Anime: A History – A Review Round-Up

Fred Schodt wrote Manga! Manga!, the first English-language book on Japanese comics, more than 30 years ago. Easily several dozen “books on anime/manga” have been published since – and I have made the argument that by looking at these books, it’s possible to trace the evolution of anime and manga studies – how authors write about these topics, and more importantly, what authors hope to achieve – from 30 years ago to now.

Schodt’s book, Antonia Levi’s Samurai From Outer Space, Patrick Drazen’s Anime Explosion, and Susan Napier’s Anime From Akira to Princess Mononoke were essentially expository – this is Japanese visual culture, it’s different – and awesome! Essay collections like Cinema Anime: Critical Engagements with Japanese Animation, Japanese Visual Culture: Explorations in the World of Anime and Manga, and Manga: An Anthology of Global and Cultural Perspectives acknowledged that “anime and manga studies” was now evolving as a field, and new writing had to be a part of an ongoing conversation. The Rough Guide to Anime, The Rough Guide to Manga, and Anime and Philosophy, among other similar titles, made no excuses about trying to cash in on the anime/manga boom. And now, we are at a point where authors are feeling confident enough about Japanese animation to present theories that can be used to understand exactly what anime is, and histories that can cover the entire existence of Japanese animation.

Anime_HistoryThe new Anime: A History is exactly what its title implies – a chronological survey of Japanese animation not as art, but as an industry and a business. And just as looking at anime books can tell us things about the shape of anime and manga studies as a field, looking at how books like these are reviewed can give us an idea of how anime and manga studies as as field is perceived from the outside

PD Smith’s review in The Guardian is probably as positive as any book can expect, complete with ready pull quotes. “This is the first full-length history of Japanese anime in English.” “This study is authoritative and detailed, and will be essential reading for anime fans and scholars alike.”

Casey Brienza, a leading manga scholar in her own right, writing for the LSE Review of Books, adds nuances. She notes, in particular, that “the title Anime: A History is in reality a bit of a misnomer; it is less history than historiography” and that the book “might be better understood as a history (or historiography) of the anime industry than of anime in any other broad sense.” Nor is she hesitant to point out what she sees as some the book’s particular weaknesses. But overall, her review is not a demolition by any means – and the conclusion is largely unreserved praise. Anime: A History, in her words, “will undoubtedly prove invaluable for scholars, particularly in the social sciences, who are interested in the political economy of anime production.” And even more importantly, she predicts that it will be a book that, at least for a while, will be the guide for future writing on anime in Japan and in the rest of the world.

These are, of course, just two reviews. Hopefully, there will be more in the near future, especially if Brienza’s prediction for this book’s status actually plays out. And it will be interesting how  anime fans and the academic community will react to a book that, at least from its appearance, tries to speak to both of them.

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