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The Anime Encyclopedia: A Guide To Japanese Animation Since 1917

Alan Neal reviews the latest book to attempt to capture, and make sense, of anime's numerous titles.

The Anime Encyclopedia can be seen as the third part of a trilogy begun with 1996's Anime Movie Guide, written by Helen McCarthy, and continued with 1998's Erotic Anime Movie Guide (a wider-ranging book than the title suggests), co-written by McCarthy and Jonathan Clements. The earlier volumes were published by the London company Titan; the Encyclopedia is published by Berkeley's Stone Bridge Press, also responsible for Frederik L Schodt's excellent books on manga and McCarthy's guide to Hayao Miyazaki. The first two books offered increasingly in-depth overviews and analyses of anime, but the Encyclopedia goes several steps further. Far bigger than its predecessors, and exponentially more ambitious, its 500-odd close-typed pages, cover over two thousand anime titles ranging across every format and genre imaginable. Theatrical shorts like festival favorite Glassy Ocean and Miyazaki's On Your Mark rub shoulders with endless TV series Sazae-San (which, the writers note, "makes a mockey of The Simpsons' claim to be the longest-running TV show in the world"), one-off TV specials like the baseball-themed Hit And Run, video releases from Hello Kitty to Overfiend, and movies from Akira to Hakujaden (listed here under its U.S. title Panda and the Magic Serpent). In short, it's all here, or at least a sufficiently large chunk of the medium to keep any human busy for years.

The format of each entry is practical and consistent, given the space limits in such a work. The major creator credits are given (lead animators, music, directors, writers and designers), as well as company names, running times and -- if applicable -- number of episodes. Perhaps inevitably, the names of lead voice-actors are omitted; given the number of large character ensembles, they would have consumed much of the book. Rather than include extensive details of video availability, the book marks titles with asterisks to indicate a legal English-language release. This does not always mean a U.S. video exists, but in practice it usually does. The main text often contains information on this front, especially when there are multiple remakes of the same title (see below). When a franchise exists in several distinct series or formats (for example, in the many cases where a TV show spawned video and/or cinema spinoffs), the writers strive to present as much information as possible through notation. Thus "30 mins x 50 eps (TV1), 10 mins x 26 eps (TV2)" means an anime spans two TV series, one comprising fifty half-hour episodes and the other twenty-six ten minute episodes. The same notation uses (m) for movie and (v) for video. As one might imagine, this means entries for sprawling anime such as Gundam or Tenchi Muyo! resemble arcane algebraic formulae, but it works well once you're used to it. Each anime is listed under what the writers judge to be the "western title most recognisable" to readers. Sometimes it's hard to judge if they're right; how many buyers looked for Neon Genesis Evangelion before turning to Evangelion? Happily, the forty-page title index includes all variants, presented in a friendly, instantly useable format (unlike the fiddly system in Anime Movie Guide).

Quite simply, this is an amazing book, far and away the most extensive anime guide in English, and a reference source to be dipped into again and again. It's especially good for charting a way through the more convoluted anime sagas, which in recent years routinely spawn sequels, prequels, remakes, reworkings and side-stories in every medium available, a degree of fecundity only matched in the most inbred comic book sagas. (And that's not even counting the U.S. versions, with the composite series Robotech getting its own lengthy entry, as well as copious notes explaining the treatments of Voltron and Transformers.) This is the book for readers wanting to know how the video series Dirty Pair Flash relates to the original (it's a next-generation sequel) or whether the continuity in the Lodoss War/Crystania saga makes sense (it doesn't). The main text is lively and entertaining, with endless interesting asides: learn how Evangelion copied its uniforms from Gerry Anderson's live-action UFO, or how the judo-girl epic Yawara! inspired a real Japanese judo champion to wear the anime character's ribbon. Many entries are unashamedly opinionated, and may alienate thin-skinned fans whose favourite title is knocked. The alternative, though, would have been a far blander book; arguing with such guides is half the fun. For the record, the writers criticise the recycling tendencies in Ranma and later Tenchi Muyo!; they also dare suggest Evangelion "teased viewers with the illusion of hidden depths that weren't necessarily there" and note some critics found Mononoke a "tedious harangue." The writers' favourite titles include Gunbuster, Perfect Blue, Escaflowne and My Neighbour Totoro.

Understandably, any work of this kind involves compromises and balancing acts, and different fans will have different complaints. The worst fault is the lack of any kind of general survey or overview of the medium. Would it have been so hard to have ten or twenty pages at the start, sign-posting significant anime titles and industry trends? Some anime fans already know about Hajukaden, Candy Candy, Tomorrow's Joe and Doraemon, but for those who don't and want this book to tell them, it can be infuriating searching thousands of entries. As one reads more of the book, the trends and tendencies emerge; for example, the late '90s fad to remake old anime for TV. But it would have been better if these had been itemised at the outset, or made into capsule entries of their own. There are generic sections on Early Anime, Wartime Anime (together covering the period up to 1945) and the World Masterpiece Theatre, but what about broad entries on shojo and shonen, sports anime or robot shows -- or, for that matter, individual entries on Tezuka, Oshii or Miyazaki? The answer, of course, is that such entries could overrun the book, returning us to the issue of balancing acts.

Conversely, veteran fans may chafe at the proportion of space given some anime over others. This is a book where Junk Boy gets more type-space than Tezuka's Legend of the Forest, and MD Geist gets more space than Heidi or Arion. To take a more ambiguous value-judgement, this is a book where the pernicious but undeniably important Cream Lemon is discussed in more detail than nationally-beloved Japanese icon Doraemon. This raises several issues, hard to untangle. Many buyers, of course, will be primarily interested in anime they've either seen or can easily see. Also, compact titles are easier to research and evaluate fairly than TV series that (in the cases of Heidi or Doraemon) would take dozens of hours to view in full, let alone critique. Still, it means many of the longest entries in the book are of positively rotten or worthless titles. After taking a full column, for example, to summarise the two video episodes of MD Geist, the writers note that it's "cheap and nasty, featuring some of the world's most half-hearted dialogue and plotting" (snip another half-column's worth of demolition). Which is a valuable service to anyone thinking of buying MD Geist, but it may disappoint long-in-the-tooth fans who wanted more detail on, say, Door into Summer (one of the few mass-marketed gay anime) or the anime Tom Sawyer. As the writers note at one point, even listing anime by title skews the book, because ten niche exploitation videos will count for more than a hugely popular TV show that ran hundreds of episodes and lasted a decade. Is that bad? Once again, the answer lies with the reader.

One last note: as anyone skimming the book in a store will see, this is not a picture-heavy work. The jacket boasts more than a hundred illustrations, usefully indexed at the front, but they're tiny and monochrome, randomly scattered through the book with appropriate cross-references. (The most striking is the last image, taken from wartime anime Black Cat Banzai; it shows an evil and decidedly unauthorised Mickey Mouse.) This is a book to be bought for the information it carries. On that basis, for all the above drawbacks, it's a classic taking anime scholarship proudly into the new millennium. Now, where's the expanded CD-ROM?

The Anime Encyclopedia: A Guide to Japanese Animation Since 1917 by Jonathan Clements and Helen McCarthy. Berkeley, California: Stone Bridge Press, 2001. 545 pages. ISBN: 1-880656-64-7 (softback).

Alan Neal resides in the U.K. and is a freelance writer and animation fan.