The Anime Encyclopedia, A Guide to Japanese Animation Since 1917 by Jonathan Clements and Helen McCa

[]

By Valerie MacEwan

Handy As Pockets on a Shirt

According to Stone Bridge Press, and there’s no reason to disbelieve them, The Anime Encyclopedia is the first of its kind. That being so, The Encyclopedia seems destined to become primary source material for any anime fan, collector, moviegoer, or scholar.

Creating a commentary and brief synopsis for over 2,000 titles seems a daunting task—especially when two people get together to write a compilation from scratch. Writers Jonathan Clements and Helen McCarthy have put together one hell of a volume. The detailed guide to Japanese animation [anime] describes and reviews over 2,000 titles, cross-referencing everything from little-known gems to Sailor Moon and Pokemon. The encyclopedia entries list the key creatives: directors, writers, animators, composers, and studios, as well as information about length, parental advisories, and brief plot descriptions.

Japanese animation hit the big time with the advent of video around 1979. Early anime, going as far back as 1917, consisted of short films. The first drawn by animator Oten Shimokawa a 26 year old amateur filmmaker, who drew in ink straight onto the film. Clements and McCarthy describe changes in the film-making process but also place emphasis on the cultural evolution of anime. No doubt many fans of anime will disagree with some of their scathing reviews. I suspect the authors would enjoy a brisk debate. Similar to when one peruses a Halliwell’s film review guide, no one expects to agree with a critic all the time.

“Japanese animation started in the early years of the last century and is sustained by the largest animation industry in the world, with strong links to its Asian, European, and American counterparts. Despite the worldwide commercial success of Pokemon, many critics still judge anime on the basis of the violent and pornographic titles widely promoted by Western distributors. We have always argued for a broader perspective. Our aim in this book is to show the diversity of anime production in its cultural context and to indicate some of the main trends and creative influences.”

If you’re looking for information on the Japanese male fascination with “little girls”, the Lolita Complex known in Japan as Lolicon, you won’t find specifics here, but you’ll find which films relate to it. And the plots come complete with parental advisories. Want to know which films came from post-war Japanese animation? Gotcha’ covered. As extensive as this volume is, some aspects of anime are lacking—such as the influence of American Saturday morning cartoons on anime—but, it does provide enough background material and reference matter to get anyone on the path to supreme cartoon enlightenment, should they wish to delve further into the matter.

Anime is a $130 million dollar industry in the US alone. Sanrio’s Hello Kitty will grant a license to anyone who applies for it (as long as it is non-violent, they nixed a Hello Kitty paper cutter license a few years ago.) Cute is big in Japan. Called kawaii, the phenomenon began back in the 1970s when Japanese teenage girls began writing notes and letters in rounded, childish characters. By the mid-80s, over half of the 12-18 year old female population used burikko-ji, also known as “kitten writing” or “fake child writing.” According to Mary Roach in Salon Magazine, “The most obvious appeal of cute to the Japanese is, in large part, the appeal of childhood.” And cute is selling big time in the US and over 30 other countries.

The Anime Encyclopedia offers a reference material for both cultural scholars and animation enthusiasts. And the plots, oh, the plots. . . . Move over Harry Potter.

Anime title: Please Open the Door

Miyako Negishi is a seemingly ordinary high-school girl but has amazing powers of ESP, while her friend Keiichiro can transform into a were-lion, and her friend Kaori has the power of teleportation. On a night when the moon is full, they are transported to the alternate “Middle Kingdom,” where Mikyako is the fair princess Neryura, fighting a losing battle against the western king Duran III. Forming an alliance with the eastern king Dimida, Miyako and her friends use their powers to save the world, hoping eventually to return home.

Then there’s the one about the teenagers who get involved in corruption on a grand scale when one of them is slipped a computer disk in a Shinjuku club by someone whose life is just about to be terminated.

Or there’s one of my favorites:

“Tom is a boy who lives in a small town on the banks of the Mississippi River in 19th century America. He and his best friend, orphan Huck, hang out together and make mischief in and out of school. Their shenanigans include a balloon ride, a river trip, and a rescue of an innocent person from the false accusations of Indian Joe.”

Oh, wait a minute, that sounds damn familiar. In 1980, Nippon Animation, Fuji TV, made 49, count ‘em, 25-minute episodes of Tom Sawyer, available also in English, titled: Tom Sawyer no Boken.

It’s an ever-expanding medium, this anime, and the next volume will have to include the latest interactive computer games with voice actor data. Aside from that, only the most ardent aficionado of anime would find this volume lacking in detail. Easy to use, fully indexed and cross-referenced with titles in Japanese and English, it’s not a difficult stretch to say this is The Book for both anime newcomers and battle-hardened otaku.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/anime-encyclopedia/