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Now that teaching is done and professional service is almost done, I'm finally getting back into concentrated anime research. And at the top of my pile (along with Mechademia 6, review coming eventually) is Marc Steinberg's new book Anime's Media Mix: Franchising Toys and Characters in Japan. I have to say off the top that this book is mainly targeted at those interested in the history and media theory of the anime industry, not at a general reader or even fan community audience. Examples from shows are few, endnotes are many. But if you are interested in the marketing and transmedia aspects of anime, and you want to know how the current system of manga/anime/gaming/light novel integration came to be, this is a ground-breaking book based on some impressive archival research.

Steinberg, Marc. Anime’s Media Mix: Franchising Toys and Characters in Japan. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2012.

In his first book, Steinberg gives an excellent account of the rise of the media mix in post-war Japan, using Tetsuwan Atomu(a.k.a. Astro Boy) as his major case study. He does give a little background of pre-war manga and anime in the first chapter, along with the requisite definitions of anime. But since his main argument links the “dynamically immobile” style of tv anime, which creates motion through connections across a series of images, with the transmedia movement of images, goods, and characters, the book is really based around the limited-animation style of TV, and puts aside cinematic short and feature-length anime. It also avoids narrative analysis entirely, looking instead at style, technology, and marketing. This is not a shortcoming, though: the book is just focused along other lines than many other North American studies of anime (except for Lamarre's The Anime Machine, to which it owes a clear debt). It looks more at historical context and media theory, and that's where it really shines.

In the chapters 2 and 3, Steinberg gives a fascinating run-down of the confectionary company Meiji Seika's 1960s "Atomu" advertising campaigns, which used sticker giveaways (omake) tied to the brand-new Atomu tv anime to sell "Marble Chocolates." This transformed the relation between images, material goods, and the "media ecology" or whole world in which images circulate. There are lots of fascinating images of 1960s Japanese magazine ads for Disney and Atomu products in these chapters, and these primary sources make it really clear how the media mix system was already being developed at the inception of TV anime. There's some great material-culture research here!

The next two chapters of the book then turn to media theory using the example of the major publisher Kadokawa Books, which extended the premises of the 1960s Atomu marketing campaign into a full-blown media mix, tying books to films to records and beyond in the 1970s-80s. Steinberg then explores how this more mainstream media mix has been re-focused back into the otaku-targeted anime media mix we know today, notably by Ohtsuka Eiji, the Kadokawa employee and manga author/scholar who developed the key concepts of the anime "character" (kyara) and "worldview" (sekaikan).

Well, I'm simplifying vastly. It gets pretty dense at the end, in fact, and I found there was a bit of a break between the history and theory parts. With five chapters in two parts (3 in the first, 2 in the second), it felt a little unbalanced. The theory chapters also tended to skip between big concepts ("thing communication," post-Fordism, Leibniz's perspectivalist philosophy) without enough of a through-line for me sometimes. Finally, the book needs more of a conclusion than the current 2 pages to tie it all back together. But that's all mainly a structural issue. The content itself is solid, and the whole volume presents an incredibly well-researched and densely-theorized exploration of some fascinating concepts.


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