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  • Anime:Comparing Macro and Micro Analyses
  • Brent Allison (bio)
Patrick Drazen. Anime Explosion! The What? Why? and Wow! of Japanese Animation. Berkeley, Calif.: Stone Bridge Press, 2003. ISBN 1-880-656-72-8.
Brian Ruh. Stray Dog of Anime: The Films of Mamoru Oshii. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. ISBN 1-4039-6334-7.

Though Anime Explosion and Stray Dog of Anime both describe and analyze anime, they have very different purposes. Drazen means to cover the wider medium of anime; Ruh is concerned with one anime film director, Oshii Mamoru. Yet, while the topics differ, the books share enough similar concerns with anime as an artistic medium to make some fruitful comparisons.


Both Drazen and Ruh find scholarly value in studying anime not just as a cultural artifact but primarily as literature that can speak to an assumed coherent "human condition" transcending national boundaries. They base much of their confidence on the artistic strength of their favored directors to use anime to tell a compelling story. For Drazen, Tezuka Osamu virtually founded manga's cinematic, as opposed to merely unique, style that later allowed anime to engage audiences more deeply than animation had done previously. Drazen praises Tezuka's directorial skill in conveying animated characters' struggles in ways that live-action cannot.

Ruh, on his part, discusses Oshii's work with anime as itself partly the message of his oeuvre. Critics questioned making Jin-Roh-for which Oshii wrote the screenplay, but did not direct-as animation rather than as live action, a notion that Ruh disputes as unfairly dismissing anime out of hand and as missing a larger point. Since Jin-Roh takes place in an alternative late-1950s Japan, it had to be animated, because many of the structures of older Japan needed for a live-action film had been torn down. Ruh acclaims Oshii's implicit critique of Japan's neglect of historic preservation through his necessitated use of anime: he could not have made that exact point using live action.

Much of Drazen and Ruh's praise for anime is well deserved. However, their assessments of certain anime titles as representing benchmarks of achievement lack compelling external evidence. Ruh refers to Oshii's second Patlabor film as such a benchmark. The film critic Tony Rayns and the director himself both recognize it as a major career achievement, which helps us determine its importance for Oshii. Ruh's analysis of Patlabor 2's messages on technology, mythology, and hierarchy also shed light on why this film matters for Oshii's role as a director who illustrates a complex philosophy. But Ruh does not go into how Patlabor 2 is an influential film for the medium itself, except perhaps indirectly as foreshadowing Oshii's more prominent Ghost in the Shell. Drazen believes that Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind deserves to be called a "groundbreaking masterpiece" (259), but that conclusion is based only on Nausicaä's top ranking status in an Animage magazine poll, albeit for ten years in a row. Discussing certain films as benchmarks is a useful even if hardly scientific process. However, more care should be taken either to provide more evidence for their influence, as Ruh does with Ghost in the Shell and Drazen with Princess Knight, or to resist making such sweeping claims.

Drazen and Ruh share a concern for the roles of women in anime and analyze them within the context of wider Japanese cultural expectations for how women should (not) [End Page 287] behave. Both allude to this topic throughout and devote specific sections to in-depth examinations of how Japanese femininity in anime is constructed and (re)interpreted. However, neither author explicitly looks toward Japanese masculinity except in ways that help promote its invisibility, an ongoing problem for many scholars in gender studies. For example, Ruh examines Major Kusanagi Motoko's evolving role as a female cyborg in relation to a masculine world of violence and cybernetics in Ghost in the Shell. However, her partner Batou as a large and muscular cyborg is not examined as a masculine being. Likewise, Ruh associates the egg-carrying young girl role in Oshii's Angel's Egg with liminality between...


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