The Rough Guide To Anime
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.
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)
BFI Screen Guides - 100 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.
Alexander Case (Count_Zero) writes about science fiction for Bureau42.com when he isn't writing stuff here, and he can also be found on Twitter (@Count_ZeroOR)