I’ve been binging on anime since last November or so in my quest to find something new and interesting to watch. I’m bored with most American dramas. I feel that most of them have simply just run themselves into the ground. Do I need to watch season 8 of 24? I think I get the picture. Jack Bauer’s badass, but seriously the story doesn’t really change from season to season. I haven’t felt like going back to watch Battlestar Galactica. It used to be that watching Battlestar was compelling and left me both wanting more and leaving me somewhat breathless. The only barrier of entry for watching that show was the amount of nerves I could muster to continue along on their harrowing journey, but after the boxing episode in Season 3 I felt that the show really ran its course. I haven’t even bothered to sit down and watch season 4 and 4.5.
Anime on the other hand, for better or worse, ends. A series like Death Note is done in 37 episodes. Other shows are done in about 13 or 26 episodes. There’s time to do one-off episodes, learn interesting things about the characters, get some fan service, and complete a story arc — epic or mundane. They’re bit-sized and different and I can finish them and move onto something else without having to be dragged through the muck. This obviously means I avoid shows like Naruto and Inyuasha. I don’t have any interest in those — the only time I saw Inyuasha was when I had Adult Swim turned on from 11 pm to 5 am during my college years. I find myself interested in the Shinto view of the world after watching things like Kamichu! which is a story that I don’t think American audiences would get.
I figure, in the very least (and I mean very least) watching anime is a way to get new ideas in my head and to find new things that I otherwise wouldn’t get watching dramas on the big networks and cable. So here’s a list of the anime I’ve been watching this month:
Kino’s Journey. I own this one and I busted it out again and watched the first two discs. It’s only 13 episodes long. It was the anime that pointed me in the direction of Galaxy Express 999, probably one of my favorite anime series — I know I said I avoid along anime series, but this one, for me, was worth it. Kino’s Journey itself isn’t bad. It’s fairy-tale like. I think some people equate it to the Little Prince, which I read after watching Kino’s Journey as well. As for me, personally, Kino’s Journey inspired my short-lived attempt to write serialized fiction on this website called “Tales of a Mechanical Bird.”
Black Lagoon Second Barage. I’ve seen the first season of this before. My brother described it to me as an animated American action film. Sure enough it’s got a lot of gunfights, car chases, mobsters, criminals, and unscrupulous people duking it out for bounties and other illicit activities, but it’s damn enjoyable. The second series continues Remy, Rock, Dutch, and Benny’s adventures in Ranpour. It contains a bunch of mini-arcs about crazy Romanian killing kiddies to Hotel Moscow’s take down of the Yakuza in Tokyo. Lots of shoot outs and apparently a hefty dose of existentialism. I was watching for the explosions and only later did I read on wikipedia that there’s a thread of existentialist conversations and ideas that run throughout the series.
Kamichu! I really liked this one. The art style is very Studio Ghibli. All of the backgrounds are lushly painted and the animation is superb. It takes place in a small town near Hiroshima in the 1980s. It’s about a girl who finds out — out of the blue, mind you — that she’s a Shinto god. What’s her power? Why did she become a god? That’s one of the things I love about the series. There’s no origin story. She just comes to school one day, sits down with her friends, and says, “I just found out I’m a god.” The story is a coming of age for her as a Shinto goddess and how she uses her powers to make the lives of the people around her better. My favorite episode still has to be the one where she sleeps under a kotatsu for the entire episode.
Moribito: The Guardian of the Spirit. Moribito is done by Kenji Kamiyama but it’s originally a fantasy novel by Nahoko Uehashi. Kamiyama-san is the guy that also directed/wrote Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, 2nd Gig, and another series I saw recently called Eden of the East. His work is generally high quality animation. The backgrounds, the integrated, toon-shaded CG, and animation all look seamless. The production value is always high and the stories are always detailed and, to me, engaging. Moribito is the story of Balsa, a Kanbal spear-welder, who saves the life of Prince Chagum. She learns that he carries the egg of a water spirit and that his father wants to assassinate his son because he believes its a water demon. Balsa’s a strong female lead. There’s not an inch of moe in this story. The art and story are excellent. The music is beautiful. Moribito also turns out to be an eight volume series of fantasy novels and the anime is just book one. So I was quite happy to hear that both volume 1 and 2 have been translated and released in the US. I picked them up at Amazon.
Kimi ni Todoke (ep. 13-16). I still like Kimi ni Todoke, although now that this horse is out of the gate, I feel that it’s starting to meander a little bit. I still like Sawako as a character and her quest to clear up misunderstandings about her feelings. I don’t like that the show feel like its plodding along now. Episode 16 was mainly a recap/clip-show episode. Boo to that, I say, but all anime series seem to have an episode where they have to let their animation team recuperate before they begin the log slog to the finish line — at least that’s how I see it.
K-ON OAV. A new episode of K-ON with something new. Afternoon Teatime tries to perform live outside of their school for the first time. My problem with the series is that it’s really on 6 epsiodes because the second half of the 12 episode series is a repetition of the first half. So it’s good to see that they’re trying to take the band on the road, make new friends, and move on up. Hopefully season 2 will be good, but seeing that this is a splice-of-life/high school/moe show, I might be asking for too much.
Candy Boy. Cute little show about two sisters that *really* love one another. It’s yuri and sappy at times. There’s the obligatory third-wheel character that’s completely in love with one of the girls. You can tell she’s insane because her hair is white and she gets nose bleeds and does things like trying to take upskirt shots of her love. Honestly, I kinda felt bad for her in the end, since the sisters tended to be together and she was always left out in the cold despite all the “nice” things she does for them. It’s a super quick series to watch — 10 episodes about 10-14 minutes each.
Eden of the East. This is done by Kenji Kamiyama. High production value on this one, and by far, of everything I’ve listed, one of the more interesting finds from this month’s anime binging. It’s full of interesting ideas and it’s got a damn cool look to it. The backgrounds remind me of the ones in 5 Centimeters Per Second — they have that Photoshop painted look to them. The intro is slick looking — I like the way it plays with typography and I’m still a fan of Oasis. The credits have a cool papercraft animation sequence too. The story starts out like the Bourne Identity but goes off in a weird direction. I’ve read criticisms that it’s too much like the Bourne Identity, but let me tell you, if it was more like the Bourne Identity I would have loved the hell out of it. As the show stands, the story, I feel, didn’t build up to a satisfying ending. Here’s the setup: a boy shows up in Washington D.C. with no memory holding a gun and a cellphone with 8.2 billion yen on it. He learns that he’s apart of a game with 12 other contestants. Each of them have been given 10 billion yen and tasked with saving Japan. The winner lives; the losers die. They use their special phones to make orders to something called Juiz and then the money is deducted from their phone. There’s a secondary emphasis on NEETs (people who are Not in Employment, Education, or Training) and their effect on society. Kamiyama definitely has an interest in politics: GITS:SAC 2nd Gig and Moribito both also have political facets to their storytelling as well. There’s also a running gag in Eden about “Johnnies” too. I won’t spoil it. Definitely watch it.
Fruits Basket. Another shojo anime. The twist is that the girl, Taru, lives with members of the Soma family, and they in turn are members of the Chinese zodiac. Yuki is the rat; Kon(?) is the cat, and there’s a third guy but I don’t remember his name, he’s the dog. Nothing really to special about this series. I’ve always heard of it from way back when, and now that it’s on Hulu, while I was on my way to watch more Honey and Clover, I ended up being distracted by Fruits Basket. Since it’s dubbed, it’s decent enough background noise, and it was really when I started watching this anime, I realized, I’ve hit the end of the barrel, I can’t think of anything else to watch.
I’ve done some exploring on my own since they, trying out the pilot episode for various shows. I’ve taken recommendations from friends, and if you’ve got a recommendation, feel free to leave a comment at the end of this post.
Some of the things that I’ve got on my list are Myself;Yourself, Spice and Wolf, and Aoi Bungaku, which I think is a horror anime. Of course I’d like to marathon watch Maria-sama ga Miteru now that I have the DVDs, and since we’ve been playing Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, someone had to ask, “What the hell is Yatterman?” And you can bet that’s now on the agenda too. At least an episode of it.