Catching up on anime

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.)

26 thoughts on “Catching up on anime

  1. My wife and I were on a Netflix hunt for an anime binge (i.e. looking for something worth bingeing) and hit on the “Violet Evergarden” collection which moved us to tears on a few occasions, and there are three movies if I recall (synopsis: An emotionally detached soldier settles into postwar life as a ghostwriter and begins to reconnect with her feelings while searching for the meaning behind her former commander’s final words to her). Then there’s a very bizarre one we didn’t expect to be hooked by, but ended-up wolfing-down and that’s called “7 seeds”…

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  2. I saw Appleseed not long ago; I forget where. (Amazon Prime, I think, because the sequels weren’t available to Prime members, which bummed me out a little.)

    I’ve loved Ghost in the Shell ever since it came out (another anime with amazing music and illustration; also details — the credits list a weapons advisor). I really like the Stand Alone Complex TV series, too, although the new Netflix one is the weakest of the set. I get a huge kick out of the Tachikoma.

    I haven’t seen the last two you mentioned. I’ll keep them in mind. I’m coming close to finally finishing Fairy Tail, which I’ve been gnawing at for years now (over 250 episodes). I’m thinking to check out Attack on Titan next; see if that clicks.

    I’ll mention a 1988 classic, Grave of the Fireflies, that’s a major tear-jerker. It’s about two orphaned siblings, 14-year-old brother and 4-year-old sister, trying to survive in the last days of WWII. Spoiler: They don’t. Saddest thing I can recall ever seeing.

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    1. Amazon is where I watched Appleseed too. I didn’t notice the sequels weren’t Prime. Hmmm. Not sure it was good enough for me to shell out for the others.

      Grave of the Fireflies sounds interesting. Thanks! I’ve seen it listed in a lot of must see anime lists. I’ll have to be in the right mood for it through.

      Attack on Titan is taking some effort on my part. I think I mentioned I found the main character a bit too overwrought. A friend clued me in that that eventually becomes a plot point. So it’s not just a cultural mismatch, which makes it easier for me to continue. Although I’m wondering if I really want to get hooked on such a long series. Particularly since it’s not clear yet whether it’s science fiction or fantasy. (Although it’s not yet anything like Fair Tail with 250 episodes.)

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      1. Yeah, Appleseed was just okay. Not worth paying anything more for. Most anime just just okay. Sturgeon’s Law always applies. (As with British TV, there’s a lot of content we don’t typically see because it’s so ordinary and cranked out. Wiki lists a huge amount of anime I’ve never heard of and will surely never see.)

        I put off watching Grave of the Fireflies for a very long time. One does have to be in the right mood.

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        1. Just finished watching Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. It’s the sequel to the original 1996 movie. A very strange film, in a good way. Visually very well done, but surreal. It’s mostly about Batou. The Major makes an appearance, but it’s within the context of the original film’s ending, and resembling the later parts of the manga series. Very different from the TV stuff.

          I agree on Appleseed. I’m trying a Funimation subscription, which has an Appleseed series in it, which I’ll eventually try, but not the movies. Looks like you only get those by buying them somewhere, which I’m unlikely to do unless I really find myself wanting more after the series.

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  3. You’ve probably seen anything that I can recommend, since most of my anime viewing has been with my kids. But just in case: Gumdam00, Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Karas. Gundam had the added bonus of some weird speculation on the nature of consciousness. Pretty half-baked, but A for effort.

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    1. Thanks! I haven’t seen any of them, although I’ve definitely heard of the Gundam franchise. Didn’t know it speculated on consciousness though.

      Just finished watching the second Ghost in the Shell movie, which had its own speculation. I wouldn’t say half-baked, but not stuff I agree with.

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  4. In terms of sci-fi, I would highly recommend season 1 of Psycho-Pass (It is well contained and the subsequent seasons are unnecessary). Has a lot of philosophical, sociological, and novel concepts imbeded/referenced throughout. In short, take the movie Minority Report (yes, I know it was a novel but i didnt read the book) and emphasize the various views on justice and the value placed on free will and the individual with a nuance that leaves many, including myself, wondering who to root for – the villain or the heroe driven to extremes, or the heroe’s moderate partner detective? The first 4 or 6 episodes up through the “Spooky Boogie” arc are mainly worldbuilding. Some have criticized this portion as too slow, but that depends on the viewer.

    I would also recommend the original OVA series Bubblegum Crisis. Classic 80s cyberpunk with only 6 eps. Not as deep as Psycho-Pass but delightful artwork and has that B action film feel with a scifi setting that will indulge a certain itch for many. Deals with megacorps, selfaware cyborgs, and vigillantes. Unfortunately plaugued by legal issues within the studio that made it so it ends kinda abruptly. Still holds up and is good fun though.

    Armitage III is another scifi I would recommend. Originally 4 episodes. Dont watch the sequel. The scifi element strikes me more as a mere setting here, especially compared to psycho-pass. But basically android/cyborg cop gets entangled in some mess and embarks upon a quest of action packed self-realization.

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    1. Thanks! Those sound pretty interesting, particularly Psycho-Pass.

      One of the things I’m learning with anime, is you have to be patient with many of them. They often take their time hooking you, and a lot of stuff that initially seems utterly bizarre, you might have to get well into the story before it’s explained. I’m somewhat used to that with science fiction novels, but it’s definitely a new experience with media sci-fi.

      Grateful for the recommendations!

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      1. Yes, it does take a lot of patience. It is one of the reasons why I took a long break from anime till about 8 yrs ago.

        Also, I should mention, since you said elsewhere that you are trying a Funi subscription, for Psycho-Pass season 1, the best version to watch (if you dont mind subs) is the extended edition. If you prefer dubs there is no dub of it unfortunately. It adds some extra scenes and philosophical musings but nothing substantial so the original release is still great. Still I enjoy that type of stuff so I prefer the extended edition, which should still be on Funi. Ive watched both.

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        1. I enjoy philosophical musings too. (See the rest of my blog 😀) The musings in the Ghost in the Shell movies are the best part for me. But not sure if I’m ready for subs yet. It’s why I went Funi instead of Crunchy for now. I know there’s a lot more subs content. Maybe I can make Psycho-Pass a test case. It looks interesting enough to try.

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  5. All Studio Ghibli, for sure. Attack on Titan if nothing more than just to watch the horrific slaughtering. Grave of the Fireflies? Really, Wyrd? Prepare to have your soul crushed.

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  6. I really need to watch Cowboy Bebop. I tried years back when it was on Adult Swim, but it kept moving from one time slot to another and I missed too many episodes to keep up with it.

    Princess Mononoke might be worth your time, if you haven’t seen that one already. It’s fantasy, not Sci-Fi, it explores the nature vs. technology theme in a thoughtful way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the Princess Mononoke recommendation! That one gets a lot of praise. Sounds like I definitely need to check it out.

      I watched Cowboy Bebop on Hulu. Hulu seems to have a lot of the classic anime shows.

      Part of this anime exploration for me is getting exposed to a range of story ideas, an idea I got from something one of the James S.A. Corey authors tweeted a few years ago when doing a deep dive into Netflix anime. Anime seems to roam wider than a lot of the American stuff.

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      1. That’s for sure. I’ve seen a lot of anime that I didn’t personally care for, but it does help pop me out of the grooves set by American Sci-Fi/Fantasy, at least for a little while.

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        1. Just finished Princess Mononoke. Wow! That was a good movie. In true anime fashion, no one is a complete villain. The character closest to one initially starts out sympathetic. But multiple conflicts which converge into a disaster, constantly raising the stakes. My only beef might be that the ending is a little too quick and tidy. But otherwise a masterpiece.

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          1. You generally can’t go wrong with Hayao Miyazaki. He’s one of Japans more prolific creators, and he’s turned out some excellent stories (and no doubt some duds). Spirited Away is another one of his must-see. Howl’s Moving Castle is a lot of fun, too.

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          2. I’m glad you liked it! It’s been a while since I’ve watched it, but I do remember the ending being a little bit unsatisfying. But otherwise, it’s a beautiful film.

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  7. I too have watched way too much anime recently. Attack on titan is pure military fiction in fantasy setting, an intense slow reveal to maximize pathos, a bit too much if you ask me. But it is well made, and seems the end is near now, with the final season.

    There are so many variations on mecha theme (It could even be argued that major Kusanagi is a human-sized mecha?). One recent one, Eureka 7, has a lot of depth for something that looks so superficial, it becomes its own epic in fairly short number of episodes. And of course there is Neon Genesis Evangelion, with its many unanswered questions. Many of the recent Gundam series have adult themes, and qualify as space opera as well, but the quality of the writing varies, and the continuity between series and reboots is hopelessly broken.

    For classic space opera, The Legend of Galactic Heroes is the prototype, based on a scifi book from the seventies. Another page in galactic history. There is a reboot being made, but if you can find the original one it has its own aged charm.

    As a change of pace, Mushishi is a slow and thoughtful anime that I liked for its mood and metaphysics. It can be watched as fantasy, even though it basically has a somewhat anti-science philosophy,

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    1. Thanks for the recommendations!

      Attack on Titan seems to be getting a lot of votes. I wasn’t sure after the first couple of episodes. The main character seems to have anger management issues, but someone who’s been watching the whole series told me that’s actually a plot point, which makes me more inclined to push on.

      I hear a lot about Neon Genesis Evangelion. It sounds like the series ended without resolving things and they had to make a separate movie to explain things. I’ll probably watch it eventually, although it sounds like something that might need to be watched more than once.

      You piqued my interest with Mushishi so I read the Wikipedia on it. Sounds really different. Not sure if it’s my thing, but I’ll keep it in mind.

      On Legend of the Galactic Heroes, I’m actually currently watching the remake: Die Neue These, more than half through the first season, and enjoying it a lot. I tried to find the originals somewhere, but couldn’t, at least not dubbed. (I’m not hardcore enough yet for the subs, even though it increases the available material.) I didn’t realize it was all based on a book. I might have to dig that up.

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