on 22 September 2014
This is an assured, entertaining and informative book, clearly the product of both a lot of experience and a lot of hard work assessing sources and gathering data.
I should note that it diverges in two important ways from 'anime history' as thought of by many anime fans. First, it starts at the beginning: in 220 pages of prose, you must wait c. 110 pages for the arrival of Astro Boy and c. 160 pages for the arrival of titles like Space Battleship Yamato and Mobile Suit Gundam. The positive side of covering everything is room for fascinating material about, for example, didactic military animation during the Pacific War or experiments with animation technology in early twentieth-century Japan; the negative side is less detail than you might expect about eras we've actually heard of. Second, it is primarily a history of anime-the-product rather than of the contents of anime. Clements categorises his subject in a six-part chain of ownership, authorship, production, distribution, exhibition and access. While he certainly doesn't ignore trends in animation, subject or narrative, he focusses on how things were made and how they were seen (or, sometimes, how they were not seen). Most anime histories I've encountered in English have, by contrast, focussed on the genealogy of content, tracing particular kinds of character or story element or, more rarely, the animating activities of particular individuals or schools.
In a sense this is kind of the opposite of the material collected in Clements's earlier book Schoolgirl Milky Crisis. That book was a collection of revealing anecdotes, usually so revealing that the anime, manga and people involved had to be renamed. In this book, by contrast, names are attached to everything wherever possible and any speculation is carefully made explicit. Furthermore, a lot of the book is written in a corrective vein. Anime: A History is a retooled version of Clements's recent PhD thesis and like a lot of theses with a historical aspect this text has a tone of friendly suspicion. There's much weighing of sources and careful suggestion that, if we take into account the agenda that X had when he or she wrote Y, we see that Z, rather than Y, is more probable. Clements pays particular attention to facets of history which have been accidentally or deliberately obscured (the animation industry's work producing television adverts, for example), drawing on Allan Megill's arguments about historical method. This may make for some sections of dry reading if you don't read much academic history. It also has the minor but unfortunate side-effect of making a few words—'aesthetic', for example—into terms of art, which may make a handful of points confusing if you don't read the introduction carefully (so: read the introduction carefully). But this is far from being impenetrably academic. In fact, compared to most academic history this is a bit of a page-turner!
It's also pleasingly attentive to things that just don't get talked about much—labour disputes, different kinds of camera—and almost never descends into capital-t Theory. And it just contains a lot of interesting stuff. Agitprop animators duel with censors, studios struggle to shoehorn animation into unrelated live-action products, everyone has a capital-O Opinion about Tezuka, Clements pulls together from a couple of sources some intriguing ideas about how the arrival of VHS affected animation styles. And so on and so on.
Anime: A History is an excellent piece of work. Anyone at least moderately into anime ought to find it interesting and educational. Just remember that you're buying a historical study rather than a list of greatest hits!