Review of Masao Yokota and Tze-yue G. Hu (eds.). Japanese Animation: East Asian Perspectives. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2013.
This book was put together by a prominent clinical psychologist with a long experience in the psychological dimensions of animation (Yokota) and an educator and researcher (Hu) who has also authored an appreciable monograph, Frames of Anime: Culture and Image-Building (Hong Kong UP 2010). The volume partly stems from a panel held at a conference, but, for the most part, the collection is formed of essays that were not presented on that occasion. However, there is no focus in this book: the ‘perspectives’ offered are not alternative views on a compact topic or set of topics, they are rather, for the most part, isolated approaches on very diverse areas and themes. There are too many trajectories, and some of the chapters are thematically very distant from the others.
This review reaches you, readers, in 2019, but the work here explained is from 2013. This gives us a bit of ‘perspective’, playing with the same word in the book’s title. First of all, it is rare that a collection of essays on Japanese animation all written by Asian scholars is published in English. The publication by a US publisher is an important sign of recognition.
The book is divided into six sections. The longest section is the first. The first chapter, which is by Nobuyuki Tsugata and is titled ‘A Bipolar Approach to Understanding the History of Japanese Animation’, is a summary of the development of animation in Japan. This and related topics are explained in some chapters distributed in the first and second sections; in particular, Yasushi Watanabe’s chapter ‘The Japanese Walt Disney’ focusing on Kenzō Masaoka and Hu’s chapter ‘Animating for “Whom” in the Aftermath of a World War’ discuss the rich dialogue between artistic aims and industrial needs and government commissions in Japanese animation between the early 1930s and late 1940s. Hu is the author of another chapter of the first section: ‘Reflections on the Wan Brothers’ Letter to Japan’, which historicizes the deep influence of Chinese animation on Japanese cartoon productions of the 1930s and 1940s (and beyond).
The chapters ‘On the Establishment and the History of the Japan Society of Animation Studies’ (by Masashi Koide) and ‘More on the History of the Japan Society of Animation Studies’ (by Hiroshi Ikeda) are revealing of the human and intellectual dimensions behind the birth of studies on animation in Japan. The two chapters are complementary, and in two senses: one is written by an academic and the other by an outstanding pioneer of Japanese animation.
In the second section, besides the chapters already mentioned, Akiko Sano signs a study titled ‘Chiyogami, Cartoon, Silhouette’ devoted to master animator Noburō Ōfuji.
In the third section, the topics are very diverse. The first chapter, ‘Tezuka and Takarazuka’ (by Makiko Yamanashi), reconstructs the relationship between Osamu Tezuka with the town in which he spent his whole youth. The following chapter, ‘Growing Up with Astro Boy and Mazinger Z’ by Korean scholar Dong-Yeon Koh, relates to the success that Japanese tv animated series for kids gained in South Korea despite the long ban on Japanese cultural imports. Kenny K. N. Chow, in ‘From Haiku and Handscroll to Tezuka’, explains the goal of one of his animation courses at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
The fourth section starts with a chapter by Akiko Sugawa-Shimada titled ‘Grotesque Cuteness of Shōjo’, which focuses on the representations of the Goth-Loli subculture and fashion aesthetics in some Japanese contemporary tv anime. The chapter is a pleasant and dense reading, especially the first part on the contextualization of gender issues in Japanese society.
The following essay, by Korean scholar Joon Yang Kim, tackles the recurrent presence, in several films and series of a certain period in anime’s history, of a romance between a Japanese man and a non-Japanese woman. Kim starts by positing an educated doubt about the way the concept of mukosuseki has been used to address anime, whereas a more correct term could perhaps be kokusaika or internationalism, used by Hu in her own 2010 monograph. This essay is great scholarship and I hope it will raise better awareness on the ‘iconographic and iconological study of characters portrayed in the field of animation’ (239).
The fifth section of the book is composed of two chapters. The creative duo Ikif (animators Tokumitsu Kifune and Sonoko Ishida) signs the chapter ‘3-D Computer Graphics’, a short treatise on the technical solutions used for the realization of a quantity of animated sequences for the movie Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004) and the cgi films on Doraemon (2004-2008). ‘Animation and Psychology’ is the title and topic of Masao Yokota’s own chapter. It is an analysis of the work of late Kihachirō Kawamoto. Yokota’s expertise allowed him to conduct a subtle analysis of the artist’s films in a purely psychological framework.
The sixth and final part of the book includes Ikeda’s second contribution to the book (‘The Background of the Making of Flying Phantom Ship’) and three short appendixes. Ikeda’s essay focuses on the film Soratobu Yūreisen (‘The flying ship’, 1969), based on a manga by legendary Shōtarō Ishinomori, produced by Tōei Dōga, and directed precisely by Ikeda himself. Ikeda shares his memories on the production and the cultural milieu that produced that result.
Japanese Animation: East Asian Perspectives is an important collection. It offers essays and, as the title correctly announces, different standpoints on Japanese animation by East Asian scholars and professionals of the field. It is a must-read for the following categories of readers: (1) scholars of Japanese studies in the fields of humanities and arts; (2) animation historians and scholars of the moving image at large, with particular interest in the Asian (and not only Japanese) contexts; (3) American and European film scholars who perhaps specialize in Asian/Japanese cinema, but have seldom had the opportunity to read about Japanese animation; (4) students and scholars of Japanese popular culture who are fond of that area of Japanese animation that many call anime, and which is but one among the many fields of the animation cinema made in Japan by Japanese creators. In fact, precisely a vast, potential audience of anime fans can find in this book a way to widen their often too narrow knowledge about animated cinema made in Japan. To give even more value to the book and putting it even more ‘in perspective’ is the recent news that a new volume by the same editors is to be published this spring by the same UP. I can’t wait to have in my hands the new installment of this scholarly endeavor in the study of Japanese animation.
Marco Pellitteri is a mass media sociologist and teaches in the School of Journalism and Communication of Shanghai International University. Among his publications, the book The Dragon and the Dazzle (2010) and articles on the Journal of Italian Cinema and Media Studies, Animēshon Kenkyū, Studies in Comics, Yuriika, Arts, Kritika Kultura, and many others.