Anime and Philosophy

Just out is Anime and Philosophy, a new entry in the (decade-long!) Popular Culture and Philosophy series that I had the pleasure of reading early for the purpose of blurbing.

Anime and Philosophy cover
Anime and Philosophy
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(In case you’re curious, my blurb said “Thought-provoking and mind-blowing! Anime fans will gain new insight into their film favorites through readable commentary and analysis of animation classics.”)

I’m leery when it comes to these kinds of books. I have a masters degree in popular culture, so I’ve read my share of academic writing about popular subjects, and I’ve come to greatly prefer those who favor readability over citations and jargon. I was pleased to see that this book definitely went in the former direction. More, I could read articles about films I hadn’t seen (many of them, since my anime experience is limited compared to the contributors and core audience) and still follow the points and description.

There were a couple of places with room for improvement. The introduction, by someone who used to work at anime import pioneer Manga Entertainment, makes the mistake of talking more about her life than the subject at hand. She raises good points about the struggles anime has faced in gaining acceptance, and conflicts between business needs and fan desires, but they get lost in trivia about company projects.

I also wish that there were a lot more illustrations, but copyright makes that difficult. The only significant art is on the section dividers, which are manga-influenced fan drawings that should have been better designed for black-and-white reproduction. The dark shading makes some of them seem cluttered and hard to read. But then comes the meat of the book, chapters about

  • body transformation and cyborgs and the definition of humanity (especially Gunslinger Girl and Ghost in the Shell)
  • an analysis of the end of Akira in light of definitions of identity
  • a script for a hypothetical sequel to Magnetic Rose
  • an appreciation of community and cultural history as shown in Spirited Away
  • portrayals of religious symbols and theology in anime
  • civilization collapse as shown in Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
  • what Mobile Suit Gundam says about just war theory
  • competition and advancement in shonen anime such as Dragon Ball and One Piece
  • the heroic archetype reflected in Fullmetal Alchemist; another piece uses that story to examine the economics of capitalism
  • what Astro Boy says about the nuclear bomb and the atomic age
  • an introductory survey of adult anime (hentai)

As well as other topics. I appreciated that many of the examples used were well-known films, enough so that I’d heard about them before, giving me a familiar entry point into the philosophical points under discussion. There’s also a short glossary at the back, cutely labeled “Subtitles” — although you won’t know it’s there until after you need it — and bibliographies of sources both philosophical and anime.

Coming this summer from the series: Manga and Philosophy! (The publisher provided a complimentary copy.)


5 Responses to “Anime and Philosophy”

  1. Hal Shipman Says:

    [ahem]

  2. Johanna Says:

    I know, but your article didn’t sum up so quickly into one line. How would you describe it?

  3. Hal Shipman Says:

    LOL

    How about:
    * an argument that “Grave of the Fireflies” is actually an indictment of the child’s adventure genre in anime.

  4. Johanna Says:

    Wow, now, why couldn’t I think of that? That’s a great summary. I think it’s the word “indictment” that I was missing.

  5. Hal Shipman Says:

    Maybe because you didn’t have to work with it for 4 months amid the initial pitch, rewrites and proofing. That gives you plenty of time to distill a summary.

    Though I’ve been working with my master’s thesis for almost 2 years now (waiting on the final sign-off from my adviser), and I STILL can’t describe that argument in less than a paragraph.

    Be sure to let Joe & I know if you guys would have time to grab a meal while you’re here for C2E2. At very least, we need to catch up at the con!

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