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Jonathan Clements and Helen McCarthy on Revising "The Anime Encyclopedia"

by on November 24, 2006

Cover to Revised Anime EncyclopediaHelen McCarthy has been a fan of anime for over 20 years, starting with the first British anime fanzine in the 1980’s and the first continuing UK anime newsletter in 1990. Since then, she has been a pivotal figure on the British anime scene, running the first anime conventions in the United Kingdom, producing several English language anime dubs, and writing incessantly on anime for magazines, newsletters, and books. Her published work includes Hayao Miyazaki: Master of Japanese Animation, one of the definitive examinations of the body of work of one of this generation’s most influential anime filmmakers.

It was at McCarthy’s Anime UK magazine that Jonathan Clements published his first commercial writings on anime and manga. A student of Chinese and Japanese language, Clements has been a prolific translator and author, with over 100 manga and anime translations standing next to a respected run on the famous Judge Dredd comic magazine and over a dozen books on subjects ranging from kid’s video to the Vikings to Chinese history and culture (but not finance, which happens to be a different Jonathan Clements).

Together, Clements and McCarthy wrote The Erotic Anime Movie Guide in 1999, and followed that up with The Anime Encyclopedia in 2001, compiling information about thousands of Japanese anime dating back to 1917. The two recently reunited to revise and expand The Anime Encyclopedia from nearly 600 pages to over 900. Toon Zone News caught up with the two via e-mail to talk about the new edition.

TOON ZONE NEWS: What was the impetus to do the revised and expanded edition of the Anime Encyclopedia?

JONATHAN CLEMENTS: Well, there were five more years of things to say!

HELEN MCCARTHY: It was threefold. First, of course, there were so many new titles coming out in Japan, many of which got fast US releases. Secondly, there were shows we hadn’t included, or felt we could say more about. And finally, there was the writer’s natural impetus to make more sales!

TZN: The new edition has an extra 300 or so pages to cover another 6 or so years of material. What was the approximate breakdown of new material to expansions of older entries?

HM: It’s hard to say for certain, but I would estimate that about 20-25% of the work on the second edition involved tinkering with material already in the first.

JC: In terms of memory space on my hard-drive, alterations to pre-existing entries are maybe 20% of the overall work on this book.

HM: Some entries were completely rewritten. So at least three-quarters of the extra work was new entries.

The thematic and biographical entries are mostly new material. They were something we’d both wanted to do for some time; the Anime Encyclopedia is more than just a collection of facts, and these entries give it an even stronger emphasis on the historical and critical assessment of anime.

JC: If you compare entries between the two editions, you’ll see that dozens of sections like A.Li.Ce and Blue Remains have been completely rewritten. Others have had extra pieces added to reflect new developments. The other 80% of the additions constitute all-new entries.

TZN: Did you change your criteria for inclusion in this volume from the previous one? Or are you still sticking purely to indigenous Japanese animation as the baseline criterion for inclusion?

JC: We’re not going to take the shilling of big business and start calling Korean cartoons “anime” or saying that any animation where the characters have guns and big eyes must be anime.

HM: From a Western historical and critical perspective, I can’t see any point in using “anime” as a term for anything but indigenous Japanese animation. There’s no point in calling material from, say, Korea or the USA “anime”; you might as well just use “cartoons” for everything instead.

JC: We have added a section on “False Friends,” for those works which are often confused with anime, either through corporate subterfuge or simple close resemblance. So there are mentions for a lot of Korean and Chinese works that are either inspired by Japanese animation or made in imitation of it. We’ve also taken the lead of some Japanese sources and included an entry on “Puppetry and Stop Motion,” which has strong links with traditional “anime” in the 1950s and 1990s. In the new bio entries, there are a couple of non-Japanese ones included just to settle a few arguments. There’s a biographical entry for Jimmy T. Murakami, for example, who is an American citizen as far as I am aware, and a brief studio entry on DR Movie, which is a Korean company but has a name written in Roman letters, and is often assumed to be a Japanese company by people who see it in the credits of anime.

HM: We’ve also included quite a bit of material on co-productions, which have been an important strand of the industry since the 70s. There are a few biographical entries on non-Japanese, but only where there is relevance to the Japanese animation industry – the prime example being DR Movie.

TZN: Which entries required the biggest revisions between then and now?

HM: The pornographic and hentai material was undoubtedly the most time-consuming. There’s a big volume of new Western releases, many of which turn out to be the same old releases under a new title. Sorting out which English language version related to which Japanese title or series was a major headache.

JC: Franchises like the Vanilla Series add content on a monthly basis. Previous one-shots turn into sub-serials. Sub-serials are broken up and reconstituted by American distributors. American distributors allow their rights to lapse, or in one case, just neglect to pay for them, so the Japanese regain their rights and then sell them to someone else. You end up with five different names for the same show! Even though we’d already written an entry on the Vanilla Series for the first edition, we had to go right back to scratch.

TZN: Were there any favorite anime that you discovered from doing the research for the Anime Encyclopedia or its revision?

JC: Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors remains one of my favorites. I would never have gone to the trouble of tracking it down if it wasn’t for the Encyclopedia.

HM: Voices of a Distant Star, Paranoia Agent and Tokyo Godfathers really shone out for me. Directors and writers with distinctive voices are rare in any commercial medium. (Voices of a Distant Star‘s Makoto) Shinkai still has a long way to go – just think, his current high profile is based on less than 120 minutes of animation! – but has great promise, and (Satoshi) Kon’s work displays a rare degree of intelligence and compassion.

PokémonTZN: The commentaries in the first edition didn’t pull any punches, and were highly critical of several really popular anime like Pokémon. Did you draw a lot of flak for comments like that?

JC: Certainly not! Partly because our detractors can’t agree on what we say. You say that we’re “highly critical” of Pokémon, but I think that we gave it a fair and balanced review, placing it in the historical context of decades of children’s animation, and pointing out its extreme importance in the world of modern anime profits.

HM: We did get a few critical comments, yes. The Introduction to the new edition gives just a tiny sample of what’s out there. I don’t trawl the World Wide Web for comment and discussion about the book, so I don’t see most of the really unappreciative stuff. Jonathan does, and occasionally feeds back some of it if he thinks it will be useful or amusing.

JC: We’ve had people complaining that we were “unkind” to Evangelion, and people complaining that we are “too kind” to Evangelion. So we decided to displease everyone equally and just kept on doing what we were doing.

TZN: Did you change or soften your comments for this edition as a result?

HM: Not a bit. We took the same approach as for the first edition – tell it as we see it. That respects the intelligence of our readers, and it also respects our own long experience in the anime field, and the critical skills we bring from our respective cultural backgrounds.

I’m happy that others feel free to express their opinion of our work, and I’d encourage them to go on doing so. If they bring forward anything that we feel is valid, we’ll take note of it and learn from it. If we don’t feel it’s valid, we won’t.

TZN: When the first edition was released (in 2001), anime was still considered somewhat exotic, and largely a domain for the dedicated hobbyist…

JC: I’m not sure I agree with that statement. Pokémon was already hitting the US market by 2001. Princess Mononoke was already out.

HM: Yes, I don’t think anime was quite as “niche” as all that in 2001. Its profile had been growing for the previous decade. American TV had woken up to its possibilities, and Princess Mononoke had been screened in cinemas.

TZN: Even so, it’s popularity has exploded since that date. What do you think accounts for the increase in popularity of anime since the release of the first Anime Encyclopedia?

HM: For me, the biggest increase in anime’s profile since 2001 have come from the expansion of the manga business, especially girls’ manga; and Spirited Away winning the Oscar. A wider audience now perceives Japanese animation and manga as mainstream entertainment, whereas before it went through a long period of being just Saturday-morning kids’ stuff, followed by a shorter, but more public, period of being all about sex and violence.

Spirited AwayJC: The popularity of manga has really exploded since then. Anime’s media profile has remained tied to that. And of course, Ghibli. I agree that the thing that has really helped anime in the intervening years has been Spirited Away getting that Oscar. Mainstream attitudes used to ignore anime entirely, then regarded it as a children’s medium, and then sex-and-violence. Now those attitudes often work under the assumption that Hayao Miyazaki is indicative of anime as a whole. This is great news for anime apologists like us, but it is just as false a perception as thinking that all anime was Urotsukidoji back in the 1990s.

HM: The rise of the Internet has also been important, but only in the sense that it’s been important to all entertainment media. Audiences love greater accessibility and more choice of formats, whether they’re downloading rock music or streaming video.

JC: DVD also played an important role.

TZN: How so? DVD was still relatively new when the first edition was released, so how would you say the medium has changed the attitudes of the audience and/or of the studios releasing the material?

JC: Anime is the perfect software for modern media players. It works well on new screens, it transfers well to new media, and it has qualities that benefit from modern treatment. DVD largely solved the old dub-versus-sub debate, or at least rendered it irrelevant. And anime fans are early adopters. There was a point at the end of the 20th century when 2% of all DVDs in the United States were anime. So DVD has made a big difference.

HM: The portability and accessibility of new media are also widening anime’s market. Anime works well with new formats – even older TV material, which isn’t of a high enough standard in terms of image repro to pass muster for the average TV audience today. However, it looks fine on the smaller screens of personal handheld devices.

TZN: Speaking of new media, there was a brief mention at the end of the introduction to the first book that referred to “interactive animation,” mentioning the Scandal video game that used more hand-drawn animation than several feature films. Did that medium work out quite the way you expected?

JC: Indeed it did. It’s important to remember that a lot of “anime” work is done below the line on computer games, in advertising, and in pop promos. It’s not always about the Ghibli premieres!

TZN: The first edition suggested that a future revision might include a lot more coverage of that kind of material. How well did that prediction hold up?

JC: We’ve written a new entry dedicated to Gaming and Digital Animation, as one has a symbiotic relationship with the other. Using anime-style artwork was an important factor in memory conservation in early computer games, and by the 1990s, gaming money, talent, and technologies were exerting a very hefty influence on the anime world.

GundamThe line between anime, manga and games continues to blur, particularly in the relatively new field of mobile phone content provision. Old shows like Robotech and Gundam are getting a new lease of life on the (very) small screen, where the age of the animation is not so obvious. And as animation budgets are cut ever closer to the bone, some of the low-end material starts to look less like moving pictures and more like manga with Flash stylings. Once again, it seems easier to get away with this on a mobile phone with an “interactive” element than on TV.

TZN: Did you get to cover the “visual novels” that seem to be growing in Japan?

JC: We do mention the existence of the “visual novels”, in the same way that we clocked the existence of their forebears, the “manga videos” in the first edition. Note that this is the term “manga video” used in its Japanese sense – a video of a comic shot on a rostrum camera, while voice actors read out the speech balloons. But the “visual novels” don’t get their own entries. We had our hands full writing hundreds of entries on actual anime.

TZN: The introduction to the first book mentioned that some companies refused rights to images for their anime. Did any of those companies change their minds for this edition?

HM: For picture rights, the position in Japan is quite complicated and it can be very difficult for companies to be certain they have the rights to older shows. Some companies just can’t be bothered to answer requests, as a matter of policy, because of lack of manpower or because they just can’t be bothered. Many American and Japanese companies, have been happy to co-operate because they see some benefit for their business in getting free publicity for their product in a book which will go into public and academic libraries and boost their sales for years to come.

JC: Anime companies in Japan sometimes try to suppress dissent by maintaining control over access to picture materials. It’s why “criticism” in Japan can be so toothless and obsequious, and why so many small-press Japanese books about anime don’t have any images in them at all. American anime companies don’t think like that. They’re usually happy to supply materials because they know that if there’s a picture from their show, more people will notice it. Sometimes, however, their hands are tied by lack of available materials themselves, or because there is such a paper trail getting permission from the Japanese rights-holders, particularly when the Japanese often think that people should pay for the privilege of putting a picture next to a review.

One major Japanese studio in particular, which was once extremely keen to foster and, frankly, bribe American fans to pay attention to their products, was singularly unhelpful in both the first and second editions. There are all kinds of possible explanations, from incompetence, to indifference, to company politics, to them simply not having someone in the office whose job it was to increase their public profile. Whatever their reason, the only upshot is that pictures of their work don’t appear in the book, and that makes it marginally less likely that they will show up on our readers’ radar. How the company expects that this will benefit them in the long run is anyone’s guess.

However, nobody changed their minds that I’m aware of because of the first edition. One company did point out, while they were handing us images for something, that we’d got a date wrong in an entry, and we changed it. There were a few attempts to rewrite history, usually around the 1999-2000 mark. Some companies tried to edge their official release dates into 2000 so that their titles don’t look so “20th century”. Some trying to claim that video releases were actually movies to make themselves sound cooler. A couple of things like that, but nobody gets to push us around.

There was a Japanese producer who sent us a tape and said: “Please! Tell them how bad it is! Otherwise, my boss will make me release this in English and we will waste thousands of dollars!”

TZN: How did the attitudes of the Japanese copyright holders affect your research?

HM: We really can’t afford to take the attitude of rights holders into account in almost any regard. As noted above, we get a certain amount of flak for not taking sufficient note of fan opinion, but we’d get rather more if we let the views of rights holders influence us!

JC: We don’t solicit review materials from companies for the book. Some send them to us anyway, as part of magazine work or just goodwill, but we compile the AE using our own resources. In the case of something like Like a Cloud, Like a Breeze, we’re working without a safety net. There’s no English release and we couldn’t get a Japanese copy. So I ended up buying one from Amazon France. But I love it when that happens. It’s an interesting title that nobody was talking about, and now it’s got an entry.

HM: For the most part we prefer to source our own review material. There have been strokes of luck when one of us has gone into a small shop in some remote bit of the globe on holiday or on a business trip, just to kill time, and has found something useful, or someone has sent us a tape or an article which adds another piece to the jigsaw, and of course our researchers and beta readers have given us their knowledge and experience. I think that makes the book more valid and useful than just using what promotion companies and fan websites tell us, and it certainly made it more fun to write.

Luckily, it’s become much easier to get hold of research materials now than it was when I wrote my first two books in the early 1990s. Then, the Internet was not so widely available or supported, the amount of material in English was minimal and it was harder to order things from overseas. Now, one can track down copies in many formats and languages and buy them much more easily.

TZN: A comment we’ve heard from some of the anime licensing and import companies was that the Japanese companies often don’t have much respect for their older material and don’t take a lot of steps to preserve it. Did that affect your research at all?

HM: The Japanese haven’t treated early anime any differently than Western TV companies have treated their live action archive. If only those without sin among us should cast the first stone, we British can’t afford to throw even a tiny pebble, considering that the BBC has erased priceless moments of TV history over many years!

JC: Yes, I don’t think it’s fair just to target the Japanese, here. Most people working in early TV treated it like a vaudeville theater. Performances were often live or otherwise kept on video tape that was wiped and reused. Huge chunks of early Doctor Who were thrown into dumpsters and are now lost. So back in the 1950s and 1960s, TV hadn’t even warmed to the idea of repeats, let alone home cinema or DVD extras.

I don’t think TV really started to appreciate the potential value of older material until the 1970s, and even then, it wasn’t until Brandon Tartikoff started analysing cable data that broadcasters really started to see the value of niche programming and “narrowcasting”. All of which is a long and convoluted way of saying, yes, a lot of old material has been lost or damaged, but we can’t blame the Japanese for being neglectful. We all were.

TZN: Which anime do you think has the biggest gulf between Western and Japanese audiences? Meaning that Western audiences are rabid for something Japanese audiences don’t care about, or vice versa?

JC: The answer I am tempted to give is “all of it”. Akira set a very high bar for foreign audiences’ expectations, but it cost an unrepresentatively high amount of money. Its producers thought they were going to lose their shirts on it, but when it made all that money abroad, suddenly they were being asked to do it all again.

In 1995, foreign sales were worth only 10% of the anime business, so the Japanese just got on with it, and did what they wanted, and if the Americans liked it, too, then that was an unexpected bonus. These days, there are some well-known studios who will not even begin production unless they have a deal with an American distributor, because the foreign market value can climb as high as 50%. A decade ago, Robert Woodhead at AnimEigo predicted that the American end would start to drive and steer the anime business back in Japan, and we’re seeing that happen now. Titles like Ghost in the Shell and Urotsukidoji are being driven, at least in part, by American interest, not necessarily Japanese interest. I’m not saying that the Japanese don’t like Ghost in the Shell, but remember that Manga Entertainment is one of the co-producers on it.

Looking at things from the opposite direction, the anime sold in the West generally have very low ratings in Japan. The highest rated anime, like Sazae-san and Doraemon and Chibi Maruko-chan, are simply below the radar of most foreign fans. I don’t think for a moment that they would be successful in America, but it’s important to realize when talking about anime that the shows that “everyone” in Japan watches do not form part of the material generally available to Western pundits.

Sazae-sanHM: If you look at surveys of the most popular Japanese shows, only the ones with mostly teenage and college-age profiles show much relationship to Western fan tastes. If you look at anime TV ratings and running times, the highest rated, longest-running shows often barely register on Western radar. Very few Westerners are fans of shows like Sazae-san, yet it’s the longest-running TV cartoon series in the world. Sorry, Simpsons fans, but that’s the truth.

TZN: What anime would you most want to see brought to Western audiences?

HM: As a fan, Legend of Galactic Heroes. As a historian, some of the old black and white TV shows and early puppet animation.

JC: Purely in the interests of understanding more about the breadth of the medium, I would like to see compilation discs of some of the old black and white material, and also of representative episodes of things like Sazae-san. But I don’t think that they would sell particularly well, I’m answering there as a historian.

TZN: On the flip side, if you could erase one anime from the Western consciousness, what would it be and why?

JC: I’m not a Pokémon fan and I can’t stand Urotsukidoji, but the profits from those titles have made the anime business what it is today. I am not going to wish away the things that I don’t like, because they often fund the things that I do.

HM: I don’t like the hentai stuff, but porn has always been with us. I wouldn’t wish any anime out of being, though there are a few I’d rather not have wasted my time on.

TZN: What’s the coolest animation, Japanese or otherwise, that you’ve seen recently?

My Neighbor TotoroHM: Nothing has ever topped My Neighbor Totoro for me. There are some fun new titles around, like Gankutsuo which is trying to do something different in terms of art, and worldwide animation is producing some good material, but I haven’t found anything that gives me more of a thrill than Totoro, even after almost 20 years.

JC: Cars. After so long in a world of Japanese animation, I found it amazing to see such a celebration of American small-town life and style. I think in a hundred years’ time, Cars will be seen as one of the defining moments of the early 21st century. People will ask what it meant to be American, and what internal combustion engines were, and what an American dream was, and Cars will offer a lot of answers, and also ask some pertinent questions. Hayao Miyazaki came out of the cinema and said: “I got tears.” Well, so did I.

TZN: Now that the revised edition is out, what are you working on next, either individually or together?

HM: We haven’t got a joint project at present, and having written two books together, we’re already dangerously close to becoming a comedy duo, so I don’t know if there will be any more. I have a big anime and manga project waiting to go ahead, but I never discuss these things in detail before I actually sign a contract. I’m also working on a proposal for a completely different kind of book that I hope will take anime and manga to an entirely new audience, and writing a novel.

JC: My next book is out early next year, and is a biography of Empress Wu, the only woman to ever rule China in her own name. A TV company wants to turn into a series, so I’ve just spent a month working on an outline with them. I don’t know if anything will come of it, but it’s nice to have that kind of attention for a book before it’s even published! They’ve got a couple of months until their option runs out, and then it’s mine again.

Toon Zone News would like to thank Jonathan Clements and Helen McCarthy for taking the time to speak with us, and to the staff of Stone Bridge Press for their support in making this interview possible. The Anime Encyclopedia Revised and Expanded Edition is available now. Jonathan Clements’ official website is at http:https://www.muramasaindustries.com/.

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