By Raz Greenberg
When the first edition of Jonathan Clements and Helen McCarthy’s The Anime Encyclopedia came out in 2001 there was nothing like it, literally. The closest thing to a comprehensive source of information about the thousands of anime titles out there was the listings in the Internet Movie Database, which largely contained basic production information and credits with little or no context. Then The Anime Encyclopedia came, and changed everything. Suddenly it was possible not just to learn who worked on what and when, but also get a sense of what kind of role a title played in the history of anime, and if it’s even worth your time. The Anime Encyclopedia was also where many fans got to learn for the first time just how far back their hobby goes – that there was animation in Japan before Tezuka, and that contrary to common opinion, Tezuka wasn’t even the first to produce TV anime. In working on the encyclopedia, Clements and McCarthy applied the same high standards that guided them in their many years as anime critics, providing deeply-researched information and uncompromising reviews – taken to a scale few people believed was possible.
But even in 2001, something felt anachronistic about flipping through hundreds of pages or going through the alphabetical index in search of an entry. Searchable online databases were still in their infancy (though as mentioned above, IMDB was a sign of where things are headed) and reference books were already abandoning the world of hard copies in favor of digital editions, if not on the web yet than on CDs. This problem continued with the 2006 second edition, which included the welcome addition of thematic entries and entries devoted to specific industry figures, but was still bound to a physical (and now thicker) printed volume. The biggest change introduced by the recently-published third edition is that it has now gone digital, available on different readers.
Of course, the world of anime research in 2015 is very different from that of 2001. Reference databases for anime titles are available online at both the Anime News Network website and (for all its reliability issues) Wikipedia. Moreover, when the first edition of The Anime Encyclopedia came out, the total number of English-language books written about anime amounted to less than twenty. Today I wouldn’t even try to count how many books are out there – but in discussing anime, the new edition faces though competition even from its own authors – both McCarthy’s The Art of Osamu Tezuka and Clements’ Anime: A History cover in great detail subjects that the encyclopedia entries gives only a brief overview.
The recently-released third edition of The Anime Encyclopedia offer significant updates in order to meet these challenges. First, it is finally available in a digital edition. All the entries (as well as the contents and introduction) are now searchable, and looking for your favorite title, person, or just a random phrase is now quick and easy. When titles and names are given in Romanisation of the original Japanese, the authors have chosen to avoid indicating extended vowels (a practice which, I think, was also present in both previous editions), something that will undoubtedly make certain scholars unhappy but is absolutely the right decision for all other readers, as it makes the search option in the digital edition easy to use. All the title and thematic entries are also hyperlinked throughout the text, so if a reference to a certain entry appears in another, the referenced entry is just a click away. Personnel and studio entries, however, are not linked this way (more on this later).
While the move to digital format changed things when it comes to searching through the volume, content remained much the same – only bigger and better. Mistakes from previous editions have been corrected, over a thousand new entries have been added, and the thematic entries section has been enriched with new additions – notably an entry on fandom, which was absent from previous editions. The long introduction by the authors provides an extensive and insightful overview of developments in the anime industry over the decade that passed since the previous edition. The volume is well-worth reading for this overview alone, as it gives a wonderfully detailed picture of the current challenges faced by the anime business. Other historical overviews, however – in particular the Early Anime and Wartime Anime thematic entries – are not as detailed, nor are they as eye-opening as they were when the first edition came out; as noted above, there are more insightful sources available today on the subject of anime history, chiefly those written by the encyclopedia’s authors. Still, if you want information on the subject in a nutshell, these entries do the job well.
While going through the book’s entries, the biggest noticeable change is the absence of images. As explained in the publisher’s introduction, securing rights for images in the previous editions turned to be a major headache, and it was decided to avoid it this time around. For the most part this did not bother me, but I think the historical entries dealing with pre-1945 productions could have benefited from accompanying illustrations, if only because they are palpably different from the aesthetic that anime fans are used to today.
Going over entries from the encyclopedia is as fun as it has always been – and the easy navigation through the digital copy makes it an even greater pleasure. Searching a random phrase just to see how it works brought me to the entry about the obscure Road to Munich anime produced in the early 1970s, telling the story of Japanese athletes preparing for the coming Olympics. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this entry is the most detailed reference ever made to this production anywhere in the world; it goes to show not just how insanely deep research went in preparing the encyclopedia but also how varied the Japanese animation industry is in terms of subject matters. Other interesting obscure titles coming to light in the new edition include King’s Tail (pictured) – an ill-fated attempt to reignite the anime industry in 1949, and The New Adventures of Pinocchio, the first American production sub-contracted to Japan by Rankin-Bass. I explored entries of more recent favorite titles of mine as King of Thorn and Gargantia to read the authors’ commentary on them; though at times shorter than I wanted it to be, it was always insightful. Updates to the entries about Hayao Miyazaki and Satoshi Kon provide a nice summary and respectable farewell to both directors in light of the former’s retirement and the latter’s death.
Though the move to a digital edition brings The Anime Encyclopedia to a new era, there are still a few problems carried on from previous editions that I hope will be addressed in the future. On the editorial front, a more consistent policy needs to be taken with regard to certain issues, notably co-productions with foreign studios – Albert Barrille’s Once Upon a Time shows get two entries and Savin Yeatman-Eiffel’s Oban Star Racers gets another chiefly for demonstrating the influence of anime on foreign productions, while productions featuring far stronger presence of Japanese staff as, say, G.I. Joe: Sigma 6, are absent. Perhaps such co-productions deserve their own thematic entry. Art-house anime also falls between the chairs: though it could be argued whether or not Makoto Shinkai’s Voices of a Distant Star is less a work of art than Koji Yamamura’s Mount Head (pictured) I think a different approach should be taken when writing about Yamamura’s film then when writing about Tenchi Muyo!. Inconsistency here stems from the fact that most art-house animation focuses on short subjects; while Kihachiro Kawamoto’s films are given an extensive review in the entry devoted to an anthology of his works, the separate entries devoted to Yamamura’s films and Tezuka’s short experimental works are far from satisfactory. Again, I felt that Japanese art-house animation also deserves its own separate thematic entry. Finally, although the search option in the digital edition made this less of a problem than it was, I felt that the encyclopedia could benefit from separation into categories; having different chapters devoted to titles, themes and personnel (each sorted alphabetically) would make more sense than having everything in one place.
Overall, in its third edition The Anime Encyclopedia remains an important resource for anime scholars and fans alike, reaffirming its position as the defining tome of knowledge on the subject.
Raz Greenberg recently received his PhD on animation as a text from the Hebrew University.