2010: The Year in Anime Books

After so many positive responses to the round-up of anime reading last year, I thought I would continue with a brief precis of some of the anime books I have encountered in the ensuing twelve months.

Largely overlooked in Anglophone anime studies was Hu Tze-yue’s Frames of Anime: Culture and Image-Building from Hong Kong University Press. For those who have read Hu’s essay on Hakujaden in the journal Animation, this is more of the same, extending her conclusions out of the Toei era and into the careers of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. Meanwhile, Toshie Takahashi made a valuable contribution to studies of TV in general with Audience Studies: A Japanese Perspective, which has given me some great ideas about the history of early anime on television. Andrew Osmond placed anime in an international context with his 100 Animated Feature Films for the British Film Insititute. Phaidon’s Manga Impact was actually a book about anime, which says it all.

There were two excellent articles on Grave of the Fireflies and Space Cruiser Yamato, to be found in Stahl and Williams’ Imag(in)ing the War in Japan: Representing and Responding to Trauma in Postwar Literature and Film. This year I also caught up with Ian Condry’s 2009 essay ‘Anime Creativity: Characters and Premises in the Quest for Cool Japan’ in Theory, Culture & Society, worth noting here because it seems to be a fragment of a book-length work in progress. The same issue included Marc Steinberg’s ‘Anytime, Anywhere: Tetsuwan Atomu Stickers and the Emergence of Character Merchandizing,’ continuing to ensure that the Astro Boy era is one of the best documented in anime studies. Mechademia put out another strong volume. Oh, and Schoolgirl Milky Crisis came out on the Kindle.

The 2006 Clements and McCarthy Anime Encyclopedia remains the largest and most comprehensive book in English about Japanese animation. However, if you can read Japanese, there is now an even bigger tome to bend your shelves, the 1000-page Stingray/Nichigai Associates Dictionary of Animation Works: the biggest book ever written on the subject. It’s an odd work with rather short entries, omitting running times, for example, and concentrating instead on the origins of the anime discussed. This makes it an indispensable resource for anyone documenting the source material from which anime is made, as it lists the Japanese editions of Moomin books, the Bible and obscure children’s classics. It also covers non-Japanese animation, with a total of over 6000 little entries. But I can’t help wishing that it spent more time discussing the anime themselves, rather than vast bibliographies of the books related to them — a massive multi-volume list, for example, of Richard Burton’s Arabian Nights translation, in order to point to the origins of Tezuka’s 1001 Nights. Still, very handy, even at the astronomical cover price of $175.

In Japan, this year has been quiet in terms of big new books on the anime industry, although Toshio Okada got in just under the wire with his new warts-and-all memoir, Testament. This year, I have instead been reading many older books on anime history, including memoirs by Shinichi Suzuki, Yasuo Otsuka, Ryuichi Yokoyama, Tadahito Mochinaga, and Yoshiyuki Tomino. Meatiest among them was Eiichi Yamamoto’s tell-all confessional, The Rise and Fall of Mushi Pro (1989). Written as Tezuka lay dying, it is a detailed analysis of the period from the early 1960s to the early 1970s, from the beginning of production on Tales from a Street Corner, up to the collapse of the studio in the wake of Tragedy of Belladonna. One wonders, perhaps, if now that Yoshinobu Nishizaki is dead, Yamamoto will write a sequel about the troubled 1970s in the anime world, during which he worked for Nishizaki on the Yamato series.

I also found much of interest in Nobuyuki Tsugata’s 2007 study Japan’s First Animation Creator: Kitayama Seitar?, a book which pieces together vital pieces of the anime puzzle from the 1920s and 1930s. Tsugata is the best author in the world on anime history matters, and this book is an amazing detective story. So little early animation survives that Tsugata has to piece together Kitayama’s career from old magazine articles, wall charts enhanced and enlarged from the background of staff photographs, and odd sources such as the proceedings of the Federation of Japanese Dentists.

In the interests of leaving better testimonials for the Tsugatas of the future, the Madhouse studio continues to preserve production details and interviews of its newest films in its own rather pricey series. The Plus Madhouse series of creator-specific books have proved to be a mixed bag. Some, such as the volume on Rintaro (Shigeyuki Hayashi), fill in vital historical and personal gaps in our knowledge of the industry. Others… don’t, and risk diluting the brand by becoming little more than puff pieces for someone’s latest film.

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The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga

The creator of Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion and… er… Cleopatra: Queen of Sex comes to life in this superb showcase and biography. Helen McCarthy pushes beyond the odious “Walt Disney of anime” label used by lazier writers, boldly stating that if we really must draw condescending cultural comparisons, Osamu Tezuka was also the Stan Lee, Tim Burton and Carl Sagan of his day. Similar challenging argument enlivens her in-depth account of Tezuka’s youth, his fascinating “star system” of recurring characters, and his transformation of the Japanese animation business with Astro Boy.

McCarthy artfully synthesises the work of earlier researchers who lack her populist splash and dash. Natsu Onoda Power might have more scandal, and Ada Palmer might have more rigour, but McCarthy has true passion for her subject, and is backed by a design team working with the full cooperation of the Tezuka estate. The result is a joy to behold – a large format, coffee table book with a glossy cover, a bound-in DVD, and pages that couldn’t be more lovingly engineered if they were pop-up. When discussing a creator whom everybody has heard of, but few really know, such illustration is crucial to appreciating just how important Tezuka was in the history of comics and cartoons. McCarthy keeps it up all the way to her provocative conclusion, in which she acknowledges Tezuka’s place in history, but also that the brightness of his achievement has exiled many other manga artists to the shadows.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade (now also available on Kindle). This review first appeared in SFX Total Anime #3, 2010.

2009: The Year in Anime Books

It has been a good year for worthy books on Japanese animation. Apart from my own Schoolgirl Milky Crisis, of course, there have been a couple of books I have yet to read but suspect I will like: Andrew Osmond’s Satoshi Kon: The Illusionist and Thomas Lamarre’s The Anime Machine: A Media Theory of Animation. Surely the prize for best anime book of the year must go to Hayao Miyazaki’s Starting Point, lovingly translated by Frederik L. Schodt and Beth Cary, and treating the anime fans of the English-speaking world to an unparalleled glimpse inside the mind of the medium’s most famous director, warts and all. Miyazaki is surrounded at all times by a cloud of idle speculation and spin, and it’s great to see him speaking up in his own words. Not wholly about anime, but deeply illuminating about one of its best-publicised elements, was Lowenthal and Platt’s Voice-Over Voice Actor, also published this year.

Osamu Tezuka has enjoyed a revival, with two excellent English language studies of him arriving in swift succession, first from Natsu Onoda Powers in May, and then Helen McCarthy in October. Meanwhile, in Japanese, the “God of Manga” was the subject of the multi-authored The Osamu Tezuka That Nobody Knew, and Yuka Minakawa’s chunky, gossip-ridden tomes, The Rise and Fall of Japanese Animation: Osamu Tezuka School, 1: The Birth of TV Anime, and 2: Psychologist With an Abacus.

Japanese-language books on anime this year have offered some tantalising glimpses behind the scenes. Just before the end of 2008, the Association of Japanese Animations (sic) and Tokyo Bureau of Industrial and Labour Affairs published a new syllabus for trainee animators and those wishing to enter the business, which seemed to carefully airbrush out much of anime history before the millennium. You might argue that on a need-to-know basis, new animators don’t really need to know… but for those of us with a historical perspective, industry stories are vital for keeping a sense of institutional memory in a notoriously amnesiac business. Mitsuhisa Ishikawa, guiding light of Production IG, published The Animation Business and a Non-Conformist Producer’s On-the-Spot Revolution, and Masanobu Komaki published his memoirs from behind the scenes at magazine in My Time at Animec. Meanwhile, Mana Takemura published Magical Girl Days. And in 2008, although I did not acquire it until this year, Mamoru Oshii (yes, him) published a management guide called (deep breath) : Salvation Through Outside Help: Seven Powers for Work That Does Not Fail, which not only included some wonderful insights to the anime movie-making process, but some mental photographs.

Few of these works seemed to have troubled the reading lists of people who call themselves anime fans, or indeed who call themselves anime scholars. It irritates me that so much anime scholarship seems to revolve around the re-invention of the wheel, as hordes of newcomers blithely ignore what has already been published in the field. Enough respect, then, for Simon Richmond, whose Rough Guide to Anime, also published this year, took the trouble to acknowledge his predecessors. If you just like watching Japanese cartoons for fun, then this shouldn’t bother you in the slightest, but anime seems to be attracting a lot of self-styled experts these days, and it wouldn’t kill some of them to pick up a book every now and then. Starting with the Anime Encyclopedia, which really does have some very interesting essays in it, the contents of which I keep finding other people to have ‘discovered’ independently, which is frankly a waste of their time, and of mine!