Review

by Bamboo Dong, Apr 12th 2005

Cruising the Anime City: An Otaku Guide to Neo Tokyo

By Patrick Macias, Tomohiro Machiyama

Review:
Cruising the Anime City
Just as travel agents tout the Michelin Green Guides as essential tools for navigating Europe, Cruising the Anime City is easily the definitive otaku's guide to navigating the Tokyo anime scene. Penned by Patrick Macias and Tomohiro Machiyama, there are the requisite maps of course, but also descriptions of hot spots, quick blurbs about the different consumer markets, and even history lessons and interviews. That's just what's on the surface, too. It's more than just a travel guide—it's a map to the swells and dips of the Japanese anime industry. Tracing its curves from the marketing booms to the merchandising fads, the book is highly informative and analytical in a way that no one would ever expect. Written in a light and witty manner that makes it easy to plow through, this book is great not only for those planning to visit the anime Mecca anytime soon, but for any casual reader interested in learning about the material aspects of anime fandom.

The book is presented on two levels. On the surface level, it's a tourist guide to the inner workings of anime consumerism. Beneath that, though, it's a commentary and crash course on the history and present trends of the anime industry. The text is split up into the several convenient consumer markets that make up modern Japanese pop culture: pla-mo (plastic models), cosplay, movies, games, anime, idols, toys, manga, and even Comiket. Each section starts off with a spotlight of one of the biggest facets of that category. For instance, the idol section leads with an in-depth look at the origins of Morning Musume and how the Hello Project has affected the idol industry. The anime section starts with a tour and background of Toei Animation, arguably one of the biggest and most influential animation studios in Japan. Things then quickly transition to a sampling of some of the stores in Tokyo that sell items relating to the topic at hand. Whether it's a quick briefing of Tora no Ana in Akihabara, or the Bandai Museum, this guide tells readers of every store they could ever hope to know about to satisfy their every fandom need.

It's not just the shopping guide that's a fan's blessing, but everything is just so damned informative. If there was something about fandom that the average consumer didn't know, this book covers it. Not only are the subject matters as diverse as the fans themselves, but everything is presented with such depth and research that readers will walk away with an enlightenment that they never even asked for. With one of the co-authors, Tomohiro Machiyama, being credited for having brought the term “otaku” to the public eye in its current context, you can't help but be slapped in the face with a wealth of knowledge. Have you ever wanted to know the true meaning and roots of the term “moe?” Have you ever wanted to know about the prostitution districts that dot the city? Have you ever been curious about the kigurumers who are infiltrating the cosplay scene with their full-body doll suits? Well… maybe not. But by the time you're finished with the book, you'll know about all of this, and leave with the satisfied feeling that comes with learning about something you never even knew existed.

Possibly some of the best features of the book aren't even so much the main sections and the store profiles, or even the helpful maps, but the small mini-features that are scattered amongst the pages. Things like an article written by professional cosplayer Jan Kurotaki on the intricacies of cosplay, or an interview with Mari Chimatsuri, a man whose house is filled to the crevice with model kits (even in the bathtub and along the stairs), breathe life into the book. As much as one would hate to sink to the typical observation, “Wow! There are some odd people and things in this fandom!", it's inevitable. The wealth of oddities presented in this book almost make it read like a bedtime story at times.

Of course, like all good bedtime stories, it contains a manga mogul, men who have abandoned dating real women in lieu of plastic dolls, onigiri burgers, and virtual sex. Would you believe there's a book in popular manga retailer Mandarake's catalogue that's about a CEO shaving the pubes of his female employees? Even with all the eye-opening stories that prevent this book from being reduced to a dull tour guide, part of what makes it work is the quality of writing. Spearheading the book is Patrick Macias, a veteran writer who has had experience in the book world with his last work, Tokyoscope. Readers who checked that out will notice that this one flows much more smoothly. While his last project lacked fluidity and grace at times, this one comes together very nicely, from one chunk to the next. Part of this may have to do with Machiyama, a distinguished Japanese journalist who has a flair for the brusque and speaking his mind. With his wry sense of humor and Macias's goofier spin on things, the two balance each other very well, and prevent the book from tipping too much in any one direction. Whether this book would be nearly as entertaining if one of the two were taken out of the equation will never be answered, but it doesn't change how the book is presented.

It is through the interplay of the two primary authors that one gets the secondary theme of the book—the past, present, and probable future of the anime industry. The different segments are tied together not only by their relevance to fandom, but also the underlying trends of the industry and market. As Macias writes in the foreword, “It could be argued that there hasn't been a “hit” anime since Studio Gainax's Neon Genesis Evangelion peaked in 1997. Yet while the anime industry itself is shrinking, the otaku industries around it are growing bigger and bigger.” And with that, this theme is continually brought up throughout the book, a different viewpoint that many of the modern tracts about fandom, which portray an upswing in the anime industry.

If you're looking for something light and educational to read this season about the randomosities of anime fandom, or ready to hop onto a plane to Narita International, pick up this book. It's interesting, humorous, and light-hearted enough to keep it a page-turner from start to finish. Of course, if you're expecting a scholarly work about anime and its followers, or an in-depth analysis about the nuances of modern Japanese pop culture… well, this might not be the place to find it. After all, it is still just a travel guide, no matter how “informative” the pages may be. In fact, the book accomplishes just what it starts out to do—present a fan's guide to Tokyo, and make it interesting enough for even the most casual fans of Japanese pop culture. Whether intended for light reading or a crash course on shopping centers before plunging into the depths of Tokyo, Cruising the Anime City is a delightful book that entertains as well as it informs.
Grade:
Production Info:
Overall : A-

+ Light-hearted, witty, and informative.
A little random and uneven in the stores it covers.

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