Anime Book Review: The Anime Encyclopedia: A Guide to Japanese Animation Since 1917

The Anime Encyclopedia: A Guide to Japanese Animation Since 1917 is a book by Jonathan Clements and Helen McCarthy. The book was originally published in 2001, and a “Revised & Expanded Edition” was released in 2006. This review focuses on the “Revised & Expanded Edition.”

The Anime Encyclopedia: A Guide to Japanese Animation Since 1917
Written by: Jonathan Clements and Helen McCarthy
Publisher: Stone Bridge Press
Release Date: 2006

The book claims to have over 3,000 entries for shows, studios, creators, and anime history, and that it’s aimed at both “newcomers and battle-hardened otaku.” By the time I finished reading this book, however, I wasn’t entirely convinced that this book is either for newcomers or “battle-hardened otaku.”

The biggest issue I had was the number of mistakes I found in this book for the properties that I’m familiar with. While I don’t expect a book of this nature to be 100% accurate, I was astonished by just how many errors I found. Considering I know only a small number of properties that are included in the book, this is actually a rather high error ratio. And if this error ratio were to remain constant throughout the whole text, then that would mean there are a lot of errors in this book.

The worst error I found was the entry for the Fruits Basket anime series. For one thing, the Chinese Zodiac curse is never mentioned at all in the writeup. In fact, the authors of the book claim the Sohmas are “sorcerers and shape shifters” in order to explain how the characters can change into animals. This made me wonder if the authors actually watched some of the show, and if they did, how much attention did they pay to it?

Another big error is in the entry for Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem, where the authors incorrectly state that the Crescendolls are rescued by a female pilot (when, in the anime, the pilot character is very obviously male). If I’m finding these kinds of blatant errors in properties I’m familiar with, then how many other major errors are included in the book?

Another issue I had with the book is that the authors insisted on using the titles that the properties were released under in the United States, rather than English translations of the Japanese titles. As a couple of examples, you can only find Space Battleship Yamato under Star Blazers, and you can only find Yu Yu Hakusho under Poltergeist Report.

Also, when writing the descriptions for the properties, the authors tended to talk about the American version first, and then explain the differences between the English and the Japanese versions. Since this book is talking about Japanese animation, I believe that focusing on a show’s Japanese origins first and then talking about the changes made to it when it was brought over to the West would have made more sense.

I also had problems with how inconsistently the authors handled some things. The biggest gripe I had with inconsistency comes with how they treated shows that were popular in the United States that were comprised of more than one show. In the book, you can find separate entries for Robotech, Macross, Southern Cross, and Mospeada. However, for Voltron, there are not separate entries for Beast King GoLion or Dairugger XV.

This encyclopedia is also filled with quite a few snarky comments. The worst case of the snarkiness is the entry for Pure Love, where the entire description of the property is a snarky comment. While the snarky comments can be amusing at times, I felt they were overused by the authors.

When reading the book, it felt as if the authors tried early on to be level-handed, but as they got further into the book, they started showing their biases more and more, which is illustrated by the fact that the amount of snarky comments goes up as the book progresses.

Overall, the authors did a decent job with the historical aspects of anime. However, I do have to complain that in the section about “Censorship and Localization,” they never mentioned the editing of innocuous Japanese references from properties that was rather prevalent in the 1980’s, such as calling rice balls other kinds of food if they appear in a shot, and cutting away from Japanese text as quickly as possible.

While I may have a number of issues with The Anime Encyclopedia: A Guide to Japanese Animation Since 1917, I have to say that its most redeeming value is that it provides titles for various anime shows and how they inter-relate. However, I’m not sure that this book in and of itself is worth the money it takes to purchase it. In this day and age of the internet, you are likely to find more information on the fanpages for the various anime properties included in this book. And considering that it’s been about eight years since this revised edition was released, it’s already rather out of date. It might be fun to peruse it if you can find it through your local library system to see what it says about older shows, but it’s not as good of a reference work as it was when the book was originally published.

Also, considering how many more shows have been coming over to the West in recent years due to simulcasts, a project such as The Anime Encyclopedia: A Guide to Japanese Animation Since 1917 is probably better to be done in an online fashion as an e-book rather than through a printed medium. At the time The Anime Encyclopedia: A Guide to Japanese Animation Since 1917 was first released in 2001, no one could have predicted just how much anime would be brought over to the West as the years went on.

After writing the above paragraph, I learned that a third version of this book will be released on December 16, 2014 in both hardcover and as an e-book. According to the writeup, six additional years of information has been added to the third revised version

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