Viewing List: Anime
Article by Andrea Johnson
Anime, or Japanese Animation, has taken hold in America in the last five or ten years. Perhaps it's the action? Crazy science fiction and fantasy settings? The mixing of genres? It doesn't hurt that Disney has been releasing Miyazaki films over the last five years to an American audience already in love with his winsome fantasy style. Like American science fiction, Anime has many different styles and subgenres, something for everyone.
Never heard of anime? Think it's weird? Fear not, here's a list of "must see" anime movies (and some tv shows) for the curious, along with some favorites for the seasoned fan. Many of these can either be found at your local video rental store, Amazon, Netflix, or playing on Cartoon Network in the middle of the night. In no particular order:
1. Akira (1988): This was one of the first Animes to become mainstream and accessible in America. With a convoluted story line, government conspiracy, excellent techno soundtrack, angst-filled teenagers, and contemporary animation style, it's a good embodiment of much of the anime of this style. Akira follows Kaneda, Tetsuo and the rest of their biker gang as they fall headlong into a government conspiracy and the secret "Akira" project. Tetsuo is abducted, and becomes a "super being." After escaping the government compound, he tries to rejoin his friends, but as his supernatural and uncontrollable powers take over, he must save his friends, from himself. This is one of those films you've got to see a few times before any of it will make any sense. Choppy scenes or no, it's always a fun ride.
2. FullMetal Alchemist (2004): My latest obsession. FullMetal Alchemist follows Edward Elric and his younger brother, Alphonse Elric. Their world is full of Alchemy, as a respected science. The boys pick up the basic skills as children, and when their mother passes away from an illness, they decide to try to bring her back to life. Not only is messing with the dead taboo, the results are sinful. Without giving too much away, the boys spend the series searching for the philosopher's stone, and learning what happens when alchemy goes bad. Alchemy only works through "equivalent exchange"—you must give something to get something. The bigger you want to get, the more you've got to give. The philosopher's stone allows an alchemist to skip this exchange and get whatever he wants, at no cost. This 52-part anime TV series plays on Cartoon Network on Saturday nights. The Manga comic books are up to volume 7 or so, and there are also some young adult novels being published.
3. Spirited Away (2001): n\No government conspiracies, no (ok, a little) dangerous magic, no laser weapons. The animation style of Hayao Miyazaki is gentle, fantastical, and often follows young children or teenagers trying to figure things out. Spirited Away follows Chihiro, who gets separated from her parents on a short hike. She ends up in an abandoned theme park after dark, to find that the theme park is really a home for the spirits. A bathhouse, a place of relaxation and rejuvenation, in fact. Run by the witch Yubaba, and her henchman Haku, Chihiro must lift the evil spell over Haku and rescue her parents before it is too late. This is a beautiful heartwarming tale, perfect for children and adults alike.
4. Samurai Champloo (2004): Another late night Cartoon Network find. The plot is set in Edo period Japan. Fuu, a waitress in a teahouse, rescues two fighters, Jin and Mugen, from certain death. She requires them to help her in her search for "the Samurai who smells of sunflowers" (who may or may not be Fuu’s father), and they agree. Along the way, they meet all sorts of characters. Jin is a trained samurai, banished from his school for accidentally killing his sensei during a practice and Mugen is an angst-filled, undisciplined fighter, happy to fight for no reason. Together, they have a special, mixed fighting style, or "champloo" style. The plot sounds simple, but the show is humorous, and rewarding.
5. Kakurenbo – Hide and Seek (2005): This tension-filled 30 minute short is hard to find, but worth it. Children in the city go to the abandoned part to play a magical game of hide and seek. To play, you must wear an animal mask and have no fear of demons, for playing Hide and Seek in the abandoned city carries the risk of being taken away by demons. Following certain pictographic signs may get you to the center of the city, or lead you to the demon's lair. Hikora joins the game to find his missing sister. But in every game of Hide and Seek, someone always has to be "it."
6. Ranma 1/2 (1989): This anime takes a different turn, instead of high drama, magic and certain death, it's a comedy. The premise is ridiculous. Ranma is a normal teenage boy, and his dad runs a Dojo. However, there is a curse on the family—when Ranma is splashed with cold water, he turns into a girl, and only a splash of hot water brings him back to his normal form. Think that is strange? When Ranma's dad is splashed with cold water, he turns into a panda bear. Throw in Ranma's on-again off-again girlfriend Akane, and romantic hilarity is sure to follow. These half hour episodes can be found at most video/DVD rental stores.
7. Inuyasha (2000): Cartoon Network, Saturday night. This show follows Kagome, a high school student who falls down a well and ends up in ancient Japan, where she meets Inuyasha, who is half-human, half-dog spirit. Kagome is the incarnation of Kikyo, the guardian of the sacred jewel. Inuyasha had once tried to steal this jewel to become a full demon like his brother, Sesshomaru. Inuyasha and Kagome are joined on their search for the sacred jewel shards by the monk Miroku, and Sango, who is Kikyo’s sister. After a few episodes, the plot gets easier to follow, and romance blooms between Kagome and Inuyasha, and Miroku and Sango. Being so mature, none of them will tell anyone how they feel, and many episodes have a comedy of errors feel, in between fighting all the other demons, of course.
8. Ghost in the Shell (1995): In a futuristic Tokyo, everyone in connected to a central network. High-end crime gangs try to hack into this network. A team of cyber police officers are created to hunt down the hackers and our story follows Motoko, a cyberagent. Is she all robot, or is there a soul lurking in there somewhere? A cyberpunk classic, Ghost in the Shell mixes philosophy with violence, computer hacking with digital romance, robotics with AI. Where does the robot end, and the ghost in the machine begin? Few TV anime series have been made as well.
9. Howl's Moving Castle (2004): Another Miyazaki favorite. Based loosely on the British book of the same title, Howl's Moving Castle follows Sofie, a young workaholic. After accidentally inciting the jealousy of the Witch of the Waste, Sofie is cursed to appear as an old woman. She sets of in search of the Wizard Howl, who she feels can lift the curse, even though he is known to "eat the hearts of young women." Sofie finds Howl's moving castle, literally a bewitched house on chicken legs that marches through the wastes. It is powered by the magic of Calcifer, a fire spirit, and also houses Michael, Howl's apprentice. What are the secrets behind Howl's past? Why is the Witch of the Waste after him and what is this war the King requires he use his magic in? Another beautiful creation of Miyazaki's, this story will warm your heart and bring tears to your eyes.
10. Cowboy Bepop (2001): This twenty-six episode anime is part western, part science fiction. Cowboy Bepop follows bounty hunters (known as cowboys) Spike, Jet Black and Faye as they cruise the universe in their obsolete starship Bepop along with their androgynous semi-autistic computer whiz Ed (I'm pretty sure she's a girl) and their dog, Ein. The goal is to bag high price fugitives and stay alive on the way. Spike has an unusual knack for falling for the girl (and the con), and Faye has a way with kicking butt, and saving Spike's. Lots of action, smart dialogue, and fun bad guys. A good time all around.
Andrea Johnson lives in beautiful southwestern Michigan with her husband, and spends as much time as possible reading and enjoying science fiction and other speculative fiction. She is also an administrator and book reviewer at Worm's Sci Fi Haven.