~edited by Annette Roman
Originally published by Viz Media's Cadence Books in 1999, Japan Edge: The Insider's Guide to Japanese Pop Subculture is now out of print. I made a point of tracking it down because I knew it contained a few excerpts from Usamaru Furuya's debut manga Palepoli. (They happily turned out to be different selections than the excerpts included in the manga anthology Secret Comics Japan.) But, Furuya's work is not the focus of Japan Edge. Edited by Annette Roman, Japan Edge features four writers who have specialized in different areas of Japanese pop culture: Patrick Macias, Carl Gustav Horn, Yuji Oniki, and Mason Jones. (I was pleased to discover that Jones and Oniki both have connections to Ann Arbor since I live in the area; the city even comes up a few times in the book.) Matt Thorn and Satoru Fujii also make contributions to Japan Edge. I was already familiar with some of the contributors and their work and looked forward to seeing what they had to say in Japan Edge.
Japan Edge is divide into six chapters: "Anime," "Film," "Noise," "Music," "Manga Views," and "Roundtable." Interspersed between the chapters are the previously mentioned excerpts from Palepoli and brief "Tokyo Diary" entries by Oniki. The first four chapters in Japan Edge follow a similar pattern. They start with a general overview of the subject which is then followed by a personal essay by one of the contributors--Horn writing for "Anime," Macias for "Film," Jones for "Noise," and Oniki for "Music." The chapters conclude with commentary on future trends, collection suggestions, and a short biography and question and answer section with the respective writer. The "Manga Views" and "Roundtable" chapters are more of a joint, collaborative effort in which each contributor provides material.
The presentation and layout of Japan Edge is inspired by that of Japanese magazines. Overall, I really like the design of the book, but some of the text sizes and font choices make reading a bit of a strain on the eyes. The collection pages in particular are difficult to completely discern without significant effort. Japan Edge will probably appeal most to readers who are already interested in Japanese pop culture, especially since the book actually deals with Japanese pop subculture, as the subtitle indicates. In "Anime," Horn primarily examines Studio Ghibli and Gainax, both of which were quite revolutionary in their time. Macias choose to focus on two subgenres of cult film--kaiju and yakuza. Noise is already its own subculture, as Mason points out, but in "Music" Oniki looks at a wider selection of alternative and indie sound. "Manga Views" covers everything from yaoi and dōjinshi to underground and ultra-violent manga and beyond. "Roundtable" goes on to briefly address other subcultures in Japanese literature, fashion, and photography.
Since it was published in 1999, over ten years ago, portions of Japan Edge come across as dated, particularly the future trends and collection sections. They still make for interesting reading, though. While the overviews of the various media only cover up to the late nineties, they do provide valuable historic information. When this is kept in mind they make nice, general introductions to the subject areas since they do address pivotal series and creators. The majority of Japan Edge holds up perfectly fine despite the book's age. Large parts of the volume are devoted to the contributor's own personal experience with Japanese pop culture. Their passion and intense interest is abundantly clear. I was even convinced to search out some of the materials mentioned in Japan Edge on the basis of the writers' enthusiasm alone.