A simple and straight-forward question to ask when conducting any kind of academic research is – where do I start looking for materials on my topic? And, a key concept to understand when thinking about the research process is that there is no such thing as single resource that would be an equally effective starting point for any kind of research. Subject encyclopedias and specialized subject bibliographies, introductory essay collections (these often carry the specific term “Companion” or “Handbook” in the title – as with the examples of the Cambridge Companion to the Graphic Novel and the Routledge Handbook of Japanese Culture and Society) and of course, various general and subject-specific research databases , to say nothing of Google Scholar, may all be useful.
In the past, I have profiled/evaluated one such resource – the Bonn Online Bibliography for Comics Research. And recently, I became aware of another one that – at least initially, looks like it would be perfect for anyone who is looking to begin researching topics related to anime/Japanese animation.
Database for Animation Studies
What does this Database cover? How is it organized? And, most importantly, is it actually useful?
(Note: All of my comments apply to the English version of the Database only)
“Launched in 2013, Database for Animation Studies is a part of the project called Mapping Project for Animation Studies held by Japanese Association of Animation Studies. It collects the information of the books and the articles on Animation Studies and share it. By doing it, this website aims to show the map of the landscape of Animation Studies.”
At least initially, the Database for Animation Studies appears to be a complex, well-developed resource that provides access to the bibliographic records for a wide range of academic writing on animation broadly defined, in different languages, with a basic search functionality and several specialized browse options.
As of January 14, 2018, the database contains a total of 546 entries – a slight majority of them (285) being articles, and the rest (261) – books.
As it turns out, however, of these 285 articles, 165 are from Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal, and 111, from the Japanese Journal of Animation Studies; only 9 appeared in other academic journals. This means that the other major academic journals on animation – Animation Journal, Animation Practice, Process & Production, Animation Studies – are likely not represented at all. Neither are other discipline-specific and interdisciplinary ones, such as the Journal of Japanese & Korean Cinema, Journal of Popular Culture, Science Fiction Film & Television and Science Fiction Studies, that have published numerous scholarly articles on animation/anime, although there is one record for an article from a 1997 issue of Film History. The oldest article in the database is from 1996; the most recent, from 2016 – so, the ones that appeared in the 2017 issues of Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal are not included as of yet either.
The publication years of the 261 books range from 1941 to 2016; although the majority were published either in Japanese or in English, several are in other European languages. However, again, it is immediately obvious that the database does not cover a number of seminal English-language texts on Japanese animation, or any essay collections – so it is likely that plenty of others that deal with animation more broadly are also left outside its scope.
The project’s About page notes that it was “originally made by Japanese Society of Animation Studies in 2013 and renewed in 2016 as one of the commissioned projects of Promotion for Collaboration Projects of Media Geijutsu, by Agency of Cultural Affairs, Japan.” However, it does not provide any details about any criteria that were used for selecting/including the records that appear in it, or the backgrounds/qualifications of the editors.
The Database’s default view is an All Documents list, arranged by year of publication from most recent to oldest. It is possible to reverse the arrangement (oldest to most recent), or change it to alphabetical arrangement by title (A-Z / Z-A), filter the results to books or articles, and search for single keywords that appear anywhere in the title of any record, the abstract/summary, or several additional specific fields in the record. However, it does not appear that the database allows any kind of Boolean searching or the capability to search for multiple keywords/combine searches across several different fields or keyword types.
The standard record for an article consists of:
- English-language title
- English abstract or summary
- For articles originally published in Japanese, the original title; for articles originally published in English, the title translated into Japanese
- Publication year
- Author or authors
- The title of the journal the article appeared in
- Publication details (volume/issue and pages)
- Several keywords – it is not clear if these are the same as those originally provided by the author, or are added specifically by the editors
The records for articles from Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal also include a link to the original record for the article on the journal’s website, and the DOI assigned to it.
For books, the record includes:
- English-language title
- Original Japanese title (or official Japanese translation of non-Japanese title)
- Publication year
- Author or authors
Some records, but not all, also include links to the specific pages for the books on their publishers’ websites, links to records in the Japan National Institute of Informatics’ Webcat Plus database
For both journal articles and books, some records also include additional Related Artists and Related Works fields.
The main Database is supplemented by a Recommendations section, which currently consists of a total of 16 annotated lists, such as “10 Books to Understand the Japanese Animation Industry” and “9 Books/Articles to Understand Anime for Girls (‘Shoujo’), compiled by leading animation/anime scholars.
Another additional feature is a Keyword Browse function. This provides a way to browse the full list of authors of all of the publications included in the database, the “Artists” (i.e., directors or creators) and Works (films/series) that are specifically listed in the records’ Related Artists and Related Works fields, and all keywords listed in the Keywords fields, and view the records of the individual publications that correspond to/are tagged with each keyword.
The idea of a comprehensive Database for Animation Studies is intriguing to say the least. However, the limitations of the Database as it currently exists are impossible to ignore. While its coverage of academic and professional monographs on animation broadly defined is fairly broad, the same cannot be said for articles – it is essentially a database of articles that appeared in two journals – one international and published in English, the other, primarily intended for Japanese audiences – and an incomplete one even at that. At the same time, the level of access that the database currently provides to the contents of the Japanese Journal of Animation Studies (JJAS), is significantly more robust than what is available on the journal’s website, and even if it is seen as simply a source of English-language titles and abstracts/summaries of the articles that have been published in JJAS, that already makes it an important resource for scholars who are interested about the state of animation/anime studies in Japan. Similarly, while it can be seen as a good list of books on animation/anime that have been published around the world, including Japan, it is in no way comprehensive. Moreover, the Database’s search functionalities, compared to major academic ones such as the MLA International Bibliography are extremely basic.
The Keywords function, while potentially useful, is also implemented haphazardly, without attention to the principles of constructing and using controlled vocabularies. The general format for listing an creator or director in the Related Artists field seems to be to be “first name, last name” – for Akira Toriyama, only the last name is listed. “Astro boy” and “Astroboy” are both used as Related Works entries. Rayna Denison appears two times in the Author list – once with her last name misspelled.
In short, again, the Database for Animation Studies has the potential to develop into a valuable resource for anime scholars. But at this point, it is nowhere near being one.
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