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Where to Start With Anime

Updated on July 29, 2013

What is this Anime thing?

In recent years Japanese Anime has become a world wide phenomenon and a cornerstone in pop culture. Today's children grow up either watching an anime show or a show inspired by that style. Have you personally ever looked at the whole thing and wondered what all the fuss is about? Well keep reading and you'll soon discover why it's become so popular. I'll take you through the best Anime movies and shows to start you off or if you're an avid fan, here's some titles worth watching if you haven't already.

What's so special about Anime?

Unlike Western attitudes to animation, Japan has long looked at animation as just another medium to tell stories instead of a medium reserved for kids only. There are a number of things which set Japanese Anime apart from many other animated shows and movies.

1) Distinctive Style

By this I'm not referring to the way people or objects are drawn; I'm referring to the stylistic choices employed when directing a scene or the way storytelling is conveyed. You've probably heard the expression "speed-lines" at some point. Anime has a few more tricks like speed-lines which makes it very distinctive such as panning across a completely still image or sliding two still images past each other etc.

Most Anime movies also have a tendency to tell stories in a very unique way. Much like the Japanese language, storytelling can often be abstract while still being poetic. When starting out with Anime don't feel to bad if you don't really understand all of what you just watched.

2) Bold Ideas

I think most people would agree that today the Hollywood film industry is running low on ideas. Most movies that are coming out are either adaptations, sequels, prequels or reboots/remakes. Hollywood is even attempting to make board games into blockbusters. If you ever find yourself tired of the same old thing then I guarantee you'll be pleasantly surprised by what Anime has to offer.

The stereotype is something involving giant robots, monsters school kids and while they do exist there's always something new and interesting to be found. You can find anything from Steampunk to family Drama. If you've ever wished for a new, rich story to contrast with standard summer movies then look to Anime.

Akira

Probably one of the most famous Anime movies of all time, Akira was the movie that launched the Japanese style into the Western world and made it into a phenomenon. Written and Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, Akira follows the story of two teenagers - Tetsuo and Kaneda - in post WWIII Neo-Tokyo. While fighting in a war between two biker gangs, Tetsuo is abducted by the government and experimented on with disastrous, Earth shattering results.

For 1988 the animation is some of the most jaw dropping and impressive even for today and detailed to an extent that is yet to be surpassed. Akira is also one of the best characters studies as we watch Tetsuo turn from an angst ridden teen to a walking weapon of mass destruction and Kaneda from an older brother figure into a reluctant hero with no choice but to kill his best friend. Akira is both visually impressive as well as drama heavy and it succeeds on both fronts. Plus all of this is set to a fantastic musical score by Shoji Yamashiro.

Even at the time and even in it's native country this was a ground breaking movie experience and its impact has been felt world wide. The Wachowski brother's once said, "No Akira, no Matrix". Nuff said.

Ghost in the Shell

Before I end up repeating myself I'll just give a blanket statement that the animation for all these suggestions is awesome. This time we go to Neo-Hong Kong instead of Tokyo to witness the Cyberpunk action of Ghost in the Shell. I mentioned the TV spin-off in a previous hub, but this movie is still worth talking about.

Ghost in the Shell follows the futuristic counter Cyber-Terrorist force called Section 9 as they investigate hacking activity by the mysterious "puppet-master". Much like Akira this is one that stands out as both action packed as well as truly intriguing and morally fascinating. Most of this depth comes from the protagonist, Major Kusanagi - who is nude for most of the film for some reason - a person so cybernetically altered that the only thing human left is her brain. So many powerful themes and questions are raised that is the action doesn't grab you it's sure to have you pondering various ideas in your head.However quite frankly it's impossible not to be thrilled by the action in this movie. From car chases to Kung-Fu fights to a stand-off against a spider-tank.

I also have to mention the music by Kenji Kawai - who later scored Ran and Ip Man - which while minimalist is still hauntingly beautiful. If you're into movies like Blade Runner or games like Deus Ex then this is soon to be another favourite.


Bleach

A great TV series for the more spiritual. Bleach tells the story of Ichigo Kurosaki who stumbles upon a world of souls and monsters and the war being fought daily that remains invisible to most. Recruited into a secret society, Ichigo goes about the task of hunting down "Hollows": rouge souls who have turned into terrifying creatures.

This series is much more lighthearted than the previously mentioned installments but still an entertaining and inventive story with great characters. Every episode has a well staged action set piece and despite the first few episodes just being, find hollow-fight hollow-kill hollow, there soon comes a lot of variation and new dynamics which leads on to a very deep mythology.

As well as great action and interesting backstory, Bleach also delivers on a comedic level with some true belly laughs. Whether it's the dry humour of the gentle giant Chad or the eccentric cartoon chaos of Ichigo's loud mouthed father, your sure to crack a smile.

This is a story which adults and kids can get into, but I think that adults would be more suited to following the plot which gets a little complicated quite fast. A fun series with plenty to entertain you.

Spirited Away

One of the most beloved Anime directors is Hayao Miyazaki for his family friendly, warm hearted adventure movies. Spirited Away was the movie which won him an Oscar as well as world wide fame and critical praise and for good reason. The film tells the story of a ten year old girl who wonders into a fantasy world of whitches and monsters and where humans are changes into animals.

I don't often use the word, but the best way to describe this film is cute. It's a cute family adventure which tops even Disney's sunny disposition. It's also great in terms of landmark film making. No movie is perfect but there's little wrong with this gem. It's creative, funny, thrilling with great characters and drama. While I personally prefer the heavy handed sci-fi stuff I will always enjoy this movie.

There isn't much I can say beyond, buy it, watch it and prepare to feel all warm and fuzzy.

Evangelion: You Are (Not) Alone

A recent discovery of my own, but a damn good one. Evangalion is both a stereotypical Anime, but also one of the best. If I were to streamline the plot it basically goes like this: giant robots fight giant monsters. I think Guillermo Del Toro's a fan. It's what you'd expect, but the actual story and setting for this epic is highly original and will peak your curiosity.

Set in a world many years after meteors smashed into the icecaps causing global flooding, a young boy is recruited to pilot a immense machine and fight off demonic like creatures known as Angels - irony I suppose. Underneath the gigantic clashes of monsters and machines however, is a compelling mystery that will have you guessing towards the end - honestly I'm still wracking my brains about it.

What makes it stand out against the other giant robot fodder is simple design choices which will make you say out loud, "Ooh that's clever isn't it". The back story is one much like Akira in that it blends both fringe science and cyber-tech with spirituality and ancient mythology to create something unique and stunning.

The franchise originally began with a TV series but then went on to be remade as a number of big screen movies. I recommend starting with this movie mainly because it's how I got into it and have since become an avid fan.

Pacific Rim had awesome robot fights, but this franchise has that and much much more.

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