NB: Some of my earliest blogs no longer have their accompanying images but enjoy the copy!
I thought I’d do something different this week both because a good number of my readers are anime watchers and also because I’m having a very busy week and don’t have the time to do the regular features shindig.
However, if you aren’t a watcher of anime, have no fear! This post is designed to be both an introduction and, for those of you who watch a lot of series, a reminder of some of the good stuff out there. As with anything, there are a lot of bad series when it comes to anime.
All of these shows are based off manga so, if you are more of a reader, I believe all of these shows are based off an original manga series… So go out and buy the ones you really like!
This is by no means a definitive list but here are some shows that I would use to introduce someone to anime. There’s a chance that you may have seen a good number of these shows but hopefully I’ll be able to introduce you to at least one new one.
The space anime: Outlaw Star
Space pirates, guns and space ships make up the bulk of this anime. In true 1990s anime style, the original series had much more nudity and profanity than its western adaption. The story starts of with Gene Starwind and his assitant Jim Hawking, who run a mechanic business on the planet of Sentinel III. Through a series of explosive events, they take possession of the XGP15A-II spaceship, which they nickname Outlaw Star, and are pursued by psychic space pirates THROUGH THE GALAXY.
Outlaw Star is a more mature series but it would appeal to the Star Trek or Firefly audiences because the setting is pretty similar. The plot takes a while to develop but it gets really exciting about halfway through, once all the major characters are introduced. My personal favourite is Aisha, a cat-like alien, although Gene is pretty damn fine too.
Sophie’s notes: This is the first show I remember secretly staying up late for to watch. I was about 10 years old and this was shown on TV after watershed, which meant that there was lots of swearing. As a 10 year old innocent little girl, this was the epitome of ‘I am such a rebel’. I fondly remember this show generally, mainly for its amazing opening theme.
The mecha anime: Neon Genesis Evangelion
To clarify, ‘mecha’ in Japanese anime and manga terms refers to, unsurprisingly, a walking mechanical robot. They are commonly portrayed as armoured fighting machines and this is best seen in Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Neon Genesis really is a a masterpiece and a staple show. Since 1995, it has grossed over 150 billion yen (approximately £1bn) and is widely regarded as one of the greatest series in Japan. Along with the Gundam series, which began back in 1979, it is futuristic and spoils its audiences with fights in space. It is so popular, in fact, that it has its own attraction at the Fuji Q Highland theme park in Tokyo. I went there and it was absolutely amazing!
The story is set in an apocalyptic future in which the world lives in constant fear of ‘Angels’, aliens that are believed to have come to exact judgement on humanity. Leading the organised fight against the Angels is Nerv, an institution that selects teenagers to pilot giant humanoids called Evangelion. The main story is concerned with Rei, Shinji and Asuka.
What makes Neon Genesis so well worth the watch is the fact that it set the example for so many other anime and manga series to follow. Like Gurren Lagann, it mixes action, powerful story-telling and human loss beautifully. The main series is 26 episodes long and has a number of movies attached to it, which retell the story of the original series. It should be worth noting that there are two alternate endings for the series. Initially, the anime series ran out of funding and so the ending had to be rushed and was largely disappointing. After criticism from the fans, production studio Gainax created a movie-length ending called ‘The End of Evangelion’ and it was absolutely jaw-dropping although very depressing. After all, this is a series set in an apocalyptic world.
Neon Genesis Evangelion is another one of those mature and moving anime that is an excellent introduction to the world of anime and manga. If you watch enough shows, you will quickly realise that it really has inspired many other minds. My next anime is definitely one of them.
Sophie’s notes: I wish I had seen this anime a few years earlier, when I first got into the whole thing, because it really is a stellar example of powerful story telling.
The action anime: Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann
Words do not do justice to this series. It’s not only explosive and manly but also surprisingly emotive. This is a brilliant example of excellent story telling and is proof that anime is not just all about explosions.
I have coined a new term – ‘Gurren Lagann syndrome’. This is the process in which the first half of an anime series is sufficiently impressive and then the second half knocks your proverbial socks off. Gurren Lagann is 26 episodes long and the second half is, in a word, amazing. I do not cry easily but I was up until 4 in the morning finishing this series off and was in tears for the last couple of episodes.
Without giving too much away, the story is set in the future in which humanity has been forced to live underground in order to avoid vicious predators. Kamina wants to break out and see the world above and tries to persuade his friend, Simon, to do the same. Inevitably, the ceiling of their underground city collapses when a monster crashes through – hunted by a girl named Yoko. Simon finds the head of a robot, Lagann, and escape to the surface world on it. Kamina later hijacks a mecha that he names Gurren and when the two combine they become Gurren Lagann.
Not much can be said about the second season without giving away the ending of the first but I will say that it takes place largely in space. This entire series is well-executed, powerful and enjoyable.
Sophie’s notes: A lot of people have probably seen this show already, as it is pretty well known. I avoided watching this for a while because I was not naturally drawn to mecha shows but I eventually gave in and was pleasantly surprised. I urge you NOT to google this show for plot points though because you will more than likely uncover major spoilers. The beauty of this show lies in its shocking plot twists, so only search this show for watching this show.
The horror anime: Higurashi no Naku Koro ni
Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (When the Cicadas Cry) is a very deceptive series. The first episode is very happy and sunny and, for a minute, you’ll think you’ve tuned into the wrong thing.
Keiichi moves to Hinamizawa, based on the actual Japanese village of Shirakawa-ko, and befriends some of the local schoolgirls. The village and its inhabitants appear pleasant on the surface but he soon realises that there is a very sinister secret at the heart of the village; violent murders and a mysterious illness. The story seems simple enough, until one of the characters goes insane and massacres them all… only for the story to reset itself and for events to repeat again in a different format. Of course, no one seems to have any recollection of the last mini series.
Higurashi is intense to the point that it is terrifying. There are a couple of torture scenes dotted about and, even though you’re usually just given the set up and the rest is left up to your imagination, it will make your cringe and cover your eyes at least once. It’s not senseless violence because, as the plot develops, the reason behind the characters’ behaviour is explained. It’s understandable if, for the first good ten or so episodes, the horror aspect seems nothing but pointless… but you’ll be strangely drawn to it and will keep watching.
Incidentally, if you do get to the end of Higurashi and find that you love it, the next show to check out is Umineko no Naku Koro ni, its sister show. A couple of the characters reappear in different forms and some more light is shed on Higurashi itself.
Sophie’s notes: Higurashi is, like its characters, schizophrenic. You are thrown between happy school girls and psychopathic murderers. It’s not something for younger or weak-stomached viewers but, as someone who normally can’t sit through even a bad zombie film, I loved this series!
The mystery anime: Bacanno!
If you liked Rashomon, a classic Japanese cinematic film, you’ll want to check out Bacanno! This is a short anime series that is told from the point of view of a number of different characters, who are all connected by an immortality curse and a fateful encounter on the Flying Pussyfoot, a Orient Express-style train.
The setting is 1930s America but with alchemists lurking in the shadows. Add a blood-crazed murderer, mafia-fuelled territory wars and romance and you’ve got Bacanno! It takes a long time to make sense of the overarching story because there are many individual characters whose stories need to be told, so don’t be surprised if you become royally confused.
A lot of people will probably have already seen Bacanno! but, chances are, it’s on many of their ‘favourites’ list. The characters are brilliant (infamous thieves Isaac and Miria are my personal favourites), the story is engaging and it has an addictive jazzy opening theme tune. Aside from the immortals and alchemists, it is a rather believable story and that is why so many people will connect with and enjoy it.
Sophie’s notes: This show is amazing. That is all!
The comedy anime: Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei
Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, or ‘So Long Mr Despair’ is not your bog-standard funny anime. The opening scene is of a guy trying to hang himself and, when he is saved by a passing student against his will, he turns to teaching only to preach to the students about why life is so miserable. It’s an unusual setting for a comedy but it really works well.
This show gets its points for its execution of satire. Other anime and pop culture references are dotted throughout the story, so it would help to watch a couple of anime shows or read about the stranger aspects of Japanese fandom before approaching this.
The characters are mainly school girls, apart from Zetsubou sensei of course, and they are all individualistic and a wonderful breath of fresh air from many other schoolgirl characters who tend to be two dimensional. From the blonde foreign student to the teacher’s stalker to the anime fan, there are plenty of stereotypical characters here that somehow stand out from the crowd.
Don’t be surprised if you learn something by watching this. I think this was the first show I watched that exposed me to the significance of floats in matsuri (festivals) and the attitudes towards foreigners in Japan. It is an observational anime but, above all, it is enjoyable and I would recommend it to anyone with a sense of humour.
Sophie’s notes: Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei has an amazingly dark and surreal anime opening, which has been parodied online many times. It’s a parody within a parody, and that’s why it’s so entertaining.
The romance anime: Air
The romance genre is a territory that I don’t usually enter, so my repetoire for romantic anime is pretty limited. That said, I have really enjoyed the ones I watched, and that is why my recommendation for this genre will be Air.
The story is fairly simplistic. Yukito is on a journey, looking for a winged girl that his mother had spent her life searching for before she died. He settles into a small town and meets a strange girl named Misuzu and she insists he stay with her until he finds his feet.
I really cannot give away any more of the plot without spoiling everything and, as it’s only 13 episodes long, it doesn’t take long to get to the end of it. There is a lot of magic thrown in and the setting is very pretty, taking place largely in religious shrines. The other characters, whilst mostly young girls, have surprisingly well developed back stories for such a short series. The best part of the series is the final couple of episodes, which feels completely different from the rest of it. It’s worth a watch and makes for pleasant, easy viewing.
Sophie’s notes: I came across this show when I heard the opening theme tune somewhere online, which is a rather common way of how people pick their anime. I loved the tune, so I checked it out and was pleasantly surprised.
Slice of life: Antique Bakery
‘Slice of life’ in anime terms basically refers to daily life – type shows. Often, this is limited to school life and romantic anime, neither of which I particularly watch much. Antique Bakery actually also falls under the yaoi category, aka guy love / gay, category, which I am also not a particular fan of although there are plenty of girls who are!
Antique Bakery is a nice quick series, just 12 episodes long, so it doesn’t take very long to watch. The plot is short and sweet (get it?) and is set in, you guessed it, a bakery! The owner, Tachibana, was kidnapped as a child and force fed cake (it’s Japan, of course it’s going to be a little weird!) and he sets up this bakery in the hopes of catching the culprit. He is joined by pastry chef Ona, self-proclaimed ‘demonic gay’, Chikage, his not-quite bodyguard and Kanda, a former boxer and pastry apprentice.
In true slice of life style, Antique Bakery’s plot is fairly limited and focuses more on the characters, their stories and the people who come into the bakery. It’s light-hearted and, unless you’re absolutely miserable, will have you giggling a lot. It’s also worth a watch for the delicious images of patisserie-style cakes!
Sophie’s notes: It is perhaps unusual that I even watched Antique Bakery in the first place, given how I don’t like slice of life or yaoi shows, but it is just a lovely and heart-warming show, which is why I would recommend it to people.
The supernatural anime: Xam’d Lost Memories
There are hundreds of brilliant supernatural anime out there, so it was hard to choose one. In the end, I went with Xam’d: Lost Memories, a relatively recent series that has largely slipped under the radar of western fans.
The plot is refreshingly different and not something that I have come across before. Due to time restraints on writing this, the plot summary has been taken from Anime News Network:
Enter Sentan, a lush, tranquil island encased in war between the military and those with Hiruko, known as X’amd. On one of these warlike days, Akiyuki Takehara heads off to school and gets caught in a raid by the creatures. Through a series of events he is transformed into a X’amd, and with the help of a Tessikan woman Nakiami along with his highschool friend Haru, Akiyuki is forced to learn to live with the Hiruko or faces the danger of losing his self-control and turn to stone.
The best scenes in this show are the transformation scenes, when Akiyuki turns into the Xam’d creature. You really warm up to the characters who, aside from the alien war taking place around them, are completely normal. Throw in the Xam’d and Hiruko, and you have emotional turmoil.
Xam’d has a lot to offer viewers: air ships, sky battles, monsters, romance, high school drama. Expect to tear up on a lot of occasions, unless you have a heart of stone.
Sophie’s notes: Another show with an amazing opening tune. This show gets really intense!
The history anime: Peacemaker
Believe it or not, but there are not that many realistic historical anime. Case in point: Sengoku Basara. There are plenty of anime about the samurai, the Edo period and other interesting historical Japanese things but nearly all of them are exaggerated for viewing purposes. The fight scenes are generally over dramatic and weapons that would not have existed for another 200 years are scattered all over the place, although you’ll probably still learn something about Japanese history… albeit a little bit skewed.
Again, the plot description has been taken from Anime News Network, due to time restraints:
Tetsunosuke Ichimura has always been upset about his short stature. After he sees his parents being murdered by a Choushuu assassin right in front of him, he vows with all his heart to become strong enough to take revenge on their killer. It is now 1864, the first year of Genji. Tetsunosuke, now 15, heads to the headquarters of the Shinsengumi with his older brother Tatsunosuke, looking to join the historical group to fulfill his dreams of getting stronger. Little does he realize what he is about to experience by doing so, for in order to join this army, one must forego his humanity and become a demon.
Here is another historical anime that also falls under the ‘supernatural’ category. However, this shouldn’t be a deterrant. Peacemaker is one of those nice conclusive series, meaning that its plot isn’t full of filler and concentrates on the ‘story’. You actually learn a fair amount about the Genji period and the position of the bakufu, a sort of military office of the shogun. It’s worth watching both for the history and the actual story. Here’s another show with entertaining characters and a good plot.
Sophie’s notes: I chose Peacemaker out of all the other historical anime series that I’d watched because I especially liked the characters. Admittedly, it is not my favourite show listed on here but I would recommend it to someone who wanted to watch something with samurai and demons!
Needless to say, there are a lot of other good classic anime and genres out there. Full Metal Alchemist and Code Geass are also in my ‘top’ list but I had to make tough choices. This list is of course my personal opinion and I’m sure that a number of seasoned anime-watchers and manga-readers will turn up their nose in disgust. I have this message for those people: get over it. These are animated cartoons, at the end of the day!