Okay, I am going to confess something to all of you and I would like that confession to be met with the respect it deserves: I hate Anime.
I recognize that’s probably not the most popular opinion here on Three if by Space where all of our most heavily trafficked articles are written by and consumed by anime fans but I know that my confession will be treated with the same level of level headed politeness that the anime community is well known-
…that’s actually a milder response than I expected.
Any way, Anime and I have never really gotten along. As my nerdy friends discovered Dragonball, I discovered Jack Kirby, Neal Adams, Daniel Clowes, Art Speigelman, Alan Moore, and Warren Ellis. And as they started cos-playing Final Fantasy characters in college, I started reading HP Lovecraft and hard boiled detective novels. I have never been an anime guy and I am quietly resistant to people who keep PUSHING me to be an anime guy.
The source of this hate is no different than any other hatred in the world, it comes from cultural differences and a sense of xenophobia. I like American stuff and since I was a boy I have watched slowly as the graphic novel section of Barnes and Noble slowly gets smaller and smaller while the manga section extended into two huge shelves. My respect for America’s home grown art form (Super hero comics) started to shift into a radical fanaticism as people younger than me pushed it aside in favor of what is essentially a foreign product.
But I have chilled out a little in my old age and I am forced to reassess how I feel about anime. I still dislike it but admittedly not all of it. It took me a while to understand that what we call anime is essentially Japan’s version of “Hollywood”, it’s a very very broad term and that some of it is good and some of it is bad. The difference between Breaking Bad and Jersey Shore is steep and to judge the entire art form of television by one or two shows is unfair. This isn’t helped by Anime fans themselves, the most fanatic of whom demand that I consider Naruto on the same level as, say, Princess Mononoke, which is dumb.
Now if you’re like me and you hate anime, you will be kind of unsure of where to start actually consuming anime. You can’t ask an anime fan, that much is certain, since they are fans and fans are always the worst people to ask about the thing they love. So I have created this list in the hopes that people who are also trying to give anime a second chance will actually have a starting point when they begin wading into the river of big eyes and little mouths. I will try to be fair, I will try to be honest, and I will try to steer you clear of naked anime girls like the one pictured below.
MUST WATCH: COWBOY BEBOP
If you want a really, really good film noir story with a lot of cool science fiction thrown in, I highly recommend you take a little gander at Cowboy Bebop, which has all the fun of Firefly but no one was dumb enough to cancel it before it resolved it’s story line. Bebop, which ran for 26 astounding episodes and one movie, tells the tale of a populated solar system where every single planet has been terraformed to fit our needs except Earth, which is now a bombed out pit similar to modern day Detroit. Flying from planet to planet are small groups of government sanctioned bounty hunters known as “Cowboys” who pick at the bones of the underworld for a small pittance given to them by various planetary governments. The story follows one such team of gray market heroes who are either running away or running towards a shadowy cabal of criminals for one reason or another, along the way they investigate strange or dangerous cases in search of high profile bounties. They are often unsuccessful, which is part of the show’s charm as the perpetually broke good guys seem to constantly be starving (which is a nice, realistic touch for the show’s concept of space travel. You can’t just pull over at a gas station in space). The final episode of the show is utterly heart breaking and wraps up the story of it’s main character with the kind of depressing bleakness of an old Hollywood noir film like DOA or Casablanca. Cannot recommend enough.
Don’t Watch: Trigun
If I live a million years, I will never get Trigun. Ever. It’s a show that literally wanders around an alien desert while following an immortal alien goofball who is actually some kind of powerplant with a brother who is evil and a has a gun that he refuses to use because killing is wrong but causing massive destruction is totally okay…look, I am sure in the original Japanese it’s a great show but here in America, the English import is all pop and no sizzle and very little steak to chew on. Good theme song though.
VERY GOOD: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
A geo political cyber thriller with lots of sci fi, Ghost in the Shell gives us a complex look at a futuristic world where the singularity has arrived and the line between humanity and machine is thinning every second. SAC (as it’s called lovingly by fans) is both inspired by the Ghost in the Shell movies and mangas but also wonderfully distinct from it’s predecessors. It’s smart, like college level reading of Faulkner kind of smart, and describes a world where Japan is a super power and everything is getting worse and weirder by the day. The show has a very taut, thrilling vibe and it smartly addresses the political instability of refugee camps, problems with fanaticism, technology’s role in espionage, and human rights for people who aren’t entirely human anymore. A short story by JD Salinger is a key plot point in the first season and American imperialism is lovingly taken down at the knees by making America’s future government a LITERAL empire. It’s a wonderful, wild ride.
It doesn’t exist. Leave the room if people talk about it.
For That Good Old Fashioned Mind F***- Big O
What if the Apocalypse happened and no one could remember it? What if the entire world caught amnesia and can’t remember their loved ones or past lives? This is the backdrop of the weird, awesome Big O, where people and places of a broken world try desperately to hang together…while also trying to survive giant robot attacks. This show is weird, like Prisoner weird, but it also contains the philosophical underpinnings of shows like Lost, Fringe, and the newer Battlestar Galactica. The story follows Roger, a wealthy hostage negotiator with a butler and a robot maid/personal assistant/ward/love interest who travels through a domed city in pursuit of his own memories and the almighty dollar, err yen. This is a cool, stylish look at human memory and it’s importance to our society with a swinging Art Deco style that will instantly remind you of old Hollywood detective stories and early sixties Bond films. Strangely, the Giant Robot that lends the show it’s name is actually the least interesting part of the show and instead you’re left wanting more of Roger’s growing romantic feelings for R. Dorothy Wainwright or the city’s insidious corruption or it’s military police force or zany villains. The show’s final episode is a little…bizarre but hey, still better than the Lost finale, amiright?
The “What the F**** Did I just Watch?” Award- Baccano
*sigh* What? I mean…what? Baccano is a short series about…um….mobsters? Aaaand immortals? Also journalists? I don’t.. oh there’s a serial killer, too? And I know there’s some kind of evil spirit and a train? Definitely a train. And romance…sort of. Those question marks are not for humor purposes, I genuinely have no idea what they’re talking about on this show. There’s a book which I have not read and it’s supposed to cover all the stuff this show glosses over but why would I read a book to watch a cartoon? No matter what anyone says, this show is not that great. It’s a muddled, befuddled mess.
Mainstream Appeal- Full Metal Alchemist
It’s not as “smart” as some of the other entries on this list and has a lot of the annoying anime conventions that I prefer to avoid (big hair, crazy robots, weird costumes), but the first Fullmetal Alchemist series (there are two, apparently) details the exploits of two brothers who do a very, very bad thing and suffer horribly for their sins. As they journey to make up for what they’ve done, the Elric Brothers battle magical mutants, political intrigue, and fascism in a world where Magic has replaced technology. The show’s look and design are stunning and the “magical rules” of alchemy grants the show a lot of lively energy. There’s a lot of good, deep stuff about loss and responsibility in the show as well and you learn to really give a damn about it’s characters, to the point that when they kill off a major side character in one episode you genuinely feel a little pain.
A Little Too Much Mainstream Appeal- Inyasha
I feel no qualms when I say, with utter certainty, that Inyasha is the dumbest crap I have ever seen and that the world is poorer for it’s existence. It’s a soapy, mopey tale about a never ending quest and a lot of will they, won’t they lovey dovey….god, it’s just terrible okay? I am so sorry for being brusque but it’s just… do not watch this show and may god have mercy on your soul if you named your dog after one of it’s characters.
Embrace- Anything by Hayao Miyazaki
The word “Genius” gets tossed around a lot and it’s usually an exaggeration when people actually dare use it but I want to be very, very clear: Hayao Miyazaki is a genius. He is, by god, one of the greatest animators to ever live and he remains the finest story teller in the history of animation. His achievements in the field of animated storytelling are second only to Walt Disney and that’s merely because Disney was born first. If Miyazaki had gotten to the world before Walt, Snow White would have a different father. The man is the Kubrick of Animation and his films are so heart stoppingly beautiful that I want to sit down and throw Oscar statuettes at them. Miyazaki retired in 2013 so apparently the world has been robbed of another trip through his brain. I could pick one film out of his filmography for you, like the stunning Wind Also Rises, which is about aviation and the militarization of one man’s dream (I believe it’s a sly commentary on art and commercialization as well) or I could just tell you to start at Princess Mononoke (I believe his most accessible film) and then watch every other thing he ever did.
Skip it…At First: Akira
Wait, did I just tell you to skip Akira? Seriously? The film almost every American Anime fan claims got them into Anime? Yeah. Skip it.
Here’s the thing: Akira is a great movie and a fantastic, hyper violent Cyberpunk story about clones and psychics set against a backdrop of themes like broken youth and how friends grow apart as they age all set in a technological dystopia. It’s an amazing movie and a fantastic vision and I could gush for hours and hours about.
Years after I first saw the film, I learned that it was based on a huge, six volume comic book series that is thousands of pages long and is also pretty great. The film itself, which is very, very good, is a very condensed version of a much larger tale. It’s a little like Jurassic Park, which was also a great movie, but a better book. To full appreciate Akira the movie, read at least the first volume of the comic book and then you will begin to understand Akira the movie a little more. This is also true of a lot of the other items on this list which are themselves based on Manga books. For better or worse, my dislike of Anime was based on a failure in understanding the cultural nuances of Japanese popular culture and the failure to look into the source materials they were based on. Watch the series, also read the books too and you might get a window into the people who made the material and enjoy the material more.
So as an experiment to you, “the antimes”, I recommend using Akira as a chance to delve deeper into the origins of Anime by first reading the source and then watching the film.
Samurai Chaploo- A slick cartoon about Samurais and heroes from the same people who made Cowboy Bebop
Space Dandy- Also from the Bebop folks, a series about an adventuring sexist jerk and his alien kitty cat. It delightfully makes fun of every Anime and Sci-Fi trope in existence.
FLCL- The tale of a Nanny from outer space and a boy with a magic head, at least I think that’s what it’s about. You kind of have to see it to believe it. Notice I said “believe it”, you will NOT understand it.
Venus Wars- Pretty good film about love and loss on the battlefields far into the future.
Tobar the Eighth Man- Robots in Black and White, hell of a lot better than Speed Racer.
In summation, I’m not an anime fan but I am a person who enjoys good art and to pretend something I dislike is not art is a form of prejudice, which I also dislike. So if you’re like me and you’d rather get a root canal than watch another episode of Dragonball Z, take a deep breath and analyze a few of the cartoons I recommended on this list and open your mind to new experiences.
Some of them have naked women, like the ones illustrated below.