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Review: “The Anime Encyclopedia Third Edition”

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The Anime Encyclopedia 3rd edition coverMany animation-related books exist, but the newly released third edition of The Anime Encyclopedia is an example of tremendous ambition successfully realized by British authors Helen McCarthy and Jonathan Clements. Within its pages lies an account of the totality of modern Japanese animation, ranging from its infancy in the 20th century all the way to through the Summer of 2014. Since the publishing of the second edition in 2006, the output of Japanese animation has been substantial, resulting in a gargantuan 1,160 page book sporting over 1,000 new entries, over 4,000 updates, and a sum total of over 1,100,000 words. What a difference eight years makes!

This book staying current and in circulation is a welcome thing, as McCarthy and Clements are surely among the most knowledgeable people on the planet on this topic and clearly know how to do their research, as indicated by the book’s substantial selected bibliography. McCarthy is a prolific author of many other anime-related books, including an examination of Hayao Miyazaki’s work at the turn of the 20th century (Hayao Miyazaki: Master of Japanese Animation), The Art of Osamu Tezuka, and last year’s A Brief History of Manga. Meanwhile Clements’ prolific writing career includes literally writing the book on the development of Japan’s modern animation industry with 2013’s indispensable Anime: A History, and he also has substantial translating, directing and acting work to his credit.

The authors’ collaborative effort affords no small amount of insight into many individual anime, in addition to the background of individual creators and studios. Each entry for a specific title in The Anime Encyclopedia informs about its origins and substance. Every show and movie is referenced by its localized English title followed by the year of production and often its Japanese name, then a summary of key staff, then the studio and producers and finally the length and/or episode count. Given the book’s space limitations, the amount of such information included is laudable, and it’s plenty for those interested in getting a serious start on examining the creative side of the business. After this comes a succinct synopsis of what the title is about, and very often the authors go out of their way to evaluate the work to one degree or another. A great many entries include the most concise and cogent reviews you’re likely to encounter anywhere, while McCarthy and Clements don’t miss opportunities to contextualize things with numerous cross references and comparisons to other works, as well as occasional rumination on the time in which a cartoon was made when it’s appropriate. For a clear and prominent example, a reader will not only be informed on why Astro Boy was important but also how it managed to catch on in the 60’s in the first place.

Astro Boy The Anime EncyclopediaAdding to the book’s value even further are the inclusion of thirty different Thematic Entries, which include discussions of broad genres within the medium in Japan. These are an ideal starting point for new readers or those interested in seeking out historical perspective. Other entries like “Religion and Belief,” “Law and Disorder,” and “Tropes and Transformations” get into significant themes and creative influences in anime over the years, while still others explore the history and reality of the anime business on topics like translation, foreign influences, TV and theatrical performance, and distribution outside of Japan. A given set of these could support thoughtful books in their own right, and taken together the thematic entries are essential reading for any reader genuinely interested in considering himself or herself informed about this field.

No less significant than the book’s aforementioned expansion is its successful transition to a considerably cheaper eBook version released as an alternative option to the physical book. The eBook version, which was provided for this review, can be easily perused on your preferred device thanks to the presence of hyperlinks for all cross references. Meanwhile those looking for more information or just an idea of what a cartoon looks like can click on the title for its entry and be taken to the relevant Wikipedia entry or, where necessary, a page from another database resource like Anime News Network’s Encyclopedia. The finest perk of the eBook is undoubtedly that such a treasure trove of information is now easily portable. The physical book an excellent resource for any library or personal collection, but with its size and weight (4.6 pounds, per Amazon) it is surely the kind of impressive tome that’s better for home use than carrying around for most. Stone Bridge Press has done well to give readers options to suit their preference, and at the very least the eBook is an accessible and affordable option for casual readers or just dedicated fans short on funds or space.

Some subjectivity is inevitably at play in the book’s analysis of various anime titles and a determined critic could nitpick at the length of some entries compared to others arguably more or less deserving, but as I perused my review copy for my favorite titles and undisputed landmark works, I never found myself dissatisfied and feeling as though the authors consciously gave short shrift to a noteworthy title out of arbitrary bias. If I could wish for anything it would be the inclusion of more space for noteworthy directors and animators, although in fairness a truly thorough treatment of many of them could justify long treatises that would be both impractical for the book and beyond its scope. In any case, less can often be more: the book’s entry on Rose of Versailles occupies three paragraphs and includes peerless insight on how its two most important characters ultimately contrast against one another.

The Wind Rises Blu-ray The Anime EncyclopediaSpeaking of authors’ opinions on various anime, every individual reader is going to feel a bit differently about them. Some views will have you nodding in agreement and others will prove very illuminating, but if you don’t encounter statements that please your humor or irritate you, it’s just because you haven’t read enough of the book. To their credit, McCarthy and Clements seem to feel no need to pander to anyone, or to pull any punches when criticism is considered deserved. The output of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli naturally gets plenty of attention and praise, yet in the entry forĀ The Wind Rises, a fascinating discussion of much of Miyazaki’s oeuvre as a reflection on his personal life also concludes with an unflattering assertion that this film, Ponyo, and Howl’s Moving Castle include romances and passive female spouses that send a message that “…men must work and women, even the feistiest of them, must fill their lonely hours by doing everything else.” Whether one ultimately agrees with that notion or not, even a dissenter should be able to see that the argument backing it is a serious one demanding an equally serious and careful reply.

Marine Boy Complete First Season DVD Art The Anime EncyclopediaMcCarthy and Clements also show themselves capable of a good verbal beatdown and lighter tone, as when they take the niche and forgettableĀ Dog and Scissors out to the woodshed for the “ridiculous, depressing creative poverty” of the book it came from before twisting the knife for hardcore anime fans with the reminder that “You still can’t get Legend of the Galactic Heroes in English. Just saying.” I’m also pleased to find the authors aren’t above a well-placed witticism as seen in the entry for 1966’s Marine Boy, where an anecdote about the BBC’s disinterest in Pokemon on the grounds that “nobody was interested in Japanese cartoons” decades after running Marine Boy gets followed by the cheeky remark that “In another spurious assertion, the father of the five-year-old Jonathan Clements claimed that ‘Marine Boy always eats his greens,’ though none of our Japanese sources support this.”

I cite such things to emphasize what I think is the critical thing to appreciate about The Anime Encyclopedia, namely that this is a book. Its value as a comprehensive resource is clear, but even more than that, McCarthy and Clements also do readers a great service by refusing to settle for delivering dry reference material. Instead there is a true concerted effort to engage their subject with respect, care and an infectious passion that keeps one curious and turning pages, if only to find out just what they’ll say next. Fundamentally and most importantly, whether you’re a newcomer or consider yourself an experienced viewer, this wondrous tome is an invitation to discovery. It’s been about fifteen years now since I consciously started thinking of myself as an “anime fan,” and after weeks of devouring this book I find that I have gained much from it and find myself still learning. For those with open minds and a sincere drive to deepen their knowledge of this art form and their understanding of the business and culture surrounding it, The Anime Encyclopedia is an essential book.