I’ve been on something of an anime binge lately.
When I was a kid, I enjoyed anime, but as an adult, for some reason, it ceased being appealing. I’m not sure why, but I developed an aversion to it. I made a few attempts over the years to power past the aversion, but with limited success. For reasons I can’t articulate, it was work to watch them. So I generally didn’t.
But I always knew I was missing out on rich stories. Recently Wyrd Smythe did a post on his rewatch of Cowboy Bebop, which rekindled my interest. I had attempted to watch this show years ago, but struggled with it. So a few weeks ago, I revisited it. I did have to exert some energy again to get through it, but not as much. It seemed to go down much easier than my last attempt over a decade ago.
I think part of the issue on the previous attempt is that the world of Cowboy Bebop is weird. It’s a universe with hyperspace travel, but which is only used to travel to planets in the solar system. And the mix of Blues music, old western motifs, criminal underworld, and space opera motifs just didn’t click that well for me. But I think the real barrier is it took time to connect with the characters, and I can’t say I ever really found two central characters: Spike and Faye, all that sympathetic. Still, on balance, the stories were interesting. And I found myself enjoying the show a lot more as I got further into it, particularly once Edward, the girl hacker, was added.
Cowboy Bebop is a classic, on everyone’s short list of anime that must be seen. It’s had a lot of influence on other fiction. For anyone familiar with Firefly, the influence seems particularly strong.
Another classic that Wyrd recommended to me is Akira. This one I enjoyed immensely without any effort. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic and dystopian setting. It’s a little hard to describe, but it involves a biker gang that gets tangled up into a secret government research project playing with powers not well understood, resulting in a member of the gang undergoing a transformation, and the efforts of his friends to save him. It’s sort of Mad Max meets Andromeda Strain meets 2001 A Space Odyssey. Which sounds impressive, and it is.
After viewing this, I moved on to Appleseed, another classic from the 1980s. Appleseed is another post apocalyptic story, this one with a strong cyberpunk element. I see there are a lot of sequels and remakes of this one. The premise is interesting enough that I’ll eventually need to check them out.
I also went back and watched the original Ghost in the Shell movie from the 90s. I had seen this many years ago, but it clicked much better this time around. (There was a live action movie a few years ago starring Scarlett Johansen, which got pretty bad reviews, but I recall enjoying it.) Ghost in the Shell is another cyberpunk anime classic on everyone’s shortlist, one known for exploring existential issues. I had also watched much of the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex TV series years ago, and was disappointed to see that Hulu now reserves it for their Live TV subscribers. There’s also a new CG Netflix series, which I found pretty good, although it also has bad reviews, and the season seems to end on a pretty abrupt cliffhanger.
I enjoy space stories. So one movie I checked out was Harlock: Space Pirate. This is a CG remake of a longtime anime franchise. The story seems bit confused and uneven, but the movie is worth seeing for its stunning visuals. Like a lot of anime, the villain in this story ends up being portrayed as a complex individual with very human motives.
In general, I think one of the appeals of anime is how character centric much of it is. Flashbacks to a character’s childhood are so common in anime they’re essentially a trope.
The last show worth mentioning is Outlaw Star. Interestingly, it was made at about the same time as Cowboy Bebop and by the same production company, but it’s less well known, possibly because its US rollout was problematic, with Cartoon Network censoring aspects of it. It’s far goofier than its more famous cousin, but I also found it more fun. The 20 year old Gene Starwind and 11 year old Jim Hawking run a makeshift business that promises to “fix anything from tractors to relationships”. They take a job that ends up entangling them in a conflict between pirates and outlaws.
The show is largely about Gene and Jim, but it also focuses on Melfina, a female bio-android built to navigate a particular interstellar spaceship to a particular treasure. Why build a navigation system in the shape of a hot girl? Don’t ask questions like that. Just sit back and enjoy the consequences.
This show is awesome in the early episodes and toward the end. But it bogs down a bit in the middle, as the team, involving a couple of other characters I haven’t mentioned, get caught up in non-arc adventures, some of which are interesting, and some of which are pretty silly. But you can’t skip the middle, as important arc elements are interspersed throughout.
That’s where I am in my anime binge so far. Have you seen any of these? If so, what did you think of them? Any recommendations on other movies or series? (I have a strong preference for sci-fi, and space opera in particular, but will consider anything with an interesting premise.)