Anime Mondays with Morgana! An Introduction

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Happy Monday, everybody!  I’m very excited to be joining the Amazing Stories Magazine blogging staff.  Every week, I’ll be posting something new, mostly focusing on anime!  Anime is an interesting and widespread topic, and I think it’s going to be very insightful (for myself as well as the readers) to write about it in the context of a primarily science-fiction and fantasy setting.

Treating anime as a genre makes a certain amount of sense, seeing as it’s vastly different from any kind of entertainment we have here in the West.  However, it also poses the problem of lumping all anime into one category together (or assuming that all anime have certain traits or qualities in common – this is also an issue with foreign films), while the reality is that anime comes in many different forms: science-fiction, fantasy, romance, horror, comedy, historical – and everything in between!

Most folks from my generation have actually grown up watching anime, regardless of whether or not they continued to be fans into their teenage and adult years.  Personally, I cut my teeth on Sailor Moon back when I was five years old – but there were a lot of different shows to choose from!  Pokemon, Dragonball Z, Hamtaro – there was something for everyone in the late 80s and into the 90s.  Because of this, I think it’s fair to say that anime has had a very profound influence on Western culture – and that it has introduced many young people to the wider range of fandom.

If we briefly ignore the fact that my name is Morgana and that I was doomed to fandom in the first place, we can see how exposure to anime really opened my own mind to the wider range of genres.  For a short period of time in my pre-adolescence, I was actually very critical of geek culture; I was operating under many of the same assumptions that the rest of society has about people who become totally obsessed with fictitious events – that these people are socially inept, unhappy with their lives, and possibly not all “there.”  This, of course, was absurd – and in short order, I found myself identifying immensely with a group of people who knew how to see life from more exciting angles, and who allowed themselves to retain their sense of wonder and imagination.

At age 14, I went to my first convention, which also happened to be the very first incarnation of ConnectiCon.  I was there for the anime, but I discovered that there were other types of fans there, as well.  I’m sure I saw at least one person dressed as Darth Vader or a Storm Trooper.  At the time, I probably wondered what on earth Star Wars had to do with my interest in InuYasha, but I quickly caught on that people have been mixing their interests long before I even considered joining in on the fun.

Though I haven’t been a part of the convention scene in quite some time, my understanding is that fandom is as fluid as ever.  You might go to Anime Boston, but it will be inevitable that you see merchandise and cosplay from Doctor Who, The Avengers, X-Men, and so on.  So my advice to those of you who have not yet tried out anime, but who want to be able to relate with the generations of fans to come, is to give it a chance.  Again, the genres within the genre of anime are so abundant that you’re bound to find something you like!

For the die-hard science-fiction fan, I would recommend Cowboy Bebop – an incredibly sophisticated space opera centering on a group of bounty hunters and utilizing the superb musical styling of Yoko Kanno.  Bebop is, far and away, one of the greatest anime series of all time and can be appreciated by folks from any walk of life (though I definitely would say it’s rated 13+).  There are many other science-fiction anime to choose from, but they tend to have long, complicated histories and back stories, whereas Bebop is 26 episodes long, easily digestible for a Western audience who is unfamiliar with Japanese culture, and absolutely, heart-breakingly beautiful.

Fantasy can also be found, though it’s more difficult to weed through the multitudinous definitions of what fantasy is within anime, since the large majority of the series will have at least some fantastical elements.  Record of Lodoss War is supposed to be a fantastic example of high fantasy anime (I have it on my to-watch list currently), and very much in line with what we in the West think of as fantasy – involving elves and wizards, etc.  For a more Eastern flavor to your fantasy, I would recommend the film Princess Mononoke, directed by the incomparable Hayao Miyazaki.

In fact, I would recommend anything directed by Hayao Miyazaki and/or put out by Studio Ghibli: Kiki’s Delivery Service, Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Castle in the Sky, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Porco Rosso, Ponyo, Howl’s Moving Castle (based on the novel by Diana Wynne Jones), Tales from Earthsea (based on the works of Ursula K. LeGuin), The Cat Returns, Whisper of the Heart…the list goes on and on.  These movies tend to have very strong young female characters and deal with growth, change, friendship, and love in a realistic, delicate, and beautiful way.  And even when the story falls short (which is seldom), the animation is more than enough to keep you hooked.

And even with all those recommendations, I’m not even close to skimming the surface of what anime has to offer.  Horror fans would enjoy series like Hellsing or Pet Shop of Horrors (definitely 13+); historical fiction/fantasy people would love Samurai Champloo or InuYasha; the romantic among you have a cornucopia of series available to you, depending entirely on whether or not you want to throw some magic or monsters into your love story as well.

As exciting as it is to be able to share all these recommendations and thoughts with you lovely readers, it is equally exciting to be able to explore, once again, my own love for Japanese animation and culture!  I hope that this post has been helpful, and if anyone has any questions or requests, please feel free to let me know!  I promise to get to the real nitty-gritty in the following posts, but I wanted to get everybody on the same page before I totally nerded out on you!

Until next week!

8 COMMENTS

  1. Well this looks really interesting. I`ve been an anime watcher for a long time (I remember watching Dragon Ball Z when I was 10 or 12 on a German channel and not understanding a word, but it still was awesome) and a SFF fan for even longer.

    I`m probably gonna lose my credibility here, but I don`t think Cowboy Beebop is the quintessential SF anime series. Sure, it`s good, it`s got great atmosphere and style, but I wouldn`t call it sophisticated (I watched when I was 18 or so, maybe I missed something?). I think a better starting point is Death Note. It`s not SF strictly speaking (real world with just a fantastical element thrown in) but it`s so damn good everybody wants to watch more anime after seeing it (Code Geass would be a good follow-up, kind of similar in themes, main character but definitely SF).

    As for fantasy, I have to go with 12 Kingdoms. It looks really cliche (portal fantasy in which a girl from Japan gets forcefully transported to another world etc) but is just brilliant. For me, no fantasy anime goes anywhere near this (I`m interested in suggestions though).

    • Oh, I don't think I'd call Bebop the quintessential SF anime series, no. I should preface this by saying I have a bias for Bebop as big as the sun, by the way. The reason I recommended it is because it is the one anime that I've known non-anime-lovers to enjoy. As I said, it's easier for people unfamiliar with anime to watch and appreciate on the first go. I have watched the series in entirety at least three times (the first time when I was about 12 or 13, second when I was 19, and most recently when I was 21), so I've picked up on a lot of little details. I call it sophisticated for a myriad of reasons – firstly, because the animation style, story, character designs, and soundtrack are perfectly matched. (And for a series released in…1997, I believe…the animation is excellent.) Additionally, every episode makes a reference to a style of music or a specific song, which is a lot of fun to investigate (and a lot of fun for music students like my fiance). And it doesn't have the stereotypical squeaky-noisy-bubbly-visually-confusing stuff that turns people off to anime. If I wanted to recommend the quintessential SF anime, I would have mentioned Gundam, but it's such a huge and sprawling metaseries that I wanted to be kind to folks new to anime!

      I…really, really didn't like Death Note at all. I started reading the manga when I was in early high school. The main character was absolutely insufferable to me, so I dropped it really quickly. I should give it another chance; I'm currently enjoying the show Bakuman, which was created by the same team of mangaka. I also didn't recommend something like Death Note or Bakuman right off the bat because they are geared toward a younger, male audience (age 9-15), and while I often enjoy such anime…I think that most of the people currently reading Amazing Stories are 20+, and I wanted to make sure I was catering to more mature tastes.

      I honestly don't know a whole heck of a lot about "traditional" fantasy anime, though again – I've heard wonderful things about Lodoss. I'll try to get my hands on Twelve Kingdoms, though! Sounds like fun. =]

      Thanks for your input! Very much appreciated.

      • Well if that`s what you meant by 'sophisticated' I can agree with you (from what I remember, I watched it years ago). I thought you were refering to the story, which (at least for me) is somewhat lacking.

        Re: Death Note, the thing about the main character is that he`s more of a villain (or at best in a gray area). For some it`s off-putting, but for me these kind of characters are a breath of fresh air.

        I don`t think it`s age target is 9-15 (if it`s labeled that way, I can`t understand that decision). It`s not the most mature ever, but at times it`s really messed up, there`s a lot of moral ambiguity and ethical dillemas, some violence and no cute stuff or childish humour (no humour at all, from what I can remember). I can`t see what a 9 year old child would understand or like about it. If they put in the same category as Bleach,Naruto etc….I`m mystified. BTW, all this refers to the anime, I haven`t read the manga.

        • Ah, I find Bebop's story to be quite bountiful. But I guess that depends on what you look for in a story. There were a lot of really tenuous relationships and eluded-to backstories that lend a great deal of mystery to the characters.

          I usually enjoy villainous characters, but in Death Note…he was just plain cocky, and that was frustrating to me. Evil is one thing, and I can totally get behind that. Annoying is different.

          I say it's geared for age 9-15 because it is classified as "shonen" manga and debuted in Shonen Jump. The definition of shonen manga is that it's for boys between those ages – though obviously, not all things geared toward 15-year-olds are enjoyed by 9-year-olds. That's just the demographic that the magazine aims for. Bleach, Naruto, One Piece, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Yu Yu Hakusho – these are all shonen manga, intended for roughly that age group. And in general…the manga have MORE violence and intensity. The Yu-Gi-Oh! manga is LEAGUES away from the anime in terms of "appropriateness" (it's really freakin' twisted!). In the States, we rate this stuff as 13+. Again, the definition of shonen manga puts it toward a younger demographic, as well.

          Nine-year-old boys often don't really want cute stuff or childish humor, either, as a demographic. I think we tend to think of 9-year-olds as being younger than they are. That's old enough to be reading a Goosebumps novel!

  2. I too am looking forward to this blog, Morgana. I know almost nothing about anime, and have actively disliked what little of it I have seen (all of Gundam, some Ghibli films, Akira and the steampunk film made by the same director; what was it called?). But I'm always open to discovering how to appreciate things that are good. I admire your passion for the genre, and hope to absorb some of it!

    • Thanks!

      Wow, you've seen THAT much anime and still don't like any of it? When you say "all of Gundam," do you mean the entire metaseries, or one specific one? Because there are TONS, and the quality varies drastically between them. I'm a big fan of Gundam Wing, which has a more intricate story and dynamic characters.

      I more or less think Ghibli can do almost no wrong, so we maybe shouldn't even go there, haha. I've seen almost only the films directed by Miyazaki, however, and I do recognize that some of the other Ghibli films have less nuance.

      And Akira…oh, Akira. I saw that movie for the first time when I was nine years old (yikes, right?). To say that I like it would be…maybe not the right word. But it is an extremely influential movie, so I usually list it as a must-see for folks who can handle freaky science-fiction gore stuff. I think the other movie you're talking about is Steamboy, but I haven't seen that myself.

      I hope that I can find something you'll like! You seem like a tough customer, haha. Thanks again for the comment. =]

  3. I have been a long time science fiction fan. I have become an anime fan in the last few years.

    Animie is much more thought provoking than what is on e American TV. People behave in such a thoughtful and civilized way, it reminds me of scifi conventions.

    I enjoy seeing the way Western culture is reflected back at us in anime.

    I look forward to your Monday discussions. I hope to find out about more series I can watch.

    • Thanks for your kind words!

      I think that the thoughtful and civilized mannerisms you've been picking up on from anime come from the difference in Japanese cultural norms vs. Western cultural norms (I'm speaking mostly from a US point of view, of course).

      Anyway, I'm glad to know that someone is looking forward to my two cents! Thanks again. =]

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