On Art Books

Back in my early days of fandom, I kept hearing theses things called ‘Art Books’ going on sale. Mostly as follows, ‘OMG *insert anime* got an art book! It’s only 6000yen!’ and ‘This art book is presale only! Does anyone know where I can preorder…?’. Which, as a teenager I was pretty interested in the idea of these. The idea of an ‘art book’ not necessarily the product itself because I was broke.

Perhaps, I should make some brief remarks on what exactly an Art Book/Artbook is. Their titles are more and less self explanatory, but just in case for new fans I’ll explain.

Art books, are exactly just that. They are printed volumes of the art for a series. They can be focused on just the anime, manga, sometimes for other medias and franchises. I’ll be focusing on anime/manga here. Typically the art included is character designs and drafts, backgrounds, key animation, and reference images in relation to art. Many art books often have interviews from someone on the animation team, or the mangaka depending on the focus of the book. Many books feature previously released artwork, as well as a lot of unreleased materials as well. They’re considered fairly collectible in certain circles too.

Back to my thoughts and stories.

I’m an art appreciator at heart. I can spend hours in art museums deeply sighing in admiration over composition, color scheme, and more of paintings and such. I often lusted after art books featuring materials of my favorite painters in high school. My parents blessed me with the ability to go to the museum to see them in real time, saw me look at the art book I was lusting after, looked at the book itself, saw the price tag (expensive!), and told me maybe my library would have it. Somewhat thankfully, I’m glad my parents didn’t let me buy those books because a) my library system did have most of them and b) a majority of my infatuation with those artists was just that, infatuation. I can’t even name the artists whose books at one point I wanted from multiple museum visits.

Steering back to anime, in the beginning I didn’t consider anime an art form, (now I do just fyi), seeing the drafting process and in-between art sounded interesting. I have a friend in animation, who said those books were great for people like her as references and better understanding. Not to mention, given the price tag when one sold it helped that artist a lot.

So in general, I liked the idea of an art book for anime/manga series. I couldn’t say that I had a series that I would be genuinely interested in getting all that additional material for though. I had many series that I liked, even loved, for a brief period of time, and then moved on. With price tags at 5000yen+ (I.e. not cheap), conversation rates, and shipping fees… it didn’t seem like something I would really be able to afford, let alone justify in my already strapped budget. There have been a few series I considered buying art books from, and saw copies of at anime conventions. Unfortunately, the prices were usually double the original price, even for the mainstream series. Not a fan of that, so I didn’t buy.

That was until recently, as in this past year. In a little under three months, I have somehow ended up with three artbooks with potential plans to buy more.

Where did this change come from?

The first art book, was one I knew I wanted for a very long time. By very long time, I mean five plus years and the fact I was able to find it in person on the secondhand market. That would be “Double Wind” by Higuchi Daisuke Sensei. One day I should talk about my love for this little-known mangaka, but this is not the place. Anyway-

I saw online that she at one point had published an art book, more a compilation art book, of all her works published until then. The main cover, was the protagonist of “Whistle!” Kazamatsuri Sho. I have a very, very deep love of “Whistle!”, and knew I had to have it. I was broke, and in college when I learned of it’s existence. I tracked it being available and unavailable on Mandarake for weeks, finally pushing the thought out of my head by repeating many times over ‘I just won’t collect artbooks’. It worked, for awhile. I survived multiple trips to and from Japan without remembering to look for it, let alone buy it.

Then came moving to Japan, and online-window shopping. At least that’s what I call it. You know when you go on a certain site, add in every little thing that catches your interest on a particular store into your cart, scroll down admiring your brilliant personal taste, and then see the giant final total at the end and hit the empty cart button? I do that, a lot. Especially on sites like Mandarake because it’s so easy to spend your time. Except, I saw “Double Wind” listed as being available. I got curious, it seemed much more available then a few years ago with several copies listed at multiple locations. I thought long and hard about it. It was in my cart with several other manga I did buy, but I hesitated. ‘I just won’t collect artbooks’, my voice of almost reason echoed. I deleted it from my cart, and confirmed my other purchase and thought it was over.

It was not. Fast forward, I was in person at Mandarake Sapporo. I had several other items in my basket. I was proceeding to checkout and… is that the entire collection of “Whistle!” manga I see? I stop, knowing fully well I can not lug the 24 volume series back to my hotel, let alone back to my house without paying a good chunk of cash in shipping, so a big NOPE on that. My brain immediately fires back to online window shopping months earlier, I know Mandarake Sapporo had a copy of the art book. I go back to the store-front art books, culling each rack for the book. No avail. I am determined though; it’s gotta be in store somewhere, right?

I could have backed out now, buy what I had a move along. Save myself the money but again, nope. I found myself, nervous as shit, talking to an employee asking about it. She’s very kind and started looking for it. She calls her boss, “Is “Double Wind” considered vintage now?”, she asked. I was shocked, had it really been that long since this was published? She went to her boss, her boss came to me, they told me to wait as they both disappeared into the back. The boss came out, disappeared, more waiting. I was overwhelmed by the seriousness of my request, and committed, no matter the condition, to buy this book. The boss appeared, presented me the art book with a shy smile. I don’t remember my reaction, but I was probably fairly giddy.

“It’s damaged”, she explained, pulling it out of the plastic. I took it carefully, checked the spine, page corners, covers, doing a very quick flip through to look for missing pages. “Where?”, I asked. She slid the book’s plastic cover up, some small scratches I hadn’t even noticed appeared. Not a problem, I still wanted it. Less then five minutes later I walked out of the store, art book and a few other items in tow.

But I just won’t collect artbooks?

Well… why wouldn’t I?

As an ‘adult’, I have the means to collect art books now. The big obstacle, money, is now less of an issue. I have a good job, and with some budgeting (minus one or two impulses) I can afford to buy them. I have the means to store them, and the time to take them off the shelf to flip through the pages. Hell, I can even take the time to read the interviews and notes if I really buckle down for a bit.

So why did I hesitate? Question if it was really the best idea to buy one? Better yet, why did I deny myself of something as insignificant as a book for so long? It’s something I think a lot of fans struggle with, that’s actually a non-issue.

Buying things to just enjoy them.

At least, that use to be a problem for me. I admit to being cash strapped when I was younger, that was more by choice then by circumstance. I had a budget and I kept to it, which allowed me to do some pretty cool things most kids my age didn’t do. I wouldn’t trade any of my monetary choices for the world, but constantly being on budget did lead to a problem in my fandom.

I couldn’t justify buying things just to enjoy them. They had to had some purpose, being re-readable, collectable or whatever the buzzword was at the time. I never was a person to just buy things just “because”. Despite my nature, an admirer and collector of shiny things, I largely denied that side of me. I taught myself, or thought I had taught myself that art books were ‘impractical’ or ‘useless’. Aka, despite being someone who would really love the item; it wasn’t something I should collect.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not whipping out my art books every night to gaze at them or flip through the pages. They sit on my shelves with my other books. When I see them on my shelves I do have a certain amount of satisfaction. I can pull them out at any time, for however long I want to enjoy the real time images. If I want to spend an hour or two of my day slowly flipping through the pages. I can and I will. In fact, I’ll probably do just that after I finish writing this post.

The takeaway of this long recounting, is that I use to be one of those fans who snubbed art books as being ‘pointless’, ‘cash grabs’. Arguably, some of them without a doubt are, but a large majority of them are not. As I realized so long as I was responsible in collecting (considering I am a fairly limited collector anyway), that adding art books isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it scratches a fandom itch I never realized that I had. By no means am I going to gather art books the same way that I gathered manga, but my collection of three is solid. So for fans on the edge, maybe don’t dive headfirst, but consider your love, and your truly favorite series, and consider an art book. You’ll probably be more then happy with your purchase!

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