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The Anime Companion: What's Japanese in Japanese Animation?

The Anime Companion isn't a list of films and directors, rather it clarifies those background facets of Japanese history and culture that puzzle Western audiences. Fred Patten investigates.

This witty, humorous guide by Gilles Poitras is designed for enthusiasts of Japanese animation ("anime") who want to understand these films in depth rather than superficially. It is an explication of the ethnic nuances in these films, especially those set in historical or modern Japan, rather than a listing or discussion of anime itself. The Anime Companion clarifies those background facets of Japanese history and culture that puzzle Western audiences. "What's that big tower in downtown Tokyo that looks like the Eiffel Tower? What's that buzzing noise that's always in outdoor summer scenes? Why do restaurants often have a statue of a sitting cat in front of them?" There are over 500 entries in this "anime glossary." Each is defined and illustrated by an example from a popular anime title which knowledgeable fans will have seen, or heard of at least. The arrangement of entries is alphabetical. Since that is not much use to Westerners who do not know the Japanese names for what they have questions about, the book is indexed in several ways. Each entry is keyed to one of fourteen categories such as "Clothing," "Entertainment/Game," and "Food and Drink." The rear of the book contains a list of entries arranged by category. Readers who have a question about a social custom, mythological allusion, historical figure, or the particular weapons that ninjas use, can quickly narrow their search to a manageable number of entries. There is also an "English-Japanese Reverse Lookup Glossary" with such terms as "bamboo pipe (garden decoration): shishiodoshi," "fortunetelling: mikuji, sangi, zeichiku," and "police truncheon, Edo period: jitte" to help the user home in on the right entry. Many entries are cross-referenced. The Companion ends with a bibliography of references on Japanese history and culture for those who want further information. Here is a complete sample entry: "HARAJUKU. A district in Shibuya Ward in western Tokyo. This is a popular area for young people and has many shops, drinking places and restaurants. Some streets are reserved for pedestrians only on Sundays and holidays. Local landmarks include the headquarters of NHK (Nippon Hoso Kyokai; see separate entry), the Yoyogi National Stadium and Yoyogi Park. EXAMPLE: Haneda asks Yohko which is better for dinner, Harajuku or Aoyama (see separate entry), in 801 TTS Airbats (pt. 2)." It is assumed that The Companion's users will be familiar with 801 TTS Airbats, an anime comedy set on a military air base. In addition, the book is sprinkled with a series of "rants" in which Poitras comments on frequently raised questions among fans that do not fit into the cultural glossary. These include those Big Eyes, the fact that much "adult" or "mature" anime (like the anti-war tearjerker Grave of the Fireflies or the intellectually complex Ghost in the Shell) is not erotic or pornographic (as the public increasingly assumes), the confusion caused by the misidentification of anime as a genre rather than a medium and similar issues. These are not covered in the indexes, which emphasizes the point that The Anime Companion is meant for enjoyable browsing, as well as for answering specific questions. The Anime Companion: What's Japanese in Japanese Animation? by Gilles Poitras; illustrated by Lea Hernandez, L. K. Grant, Kokoro Grafix. Berkeley, California: Stone Bridge Press, 1998. 163 pages. ISBN: 1-8806-5632-9 (U.S. $16.95 paperback) The Anime Companion: What's Japanese in Japanese Animation? may be purchased in the Animation World Store. Fred Patten has written on anime for fan and professional magazines since the late 1970s.