Thank you, Anime. Vol 1.
We all know that we are in an age where nerd shaming is no longer a thing. Well, at least our generation. I look at my ten year-old little brother and am so thankful he’s a nerd. Why? You stay out of trouble, you learn cool stuff, and discover a whole other realm of life at such a young age. Now, the modern nerd can fall into different categories, but typically they are just a person who likes alternative cultures in place of the mainstream. You can be a nerd relative to a subject in school, technology, video games, music, and other cultures. Me? I’m guilty of being a total anime nerd. I spend a lot of leisure time reading, learning, and taking in the anime and even the greater Japanese culture as a whole. When I was a kid, it was just shows like Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, Ruroni Kenshin, and Yu-Yu Hakasho – the Toonami holy grail of after school viewing. The list can get longer, depending on who you ask, but for me, those were it. I didn’t even really know Pokemon and Digimon were anime too. I couldn’t tell you what “anime” was back then. I just thought they were shows that had Japanese characters. I was hooked on the way characters dealt with these surreal experiences whether it was dying, moving to a new world, and dealing with mystical/unreal creatures. In addition, who didn’t love all the ass whooping and sword clashing? Yeah sometimes as a standard they had your moral compass components:
Cherish your friends.
Be the hero.
Push your limits.
All the fluffy jazz.
But still. These shows simply kicked ass and I never knew why until I got older and really dove into this Anime phenomena. As an umbrella I’d also like to include Japanese made video games, because those are playing through an anime show anyway right?
I got older and I started hiding my then “guilty pleasure” admiration of this culture. Watching AMVs at home with low volume, hearing the super nerdy kids still talk about Naruto and not chiming in because I didn’t want to lose my “cool” status – all punk moves on my part.
I got older and heard people my age who I thought were cool talking out loud about the anime – oh I flipped. I started chiming in and exchanging ideas of which characters were cooler and who was stronger, who was the best sidekicks, all of it.
When I got to college I discovered a whole new world. I discovered anime that wasn’t necessarily popular in the states and the discoveries I made were outstanding. I began finding shows that weren’t necessarily geared towards kids but were animated. I mean we got bloody gore violence, nudity, sex, I mean REAL adult drama and problems. These shows were not just for kids, hell, some are strictly for adults! It was mind blowing.
After getting more of a firm grasp on the anime world and understanding what really makes a good show I wanted to share with you all why these shows/stories are so rewarding. So here we go:
So we all know that characters are one the engines behind storytelling. They progress the plot, create conflict and resolution. Through characters writers and storytellers can create amazing messages to the world through their actions. In addition, it’s through characters that shows gain followings and they are the tools creators use to forge energy. There has to be drama surrounding every character and if these characters are in the same show there has to be a tie between all of them somehow.The best uses of characters are when they go through a lot let’s be honest. They fear, they mourn, they deal with anger and resentment, and the lists goes on. If you have a character who is consistently never challenged always wins never goes through anything – they get old quick. What I’ve noticed is the anime I enjoy the most are ones that have progression in characters. Character development is one of the key things I notice enjoying when kicking back and starting a new anime. It’s not always the case but entertaining for sure. Let’s talk a little about some of these stories that have amazing character development.
Kaneki Ken – TOKYO GHOUL
So my man Kaneki starts off as a bookworm college student in Tokyo minding his business and trying to find himself a date. He ends up so-matter-of-factly scoring a date with a beautiful bookworm like him. The catch? She’s a carnivorous human feeding beast (Ghoul) that actually saw him as prey and not a date. Eventually he becomes a hybrid Ghoul and has to navigate his own self and stop his ghoul half from taking over his human half. Not to divulge any spoilers for any noobs who haven’t caught this one yet but the struggle gets real and like it or not Kaneki has to do some digging within himself to accept what he really is – a monster.
The progression that Kaneki makes from the beginning to where the show leaves off is amazing. It almost makes you forget that he was just regular old teenager. The plot literally chews him up and spits him back out into pieces and it’s up to him and his new found self to put the pieces back together. To be frank, he goes from punk nerd kid to the top of the food chain in the Ghoul world.Shout to the last episode of season 1, one of the greatest 20ish minutes of animated tv I have ever witnessed. The way it transitioned into the second season with S2E1 was pure art. The way it happens is poetic, to say the least.
Shinichi Izumi – Parasyte: the maxim
Similar to Kaneki, Izumi starts off as a normal teenager. Laid back, sort of awkward, and trying to figure out his relationship with his girlfriend. What he doesn’t know is that Earth is on the brink of an alien invasion of creatures called Parasytes that survive by hijacking a host body and infusing their abilities within them. Shinichi almost becomes one of these hosts, when a Parasyte tries to enter his body through his arm! Using his wits Izumi cuts off circulation to the rest of his body and in order to survive his new Parasyte companion, Migi, has to set up shop in just his arm. Again, avoiding spoilers let’s just say the two are forced to work as one to not only save their own asses, but eventually the whole damn world. Much like Kaneki, Shinichi has to face tough decisions when certain people he loves becomes hosts, all while he encounters some pretty badass and dangerous foes.
In this story, it’s a development for both Izumi and his Parasyte partner Migi. While Izumi learns to be more realistic and cut throat, Migi learns what it is to have emotions and care about something other than his own survival. Shinichi goes through some wild changes partially due to the tragedies he has to witness because of the alien invasion as well as the new symbiotic relationship with Migi. In the second half of the show Shinichi knows he has to grow a pair and take this invasion head on or all will be lost. He went from crying in front of these monsters behind foggy glasses to taking these aliens head on no regrets. Shinichi learns a lot about human nature, survival, and about himself. Shinichi’s adventure puts him through diamond like pressure in which he goes from bitch to bull. Only watch this story if you have a little stomach to you, because shock value and gore take up a lot of screen time.
Light Yagami – Death Note
So again, we have another unsuspecting teen (shocker!) who stumbles upon a book that allows you to kill anyone by writing their name in it. He begins a justice murder crusade killing all criminals. But like anyone who gets too much power, he gets too deep and ends up getting full of himself. He uses his brilliant mind to continue to dodge law enforcement until he eventually ends up going against the likes of the greatest detective in the world and his father, a local detective.
Long story short, Light loses his marbles in the most ironic/Shakespearean way. Light’s justice crusade consumes him into the most love/hate God complex a teenager could ever go through. He literally takes loved ones as pawns, and forgets who he really is. His ego consumes him into a paranoid frenzy all while still trying to “cleanse” the world. If you haven’t watched just be prepared to be habitually mind f&*ed. Not too much action here but the suspense will drive you nuts.
The Beauty of Action
Obviously, all of these stories are crafted into animated stories because well there are no limits. The creators can make whatever they want happen. Some animes are revered mainly because of the amazing action sequences. They are beautifully imaged and played out. The imaginative mind of anime creators are really put to the test when it comes to executing an amazing fight scene. It is a blank slate. Not having to worry about stunt doubles but also making it the right amount of crazy to where viewers aren’t like; “Alright this is too much!” But let’s be honest, is it ever? These next anime stories do just that and do not disappoint.
The Berserk franchise is easily revered as one of the greatest, and off the wall, in recent memory. The three movies, and now the sequel anime series follow a mercenary who would kill for sport and money have his life completely ruined by set of strange and twisted evnts. Because of how ridiculously left field the plot goes I won’t go into detail but this anime takes tragedy to a new level for the main character, Guts. Admisdt of all the crazy plot turns, and (surprisingly) beautiful 3D anime, the action sequences in this story are bonkers. As a viewer I was much more invested in the action scenes because of what lead to them and what was to come after. Some notable scenes are when Guts is initially introduced where he manhandles men on the battlefield, the “comeback” battle where he comes to save his old troupe against 100 men, and the final battle of the third movie. The final battle in the third movie is some of the most twisted and maniacal piece of art I have ever seen. I was literally covering my face and peeking through my hands and screaming. Where the anime picks up right after the movies, it was also good to see a rebuilt Guts kick ass for the the first time on screen since having his existence murked. The characters go through so much that when you see them pull out their swords you know some ish is about to go down, no questions. I recommend this series to anyone who thinks they haven’t seen any “real” shit happen to characters. I was blown away at the combination of gore, drama, and down right evilness. Watch at your own discretion.
Fate Series – Fate/Zero and Fate/Stay Unlimited Blade Works
The Fate series from Ufotable (anime) and Type-MOON (novels) is definitely marquee. It’s a couple of series dealing with the same group of characters with different realities. I couldn’t decide between the two I thought had the best fight scenes. The series deals with the recurring Holy Grail War. Every so often seven sorcerers are granted the ability to fight alongside a historically revered warrior to see who can claim the Holy Grail that will grant them whatever they wish. Fate/Zero is a prologue to the main series of Fate/Stay Night. Fate/Zero surrounds the Fourth Holy Grail War while the different adaptations of the Fate/Stay Night series deals with the Fifth. The Fate/Zero series stars the parents and teachers of some of the main characters in the Fifth War. The plot is pretty linear, but what makes both series great is seeing the beautifully detailed fight scenes between imaged heros. Lancelot, King Arthur, and many more take up arms in the wars. Each fight in both series were meaningful. These warriors were literally fighting for glory and honor. Some of the notables from here are the first fight between all the heroes in Fate/Zero, Saber v Lancer, Rider v Lancer, and definitely Archer v Shiro.These scenes are created with such imagery and grace and there are plenty to enjoy for sure. It was do or die each and every battle. Very enjoyable with some mind bending with the plot.
One Punch Man
One Punch Man is a recent phenomena for many reasons. If you haven’t heard about it yet go ahead and look it up. It’s main premise deals with Saitama, a hero for fun, that never loses. He habitually deals with his foes with one single punch and it has made him bored. Eventually he finds himself a cyborg for justice student and continues to search for a task or foe that actually proves difficult. Along the way, he learns of the politics of the hero world he never knew, as well as foes who constantly think they can beat him. The premise is rather hilarious and had me on my ass laughing every episode because the main character is SO BLAND and boring but nonetheless comical as hell. You never think of a hero having to work for money, or what he does on his off time, or how he carefully plans his day to make the grocery store’s super sale. All the humor aside, the fight sequences in this anime are visually amazing and creative. I have to say as well that the pilot for this show is one of the best I have ever watched. I watched this one as it came out so every single week was a countdown because of the pure entertainment. Some notable fights include: The House of Evolution, The Fish King, and the final battle of the season which has some great visuals, comical irony, and a deeper look at what’s to come for the One Punch Man universe. The abilities of the heroes and foes are very creative and keeps you on your toes. Won’t spoil too much, but every fight is worth watching. Hopefully season two will prove to be as entertaining and hilarious.
Who Doesn’t Love a Juicy Story?
The plot of a story is the map all the fights scenes and characters follow. Without the story, these awesome action sequences and immensely developed characters have no purpose right? Some might say this is where the creators really show off their creative chops. The direction they take these characters and what they have to do to reach their goal. Hell what is their goal? All these questions need to be answered, and a great plot answers these beautifully (most of the time). Here’s to great storylines.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
So you have a large empty suit of armor with the voice of a ten year old and his smaller older brother with a metal arm. How the hell did we get here? FMAB follows two young boys in what seems to be Medieval Europe who practiced the mage arts of alchemy. When their mother died they tried to use that magic to bring her back, and while it was forbidden, they paid the price. Younger brother Alphonse lost his whole body, and older brother Ed lost his arm. Thankfully Ed was able to save Al’s spirit and place it into an empty suit of armor. Crazy right? Well the Elric Brothers eventually become licensed Alchemists in order to not only serve and protect, but to become skilled enough to get their bodies back. Along the way they discover just how corrupt the world can be and how their absent father has a role in all that’s going on in the world. *hint hint* Along the way the Elric brothers also encounter very creepy bad guys, meet some great allies, and experience heartbreak all while trying to achieve their one goal.
Again not going to spoil, but just be prepared for blatant empty plot holes that have you on the edge of your seat wanting them to be filled. It also seems as that a legit and promising live action movie is on the way!
Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion
Think part Gundam Wing (action tech robots) and part Death Note (conceited too smart for his own good teenager). This plot has so many turns and twist that it’s hard to reveal too much. It’s set in a future time where the “fictional” country of Britannia decided to overthrow the world and become an empire. It eventually conquers Japan and dubs it Area 11, and all of its Japanese inhabitants are called 11’s. In the midst of it all a teenager decides to do something about it when granted a special power to compel anyone he wants to do as he pleases. Eventually his life is consumed and he becomes a twisted and shaded figure for justice. The story also emanates the themes of what is really right, discrimination, and the problems with classism in the world. You also have to deal with the suspense of the main character living a double life. Not to mention, the consistent hate of the main character for his harsh and “for justice” hoorah of decisions. All of these elements, combined with great action and inner turmoil within multiple characters gives you a hell of a story. There is a lot of deeper meaning with Geass where one watch through simply won’t satisfy your brain. It’s just A LOT.
Neon Genesis: Evangelion
One of the grandaddies of all anime. This late 90s hit influenced so much of what we watch today, and is the one of if not THE most debated anime of our time. You either praise it or trash it. This story has everything from amazing action, total mind screwing, and ultimate feelings of pity and hate towards the characters. This franchise gives you everything and nothing all at the same time. What begins as a normal futuristic tech anime soon becomes a complete and total cringeworthy mind blowing experience. The anime follows a young boy who is called upon a planetary defence agency led by his cruel father. He is called to pilot an Eva, a large mysterious cyborg weapon to defend the planet against alien beings called “Angels.” Soon he finds himself in the middle of the corruption of the world, the secrets of the agency he was sought out by, and an internal struggle like no one has seen onscreen before. While I am a sucker for old school 2d animation and how aesthetically pleasing this is to watch, the plot makes you want more in the most twisted and weird ways possible. Neon Genesis and Gainax make you drool and the amazing action scenes and then have you pulling your hair out at the complex thought process of the plot. The series pours into the film series, which culminates in the near perfect End of Evangelion film which has one the best fight scenes of all time: Asuka v. Mass Production Evas. So if you do take this beast on be prepared to not only question what goes on in the series/movies, but life in general. No joke.
The Epic Poems
Most of the series I’ve listed above were aired within the last decade besides Neon Genesis which is a certified classic. So while we all appreciate a good laugh, great character depth, amazing action, and a mind fu*&k of a story, we can’t forget what brought us to anime in the first place. Those childhood Toonami after school binges. The next group of series are what I like to call the Epics. They are long standing cult phenoms that although may not have the greatest quality of story, they do us justice by tugging on our inner middle schooler.
The entire Dragon Ball series (no not GT)
I’m willing to bet that most people’s first encounter with anime was either Pokemon or Dragon Ball Z. Little did we know that Dragon Ball Z was the second installment of a story started in the 80s. We can’t lie to ourselves, we had never seen anything like it. Super strong fighters who could fly and change their hair color? Nah that was new. Not to mention the video games and the action figures. The series is easily the most recognizable anime there has or will be. In my opinion it is an old school prototype for many many anime to come. However, as adults we look back as to how many flaws the series as a whole had. Drawn out plot lines, always depending on Goku, and the constant defeat and come back with newly discovered powers gimmick we never saw as kids look elementary to us now. But it worked. I remember watching Dragon Ball after watching DBZ and just thinking wow this kid came from this!? For its time Dragon Ball was genius and no wonder it influenced so much to come. Let us not forget how 30 years later they reeled us back in with Dragon Ball Super, where they got rid of the kiddy gimmicks a little.There’s no arguing here Akira Toriyama, Dragon Ball’s creator, brought us the gateway to all anime for us here in the states. It’s become cemented in nerd/anime history. Akira brought us three long standing series, over twenty films, and tons of video games. Everyone knows Dragon Ball and has either tried to draw a super saiyan or pretended to become one at least once in their life. Thank you.
My favorite fight from DBZ: Goku v. Majin Vegeta
Naruto and Naruto Shippuuden
So with Naruto we get a little more grittier, with a much more realistic, yet fantastical, approach to the coming of age hero. Not to mention getting a little more riskay with the plot and fight scenes. Nonetheless, Naruto also brought us another take on the ying yang plot line that DBZ presented later on. We have two friends who symbolize a force of evil and a force of good. Naruto v Sasuke is one of the greatest frenemy relationships we’ve witnessed. Ash and Gary are nothing compared to what these two go through. The way the series began to focus around it, and how it made both characters better was genius in my opinion. We also get to see Naruto start as probably the worst ninja ever and become the Leaf’s hero was one of the tear jerkers we won’t forget. This anime was probably an early one we all watched as well. For me, I was uber invested reading the manga to get ahead of the story and Naruto was the first anime I watched subbed as well.Creator Masashi Kishimoto created the character that went to amass two series, over fifteen feature length films, and not to mention one of the most read mangas ever. It was a hell of a fifteen year run for the canon story.
Notable Naruto Moment: Gara v Rock Lee (WHEN HE TAKES THOSE WEIGHTS OFF DOE)
The Odyssey of anime, simply put. One Piece focuses on pirate Monkey D. Luffy and his pirate crew sailing the seas to achieve their dreams. Luffy in particular wants to become King of The Pirates and nothing else. Along the way Luffy befriends unique characters that eventually join his crew. The story is consisted of different places the crew visits and large scary obstacles and villains they need to get through in order to achieve their goals. Luffy and his crew build unwanted notoriety along the way and that’s where the story gets filled with humor and plot details that you do not always see coming. Being that the anime is so epically long we see tons of fights, creative villains and abilities, and pretty solid character development in terms of strengths and abilities. However, the characters themselves in terms of personality stay the same. I never really watched it until about a year ago where I caught up on 10 seasons in a really short amount of time but you keep watching because you keep wondering how the crew gets out of certain situations. The plot can also be overdrawn at times, but nonetheless still enjoyable. The creativeness of the Devil Fruit powers are also noteworthy. Devil Fruits grant their eaters unique powers in exchange for the ability to swim. Wierd for a pirate world right? But they make it work! Props to Mr. Eiichiro Oda who has tirelessly continued to bring new original story. The manga is still running, with the anime not too far behind since 1997. Rumor is after over 700 episodes, the story still has some ways to go. Whew.
One Piece Moment: Farewell Portgas D. Ace
So while not all animes can have a Luffy, Naruto, or Goku they all bring something unique to the table. We can appreciate amazing artwork, dramatic plots, and just overall kick ass battle scenes. It shouldn’t be anyone’s guilty pleasure, but something you enjoy that gives you a break from reality. Any show I take on I shut off my critique mind, while taking subtle notes. I like revisiting what I gained from each one.
I’ll leave you all with some other notable titles you should check out with funny one liners on the plot. Thanks Lee (@johnny_varina / @thegoldenmoments)
Claymore – “Super powerful silver eyed women wielding large swords”
Noragami – “Cheap and broke God spirit has mid life crisis.”
Assassination Classroom – “Super strong japanese barney teaches middle schoolers how to kill”
Attack on Titan – “Middle Earth JROTC fight against huge flesh eating naked people”
Akame Ga Kill – “Everybody you love dies with a heaping side of fan service”
My Hero Academia – “Hogwarts for confused teeangers with superpowers”
Bleach (for noobs) – “Angry ginger fights evil souls”
Hunter x Hunter – “Young Beavis and Butthead go on an adventure to fuck shit up”
Ghost In The Shell – Bladerunner for Beginners (yes ScarJo will bring to life ‘supposedly’)
Akira (CLASSIC RETRO) – “80’s Sons of Anarchy with a side of telekinetic destruction”
Ergo Proxy (Wild mind games) – “Live action Existential crisis”
Digimon Adventure Tri. – “Hipster Digidestined”
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure (currently watching and enjoying it!) – “Rugby players fight evil with heavy breathing”
I’ll be sure to write more about anime in the future. Just wanted to bring some of my readers to this side of my brain!
Under-promising and over delivering,