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Review of The Dragon and the Dazzle

By Martin de la Iglesia

Pellitteri, Marco. The Dragon and the Dazzle: Models, Strategies, and Identities of Japanese Imagination. A European Perspective. Latina: Tunué, 2010. Print.

Two years after its original Italian publication, Marco Pelliteri’s book Il Drago e la Saetta has now been translated into English. In about 700 pages, it explores the European reception of Japanese popular culture (primarily anime and manga) since about 1975. This topic is highly important for the field of comics studies, so the expectations of this book were rather high. However, it is weakened by its somewhat incoherent structure. As Pellitteri elaborately explains in the Foreword, large parts of the volume derive from shorter previously published texts (mostly in Italian) that have been updated, revised, and expanded, which may be the reason why The Dragon and the Dazzle often reads like a collection of independent essays. Thus, my general impression of the book is that it is very valuable and useful, albeit not without structural flaws.

It is quite a rich, demanding, and complex volume. Its design is a strong point of the book, featuring clear fonts, an elegant layout, and stylish (though black-and-white and rather small, in order to conform to fair use copyright regulations) images in rounded frames. Then again, it is in the images where the point of view of the author becomes visible. Pellitteri often uses images arbitrarily to illustrate quite abstract concepts, like a character, a franchise, or a “ludic-narrative universe,” which might be problematic for readers who expect images to be properly discussed as such, and to play a vital role in the argument of the part of the book in which they are placed. Furthermore, some chapters read as if they were stand-alone articles that only loosely connect to the rest of the book, while other parts seem almost repetitive. Given the length of the book, it doesn’t help that endnotes were used instead of footnotes, which forces the diligent reader to constantly browse back and forth between the text, notes, and bibliography sections. Relatedly, there is no index, which is particularly unfortunate given the length of the book.

Rather than presenting one long reception history in chronological order, Pellitteri presents a wealth of separate topics in no discernible order. Some of those topics are linked to specific points in time (e.g. the arrival of the anime series UFO Robo Grendizer on Italian television in 1978), or to specific franchises (e.g. Pokémon or Chôbits), but more often Pellitteri favours rather abstract subjects, such as the metaphors of “Dragon and Dazzle” and “machine, infant, and mutation” (both of which I discuss further on in this review). Sometimes a topic (e.g. giant robot anime series like the aforementioned UFO Robo Grendizer) is touched upon several times in completely different sections of the book, and these discussion are not even brought together by an index. It is problematic that all of these subjects are scattered arbitrarily through the book without proper connections between them.

A unique selling point of the book might be the two sets of metaphors that Pellitteri introduces. The first is, in fact, the book’s title. It refers to different stages in which Japanese products and characters were introduced to Western markets—the Dragon phase lasted from 1975 to 1995, and the Dazzle phase followed immediately afterwards and remains today. They are not just periods in time, but also strategies for this Japanese-Western commercial relationship: the Dragon phase/strategy had Western companies “pull” anime from Japan towards Europe, whereas in the Dazzle phase/strategy, Japanese publishers actively “push” anime and manga towards Europe. This pair of metaphors is an intriguing suggestion for a periodisation of European manga and anime reception history. However, as with all periodisation attempts, the actual dates are arguable, as is the number of periods Pelliteri chooses. For instance, a system of three periods could be devised just as well, with one cut-off date around 1990, when manga and anime began to be systematically imported to European markets in the wake of Akira and Dragonball; and another at the beginning of this century, when series like One Piece and Naruto achieved unprecedented success in Europe, mainstreaming anime and manga fandom.

The other set of metaphors—”machine, infant, and mutation”—is more complicated. Under the label “machine,” Pellitteri analyses how the Japanese fondness for android and cyborg fiction, as well as real-life robotics, mechatronics, and artificial intelligence, manifests itself in anime and manga. “Infant” is used to describe certain phenomena in Japanese society, like the otaku subculture and their childish devotion to media franchises, or the ubiquity of and fondness for kawaii (cute and childlike) aesthetics and their use in anime and manga. The metaphor of “mutation” is somewhat more difficult to grasp: it refers to transformations in Japanese characters (e.g. PokémonSailor MoonPower Rangers), but also to the transformation of content from one medium to another, or several others (e.g. the adaptation of a manga into anime, and then into merchandise like toys). Pellitteri claims these are “three of the main postmodern categories through which Japan has been perceived by the West” (22). This is quite a bold claim, since Pellitteri doesn’t offer any comparison to product flows between other regions, so we can’t be certain whether these categories are specific to Japanese-Western reception of popular culture or whether they apply to postmodernity in general.

One of the many things this book has to offer is a macroscopic (and rather loose) reception history of manga and anime. This, in itself, will undoubtedly spark lively discussion among manga and anime scholars, as will the categorization of the two phases of the Japanese-Western manga/anime consumer relationship and of Pelliteri’s “machine,” “infant,” and “mutation” metaphors. The subtitle A European Perspective provokes another line of further research, since the book focuses on only a few Western European countries. It would be intriguing to examine differences in the reception of manga and anime across Europe as a whole, including Eastern and Northern Europe. Furthermore, this subtitle seems to claim that there is something special about European anime and manga reception, never fully clarifying what sets it apart from that on other continents. Similarly, the words Japanese Imagination in the title challenge us to extend Pelliteri’s approaches to other types of Japanese media that he doesn’t cover as extensively as anime and manga, and also to contest the idea that different genres of manga and anime can be easily subsumed into a single concept. Still, The Dragon and the Dazzle is indispensable for anyone interested in anime or manga reception research, and it is particularly useful for bridging the gap between Italian-language and international scholarship.

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