they present the artists and writers, directors and producers with the opportunity to far exceed the limitations of physical and perceived reality. only a few writers and artists have really risen to the challenge of creating exotic, new worlds with cultures, though recognizable to contemporary humans, all but completely alien to the reader. at least that is how things are in the west.
in japan, graphic storytelling is a fine art and much appreciated by the public. one of the greatest animated film makers on earth, hayao miyazaki, has won a few of the japanese film industry’s equivalent of the academy award for his movies. some of them were recognized as the best films – rather than the best animated films.
in many manga series and anime films and tv series, the storyteller creates an alternate vision of reality, with its own customs, technology, spiritual practises, etc. in the best of the genres, the story takes off from the start and the viewer or reader has to catch on to how things work as the story progresses. the plot twists within the storylines often reveal much about customs, internal conflicts within the characters and between characters and how each particular world functions.
recurrent themes in much of the manga and anime i like involve questions of identity – whether the questions arise from genetic curiosities (half-human, half-demon) or they stem from technological enhancement (cyborgs). in a culture which demands alienation, such questions resonate with a wide range of people who ponder their places in the world at some point in their lives.
eureka seven develops several of these themes. indeed, pondering the series now, it seems almost obsessed with them. a good series to start with, if you’ve never seen anime, most series are only around 50 episodes long. this one has 51 episodes.
a 50-episode series, blood +, features blood-thirsty, genetically modified vampire/beasts (chiropterans) and the japanese teenager who slaughters them. seriously – some of the episodes of the tv series include so much carnage and blood as to be trauma-inducing.
the animation for the original ova (original video animation) of blood + was amazing and dark and few works compare. about the only one that does is ghost in the shell. unsurprisingly, the same production group is responsible for both.
after a successful manga series, ghost in the shell was made into a movie. it was an incredible achievement, combining hand-drawn images with cgi more effectively than anything seen before – and seldom so spectacularly. some of the cityscapes are stunning. ghost in the shell stands out as one of the most beautifully realized animated films ever, but also one of the best cyberpunk movies, too.
there was a sequel (innocence) and two seasons of tv series. the tv series is a remarkably successful translation of the big ideas of the movie into a continuing, episodic format. stand alone complex is definitely worth checking out.
one of my favorite series is gunslinger girls. about a secret (italian) government program to cybernetically enhance horribly traumatized girls and train them to be lethal assassins. bullets fly and these little girls slaughter bad guys all over the place. the girls are aware that their days as assassins are numbered, because the procedures and techniques used to enhance the girls are all experimental. the more procedures (for enhancement, repair, or “conditioning”) the girls undergo, the shorter their life expectancy. the first season is only 13 episodes, so it definitely worth seeing. and if you watch it through to the end and aren’t crying as the girls sing on a starlit hillside…you have no heart.
here’s a trailer for the series:
sometimes i watch anime in order to take a break from stress and long stretches of busy time. i’m sure anyone could find some sort of anime series to suit their tastes. there are sooooo many incredibly stupid anime series.. anime vice has loads of the stuff, so go look there. here are some suggestions, based on my limited experience:
- chobits (stupid, sappy, fun)
- this is a really weird, short (3 episodes) series, la portait de petite cossette
sci-fi, alternate realities
- full metal alchemist
- ergo proxy (highly recommended)
- samurai champloo (hip-hop meets feudal japan)
- read or die (one of the most under-appreciated undertakings ever – every aspect of the franchise is excellent!)