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Anime: It's Not All Robots and Demons.

Updated on September 11, 2013

Still pictures of moving pictures:

Bleach.  Grab a sword, amp up your spiritual pressure, and go fight some Hollows.  Some fights take so many episodes, you forget what they were doing before the fight.  Maybe they were just going out for a Coke at McDonalds, maybe they weren't.
Bleach. Grab a sword, amp up your spiritual pressure, and go fight some Hollows. Some fights take so many episodes, you forget what they were doing before the fight. Maybe they were just going out for a Coke at McDonalds, maybe they weren't. | Source
Have Vespa and Bass, Will Travel.  I really like that the big, bad factory looks like an iron, you know, for clothes.
Have Vespa and Bass, Will Travel. I really like that the big, bad factory looks like an iron, you know, for clothes. | Source
xxxHolic has some of the most beautiful artwork.  I looove this show.
xxxHolic has some of the most beautiful artwork. I looove this show. | Source
Beck is the name of the Frankenstein's Monster dog.
Beck is the name of the Frankenstein's Monster dog. | Source
Go, go, gadget go-playing ghost.
Go, go, gadget go-playing ghost. | Source
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, changing your world one day at a time.  Or something.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, changing your world one day at a time. Or something. | Source
Eureka 7:  Robots, spaceships, surfing, an angsty teenager, super-ish powers, the future.  What isn't to love.
Eureka 7: Robots, spaceships, surfing, an angsty teenager, super-ish powers, the future. What isn't to love. | Source
Dattebayo was my favorite group of fan subbers.  I have no idea what happened to them.  Since they were notorious trollers, we probably never will.  Believe it (or don't).
Dattebayo was my favorite group of fan subbers. I have no idea what happened to them. Since they were notorious trollers, we probably never will. Believe it (or don't). | Source
I owned the record of this.  It taught me cool words to amaze my friends with back in the day.
I owned the record of this. It taught me cool words to amaze my friends with back in the day. | Source

Like anything else, some anime is formulaic, some isn't

I'm one of those people that never understood Anime or (for the old amongst us) Japanimation. While most Anime fans detest the Japanimation moniker, you have to realize that the first introduction most of us got of anything other than the Hanna-Barbara/Walt Disney-type cartoons were The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. While the content wasn't Japanese, the animation was. It was totally different than anything else we'd ever seen before.

However, somewhere along the line, it seemed that every animated feature that came out of Japan began to incorporate a host of stock characters, settings, and plot points. It was formulaic and it turned us off. While there was good stuff being made, it sure wasn't coming to the US in large boatloads.

The typical scenario looked something like this: a (single/group of) (High/Middle/College) School student(s) learned that they possessed (magical powers/a robot/a crispy-fried wombat) and only (their school/the world/Japan) could be saved by defeating the evil (demons/aliens/Americans).

The longest running examples right now would be the fight-porns Bleach and Naruto. Let's take a quick dissection of Bleach.

Ichigo Kurosaki (High School Student) learns that he possesses a large amount of (spiritual pressure/reiatsu) that will allow him to (manifest a spirit form with a sword/Zanpakutō). Only he and his friends with similar powers can defeat the evil (spirits/Hollows) that threaten (his neighborhood/the real world).

Now, don't get me wrong, I watched fan-subbed episodes of Bleach and couldn't wait for them to download. Once Dattebayo quit subbing them, I lost interest. It wasn't the same watching low-resolution streaming videos. And the answer to the "piracy" thing: well, as soon as the episodes came out --years later-- on DVD, I bought them. But really, guys, it's television. Me watching Tokyo TV's finest products without commercials led me to buying more of their products. Net result: More money for Tokyo TV.

Not all Anime are the same, though. While most of the elements are reused over and over again without end in sight, some things can be different. Here are a few of my favorites. No particular order to these, just randomness.

#1 FLCL. Speaking of randomness. This is like Seinfeld with a cool soundtrack and angsty middle school students. Get your TV hooked up to some great speakers and crank it loud. It's the normal, Kid gets hit by Vespa, Robot pops out of Kid's head, Robot and Kid help save the World. Add a blue Rickenbacker bass and an attractive 19 year-old to drive the Vespa and carry the Ric, and you kind of, maybe, have a plot. But probably not.

#2 xxxHolic. It has nothing to do with XXX: Either porn or the action movie. It's a project of Clamp, the female writer's group. I love the long/tall animation style and art decoish design work. For the FUNimation translation/reimagination, I especially love the choice of Colleen Clinkenbeard for Yuko Ichihara; her languorous voice drawling out commands to Kimihiro Watanuki while slyly omitting important bits of information is funny. Another Boy Plagued by Spirits saga, but beautifully done.

#3 Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad is another piece reimagined by FUNimation. Like FLCL, it's best if you crank your sound to 11. Musically centered, Beck is a slice of life, near stream of consciousness following of Koyuki/Yukio's band and his relationships amongst the band and his (jr. high) school friends. My wife tells me I need to get a banner that says "Fishing Hole" in Japanese to go by our pond to commemorate how many times one is shown in the show.

#4 Hikaru No Go. When a local video rental store went out of business, I cleaned out their Anime section. One of the things I picked up (and my wife thought totally strange) was Hikaru No Go. It's a coming of age story of a boy with a haunted Go set. Think of it as if Bobby Fischer died and haunted your chess set. He would guide you through some awesome games you could never play on your own...except you would start to learn and become a pro in your own right. While it does have little "basics of how to play Go" segments at the end of each episode, don't expect to become an expert watching the show. By the way, gaming company Atari was named for a move from Go.

#5 The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Another (high) school student, a girl this time, can change reality (Lathe of Heaven style). This is her search for unique individuals through her school club (SOS) and the underlying reality of her world. What's real and what isn't is hard to tell sometimes, but isn't that the way with the world?

If you prefer robots and spaceships, you might prefer Eureka 7. It is one of the few that I like that does involve those elements. Which is odd, 'cause I'm a big fan of written Science Fiction. I've just never been a big fan of it in Anime form. At least not the Robotech/Space Battleship Yamato (Star Blazers) type.

Animation has come a long way, but the innate weirdness of trying to understand another culture through cartoons is a weird experience. It's like British television to Americans: no matter how much you think you know, you're missing some important bits of the picture if you didn't grow up in the culture that spawned it.

Question time: What's the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?

Out of the group mentioned here, what do you like best?

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    • StephanieBCrosby profile image

      Stephanie Bradberry 5 years ago from New Jersey

      It was tough choosing between Bleach or Naruto as my favorite, but alas I chose Bleach because the storyline is more complex and there are not as many little goofy sidebars.

      It's so funny that your article started as it did. I was thinking about writing how anime has very basic composition and many similarities across series.

    • DougBerry profile image
      Author

      DougBerry 5 years ago from Abilene, TX

      I've been joking about most of the Manga writers having some sort of Mad Libs style writing board for quite a while. Change a couple of nouns, add a modifier or two, punch it up with some juicy verbs, and you've written a new, hot Manga. If enough works, you get an Anime and are in the big money.

    • DREAM ON profile image

      DREAM ON 5 years ago

      It is a whole different world for me.The closest thing I can compare it to is Speed Racer growing up.I do love it but no time to watch.Thanks for giving me a better understanding on the whole Anime world.I love the action and the characters.What is your all time best Anime?

    • DougBerry profile image
      Author

      DougBerry 5 years ago from Abilene, TX

      Hmm. There are as many varieties of Anime as there are regular shows or films. Samurai 7 and xxxHolic are probably my current favorites, though Beck and FLCL are always up there.

    • DIMIR profile image

      DIMIR 5 years ago from Pennsylvania, United States

      And my inner dork says:

      Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, Death Note, Darker Than Black, Samurai Champloo, Black Butler and Code Geass are sorely missed. If you want good anime, go there. The plot is different than most others and the music for Bebop and Champloo is excellent (Yoko Kanno and Nujabes are worth checking out). You have to look past those big names, because as an anime kid who knows lots of anime kids, they hate the big names... haha. This is what most I know watch. There is also Ouran Highschool Host Club and Soul Eater. A Big one is Inuyasha, though I never found myself able to finish it.

    • DougBerry profile image
      Author

      DougBerry 5 years ago from Abilene, TX

      DIMIR, your first list are all on my shelf, watched and enjoyed. Bebop and Trigun I've always felt were good companion pieces. Champloo is another on the "play loud" list.

      Death Note is another one like Bleach (at least for me), it just covers the same territory too many times.

      I have a horrible memory for names of things. Whenever Netflix has changed cover pictures for Anime, I may re-add something before I go, hey, I've watched that. I have to remember to rate things or that happens every few months.

    • DIMIR profile image

      DIMIR 5 years ago from Pennsylvania, United States

      See, I think I respect Death Note more than Bleach because it hasn't been as abused by anime. Bleach manga was being written while the anime was on (still happening I assume), and they couldn't keep up, so they start throwing in filler. I've always had more respect for the short and completed type. I think Death Note is more like the king of that category for how it covers the situation, but I agree.

      I used to use Netflix for anime, but I got angry after a while. They kept changing the guide on x-box and then they would have the second two installments in series, but not the first. Oi.

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