The Anime Encyclopedia: A Guide To Japanese Animation Since 1917 by Jonathan Clements and Helem McCarthy
The Anime Encyclopedia sets a lofty goal: chronicling everything in Japanese animation since 1917 (obviously). Those who pick it up expecting a narrative, though, are going to be disappointed. Just like the name implies, this is a reference work. It’s an alphabetical listing of just about everything you can think of in anime between 1917 and 2001 (the last edition, sadly). While it is in need of a major update to chronicle the explosion of the last four years, this book is invaluable to anyone getting into the genre.
It’s not a pretty or flashy book by any means. There are screencaps from some of the series chronicled, pushed in little sidebars as a half-hearted sop to the “pictures=reading” crowd, but they’re in black and white and a Google Image Search will find you better ones in a second. Where this encyclopedia excels is in the text. Page after page of glorious text, with everything you could want to know about everything.
It’s mind boggling when you consider the effort they went through to develop this. Not only can you find just about everything, there’s a good-sized paragraph under most entries giving a summary of the plot and some interesting tidbits, enough to decide whether or not you want to see the series or movie. It’s an insane arrangement of trivia, one that inspires visions of the creators locked away in a dark tower, going through lost tomes and studying the artifacts of ancient anime civilizations.
While the book isn’t shiny and full of pictures, the Anime Encyclopedia is insanely readable. It’s one of those rare gems where you can pick it up, flip it to any given page, and find something worth reading. While I wouldn’t attempt a head-on straight readthrough, it is a volume that will live on my desk, so I can pick it up and find what I want to watch. The studio index in the back will prove useful to those otaku who follow particular groups and those of us who like to browse will find plenty of points of interest.
Ultimately, I wouldn’t hand this to someone new to the genre, lest their head explode from information overload. As a desk reference for the experienced fan, or as a cheat for the budding otaku determined to make obscure references with the best of them, or just for those with a strong interest in anime, this is as perfectly portable a desk reference as you’re going to get outside of a CD ROM. It is in dire need of an update, but even as it stands, it is a collection of useful information from anime’s past.