Interview with Helen McCarthy

January 18th, 2015

3aeWe are so starting off the year right here on Okazu. Guest Reviews, Event Reports and to cap it all off, we have an Interview with someone I admire greatly!

Helen is the first person to have written an English book on anime, she ran anime events in the UK before many of you, my dear readers, were born. ^_^ Helen is universally recognized as an expert in anime and, as a result, is a pioneering figure for many young women interested in the medium over the years. She founded Anime UK magazine, has contributed to many publications and has just released the third edition of The Anime Encyclopedia with Jonathan Clements.

Personally, Helen is a hero and role model of mine, so I am pleased as punch to welcome the doyenne of anime in the west, Helen McCarthy, to Okazu! /applause/


Q: You’ve been involved in Anime fandom in the west since the early 90’s, what are some of the major changes you’ve seen in “fandom” in the past 3 decades?

HM: The main changes haven’t really been in the fandom so much as in the means of communication. I’ve been part of a number of fandoms since my days as a Trekkie and most operate in similar ways. But the difference that broadband has made is astonishing. It’s enabled fans to get together faster and more often and to communicate really easily.

One of the major benefits has been the explosion in fan creativity and the increase in skill levels in areas like fan art and costuming, as people share skills and tutor each other. One of the drawbacks, of course, is the ease and speed of piracy.

The other big drawback is the way broadband has increased the prominence of one of the negative sides of fandom. There’s always been trolling and bullying, but it’s become increasingly easy for that behaviour to flourish covertly, without the bullies having to own it. That’s been just about the only thing I dislike about fandom in all the time I’ve been a fan, and I would love to see it die out, or even better be completely rejected by fandom.

Q: And, following that, what are the major changes you’ve noted in the anime industry itself?

HM: Once again, the changes and acceleration in mass communication have made the most enormous difference. It’s hard to say whether the most important development is the ease of access to new material for consumers, or the ease of access to new markets for companies, but both have been significant.

From my point of view, working on the Anime Encyclopedia is massively easier this time around in terms of how much access one gets to material, how easily. Of course the time to watch everything is still lacking but it’s simpler and faster to get the stuff itself. I said as much to someone recently and laughed like a drain clearing when this person said surely Jonathan Clements and I must be inundated with material from distributors eager to feature in the Encyclopedia. I had to point out we’re not always very nice about everything!

Q: Here on Okazu, we focus mostly on women in anime and manga – as creators, as characters, as fans. Do you think representation of women in anime (or the anime industry) is getting better, worse or just…different?

HM: As far as representation goes, it really shows how far we’ve come that there are women who will speak out against the negative images of our gender in entertainment and the media, fearlessly and kindly and wisely; and it shows how far we still have to go that those women are targeted for truly appalling treatment, not only by men but sometimes by other women. I know that’s just part of the Stockholm syndrome behaviour, that collaboration with the oppressor, but it still appalls me. One of my biggest personal challenges is to be fair and generous to women who belittle other women.

As you’ve gathered, I don’t think anime is “just entertainment’ – anything humans do has social and political significance. Pop culture could be one of the greatest and most subversive engines of change for good, but it’s largely been co-opted by megamarketing into a support for the status quo. I don’t want to see anime as the circuses end of bread and circuses, but it is so easily read as another subset of the opium of the masses.

Q: You’ve written books based on some of the great male anime influencers; Tezuka, Miyazaki. If you were going to pick a female influencer to theme a book around, who might it be and why? (We won’t hold you to it, but we can dream can’t we?)

HM: There are three women I’d love to write about: the great mangaka Riyoko Ikeda, whose breadth of knowledge and interest is so wide; Eiko Tanaka of Studio 4C who has been one of the most profound creative forces in anime; and Hideko Mizuno, the only girl in the Tokiwa-so gang. Imagine that. Seventeen, in the early 60s, living in a houseful of guys on an equal footing as a creative artist. And then creating Fire! What a woman!

Erica here: Oh, please do write about them! I would so dearly love these as epublications, at the very least. But “3 Women Who Influenced Anime” by you would make me positively weak in the knees! ^_^

Q: Let’s talk a bit about your upcoming book, The Anime Encyclopedia, 3rd Revised Edition: A Century of Japanese Animation
Please tell us what’s new and what we can look forward to in this edition.

HM: Oh my – it’s about 25% larger and the word count has gone over 1,100,000. It now weighs enough to be legally classified as a lethal weapon or a house brick, and it’s got so fat it’s at the limits of what is possible in perfect binding.

We’ve got lots of new entries, of course, for both anime and industry figures, and a couple of new thematic essays where we pull together ideas about anime in ways that might not have occurred to you. They were a really hot feature of Volume 2, people liked them a lot, so it made sense to do more.

Otherwise, there’s more of our critical, sometimes ironic, often sarcastic approach. If you don’t like anime dissected and examined and held to account, this is not the book for you. One of the Stone Bridge Press team described it as having snark, and I’m very proud of that.

Q: What was your favorite thing about writing this book?

HM: Working with Jonathan is always a blast. He’s clever, funny, and demanding- he won’t let me get away with less than my best work. But I think my favourite thing of all is just to have free rein to look at stuff I love, or don’t, and say exactly what I think. Stone Bridge Press have always been so supportive of us – as long as we stay legal there are no restrictions.That’s wonderful.

Q: In all your years of anime fandom, what is one of your greatest memories?

HM: Oh, there are so many! Having tea in Hayao Miyazaki’s private office while he fussed around over an injured bird was fascinating. Dinner with Mahiro Maeda and his wife talking about 16th-century Japanese Christians was just as good. Reading haiku with other poets at conventions is always an absolute delight. The first FANS academic conference at A-Kon, when I was keynote speaker, was amazing. But I always think of little things – talking to people, that wonderful moment at the start of a con when you see an old friend you haven’t seen since last year – in many ways, the greatest memory is the one you’re just about to make, because who knows where it will go?

Q: I know exactly what you mean! And I feel I really must ask this, sorry for the predictability (^_^) –  what is your favorite anime? Do you have any current anime you’re watching and what stands out about those?

HM: I never mind being asked that because it’s a question I love to ask too! My favourite anime, 35 years after I first saw it, is still My Neighbour Totoro. The thing that has stood out for me from the recent crop is Terror in Resonance (Licensed by Funimation in the USA). I like intelligent, twisty plots although I do like them to resolve, at least partly. But even if a show’s pretty bad it can usually get some credit from me for being either very beautiful or very daring in visual terms. Anime is a visual medium and it ought to seduce the eye.

Thank you so much, Helen for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with us today. I’m very much looking forward to reading the new Anime Encyclopedia, thank you and Jonathan for all your efforts and I’ll keep my fingers crossed for that work on women who shaped anime. ^_^

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7 Responses

  1. liz says:

    this is a truly wonderful interview. I’m going to check out this book. I really hope Ms.Mcarthy writes about Riyoko Ikeda since she’s one of my all time favorite manga-ka.

    • Me too! And letting Helen know we are interested is a huge first step. It’s easy to not realize that there are people out there who might want to read something if they don’t know you’re thinking about writing it. ^_^

  2. Publication needs publisher interest too, but I’ve been approached by a startup POD outfit to do an anthology for them somaybe there’ll be an opening there. I don’t give up on good ideas, so even if I have to wait as long as I did for The Anime Encyclopedia, I’ll keep trying!

  3. Josh says:

    I got the second version of this encyclopedia years ago as a Christmas gift (Christmas 2008, if I remember right). It’s dated as hell, but I still can’t help but smile when I think about it.

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