In the introduction to Colin Odell and Michelle Le Blanc’s Anime Kamera Book, their brief history of the medium starts at a surprising place: Japan’s Heian period, which was 794-1185AD. They are placing the insanely popular industry within a much bigger tradition of Japanese art and, in doing so, they show not only the breadth of their knowledge but also their passion for animation from that part of the world. The blurb claims that anime is characterised by its diversity, and Odell and Le Blanc’s greatest achievement in the book is to prove this beyond doubt. They cover everything from the earliest (surviving) animations from Japan right up to Mamoru Hosoda’s Summer Wars, via some high school melodrama, galaxy spanning sci-fi and a giant fluffy forest spirit you may be familiar with. Running through this coverage of a broad range of cinema and TV is the writers’ clear love for the subject, often throwing in witty asides and references to even more stuff they couldn’t cover in the book; it’s the kind of ease of writing that only comes with total familiarity with the material.
The broad scope of covering such a massive industry is both the book’s strength and its weakness. The writers’ eclectic knowledge means that even the most die-hard otaku will discover something new and interesting. For those who are fairly new to anime, this is a treasure trove of recommendations (and in the case of certain films, advice on what to avoid). However, because of the necessity only to pick out highlights from a gigantic reserve of films to cover, Odell and Le Blanc have generally covered films they like. Whilst this gives the book a refreshingly positive outlook, it does mean that the second half of the book – which is entirely reviews – lacks a little edge. Even the dafter films and series covered are spoken of with affection, when perhaps it could benefit from a little bite in some of the reviews. It would have been interesting, for instance, to see aggressive reviews of some established classics – this writer isn’t a fan of Akira for instance.
The perfect audience for this book are readers who have dipped their toe in the ocean of anime, but have yet to swim in it and don’t know where to start. With terminology that is alienating to the outsider, and a morass of comics, spin-offs and fandoms to navigate, Odell and Le Blanc’s book cuts through all of that with wonderfully clear prose and shrinks down this giant world into something accessible and interesting. Perhaps the best thing that can be said of it is that after I finished reading it, I wanted to watch almost everything they wrote about. I’ll give Urotosukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend a miss, though.