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on May 19, 2003
As the divided reviews of this book suggest, Napier's book seems to have a positioning problem: many general readers find the writing too abstract, dislike Napier's practice of "reading meaning into things," and are justifiably upset about the scattered factual inaccuracies in the writing.
In my opinion, this is actually a very good book; it works best, however, for a broad but specific audience. Napier is a professor of the humanities -- she started out specializing in Japanese literature -- and she writes like one. As some critics have pointed out, Napier is not an anime "fan" in a conventional sense, and it's clear that she isn't up to date on every aspect of fan culture, including the encyclopedic desire for detail and accuracy which many fans demand.
However, despite some angry reader comments, Napier is not an "intruder" from the distant world of academia who has swept down on anime to fulfill someone's hypothetical publication requirement. Although anime is not her home territory, she treats it with enormous respect, choosing her representative texts carefully. Her experience and perspective allow her to discuss patterns and consider trends and themes in ways which much popular writing about anime can't do. At the same time, her writing style -- while actually very accessible for an academic book -- seems to put off many casual readers who weren't expecting the whiff of theoretical abstraction. (Suggestion: if you hate the very idea of an anime book that uses terms like "the feminine," "physical fragmentation" or "apocalyptic identity," this probably is not a book for you.)
Anime is becoming more and more a subject for academic, "high-culture" consideration in both Japan and the U.S., and that seems like a good thing. Fans and academics don't need to be at each other's throats -- everyone can coexist happily. After all, look at the way film culture works! As advice to readers, I think Napier's book will probably be most interesting to anime fans who already spend a lot of time with literary abstractions, or students and fans who are interested in writing and thinking critically about anime -- it's been well received by students at a couple of universities I know who found it very valuable when writing papers on anime subjects for their classes. It's especially useful on subjects like feminist thinking, sexuality, and ecological attitudes: the kind of seriously hard-core issues that American animation never seems to address, and that much writing on anime fails to dig into deeply enough.
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on May 14, 2001
The first thing I need to note is that the title of this book is misleading. It is definitely NOT a survey of recent anime history. It is also not explicitly aimed at an otaku audience, although every otaku out there should be interested. In fact, this is an academic work of film criticism, analyzing a variety of themes that appear in recent anime. Keep this in mind and you won't be disappointed.
I did find a couple of things to be annoying. For one, Napier uses a fair amount of academic Newspeak. It wasn't difficult, just distracting, and I don't think it adds anything to the text. Also, some of her analysis appears to be clouded by the need to bow to the sacred cows of PC. Check out her analysis of gender roles in "Wicked City", where she completely ignores the fact that it is the female lead who ends up being the most powerful character.
Don't let my gripes mislead you. This book's positive points far outweigh it's negatives. Most of Napier's analysis is quite insightful, and I've found myself watching a lot of these anime with her ideas in mind. The fact that she compares concepts between different anime was especially interesting; where else can you get a thorough comparison of the apocalyptic themes in "Akira" and "Evangelion"?
I'm sure plenty of people will be disappointed that their favorite anime didn't rate mention (what, no "Tenchi"?!?). Take this book for what it is, and enjoy it. Then pop in those beat up old "Bubblegum Crisis" tapes and see some old favorites in a new light.
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on January 16, 2004
Well, I found this book to be a blast of fresh air. While nearly all english-language books about Anime that I've encountered before have simply been descriptive/critical accounts of various anime (Such as the excellent Anime Encyclopedia) or collections of facts about an anime/author/anime in general (Hayao Miyazaki : Master of Japanese Animation, Anime Essentials: Every Thing a Fan Needs to Know), this is a book which gives an interesting insight into the possible reasons behind anime's development, and in particular the development behind certain landmark titles - for someone like me, who's as interested in the "why" as they are the "how" behind manga, this book really engages. While there are some slight mistakes in the book (as mentioned in at least one of the above critiques), the general ideas brought forward are thought-provoking, and often (to my mind at least) ring true.
I would, however, NOT recommend this to those who don't have a deep-seated interest in anime, or to those who haven't seen at least half of the anime discussed in the book - as (again) mentioned in one of the above critiques, there ARE some serious spoilers, plus you simply won't be engaged as many of the suggestions made unless you've seen the series/film yourself, and have been able to form your own opinions.
In short, an excellent book for those who are truly interested in anime and the influences behind it, but not really recommendable to anyone else.
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on April 27, 2001
Napier presents an in-depth analysis of anime works that are popular in the US. The book seems to try to meet demands from both non-academic anime fans and academics who need information about pop culture of contemporary Japan. Unfortunately, this book does not meet either demands to the level of satisfaction. If you are a hard-core anime fan, you must simply wonder why the golden age of anime, which is from the late 70s to the 80s, are largely ignored. You might also wonder why only the anime titles that are popular in the West are treated in the book. For example, among Miyazaki Hayao's works, the most important (for both fans and creators of anime in Japan) are Lupin, Nausicaa and Laputa: Mononoke Hime's importance is a very recent idea marketed by Disney to American audience. Furthermore, Napier does not care about the important anime titles (in terms of both anime history and Japanese culture) like Gundam and Macross. Her anime collection seems to be limited to US official releases (I guess she doesn't watch fansubs...) If you are an academic who is looking for an overview and some concrete information about Japanese anime, then this book will not help you much. For example, she regards Akira as a representative anime work, but the truth is that Akira is important because it was the first international release. The same can be said about Ghost in the Shell. In short, Napier only discusses anime titles that are visible to American or Western audience and discuss them as if Japan has had the same perception of anime as America. There are many important anime works before Akira. Actually, compared to those, Akira is not so important at all. What if you see a book that tries to explain what American literature is, without mentioning Emerson, Hawthorne and Melville? As a reader who is both an academic and an anime fan, I don't see who this book is trying to target as its legitimate reader. Overall, Napier's discussions in this book are organized and solid as a scholarly work, but her approach and presumed frame of logic should be seriously questioned.
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I am not a fan of Post-Modern literary analysis. I cannot get enthused about any method of viewing artistic creation that has a paradigm or 'method' to its madness, but Post-Modernism is a pet peeve. By the end of a Post-Modernist study, I know considerably more about the writer's ideas about method than I do about the ostensible subject. Napier is by no means the worst example of this I have seen, but she still falls for the substitution of terminology for content that is so rife in this school. And the same willingness to renegotiate narrative paradigms without any allegiance to the source context.
The title is somewhat misleading. I picked up 'Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke' because the title seems to promise a survey of a range of anime. Actually, the organization of the book, and the basis for the inclusion of a particular title, is primarily driven by a set of theories about anime. 'From' and 'to' are inapplicable. The primary sections of the book are essays, one group about 'Body, Metamorphosis, Identity', another about 'Magical Girls and Fantasy Worlds', and a last on 'Anime Confronts History.' The productions selected for inclusion were chosen by the author's need to make a point. While Napier does cover some important anime (Evangelion, Mononoke, Akira, Miyazaki Hayao, etc.) there are many others that might contradict her theses that are simply glossed over.
In the section on 'Body', there are many cases where she seems completely unaware of focusing on a factor and interpreting it in an American way, divorcing the material from its Japanese root. In other words, the effect of 2,000 years of Japanese culture is minimized, and perspectives common to many cultures are presented as if they were uniquely Japanese. Anyone who watches anime knows that the physical is an important part of the art form. But American film is just as exploitative if not more so. The shame is that films like 'Akira' and the 'Ghost in the Machine' have much more to them than this, and all that is missed. Napier is quick to use American definitions of pornography as well, rather than use cultural divergence as a way to gain insight into what the Japanese consider intimate or prurient.
Another example of this is in a longer discussion of Evangelion as an apocalyptic film. Keep in mind that there are two different endings to Evangelion, and that the series ending really is not about apocalypse at all. The second ending, of course, definitely appears to be an apocalyptic vision. Napier takes the repetitive presence of some arcane Judeo-Christian symbolism as evidence that the director really intended a Christian 'Revelations' context and pursues that to excess. In doing so, she completely missed the fact that the film is also an enactment of the Kojiki, an important Japanese creation legend. My personal belief is that the misleading Christian symbolism is used to create a mysterious atmosphere, but in no way is intended to become the 'meaning' of the film or the series. By failing to note the Japanese facets of Evangelion, Napier tries to recreate it in an American context. To me, this is a narrow vision.
I find the use of Post-Modern terminology when plain English will do tedious. I don't think that 'problematize,' defamiliarize,' and 'deassurance' are value added. At best, they are a short hand, and at worst, they mislead the reader into thinking that they stand for the creator's actual purpose.
So read this with the warning that it is not an unbiased attempted to expand upon our knowledge of anime as an art form. Susan Napier has a several theses that she wishes to propound. Her choices are based on their ability to promote her opinions. Had the book been represented as what it actually is, I would have far less to quibble about, although I would still have disagreed with several of her ideas. Alas, this is decidedly not a study of anime as a Japanese phenomenon, and that is what I was looking for.
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on August 21, 2001
If you're expecting a brief overview of the very awesome world that is anime, don't come running to this book. If you're a beginner, it might scare you off. As (again!) other reviewers have already said, it's not an overview- it's extremely literate criticism. Which is not to say it's bad!: if you're well-versed enough in the territory of anime to relate with any of the titles analyzed, I highly recommend it. It's thoroughly thought-provoking and interesting (the Princess Mononoke essay I think is particularly well-done).
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on August 16, 2002
Back in college I had a bunch of friends who were heavily into anime and so I ended up watching quite a bit of it. The main reason for watching it was sophisticated level of animation, quite a bit beyond anything being done in the U.S., but there were also some interesting themes and characters. I enjoyed this book because it was fun to read an attempt to look at some of the underlying themes in those movies. The author's analysis of 'Princess Mononoke' was brillant and gave me some insights into why this movie was a such a success in Japan, an advanced industrial society whose native religion, Shintoism, involves the worship of nature. She also did a nice job with the 'Ranma 1/2' series(about a boy who changes sex), and the 'Evangelion' series (a powered armor anime that is a fairly sophisticated).
On the other hand, the author seems a little bit over obsessed with gender issues. So for example 'Ghost in the Shell' is a masterpiece that addresses questions about human identity in the face of transforming technology, but the author misses most of the symbolism and focuses on the which characters are female and why. I found myself angry when the author insisted on applying this gender based analysis to 'Grave of the Fireflies', the story of an orphaned boy and his baby sister slowly succumbing to poverty in World War II Japan.
If you are someone like me who used to watch these films and is interested in looking at them with an in depth approach, I'd have to recommend this book, even with the reservations about the gender based analysis
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on June 20, 2005
I am a huge fan of anime and also of the Japanese culture and history. I figured that this book would be interesting. I heard good things about it and bad things about it but wanted to judge it myself.

First - it was first published in 2000 which means that the anime scene has already changed greatly. In fact, many of the points made in the book would have been outdated by the time it was printed.

Second - she seems to focus a lot of sex. Now that may be because much of her information, and the anime she selected to view, came from University students or stores who supplied students. The idea that pornography is a _major current_ within the world of anime is a interesting but flawed statement. Erotic anime makes up a small corner of the anime produced in Japan and it has greater sales abroad than in its homeland. In fact, I would go as far as to say that Non-Japanese would be the main target for this type of anime - which means trying to understand the Japanese male-female relationship via adult anime is also flawed. But it might tell us alot about American and European college students.

She has tons of interesting points to make but the foundations she builds to hold them up seem weak and shaky. For example, she talks about men's insecurity and their need for Mecha using sci-fi shows where most of the pilots are female. She uses sources about American Superheros to talk about Japanese characters.

Also, while she did mention a Tenchi movie, she seems to skip the Tenchi Muyo! TV shows. What about Dominion Tank Police, Gall Force, Martian Successor Nadesico, Wings of Honneamise, any of the Gundam shows or even Dirty Pair? I don't think she even once writes about CLAMP!

In other words, while she does get into detail about a few areas of anime, she is far from covering it all. So buyer beware and buy it used.

I would also suggest _The Erotic Anime Movie Guide_ by Helen McCarthy and Jonathan Clements for the history and true understanding of erotic anime. For understanding mainstream anime I would suggest _Anime Explosion_ by Patrick Drazen, _Samurai From Outer Space_ by Antonia Levi and _The Anime Companion_ by Gulles Poitras. ^_^
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on April 2, 2001
Anyone who's taken a college-level Japanese class in the last few years knows that most of the students are there because of ANIME. That's the major hook for those of us who want to learn the language. Napier's book definitely fills a need: that of students and professors looking to incorporate anime into their curricula, in a way that reflects current Japanese society, pop culture, and traditional ways of thought. She does a good, solid job of this, and hits all the high notes... sailor moon, akira, atom boy, etc. But what about everything else??? The U.S. media (and academics, apparently) still have a pretty narrow view of what constitutes anime, and stereotypes abound. But this is still a solid, plausible look at the "anime phenomenon" from the academic perspective, and a lot more exciting than reviewing your hiragana or kanji!
** But anyway, real otaku should be holding their breath for THE ANIME ENCYCLOPEDIA, which is coming in September. If you're hardcore (or aspiring to be), definitely check this one out. It's 600 pages, with over 2,000 anime listed, dating from 1917 till the present. All the details on all the films. I think it's by Jonathan Clements, who was the old Manga Max editor in the U.K.
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I'll admit that among the first anime I focused on watching were the LA Blue Girl, Angel of Darkness, and Twin Doll series because of the graphic violence and violations committed against women. However, after reading Susan Napier's study on Anime, I was noticeably enlightened and focused on getting certain quality titles. Napier, who teaches Japanese literature and culture at UTex, Austin, argues that anime has historical roots, from woodcarvings by Hiroshige Ando in the 19th century, the Edo Period of the Tokugawa period, such as the erotic kibyoshi books, to Zen cartoons in the medieval era, and even the Kabuki traditions.
As to why has anime become so popular with the release of Akira in 1988, the answer lies in the genres diversity in themes, the fact that it's not as predictable or sanitized as the child-geared Disney cartoons, and of course there's that unique visual style of those big-eyed, small waists, long-legged miniskirted women. But the characters are more human and thus realistic, not straight black-and-white, but cases where heroes have some negative qualities and villains some positive ones. And depending on the genre, anime reaches out to all age groups. It's also an art form, and dramatic and intellectual in the same way independent films should be.
Females are more assertive and stand out as role models for young girls, whether it be San from Mononokehime, the klutzy but powerful Usagi of Sailor Moon, or Miko and Miyu, the demon fighting sisters in the graphically adult LA Blue Girl. Compare that to wimpy heroines in Disney movies, where ironically, the more assertive females are the villains (Medusa in the Rescuers, Ursula in Little Mermaid, and the Evil Queen in Snow White). But they are also seen as nurturing and supportive (q.v. Belldandy in Oh My Goddess).
However, anime also stands as a resistance against American-style globalization in pop culture. Apart from the reasons listed, I sometimes think Americans who like anime do so for the same reason, to find other outlets, for the same reason certain people want foreign films to get away from the usual Hollywood grind.
Napier examines certain sub-genres in anime: post-nuclear, elegy, the carnival, the graphic adult anime, and mecha, underlying that the first three are the most significant.
Akira is viewed as a study of the post-apocalyptic society as well as teenage alienation; the former is a reminder that Japan was the only nation to have an atomic bomb dropped on it.
The fantasy element is examined in the "magical girlfriend" subgenre in Oh My Goddess! and Video Girl Ai, which goes beyond the movie star onscreen stepping into real life in The Purple Rose of Cairo.
Neon Evangelion is examined by Napier in the examination of the mecha genre. There's clearly a technophobic dynamic explored in live-action movies like Terminator and Robocop, of the dangers of technology gone amuck. And video games like Robotron 2087, I'd like to add.
The elegiac mode harkens back to a nostalgic yearning for something long gone, which in Japan's case involves the traditional countryside life that has been abandoned due to post-war industrialization, such as Only Yesterday, discussed in length. However, it can also indicate loss or a search for something, exemplified by the cyborg agent Kusanagi's search for her human soul in Ghost In The Shell.
And yes, there is a section on Miyazaki Hayao, whose then-latest film, Mononokehime, broke Japanese box office records and won Best Picture at the Japanese film awards for 1997. The still must-be-reissued Nausicaa and the Valley Of The Winds, a post-nuclear tale that was a favourite of Aum Shinri Kyo leader Asahara Shoko, the cute Tonarino Totoro (My Neighbour Totoro), examining the assertiveness of the sisters Satsuki and Mei, and Mononokehime, studying the man versus nature (the wild gods), but also technology (iron) versus nature, and some more assertive females, the title character San, Moro, the she-wolf who raised her, and Lady Eboshi, leader of the iron-forging village who wants to clear the forests.
A good start in learning the what and whys of anime, with with college-level discourses by Ms. Napier.
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