Anime Essentials: Every Thing a Fan Needs to Know – Review

by Miguel Douglas


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Anime is Japanese animation…an avant-garde artistic medium and a pop culture phenomenon, with hundreds of millions of fans and just as many opinions on what it’s all about. If you’re new to Japanese animation, you’re beginning to understand that it’s a lot more than Sailor Moon and Pokemon: there’s drama and comedy, gender-bending and culture-tweaking, complex characters and giant robots—sometimes all in the same movie! Anime’s not just entertainment: it’s a whole culture, with clubs, codes, conventions, and collectibles. Even if you’re a seasoned fan, you will probably have questions about navigating this enjoyably infuriating terrain. How did it all start? What’s the deal with fanzines? Where can I find the stuff I want right now? What’s the difference between Fushigi Yugi and Mysterious Play, anyway?

Given that Gilles Poitras’s Anime Essentials: Every Thing a Fan Needs to Know focuses primarily as an introductory piece to the world of Japanese animation, it still provides an adequate examination for those who are more accustomed to the world of anime. The book essentially provides explanations on every facet that constitutes anime as not only a legitimate art form, but also a sub-culture with numerous elements that contribute to its foundation and continual growth. The last part concerning the growth of anime is important in this case because one has to consider that aspect when constructing a book like this. The continual growth of anime is something that I see as hindrance of sorts pertaining to a book like Anime Essentials, wherein Poitras basically has to select a specific ending point for subjects discussed in his book. This presents a dilemma in the sense that there are newer aspects that have cropped up within anime fandom since the inception of this book—which it obviously doesn’t take account for. Does this present the book as being outdated? In a sense yes, but it certainly doesn’t diminish the information given prior.

Poitras’s delivers what is essentially an overwhelming task: to compress down and reiterate an entire sub-culture into a mere 125 pages. This is the main problem with the book; it’s entirely too short for the amount of subjects it addresses. As I mentioned above, many of the “essentials” addressed in the book should not be necessarily viewed as such. I would’ve appreciated more time and focus given to the some of the more prominent portions of the book, mainly the history of anime and its fandom roots. While plentiful in its contributions, some of the information could use a little updating to take into account for the recent titles and cultural discrepancies that have transpired between the release of the book and now.

It’s also interesting to note that Poitras goes as far as to include chapters on “How to be a fan” as well as “Anime controversies”, both dealing with rather specific cases and situations. While these two elements of the book are rather unique, I felt they were also unnecessary towards contributing to the overall focus of the book, specifically in the case of the chapter “How to be a fan”. This felt entirely out of place and really was more of an instructional how-to-do chapter more than anything else. While not faring any better, the “Anime controversies” chapter doesn’t even address one of the biggest controversies that exist with fandom today, fansubs. To leave this out shows the relative age of the written material and further promotes the need for an updated version.

Overall, Anime Essentials: Every Thing a Fan Needs to Know is still a great book for new and old fans alike. Poitras’s approach to handling the material is helpful and his explanations of rather obscure elements of anime fandom were enlightening and easy to understand. While overly focused on appeasing the new fans, an old fan like myself still found the wealth of information in the book an important asset. Perhaps with a future updated release we could safely Anime Essentials: Every Thing a Fan Needs to Know is truly one of the “essential” guides to the anime fandom. As for where it stands now, this book only provides a basic outlet to explore the rather complex realm known as anime.

Table of Contents

1. How Anime Is Released
2. Eras of Anime
3. Anime Genres
4. What Makes Anime Unique?
5. Anime Connections
6. How To Be A Fan
7. Anime Controversies
8. Anime Stuff
9. 41 Recommended Titles
10. Anime Resources

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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  • Grumpy Jii

    The biggest problem with this book is its age. Originally published in the last millennium, it misses the last decade. A book about a rapidly changing subject can only be refreshed so much before its entire structure collapses.

    E.g., that “How to be a Fan” section: Anime clubs used to be essential, back in the precambrian era. In the 80s & most of the 90s, little anime was available commercially in the US, there was no world-wide web, computers couldn’t encode, play, or store video tiles, and the internet wasn’t up to moving video files around anyway. Fansubs were on VHS and relatively rare. You needed to be connected to a club & other fans if you were going to see any anime at all, preferably a local group (though national organizations such as Anime Hasshin & CFO were useful.) There really was a time when newcomers needed pointers for how to be a fan, because you couldn’t find anime at Blockbuster or Amazon, much less at Crunchyroll, Funimation, or bittorrent sites (The whole idea of Xerox’d newsletters and mailing VHS tapes around seems so quaint these days.) That section is a relic of that era; that’s how old this book is.

    Secondarily, this is an example of a whole class of book that’s largely obsolete: Coverage of a dynamic topic in a printed book. Books take too long to prepare, edit, publish and distribute. A book on Etruscan pottery or the Meiji Restoration can hope to keep its relevance for many years. So can a scholarly analysis of an established creator or work (e.g., a book on Osamu Tezuka.) But a physical book on pop culture is obsolete before it hits the shelves, replaced by the web. The web is an infinitely superior, continuously updated compendium of anime titles, recommendations, and especially controversies. :)

    I’ll send you this message as soon as I find a stamp.

  • Douglas

    I wholeheartedly agree regarding the obsolete nature of the book, but I still feel it can have some value, especially for new viewers of anime. I just felt the book wasn’t that good in explaining complex concepts and didn’t elaborate too much to begin with. Books dealing with subjects like this should be an encyclopedia in length, not 125 pages.

    You’re right about the web though; that almost replaces the book entirely.