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Anime Essentials: Everything A Fan Needs To Know

Alan Neal reviews Anime Essentials a good book if you are a beginner fan who wants an introduction into the world of anime.

How essential this book is depends very much on the reader. Poitras bids you welcome 'whether you are an anime beginner (the person I wrote this book for), a curious parent... or a fan.' As the book's subtitle reveals, though, Anime Essentials is very much geared toward junior 'fans' who've watched anime here and there and want more of an overview. It's not the first English-language book of its kind. Poitras acknowledges Helen McCarthy's Anime: A Beginner's Guide to Japanese Animation (Titan Books, London 1993), which addressed the same challenge. However, Essentials is grounded much more in U.S. fan-culture.

Poitras confines himself nearly completely to anime available in the States, summarising the different generations of 'English-language' -- really American -- fandom through 'the Astro Boy generation,' 'the Robotech generation' and so on. It's a valid approach, though one wishes there was more acknowledgement that the anime favoured by U.S. fans is often not the anime best-known to the Japanese. (For example, there is no mention of Doraemon, the robot cat known to millions of Japanese children.) Again, Poitras' brief anime history rightly mentions the propaganda feature Momotaro no Umiwashi as a landmark, but then asserts that U.S. favourite Astro Boy marked 'the birth of modern anime,' ignoring the contribution of Toei's features from Hakujaden (1958) onwards. (On a pickier level, Poitras describes the Momotaro film as a feature; a friend points out the film ran only 37 minutes, though a feature-length sequel followed in 1945.)

However, within Poitras' self-imposed limits, Essentials is an easy, friendly guide with plenty of solid info slotted round helpful sub-headings and captions. The series of 'lessons' taken from Gainax's mockumentary Otaku no Video -- which also provides the cover image -- is a neat idea. The biggest problem is that the text sometimes becomes a wearying list of briefly-described titles. (Readers who know only a few of the names will be discouraged.) Another annoyance is that there's no anime-title index, so reference is a chore. On the upside, there's a handy subject index at the back of the book, together with guides to further reading, Internet resources and 41 recommended anime titles.

The second half is more fan-orientated, with sections on clubs, conventions, merchandise and an account of 'fan controversies.' Once again, how interesting all this is depends on the reader. The material may encourage outsiders who know other fandoms, while scaring off readers horrified by the three-letter word. Don't expect provocative arguments on subjects like the 'sub versus dub' debate, or the morality of the 'Fansub Code.' Poitras presents the topics neutrally, probably the only way in a book of this kind.

However, Essentials may occasionally raise the hackles of AWN readers. The book takes it as read that anime is worth watching; few purchasers will disagree. However, Poitras also claims that anime is far more diverse than today's U.S. animation, with a more sophisticated treatment of feelings, motives and actions. The arguments beg an irritating number of questions, but such asides do not spoil a useful book.

Note on recommended anime titles: Akira, described as 'presently unavailable,' has been re-released on video since the book was published. Poitras has a tendency to downplay adult material in his guide, with both Akira and Wings of Honneamise containing brief but fairly graphic images of sexual assault.

Anime Essentials: Every Thing A Fan Needs To Know

by Gilles Poitras. Berkeley, CA: Stone Bridge Press, 2001. 128 pages. ISBN: 1-880656-53-1 (paperback)

Alan Neal resides in the U.K. and is a freelance writer and animation fan.