As someone who writes for a blog that updates at least twice a week, it is extremely obvious that I have a passion about anime and manga. This lends itself to me taking an interest in books that examines anime as well. So when Narutaki was able to get the Rough Guide to Anime for an incredibly low price I was only too eager to review it. The Rough Guide series started as a series of travel guides for backpackers but in 1994 branched out into books that give overviews of various topics. In a way they a pretty much like For Dummies books but with a more rugged title. The book attempts to introduce the reader to what anime is and how unique and versatile it can be.
When I hear you say that, it makes me think about the people who are buying this book. How many of them are people who have a casual interest in anime and want to understand it better and how many are just bloggers, etc. who grabbed it to see if they find it sufficient. And of course every guide of every thing ever will have people divided on just how good it is and if they writer knows enough to call themselves an authority. But as luck would have it, Simon Richmond isn’t an entrenched otaku himself and so it’s almost a perfect look at what someone with a casual understanding of anime finds significant and interest grabbing.
We start with a brief history of anime going decade by decade to show how the medium started and then how it has changed over the years. The guide then runs down a list of 50 anime that everyone should see. The list is a mixture of TV series, OAVs, and movies with the main focus of being exceptional anime from through out the history of anime. The book then looks at the people who make anime with sections on studios, directors, voice actors, and musicians. It then segues into the various genres within anime with a few notable examples from each genre. The next section is how anime has mixed with other mediums such a live action dramas based on anime, video games crossovers, foreign co-productions, and various parts of anime fandom. The series finishes up with a glossary and a rather large section of links so you can learn more.
What is most important in a guide like this is accessibility, and I think Simon nails that. The breakdown of sections as well as the language therein are casual and without a feeling of bias or superiority. I found the myriad of sections of proper length and depth free for the most part of tangents but nice side notes and boxes for more information on some terminology or a specific incident or show. There is obviously a great deal of time dedicated to Tezuka, as is warranted, but I do feel others needed more focus overall. This is helped somewhat in the call-outs to important names but some times to confusion. For example, Go Nagai is certainly a name to know but why is he in the directors section? I think it would have been best to just have an overall section of influential people. This would have also made the seiyuu and music sections look less neglected.
I did notice there was only one shoujo title title in the cannon anime section and no josei at all. Also almost all the cannon titles were older titles and most of the newer titles were movies from well established directors. A book that acts as a overall guide to anime should have some newer shows as well. There is no reason to drop any titles as everything on the list was worth checking out. My suggestion would be just to double down on titles by the same director like the multiple Satoshi Kon, Hayao Miyazaki, Mamoru Oshii movies. Maybe put on Toward the Terra, Monster, or Mushishi and some solid josei based anime like Hataraki Man, Nodame Cantabile, or Honey and Clover. Decoding anime off handily mentions some of these shows but I would have liked to see them get a chance to shine. Other than that the rest of the book is cursory but solid. The history, people in anime, glossary, and types of anime sections were not that in depth but they gave you a very good idea of where to start. Knowing where to start looking is often half the battle.
Eventhough I could (as I mentioned in in the intro) I won’t go into all the things I found faulty with the 50 must-see anime list, just some key observations. What I sat wondering first was what are these 50 supposed to represent? Are these the best of the best? Do they show the range of storytelling? Are they the most influential in Japan? In America? Suffice to say I don’t think it works fully on any of these levels. I have to agree with Hisui in that there are whole genres missing including sports and that combined with the others brings the variety down quite a bit. That is a shame because I really think the book is trying to convey that anime is a medium that can do anything and tell any type of story. Readers as a whole would probably be better served by ignoring it and sampling the anime mentioned throughout the sections instead.
If it was not already obvious this book does not contain a great deal of information any veteran anime fan does not already know. But the book is not designed to teach anyone who has watched a good deal of anime the intricacies and nuances of the medium. This is great for new fans on the other hand. It is a good introduction to all the aspects of anime. It also gives any new fan a wide selection of shows to watch if they don’t know were to start or don’t have anyone to give them recommendations. It also gives useful background information for them to start thinking more about the overall pieces that go into an anime. It’s a good book to give as a gift to someone who just got into anime, is curious about anime, or someone you think just might in interested in anime. It can act as a guide when perhaps you cannot.
I did learn the word “dub-dressed,” which is to cosplay wearing a store bought costume, from this book. And I also found out that Japanese anime conventions only attract about a quarter of the attendees as Comiket. This actually saddened me a great deal. But overall, I agree that if you have been in fandom for a good while and have gone out of your way to learn about some anime history, The Rough Guide isn’t going to give you much insight. So then who is this book for? I pondered this question quite a bit while reading through this book. I think this book would really be ideal for parents who have kids into anime and want to understand it better. I could also see this in the hands of a film buff or anyone trying to understand this growing medium. The Rough Guide to Anime would be put to great use in libraries and schools as a learning tool. As for fan use, maybe not at the beginning of one’s fandom (since many have that anime is hip and cool attitude and who cares about the history) but perhaps after your first couple of years when your curiosity becomes deeper.