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Watching Anime, Reading Manga: 25 Years of Essays and Reviews
Fred Patten
Stone Bridge Press, 383 pages

Watching Anime, Reading Manga: 25 Years of Essays and Reviews
Fred Patten
Fred Patten discovered manga and anime in the 70s and was a co-founder of the first anime fan club in the United States in 1977. He has been writing about anime since the early 80s for popular culture magazines like Starlog and for speciality magazines like Manga Max. He currently writes regular anime columns for Animation World Magazine and Newtype USA and acts as a consultant for many animation and anime film festivals.

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Few English-speaking authors on anime or manga could have the credentials of Fred Patten, purely by virtue of having been one of fandom's earliest members in the United States, not to mention a founding member of the Cartoon/Fantasy Organization, America's first anime fan club -- a group privileged enough to play host to the great Osamu Tezuka, creator of Astro Boy and Metropolis, not once but twice in the late 70s. Along with helping to publicize the medium, Patten's name has appeared in numerous publications since his time at that first fan club. He has also been a vendor and translator, amongst other roles. Watching Anime, Reading Manga collects all his essays from throughout that career.

Patten's writing is clear, straight-forward, and well researched. His analysis of the Lion King controversy in "Simba versus Kimba: Pride of Lions" is the best distillation of this confusing situation I have encountered. His profiles of Go Nagai, Shotaro Ishinomori, and Tezuka are illuminating and enjoyable. The scope of Patten's career also provides interesting glimpses into some of the issues and obsessions of the past days of manga and anime fandom.

Every essay is accompanied by notes by the author which bring the reader up to date on the topic of the essay, or places it in the context in which it was written; this way the novice reader will never be confused by something that was a big deal in the 80s but no one much cares about today. Patten generally seems to be writing for both the anime fan and the newcomer to the field, and on the whole he succeeds. He also avoids the tendency some other anime writers have to make annoying over-generalizations or scornful analysis of Japanese trends based on a Western-centric mindset; on the contrary he seems to have the greatest respect for the source material and the people that produce it.

The only drawback to this kind of collection is the danger of repetitiveness. I found the first part of the book, which collects essays on the general growth and history of anime fandom, to suffer the most from this -- by the third discussion of the founding of the Cartoon/Fantasy Organization I was ready to move on; this shouldn't be seen as Patten rehashing the past, just an inevitable consequence of a collection that collects multiple histories of anime in the United States, written over the course of 25 years for numerous publications.

Fortunately, the other sections of the book, which cover the business of anime, individual artists and titles, and Japanese culture, provide a wide variety of reading and little repetition. The essays on the influence of Japanese culture on manga and anime were amongst my favourite in the collection. In addition to a clear, brief history of the field, Patten reflects on differing standards of propriety, the meaning of "demons" and their repeated appearance in the media, and bits and pieces of Japanese history and folk lore which are "obvious" to the Japanese viewer but otherwise practically invisible to the English-speaking viewer.

Watching Anime, Reading Manga is a worthwhile addition to your library; it makes good bathroom browsing, cover-to-cover reading, and a worthwhile reference for writing or researching anime and manga, not to mention a window into the history of fandom in the United States.

Copyright © 2005 Kit O'Connell

Kit O'Connell is a writer and bookseller from Austin, TX. You can follow his adventures, along with those of his alien best friend, their team of super-criminals-for-hire and their lovable but meddlesome talking animal sidekick at todfox.livejournal.com.


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