The Anime Encyclopedia: Revised & Expanded Edition

picture: The Anime Encyclopedia: Revised & Expanded Edition
23 April 2007


Many moons ago, just shortly after Midnight Eye had first gone online some time way back in the hazy mists of 2001, I recall receiving an email from a certain Jonathan Clements congratulating us on creating such a valuable new resource for Japanese cinema. He also advised us that there was only one last thing standing in the way of total brilliance - a review of The Anime Encyclopedia, the book he'd just completed with Helen McCarthy. I don't know if we've yet reached brilliance, but I do know that Clements and McCarthy's monumental overview of this vast and alien terrain that at the time we'd only just dipped a toe into led directly to us starting our book review section, as well as spurring us on to treat theatrical animation on an equal footing with live action movies. Just over five years down the line and it was his co-author's turn to let us know that the new 'Revised & Expanded edition' was just about to hit bookshops.

The big question (apart from the obvious one of why all three of us are still interested in Japanese cartoons now that we're all the wrong side of our mid-30s) is what has changed in the meantime. Leaving the book aside for one moment, it seems an awful lot has actually. Since 2001 there have been dramatic developments in the way anime has been received and perceived outside of Japan. Hayao Miyazaki has won himself an Oscar for Spirited Away and even in the UK a large proportion of the Studio Ghibli back catalogue has wound up playing on terrestrial TV - always a good benchmark of mainstream acceptance. Crikey, I even saw a 12-year-old girl doing Hayao Miyazaki as her specialist subject on Junior Mastermind a year or so ago! Pokemon, Digimon and their ilk have consolidated their popularity with kids across much of North America, Southeast Asia and Europe through an ever-expanding franchise of games, toys and videos, creating a unique argot known only to the pre-adolescent in the process, with nonsensical streams of phonemes like 'Wigglytuff' and 'Wortortle' conjuring up all manner of colourful yet cryptic associations within their young minds. At the same time, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within broke new technological boundaries while simultaneously breaking the bank, suggesting that perhaps cinerealism wasn't what most viewers really wanted from animation and that fans of the original video game series weren't necessarily the same types prepared to go out and spend their hard-earned buttons at the box office. Mamoru Oshii's Innocence became the first Japanese animation to be entered into competition at Cannes, dazzling and puzzling the jury in equal measures. One-man production dynamo Makoto Shinkai arrived on the scene with his Voices of a Distant Star, and companies such as Studio 4°C, Madhouse and Production IG have continued to push the medium into novel stylistic, thematic and technical dimensions with films like Mind Game, Millennium Actress and Paprika.

In other words, what was then seen as purely a geeks' domain has, over the past five years, found whole new audiences and evolved whole new forms, and is now finding itself the focus of a completely different type of attention. Always the most eye-catching of Japan's cultural exports, it also is by far the most lucrative for those who specialise in writing about the various aspects of the country's visual media, as the number of books on the subject readily confirms. Even academics are in on the act now. Coinciding with the update of Clements and McCarthy's book comes volume 1 of Mechademia, a new compendium edited by Frenchy Lunning and published by the University of Minnesota Press. But has the language and discourse surrounding anime really changed that much since five or ten years ago? Do we really know that much more now than we did back then?

The immediate thing one notices about Clements and McCarthy's updated tome is that it is big... very big. At 867 pages in length and with its telephone directory dimensions, it is almost double the size of its predecessor. If the original Anime Encyclopedia already represented a stunning casebook of otaku obsessiveness, then this goes doubly so for the update. In fact, if it were any bigger, the spine wouldn't be strong enough to hold the pages together, and already it's difficult to find a big enough space in my book shelf to wedge it into. Very impressive.

The format remains largely unchanged - capsule reviews ranging from a handful of words to a couple of pages covering virtually every title from the anime world you'd ever want to know about, and considerably more too, from perennial kiddies favourites like Anpanman, Bonobono and Hello Kitty to more intriguing titles unlikely ever to stray too far from local shores - Secrets of the Telephone Club (1991), School of Bondage (2004) or Spa of Love (2005), anyone? The one that intrigued me the most though was Easy Cooking Animation, a series of 5 quick 30-minute culinary lessons from Madhouse Studios, but there's plenty of others here to tickle your fancy. There's so much more covered here than before that updating from the original edition has to be a must (although I noticed a few they missed...)

One can argue that the reference book format has become a little redundant in the internet age, with all the information held within these pages potentially only a couple of clicks away somewhere in the vast and infinite realm of cyberspace. Just a few minutes flicking through the Anime Encyclopedia should remind one of the strengths of the hardcopy format however - namely that everything is there and readily accessible within one physical space, giving an immediate idea of the size and scope of the subject, and a search for one particular title usually turns up all manner of other choice oddities.

The format also has its disadvantages of course, in that it is difficult to get a decent idea of how the field evolved from its earliest days way back in 1917 to the lucrative megalithic entity that it is now. One notable improvement over the first edition in this respect is the inclusion of individual entries for directors and studios, as well as 'Thematic Entries', which do a good job of situating the included titles within a wider context. 'Argot and Jargon' for example, should clear up any mysteries and misconceptions about the derivations of terms used by the otaku community like 'dojinshi', 'gekiga', 'mecha' and 'moe'. 'Ratings and Box Office' also answers a lot of very useful questions about anime's actual standing in its own country, while 'Puppetry and Stop Motion', as with the entries for directors like Yoji Kuri, Kihachiro Kawamoto and Koji Yamamura, shows that anime is not all doe-eyed virgins and robots, and should help broaden further discussions about what the field actually is beyond the narrow framework through which it is usually approached.


The Anime Encyclopedia: Revised & Expanded Edition

picture: cover of 'The Anime Encyclopedia: Revised & Expanded Edition'

Stone Bridge Press (2006)