The Complete Anime Guide: A Complete Reference Book
The second text chapter "Anime Genres" singles out four genres unique to Japanese animation, defined by the author of this section, Trish Ledoux, as "the four most exciting, least-easily-achievable-in-live-action genres: cyberpunk, giant robots, the anime noir thriller, and the romantic `love' comedy" (author's emphasis). "Cyberpunk" focuses on futuristic crime titles such as Akira, Patlabor, Ghost in the Shell, Bubblegum Crisis and Dominion Tank Police. "Giant Robots" offers a handful of "mecha-themed" titles, such as Kishin Corps, Armored Trooper Votoms, Gunbuster, and, of course, Giant Robo. "Anime noir" serves up the expected Kawajiri titles, Wicked City, Demon City Shinjuku, and Ninja Scroll, and is then stretched to include such horror/occult titles as Devilman, Ogre Slayer, Vampire Hunter D, and Vampire Princess Miyu. Finally, "Romantic Comedy" highlights three popular series based on the manga of Rumiko Takahashi, Ranma 1/2, Urusei Yatsura (Lum), and Maison Ikkoku, along with Project A-ko, Tenchi Muyo!, Kimagure Orange Road, and Oh My Goddess!.
Genre is a crucial issue in any discussion of anime since popular genres tend to fuel anime production, rather than famous characters, innovative animators, or other marketable elements. Ledoux's approach offers a convenient, if arbitrary, grouping which lacks a basic understanding of genre. Cyberpunk is described rather broadly as "stories showcasing the cutting edge of science and technology set in the distant-yet-closer-than-we-think world of tomorrow." Horror may in fact be anime's equivalent of noir, but more for reasons of style than for Ledoux's questionable citation of the horror titles' "unmistakable noir heroes, who exist in a world of hostile forces in which only they can provide salvation." Her approach omits other significant anime genres, particularly that of space science fiction which put Japanese animation on the map in the first place. While it is certainly achievable in live action (witness: Star Wars, Star Trek, and Japan's own Message from Space,), rarely have stories of space voyages, interplanetary conflict and civil war been told so intricately and extensively as in such animated series as Space Cruiser Yamato, Mobile Suit Gundam, and Macross, and such films as Phoenix 2772, Toward the Terra, and Lensman.
Aside from the review section and the chapters on television and genre, the book offers some additional features that are particularly welcome. Foremost is the foreword by Noboru Ishiguro, a director associated with such series as Space Cruiser Yamato and Macross. This gives readers a chance to hear a Japanese artist's appreciation of his American fans and tribute to the American popular culture that nourished his own, as well as his assessment of his country's animation product.
There is also a detailed history of anime fandom in the U.S. from 1961 until 1992, compiled by Fred Patten, the book's chief editor and seminal figure in this history. In the back of the book, in addition to lists of anime web sites, fan clubs, magazines, and video distributors, there is an index of artistic personnel, so one can cross-check an artist's credits. A random check of several important names, however, revealed three artists (Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, Gisaburo Sugii, Shotaro Ishinomori) whose credits, as included in the review section, were incomplete; hopefully, this will be corrected in a future edition.
The book briefly addresses the issues of sex and violence, but only to defend anime from a bad reputation arising from Legend of the Overfiend (Urotsukidoji) and its ilk. It gently sidesteps the whole "tentacle porn" genre in a footnote: "Perhaps in a future edition of this book, we'll treat Urotsuki Doji and its legions of drooling idiot imitators as a separate genre, but for now, if you'll pardon the expression, once you've seen one giant demonic phallus destroying Tokyo, you've seen them all." Even in the reviews of the X-rated titles (a rating imposed by the book's contributors and not by a ratings board), the reviewers avoid explicit discussion of the sexual content in the videos. I fully understand the authors' caution, but I think it would have been helpful to differentiate more clearly those titles with genuine erotic content from those with gratuitous sexual violence.
Despite the minor quibbles over genre and sex, the book stands out as an invaluable compendium of current information about legally available anime, with some very useful reviews and consumer guidance. Still, there remains a need for a detailed historical overview designed to include anime not released in the U.S., as well as a continuing critical study of these films by commentators with a stronger grasp of American, Japanese and animation film history and aesthetics.
The Complete Anime Guide: Japanese Animation Film Directory & Resource Guide, Second Edition by Trish Ledoux and Doug Ranney, edited by Fred Patten. Issaquah, WA: Tiger Mountain Press, 1997. $19.95; ISBN: 0-9649542-5-7
Brian Camp is Program Manager at CUNY-TV, the City University of New York cable TV station. He has written about Japanese animation for Outre Magazine and The Motion Picture Guide and has also written for Film Comment, Film Library Quarterly, Sightlines, The New York Daily News and Asian Cult Cinema.