In 1988, a violent postapocalyptic thriller called ''Akira'' opened in the U.S., and a few intrepid moviegoers got their first taste of a form of animation vastly different from anything Disney would ever consider producing. Since then, anime -- Japanese-produced animation -- has become a cult obsession here, but in Japan, almost half the movies made are animated. So it seems like high time for a scholarly examination of anime's many faces, from the puerile to the pornographic. Susan J. Napier draws a rather complete picture of Japanese animation as a legitimate art form, and uses anime as a key to the culture that creates it: Is it any wonder that the only nation to endure an atomic onslaught would produce so many films about the end of the world? Ultimately, her book suffers from being too scholarly. Why would anyone who loves anime's unbridled vibrancy want to slog through the antiseptic dryness of a textbook?