The Anime Encyclopedia: A Guide to Japanese Animation Since 1917
By Jonathan Clements and Helen McCarthy. Published by Stone Bridge Press, ISBN 1-880656-64-7
The Anime Encyclopedia (TAE) is 576 pages of sheer anime overload. It covers over 2000 series and movies, everything from well known and popular titles like Astro Boy and Ghost in the Shell to seriously obscure 70s movies that have never been translated and probably can't easily be found even in Japan anymore. There is also fairly good coverage of early (1917-1935) and wartime anime. Series as recent as 2001 are included.
Unlike most encyclopedias, this one makes for some very entertaining reading. Most entries, along with the usual information (director, writer, music, episode counts and lengths, plot summary), come with little bits of random trivia, or recommendations as to the quality of the show. Obviously, that's something that is pretty subjective, and their opinion on a show may not jibe with yours (or mine). For example, I love Outlaw Star, but their assessment of it is less than glowing (though not terribly harsh, either). But overall they seem to be fairly even-handed about the reviews. I read a reader review on Amazon for TAE that stated that it was stupid of them to hold anime to such a "high standard". In my personal opinion, this is wrong. I rock out with the best of them to anime many "true fans" avoid (Pokemon, Digimon, Monster Rancher, Dragonball Z, ...), but nor do I want to watch crap. One weird thing is that the authors seem to have a major grudge against Tenchi Muyo - every ten pages or so, there will be an entry where some nasty comment is made about Tenchi (often seemingly for no reason at all).
The commentary is not just informative, it's often written in a dead-pan style that can be exceedingly amusing. For example, the entry for Nadesico mentions "And there is an incredible amount of shouting." If you've ever seen this series, you know what they're talking about; about 30% of all the dialoge is shouted, and usually it's two or three characters shouting at once.
Two indexes in the back, one for people and studios, and another for titles, tops off the deal.
TAE is probably not the best book in the world for someone completely new to anime, but for someone who has seen a bit and has at least a rough idea what they like, it can be a useful tool for finding about about new series to obsess over, and makes for some good bed-time reading as well.
Update August 28, 2002: I was watching Cartoon Network the other night when a commercial for a new Toonami series, Inu Yasha, came on. I picked up TAE (it was sitting on the coffee table), flipped through it, and by the time the commercial was over, I knew the basic plot of the series. This book rocks.
Update January 11, 2003: It seems that, at least among some circles, TAE is regarded as completely error-ridden. I don't know one way or another, I've only noticed a relatively small number of actual errors (rather than things that can be put down to bad editing or what have you), but I thought I should mention it.