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.