I seem to be developing a new addiction lately. Thanks to Netflix, over the last few months I’ve started researching and watching more and more anime shows. And I’m finding many movies and anime TV series that are really, really good! And many that aren’t my cup of tea, but I’ll get to that later.
I guess my interest in anime began about three years ago with Hayao Miyazaki, probably one of the most famous creators of anime films, when I saw his 2001 movie called Spirited Away. It just blew me away! It was unlike anything I had ever seen, and it was certainly unlike any animated film I’d ever seen. It is visually gorgeous, intense, bizarre, spiritual, dark yet uplifting and wildly creative. And as in all of Miyazaki’s films there was this amazing connection with nature and the atavistic spirit world that spoke to me most intimately. Before that, my conception of anime mostly involved big-eyed young girls with cleavage wearing ridiculously short skirts, or cutesie kiddie shows that seemed to be Japanese versions of Strawberry Shortcake (Hello Kitty comes to mind). So I either associated Japanese animation with some kind of demented kiddie-porn or cartoons like Sailor Moon or Pokemon. (Though, thanks to my children, I have since gained more of an appreciation of Pokemon for its theme of maintaining a spiritual balance between humans and nature. But the basic premise of cute elemental beings constantly being directed by humans to battle each other stills seems ridiculous to me!)
After Spirited Away, the next anime movies I saw were Kiki’s Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro, also by Miyazaki. I watched them with Stephanie and the kids, and we loved them! Both those movies are in my Top Family Films Of All Time category. They’re funny, sweet, intelligent, beautiful to watch and appeal to people of any age. The attention to detail of the animation and the insight into the Japanese mind and culture was a delightful surprise. And all of Miyazaki’s films strike a wonderful balance between real life situations and fantasy; great characters and sublime imagination. I began to realize that “anime” can mean many different things.
Since then I’ve been checking out different kinds of anime. Much of it is geared toward an adult audience. Some anime films and series are incredibly violent and bloody. Many deal with historical drama of the Japanese feudal Period, with samurai warriors, political intrigue and violent battles. Many are based in fantasy, Japanese mythology and the supernatural. (Vampires are big). There are also many that are about ordinary adolescents and the trials and tribulations of growing up in the modern world, though they often throw in some element of the fantastic. There are A LOT of science fiction anime series, set in far-flung star systems, post-apocalyptic futures or dealing with the effects of rapidly advancing technology. The original movie Ghost in the Shell and it’s sequel film and television series come to mind, as well as Akira, Heroic Age and Jyu-Oh-Sei (Planet of the Beast King). But there are tons more famous anime titles from the 1980’s until now. It’s like a whole new world of entertainment has opened up before me! I’ve only seen a few so far. But some of these series, especially Ghost in the Shell, are most definitely adult oriented. I recommend doing some research before sharing new shows with the kids!
I’ve recently mentioned some anime series we’ve watched lately, like Avatar: The Last Airbender and Cowboy Bebop, which are both fabulous. After the void left when we finished the Avatar series a couple of weeks ago, I started looking around and discovered another gem of a TV series called Seirei no Moribito, or Moribito: Guardian of the Sacred Spirit. Check out the link for a review of this series. It’s set in an alternate Asian world with elements of fantasy and magic, but very realistically done, with wonderful characters and exquisite animation. My only complaint is that Moribito is based on a series of ten novels, and the anime series is only based on the first book (so far). And only the first two books in the printed series have yet been translated into English! I think we’ll have to read the second book after we finish the anime.