The goals of the first books on Japanese animation published in English – Antonia Levi’s Samurai From Outer Space: Understanding Japanese Animation (1996), Susan Napier’s Anime From Akira to Princess Mononoke: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation (2001), and Patrick Drazen’s Anime Explosion! The What? Why? & Wow! of Japanese Animation (2002) – were fairly modest, and limited simply to describing the major features and themes that are present throughout anime. The books that individual authors have published on anime since then have been more elaborate, with focuses on themes such as “fan communities” and the “anime media mix”, and in-depth theoretical approaches as with Thomas Lamarre’s The Anime Machine. The exceptions have been 2009’s The Rough Guide to Anime and the 2013 Kamera Books handbook Anime (essentially, a listing of major directors.creators and major films/series). But, no such thing as a current/contemporary critical overview of Japanese animation, from an academic expert but aimed at a general audience, existed – until now.
Anime: A Critical Introduction is a new entry in Bloomsbury Publishing‘s “Film Genres” series that also includes volumes on “Fantasy Film”, “Teen Film”, “Science Fiction Film”, and “Historical Film”. Fittingly, the approach that it takes emphasizes the genres within Japanese animation, such as science fiction, horror, shone and shojo, and the separate and unique “Ghibli Genre”, while acknowledging that genres, as concepts and categories are constructed by both creators, audiences, and third parties such as the media, and are subject to change/evolution over time. In its discussion of anime as a particular “cultural phenomenon” and a “globally significant category of animation”, the author also makes sure to introduce a historical perspective that places “anime” as we usually think of it into the broader context of “Japanese animation”, and to engage with the work of both English-language and Japanese anime scholars, including the ones mentioned above.
This book is most certainly not a “rough guide” (or a Rough Guide). This book is an invaluable survey of how Japanese animation has come to be what it currently is – and how both audiences and scholars have understood Japanese animation. As such, I can definitely see it as the standard introduction to critical approaches to Japanese animation for years to come, and a definite worthy and welcome successor to those earlier books.
The author, Rayna Denison, is a senior lecturer in the School of Art, Media and American Studies, University of East Anglia. She has written on Japanese animation extensively, going back to 2005, with contributions to Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal, the International Journal of Cultural Studies, Japan Forum, and Scope: An Online Journal of Film Studies, as well as chapters in Japanese Cinema: Texts and Contexts (2007), East Asian Cinemas: Transnational Connections on Film (2008), and the latest edition of Mechademia, as well as the entry on Hayao Miyazaki in the Routledge Fifty Contemporary Film Directors handbook (2011). One particular theme she has explored in depth has been the way that anime has been modified to appeal to Western audiences, such as, for example, using well-known Hollywood actors to voice major characters in English dubs of major theatrical releases of anime films.
It is also interesting to note that the book’s publisher, Bloomsbury, is actively expressing interest in publishing other titles on anime/manga, with Casey Brienza’s Manga in America: Transnational Book Publishing and the Domestication of Japanese Comics and Northrop Davis’s Manga and Anime go to Hollywood scheduled for publication in the coming months.
Note: A more in-depth review of Anime: A Critical Introduction, authored by Jonathan Clements (himself the author of 2013’s Anime: A History is available on the website of the UK anime distribution company Anime Limited.