A Very Clements Christmas

You should definitely buy books as Christmas presents. In an age of Kindle binges, actual paper books are becoming unique luxuries.Which books, you say? Well, these, for starters:

41bkTuP9TdL._SY445_Anime: A History — Out on the 6th so just in time for Christmas (in the UK… I doubt it will reach American readers in time), the British Film Institute’s landmark history of a century of animation in Japan, from the first appearances of foreign cartoons in Tokyo cinemas, through early innovators, wartime propaganda and the rise of TV “anime”, the video boom, the wave of foreign interest and Miyazaki’s Oscar, all the way to the shut-down of the analogue broadcast signal in 2012.

51fwNBEb6RL._SY445_Modern China: All That Matters — China as the Chinese see it, a history of the People’s Republic since 1949 with special emphasis on the most crucial points and issues of the Mao years, the Deng years, the Hong Kong Handover, territorial and cultural issues, right up to the inauguration of Xi Jinping.

Art of War, The 7The Art of War — for the truly dangerous sister-in-law, the mad granny or the eccentric uncle who spends the whole dinner using peanuts in an attempt to explain how the Battle of Talas went, Sun Tzu’s original classic of military advice, newly translated in a no-nonsense, waffle-free edition.

Mannerheim — Now available in paperback, the unbelievable tale of the “last knight”, the Tsarist cavalry officer who fought against the Japanese in Manchuria, spent two years pretending to be a Swedish anthropologist while spying on the Chinese, and ended his career accidentally becoming the president of Finland. Battles, derring-do and malicious puppet shows.

Schoolgirl Milky Crisis — for the anime fan who thinks he or she knows it all, a broad sweep of the anime, manga and Asian media worlds, including libellous accusations, misguided confessions, and things a whole bunch of people never wish they’d said within earshot. Why do anime studios hang onto a glove full of rancid custard? Is it possible to write a subtitle script without using the letter “Y”? These questions and more, in the book that this blog is the blog of. Oh yes.

Other books are available: about samurai, vikings, the life of a great scientist, emperors and empresses, and even touchy feely poems that don’t rhyme.

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Japan Crazy

When the future Admiral Togo was a young cadet in Britain, he spent several months in the company of a homestay family. His arrival caused great disappointment to the youngest boy in the Capel family, who had assumed that if Togo came from Japan, he must surely be an acrobat? Certainly, he must have been a friend of the most famous Japanese man among British youth, a circus performer known as Little All Right? The stoic Togo, already a veteran of the Japanese civil war, gruffly denied any association with jugglers or plate-spinners, and that was that.

But who were the Japanese Imperial Troupe? There was, indeed, such a group, although if either the Shogun or Emperor had ever heard them described as “Imperial”, they would have had conniptions. The Troupe’s impresario, “Professor” Richard Risley Carlisle, was a hard-up strongman who introduced the Japanese to Western circus traditions in 1864. Realising that the newly opened land of Japan had its own performers and trickery, Risley pulled all the strings he could in order to bring a platoon of Japanese entertainers to the West, getting a motley crew of itinerants to sign away their lives for him in a contract that would take them literally around the world. The first-ever civilian passports granted by the Japanese government were given to Risley’s performers, a fractious, occasionally drunken and regularly licentious bunch of rascals who back-flipped, juggled and caroused their way throughout Europe and America.

Frederik L. Schodt’s account of this landmark event, Professor Risley and the Imperial Japanese Troupe, argues for it as the first flowering of japonisme, in which these unlikely blue-collar ambassadors from the mysterious land of Japan brought a highly unrepresentative and oft-misunderstood series of performances to a cluster of industrial towns, from the mills of Wakefield to the mines of Wales. Pursued by creditors, scandal and intrigue, the Imperial Japanese Troupe became many Europeans’ first-ever encounter with things Japanese; they sang old Kyoto songs in the Wild West, and got into bar-room brawls in Piccadilly…. Schodt mines the Troupe’s own diaries, contemporary newspapers, theatre reviews and even court reports in order to unearth a truly globe-trotting adventure, which prods the underbelly of Victorian society, and whispers the first strains of The Mikado, Madame Butterfly and other Western obsessions with the east. He presents the Imperial Japanese Troupe as the first true Japan craze, but does so with an incredible sense of place and time, dragging the reader into a narrative of carnival barkers and gasping crowds, spectacular entertainments and forgotten celebrities. An amazing work of scholarship, and an incredible feat of literary plate-spinning. Roll up, roll up…

Jonathan Clements is the author of Admiral Togo: Nelson of the East.