As I’ve written about at length, Japanese video games have been a huge part of my life since I was a kid playing Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger. Alongside those experiences, I was obsessed with Sailor Moon in seventh grade, Dragon Ball Z by ninth grade, and the films of Hayao Miyazaki as a high school grad. Japanese art and pop culture has had a tremendous influence on my life as a fan and a creator, second only to western epic fantasy.
Pure Invention: How Japan’s Pop Culture Conquered the World from Matt Alt is an exhaustive and entertaining look at my history—about how a generation of kids and teenagers were influenced as much by Hello Kitty and Gundam as Barbies and G.I. Joe. It’s the story of Japan’s rise to cultural dominance in the post-war era, and paints a chillingly direct line from the creation of anonymous message boards in Japan to modern day political unrest in the United States.
Alt writes with a clear voice, backed by meticulous research, a clear passion for the subject matter, and a keen eye for pulling out interesting narratives from amongst a complex, many-layered history. I disparately recognized many of these stories on their own—from the rise of Japanese videogames after the American industry crash, to Osamu Tezuka creating anime in the ’60s, to the role of anonymous online message boards on larger society—but the way Alt pulls them together into a single, compulsively readable narrative is wonderful and enlightening.
Despite the book’s scope reaching back to the period immediately after World War II, Alt is an active narrator for much of the history he covers. He was an anime-obsessed youth who dreamed of meeting Astro Boy creator Tezuka, and lived on the front lines in American and Japan as the island nation’s pop culture spread westward. The story he tells is at once sweeping and detailed, and an intensely personal portrait of a backstory and shared by millions of other Japanese-obsessed fans.
If you have any interest in gaming, anime, Japanese pop culture, or just the nature of culture itself, Matt Alt’s Pure Invention: How Japan’s Pop Culture Conquered the World is an easy recommendation.