Review: Stray Dog of Anime: The Films of Mamoru Oshii (2014)

  • March 27, 2016
  • James Skemp
  • review

The following is a review of the Kindle version of Brian Ruh’s Stray Dog of Anime: The Films of Mamoru Oshii (Second Edition).

An interesting look at Mamoru Oshii’s works

Like many others, my first introduction to Mamoru Oshii was via the first Ghost in the Shell movie. At the time I was looking for something like the Matrix, and the Internet of the time highly recommended looking at Ghost in the Shell.

I would go on later to watch and enjoy Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, another of Oshii’s works, and then in 2006 I discovered Urusei Yatsura Movie 2: Beautiful Dreamer, seemingly thanks to a forum post recommending it as being similar to the movie Waking Life.

In 2007 I would watch the animated Blood: The Last Vampire, and then in 2010, Avalon. It was the use of the dog in the film that made me think of Innocence, and then to discovering that Mamoru Oshii had a part in all of these movies. So in 2014 when I saw a used copy of Mamoru Oshii: Cinema Trilogy, I immediately picked it up, with Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade and the first Patlabor film being additional recent purchases this year.

I say all this because I came into Brian Ruh’s Stray Dog of Anime: The Films of Mamoru Oshii with some level of experience with Mamoru Oshii’s works, and is definitely a creator (being much more than just a director) that I’m aware of and watch out for. So with Brian Ruh’s book I was hoping to get a better idea of just who Mamoru Oshii is, and for new insights into his various works.

First, I must comment on the Kindle version of the book. This version appeared to be the easiest (and possibly only) way to get a copy of the Second Edition, which includes three additional chapters, including most importantly one on Innocence. Sadly, the Kindle version of the book (read on a Kindle Fire 7, in mid-March 2016) appears to have issues with some special characters. For instance, the Yen symbol, as well as oddly placed dashes and underscores, are mingled within Japanese names. This was slightly distracting, and is something I would hope would be corrected.

Otherwise, this book covers Oshii’s major films, including a brief synopsis of the piece, characters of note, commentary, and analysis. With the book setup to cover a major work, or universe, in chronological order, you can truly see the transition and growth of Mamoru Oshii. Since I have not seen all of the works covered, of special note were the synopsis pieces, as Brian Ruh does quite a good job of retelling the stories.

However, one thing that I would have hoped for was more on Mamoru Oshii’s The Red Spectacles, Stray Dog, and Talking Head. While mentioned briefly, they are some of the more cryptic works of Oshii’s, although that difficulty and obscurity may in fact be why Brian Ruh didn’t devote a chapter to them.

Ultimately, however, the exclusion of an in-depth look at these works does not sufficiently detract from the works that are covered, and the level at which they are. The Second Edition of Brian Ruh’s Stray Dog of Anime: The Films of Mamoru Oshii is definitely a good overview of Mamoru Oshii, and comes recommended with a full five of five stars. If some of the ideas brought up by the first two Ghost in the Shell movies are of interest to you, or you’ve seen more than a couple of his films, then you too may enjoy this book.