(Well, that was embarrassing! I posted this the other day, and didn’t realize until just now that I’d grabbed the ‘Alpha’ version, the one without included links for more information on these anime. Here’s the version I meant to post, and sorry about the goof.)
A while back, I wrote about anime and how I thought it could serve as a source of ideas and inspirations for writers. Today, I’m going to visit the subject again to do something I don’t usually do: offer some suggestions for folks who might want to explore the subject matter more.
First off, I don’t like giving recommendations. Why? Because like a painting or any other piece of art, what you see, and how you react to it, is often governed just as much by what you’re seeing as it is by your past. Humans see the world through the lens that is their lives, and the things we like or hate (or find useful versus wasteful) are often shaped by our life experiences. So while I might find an anime inspiring, or insightful, or even just plain fun, you might find it anything but. So fair warning: what follows is a sampling of different types and genre of anime that I’ve found interesting enough to view many times. How you react to them may be very different. So, with that fair warning, I’d like to offer three anime I think are worth watching. If folks express an interest, I might write more on the subject and offer other examples.
First up, in my original piece on anime, I mentioned the recent Netflix project “Violet Evergarden”, and it is still one I would whole-heartedly suggest you watch. It is a visually feast that tells a story worth thinking about: what happens to the child soldier when the war ends? There are a number of other anime that touch on this subject, but perhaps the one that does it best, and tells the darkest story, is “Gunslinger Girl”. ( more at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gunslinger_Girl) It was among the first Japanese animated series I ever watched, and it remains one I go back to from time to time. In it’s bleak future, the Italian government establishes the innocuously-named Social Welfare Agency as a means of caring for young girls who have suffered terrible injuries, or untreatable diseases. The truth is very different. Using cybernetic enhancements and brainwashing techniques, the girls are turned into assassins. Paired with an older male handler who everyone is told is their older brother, they are tasked with helping the government maintain order by any means necessary. The girls are conditioned to follow their handlers orders, to look on them as if they really were their older brother. But their conditioning doesn’t wipe out all the human emotions, or their response to the way they are treated. The handlers have different outlooks on their charges. Some regard them as partners, worthy of respect. Other see them as victims, innocents being sacrificed to keep the government in power. A few see them as nothing but tools, to be used as needed and given no more regard than any other piece of machinery. The story unfolds like a dark jewel, each episode showing a different facet of what is happening between the girls and their handlers.
My second offering deals with an even darker, grittier future, and it’s the one that turned me into an unofficial okatu, “Cowboy Bebop” (more at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cowboy_Bebop). To call the future it portrays dystopian is an understatement. The Earth’s Moon has been shattered by an experiment in space travel gone wrong. But that disaster hasn’t kept the technology, the ‘hyper-gate’, from being used to move people about the solar system. Far from it. Humanity now lives on Mars and most of the other bodies where it can exist. But the future humanity lives in is one where government is little more than the tool of powerful corporations and criminal syndicates. Roaming between the different colonies are the crew of the spaceship “Bebop”. They are an odd collection: a retired cop, a former syndicate hit man, a woman with no past and a child genius hacker. They make a living by being bounty hunters, or “cowboys” in the current slang. If “Gunslinger Girl” asks what a government will do to stay in control, “Cowboy Bebop” asks what will happen if Libertarians get their way and government becomes effectively ineffective. Rest assured, the result is not pretty, even if there are occasional bursts of black humor to relieve the dark world.
My final offering is sort of a ‘guilty pleasure’ of mine. This one also deals with the idea that a corporation might become so powerful it can take over a government. It’s perhaps my favorite anime, “Sekirei” (again, more here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sekirei). While there are dark moments, this anime tends more towards the comedy than deep thought. It’s an example of what’s known as “oppai” anime, “oppai” being Japanese slang for “boobs”. This anime revolves around a young man who,at that opening of the story, has just failed for the second time to get into college. As he’s going home from finding this out, a young woman literally falls out of the sky and lands on him. She has, as you can imagine, a well-developed chest, and she’s in trouble. Two women are chasing her, women who can manipulate electricity at will. The young man helps her escape and finds out that the women attacking her are, like her, beings known as sekirei. There are 108 such beings, he find out, and they were discovered by the man who’s corporation has recently bought the city. He found them in a space craft that man found on a small island. That same spacecraft contained technology he used as the basis for the massive corporation he heads, the one that bought the city. All sekirei have powers, basically super powers, but to achieve their greatest potential they must find an ordinary human and ‘contract’ with them. To seal this pact, they must ‘make contact via the mucous membranes….in other words, they must kiss. “Sekirei” plays to many tropes in anime. The young man eventually meets other sekirei, gathering six women who all vie for his attention (harems are a big thing in anime, for what reason I don’t know). Boobs are a major feature, either on display in skimpy costumes or out in the open. The young man is constantly in a position to take things beyond a kiss….and equally constantly frustrated by circumstances beyond his control. In short, lots of silliness…but at the same time, some profound ideas. The women around the male protagonist are rivals for his affection, yet become friends who will defend each other. Friends forced to fight each other find friendship is more powerful than anything else. Perhaps most important, that no matter how dire the odds, if people stand together, they can accomplish amazing things.
Well, these are my first three selections. Love’em or hate’em, they’re three anime I’m willing to recommend. All of them are available online, so I hope you’ll give them some thought, either for inspiration, or just for plain, simple escapism. If there’s further interest, next time, I’ll dig into the deep reservoir of ideas that anime has in the field of horror and the supernatural.