EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first post by one of our new writers, M! She comes to us with experience in the anime industry and is going to fill a VERY big hole in our geek lineup – mainly, anime & manga articles. We’re so excited to have her and hope you love her posts. Welcome, M!
Ladies and gentlemen, Exhibit A: the Anime Eye Roll.
Any anime addict has seen it at least once in their lives, probably multiple times, from family, friends, and significant others. It’s almost always followed by a variation on the following comments:
“Isn’t that that weird big eyed Japanese crap?”
“Ugh, how can you like that stuff? It’s all perverted sex cartoons!”
“I saw some Dragon Ball/Sailor Moon/Pokemon. Isn’t it all for kids?”
Anime has garnered a lot of bad press over the years, and there are plenty of people who have written off the entire “genre,” either in hatred or disinterest. But here’s the thing… anime is not a genre, any more than movies or music are. Anime is a medium with which to tell stories, and those stories can be anything: science fiction, fantasy, crime dramas, thrillers, fairy tales, love stories and slices of life… and everything in-between!
So, do you have a girlfriend who looks blank at the mention of anime, or a boyfriend who sneers at anything animated and Japanese? Or heck, do you look at this medium and just not get why people like this big eyed stuff so much? Never fear! Here are my top 10 anime titles for people who don’t like anime.
Perhaps the anime hater in your life might be more amenable to other forms of geeky entertainment… Lord of the Rings, perhaps? If so, break them in easily with Slayers, a hilarious high fantasy romp with enough charm and wit to make anyone smile. It’s like a D&D session ramped up to eleven, complete with ridiculous inn antics, dead end side quests, and obsession with loot. The universe is original and interesting, and the series has a surprising amount of drama mixed in with the wackiness.
9. Neon Genesis Evangelion
The next time someone claims that anime is artistically bankrupt compared to movies, or doesn’t offer philosophical depth… point them in the direction of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Weighty and complex psychological and philosophical themes combine with an art movie sensibility, with odd camera angles, lingering shots and loaded silences. The perfect counterargument to those who claim anime has no depth. Plus it has giant mechs, so it’s really a win-win situation!
8. Black Lagoon
I’m somewhat hesitant to recommend this as I haven’t seen it all, but what I have seen stuck with me enough to make this series stand out. Black Lagoon has more grit than a school parking lot, with a harsh world and deeply flawed characters that almost seem more at home in an American live-action movie than a Japanese anime. Big guns, f-bombs aplenty, and a superlative dub make this a great intro series for action lovers.
7. Ghost in the Shell
Heavily inspired by William Gibson’s work, Ghost in the Shell is a cyberpunk police thriller that asks familiar questions: what does it mean to be human? Do cyborgs have a soul? Are sentient artificial intelligences a new form of life? The world and images have proven so compelling that they were listed as major inspirations for The Matrix. If it’s good enough for the Wachowski brothers, I’d say it’s good enough for even the most stubborn anime hater.
Trigun is a bit of an unsung masterpiece; it never really hit it big like some of the other titles on this list. Which is a shame, because it is bloody brilliant. The hero, Vash the Stampede, is one of the most well-written and compelling characters I’ve ever seen in an anime, with equal flashes of wacky “manboy” and genuine pathos. The series has humor, drama, and a compelling sci-fi Western universe (and we all know THOSE never do well). What’s not to love?
5. Princess Mononoke
To be honest, I was tempted to fill this list with nothing but Hayao Miyazaki movies; they’re imaginative, engaging, and appeal to almost everyone regardless of their feelings about anime. As an ecological fairy tale, Princess Mononoke is one of the most accessible and, in many ways, the most beautiful. The movie’s artwork is a love letter to medieval Japan and to the forest, with every cel dripping with lush deep colors, mysterious imagery and a sense of magical space. Coupled with a haunting and atmospheric soundtrack, it’s a movie that anyone can enjoy.
If you encounter people insisting that anime is badly animated, show them this movie. Akira is one of the first anime movies that made a serious impact in the West, paving the way for the medium to find acceptance and popularity outside of Japan. Tackling themes of personal and political corruption, social unrest and the path to maturity, Akira offers a dark and fascinating take on our future that has influenced countless science fiction stories since. The high quality animation and well rendered cyberpunk world of Neo Tokyo provide a window to some truly disturbing and thought-provoking imagery.
3. My Neighbor Totoro
The second Hayao Miyazaki title on the list, this movie is perfect. Seriously, it is. The pacing, the artwork, the music, the characters, the dub… not a single thing is out of place. Yes, it’s a children’s movie, but as many Disney fans will tell you, a good children’s movie will still entertain adults just as much. From the first moment, the movie grips you and pulls you into its world; within minutes, you feel like you too are exploring an old country house, or waiting for a bus on a deserted lane, or walking past endless rice fields. This is the ideal summer vacation we all had (or wish we had).
2. Death Note
Personal anecdote time: I have shown the first DVD of this series to no fewer than 5 non-anime fans, some indifferent and some outright antagonistic towards the medium. All of them had the same reaction: gushing enthusiasm and an outright demand for more DVDs. Death Note is a supernatural thriller centered around themes of justice, punishment, and popular culture. The cat and mouse game between the two main characters forms the core of an incredibly intelligent and thought-provoking crime drama. The art style is gorgeously gothic, with barely a sign of “big eyes” and “weird hair”, and the music is epic enough to make even snacking a Big Event.
1. Cowboy Bebop
Cowboy Bebop is famous (or should it be infamous?) for being the one series that even the most virulently anti-anime haters admit, “is pretty damned good.” That’s gotta count for something. What also counts for something is an amazing jazz soundtrack, a cast of endearingly flawed and likeable characters, and a human future that is both intensely appealing and laced with seediness and desperation. Yet another take on the sci-fi Western, Cowboy Bebop continues to win audiences over with witty dialogue, interesting concepts, and a strong artistic vein. There are live action television series that wish they could do sci-fi as well as this series.
What other titles would you recommend to people who don’t like anime? If you were once an anime eye-roller but have since seen the light, what changed your mind?