Editor’s Note: Anime (Japanese animation) has a bad rap as being a very geeky (otaku) activity. While this may be somewhat true, we at Wide Island View think it’s also a great way to understand and enjoy Japanese culture. So for those of you who don’t usually watch anime, here are some anime recommendations from Wide Island View co-editor Joshua Zimmerman and three other so-called “regular” people. Try it — you just might like it!
Judy Kroo spent two years on JET, living on a very small island in Hiroshima Prefecture. She now lives in Yamanashi Prefecture.
They say that people of good taste are people without originality, but I imagine that they (whoever they are) would have revised their opinion after reading about my taste in anime. That is to say, my taste is neither original nor particularly good. Despite of all the peer pressure I faced growing up, I never went through an anime obsession phase — not in high school when my drama club friends spent Friday nights watching bootleg VHS tapes with incomplete (or sometimes nonexistent) subtitles, nor in university even though I lived in an all-male corridor filled with science and math geeks.
It wasn’t that I didn’t watch anime, but I never quite got what all the fuss was about. I just saw weird, half-puerile plot lines pretending to be deep and profound, warped by an obsessive puerile sexuality. That and a ton of robots. It seemed ridiculous, though saying so was to invite an onslaught of the most nerdish kind of anger.
Therefore, what follows is the list of someone who is still skeptical about the whole enterprise, yet has learned to appreciate the pleasures of the aforementioned robots (albeit very slowly and halfheartedly).
This is a classic Miyazaki movie, set in a future when much of the world’s ecosystem has been destroyed and the remnants of civilization live in isolated areas between huge swathes of decay populated by giant insects. The movie concerns a young princess, Nausicaa, who has the ability to communicate with these insects and must fight against a group of humans intent on using the weapons of the past to destroy them. The reason I love it so much is because it was the first film that I watched all the way through in Japanese without using English subtitles. Every time I watch it, I am attracted not only to the strength of the main (female) character but I remember all the work and effort I put into my studies and how awesome it felt to be able to watch a movie and actually understand what everyone was saying.
My students invariably make fun of me when I tell them about this (very old) anime, which was the first anime that I ever watched. I was in high school when Sailor Moon, a story of a somewhat airheaded middle school girl who discovers that she is in fact a warrior destined to save the earth, first aired in the United States. It would come on right after I got home from school, and all my drama club friends were obsessed with it, so I thought I might as well watch it too. After-school clubs meant I only watched it sporadically, so I was never entirely sure what was going on, but I liked how Serena was kind of a brat and full of herself and how over the top the stories were. It was a great little afternoon escape for me.
Ghost in the Shell has both television and movie stories as well as manga and video games. I enjoy the movies, especially the second film, “Innocence”, which presents a vaguely hallucinogenic version of a dystopian future and concerns the investigation into the murder of several high ranking members of society. I like using the movies as listening study aids because they are just so bloody difficult. The main characters continually reference literature and history and often quote directly from books using really tough Japanese when they speak to each other. Even with the Japanese subtitles turned on, I have to refer to my dictionary all the time, but I love the challenge of it and anyway it’s excellent practice.
Helen Truax is a former Hiroshima JET who now lives and works in Wisconsin, though she would gladly trade a block of cheese for some okonomiyaki.
This anime about bounty hunters several hundred years in the future has a fun and quirky style and has a great mix of characters. The style is somewhat film noir with plenty of dry humor and action. Each of the 26 episodes more or less stands on its own, so you don’t have to watch them in any particular order, and you can watch the entire series in a relatively short amount of time. Note from Josh: I love the music in Cowboy Bebop. The mix of jazz cowboy funk sung by Japanese artist Yoko Kano graces my iTunes playlist to this day.
This series is about a pair of brothers with near-magical powers who travel from town to town on the orders of the military, trying to stop magical creations from destroying the country. It’s set in a fantasy-tinged 1800s European-style landscape, and most of the stories center around the powers of the brothers and the magical fights they have. It has a lot of anime-style blood and organs, so if that bothers you, you might want to stay away.
This is the classic movie that put Studio Ghibli on the map. Recent releases from the same studio include Kiki’s Delivery Service, Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle. It’s a great look at Japanese family life as well as what it’s like to live in the countryside. The magical characters from this movie have become as ingrained into Japanese society as Mickey Mouse or Winnie-the-Pooh. It’s a definite must-see for anyone living in or planning to visit Japan.
Otaku Dan writes about otaku culture and other personal interests on his blog. He first watched anime at the age of 6 and has been a devoted fan ever since.
Some people believe that anime is nothing but Japanese school girls getting tentacle raped, a bunch of long-drawn-out nonsense involving spiky-haired guys wielding swords twice their size, and kiddy stuff. Well, some of that may be true, but anime can still be taken seriously. Here are my three recommendations for anime series that that I have introduced to people who didn’t think they’d like it, but did.
This anime is great for people who don’t know much about anime but do enjoy a good thriller. The main character, Dr. Tenma, is a surgeon in Germany who is admired by his peers, adored by his patients, and is engaged to his boss’s daughter. He has a great future ahead of him. One day, however, he is given a moral dilemma: save the life of a young boy, or save the life of the town’s mayor. He chooses the boy, but that decision sets off a nightmarish chain of events. Tenma must right the wrongs caused by his decision while maintaining his sanity.
In the world of Afro Samurai there are two simple rules: the No. 1 character rules the world, and the No. 2 character can only challenge No. 1. Afro is No. 2, and he must kill countless people to defend his title. We see the journey that Afro must go on to challenged No. 1, who happens to be the man who killed Afro’s father. This anime is visually beautiful and it is accompanied with a marvelous musical score done by The Rza from the Wu Tang Clan. If you look past the action and violence, the moral of the story is that revenge can be a never ending cycle that only forgiveness can stop.
I know this one anime is very popular and the fan base can be annoying, but there’s a good reason it’s on my list. The plot of Death Note is simple. A Light Yagami finds a notebook that has a mystical power: if the name of a person is written inside, that person will die. This gives Light the idea to kill criminals and make a perfect world. The world’s greatest detective, L, is on the case to find the person who is committing these murders. L suspects Light of being the killer. Meanwhile, Light is trying to find out L’s real name in order to kill him. This series is like a high-stakes game of chess.
Joshua Zimmerman is co-editor of the Wide Island View. He was a JET in Fukuyama from 2005-2009 and now lives directly under Mt. Fuji.
I’m the first to admit that for about six months during my freshman year of college I was in the anime club. It’s not something I’m proud of. It’s just a fact. While I do enjoy watching the occasional anime movie, I find most to be horrible teen pop culture trash — just like most of the shows produced everywhere else. That being said, there are a couple animes that bring a smile to face whenever I think about them.
The concept behind this anime is quite silly. The story centers around young Kazuma Azuma, a boy who has set out to produce a national bread for Japan. What you probably don’t expect, at first, is to learn everything you’d ever want to (or not want to) know about the history, creation of, and production of bread. Seriously. There are even instructions within the show as to how to make bread in your rice cooker. I recommend this show to anyone who wants to learn more about Japanese culture, history, food and most certainly bread.
While the world may be going crazy for the “sexy” emo vampire in Twlight, I like my vampires cold and evil. That’s exactly what you get in Hellsing. The plot follows the exploits of the mysterious Hellsingorganization, which has been tasked with keeping England safe from modern-day vampires and ghouls. With some very nice animation, chilling music, and the thrill of watching everyone in England speak Japanese, I’d gladly recommend Hellsing to anyone suffering from Twlight fatigue. There are two versions of Hellsing: a 13 ep series and an ongoing OVA. Both are worth watching, and differ in plot.
While Hellsing takes place in a very Japanese version of England, Noir takes place in a very Japanese version of France. The story follows two young assassins as they try to discover their past as well as uncover the mysterious organization that keeps trying to kill them. With plenty of action, mystery, and a weird flux France soundtrack, this show does not disappoint. I recommend it to anyone who wants some hot girls killing lots of people in black suits.