I got into anime a few years back. For the uninitiated (where have you been?) ‘anime’ is the title given to the broad range of Japanese animated features that range from kids cartoons to very serious stories targeting grown-up audiences, and is the animated manifestation of the ‘manga’ (comic-strip) culture that is also prevelant across demographics in Japan.
People often scoff at the idea of anime as an entertainment and art form for adults, however I’ve grown to enjoy anime for a few different reasons. Firstly, because there are a wide variety of plots, many of which are able to deal with issues that either couldn’t work on film, or wouldn’t be ‘viable’. I particularly enjoy the non-Western form of storytelling and plotting, which can I admit leave me quite flummoxed at times, but at others I find it a refreshing change to the Hollywood happy-ending driven boy-meets-girl plotlines.
Prior to computer graphics, anime also allowed the storyteller a far wider use of creativity in terms of what was possible to visually display. While celluloid remained limited by what could be constructed using special effects, the artist’s pallette was full of endless possibilities- with the result that fantasty, sci-fi and horror have all developed their own strong subsets within the culture, and have provided much of the visual foundation for productions that began to follow once computer effects began to blossom in Hollywood (see especially shows such as The Matrix, which borrowed heavily and overtly from anime storyboarding techniques).
Personally, there are two aspects of anime that I enjoy more than any others. The first is watching a story being told in a different medium, and particularly (in more sophisticated anime shows) through the development of characters. Because many anime storylines run over 12, 24 or more shows, there is lots of room for careful but incremental character and plot development which, when done well, can really suck you in.
The second is the artwork. As a photographer, the first thing I came to appreciate about anime was the way in which the artists use the canvas like a cinematographer uses a camera lens- complete with playing with depth of field, pan, focus, and exposure. I’ve continued to appreciate this, together with the care and detail that are put into so many set pieces, some of which are awesome in their creativity and detail. With some of these shows, the effort that is put into recreating settings, locations, moods and lifestyles is just tremendous, and I find myself looking longingly at some of the scenes and wondering who it was who had the vision to piece together these creative pastiches.
So you know what you’re getting into here, this page is in part my own expression of appreciation to an art-form that has given me a lot of pleasure and inspiration over the last few years, but before I get onto waxing too eloquently, you should probably understand that I watch these shows first and foremost for fun, and for the joy of getting sucked into an imaginary world. I’ll showcase some of the series’ I’ve watched, which for anime watchers will hopefully provide a little guidance as to what you might like to watch and what to stay clear of, and for the uninitiated, provide what I hope will be a little nudge to get stuck into something new and interesting. I’m not a movie critique, or somebody who can talk at length about the merits of particular animation styles or directors. I just do this for fun. I should also point out that while watching anime I’ve gotten increasingly interested in Japanese culture, I don’t speak Japanese, I’m not a student of Japanese pop-culture, and quite frankly, I don’t really know what I’m talking about. I’m just a guy who likes stories and visual arts, and this has been a happy fusion of platforms for me.
As genres go, I’m a guy, so I’m pretty fond of the action/thriller genres, however one of the things I enjoy about anime is that even something that looks like a brain-dead shoot-em-up can end up spending quite a bit of time fleshing out its characters, and this is something I look for in a good show. I’m not a huge fan of humour in my viewing, and slapstick will generally turn me off, so most of the shows I aim for are fairly serious. I tend to watch most anime in Japanese (with subtitles) as I find the original voice in most cases matches better to the original vision of the director- as well as feeling less awkward with some of the silences and non-verbal sounds that characters share.
If you’re looking for a place to get started:
Noir: A slick, stylish thriller about two young women who happen to be deadly assassins. This is a compelling and very nicely designed series with great visuals and a stunning soundtrack. Click here for the review.
Black Lagoon: A fast-paced, brash and colourful action-series about a gang of modern-day pirates shooting their way through the south-east Asian underground. Click here for the review.
Figure 17: An oddly-premised but beautifully and sensitively told tale of childhood, friendship and growing up, about a ten-year-old girl who ends up with an identical twin after an encounter with an alien spacecraft. Click here for the review.
Note: If you can’t find anime in your local video store, try Robert’s Anime Corner Store. I know it’s a bit pricey, but if you start getting into the genre, I highly endorse buying rather than pirating shows, as this is a relatively under-demand artform in the West and to keep the supply of translated or subtitled shows, we need to keep buying them…
Gunslinger Girl (Pending)
Scrapped Princess (Pending)
Full Metal Panic (Pending)
Speed Grapher (Pending)
Gun Sword* (Pending)
*Reviews based on partial viewing