Samurai from Outer Space: Understanding Japanese Animation.
Gods and Demons
Chapters Three ("Other Gods, Other Demons") and Four ("Other Heroes, Other Villains") discuss the influences in anime of Oriental concepts of religion and mythology, and cultural attitudes toward heroics and villainy (which is subtly different from right and wrong). Many of the aliens and monsters in anime science-fiction adventures are thinly-disguised, well-known (in Japan) gods and demons. The Oriental traditions of divinity are closer to the Norse or Greek pantheons, with many gods who embody humanity's personality flaws and often quarrel among each other. The Japanese are also accustomed to a society in which the government and the privileged classes have traditionally been indifferent to or contemptuous of the masses. This is why anime heroes usually pledge themselves to abstract ideals such as loyalty and self-sacrifice rather than to a divinity or to an individual leader. "Losing and therefore gaining nothing confirms the hero's altruism and renders his or her sacrifice all the more tragic. As a result, it is quite possible to portray a young kamikaze pilot as a hero without necessarily endorsing the agenda of the Japanese fascists. Indeed, almost all Japanese portrayals of the war include very unflattering depictions of the leadership." There are comparisons between the use of such themes in anime titles and in popular American movies and TV series such as Star Trek to illustrate the subtle differences.
Other chapters examine robots and similar science-fictional mecha, attitudes towards death (including the differences between honorable and dishonorable suicide), and the portrayal of women in leading roles as either heroines or femmes fatale. A final chapter cites examples of how influences from anime are beginning to show up in American comic books, TV and movies, as proof that anime is having an impact. "Trading comic books and cartoons may not be what educators had in mind when they argued in favor of multiculturalism. But it's a beginning and it's not a bad beginning at that." The book concludes with three appendices: one of addresses of anime specialty magazines, shops, and anime fan conventions; one of recommended readings of books on anime and on Japanese popular culture; and a glossary of anime terms. There is also a detailed index.
Samurai from Outer Space is excellent as both a primer on anime for those who are just being introduced to it, and as an explanation of the background to Japanese cultural stereotypes (such as those Big Eyes) for the fans who are fascinated by their exotic aspects and want to know their significance. The only problems are in small errors related to specific titles. Levi says that the first anime to appear on American TV was Astro Boy in 1964, when it actually premiered in 1963. A couple of minor titles are consistently misspelled. The color plates are beautiful but notably pixillated, as though printed from enlarged color faxes or "video screen captures" rather than from clear film transparencies. A book with so few flaws is close to perfect.
Samurai from Outer Space: Understanding Japanese Animation. by Antonia Levy. Chicago: Open Court Publishing Company, 1996. 169 pages, illustrated. Trade paperback, $18.95; ISBN: 0-8126-9332-9.
Gods and Demons
Fred Patten has written on anime for fan and professional magazines since the late 1970s. He currently writes a regular anime column for Animation Magazine.