Watching Anime, Reading Manga
It's hard to review a non-fiction collection of essays and articles related to one of my favorite hobbies - watching anime and reading manga.
Let me qualify that statement. It's hard to rate or score such a book. It was a blast to read, and thus easy to "review". However, its value will vary depending upon a person's interest in the industry and how it's evolved in America over the past 25 years.
I'm not sure that anyone out there is more qualified (or more adept) than Fred Patten when it comes to taking fans of anime and manga on a guided tour of the events that have helped to shape our conception of and inspire our addiction to anime and manga.
As a professional journalist who's been covering the arrival of Japanese entertainment since the 70's, Fred Patten knows a thing or two about the domestic industry. This book is an illuminating collection of articles that he wrote over the past quarter century, chronicling the evolutionary steps of the American anime movement.
Perhaps more interesting than the articles detailing the gradual importation and increasing acceptance of anime and manga in the States are those of a more sinister nature. Controversies, such as the Kimba versus Simba debacle (or the less intense Atlantis versus Nadia battle) are presented in a thoughtful, erudite manner, facilitated both by the passage of time (more details emerging over time) and by Patten's natural professionalism.
The articles, published in various trade magazines over the years, cover a wide range of topics, including anime fandom, the business of anime, artist information, and general Japanese culture. The sixty-three articles are presented without content modification, but most of them are accompanied by annotations that help to put them into perspective.
For a more than casual fan of anime or manga who is interested in tracing the development of American fandom, this book is required reading. It's fascinating for those of us who weren't around (or able) to get into anime when it was in its infancy. Many current fans have never attended a convention or watched a fansub, or imported a manga release because it was impossible to get it otherwise.
Watching Anime, Reading Manga gives readers an idea of how things were in the recent past. Some of us recall the stigma of over-the-top violence and sexuality that plagued anime in the 90s, and still remains in the minds of some Americans to this day. Some of us remember watching Robotech and Voltron on television. The question of those shows' origins may have never crossed my mind, but I knew that I liked them, and they certainly planted the seeds of what was to become my addiction in the decade that followed.
There are two potential issues with this book. Some people may find Patten's collection a little too dry to read. Some of these articles were published in professional journals; not the occasionally more entertaining pages of NewType. Patten takes anime and manga seriously, viewing it as a valid type of popular artistic culture, and he treats it as such in his writings.
The other problem that I can imagine isn't really the author's fault at all. It's simply the fact that I believe that the domestic manga and anime industry is still undergoing tremendous change. Therefore, readers who want to get a definitive history of manga and anime in the States will have to update their information as new developments arise.
Of course, the rapid evolutionary pace of the industry is nothing to whine about, and if Fred Patten puts out another book to follow this one up, I'll be glad to purchase it as well.
One thing is for certain - anime and manga are here to stay. To date, fans still have a significant say in what happens in the industry. Knowing where it came from and who helped to bring it over here will provide an edge to those who'd like to have an influence on where it's going, thus this book is a must-read for any person desirous of getting into the American anime scene.
Perhaps it lacks excitement and adventure, but as a serious fan of Japanese culture, I found Fred Patten's book very interesting. After reading it, I feel a little better about supporting the anime companies that I like, a little less impressed with Disney's management, and quite a bit more inspired by the late, great Osamu Tezuka.
If you're a fan of the industry, go to your local bookstore and order a copy of this in for yourself. You won't be disappointed.