded into the local population, and three generations of Chinese history have added their own artefacts. Shenyang train station is still there, but the nearby memorial to the fallen of the Russo-Japanese War has now been replaced by one of the ubiquitous statues of Chairman Mao. Kobayashi, ably aided by his photographer Ribun Fukui, chronicles the ghosts of Manchuria’s Japanese past, including the brutalist monuments to Japanese aggression, and carefully preserved sites of Japanese atrocities, some of the skeletons left in piles where they were found.

Manchuria is such a fascinating place, and includes the former capital of the Manchu dynastic founder Nurhachi; the great monumental tower built by General Nogi and Admiral Togo to honour their fallen men; Harbin, a Russian city on Chinese territory. They even dig up the old Man’ei Studios, once the largest film studio in Asia, that cranked out films in Japanese for the local population, now largely forgotten in film archives. Once the “cockpit of Asia”, Manchuria is now far off the tourist trail, but seems like one of the most exciting places for anyone in search of a glimpse of yesterday’s tomorrow. It is a sci-fi future that failed, and all the more interesting for it.