See/Saw: Connections Between Japanese Art Then and Now is a 176-page book that details the connections between old and modern art from Japan. See what I did there? But is this just Japanophile pandering, or is See/Saw something you can keep on your coffee table for your highbrow friends to talk about after a rousing day of croquet? Hit the link for our review.
See/Saw actually isn’t for otaku or the art snobs. It’s somewhere in the middle. If you look at the cover and think “Gundam Mk. II? Awesome,” you’ll probably be disappointed. If you were intrigued by both the giant robot and the samurai, the book is probably for you.
There’s barely any anime or manga in the book. Off the top of my head, all I can think of is a frame from an Akira manga. Superflat pieces make a few appearances and there’s nothing from the realm of videogames. But other than that, the book’s feet are firmly planted in the fine art camp.
That said, it certainly isn’t inaccessible. I’m definitely not a fine art person, but I got a lot of enjoyment out of all the glossy pages. There are 140 images to stare at, which are are made up of paintings, illustrations, pottery, sculptures, stills from video installations, and more.
The gist of the book, if you couldn’t tell by the subtitle, is comparing old and new Japanese art. According to the authors, mimicking others isn’t seen as an artistic crime in Japan; it’s actually an accepted and normal thing to do. Turning your own work into an homage is very common and is often seen as a positive aspect of a work. The authors clearly present this in both the writing and the side-by-side comparisons of art.
To be honest, See/Saw didn’t touch upon something that I had hoped it would. I’ve often heard that the styles of anime and manga are a direct result of the craft of Japanese woodblock prints. As far as I know, creating woodblock prints was a bit like silk-screening shirts today: You go color-by-color, layer-by-layer until you’ve stacked several images on top of one another. I can never tell if this is true or if people are romanticizing anime and manga, trying to raise their artistic merit. I guess I’ll never know.
So, to bring this pretty short review to an end, I’d say See/Saw is an enjoyable book that will last you a week or two. At nearly $28, the price is pretty steep, so I’d recommend waiting for it to go on sale. $20 would be a more reasonable price. And, oh hey, look at that. It’s on sale at Amazon right now for less than $20.