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 Background Reading - is going to become my sporadic attempt to put together a series of articles based on various books about anime and manga - to give give long time fans like myself, burgeoning fans like our own Tom Pinchuk, and absolute newcomers something to check out to give them background on the genre, recommendations for new to watch, or general explanation of various cultural idiosyncrasies. What better way to start then a general primer on the medium, eh?

Finding a “canon” of important works in any field is generally difficult to settle on. Do you go by popularity, artistic merit, influence on other works, early works of prominent creators, or a combination thereof?

The Rough Guide to Anime, by Simon Richmond – in Penguin Books Rough Guides series, probably has the best “canon” list of anime titles available, and certainly makes for the best English language primer to anime currently in print in the US, and makes for interesting reading for long-time fans and newcomers alike.

As the title states, this book is a “rough guide” - not only in terms of the series, but in terms of the depth of the book. It's not supposed to be any sort of academic text to the appreciation of the medium. It simply tells you what you need to get your feet wet. The book opens with a brief history of animation in Japan, from before World War Two to the present, discussing the evolution of the medium and its outgrowth from manga. We get some general information on some of the big names (Tezuka in particular), and some basic background to set up, in terms of Japanese society, where we are when we get to our “Canon”

The “Fifty Greatest Anime” takes up the majority of the book. Lists tend to be generally controversial, but the list in this book manages to be successful at not only being “safe” but also “comprehensive”, a difficult task at best. Unfortunately, this also means that many titles on the list are also out of print, or will be out of print soon as of this writing. Classic works by Tezuka like Jungle Emperor Leo and Astro Boy make the list, as well as the complete filmography of the late Satoshi Kon (still alive when the book was written), and many of Hayao Miyazaki's works. Other classics like Evangelion, Mazinger Z, Cowboy Bebop and Utena have made the list as well. It's a fantastic list, and I simply cannot disagree with any of the choices on the list.

The later section of the book covers various genres, like Eastern and Western Fantasy, comedy, and historical fiction, as well as names to look for, in terms of studios, directors and writers, and voice actors, as well as a basic tourism guide. The genres and names sections include examples of works by those names, studios, and in those genres. All of that is generally useful, though unfortunately they don't do a good job of indicating whether the shows mentioned are licensed or not. While I have no doubt that Richmond would rather his book be ever-green and have to worry about license statuses of some of the works he mentions – considering that Legend of the Galactic Heroes has not been licensed and likely will never, ever be licensed, it would be probably have been helpful to mention what series would not have been available in the US at the time of the book's printing.

Nonetheless, long time fans of anime and newcomers to the fandom alike will find a lot of value in this book, both through background on the medium as well as recommendations for new series and films they might otherwise have overlooked.

 

The Canon

In The Rough Guide To Anime, author Simon Richmond lists these films and series as his "canon" of the greatest and most important anime in the history of the medium. Reasons for their inclusion are listed in the book, and they are presented in the order they are listed in the book (ISBN 978-1-85828-205-3).

1. Akira
2. Astro Boy

All three Astro Boy series are included under one entry.

3. Barefoot Gen
4. Castle in the Sky
5. Cowboy Bebop
6. 5 Centimeters Per Second
7. Fullmetal Alchemist

The TV series and movies are included in this entry.

8. Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo
9. Ghost in the Shell
10. Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
11. Grave of the Fireflies
12. Gunbuster
13. Howl's Moving Castle
14. Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade
15. Kiki's Delivery Service
16. Kimba the White Lion
17. Little Norse Prince
18. Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro
19. The Super Dimension Fortress Macross
20. Metropolis
21. Millennium Actress
22. Mind Game
23. Mobile Suit Gundam
24. My Neighbor Totoro
25. Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind
26. Neon Genesis Evangelion
27. Night on the Galactic Railroad
28. Ninja Scroll
29. Only Yesterday
30. Panda and The Magic Serpent
31. Paprika
32. Paranoia Agent (TV)
33. Patlabor The Mobile Police (OVA)
34. Perfect Blue
35. Porco Rosso
36. Princess Mononoke
37. Puss in Boots
38. Revolutionary Girl Utena
39. Samurai Champloo
40. Rurouni Kenshin: Trust and Betrayal
41. Serial Experiments Lain

42. Star Blazers
43. Steamboy
44. Spirited Away
45. Taro the Dragon Boy
46. Tekkon Kinkreet
47. Tokyo Godfathers
48. Urusei Yatsura
49. Whisper of the Heart
50. Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise
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