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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Soul of Anime Review It's Not About Energy, But Good Research

 The Soul of Anime: Collaborative Creativity and Japan's Media Success Story 

Ian Condry takes us through the anime industry with his live accounts from seating in on the meetings of major studios to thoughtful, yet sometimes odd looks at the modern anime industry.
From the cover alone you might want to pick it up as Eva unit 1 is walking across Hokusai's The Great Wave off Kanagawa, but inside is a rich look into how anime is created and who works behind it.

In explaining anime beyond the cover inspiring with themes of old Japan and modern animation we have many adventures of Ian meeting with people who are in the field of anime. Ian spent time with major studios such as Gonzo and Studio 4°C explaining the create collaborative process of each. Sometimes he interviews a creator or small group.

He has a fascinating look into the animation group of m&k who at first are introduced providing just simple short cartoons involving one character per episode in about a minute or less cartoon and there second cartoon series about a turn-key samurai. Both shows spawned a lot of merchandise and memorable characters that have gained many fans. What we learn is how involved the creators get and some deeper meaning to the characters involved even though their designed for children. An entire world had to be created for the latter series that had to follow m&k's vision of how we interact with everyday objects.

Larger studios are a also visited. Here Ian brings up some great differences with American animators and Japanese animators. Japanese animators are given a much worse deal. They don't have unions out there, leading to horrible work hours. Ian compared a tour he had of Cartoon Network's animation studio to a Japanese studio and how people are treated is quite different. 

A part from Chapter 5's  that stood out was how a meeting with subordinates went in an anime studio. It was mostly a chewing out session where someone above the in-between animators or lower people working on the show just complains and yells at them. It also seems like the structure of the company needs revising. Even though animes do get finished it seems like a much harder torture than the animators here. The torture doesn't just come from the long hours and low pay for those in lower departments, but just the way people are treated.

The book tries to put a more metaphysical take on how anime is made and consumed. The social energy thing brought up seems more like a marketing scheme, but the depth of the book is Ian teaching us about anime from his experiences. In the "Dark Energy" chapter he fully explains how anime from Japan is put up online by fans and subtitled and gorged upon by online viewers across the globe without permission by the owners. This is of course illegal, but Ian brings up points on both sides of why it's good and bad. He does point out the reasons it's brought over to the US, such as the time it takes for a series from Japan to get license in America, dubbed and then finally made available for purchase.

There's a (my eyes just looked up in the air) thoughtful way he tries to put it together through a fan made "Dark Energy" of wanting to share, it really diminishes what he was telling us through simple facts. The "Dark Energy" idea with how people subtitle anime and put it online illegally, was his painful way of exploring the issues, but not giving a real opinion if it's right or wrong just more back and forth even in his conclusion.

The Soul of Anime couldn't be a more apt title, because through Ian's experiences with real anime studios we learn how it's made, the work that goes into and the way it spreads through different levels of media. We also get ideas on how it should be treated as a form of media by both people making money off it and the people buying it for pleasure. There's some history lessons to learns if you ever want to know the full back story of how anime started out and changed over the years too.

Ian quotes many other books exploring anime and Japanese culture that reminded me I'm kind of well read in the subject. At some points the quotes are so often that it makes me wish he just wrote out his thoughts on the subject instead.

The Soul of Anime covers a wide area of all things anime, but doesn't even cover some of the best or well known series in depth. It covers the fundamentals about the entire industry. I would have wanted a more adventurous style of Ian's exploits, meeting the individuals and companies involved with more flair, but instead you have an engaging text none the less on what anime is.

 The book was provided by the publisher for review