The Rough Guides to ANIME and MANGA: Review

Posted by on December 9th, 2009 at 11:30 AM

The Rough Guide to Anime by Simon Richmond et al.; Rough Guides; 304 pp., $18.99; Softcover; ISBN: 978-1858282053

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The Rough Guide to Manga by Jason Yadao et al.; Rough Guides;  304 pp., $18.99; Softcover; 978-1858285610

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Britain’s so-called “Rough Guides” have been helping itinerant travelers navigate foreign destinations for nearly 30 years. As travel becomes more casual, and print guides feel more extraneous with the Internet’s immediate and wider scope, the presence of Britain’s Rough Guides and its compatriot counterpart Lonely Planet book series provide print security amid the angst of 21st century travel. We still like to tote paper in our bags—and Rough Guides’ latest introductions to anime and manga are easy-to–read and suitably compact.

The same folks who still print paper travel guides have now brought you two new books: The Rough Guide to Anime and The Rough Guide to Manga, to make the annals of uber-hip Japanese pop culture easier to track. I have been asked too many times the same question about Japanese Pop Culture—Where should I start?

Here’s your answer.

The Rough Guide to Anime takes you deep into the art form’s best stuff—without speaking down to you. You will learn about the major films, with author Simon Richmond’s easygoing guidance, and broaden your horizons via Richmond’s questing voice. You will finally realize why Japanese animation “supersedes the American model,” as Richmond writes, without missing the goods. Richmond loves the form, and his prognostications and descriptions more than make up for his lack of insider knowledge. “’Mind Game’ is a surreal world unlike anything you may have encountered,” he writes about Studio 4 C’s epic anime. It’s a tasty tease.

Some academics suggest that contemporary Japan is merely a subculture of Western desires. Both books seek to debunk the silliness of subcultural mystique, without denying the fundamentals of attraction.

An elegant and edifying companion is The Rough Guide to Manga—a 300-plus page introduction to the magic of manga, or Japanese comics, penned by recent aficionado Jason S. Yadao. Yadao helps us understand why manga have become hugely popular in the West without watering down their essentials—good stories, smart drawings, and plenty of naughty suggestive images to keep the audience hooked.

Both books break down the forms into bite-sized categories. You will learn why certain titles have succeeded abroad, why others are local-only, and what makes them so special to begin with. You will learn why your kids get it while you don’t, and what you need to understand in order to be on the same page. You will learn why a little blue cat named Doraemon is huge in Japan, but virtually unknown overseas, and why another cat named Kitty White (Hello, Kitty) is mightier worldwide today than Mickey Mouse.

In short, Rough Guides’ two books on anime and manga arrive right in time for Christmas—when we all need a little help understanding how global our worlds have become. If you’ve heard about Japanese pop culture but are not sure where to begin, these books serve as helpful catalogs. If you’ve never heard of these stories and want to know a bit more without taxing your time, these are books that can get you started.

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