the beginning of anime

My very first foray into anime was Robotech, and it hooked me so badly during spring finals week of my freshman year of college that I spent virtually all of my time between final exams in the TV room at the dorm with my stash of VHS tapes. Apart from watching Akira and Ghost in the Shell sometime afterwards (neither of which I remember particularly well), my next exposure to anime was Grave of the Fireflies, which left a bad impression, to say the least. It wasn’t until just two years ago that Steven got me addicted to Haibane Renmei, which as you may have noticed left something of an impression on me. Since then, my anime strategy has been a predilection for series that are, in Nick’s words, “emotionally tiring” (like Dennou Coil), or epic in scope (like Twelve Kingdoms or Escaflowne). I also enjoy series which have a unique take on technology (Last Exile), or adopt a philosophic and surreal bent (Kino’s Journey, Mushishi) . I also am drawn to certain styles of anime, where the story is of course important but also the manner in which the story is told (Samurai Jack, The Place Promised). Above all, I like a series that has interesting characters, who are human, flawed, and honorable, who charm me and make me care what happens next, even if I sort of already know the answer (Ranma, Shingu, The Cat Returns, The Girl Who Leapt). Of course, I am also heavily into the kawaii scene (Sugar Snow Fairy, Totoro), primarily because of my daughters. This list barely scratches the surface of what I have seen, and the list of what I want to see next is even longer still.

I am partly responding here to Steven’s “end of anime” post in which he laments the lack of interesting material to be excited about – I think that the point where any one of us runs out of anime is when we exhaust the pool of what we like. There are very few truly original series out there, so everything in some sense is an echo of what comes before. Limit ourselves to our safe pond, and over time it is certain to dry up. And yet, inspiration to try something new often strikes from unlikely places. Take Ranma as an example – I’d tried it once, and recoiled due to excessive ecchi. It was solely due to Steven’s enthusiasm for it that got me to give it another shot, and now I am hooked, while ironically Steven’s interest has sagged (season 5, btw, has been superb, easily equal to the high points of seasons 2 and 3). Ranma is new ground for me in anime, with plenty of casual ecchi and fan service, a focus on martial arts, and a love dodecahedron as the primary plot driver. And yet, I have fallen for it in a sense, because over time you get to know the characters, even if they don’t grow that much, who they are is plenty enough. I am sure there are plenty of frontiers (relatively) for me to explore yet, not just on my watch list but also things like Evangelion, Haruhi, Ah My Goddess, Mahoromatic, etc. which all represent a significant departure from my usual fare, even more so than Ranma.

All I am really trying to say is that anime is vast. Even if the industry were to die tomorrow from evil fansubbers or a withering of imaginative energy or displacement by Korean animation studios, there’s already a corpus of work that spans decades for me to work through, and I am limited only by my taste (stop snickering). I fully understand why Steven is at the end of anime, but for me, it’s just the beginning. And I owe that to him.

As an aside, if anyone has discs of series that I’ve mentioned above that they’d like to sell, let me know. I am especially interested in buying Ranma or Kino.

depressing anime

Eaisly the most depressing annime I ever watched was Grave of the Fireflies. It was recommended by someone whose taste I knew ran ddarker than mine, but I figured, hey it would be artsy, whynot? It certainly gets high marks from reviewers, but in my opinion from reading them there’s a Seinfeld/English Patient dynamic at work there. I mean, did they watch the same movie I did? I am particularly bitter given that that single title pretty much sabotaged the enjoyment of the entire genre of anime for my wife, who points to it (and the perpetual presence of anime orphans in general) as proof that anime is for emotional masochists.

Now – while certainly not in Fireflies’ league – several otaku comment that Binchou-tan is a fairly morose series. Given that it is kid-oriented, it certainly wasn’t going to end on a down-note, as Don observed with relief. Still, I just don’t consider loneliness and angst to have entertainment value. Whether or not the series is worth it for us would be how well it meets my Guidelines for Child-Friendly Anime or not. It’s kind of a moot point given that there is no dubbed Region 1 for Binchou-tan anyway, only fansubs.

One might argue that Haibane Renmei was a depressing series – after all, once you gget past disc 6 it seems like Rakka has a tearful breakdown every five minutes. And the introspective look of Reki is pretty well captured by my blog header – just wait until I post the lyrics to some of the songs from the Hanenone CD. But HR was joyous for all its angst. There’s an elation you feel at the end that makes it all fit together just right.

Still, there must be a market for all that angst. I bet Marvin would love it. What do you think, Marvin-tan?

UPDATE: Some folks at the Old Home Forum take exception to our attitude towards Fireflies, Miyazaki, and even Azumanga Daioh. I have often been accused of “not getting it” when I failed to express the proper reverence for certain pieces of art by those with more knowledge than I about what constitutes “good” art. I suspect that this is much the same. Ultimately whether art makes a connection to someone or not is an intensely personal affair, and I don’t think that refusal to treat art critically is the less sophisticated approach.