In case you can’t tell, I like movies. A lot. I’ll watch just about anything, and indeed, I’ve spent a fair amount of time seeking out the strange and offbeat films that most of my friends have never heard of. When it comes to this sort of thing, I tend to go into phases. Hong Kong Action, Italian Horror, and Japanese Yakuza films (among many other genres) have captured my attention for a time. As such, it shouldn’t be surprising that I’ve seen my fair share of Japanese animation. For the most part, my exposure has been limited to films, but I’ve seen a few series as well.
Now, I’ve consumed enough anime, and I read enough blogs in the Otakusphere, to know what I’m getting into here. I recently played along with the Filmspotting podcast’s Animation Marathon, which contained a bunch of anime films (several of which I’d already seen, but welcomed the chance to revisit). The marathon is over, but I feel like I’m just getting started. The only problem is that I’m not sure where to go from here. So, in an attempt to figure this out, I’m going to list out what I’ve seen, what I’m looking for, and some series I know about but haven’t seen yet. If you have any recommendations, feel free to drop a comment, but I’ve been cautioned to take recommendations with a grain of salt (which you kinda have to do for anything subjective like this).
What I’ve seen: (in rough chronological order)
- Akira: My first forray into anime (unless you count Voltron) was largely unappreciated by me, thanks mostly to a horrible translation and bad transfer. I basically thought it was an incoherent mess (and I stand by that, given the crappy VHS experience), but when I revisited it during the marathon, I saw the new translation and digital transfer and was pleasantly surprised. I didn’t love it, as the characters were annoying and generally unlikeable, but my opinion had greatly improved.
- Ninja Scroll: At the recommendation of a friend, I rented this once. I have almost no recollection of this movie at all. I wanna say there was a scene on a boat at one point. I remember liking it, but not loving it.
- Ghost in the Shell: I enjoyed this movie the first time I saw it, but I have to admit that it was a little out of my teenage self’s league. I have since seen it several times and have grown to appreciate some of the challenging and thought provoking questions it raises.
- Princess Mononoke: I distinctly remember watching a documentary on animation sometime around 1998 and seeing some clips from this movie and being awestruck. When it was finally released in the states, I jumped at the chance to see it and absolutely loved it. It’s a fantastic film… yet, I have to admit that I haven’t seen it since then and many of the details escape me. This is probably worth revisiting at some point.
- Spirited Away: As much as I liked Princess Mononoke, this movie topped it, and when I learned that it was the same filmmaker, I was somewhat astounded. I rented it because it had won an Oscar, not because I knew it was from the makers of Princess Mononoke. It’s a great film, and I gave it the best film award in the animation marathon.
- Haibane Renmei: There was a bit of a gap between Spirited Away and this series (which happens to be my first actual anime series), and I hold Haibane Renmei responsible for my more recent interest in Anime. I checked it out because of the enthusiastic recommendations of Steven Den Beste, and, well, just about everybody else who has ever mentioned it. Put simply, this series is superb. Some have claimed that it’s almost too good, and that everything else that follows will be a letdown. This might be true, but I’ve had about a year to cool off, and I think I should be fine:P
- Cowboy Bebop: The Movie: I cought this on Comcast OnDemand, and thought it was great. Unlike most of what I’d seen before, this was just good, clean action-packed fun. The music was so great I went out and bought a bunch of soundtrack CDs and listen to them often. As far as anime gateway drugs go, I’d think this would be a good choice (right behind Miyazaki films, natch).
- Serial Experiments Lain: This was my next series, and boy was it a doozy. I’d heard good things and the technological themes appealed to me, so I netflixed it. At this point, I’m still not sure what the heck it’s all about. As I mention in the linked post from the Kaedrin Forum, I think it’s perhaps a little too obtuse and deliberate, but also quite good. Once I figured out the “unreliable narration” angle, a lot of things clicked into place, but I need to watch the series again sometime to really work things out.
- Grave of the Fireflies: One of the few movies in the animation marathon I’d never seen before, and, well, it’s great, but I’m pretty traumatized by this. Since this was the last new thing I’ve seen, I think my next movie/series should be something a little more upbeat. Please.
- Miscellaneous Stuff: I’ve seen a handful of episodes from a bunch of series on Adult Swim, but this is far from ideal. I’ve seen a few episodes of Inuyasha, Fullmetal Alchemist, Witch Hunter Robin and a bunch of other series. For the most part, this stuff just went over my head, probably because I was jumping into the middle of various series, and so I never really got into anything there. I vaguely remember watching Vampire Hunter D a long time ago, but remember very little about it (I also remember watching some othe vampire hunter anime show, but again, don’t remember much). I remember attempting to watch some Mecha related anime movie on cable. For the most part, it didn’t make sense and I never finished it (don’t even remember the name). I watched Steamboy and was blown away with the visuals, even if I had totally lost interest by the end of the movie (same issues here as with Akira, which makes sense because it’s made by the same people). I also recently went back and filled in most of Miyazaki’s catalog, though there are still a few films I’ve yet to see. They’re all great, though I don’t think any approaches Spirited Away (Howl’s Moving Castle was awesome until about 2/3 of the way through, at which point it began to unravel).
That’s pretty much it. I’m sure I missed a few things here or there, but that should give you a rough idea where I’m at and what I think of the genre. Overall, it’s actually been pretty good to me, and there aren’t many movies/shows I disliked. However, at this point, I’m not really sure where to go next.
What I’m looking for: For the next series I watch, I’m going to impose a few somewhat strict guidelines. I want to watch a series, but not something too long. I don’t want to have to wade through 18 DVDs or anything absurd like that. A 13 or 26 episode series would be fine. At some point, I’m sure I’ll move on to longer series, but for now, let’s keep it relatively short. Sort of related, I’d like the story to be complete (or at least, the arc should be complete). I don’t want to have to wait for new DVDs to come out before I can finish the series! I’d like something that has a good story arc (i.e. a character or plot based narrative), and preferably one that doesn’t have a downer ending (I’ve had my fill with Grave of the Fireflies, thank you). I’m also looking for something that’s a little more action-packed and fun than what I’ve been watching recently (i.e. not something like Serial Experiments Lain). I don’t mind kid’s shows, but that’s not exactly what I’m looking for (I’m flexible on this one though). All recommendations are welcome, as I’ll certainly need something after this… but this is what I’m looking for at the moment. Oh, one last requirement, the series needs to be available on Netflix.
What I’m currently considering: I seem to have fallen into reading a significant portion of the Otakusphere (SDB, Fledge, Shamus, Pixy, Alex, Pete, and a couple of others), and even if I have no idea what they’re talking about most of the time, I’ll occasionally notice a title here or there, so I have some ideas as to what could come next. Two pages I’ve been referring to while writing this post are Steven’s reviews and Steve Yegge’s Anime post. Unfortunately, I’ve already had to nix a couple of series, but I haven’t looked real hard at most of these.
- Cowboy Bebop: When I think about what I want for my next series, I keep thinking about the Cowboy Bebop movie. That’s exactly what I’m looking for, so you’d think this series would be a perfect fit. However, my understanding is that it has something of a downer ending. I’ll definitely be watching this series, and probably sooner rather than later, but not next.
- Martian Successor Nadesico: I seem to recall hearing that this was an excellent series to start with, however, it sorta fails the Netflix test: disc 5 is not available (the other discs are). The series is apparently out of print, and apparently Netflix’s copy of disc 5 took a beating. This is most frustrating, as this sounds exactly like what I want. I might check to see if I can download the episodes on disc 5 and netflix the rest, but that just seems like a hassle. It sounds like a blast though, and I’d really like to check this one out.
- Noir: I considered this because it sounds really interesting… unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to fit what I’m looking for right now. However, I am intrigued and will most likely watch this at some point.
- Angelic Layer: Sounds interesting, but I need to look into it more.
- Twelve Kingdoms: Based mostly on Steve Yegge’s enthusiastic recommendation. A quick quote from his post which has broad applicability to anime and foreign movies in general:
You know how little kids at a certain age like to watch the same movie over and over and over again, for up to a year, and child psychologists say that each time they see it they’re seeing it from a new perspective? Well, 12 Kingdoms was like that for us. There’s so much for a Westerner to take in. We missed a lot of it the first time around. It took at least 3 or 4 viewings before the patterns started taking shape in our minds.
Cool stuff. Still, I need to look into this series a little more. SDB was a little frustrated because it wasn’t finished yet, but at this point, I think it has finished (but I’m not sure)
- Last Exile: Another Steve Yegge recommendation, though I’ve heard this has a bit of a downer ending too (but I need to look into that).
Well, since I’m significantly past my midnight deadline, I figure this is as good a place as any to stop. At this point, I’m not at all sure what to get. Maybe I’m being too specific with my requirements… Let me know what you think. Again, all recommendations are welcome and I’ll probably consider a bunch more than are listed above… or maybe I’m overthinking this and will be bitten by the paradox of choice.