Sociology of Anime

Sneaking out at the end of 2020 in Japan, Sociology of Anime: On the Cultural Production of Anime Fans and Anime Producers is a fine collection of academic chapters edited by Daisuke Nagata and Shintaro Matsunaga. It’s the best collection of new Japanese-language work on Japanese animation by Japanese authors that I have seen since Anime Studies (2011), and contains some fascinating gems of research.

Two of the essays focus on animation during the Pacific War. Mayumi Yukimura revisits the story of the Shadow Staff, the animators who made instructional films for the military, by unearthing what appears to be a script for one of the instalments of the lost Principles of Bombardment. All such films were presumed destroyed in 1945, but Yukmura has unearthed this document sandwiched in between a bunch of German and Japanese aviation manuals on a microfilm.

Similarly exciting is Takashi Kayama’s deep-dive on the infamous “AIUEO song” from Momotaro: Sacred Sailors, which, as I noted in my book on the film, was not written for the project, but was a pre-existing indoctrination aid in use in schools throughout the Japanese empire.

Although there are also a couple of chapters on historical issues such as the rise of anime on video cassette, the bulk of the rest of the book is taken up with accounts of creative production among fans and animators. There’s a tantalising polemic from Hiroaki Tamagawa on the unsustainability of the “Cool Japan” initiative and a piece by Ryotaro Mihara and Kazuo Yamashita about the business of making and selling anime overseas, particularly in China. Similar transnational issues are pursued in Kim Taeyon’s account of the history of anime in Korea.

Closer to home, both Shintaro Matsunaga and Tomoya Kimura write about the nitty-gritty of an animator’s life, drifting almost into the realm of anthropology in their account of what it is like to live on 150,000 yen a month (about £991) as a low-ranking animator. Several other authors grapple with the life-cycle and customer journey of fans, to create a marvellous anthology of contemporary writing on Japanese animation.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History.

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