Thursday, February 25, 2010

Anime for Beginners: Part Two

Okay so as I said yesterday I wrote a bit more than I was planning to, but believe me I could have written a ton more and you would have totally been bored. Hell, I was a little bored. Anyway if you haven’t read the blog from yesterday you can read it if you want but it’s not super important that you do.

So I’ve made a list of anime that I think would be a decent place to start if one wanted to experiment with Japanese cartoons. Now most of the anime I picked are of a science fiction or fantasy nature, but that’s because I’m a big honking nerd I happen to like that sort of thing. Also I tried not to pick anything that was really long. Sometimes anime shows can be extremely short but sometimes they can last ten years. Longer series are scary and hard to follow so you won’t find anything comparable to Dragon Ball Z or Bleach on this list (Also I don’t like those shows). I’m pretty sure at least most of these picks are still commercially available but one or to might be harder to find. For the list I took cartoons that I felt were pretty easy to follow, not very confusing, and also had decent English dubbing (Which has gotten easier as time has gone on).

Cowboy Bebop

Too awesome to make fun of

I suspect most of you would be familiar with this on as it was pretty big deal a few years back but it’s still a decent place to start. Cowboy Bebop is considered by many to be in the running for best anime ever created. Started in 1998 in Japan the story focuses on two space bounty hunters (Or “Cowboys”) Spike and Jet as they try to make ends meet in a gritty space opera universe on Jet’s spaceship “The Bebop”. That’s pretty much the premise. They’re joined by a few other characters as the series moves forward but basically its’ about them trying to make money by arresting criminals while action and sometimes hilarity ensues. Most episodes are standalone, aside from a two-parter or two, and there’s no exact continuing storyline you have to follow. It’s just cool characters, great jazzy music (It’s called “bebop” after all), huge amount of action and even a joke every now and then (The cast is completely made up of lovable losers). The show s considered to have one of the best English dubs ever recorded. The show might be a little dated here in 2010, but you might not even notice. The show is violent, but probably nothing super offensive. It’s certainly not for the younger kids, that’s for sure, but it’s perfect for fans of science fiction looking for something a little different.

Episode Count: 26

Year: 1998

Slayers


Picture: False advertising

Also known as “The Slayers” in North America this show is one of the first anime series I watched as a teenager. Based on a series of Japanese Light Novels the show focuses on a young and powerful, if greedy, sorceress named Lina Inverse who has a bad reputation of being recklessly destructive and horrendously evil (One of those is not true) and her dimwitted self appointed bodyguard Gourry Gabriev, a swordsman, and their adventures. According to some sources the original books were based on Dungeons & Dragons, though the cartoon has separated itself from any obvious similarities. This show is something of a spoof of the fantasy setting and Lina herself seems to be a sharp contrast of the typical “damsel-in-distress” role women often have in these types of stories. Simply put this show is silly. It’s a comedy doesn’t try to be serious all the time. If things get a little too “real” a gag usually interrupts the storytelling to remind us this show is supposed to make you laugh. This may be the most fun series on the list and it’s highly recommended if you prefer comedy w/ action to straight action. The show is pretty old and dated in 2010 but it’s still worth a watch.

I should point out that unlike Cowboy Bebop Slayers is a flat-out franchise. It has had sequels, prequels, side stories, spin-offs, and the whole nine yards. In fact they’ve recently started making new shows in the last few years. However all of that isn’t necessary to watch. The original Slayers cartoon is all you need and if you like it I suggest also checking out its direct sequel Slayers Next.

Episode Count: The original series is 26

Year: 1995

Trigun


I feel manlier just looking at that image

This was also one of those shows Cartoon Network showed during the early 2000s. Now the first time I saw this show I knew nothing about it other than what I saw on the cover and it made the experience more enjoyable, so I won’t say anything about it now so that anyone in similar shoes can have that same experience. It’s good, go watch it. The animation is a little dated but time makes fools of us all.

Episode Count: 26

Year: 1998


NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind

Fighting for the environment with a rifle. That's my kind of hippie

In this day and age most of us know who Hayao Miyazaki is, or at last we know his work. He’s the director behind such films as the excellent Princess Mononoke and critically acclaimed (coughcoughoverratedcough) Spirited Away. His works often make it to the Oscars in some fashion so we all at least have heard his name. His movies are usually pretty good and are extremely varied in tone and setting (He’s made a lot after all). And while I knew I wanted to suggest one of his films I had to think which one to pick. I figured I’d pick one you may not have seen before and that I enjoyed. Well I hated Kiki’s Delivery Service, but I enjoyed NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind. This film was adapted from a manga, but what’s unusual about that is that the artist behind the comic was Miyazaki himself. It’s rare that the original manga artist has a large say in the process from comic to animation let alone is the one directing traffic. This movie is old; it was released in early 1984 making it the only anime on this list that’s older than I am (though this dub was released in 2005), but I feel that it’s aged gracefully over the years and still watchable. I think the English dub was pretty good (I never saw the original Japanese, in fact) and it included the recently knighted Sir Patrick Stewart in a supporting role which is a pretty good sign of quality.

Be careful though. If you seek this film out be sure to get this version and not a film called “Warriors of the Wind” which was an early dubbed that appeared on HBO in the 80s. I’ve never seen it myself but apparently is was…not well received. Rumor has it that the actors weren’t told anything about the film or saw a script until thirty minutes before recording began. Yikes.

Episode Count: 1 full-length film

Year: 1984

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED

One of the few anime protagonists to actually make it with a girl

So I had to put a giant robot series on the list and my favorite giant robots are from the Gundam franchise so it made sense to suggest one of those. But picking a specific series or film was difficult because there have been so many. I settled on Mobile Suit Gundam SEED for several reasons. First of all I thought it was a really good series and that it gets kind of a bad rep. Second I think the fact it was released more recently makes things like the artwork a little less jarring to an anime newcomer. Both these points made it a better pick, I felt, than Mobile Suit Gundam Wing. Thirdly its plot follows a similar formula as the 1979 classic Mobile Suit Gundam (As in the original Gundam) so if you like this show there’s a good chance that the franchise as a whole is right up your alley. It follows the story of Kira, a teenager who is forced to become the pilot of a super weapon mobile suit for the Earth Alliance as they wage war against ZAFT from the space colonies not realizing that his best friend Athrun is on the opposite side’s frontline. Like most Gundam series it depicts the ideas of War versus Peace and whether we can co-exist with others who are different from us. Also like most of the modern Gundam series it takes place in its own timeline and has nothing to do with any of the past shows. It’s a longer series, lasting 50 episodes, but if you’re feeling brave it should be fairly easy to follow provided you stick with it. I recommended this show but not its sequel; Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny, because it undoes a lot of the conflict resolution from the first show and is, well, really stupid.

Episode Count: 50(!)

Year: 2002

Iria: Zeiram the Animation

Girl? Check. Guns? Check. Space Opera? Check

This is the perfect anime!

Another older one Iria: Zeiram the Animation is one of the first anime I watched as a kid once I got over my crippling fear of it after watching Akira years earlier. Older folk might recall this playing on the Sci-Fi Chanel years ago as a double length film but in actuality it was a six episode straight-to-video series. Also somewhat surprising is that it’s actually a prequel to a live action series of films called “Zeiram” hence the title “Zeiram the Animation”. That kind of things isn’t unheard of in Japan nor is it here in America when you think about all the straight to video cartoons based off comics and movies that have popped up over the years (See: The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury or Batman: Gotham Knight). Anyway this being a prequel it can be watched on its own and still make perfect sense without watching the original film (I still haven’t watched it). The story focuses on the battle between newly minted intergalactic bounty hunter Iria and the space monster Zeiram as they wage war on each other for six episodes. I might have been a little too young to watch this as much as I did as a kid but as an adult I think very highly of this anime and believe it should be rated a little higher on the totem pole than it currently is. If you can find it it’ll be worth your time.

Also I love the theme song.

Episode Count: 6

Year: 1994

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

What do you mean "Not for Children"?

Let’s face it: vampires are popular right now. And let’s not kid ourselves: they are kind of cool. They’re less cool if they spend most of their time trying to score with high school jailbait though. Vampire Hunter D futures no such jailbait (Because presumably all high schools have since been destroyed in this setting). VHD is a series of Japanese novels that have become pretty popular over the years, so much so that you can now buy some of them here the US (Translated, of course). It follows the adventures of a vampire hunter named “D” (Title drop!) who rides around on a horse with a big ass sword cutting up the wicked as he moves town to town. It sounds like it may be a fantasy world but it actually takes places thousands of years into Earth’s future where vampire rebuilt society after mankind blew up the planet as we are want to do. Also D is a half-vampire; a dhampir. He’s crazy awesome. Despite the books’ popularity they has only been made into an anime twice in its fairly long history and both times they were movies. The first one was made in 1985 and was very good. Bloodlust, its sequel, came out fifteen years later and depending who you ask it either not as good or ten times better. I didn’t want to put both movies on the list so I picked the sequel over the original. For one thing this is much more recent and the animation looks considerably crisper than the ‘85 movie. Also this one is highly stylized and with a giant amount of fighting and action scenes in general. It also is standalone so you don’t need to watch the original first (I didn’t) to enjoy it. If it’s you cup of tea then by all means check the first one out as well.

Also rumor has it that Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust was actually originally dubbed in English as opposed to Japanese. I don’t know how true this is but regardless I thought the dub was pretty good and have never even seen the Japanese version.

Episode Count: 1 full-length film

Year: 2000

Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad

Inspired by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. No, seriously

Simply known as Beck in Japan this is the most recent anime on the list and also the most mundane. It’s based on a comic that I consider to be my favorite manga of all time (For now anyway). It follows a 14-year old named Yukio who is self-described as the dullest person in the world. His life is forever changed when he meets a 16-year old boy named Ryusuke and his strange dog Beck. Ryusuke is a quirky American raised kid who plays guitar as easily as Yukio (Or any of us) can breath and states his intention to form the best band he can. From there we follow Yukio in a coming of age tale about friendship, love, growing up, and ultimately following you dreams. Unlike every other entry on this list this is a simple Slice of Life story and doesn’t feature robots or magic or aliens or anything like that. In fact that’s kind of the problem. This is probably the least accessible of all of these anime simply because it’s a story that takes place in modern day Japan and we don’t live in modern day Japan. However I put it on here anyway because I feel the cultural barrier is pretty thin, especially compared to something like Azumanga Daioh, and that it really is one of the more enthralling stories of this type of category and setting. It has great characters, Japanese Rock & Roll, a ton of F-Bombs, and most important better character development than anything else on this list.

If you like rock bands more than you like vampires you’ll want to give this a chance. I suggest that you watch this show and afterwards start picking up the comic, which is actually better than the cartoon in almost every single way (Save for music, obviously) and continues beyond the point where the anime is forced to stop. The anime is still worth watching though as its fun and heartwarming, but you may not like it if you read the manga first.

Episode Count: 26

Year: 2004

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