In a previous post, I highlighted several books that I think are the best to recommend for someone who really knows almost nothing about Japanese animation/Japanese comics, and wants an introduction that is both accessible and reasonably comprehensive. The titles that I profiled – among them Anime: A Critical Introduction, Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga, and Manga: Introduction, Challenges, and Best Practices – all strive to be just. But, what kinds of books could I recommend to a reader who is interested not in anime/manga “broadly defined”, but in the work of a particular anime director or manga artist/writer?
Books on Anime/Manga, Part 2 – Specific Directors/Creators
- Helen McCarthy, Hayao Miyazaki: Master of Japanese Animation – Films, Themes, Artistry (1999)
- Susan Napier, Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke (2001)
Anime from Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle (2005)
- Colin O’Dell & Michelle Le Blanc, Studio Ghibli: The Films of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata (2009, 2015)
- Andrew Osmond, BFI Film Classics: Spirited Away (2008)
For many people, Hayao Miyazaki is anime/Japanese animation – and this is not unreasonable. Sales figures, critical recognition, awards – and scholarship – all contribute to this, to the point where, as Jaqueline Bernd notes (in her essay “Considering manga discourse: Location, ambiguity, historicity”, in Japanese Visual Culture: Explorations in the Worlds of Manga and Anime): “Non-Japanese scholars tend to assume that his movies are typical as a whole because of their mere presence in Japan; they frequently treat these animated movies are mirrors of Japanese culture, assuming the existence of a homogenous audience, and often implicitly comparing them to Disney products, but they rarely locate them within the history and present variety of animation in Japan.” But, again, just as Miyazaki and his films often serve as points of entry into the “worlds of manga anime”, writing on Miyazaki and his films can serve as point of entry to anime scholarship.
First published in 1999, Hayao Miyazaki: Masster of Japanese Animation – Films, Themes, Artistry is likely the first one on Miyazaki that a reader will come across. It is widely available and easy to read, with a straight-forward organizational scheme that consists of an overview of Miyazaki’s “life and work”, chapters on seven of his movies, from Castle of Cagliostro to Princess Mononoke, each divided into identical sections (“Origins”, “Art and technique”, “The characters”, “The story”, “Commentary”), and a concluding one on “The Miyazaki Machine”. Of course, one thing to keep in mind is that it is almost twenty years old now, and so, simply does not cover either the Oscar-winning Spirited Away, Miyazaki’s other subsequent projects, or his role as the conscience – or vocal critic – of the animation industry in Japan.
First published in 2009, and revised in 2015, Studio Ghibli: The Films of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata can rightly be considered its successor – with the benefit of both coverage all the way up to Miyazaki’s latest films, and an expansion in scope. to be truly comprehensive – a survey not of Miyazaki or even Ghibli, but the entire Miyazaki/Ghibli “brand” – both as it is presented, and as it ha been interpreted by audiences and critics.
In the earlier “I want to know more – books on anime/manga” post, I highlighted Susan Napier’s Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation as one of the best “to recommend to someone who really knows almost nothing about Japanese animation/Japanese comics, and wants an introduction that is both accessible and reasonably comprehensive.” When it was first published in 2001, the full title that Prof. Napier used was Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke; the updated 2005 edition changed that to Anime from Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle. Both are not about Miyazaki’s work exclusively, but both do contain significant discussions of his films – in particular, in the 2005 edition’s chapters on “gender panics, masculine crises, and fantasy”, “the shojo in the works of Hayao Miyazaki”, and fantasy, the feminine, and the myth of ‘progress'”. Probably the strongest aspect of Napier’s analysis is the way she is able to contextualize the themes that Miyazaki addresses by examining them alongside other anime – both feature films and television series.
Beyond books that cover the full range of Miyazaki’s work, the British Film Institute’s “Film Classics” series of short evaluations of seminal works of film from around the world includes a volume on Spirited Away (the only other anime title the series covers is Akira). The focus of this title is specifically on Spirited Away’s visuals – and the connections of its “visual language” to both Western and Japanese literature – in particular, Lewis Carroll and Kenji Miyazawa.
Of course, in addition to these books, Miyazaki’s works are discussed in literally dozens of journal articles and chapters in edited essay collections – just those published this year include Fantasy chronotope in two animated children’s films: Walt Disney’s Alice in Wonderland (1951) and Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (2001), Maxime miranda in minimis: Swarm consciousness in Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, and the forthcoming Memory and forgetting: Examining the treatment of traumatic historical memory in Grave of the Fireflies and The Wind Rises. The Hayao Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli Bibliography, which I also edit, lists these going back to 1998’s “Nausicaa and the the fantasy of Hayao Miyazaki” – by Andrew Osmond, who ten years later authored the Spirited Away volume. Looking into the near future, later this year, the East Asian Journal of Popular Culture will publish a “30 Years of Studio Ghibli” special issue, while the essay collection Princess Mononoke: Understanding Studio Ghibli’s Monster Princess is currently scheduled for a January 2018 publication date.
- Natsu Onoda Power. God of Comics: Osamu Tezuka and the Creation of Post-World War II Manga (2009)
As I noted in my introduction to the bibliography of English-language scholarship on Osamu Tezuka, “…it is always hard to come up with adequate words for the role that…[he] played in the development of Japanese comics and Japanese animation…but, at the same time, it is also crucially important to avoid exaggeration and hyperbole, to evaluate the man and his work critically, to consider it in a proper context.” So, while Tezuka has certainly been the subject of plenty of writing, there are two books on him that particularly stand out.
God of Comics is pretty much as stereotypical as an academic study – and one published by a university press can be – and this is in no way meant to disparage this book. Perhaps the best word to apply to it is thorough – a study of Tezuka’s manga, an evaluation of his work in other fields, and at the same time, an analysis of his role in Japanese popular/visual culture. The Astro Boy Essays, on the other hand, is a much more personal work – by someone who knew Tezuka directly and worked with him over a number of years – and so, as much a memoir and a reminiscence as a study.
- Brian Ruh. Stray Dog of Anime: The Films of Mamoru Oshii (2004; 2013)
In terms of pure name recognition outside Japan, Oshii is nowhere near Miyazaki or Tezuka. On the other hand, Ghost in the Shell may very well lay a valid claim to being “the other stereotype” of Japanese animation for non-Japanese audiences. Brian Ruh has been following Oshii’s work for more than a decade now, with the original 2004 edition of Stray Dog of Anime evolving out of his M.A. thesis (written under Susan Napier’s supervision). Like several of the other books I highlight, it takes a film-by-film approach, and the 2013 update expands the approach’s scope to also cover Ghost in the Shell 2 and The Skycrawlers
- Andrew Osmond, Satoshi Kon: The Illusionist (2009)
Not a particularly prolific director, Satoshi Kon received widespread praise for how different his films were from either the Miyazaki/Ghibli model of Japanese animation or the more media mix-driven one – the author of this book specifically uses the words “genre-crossing” and points out that “they feature adult characters, examine grown-up themes, and treat the real, contemporary world…head-on”; Kon’s death in 2010 was mourned as a major loss to film and animation worldwide. Somewhat like Oshii’s work, Kon’s has been addressed in plenty of book chapters and journal articles, but so far, Satoshi Kon: The Illusionist is the only full-length study of Kon’s contribution to Japanese animation – and perhaps, the only one that will be out there for quite some time.
At this point, Miyazaki, Tezuka, Oshii and Kon are the only anime/manga creators to have full English-language books devoted to their work. But this is not to say that as anime/manga studies continues to develop as a field, we won’t see more books of this kind. A number of scholars have already examined the work of Shigeru Mizuki and Makoto Shinkai – and the massive success of Shinkai’s Your Name may very well serve as an impetus for a comprehensive survey of his films. A study of the transmedia work of Hideaki Anno, or the trajectory of Sayo Yamamoto’s career could be similarly fascinating! So, it will be really interesting to see if both scholars and publishers are able to respond to the continuing evolution of Japanese animation and Japanese comics and to the roles that certain individuals play in this process.