The Long Arm of Anime History

Anime: A History by Jonathan Clements is a good book that tries its best to call out the rewriting of past events by both the victors and the defeated. While this can detract from the magical aura that surrounds anime and the joy of experiencing anime as more than just a struggle between industry, profit, and glory, it does highlight one recurring trend that shouldn’t be forgotten—many times, when we think of some trend or change as emerging fully formed during a given period of interest, its threads can be traced back much earlier.

One thing that always comes to mind is something that Gundam director Tomino Yoshiyuki mentioned back at New York Anime Festival 2009, which was that while Gundam started courting female fans much more actively in later years (notably with Gundam Wing), it was the girls who were the biggest fans of the original 1970s work. While things have certainly changed since then, Gundam Wing also did not emerge as some kind of “sudden” targeting of a female audience.

Similarly, when it comes to Clements’ book, one example he gives has to do with the idea that the video game industry is a significant contributor of “brain drain,” that is to say a unidirectional flow of talent from anime to games. While this is often viewed as a symptom of the last decade or so, a product of the mainstream lucrativeness of the contemporary video game industry, Clements points out (on page 194) that this was already occurring in 1992, which would be during the age of the Sega Mega Drive and the Super Famicom. Thus, the battle to keep newer and more rapidly expanding entertainment sectors from drawing away the best of the best is not a relatively new phenomenon, but an ongoing quest.

One last thing I’d like mention is the fact that this brain drain is partially attributed not just to video games’ international mainstream success, but the fact that Tezuka Osamu himself undercut the cost of animation in Japan decades prior in order to get it onto Japanese television. This undervaluing of anime, known as the “Curse of Tezuka,” is what necessitates projects such as the Animator Dormitory Project, an annual fund to provide housing for animators in an industry that pays very little (by the way, that Indiegogo ends today!). To see anime change in the future is perhaps to understand the long reach of past decisions.

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4 thoughts on “The Long Arm of Anime History

  1. I enjoyed the first parts of Clements’ book, but I was frustrated near the end by how singularly uninterested he seemed in the details of the industry following the mainstream success of Ghost in the Shell in 1995 or even Akira in 1988. The micro-history of Tezuka Productions, almost moment-to-moment in its granularity, dissolved into a series of broad anecdotes about how anime was changing, all crammed into a chapter and a half. Clements makes no attempt even to set the scene for the modern industry, as if he assumes that his readers already know and want something more “inside baseball.”

    Honestly, I think this would have been a stronger monograph as a history of anime up through its “invention” by Tezuka, but that probably wouldn’t sell on the popular market.


    • I agree with the about the first part of the book being the most enjoyable. And I also agree he got very “bare bones” about anime history during and beyond the Bubble Years. However, hasn’t enough ink been spilled and coverage given about “modern” anime history? There are enough books, articles and interviews to fill in the blanks about that era both in Japan and abroad. Just filling the rest of the book with his take on it seemed rather redundant.

      I bought the book BECAUSE I wanted that “inside baseball” coverage that I wasn’t getting from from normal, and not so normal, sources.

      Also, before Anime A History, I used to lose days and weekends deep diving Jonathan Clements Schoolgirl Milky Crisis blog for information that this book, in large part, reveals.

      For those who still want the “inside baseball” anime history that Clements has to offer, I highly recommend visiting his blog. This book is just the tip of (t)his iceberg.


      • I disagree with none of your points but (and this is something that I’ve encountered in my professional work as a historian) when you publish a book entitled “[subject]: A History,” published by a non-specialist press like the British Film Institute and distributed by Palgrave Macmillan, it’s poor scholarship to wash your hands of the parts you find redundant or uninteresting. With that title and those companies, you’re writing for a general audience, not fans and experts who’ve already read articles and interviews online, so you shouldn’t imagine that they’ll pick up wherever you leave off. As a recent example, though he’s a medievalist, Thomas Madden doesn’t break off his narrative in “Venice: A New History” when he gets to the over-studied early modern period.

        Personally, I’ve had to waive three non-fan friends off of this book, which they assume will tell them everything about what’s going on in anime, and I’ve found that annoying. I wish that Clements had pitched this book to the BFI as “Anime Before Anime” or “Anime: A Prehistory,” but he and I both know that BFI wouldn’t have picked it up and it wouldn’t have sold if he’d been totally frank about his work’s chronological and thematic scope. Anime’s just not at the level of maturity to sustain a specialist monograph like that.


        • I concede your point.

          When I bought the book I already knew what I was in for. Both because of the aforementioned deep diving of Clements blog over the years and an AWO podcast reviewing this book.

          I admit that Anime: A History is not for newbies. Its academic roots are obvious. However, it is the closest thing from pre to early anime history as I am going to get, in English anyway, at this point in time.

          That being said, is there a comprehensive, entry-level anime history book out there? Most of the books that attempt to write a history of anime, again in English, is either theme, era (e.g. this book), or genre specific or assumes that the reader is already familiar with the medium. This leaves most non-anime fans confused. The material then comes off as spotty and confusing.

          Yes, I know that Clements co-authored another book called the Anime Encyclopedia which I haven’t read yet; which I intend on doing. However just like its name implies it is more of a reference book.

          Until that all encompassing, comprehensive, entry-level anime history book appears, I’ll be grateful for what is now available, balkanized as it is.


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