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Japanese Visual Culture: Explorations in the World of Manga and Anime    edited by Mark W. MacWilliams order for
Japanese Visual Culture
by Mark W. MacWilliams
Order:  USA  Can
M E Sharpe, 2008 (2008)
* * *   Reviewed by Lance Victor Eaton

Several books in the last few years have been trying to explain the growing cultural influence of Japanese art forms, particularly anime and manga. As a country that prides itself on exporting all facets of its culture to the world, the US has been unable to explain this reversal of roles where Japanese art has come to influence American-made comics and animation to an irreversible degree. Japanese Visual Culture offers significant insight into understanding how anime and manga have come to be so powerful in Japanese culture. Additionally, this collection of essays paints a vivid picture that acts as a primer for people who want a good introduction to the discourse on Japan's visual culture.

The fourteen assembled essays provide a sturdy background on the history and relevance of manga and anime in the past and on contemporary culture, with a moderate balancing between the two. MacWilliams provides a concise and clear introduction that helps readers navigate through the essays and their premises. There are many complex aspects to this book especially in the essays that address issues of nationality, gender, and race, but the writers are overwhelmingly accessible and clear, allowing readers to follow and appreciate the nuances of their discussions.

The book does well in covering the major titles and artists with whom people are already familiar: Osamu Tezuka (Phoenix, Metropolis), Keiji Nakazawa (Barefoot Gen), Tsutomu Miyazaki (Spirited Away), Satoshi Kon (Millennium Actress). Yet, they also dive into a significant number of lesser known titles. By book's end, one has a solid grounding in the topic with ample direction and places to pursue more information. This is the result of a good mixing of essays that include focusing two chapters on Osamu Tezuka and another two on Miyazaki.

The most striking essay is Lee Makela's From Metropolis to Metoroporisu: The Changing Role of the Robot in Japanese and Western Cinema. As the title suggests, Makela explores how robots have changed meaning over the course of the 20th century by contrasting Fritz Lang's film with Tezuka's later comic from the mid-20th century and the anime remake of 2001. Makela's deconstruction highlights how the changes in narrative represent a shift in cultural perspectives about human relationships with technology; a theme ever present in both Japanese and American culture.

Avid manga readers, or even the occasional anime watcher, could infinitely increase their appreciation for these culture products by reading just half this book. The book as a whole is timely and structured in such a manner to still be useful years from now.

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