~by Simon Richmond
I came across The Rough Guide to Anime by Simon Richard (who has also written The Rough Guide to Japan and The Rough Guide to Tokyo) while browsing the new arrivals at my public library. However, it did take me a couple of visits before I actually checked the book out to take home. Recently, I've been on a bit of a self-directed manga spree (I'm pretty well set there), but I could stand to use a little more guidance when it comes to anime, even though there are many that I've seen that I've really enjoyed. The Rough Guide to Anime is currently one of the few book s of its kind that I know of, taking into consideration both film-length features as well as episodic series while not being nearly a daunting to a newcomer as the massive Anime Encyclopedia by Jonathan Clements and Helen McCarthy.
The Rough Guide to Anime is divided into seven chapters in addition to the introduction, acknowledgements, glossary, index, and various sidebars. The first chapter, "Anime Chronicles," is devoted to a brief history of anime, with an emphasis given to the earlier history while the modern era is more extensively covered in the third chapter, "Creating Anime," particularly focusing on the major studios, directors, animators, voice actors, and musicians and composers. Probably what can be said to be the main feature of the book is the second chapter, "The Canon" which identifies fifty anime as essential viewing with ten of those highlighted as Richmond's personal favorites. The fourth chapter, "Manga Connection," explores the intrinsic relationship between anime and manga; currently a very large majority of anime is either based on a manga or has had manga based on it. Tropes, genres, and themes commonly found in anime are discussed in the fifth chapter, "Decoding Anime," while the sixth chapter, "Anime Impact," examines the international influence of anime and how it has extended into toys and video games, art and fashion, and even stage musicals. The seventh and final chapter is "Anime Information," which identifies a cornucopia of resources, from where to find audiovisual materials and videos, to annotated lists of books, magazines, and websites devoted to anime and related subjects, to information on collectibles, conventions, and anime tourism in Japan.
I really have very little to complain about The Rough Guide to Anime, though I would have liked to have seen more screenshots included, especially in the canon section. Overall however, the design and layout was quite nice and appealing--one minor exception being that the lowercase "a" and "o" in the font used for major heading titles were difficult to distinguish. The criteria used to choose the fifty anime to be included in the canon was never explicitly given, but the fact that many of my favorite anime made the list makes me feel like I have good taste. The canon runs the full gamut of genres and styles, which is great, but I have a feeling that it is probably a bit skewed (like much of the book) towards the preferences of Western, English-speaking, and particularly American, audiences; this shouldn't necessarily be taken as a bad thing though. However, Richmond does a wonderful job of summarizing and explaining the impact of each of the fifty anime and their closely related works. This does mean that occasionally, especially in the cases of franchises, it's difficult to know exactly which anime actually made the list and which was mentioned in passing. Richmond's enthusiasm is definitely catching, and I'll have to watch my wallet after reading the book so as not to overspend on anime.
The Rough Guide to Anime is an excellent reference resource, especially for those unfamiliar with or new to the subject. Even though it is a relatively small book (granted, it is nearly 300 pages long), it still manages to be fairly comprehensive, covering history, recommendations that aren't just limited to the canon, and where to turn to next for those interested in a more in-depth study. It is more of a reference book than it is something most readers would want to read straight through, but it remains very readable and very accessible. I hadn't read a Rough Guide before, but if The Rough Guide to Anime is any sort of an example as to their quality, I won't hesitate to pick one up on another subject that interests me.