Anime: A History by Jonathan Clements (book review).

Japanese animation or anime is a huge successful and very diverse multimedia industry. As Jonathan Clements says himself in ‘Anime: A History’, it is a ‘medium’ rather than a genre. This book is based on Clements PHD doctorate and is a highly detailed discussion on the history of animation, predominately in Japan and its spread round the world. Unusually, it has a great deal of depth of early 20th century animation, referencing early western animation performances, such as those of cartoonist Winsor McCay and Georges Méliès exploration of film and animation special effects. The book also discusses the general impact of western cinema and how this was received in Japan and the shift from magic lantern shows to that of cinema and film.


There are not many books that discuss pre-Tezuka (‘Astro Boy’, etc.) anime and it’s refreshing to get a book that explores early animations and discusses there production methods in quite a lot of depth. There’s a chapter which discusses the impact of war (1939 onward) and the introduction of the 1939 film law which, among other measures, required a program of newsreels and cultural films to be shown at an evening at the cinema. It also interestingly discusses the impact of foreign films on Japan generally as well as its impact on Japanese anime throughout the book

Clements provides us an insight not only into the films but there production, teething problems and even the state of various animation studios and the impact on animators. The obvious points of contact are covered, such as ‘Astro Boy’, ‘Pokémon’, ‘Evangelion’ and the uptake from the 1970s of anime and manga in the west. There isn’t so much a focus on particular titles but more an overview of studios, styles, production values of the creators. There is a discussion on the impact of 3D and computer technology and not only in production. The influence of anime and manga on computer and console games and also how the likes of the Amiga allowed sub-titling of generally unavailable anime in the west by fans.

This book touches on a lot of points that are not usually covered in this type of book, allowing the reader to get a more rounded appreciation of the history of anime and the impact Japanese culture, plus its effect on the west and its influence on modern media. The book also discusses who the makers we’re aiming at and who eventually watched. It focuses less on the actual content, although that is discussed, but it gives you a peek into who, why and what was made over the last century along with the scandals and less well known sides. It ends with an optimistic view that anime’s success lays with the artist not a bank balance.

Phil Jones

May 2014

(pub: British Film Institute. 256 page enlarged paperback. Price: £21.99 (UK), $28.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-84457-390-5)

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