The Anime Encyclopedia: A Guide to Japanese Animation Since 1917
(Revised & Expanded Edition)
Jonathan Clements and Helen McCarthy
Titan Books 896 pp £19.99
This is one book that no serious anime fan can afford to be without. Inevitably, it can’t compete with the internet, especially if you want to look up a series released after the book went to print. But this is a treasure-house of information that is not just instructive, but fun to leaf through. It was been compiled by two of the UK’s most dedicated and knowledgeable experts in the field of Japanese drawn media; readers of NEO and Newtype USA will recognize Jonathan Clements as a regular columnist, and visitors to the recent Barbican anime screenings will have encountered Helen McCarthy lecturing on the films being shown.
The greater part of the book is given over to descriptions of the animes themselves, as well as significant figures such as Rumihiko Takahashi, CLAMP, Yoshiyuko Tomino and Katsuhiro Otomo – or studios such as JVC and Madhouse. Each anime entry is prefaced by its date, Japanese release title and alternative titles, if any, followed by the names of those responsible for direction, script, design, lead animation, music, and production. If it’s a TV series, the total number and length of episodes is given. An asterisk indicates that the anime is available in English, and at the end of each entry L, N and V stand respectively for language, nudity and violence advisory (useful for any parent puzzled by differing age ratings between countries).
There are also thematic entries on varied topics of significance such as ‘Foreign Influences and Tropes,’ ‘False Friends,’ and ‘Transformations,’ as well as more technical sections on ‘Translation’ and ‘Argot and Jargon’. ‘Translation’ deals with instances such as the confusion over the (rather more appropriate, it transpires) translation of ‘Aa Megamisama’ to ‘Oh! My Goddess’. These longer articles are included in the general body of the text so that the topic ‘Music in Anime,’ for example, appears between ‘Mushka and Mishka’ (1979) and ‘Musical Wanderings of Jironiga Kiyomizu’ (2000). A Selected Bibliography with some internet links follows the text and a comprehensive index fills the final pages.
All entries in the encyclopedia are helpfully capitalized in boldface to allow swift cross-referencing. And the titles! How can you resist wanting to find out more about a series called ‘Exploding Campus Guardress’ or ‘Goldfish Warning’ or even ‘Invasion of the Boobie Snatchers?’
Where Jonathan Clements and Helen McCarthy really come into their own is the way they trace the influence of earlier shows that most of us have never seen. ‘It is our job to notice these things and point readers back to earlier precedents. Readers who do not want anime placed in a historical context are reading the wrong book.’ They single out Osamu Tezuka, Mitsuteru Yokoyama and Shotaro Ishinomori as the founding fathers. But there is a certain world-weariness expressed in the Introduction about the constant recycling of old ideas and plot-lines, whilst acknowledging the financial pressures brought to bear on the studios. However, they concede, ‘If we complain about the latest modern-dress version of ‘Astro Boy’, should we not also complain about a new production of King Lear?’ Their thoughts on the future of anime are also well worth musing over, not least the observation ‘It is a fact little acknowledged in the media that innovations are often pioneered in the pornographic world…If anime erotica is five years ahead of the curve, then the future of anime will lie in online distribution… anime erotica is also in the forefront of using mobile phones as a distribution system.’
My first instinct in exploring the text was to look up several recently-viewed titles that were fresh in my own mind. Several hours after that (it’s addictive reading) I then set out to test the limitations of the encyclopedia by deliberately checking out old, obscure, even never released on DVD series, such as the legendary 1988 ‘Peacock King’, Dumas-inspired ‘Sanjushi’ (1987) or ‘Genji’ (1992) – and I was more than pleased to find them included, with fascinating and useful details. Another plus point is the way source material is listed, whether it be manga, novels, as well as the inevitable spin-off shows, toys, musicals and video games. Key shonen series, such as ‘Saint Seiya’ and ‘Transformers’ receive serious critical attention alongside contemporary ‘classics’ ‘Haibane Renmei’(2002), and ‘Evangelion’ (1995).
But beware! Even though the authors have not rated any of the titles with a star system, their descriptions can betray personal preferences which may not coincide with the reader’s. Every now and then, the odd mischievous or sharp comment appears. In the entry on ‘Elfen Lied’ (2004) mention is made of a 2005 video sequel ‘widely considered as the fourteenth episode’ which is based on manga billed as ‘”action-comedy-romance” although there was never all that much comedy in “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde,” or indeed in Guantanamo Bay.’ When summing up an account of ‘Mars Daybreak’ (2004), the wry observation is made that ‘The anime world, never one to ignore a good idea that was not yet wholly wrung of all saleability, flooded Mars again the following year in “Aria.”’ Or check out the concluding line to the entry on ‘Outlaw Star’ (1998). ‘When screened on the Cartoon Network, the anime was edited for nudity, violence, gambling, drinking, and lechery because those things don’t happen in America.’
There are also some critical blind spots: the charming and quirky ‘Fruits Basket’(2001) is dismissed in a tiny and inaccurate paragraph (fluffy animals? a family of sorcerers and shape-shifters?) whereas the disappointing ‘Spiral’ is described as being ‘well served by a good script and nicely paced direction’. Were we watching the same series, I wonder?
Minor niggles? There always are a few with any work of this size and breadth, but I stress that they are few, It was unlucky that in the very first series I looked up, ‘Loveless’ (2005), I found a significant mistake in the first sentence about a major plot point. But the authors are keen to invite readers to comment on any errors they come across and include an email address for all such observations. I also feel that it would have been helpful to present the thematic entries in a different font, or even a separate section perhaps, to distinguish them from the other entries. The black and white illustrations are mostly screen caps from about one hundred and fifty titles, ranging from ‘Earthian’ (1989) through ‘Black Jack (1993) to ‘Trinity Blood’ (2007). To add colour illustrations would have forced the price up, I imagine, but these b/w images don’t really do justice to what is, after all, a visual media.
Treasure trove of information for the dyed-in-the-wool otaku, useful for anime pub quizzes, essential for hard-pressed reviewers desperate for an elusive fact or two, or just simply a fun read for anime fans? The Anime Encyclopedia is all these things and more. Highly recommended.