Anime Book Review: Japanese Animation: East Asian Perspectives

Japanese Animation: East Asian Perspectives is a book that consists of translated essays that were written East Asian media practitioners, designers, educators and scholars. The collection was edited by Masao Yokota and G. Hu Tze-yue, and published by University Press of Mississippi in 2013. This is a book that’s aimed more at anime fans who have an interest in academics rather than the more casual viewer or fan of the art form.

Japanese Animation: East Asian Perspectives
Publisher: University Press of Mississippi
Digital Release Date: 2013
Physical Release Date: October 21, 2014

The book opens with an introduction, which includes “Frameworks for Teaching and Researching Japanese Animation” and “Some Thoughts on the Research Essays and Commentary.” These two sections help the reader to understand where a lot of the essays included in the book come from and why they are the way they are.

The main part of the book is broken out into six sections: “Animation Studies and Animation History in Japan,” “Pioneers of Japanese Animation,” “Popular Culture, East-West Expressions, and Tezuka Osamu,” “Female Characters and Transnational Identities,” “Artistic Animation and Expression in Japan,” and “Japan’s First Commercial Animation Studio after the Second World War: Toei.”

The first section, “Animation Studies and Animation History in Japan” was a mixed bag for me. The best essay in this section is “Reflections on the Wan Brothers’ Letter to Japan: The Making of Princess Iron Fan.” When I’ve looked into the history of anime over the years, I had seen references to the Chinese production of Princess Iron Fan, but I didn’t know much about it prior to reading this essay. I thought this essay did a good job of explaining Princess Iron Fan and its connection to anime during the art form’s early years.

My least favorite essay in the first section was “On the Establishment and the History of the Japan Society for Animation Studies.” Unfortunately the essay’s author, Masashi Koide, has a tendency to ramble during this essay; I found the rambling to be distracting and hampering my enjoyment of reading it. A second essay about the Japan Society for Animation Studies, which was written by Hiroshi Ikeda, was a lot more tolerable.

This section also included an essay called “A Bipolar Approach to Understanding the History of Japanese Animation,” which was essentially a rundown on the history of anime.

The second section, “Pioneers of Japanese Animation,” featured essays about Ofuji Noburo, Masaoka Kenzo, and the animation that was produced during the Allied Forces Occupation from 1945 to 1952. This third essay about the anime from the Allied Forces Occupation period was the most interesting to me, since very little tends to be written about the anime that was produced and screened during that particular time period. Through this essay, I learned about two anime films from this time period: Sakura (directed by Masaoka Kenzo) and Maho no pen (directed by Kumakawa Masao. This was a very fascinating read, and it gave me insights into a couple of anime that I had never heard of previously.

The third section is “Popular Culture, East-West Expressions, and Tezuka Osamu.” The main focus of this section is on Osamu Tezuka, although one of the essays is focused on the reception of Astro Boy and Mazinger Z in South Korea. To me, the best essay in this section is “Tezuka and Takarazuka: Intertwined Roots of Japanese Popular Culture.” Though this essay, I learned a little bit more about Tezuka than I had known before reading this book, especially about how where he grew up had an influence on his work.

The fourth section is “Female Characters and Transnational Identities,” and it contained two essays. The first is about the goth-loli representation in contemporary anime, while the other deals with interracial relationships between Japanese male characters and non-Japanese female characters. Of these two essays, I thought the interracial relationships one was stronger. Of course, it probably helped that a couple of the examples came from older anime series that I’m very familiar with (Space Battleship Yamato and Super Dimension Fortress Macross).

“Artistic Animation and Expression in Japan” consists of two essays. The first talks about the creation and teaching of the professional animation techniques in Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence and in some of the more recent Doraemon films. Unfortunately, since I haven’t personally seen any of the works referenced in this essay, I had a hard time connecting with it. The other looks at animation and psychology through the midlife crisis experienced by animator Kawamoto Kihachiro. This was a decent essay, and it includes a number of images at the end of the essay for the reader to use as a reference, since it’s not likely that North American readers would have had a chance to see any of his work prior to reading this book.

The final section only includes one essay, which provides the background on the making of the Flying Phantom Ship anime film. While I haven’t personally had a chance to see this particular film, this essay provided enough information about the film that I was pretty much able to follow and understand what was being talked about.

Overall, Japanese Animation: East Asian Perspectives is a good read for anime viewers who also have a scholarly interest in the art form. As a North American anime viewer, it was interesting to get to hear perspectives on anime that come out of East Asia. While this isn’t necessarily a book someone would want to read multiple times, it’s worth it to read it at least once in order to glean some new information on anime that you may not be able to find elsewhere.

I wrote this review after reading a pre-release copy of Japanese Animation: East Asian Perspectives that I acquired through the NetGalley.com website.

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