If you’re looking for an art book containing a broad range of bishoujo (“pretty girl”) characters from various artists, there seem to be two good options: Girl, Illustrated: Japanese Manga, Anime, and Video Game Characters, and 100 Masters of Bishoujo Painting. The former is going at a reasonable 20 USD on Amazon right now; 100 Masters is rarer and more expensive, probably costing you at least 50 USD. As far as I can tell from my internet browsings the two books are very similar, but for now I only own Girl, Illustrated and will focus on that in this review.
The book is about 10 by 7 inches and comes in softcover with a dust jacket. The book’s actual cover is a simple green and white. The picture on the dust jacket (which is included inside) should give you some idea as to the maturity of the content. With so many pictures (around 500) from so many artists (about 100), you are bound to run into some images that are more risqué. By the broad standards of anime the images are fairly mild, but you might want to take a closer look if, for whatever reason, you were considering getting this for a child.
The art book is written in both Japanese and English. This makes it an excellent tool for those learning Japanese, as the text contains a good mix of hiragana, katakana, and kanji. I noticed a few typos, and the translation into English generally seems more literal–some entries were difficult to understand. That said, these errors are minor compared to the book as a whole. Far more annoying is the fact that a big space is inserted after each apostrophe (like this: I can’ t). No doubt a quirk of the font they used, but it becomes distracting after a while.
The first 37 pages of the book contain (besides the table of contents and an introduction) a section detailing the ways that bishoujo characters have been used to revitalize regional economies. This includes a few interviews and several pictures as well. It’s an interesting topic to read about, but it seems out of place in the book as a whole. I wish that, if the creators truly wanted to add in a broader range of information about this art style, they had added additional informative sections. That would have helped to break up the rest of the book a bit.
The variety of pictures is quite large and divided by the artist. Each section (two pages per artist) includes a little table with name/pseudonym, some general information like age and gender, email, “comments,” and the source of their inspiration. The comments section is what proves hard to understand at points, and for many artists it seems to boil down to: “I do _____ style/genre of art right now and want to broaden my horizons into _____ style.” Not that that’s a bad thing, but it seems as though the artists were provided with too little space to convey anything meaningful. Some have nothing at all to say.
I watch a lot of anime and have several art books, but to be honest I rarely pay attention to the artists involved. As such, perhaps it’s no surprise that I fail to recognize many of the names in this book. The main artists that I was familiar with were associated with Key (of Clannad fame). There aren’t any well-known characters that I can see either (except for one Clannad picture, I think); if you want more familiar works, Heroes and Heroines: Japanese Video Game and Animation Illustration is a better choice. Overall, however, the works in Girl, Illustrated are well drawn and interesting to study at length.
As my art book collection steadily grows, I am always on the lookout for new buys. Post any recommendations or general comments below and I will surely reply.