‘The Anime Encyclopedia’ goes full digital


“The Anime Encyclopedia, 3rd Revised Edition: A Century of Japanese Animation” will be released March 3.

Editions 1 and 2, published in 2001 and 2006 respectively, have long proved invaluable to English-speaking scholars, fans and writers, serving as reliably exhaustive and often highly entertaining guides to a world that can seem as massive as it does impenetrable. As author Neil Gaiman gushed, the book is “an astonishing work,” and in the era before the Internet was awash in anime trivia, it was also an imperative one.

But the Encyclopedia’s publishers, California-based Stone Bridge Press, were not only aware of the explosion of anime information online after the last edition, they embraced it. The e-book version of the third edition is peppered with hyperlinks to Internet sites relating to the films, series, directors, authors, studios, genres and terminology highlighted in the text, enabling readers to leap seamlessly between platforms. It also retails for about a quarter or less of the hardcover’s cost, and is already available via iTunes and other e-book outlets.

“It was clear to me when thinking about the third edition that it had to have a primarily digital presence,” says Peter Goodman, Stone Bridge’s publisher and editor. Goodman saw the challenge of online anime resources as an opportunity to reach readers beyond the confines of library reference shelves. “(A digital edition) would allow us to deliver content at significantly lower prices, exactly to the audience that spent time on their phones and pads.”

Goodman saw another advantage — the chance to leapfrog the quicksand pit of copyright negotiations with Japanese studios and producers.

“Thinking about the horrors of dealing with Japanese image rights-holders, when all this spectacular stuff in full color was available on the Internet, it occurred to me that we would just jettison the images in the print edition, and instead try to match every single entry in the book with an external hyperlink that could be integrated into the digital files.”

The result, he says, is something of a cross between a research tool and a game. “You can happily skip about for hours within the book and then out into the Internet, back and forth until it’s time for dinner or bedtime.”

Co-author Jonathan Clements, whose publishing credits include 2013’s “Anime: A History,” and who has worked in various capacities on more than 70 anime titles, points out that despite the plethora of Wikipedia entries, sites, blogs and chat rooms, each edition of the encyclopedia contains information that is nowhere to be found online — at least not in English. The entry on advertising and sponsorship, for example, is a densely packed account of the relationship between anime, sponsors, artists and toy manufacturers, and how it flourished and evolved after World War II.

In 1958, advertising giant Dentsu estimated that fully half of its television commercials were animated. Today, “context integration,” in which brand-name product placement often drives an anime’s entire plot line, is described in the book as being “far more insidious and skillful than one might think, and spotting it is one of the subversive pleasures of anime viewing.”

“The third edition is an edifice,” Clements says. “We expect people to argue with it. We expect people to bitch about things that are missing.”

Among the subversive pleasures of reading the encyclopedia are the colorful barbs its authors fire at anime they don’t like. Helen McCarthy, Clements’ co-author, has written several books on manga and anime, including “The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga.” She notes that the division of labor between the two writers was constantly shifting, and often dependent upon personal taste.

“We gravitated toward the material that interested us most,” she says. “We therefore wrote more or less on those entries, or were more or less scathing.”

An entry for one title reads: “Two boys, three girls, a female teacher and more sex than is strictly compatible with passing exams, plus pedestrian animation and the kind of Muzak you get in elevators makes for a forgettable package, in every sense.”

For the more important, landmark titles (Ghibli films, for instance), both authors weigh in, and the paragraphs are often rich with enlightening facts and stories about the works themselves, their reception and impact both in and outside of Japan, and how they got made in the first place.

It’s a wealth of information, presented in concise, unfussy prose that never overwhelms. The book is almost Joycean — you can dip in and out of its pages at any point and derive delight. My favorite entries make me want to watch titles I haven’t yet seen and revisit those I have, and the authors’ disquisitions on related topics such as fandom and the future of anime consumption make further exploration irresistible.

Roland Kelts is the author of “Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture has Invaded the U.S.” He is a visiting scholar at Keio University in Tokyo.