Some challenges of locating and accessing books on anime

ApocalypseJapanese animation came to the U.S. in the summer of 1961, with the theatrical release of Alakazam the Great (Saiyuki), Magic Boy (Shonen Sarutobi Sasuke), and Panda and the Magic Serpent (Hakujaden). It took over 30 years for the first English-language books on anime – Helen McCarthy’s 1993 Anime!: A Beginner’s Guide to Japanese Animation and Antonia Levi’s 1996 Samurai from Outer Space: Understanding Japanese Animation to appear

another thirty-five years for the first English-language book on anime – Antonia Levi’s 1996 Samurai from Outer Space: Understanding Japanese Animation – to appear.

But over 50 more books on anime have been published since those first ones.

Obviously, these books are diverse in their styles, approaches, and purposes. Some, like Anime Classics Zettai!: 100 Must-See Japanese Animation Masterpieces, Anime Explosion: The What? Why? and Wow! of Japanese Animation, and The Rough Guide to Anime are general introductions, intended for the casual reader. Others, such as Understanding Manga and Anime are essentially tools, meant specifically to aid public and academic librarians. And of course, there are the scholarly monographs and edited essay collections – Anime from Akira to Mononoke: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation; Anime’s Media Mix: Franchising Toys and Characters in Japan, Cinema Anime: Critical Engagements with Japanese Animation, and many more. But, almost all of these books, regardless of their differences, have one thing in common – straight-forward, descriptive titles that almost always include the word “anime”. And what that means is that a reader who is trying to access these books, whether on Amazon or in a library catalog, should be able to locate them without too much difficulty simply by searching for the word.Of course, it is true that some of these books do not have the word anywhere in the title – examples are Cartoon Cultures: The Globalization of Japanese Popular Media and Japanese Animation: East Asian Perspectives. So, a simple search for “anime” will not necessarily return them as results. This problem is solved easily with the concept of subject headings that are assigned to all of the books in a collection that discuss a common subject. The “official” or authorized subject headings for books on Japanese animation/anime are “Animated films – Japan – History and criticism” and “Animated television programs – Japan – History and criticism”, and accessing the record for any book with one of these subject headings in a library catalog allows the library user to browse through the records for all the other books that share the same subject headings.

Example: Japanese Animation: East Asian Perspectives (in IUCAT, the catalog of the Indiana University Libraries)

East Asian PerspectivesAs it turns out, though, there are still some major, important books on Japanese animation that are essentially undiscoverable using these basic search methods. These are the books, written by a single author, that are not just about anime, but rather, explore anime alongside other media. The World is Watching: Video as Multinational Aesthetics (Southern Illinois University Press, 2003) is an in-depth study of three classic television series – The Prisoner (UK), Decalogue (Poland), and Neon Genesis Evangelion (Japan). Similarly, Exploring the Limits of the Human Through Science Fiction (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) looks at the novels of Samuel Delany and William Gibson – and the anime Ghost in the Shell. Three more such books are Control and Freedom: Power and Paranoia in the Age of Fiber Optics (the MIT Press, 2005), Tokyo Cyberpunk: Posthumanism in Japanese Visual Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), and, just published last year, also by Palgrave Macmillan, Apocalypse in Contemporary Japanese Science Fiction – a book which at this point is simply the best English-language treatment of the sekaikei genre in anime.

Tokyo CyberpunkSo, the question then comes up – how can someone interested in scholarly writing on anime actually discover these books and others like them – that are certainly “about” anime, but, not obviously or explicitly so. These books are included in Google Scholar. But searching for Neon Genesis Evangelion in Google Scholar does not bring up a record for The World is Watching anywhere within the first 30 hits (although interestingly, a journal article by the book’s author – Anime and East Asian culture: Neon Genesis Evangelion, published in the Quarterly Review of Film and Video, is the sixth result). Likewise, searching for the term sekaikei in Google Scholar returns several other publications by the author of Apocalypse in Contemporary Japanese Fiction, and even her PhD dissertation – before a result for the book itself.

It is also true that increasingly, academic databases such as JSTOR and Project Muse are covering books, not just journal articles. Many educational institutions are now also offering direct access to e-books via EBSCO eBooks, the EBL Ebook Library and other similar services, but again, access to these services remains limited to subscribers. So, really, right now, what we can do to make these books discoverable is to specifically highlight and promote them as important resources for anime studies – indeed, as I’m doing with this post and with my other Anime and Manga Studies projects.

Ultimately, though, the ideal way to ensure that these books remain discoverable to anyone who is interested in academic approaches to Japanese animation is by establishing a specialized dedicated subject-specific curated database that will cover all types of publications on anime and manga, regardless of their formats, and definitely regardless of things like titles. I have actually already done a lot of the preliminary work that would go into developing this kind of database, such as designing a basic structure and compiling over 1,500 records for individual publications and several hundred for authors and sources. The next step will be to actually develop the database. This project will definitely require a lot of time and effort, and probably require at least several thousand dollars in costs – but I think it will be a project with lasting value for scholars, educators, and really, all those who are interested in studying Japanese visual culture.

All I can really say is – stay tuned for details. Well, and if this project sounds like something you would be interested in working on, let me know.

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2 thoughts on “Some challenges of locating and accessing books on anime

  1. Before Levi published her Samurai from Outer Space Helen McCarthy had published two works. The first a catalog for an exhibit the second a commercially published book.
    Manga Manga Manga, A Celebration of Japanese Animation at the ICA pub Island World Communications (London) 1992.
    Anime! A Beginners Guide To Japanese Animation pub. Titan (London) 1993

    • Gilles,

      Thank you very much for your clarification! I’ve seen both of these books, and while “A Beginner’s Guide” is probably still a lot more obscure than “Samurai From Outer Space”, looks like it’s held in over 40 libraries in the US and has been cited in quite a sources too.

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