Ads for two forthcoming books caught my eye this week. They highlight a hopeful trend in publishing, and hopeful trends are a suitable theme for the first week of the year. Writing about anime, for so long a tiny ghetto at the outer limits of the English-language publishing industry, is establishing itself more securely.
Two new books might not seem like much evidence for this, but they’re two new books calculated to appeal to a broader market, going beyond fandom into the mainstream of pop culture – moving, as it were, from the ghetto to the Fringe. Like a number of recent works in the field, they’re positioned to catch they eye of specialists, without excluding the intelligent general reader.
Manga Impact! The World of Japanese Animation, due in February from Phaidon, emerged from the Manga Impact! strand created by Tiziana Finzi for the 62nd Locarno International Film Festival. Edited by Carlo Chatrian and Grazia Paganello, it will feature contributions from a host of writers and scholars including Noboyuki Tsugata, Philip Brophy, Paul Gravett, and Jonathan Clements.
Zilia Papp’s interest in monstrosity and transformation is reflected in a book out this month from specialist publishers Global Oriental. Anime and Its Roots in Early Japanese Monster Art is billed by the publisher as “the first study … to put today’s anime in historical context by tracking the links between Edo- and Meiji-period painters and the post-war anime series Gegegeno Kitaro by Shigeru Mizuki.” Papp, an academic currently on the faculty at Tokyo’s Hosei University, presented a paper on a similar theme at the European Centre for Japanese Studies in Alsace, France, in November this year, considering yokai as a mirror of anxiety in Japanese media, and contributed a chapter to the fourth issue of academic journal Mechademia on the Great Yokai Wars movies. She’s following in the footsteps of authors both specialist and popular: there have been other recent books on yokai, including Pandemonium and Parade: Japanese Monsters and the Culture of Yokai,from Michael Dylan Foster of Indiana University, and Yoda and Alt’s Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide.
Manga writing, thanks largely to American writers Frederik L. Schodt and Fred Patten, has been established as part of English-language comics publishing for some time. Schodt’s books and Patten’s journalism, plus the enthusiasm of comic artists for the work of their peers in Japan, created a core of interest for comics historians like Brigitte Koyama-Richard and Paul Gravett to build on. The growing popularity of anime over the past decade, and the number of English-speaking academics entering the field, has gradually led to more books being published – but they’re still a tiny number compared to, say, books on French film or embroidery, let alone to the flood of cookery, sports and celebrity titles washing round the bookstores. Still, the trickle of books has grown to a steady stream.
The much-discussed ‘death of the book’ won’t threaten it because that affects formats rather than texts – writers may have to frame and present their work in new ways but there are still readers who want it. In an email discussion with one of my publishers, about the way the whole publishing industry may be headed, I speculated that the book as object will survive, because there are those of us who love books as objects, just as there are those who love the experience of seeing a movie on the cinema screen. But only design-led, picture-heavy books, luxury bindings, or special formats (like the pop-up book) can thrive in that category.
The age of the electronic reader has been coming ever since the Web became searchable. You can now download books to your iPhone, and Apple’s next big thing, the much-rumoured tablet, could change the game just as the iPhone did. I love the feel of paper, but not so much that I won’t happily shed my huge number of fiction and reference works if I can download them – with their illustrations and graphics- and carry them everywhere in a single paperback-sized box.
For reference in particular, having fully searchable text is a killer function. Ever since Jonathan Clements and I indexed The Anime Encyclopedia, I’ve dreamed about taking it electronic – searchable, fast and easy to update, increasing its usefulness to the serious reader and casual browser alike. (Yes, that makes it easier for readers to mine our work for their own purposes – but if you write reference books that’s the point of the exercise.)
So technology will, I think, support rather than threaten the growth of writing about anime and manga. With some interesting new books in prospect for 2010, that growth looks set to continue.