Saturday, November 16, 2013

Five older anime series for beginners.

Since I will soon be reviewing anime and manga for a popular website, I decided to do a quick post about five older series to introduce to fans of newer anime, or even those who are just looking for an introduction series.I made a point to choose each from a different genre so that comparing them to one another would be difficult.I also made sure that they were at least a decade old.I would have gone for much older series, however I just don't see a newbie watching Galaxy Express 999 without falling asleep, or Ranma 1/2 without feeling very confused.No offense to either of those mentioned.They each have merit in either artistic presentation or pure nostalgia depending on who you ask.However, what I am looking to talk about are accessible series with tangible story lines.I want to talk about relatable protagonists and villains that are recognizable as something more than a throwback from a saturday morning in the 80's.

Here goes.

Fushigi Yugi:Epic Fantasy

The story:

Two best friends (Yui and Miaka) encounter an enchanted book while studying for high school entrance exams at the library.Transported into a fantastical version of feudal China, both girls find themselves set on opposite sides of a war between two countries and their gods.

The appeal:

My description above is very much oversimplified.I left it this way intentionally. Aside from what I mentioned originally there is a love triangle and a ton of wonderful characters and villains.I would venture to say that when I remember Fushigi Yugi, it is the ensemble "cast" of colorful characters and their tragic backstories that really drew me in.The art is also lovely.While the manga penned by Yuu Watase is clearly superior to the animated version, a good job is done of adapting Watase's soft images to the screen.The story has an epic quality about it that kept me interested in what happened next.There is also a fantastic LGBT character in the series and a lot of humor mixed in with the drama.The villains are (mostly) well fleshed out and while some are seriously psychotic, none fall into the "mustache twirling" role that could make you roll your eyes.I love a good villain almost more than I love a good hero.

The negatives:I recall a lot of whining and crying from the heroine (Miaka).She is pretty annoying but this can be forgiven when you consider that she is a fifteen year old school girl from modern times.However, the aforementioned love triangle becomes soapy and if you are not into that sort of thing it can become a real drag.My biggest issue with the series, is of course the same issue I have with every single one of Yuu Watase's series.Rape.Rape comes up in nearly every one of Watase's works.And while this one actually has a purpose in the beginning, I can't express how much of a hinderance the theme becomes in the second season.Unfortunately the use of rape to flesh out a female character's background is near epidemic in comic books and their like.While the general feeling of anger is that these are written by men, Yuu Watase is a woman.Believe me when I say no one character or gender is immune to this.Nearly all of Watase's works include at least one scene of a character having someone force themselves on another. The assault is not always successful, but it makes me wonder what kind of demons she has faced to have this theme as a constant.

See also, The Vision of Escaflowne, Record of Lodoss War, Ayashi no Ceres.

Trigun:Science Fiction/Action

The story:

Vash the Stampede is a notorious criminal in a story set in a Sci-Fi version of the Wild West.Meryl Strife and her assistant Milly are insurance agents who are unfortunate enough to be assigned to document the damage this bloodthirsty criminal leaves behind in his wake.Only, Vash is not the murderer they are expecting to encounter.In fact, he is a jovial if a bit distant hero who actually despises killing and tries in earnest to protect the people who are threatened by criminals.Sadly, Vash's dark past is always nipping at his heels and causes his very existence to bring misfortune upon the people he wants to save.Who is this mysterious man in red and can he defeat his demons before they destroy everything he loves?

The appeal:

Trigun has many fans who normally do not generally "like" anime because the setting is so very "American".In fact, Yashiro Nightow, the creator is in love with American western films and it shows.The mix of humor and action is pretty riveting and each character is special in both design and personality.The main villain is a tad cliche but brings about some really interesting philosophical questions about the chain of life that can spark some good conversation.Milly and Meryl are our eyes and ears and while we get to enjoy their perspective, we also meet and learn to love Vash through their changing perceptions of him.Twists and turns await us as the series rushes to an ending and we are left thirsting for more.Also, the art is a lot of fun.The theme song and the ending songs both kick some major butt.

The Cons:

At the beginning, Trigun is a villain of the week series and yes, many of them are actually mustache twirlers.If this annoys you, you might have a difficult time getting into it during the first few episodes. The Sci-Fi aspect is slightly confusing unless you are willing to "just go with it".In short, Vash is not human and without giving too much away all I can say is his existence is better explained in the manga version.I was fine with this but many people may not be.He is just a super cool take on the "Lone Gunman"and while I suspect most people wont mind his origin story there could be a bunch who scratch their heads as well.Also, the animation can be rough at times.But it was the 90's and this is before everything was super CGI.

See also:Cowboy Bebop, Outlaw Star, Gungrave, S-Cry-ed

Gundam Wing:Mecha

The story:

If I'm going to put a Gundam series in here, it will have to be "Wing" because I grew up with it.I've seen the others but this was my favorite.During an intergalactic war, five mysterious mecha pilots appear wielding very powerful robots called, "Gundams" (they are made from "Gundomian alloy"...).They cross the paths of many players in the war including one young Relena Darlian, a spoiled politicians daughter who becomes obsessed with Heero Yuy, the pilot who is chosen to spy on people close to Relena.After her father is assassinated, Relena's real past is revealed and her connection to the power struggle between the colonized planets and those looking to oppress colonists draws her closer to Heero and the four others.Unfortunately each of these young men believe they were working alone and their personalities do not always mesh. Can the past and future be reconciled and will greed destroy the happiness of the Colonies?

The Appeal:Each and every character has such a wonderfully tragic backstory you can't help but be fascinated by the amount of writing that went into their stories.If you are looking for a political show mostGundam stories are going to fit that bill.Wing has politics in spades.Most of the motivations from each side of the struggle are so relevant that they feel genuinely reflective of our world on any given day.Intrigue and espionage is woven tightly into each story line and character development is pretty well done.This is a two season series, so there is time to spend with everyone.We feel their growth and their pain as well as their triumphs and failures.Some character relationships are drawn so intricately they feel nearly Shakespearian in their tragedy.Gundam is a franchise that is constantly being appended and amended in Japan.With each year a new Gundam series is nearly guaranteed.Some are better than others.This is one of the better ones.While it might help to understand how Wing connects to the other series it can stand out on its own merit.

The Cons:There are so many characters it is often difficult to keep track of everyone.The story is also a bit confusing and while I did mention that the story stands on its own, some people may begin the series with the feeling that they opened a book in the middle and are trying to figure out what happened in the first hundred pages.The story catches up with its own history, but it might feel off putting to those who really want everything laid out in front of them.It might, for this reason, feel slow.Some of the characters, Heero and Relena, for instance are positively annoying and frustrating to watch. Heero is constantly threatening to kill Relena and she is forever chasing after him.If you thought YA heroines of recent popularity fell for the wrong guy, Relena gives them a run for it.Also, Heero's lack of personality makes her attraction perplexing.Is he that cute?Anime cute?Whatever.Girl needs therapy.

See also:Macross, Martian Successor Nadesico, any other Gundam Series.

Love Hina:Harem

Disclaimer:I was hesitant to add this one because even though it is over a decade old it is a bit modern compared to others on this list.However, when I asked advice of which harem series to include this was the pick.In a way, it is a good choice, because it defines the genre without the fantasy elements that better and older series include.I already included a fantasy and science fiction on this list so I decided that Love Hina would indeed be a good representation of the "harem" genre of anime.

Truthfully, in the last five years, this type of series has been on the decline and that is not a bad thing.It has been played out.Way played out.A harem anime usually consists of a main somewhat bland male protagonist who is put in a situation where several attractive girls are either living with him, fighting over him or both.Think Archie, Veronica and Betty as an American equivalent.

The Story:When Keitaro Urashima was a child he met his childhood sweetheart at the Hinata Inn, his grandmother's boarding house where he used to play.The two made a promise that when they grew up they would go to Tokyo University together.Unfortunately she moved away shortly after and while Keitaro remembered the promise and vaguely what she looked like, he could not recall her name.He was like five years old, so let's forgive him.Anyway, he is now of age to apply to college and he has never been able to get the feeling of puppy love out of his heart.He is determined to get into Tokyo U. and find that girl once again.Sadly, Tokyo U. is a reach for Keitaro who has no outstanding qualities academically.Hunkering down in cram schools just to pass the entrance exam, Kei's grandmother decides she wants to see the world and gives Keitaro the keys to Hinata to run in her absence.Hinata Inn is now an all girls boarding house and the residents are weary of having a boy as their landlord.Can Keitaro earn their trust and get into Tokyo U.?Is one of his boarders the girl from his past?

The Appeal:

Adding Love Hina is cheating.As I mentioned before, it is not that early an example of the genre.It came about during a time when anime was growing tired of harem shows.However, it is unique in the sense that it (generally) focuses on relationships and does not include a fantasy or science fiction angle. The cast is colorful.Five or six (or seven?) girls pass through the doors of Hinata while Kei is the landlord.Each one is unique in her own way.There is Naru, the main love interest (and possibly the promised girl) a smart girl with a fiery temper and her best friend Kitsune, a lazy plotter.There is shy Shinobu, the hyper active Koara Su and the serious Motoko, a kendo expert with an aversion to men and turtles.There is also a turtle.The turtle is the mascot of the series.Just go with it.Oh!And then there is flaky Mutsumi.Not a resident of Hinata, Mutsumi lived near the Inn as a child and bears a slight resemblance to Naru.She is a lot of fun to watch and adds some mystery to the childhood sweetheart plot.

The story is often very funny and mainly consists of Keitaro getting caught in awkward situations while the girls beat on him for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.While there are some sweet moments between Kei and the girls (mostly Naru) this is usually brought to an end when one of their fists (mostly Naru's) send him flying out into the atmosphere so if you enjoy slapstick, then this is a good show for you.There is a genuine sense of romance which can be very sweet and refreshing since many harem protagonists remain aloof to the women who pursue them.Beyond this, there are some gentle coming of age side stories that are positively precious.The character designs are also pretty appealing.

The Cons:Ugh.Love Hina.How many times can Keitaro "accidentally" walk in on Naru changing out of her skirt?That joke gets old pretty quickly as does Kei falling into someone's boobs.This isn't terribly classy stuff and while that can be fine, it becomes an eye roller the umpteenth time that trope is used and overused again.This is the type of thing that gives anime a bad name.Pervy "fanservice" involving jiggly breasts.Sure, most of the girls are pretty assertive when this type of thing happens but it doesn't win many points.The creator Ken Akamatsu is sort of a one trick pony.He seems to only write harem anime and while Love Hina is his best and most conventional it falls off a cliff a few times.I would advise against it if a viewer decides they want to watch the specials which proceed the main series.It will kill it for you.Don't do it.

See also:Tenchi Muyo, El Hazard, Ah!My Goddess.

Sailor Moon:Magical Girl

The Story:I cannot make this list without Sailor Moon.The story is a fun superhero tale with a mostly female cast.Usagi is a flaky school girl who pulls below average grades in her middle school.One day while on her way home, she rescues a stray cat who she discovers can talk!The cat (Luna) tells her that she is the incarnation of a magical hero called, "Sailor Moon" and endows her with various powers to fight the evil which has invaded Tokyo.Along the way, Usagi discovers other girls in her school who are celestial warriors and they join together to become a team in order to find the missing moon princess.Hint:It's Usagi.No spoiler there.

The Appeal:Each of Usagi's friends are well written characters and actually far more interesting than she is.This doesn't mean she is awful, but Sailor Moon isn't everyone's favorite by default.In fact she has so many character flaws while she is annoying, you can forgive her because it is obvious that she is supposed to be a 14 year old girl.She is clearly not sure what her role as leader is supposed to entail and often frustrates the others who are sworn to follow her.In a way, this makes her endearing.Later a few more mature characters join the team including a lesbian couple and a few gender bendy types.

Sailor Moon holds almost all of the tropes needed for a magical girl series.A cute mascot, elaborate costume changing sequences and lots of sparkles.It practically set the standard for the genre since it first came on the scene...even if it is not the first of its kind it is by far the most well known.There is also the question of the mysterious Tuxedo Mask, a handsome hero who often intervenes in a battle to give Sailor Moon and friends the confidence they need to defeat their enemies.It isn't really a spoiler to reveal that he is in fact Mamoru, the tall older boy who drives Usagi crazy.In spite of their constant bickering, the love story between the two is actually quite adorable.It is nice that the girls do most of the fighting and he exists for moral support. He is often the "damsel in distress".

If you ever watched this show on American television, please realize that it was a hack job and the original series is much better and far more complex.

The Cons:While a new series is on the way, Sailor Moon (the original) is very dated.It seems juvenile at times for sure but this isn't the biggest issues with it.The villains do the same thing over and over.They arrive, drain Tokyo residents of their energy, cackle and repeat.The sailor senshi (warriors) arrive, fight, lose, gain the upper hand (usually after Tuxedo Mask throws a rose and tells them they can do it) and eventually win.Yawn.This gets better, but some people might get tired of this fast.Also the motivation of the main bad guys is pretty black and white.There are some sympathetic villains (mostly the underlings) but the big bads are often your typical cackling overlords.This improves once you pass the first season.

Also, Mamoru is in college?Usagi is supposed to be in middle school?Maybe that kind of thing was overlooked in the late 80's early 90's in Japan but it will potentially (and should) be seen as creepy.The two are undeniably an anime power couple and yet, did the age difference have to be so large?The addition of a few annoying characters in later seasons can be a turn off as well.Also, this show is very sparkly and pink.Not everyone will love that.

See also:Magic Knight Reyearth, Card Captor Sakura.
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