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Book review: Japanese Animation, edited by Masao Yokota and Tze-yue G. Hu

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 July, 2014, 8:37pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 July, 2014, 12:07pm

Japanese Animation: East Asian Perspectives
edited by Masao Yokota and G. Hu Tze-yue
HKU Press
3 stars
Ben Sin

Although it has lost, in the past decade, its status as a global economic power, Asia's pop culture driver and world technology leader to, respectively, China, South Korea and the US, Japan still has some cultural exports that are sacrosanct.

One of these is anime, a global phenomenon that has spawned several subcultures (the obsessive fans known as otaku, and cosplayers, for example) and influenced Hollywood films.

Japanese Animation offers a collection of essays by scholars and media practitioners that looks at the history and influence of the anime industry. Grouped into six sections, these essays explore the history of anime; the sometimes perverse nature of the work (this is an industry, after all, that features erotic animation known as hentai); the industry's influence on Western animation; and more.

That these are essays translated and edited by scholars won't be lost on readers: the tone of the book is staid - which is unfortunate, given the subject matter is a lively and colourful form of entertainment.

Still, the content is fascinating, with many anecdotes resonating beyond the medium. For example, South Korean academic Koh Dong-yeon writes that the South Korean government used Astro Boy to promote rapid industrialisation and as an anti- communist symbol against North Korea.

Another highlight is a gossipy essay on the history of the Japan Society for Animation Studies by Hiroshi Ikeda, the former animation director of Toei Animation. Hayao Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli, too, are analysed in essays about animators who've lived through turbulent times in Japanese history.

It's odd, however, to find that Akira Toriyama's Dragonball Z has been ignored, since the action-packed anime is arguably the most popular series ever.

The book's editors - psychology professor Masao Yokota and US scholar Hu Tze-yue - contribute essays that provide differing perspectives from East and West. While a little dry, Japanese Animation is highly informative for those wanting a deeper understanding of the industry.

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