Well, I finished reading Patrick Drazen’s Anime Explosion! The What? Why? & Wow! of Japanese Animation over the weekend. It’s not a bad read but it’s also something that I never would have read on my own1. Mostly because I think I can grasp enough of the culture concepts presented in the Anime I watch from the context that they are given in to get the jokes. Though I will admit some of the things mentioned in this book do help with my comprehension (e.g. the concept of yasashii and some of the Japanese mythology mentioned in the book). It’s a lot more interesting than any textbook that I had to read in my college years and makes a pretty decent introduction to anime for the uninitiated.
Something to keep in mind while reading this book is that the author tends to speak about the Japanese people and their beliefs/culture as though they are a monolithic whole. While I have never been to Japan (yet); I think this is overly simplistic as there are variations in all cultures and differences between individuals2. This would break down some of the authors points, but then going into that sort of thing would probably be better addressed in some sort of advanced book about the Japanese culture rather than a beginners introduction to anime.
My only other complaint is the author seems to feel compelled to spend a large portion of the book talking about ecchi/hentai and the differences in how Japanese & Americans think about nudity. Perhaps I’m not a perfect fit for the target audience of this book; as I’ve heard about this many, many, many times before and I would have prefered the author to devote more time to other topics.
Even given my complaints, I think I would recommend this to any recent fan of anime that wants to learn more about anime’s background. At least, any fan who asked me about it in the next year or 2. Anime shows are very in-the-now and in a few years the new anime fan will not likely have heard of any of the animes mentioned by this book, which would reduce it’s value to them. As a plus3, the author does not include a must-see list of anime. This helps keep the book feeling timely as there’s no ancient list of anime to make one wish to scorn the book as being outdated and anybody who recommends the book to a new anime fan will surely have their own list of favorites to recommend as well.
1 This book is required reading for the course I’ll be starting in a couple of weeks.
2 While the Japanese due to seem to generally put the group ahead of the individual; anybody who’s looked at their J-Pop musicians can say there is definitely some variation in there!
3 I saw some reviews of this book on Amazon.com that complained there was no recommended list of anime to watch; but if those reviewers had read the book carefully, they would have realized this was deliberate due to the very ephemeral nature of anime.