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BOOK REVIEW: “The Anime Encyclopedia”

BOOK REVIEW: "The Anime Encyclopedia"

Like Leonard Maltin’s “Movie Guide,” The Anime Encyclopedia is a victim of its own success–and changes in the publishing industry. It’s
become too expensive to print reference books this big. The copies that Stone
Bridge Press made available to journalists clock in at 1,200 pages and just
over three pounds. The decision to aim the print edition at libraries and issue
the “Encyclopedia” primarily as an E-book represents a sensible comprise
between a costly print run and making the book into a website.


Posting books on line makes them available all over the
world, but it also makes it impossible to protect copyrighted content. Authors,
like musicians, graphic artists and filmmakers, are still struggling to
monetize work that appears on the Web. Despite the widespread belief that
anything that appears on the Web is there forever, recent studies have shown
that a lot of material only remains on line for about five years. That
impermanence is already causing problems with citations in scholarly works, an
important concern for a major reference book like the “The Anime Encyclopedia.”


“The Anime Encyclopedia” is exactly what its title suggests:
more than one million words covering the often confusing realm of Japanese
animation. The best figures I can find suggest there have been over 4,400
theatrical features, direct-to-video releases and broadcast series, some of
which ran for hundreds of episodes. “The Guinness Book” lists the low-key
domestic comedy Sazae-san as the
longest-running animated series in the world, with more than 6,500 7-minute
episodes (which were usually shown in groups of three). Jonathan Clements and
Helen McCarthy have added over 1,000 new entries and 4,000 updates and
corrections since the last edition appeared in 2006.


The only comparable source of information on Japanese
animation is the Anime News Network Encyclopedia,
which offers a more complete data base of credits, names and episode titles, but
shorter summaries. Clements and McCarthy do a better job of sorting through the
various incarnations of some anime continuities. The Network requires readers
to jump from page to page to glean the information the “Encyclopedia” presents
in a few sentences.


Part of fun of any book like this one is arguing with the ratings
and/or opinions, and the press materials for “Anime Encyclopedia” announce, “these
reviews have snark, intelligence, and a discerning point of view.” Some anime
deserves snarky commentaries: Try sitting through a couple of episodes of Eat Man, Crayon Shin-chan, Michiko & Hatchin or Samurai 7. (Clements and McCarthy
charitably note the latter is “not as awful as one might expect.”)


Although the authors have both written extensively about
Japanese animation, the text often lacks a sense of what makes many films or
series popular and significant. They praise the “humor, charm, good character
development” in Eden of the East, and
offer an intelligent discussion of Mamoru Hosada’s skillful juxtaposition of
drawn animation and CG in the “assured and effortlessly elegant” Summer Wars. But the entry for Fullmetal Alchemist omits the bond between
Edward and Alphonse Elric that gives the hit series an emotional resonance many
more lavish Western films fail to achieve. Conversely, the authors don’t seem
to appreciate the freewheeling nuttiness of The
Devil Is a Part-Timer
, School Rumble
or Fullmetal Panic Fumoffu. “The
Anime Encyclopedia” is a reference work, not fanboy manual, but Clements and
McCarthy don’t always communicate their passion for their subject.


A few of the entries would have benefited from a writer with
a stronger background in general animation history. The term “Leica Reel” is
now regularly used within the Japanese animation industry, but the authors
apparently don’t know that it was invented at the Disney Studio in the 30’s. Other
entries fail to recognize elements of traditional Japanese culture. The heroine
in puppet animator Kihachiro Kawamoto’s striking Dojoji Temple doesn’t turn into “a sea monster,” she’s transformed
by lust into a demon in serpent form. The film is a retelling of a classic
Kabuki play. The parade of yokai
(monsters) in Isao Takahata’s Pom Poko
evokes  the work of Kuniyoshi and other great
19th century print artists.


These caveats aside, “The Anime Encyclopedia” is a thorough,
useful and much-needed reference work. In America, discussions of anime usually
fall into two unhelpful categories: mainstream media articles on Pokémon, costumed attendees at local cons
and other trends, written by reporters who know precious little about their
subject; and fanboy gush that breathlessly cheers every frame film exposed in
Japan as the greatest thing since the California Roll. Anyone interested in
animation should have a copy of “The Anime Encyclopedia” to refer to regularly.

The Anime Encyclopedia
By Jonathan Clements & Helen McCarthy
Stone Bridge Press: $120. paperback, 1200 pp.; $24.95

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