- The Fairy Tale and Anime: Traditional Themes, Images, and Symbols at Play on Screen by Dani Cavallaro
Written by British freelance writer Dani Cavallaro, The Fairy Tale and Anime: Traditional Themes, Images, and Symbols at Play on Screen is an impressive book examining the fairy-tale traditions of sixteen select anime titles. [End Page 339] As its subtitle states, Cavallaro’s analysis focuses on fairy-tale themes, images, and symbols that appear in recent productions of anime from Japan. What distinguishes The Fairy Tale and Anime from other books on the same topic of Japanese popular culture is Cavallaro’s unique perspective of “Japanese aesthetics and cultural history,” as she reveals subtle images and symbols that are not necessarily discernible to those who are unfamiliar with Japanese culture. It is quite enjoyable to read the discussion about how some elements of classic Japanese myths and legends (e.g., the Snow Bride, the Princess Kaguya) overlap with the anime plot or how certain scholarly discussions of Faerie, or “the realm or state in which fairies have their being” (7), help us find hidden fairy-tale motifs within the plot. Cavallaro’s other books on anime, such as The Art of Studio Gainax (2009), Anime Intersections (2007), and The Anime Art of Hayao Miyazaki (2006), demonstrate her immense knowledge of the animated medium in Japan. This book, The Fairy Tale and Anime, seems to cement her reputation as an anime aficionado and scholar.
However, for the reader who is not knowledgeable in the fields of Japanese or fairy-tale studies, The Fairy Tale and Anime does pose some challenges. For example, Cavallaro’s numerous references to Japanese cultural concepts and prominent fairy-tale scholars, such as Cristina Bacchilega, Jack Zipes, and Maria Tatar, may make this book somewhat elusive. For this reason the book may not be adaptable as a textbook for an introductory undergraduate course. Too often, while analyzing certain anime motifs, Cavallaro refers to Japanese terms that are highly abstract and require a little more explanation than a simple English word equivalent. Even those familiar with Japanese culture may find it hard to recognize some words right away because of the book’s use of non-Hepburn spelling convention (e.g., yugen on p. 25, as opposed to yūgen; goryou on p. 187 instead of goryō). I myself failed to identify the original words of the terms jijuu (translated as “playful freedom”), kire tsuzuki (referred to as a Zen Buddhism concept), and mamoko-tan, or “stepdaughter tale” (perhaps meant to be mamako-tan). Sometimes, Japanese words appear without translation (e.g., kazari on p.115). In this case the reader without a sufficient Japanese background may find this book a bit hard to follow. A glossary of the Japanese terminology would have been helpful.
The merits that The Fairy Tale and Anime offers outweigh these minor challenges. For instance, the book is well structured, neatly placing these sixteen anime titles, most of which were originally made as television series in Japan, into four distinctive themes. In Chapter 1 Cavallaro presents an overview of the book. In Chapter 2, “Alterity,” she reviews Last Exile, [End Page 340] Le Chevalier D’Eon, and Petite Cossette, using topics such as the other world, supernatural beings, animal spirits, and other common denizens of Japanese folklore. In Chapter 3 Cavallaro analyzes the voyage theme in Kino’s Journey, The Story of Saiunkoku, Tokyo’s Godfathers, and Someday’s Dreamers, and in Chapter 4 she tackles a wide range of creative elements devised for the traditional fairy tale (e.g., costumes, decorations, and the visual representations of cuteness), which are reproduced in Paradise Kiss, La Corda d’Oro (both Primo Passo and Secondo Passo), Nodame Cantabile, Earl and Fairy, and Honey and Clover. Featuring Basilisk, Ergo Proxy, and Wolf’s Rain, the final chapter, which I enjoyed most, discusses the theme of dystopias around which these anime stories are centered.
Besides the aforementioned features of the book that may have greater appeal to a highly specialized readership, in some...