Cornerstone Anime [A ‘Listicle’]

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May 22, 2016 by bck1402

Preamble

I was asked if I could do a ‘listicle’ and I had to ask what that was.

#1 on an infographic of Blog Post Ideas

Well, it’s one of those new-fangled old-fashioned combo frankenwords, in a portmanteau kind of way Lewis Carroll did so lovingly well, and our society in general love doing to cutesy couples. Listicle = List + Article (apparently).

I’m seldom fond of doing these because it means cherry picking a few things out of a long list of things, and then putting them in order (it’s a list after all), giving a sense of ranking of what one thing is better than another. With that being said, there is no doubt that lists are fun to browse through, mainly to see what one person, or some survey, thinks of a particular topic. Somewhere, there will be others who will complain about the order of the list or the glaring omissions. Like reading through a top ten pick of movies at the end of every year.

Still, figured I could give it a shot… in my own way. I’ve got a few anime collections and since I have more than ten sets (less than 20), let’s pick ten and why they’re significant enough that I decided to splurge on these original imported sets.

It’s not to show off or anything, and I haven’t bought any new sets in a long while due to a severe lack of funds that would be required (not to mention the volatile exchange rate). It’s more why I decided to spend my hard earned money (at the time) on these particular series. To be clear, these are imports from US, and not the ‘originals’ you can get locally so the cost was significantly more… and all the more devastating when one series succumbed to DVD Rot.

ANIME and ME

Japanese animation TV series was a rarity on television when I was growing up and the few series that were shown on TV were not necessarily anything special to my eyes back then. I remember watching episodes of Kimba, The White Lion and very early versions of Speed Racer where those drawn characters somehow had real mouths spouting dialog (was that even from Japan?)

earlyanimeThen came the English versions of certain properties such as Battle of the Planets, Voltron, the Robotech saga, and Saber Rider and The Star Sheriffs. I recently found out that Saber Rider was an anime series from Sunrise, and not some other American series with animation that looked like it was partially done in Japan, like say, Thundercats or Transformers.

The nature of anime as storytelling platform for much bigger and more complex stories wasn’t really evident in those early shows. Sure, Robotech had a sprawling saga, shoe-horning three different series into one. Saber Rider turned out to be a bigger story than expected in its final arc, but everything still had a sense of a week to week adventure unlike other TV shows of the period.

That changed for me when home video came into the picture and a cousin introduced me to anime via OVAs. The realisation that anime had a more mature/grown up side was a revelation. The discovery of Warriors of the Wind – a severely cut down 90 minute reedited dubbed version of the Hayao Miyazaki classic, Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind – on TV showed that anime had an ability to tell complex stories in movie form.

So, via video and it’s growing format changes, open markets (pre copyright enforcement here) and other avenues, I slowly discovered more shows. With the availability of DVD sets going on sale via Amazon or other avenues, I picked and chose which shows I wanted to buy.

And here are ten of the more significant ones in my collection.

BUBBLEGUM CRISIS

imageThis was an OVA series released between 1987 to 1991, and my introduction to the diverse world of anime, thanks to my cuz. It revolved around these four women mercenaries who used powered exoskeleton suits to tackle certain cases ranging from rampaging boomers to kidnappers and even a modified car that gains sentience. Technically, it was as cyberpunk as you could get, infused with a rocking pop soundtrack much like Streets of Fire, and a city design inspired by Blade Runner.

The main characters were designed by Kenichi Sonoda, who would go on to create one of my favourite manga series, Gunsmith Cats. The animation and design was of a much higher quality than a typical TV series and the nature of OVA allowed for more intense violence and some brief nudity. This was a revelation given that cartoons never had such levels of maturity, the Heavy Metal movie not withstanding.

There are only eight episodes in this series, reportedly down from a planned 13. A direct sequel, Bubblegum Crash, came out in 1991 as a 3-part OVA. A 26 episode remake, Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040 ran in 1998. There were also spin-off series, AD Police and Parasite Dolls that take place within the same world, but for me, nothing beats the original series, even if it’s a little dated now.

PATLABOR

imageMy cuz was a source of anime info and aside from Bubblegum Crisis, he mentioned two other series. An OVA called Dangaioh, and Patlabor. Dangaioh was a little harder to track down, but Patlabor was easier to find and get into. It was a light-drama revolving around the Special Vehicles Section 2, Division II unit of the police department. The Special Vehicles being these massive mechas called Labors. Patlabor being the combination of Patrol Labors, those used by the police force.

While our way into the series is via Labor pilot, Noa Izumi, the series truly revolves around the whole team and their antics. The series started with an OVA series followed by a full blown TV series of two seasons, three movies, the Mini-Pato OVA specials and most recently, a live-action(!) series that follows the next generation, culminating with a live-action movie.

Technically, this would be my first ‘giant robot’ anime series, and I enjoy the humour mixed with the drama. While most of the episodes have a lighter touch, there are some episodes that have a serious tone, particularly when dealing with specific recurring villains. But it is a fun series.

COWBOY BEBOP

imageThe seminal sci-fi anime series would naturally end up as part of my collection. While this series follows a rag-tag team of bounty hunters on their adventures, the show itself is mired in layers upon layers of various subtexts, genres, tributes, and numerous philosophical concepts while driving a tale of revenge that underscores the actions of the main character, Spike Spiegel. But that’s simplified.

Bebop’s genre-mashing is one of the coolest things about the show, with episode titles reflecting a genre of music whose rhythms are to be reflected again within the episode itself. The music and score by Yoko Kanno adds to the atmosphere of the show, raising its influential stature even more.

While Bebop hit the TV screens in 1998, it would be a few years before it reached me and sparked a revival interest in anime and a deeper dive into the format to seek out more. This was also when such sets would be available within the market at the time, and as it is meant to be, proved to be an excellent gateway into other anime shows. It’s action, adventure and sci-fi vibe with the sensibilities of a Western could almost be seen as a precursor to Joss Whedon’s Firefly TV series.

There are plenty of other articles that provide deeper appreciation and analysis for this show, so I won’t dwell on it too much. Simply put, this was the beginning of a new cycle of anime appreciation for me, along with the rise of the DVD market. The way it flit through various genre of storytelling, ranging from comedy to sci-fi horror (one episode is a direct tribute to both The Thing and Alien) to film noir and more, made this one of the most varied and ambitious anime shows ever. Cowboy Bebop remains regarded as one of the greatest anime series ever made.

There is also a standalone movie, Cowboy Bebop: Knocking on Heaven’s Door (or simply Cowboy Bebop: The Movie, because of those copyright issues with the original title), set within the time-frame of the later episode (sometime just before episode 20).

SAMURAI CHAMPLOO

imageA companion series to Cowboy Bebop from the same director, Shinichirō Watanabe (not to be mistake for similarly monikered director Watanabe ‘Nabeshin’ Shinichiro), Samurai Champloo continued the genre mashing based on musical genres with a more hip-hop  vibe as opposed to Bebop’s more jazzy influences. The ‘Champloo’ in the title is derived from ‘Champuru’ which roughly means “to mix”.

While there is a driving underlying narrative throughout the series, most of the episodes still stand alone and provide the heady mix of genres across comedy, horror, action, sports (there is a hilarious baseball episode!), spy thrillers and more. Instead of a futuristic outer space environment, Samurai Champloo is set in an alternative Edo period, albeit with certain modern influences and stylings, while highlighting certain cultural and artistic aspects of the period too.

VANDREAD

imageAnime on TV was a rarity, and this was way before there was an Anime Network over here. One of the regular satellite TV channels, AXN, ran the occasional anime series for a short period between 2000-2002, one of which was VanDread. Another was the thought provoking and utterly depressing (but excellent in a peculiar way) Now and Then, Here and There.

VanDread was a visual feast coming from studio Gonzo, and it was screened in Japanese with English subtitles (how super rare back then). It was a sci-fi space adventure set in a far flung future where society had apparently split into a war between not just two planets but the two genders. Men and Women were raised on separate planets, each believing the other to be some monstrous enemy. The men’s war machines were mecha-like robots called Vanguards while the women had fighter ships called Dreads. Through a mysterious celestial event, a group from each side get stranded on the far side of their galaxy resulting in both men and women having to work together in order to get home. An affected Vanguard is able to fuse with three similarly affected Dread ships to form one of any three different combo ships called VanDread.

The battle of the sexes is more than just a metaphor as their journey home takes them to other planets and they discover aspects of humanity they never knew about, while discovering their past and heritage, along with a secret of how thing became that way in their galaxy. A lot of other issues regarding one’s existence and purpose in the universe is tackled as well that include some truly heart-breaking moments. As a drama, this is very effective science fiction story-telling going on.

Due to the lack of choice a the time, this was a cool series to watch and there was truly nothing else to compare to at the time. The sci-fi adventure elements were fused beautifully with pure science fiction in terms of storytelling and Gonzo’s animation was beautiful. While the first half of the series seemed like adventure fare, the second half really turned things around by giving us much deeper aspects of the overall story and, Surprise! It’s a giant robot show after all! And it came about is such an organic way.

Also, I love the little nod to Close Encounters in the very first episode.

PLANETES

imageFor a period, I was buying some of these sets via a comic shop and a title like Planetes caught my eye while browsing the order catalog. Being a bit of a science fiction fan, I decided to take a chance and order it, slowly making my way to obtaining all six releases that made the full series. The basic description was that this show would revolve around humans who work in space as debris collectors: essentially space garbage men. Sure it seemed like a sitcom at first, dealing with he hijinks of these characters along with their hopes and dream, but it also showed the human aspect, the cost and dangers of space travel and exploration as well as exploitation, along with the political view in a world where the commercialisation of space determined the fate of nations and the reaction of individuals against such exploitations. Very science fiction indeed.

The balance of humour and drama superbly underscored the driving narrative involving a large cast of characters without losing sight of the core group and how the political nature of the world they are in affect them. From a technical aspect, the series pay glorious tribute to the work of agencies involved with the space race, its history as well as the technological advances involved. For one, this is a highly realistic take on space, its environments and the technology involved as well as the impact on the human condition.

The DVD collection included features on NASA’s own attempts at dealing with space debris and how much the series itself sticks to the technical aspects in its technology. And in a very rare case, I like the English dub on this and can watch this series in either Japanese or English. A very worthwhile risk at the time.

AZUMANGA DAIOH

imageWhen Japan’s premiere anime magazine made its way to the US, Newtype USA was born and each issue had a DVD enclosed filled with trailers and sample episodes, one of which had the premiere episode of Azumanga Daioh. Even as it was promoted in the magazine, the order catalog for the comic shop offered the manga. Since I was taken by the hilarious sample episode, I decided to order the manga, collecting all four volumes over a year. Somewhere between all that, the series premiered and ran its course over Japan TV, and the full complete DVD set was offered in the order catalog.

It is the ultimate in slice of hilarious life involving a group of high school students in a series where nothing happens, except life in and out of school. The cast of characters are a diverse bunch with each having particular quirks easily lending to the comedy. In fact, it’s the very simplicity of the concept that led to the success of the show, and this sparked off a lot more of these slice-of-life series such as Lucky Star, Strawberry Marshmallow, and Clannad. With its premiere in 2002, Azumanga Daioh is basically at the forefront of the genre.

After all these years, Azumanga Daioh still remains as charming and hilarious as ever

THE MELANCHOLY OF HARUHI SUZUMIYA

imageThrough the pages of Newtype USA was when I first discovered the enigma that was Haruhi Suzumiya. Then there was an episode featured on one of the free discs that came with the magazine. From there, I started seeking out, and eventually fell into, the cult of Haruhi Suzumiya. It was a show that defied conventions in terms of concept and storytelling to the point that the original broadcast purposely scrambled the order of the episodes. My set eventually supplied double discs in volumes 2-4. The main discs were the US edition with dual dialogue available in the proper order of the episodes, while the second discs gave you the episodes in broadcast order, only in Japanese with English subtitles.

While the first episode in both cases is the same, Episode 00, and it introduces you to the cast of characters and their quirks, chronologically, the story wouldn’t take place until after the first arc of the second season where they’re actually making the short film that makes up Episode 00.

Ultimately, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya pits the characters surrounding the titular character into various situations on the whim of the lead. There are lots of philosophical discussions revolving the perception or nature of existence, time, reality, environment and more while taking stabs at various genres. It is both entertaining and thought provoking depending on what you pick up during watching, or how you might feel about the given story.

BAMBOO BLADE

imageWhen I started writing the first of The Syndi-Jean Journal, I wanted to have her take up kendo. So I went looking for a class where I could learn kendo and about it, in order to give a little credence to anything Jeannie would learn. So, research.

Then I discovered the anime through the Newtype magazine, and the manga in the comics order catalog. This was also the time when I was discovering new anime series over the internet (ooo, proper English fan-subs that don’t have horrid grammar). The series premiered while writing that first book and so, I name-dropped the show into the story.

Bamboo Blade follows the antics of the members and teacher of the Muroe High kendo club. For those paying attention, some of the kendo advice given have merit for real life practice, and with one of the main characters being a fangirl, there are small tributes here and there to anime and the industry. In essence this is still a slice-of-life light comedy drama series. In addition, the kendo battles are beautifully animated action beats. Every now and then, coming back to this series gives me confidence and inspiration to keep practising kendo, even if I’m not consistently proficient at it.

WAITING IN THAT SUMMER

imageA light drama released in 2012 during that period when I was finding new anime through the internet. A teen drama where a group of high school friend decide to make a small movie over the summer break. The star of their show is a new transfer student who, unbeknownst to most of them for a long while, is actually an alien.

The drama revolving around the characters seems fairly pedestrian at first but they are also the show’s strengths as the story builds to a climax loaded with quite a few surprises, most highly enjoyable. While I would have loved a Blu-Ray edition, Sentai Filmworks decided on only a DVD release on its initial release (the blu-ray edition eventually came out).

It’s a little more difficult to explain why this series appeals to me beyond the group of students trying to make a film, but the relationship between the lead characters is sweet and touching, and beautifully written. Granted, the action towards the end does get a little over the top with spaceships and robots getting into the mix.

K-ON! (Honorable Mention)

imageThis gets an honourable mention because it is a beloved slice-of-life comedy series that I can watch anytime and anywhere. Yes, I’ll admit to having a full set downloaded during that period of discovering shows over the internet, and loaded them onto my old iPod touch (and yes, they are a small slightly low quality copies). I made the honest effort of obtaining the original releases as they came out, trying to order the discs as they got listed in the comics order catalog. The success rate of getting the discs through the catalog was not always 100% so I ended up with the vol 2 of the second season. I still hold hope for getting the set for season 1 and the first half of season 2. I do have the blu-ray for the movie.

This series made me pay more attention to the works of Kyoto Animation, and since then, I try to follow their subsequent releases. The humour is contagious, the music is mostly light and fun, the characters are hilarious, and I noted that a lot of shows following the release of K-On! attempted to capture that formula, particularly if they revolve around some high school club. K-On! may not have been the first in executing this formula but they did it really well, and we fans hold out hope for a third season since there’s more in the manga that hasn’t been adapted as yet.

OTHERS and MORE

imageI have a few more sets and there was that period where I was buying what I ended up calling the “pirate originals” sets. These are sold openly and are regarded as official and original imports, complete with certification. Problem is that they are imported from Taiwan or Hong Kong, and when you look at the video, you know they’ve been recorded or copied from a TV source and compiled onto the discs. Occasionally, the English subtitles suck because they’ve been literally translated from the Chinese subtitles.

Among the others I’ve imported include shows like the complete Genshiken (minus the most recent 3rd season), Burst Angel + OVA, Gonzo’s Kaze no Yojimbo, Yakikaze OVAs, Black Lagoon (all three series), Kokoro Connect and others.

Some of the newer shows I’d love to obtain include Hanasaku Iroha, Shirobako, Kyoukai no Kanata (Beyond the Boundary), Hyouka and Psycho Pass. KyoAni’s Sound! Euphonium was amazing and beautifully animated too.

Well, someday, perhaps, those shows may end up joining the others on the shelf next to my player.

.

And in the spirit of sharing, dear reader, what anime series are the cornerstones of your life?


bannerr_big

Amazon (US) / Barnes and Noble / Amazon (Ca) / Amazon (UK) / Amazon (Jp) / Book Depository / Best Deals (ISBNS.net)


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Amazon / Book Depository / ISBNS Net Barnes and Noble / aLibris Google Play Store

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