Can you recall when it became apparent to you that Anime was more than a cartoon? Was it Speed Racer? Was it Jubei Ninpocho’s superb 1993 film Ninja Scroll? For a professor of Japanese Culture and Literature; Susan Napier it was Manga Comics. In her book, Anime (2000 Palgrave Press), Napier sets out on a scholarly mission to grasp the reality of the superhuman elements, high energy animation and emotionally driven filmmakers who weave this animated quilt that converges Eastern and Western philosophy.
Napier’s perspective somewhat glorifies her own discoveries in this new found art, which to diehard Anime fans will seem a little late coming. At times she sounds like an educated outsider peaking through a keyhole to a much larger door. Napier really just scratches the surface of Anime, but as an academic can dig deep into the cultural ramifications, symbolism and metaphorical meanings behind the imagery. She is obviously a quick learner.
As much as we now see Anime’s impact on Western, specifically American culture, we tend to ignore the influence of Western animation and culture on Japanese animation. Most of the early pioneering animators in Japan attribute Disney as a major influence, also from Ridley Scott’s film Blade Runner and William Gibson’s literary sci-fi Neuromancer. Japanese Anime blossomed on television, as their live action film industry, (old school Kung Fu flicks), gradually declined in the 1950’s and 60’s. You can arguably say that Tezuka Osamus’ Astro Boy, which premiered with much acclaim in 1963, is the godfather of Anime. Include Speed Racer in that mix and you have the cross-cultural appeal of a show that gave American youth their first taste of Japanese style. It is ironic that now most Disney Animators claim Hayao Miyazaki, who most recently gave us Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Howl’s Moving Castle as their major influence.
Napier tries to reveal that traditions and developments in both Eastern and Western animation have edged each other along. Among the minimal references to Anime Classics you will find, Akira, Ranma ½, Ghost in the Shell, Twin Dolls, Legend of the Overfield, Neon Genesis Evangelion and a few other worthy mentions. The most fascinating aspect of the book is the surveys Napier conducted to profile the American Anime fan; she gave questions pertaining to their belief in God, political preference and sexuality.
Unless you are starting the definitive collection of Anime memorabilia, you won’t miss too much from the book. While it is a thoughtful read and something that will enhance your appreciation, an Anime lover might feel violated by Napier’s academic probe.