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The Rough Guide to Anime

Count Zero takes us to anime school

In my previous article about books about manga, anime and manga, I've covered guidebooks to series. This time, our Background Reading will cover some guides to series. Specifically, I'm going to take a look at two series that present a lists of anime for your consideration, each very different from each other.

The Rough Guide To Anime

 Everything you need to read in print.
 Everything you need to read in print.

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 (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

BFI Screen Guides - 100 Anime

 BFI 100 most important anime
 BFI 100 most important anime

The British Film Institute's Screen Guide for anime, aptly titled 100 Anime by Phillip Brophy, is very different. Where the Rough Guide to Anime was meant as a primer for new fans, and a way to help people find films and series, both old and new, to get them into anime fandom, and to help them understand it. This book is meant to be less approachable.

In Brophy's introduction, he derides the perverse fascination of western media in general with “Weird Japan”, but his book seems to focus on the concept. He caps off his introduction with a quote which explains the problems with this book in a nutshell. “This book seeks to retain the inexplicability of anime as framed by non-Western formations of Japanese history and culture – and argues for being disoriented yet sedused by anime's graphic audiovisual form.” To put it another way – anime is neither good nor bad, it simply is. You buy the ticket, you take the ride.

That's a statement that's all well and good when applied to, say, French Avant-Garde cinema, or the surrealist films of Dali, Brunel and others. I shouldn't need to tell this audience that anime isn't that. This isn't to say that anime cannot stand up to interpretation either. Series and films like Revolutionary Girl Utena, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Cat Soup, Perfect Blue, and many others are wonderful works of art have motivated a great deal of discussion amongst anime fans in the past, and will likely do so for many years in the future.

The problem is that the series in the book include films that don't enter the realm of the nonsensical or the bizarre for the sake of art, but instead enter that realm because they're poorly written or poorly made. Of particular note is the inclusion of the majority of the Manga Video Holy Trinity Of Suck – Violence Jack , and Angel Cop , all of which I've covered in their own separate guides. Violence Jack's rampant misogyny and ultra violence are described as a treatise on the form masculinity could take in the post-apocalypse. Angel Cop's ultra-nationalism, racism and anti-semitism are ignored entirely in favor of changing the film's true meaning to being about gender roles. The odd re-interpretations go beyond poor plotting to also include poor animation. In particular, the notoriously bad animation of the first Golgo 13 film is instead re-interpreted to be representative to Duke Togo's take on his work. Further, he is very selective about the context of the works he discusses - the taoist sutras chanted by Subaru in Tokyo Babylon are simply described as babble, ignoring any cultural or historical context of Onmyudo (which is made even more bizarre by the fact that Doomed Megalopolis was listed earlier in the book, a series which spends the majority of its length on battling Onmyoji )

To be fair to Brophy, not all of his analysis is off base. Comparing the Guyver suits to the personas (to make a music reference, something I like to do, what The Who called the “Eminence Front”) that we start to wear in Middle School and High School to both blend in and stand out – covering our true selves to hide any weaknesses, and hopefully make ourselves cooler then we think really we are. Other works on the list include most of the Canon (listed above), which is a list I'm perfectly fine with. Still, when Brophy goes off the mark, he really goes off the mark, and his misses are blatant enough to make me wonder if, at some point, he went “Fuckit, I've seen 100 series, and I need to finish this soon, so I'll stick to what I've got and analyze them to the best of my ability, and try to paint over or avoid the glaring flaws in these series and hope nobody notices.”

BFI's 100 Anime

These are the 100 Films and series chosen for consideration by Phillip Brophy in the BFI Screen Guide 100 Anime. They are listed in the book in alphabetical order.
The OVA Baoh the Visitor is absent from the list, as it is currently not in the Anime Vice database.

1. Revolutionary Girl Utena: Adolescence Apocalypse

Listed as "Adolescence of Utena"

2. A. D. Police Files
3. Ai City
4. Akira

5. Catgirl Nukunuku
6. Angel Cop
7. Armitage III
8. Astro Boy

Covered the first two TV series

9. Barefoot Gen
10. Battle Angel Alita

Covered the 2 episode OVA.

11. BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad
12. Black Jack

Used the film.

13. Black Magic M-66
14. Blood: The Last Vampire
15. Blue Seed
16. Bubblegum Crisis
17. Burn Up!
18. Combustible Campus Guardress

19. Cream Lemon
20. Crying Freeman
21. Dangaioh
22. Demon City Shinjuku
23. Devil Hunter Yohko
24. Devilman
25. DNA²
26. Dominion: Tank Police
27. Doomed Megalopolis
28. F3: Frantic, Frustrated and Female
29. The Fantastic Adventures of Unico
30. Fist of the North Star: The Movie
31. Five Star Stories
32. FLCL
33. Galaxy Express 999
34. Gall Force: Eternal Story
35. Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo
36. Gantz
37. Genocyber
38. Ghost in the Shell
39. Giant Robo
40. Golgo 13: The Professional
41. Grave of the Fireflies
42. Green Legend Ran
43. Gunsmith Cats
44. The Guyver - Bio-Booster Armor
45. Zeorymer Hades Project
46. Fight! Iczer 1
47. Interstella 5555
48. Kekko Kamen
49. Kiki's Delivery Service
50. Kimba the White Lion
51. Laputa: Castle in the Sky
52. Super Dimensional Fortress Macross: Do You Remember Love
53. Maison Ikkoku
54. Marvelous Melmo
55. Mermaid Forest
56. Metal Fighter Miku
57. Metropolis
58. Moldiver
59. Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory
60. My Neighbor Totoro
61. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
62. Neon Genesis Evangelion
63. Night on the Galactic Railroad
64. Ninja Scroll
65. Only Yesterday
66. Patlabor The Mobile Police (OVA)
67. WXIII: Patlabor The Movie 3
68. Perfect Blue
69. Plastic Little
70. Please Save My Earth

71. Poltergeist Report
72. Pom Poko
73. Princess Knight
74. Princess Mononoke
75. Rg Veda
76. Roujin Z
77. Rozen Maiden
78. Sailor Moon
79. Samurai Champloo
80. Mobile Suit SD Gundam

81. The Sensualist
82. Silent Mobius

The first two movies are lumped in under one entry.

83. Slight Fever Syndrome
84. Sol Bianca
85. Space Adventure Cobra
86. Space Firebird
87. Spirited Away
88. Steamboy

89. Tale of Genji
90. Tamala 2010
91. Tokyo Babylon
92. U-Jin Brand
93. Urotsukidoji
94. Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer
95. Vampire Hunter D
96. Vampire Princess Miyu
97. Violence Jack
98. Wicked City
99. A Wind Named Amnesia

Alexander Case (Count_Zero) writes about science fiction for when he isn't writing stuff here, and he can also be found on Twitter (@Count_ZeroOR)
sora_thekey moderator on April 5, 2011 at 4:38 p.m.
Sombreon April 5, 2011 at 4:52 p.m.
Shouldn't this be like, an amazon book review?
ZombiePieon April 5, 2011 at 5:10 p.m.
But is anime actually good?
Daniel_Newton moderator on April 5, 2011 at 5:31 p.m.
Pretty sure I didn't see Dragon Ball Z listed in either of those...
Seriously, you don't write a book about important anime and exclude Dragon Ball Z from it. That's just...

NakAttackon April 5, 2011 at 6:16 p.m.
@zombiepie said:
" But is anime actually good? "
haha.. ahahahahahahah.... no
Jethutyon April 5, 2011 at 7:20 p.m.
Yeaaaaaah nooo......

Most of the animes are only worth watching shortly because of their style or signifigance(stuff like astro boy, its not very entertaining but its god damn signifigant)

also none of those lists contain Tengen toppa gurren lagann so they are completely invalid.

ZombiePieon April 5, 2011 at 8:25 p.m.
@nk19 said:
" @zombiepie said:
" But is anime actually good? "
haha.. ahahahahahahah.... no "


sickVisionz moderator on April 5, 2011 at 8:44 p.m.
11/50 on the canon (Paranoia Agent is canon?) and 7/100 (How on Earth did Gantz make the cut?!?!?) on the BFI
Bigheart711on April 5, 2011 at 9:07 p.m.
Those lists are definitely missing some good old-school series. The Dragon Ball franchise and Revolutionary Girl Utena for example.
Makoto_Mizuhara_Sakamotoon April 5, 2011 at 9:37 p.m.
@jethuty said:
" Yeaaaaaah nooo......

Most of the animes are only worth watching shortly because of their style or signifigance(stuff like astro boy, its not very entertaining but its god damn signifigant)

also none of those lists contain Tengen toppa gurren lagann so they are completely invalid.

Seriously, dude... TTGL belongs in the same category as Haruhi.
Axelhanderon April 5, 2011 at 9:38 p.m.
As a former huge fan of anime who has outgrown it in favor of things that are actually worth my time and money, I approached this list with a fair bit of skepticism.

I was glad to see most of the entries are animes that make up the 2% of the form that isn't wildly overrated trash.

It's still discouraging to see Evangelion -- the most poorly made smash hit like ever -- so widely hyped, but seeing Castle in the Sky and several of Satoshi Kon's works made me smile.

Too bad this site has editors that think "anime" and "cartoon" don't mean the same thing (they do). Ah well. Can't win 'em all.
Daniel_Newton moderator on April 5, 2011 at 10:34 p.m.
@zombiepie: You can baby-frown at me all you want zombiepie, these books are still bullshit!
ZombiePieon April 5, 2011 at 11:16 p.m.
@Newten:  Meh baby says meh. What the fuck do you expect? Seaweed that tastes like strawberry candy? Making an annotated list is subjective by its very nature. I have baby pics for that last comparison as well.

.........Five minutes latter.

Count_Zeroon April 5, 2011 at 11:38 p.m.
@sora_thekey: It's a whole line of various guidebooks, with Rough Guides to Anime, Manga, traveling to various cities, learning to play the guitar, etc. Sort of like the For Dummies books, only not quite.

@Sombre said:
" Shouldn't this be like, an amazon book review? "
Not quite. My semi-goal for this little series of articles about books on anime is meant to be a way of introducing people to new series, either through books like these ones and the Complete Guides to Manga and the Anime Encyclopedia. Some future books I have in mind will cover topics like societal differences between Japan and the US, and maybe a few pop philosophy books.

Oh, and I'm working on an article covering various tabletop RPGs that are licensed off of anime series.
Daniel_Newton moderator on April 5, 2011 at 11:45 p.m.
@zombiepie: Dude I know, but not including Dragon Ball Z in a list of significant anime is like not including Mario in a list of significant games. You just don't do it!

Also... I'm starting to get the impression you have a large collection of random baby photos you can use to make comparisons at any given time.
That is somewhat creepy.

...unless you have cool baby. Then it's awesome.
ZombiePieon April 5, 2011 at 11:46 p.m.
@Newten:  Those are pictures of my niece.
Eyzon April 6, 2011 at 12:21 a.m.
Nice :D

Aaaah...Astroboy....good times^^
Count_Zeroon April 6, 2011 at 12:32 a.m.
@Bigheart711 said:
" Those lists are definitely missing some good old-school series. The Dragon Ball franchise and Revolutionary Girl Utena for example. "
Utena made the list on both (The TV series for the Canon, the film for the BFI's top 100). I'm fine with Dragon Ball not being on the Canon (at the time it was written, Dragon Ball Z Kai hadn't come out yet).
Daniel_Newton moderator on April 6, 2011 at 12:57 a.m.
@zombiepie: In that case it's not creepy after all.
You still need a photo of her with sunglasses though, it doesn't matter how funny the other pictures are, if there's no cool baby snap in the collection then it's not complete.
AgentJon April 6, 2011 at 2:08 a.m.
Great to see Gankutsuou make both lists, as well as Kiki (usually the forgotten Ghibli movie) and a few Shinkai films, but BECK should have been on both, not just one. 

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