Hugh David reviews a new introduction to Japanese animation
The availability in the 21st century, to that small percentage of humanity that has access, of all sorts of knowledge online, has not yet removed the need for actual published works. It has, however, curbed the need for introductory texts of the sort Oldcastle Books, Britain’s oldest independent publisher, specialise in with their well-known imprint Pocket Essentials and the more film-studies-centric sister imprint Kamera Books. Nevertheless, when faced with a trawl through Anime News Network’s online database or the comprehensive doorstop that is the Anime Encyclopedia, some might find the thought of a brisk 150-plus-page subject overview very appealing.
Authors Colin Odell and Michelle Le Blanc’s resumé does not strike the committed anime fan as making them obvious names to be taking on such a mammoth task. Other than their previous book on Studio Ghibli, they have mostly covered classic cult cinema topics such as David Lynch and John Carpenter. However, the inclusion of books on Horror Films and Jackie Chan in their bibliography suggests they are of that group of Westerners whose interest was sparked by the genre titles making their way West in the nineties. As such, they may well be the ideal people to write an introduction; after all, many a fan was created through seeing Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Wicked City and many a further genre classic from the Manga Entertainment vaults.
The book is very simply structured. A two-page definition of the term “anime” is followed by a 26- page potted history of the medium, a two-page glossary and a further 21 pages highlighting ten key anime directors. The second half of the book provides short entries for selected anime works from 1928 to 2009. While this could be regarded as comprehensive, the listing of the earliest titles seems slightly perfunctory. The list is fairly catholic; few would argue with any inclusion, although towards the end some titles seem to have been included simply to ensure subgenres such as yuri and yaoi are at least mentioned in the book. Eight pages of full-colour stills, a half-page of references and a half-page of further reading round out the volume.
The book, then, certainly does what it says on the tin. It is ideal for complete newcomers, GCSE/A-Level media studies students looking to kick-start a look at the medium or journalists cribbing for an article while on deadline. Who it is not for are specialist academics conversant in the field or established anime fans. The former will pick holes in the first half of the book, the latter in the second. Certainly the Amazon Kindle version is worth the £6.98 price, and might make a nice present to a younger sibling getting into the older fan’s passion, but at £16.99 for 150+ pages the print version there are many, many more books out there that do a much better job for much less.
Anime by Colin Odell and Michelle Le Blanc is out now from Kamera Books.