Anime and Its Roots in Early Japanese Monster Art

Anime and Its Roots in Early Japanese Monster Art - Zilia Papp With a title like this, and the fantastic cover art there was no way I could avoid this book.

The monsters in the title are Yōkai. These are manifestations of the concerns and worries of people which exist in the boundaries – between water and shore, light and dark, life and death, inside and out.

The first section deals with the development of the the Yōkai imagery – prior to the Muromachi period Yōkai were not visualised in art, purely existing as feelings and imaginations, this from the fear that depicting them might being brought forth. This attitude relaxed and much art exists from the Edo and Meiji periods. The one that jumped out for me was the Yōkai Tenome with eyes in the palms of the hand – the original source for the guardian in Pan's Labyrinth perhaps?

The middle section of the book is concerned with the Mizuki Shigeru manga and animé from the 1960s to the present day and the development of Yōkai from historical Edo and Meiji sources into the form we see on screen and print today. The Gegegeno Kitaro animé series are chosen for this purpose, because many of the Yōkai are taken from the historical record and used in the animé sometimes being originally envisaged in the 1960s and then these episodes remade in the 1990s – giving an ideal means of comparison.

On the border between in 'Japanese' and out 'Foreigners' Yokai have been depicted as invaders and as defenders of the Japanese. This is further discussed later in the context of live-film where actors performing roles of Yōkai are selected from the ranks of 'half' Japanese – Of Japan, but not quite.

Comparisons of historical art, manga and anime show a progression of the Yōkai from fearful monsters, to representations of evil foreigners during Japan's imperial expansion and WWII period, to a mascotisation of a Japanese Yōkai who is impotent in aftermath of second world war and domination by western powers and the cold war.

The main criticism of the book however is that it is very hard to get into. The historical descriptions need images, and the comparison of Gegegeno Kitaro Yōkai can be quite tedious. The later chapters however are very rewarding and well worth the hard work.

The cover image by-the-way is of a Ubume – a Yōkai created when a mother dies in childbirth. She carries her infant child around with her to find someone to look watch over it.