Adam attempts to list his favourite anime series. It probably won’t go well.
I said in a previous article that I am terrible at top-fives. That remains true (I started this article in MAY!). I say I’m doing a top-five here, but it is in no particular order, and I’m going to tack on a ‘honourable mention’ list of other series at the end because I struggled so much with the 5th choice so decided to effectively cop out.
I have watched anime for several years now, eleven-ish years to be vaguely accurate from when I properly started getting into it, more years than I care to acknowledge (sixteen years?) if we count watching Dragonball Z repeats on Toonami and the Pokémon series (and for some reason Sailor Moon on Fox Kids. I don’t really remember why I watched it, I do remember learning the lesson that girls often store important things like keys and gems in their bras). At university I joined the Anime Society, went to a few conventions and eventually ended up the Treasurer in my third year, along with our lead games contributor as the President and my whisky drinking partner as the Secretary. I made a good number of excellent friends there (unless any of them are reading this right now in which case fuck all of you especially you Ian), and watched a wide variety of classic and bat-shit crazy Japanese animation. I typically don’t find time to watch as many as I would like anymore, although I do binge occasionally. However, there are a few that have always stuck with me and I always revisit.
I wrote a really fawning article about Cowboy Bebop a few months back when we first started this site up. Bebop really is my favourite anime series of all time. It was first broadcast in 1998 by Sunrise and directed by Shinchirō Watanabe. It follows a crew of bounty hunters Spike Spiegel, Jet Black, Faye Valentine, Radical Edward and Ein, aboard the spaceship Bebop as they take jobs around the solar system. Each character has their own unique mysterious background that gets fleshed out eventually, but not to an overly expositional level. Just right. The tone shifts from quirky to more serious noir-esque episodes, and it is very slick and stylish. Themes range from life and death, drugs, tech cults, terrorism, people being kicked in the face, existentialism, a scene where a man uses a lift while on horseback, chess and bloody crime syndicates. All of which is brilliantly underlined by the stellar music, which is a excellent mix of jazz and blues that always suits the tone right up to the final confrontation, all arranged by Yoko Kanno.
Neon Genesis Evangelion
Evangelion is a high concept Japanese mecha series that took the standard giant-robots-fighting-monsters theme and dumped in a whole load of psychoanalysis, existentialism and religious symbolism. The NGE series and concluding films came from Studio Gainax, written and directed by Hideaki Anno in 1995, and still prove controversial today. It is in fact being continued (yes, continued) in the beautifully animated ‘Rebuild of Evangelion’ tetralogy of films from the same people. The story follows Shinji Ikari, a 14-year-old unassuming kid, called upon by his absent father’s shadowy organisation NERV to pilot the monstrous Evangelion against attacking ‘angels’ in an attempt prevent a repeat of ‘Second Impact’, a devastating cataclysmic event that nearly wiped out all of humanity.
The plot becomes as wrapped up with Shinji’s relationships with his fellow pilots and the adults around him as it does the relentless angel attacks, culminating in one of the oddest choices for an ending I have ever seen for a series – a thematic ending that essentially plays out in the lead character’s psyche. The film that followed, ‘The End of Evangelion’, then provided the meat to this inner turmoil, although is almost just as odd in its own way. This was surprisingly my gateway into wider anime at around age 15. Surprising because it is ridiculously high concept, complex and twisted. A few friends introduced me to the NGE series, and every now and then we still binge-watch it for fun and get together to watch each ‘Rebuild’ film as it comes out (although I wasn’t particularly impressed by the mess of the third instalment ‘You Can (Not) Redo. I’m hoping they stick the landing with the final part).
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
Stand Alone Complex is a cyberpunk series based on Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell series, directed by Kenji Kamiyama and set apart from the original 1995 film of the same name. As in the Ghost in the Shell film, Stand Alone Complex follows Japanese Public Security Section 9, a special ops team led by Major Motoko Kusanagi, as they investigate various hackers and cyber criminals, and prevent terrorist attacks in the city of Nihama. Set in 2030, everyone is heavily cyberised to the extent where most have cyberbrains, allowing them to seamlessly communicate and access the internet without any external devices, can upgrade their processing power and store their memories externally. High-end prosthetics can make people incredibly powerful, and some (including the Major) have entirely prosthetic bodies effectively owned by the government. ‘Stand-Alone’ episodes are single stories, seemingly unconnected, while ‘Complex’ episodes tie into the main plot in some way. The first series deals with a cyber criminal known as ‘The Laughing Man’, the so-called Stand Alone Complex and a fan of Catcher in the Rye. The second deals with a terrorist cell known as the Individual Eleven and vanishing mediators. Trust me, it all makes sense when you watch it. Kind of.
What I enjoy most about this series, besides the kick-ass female lead (hence my disquiet when the constantly in-development western live-action adaptation announced that the studio were allowing them to have a female main character, like it was an achievement rather than something that should have been taken for granted that it was happening), is the believable level of future technology (though admittedly probably a couple of decades premature). Following two more world wars, technology has again leapt forward due to a need for radiation scrubbers and replacing the lost-limbs of those injured in the combat. Given where we are today, I found a lot of the cyberisation to seem very achievable. Music was once again arranged by Yoko Kanno, and while very different from the score in Cowboy Bebop it is brilliant in its own right.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is the second series based on Hiromu Arakawa’s manga, produced by Bones studios, but unlike the first (which was also pretty good, but had to improvise more than half of it’s storyline) this one started in 2009 when Arakawa was within sight of the end of her story, with the final issue coming out just a month before the final episode of Brotherhood aired. Fullmetal Alchemist centres around two brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, following their mother’s death. They perform the forbidden human transmutation, a form of alchemy that theoretically could create a human being, in an attempt to revive her. It turns out it is forbidden for a reason – alchemy requires ‘equivalent exchange’, so you can’t make something from nothing and the chemical components they have arranged are inadequate. In the attempt Edward loses his leg, while Alphonse loses his entire body. To then successfully bind his younger brother’s soul to a nearby suit of armour, Edward also has one of his arms ripped from him. Now older, Ed (now with prosthetics) and Al travel the country of Amestris to find the secret of the Philosopher’s stone, a substance that is said to boost alchemy and therefore hopefully allow them to restore what they have lost. Ed becomes a State Alchemist, or ‘dog of the military’, and the brothers befriend many other alchemists and members of the military in their quest, my favourite being Roy Mustang the Flame Alchemist. They soon encounter the Homunculi, a group with superhuman abilities named after the 7 deadly sins and working for a shadowy figure known as ‘Father’, with nefarious plans that threaten the lives of everyone in the country.
I think the only place the series slips is in the rushed way they cover the first few beats of the story. I can only assume they wanted to move through it quickly, as it all happens in the original series, to get to the parts of the story published since that series diverted from Arakawa’s plot. However, I think this does the story somewhat of a disservice, especially as there are a couple of really integral parts that aren’t given the time they deserve, as they carry a huge amount of emotional heft and inform the actions of a few major characters down the line. It’s a small complaint though, as the episodes are still there and the rest of the show is just superb. The animation is great, and the plot is really strong. I actually own both the manga and the whole series on blu-ray, and it is stunning.
Eiichiro Oda started his One Piece manga back in 1997, and it is still going. I think I remember reading a quote from him a few years ago indicating that he was only halfway through his intended series, and while it’s length had gotten away from him he still intended it to end as he had always planned. There is currently over 750 chapters published in Weekly Shonen Jump, and the anime adaptation has had over 650 episodes with surprisingly few filler episodes considering how long it has gone on for. Despite all this, it is largely quality AND quantity. I think I watched a huge number of these episodes when I first got into the series back when I was supposed to be revising for my final year exams for my degree, shockingly not affecting how well I did considering how I would often binge 10+ episodes in a row.
One Piece centres around Monkey D. Luffy, a pirate whose goal is to become the Pirate King and to find the elusive treasure One Piece, hidden at the end of the oceans by the the previous Pirate King, Gol D. Roger. Like many people in the world, Luffy has gained a special ability through consuming a ‘Devil’s Fruit’, one off substances that bestow one-of-a-kind powers but turn the individual into an anchor – the sea saps their strength and they sink immediately, difficult for a pirate. Luffy is a rubber man, and uses stretchy powers to deflect bullets and canon fire, and to create devastating attacks that basically involve flailing his limbs. Throughout the series, Luffy gathers various crew members with and without abilities, all of whom have some other similarly lofty goal like ‘map all the seas’ or ‘become the world’s greatest swordsman’, while butting heads with other crews and the World Government and their Marines. Being a Shonen Jump series, pretty much everything is achieved and defeated using punching and friendship. However, One Piece is particularly strong and wildly inventive, with pretty much every new character and arc being different and interesting. It has to have been to have gone on so long!
And that’s that. A bit longer than I intended. Honourable mention goes to:
Trigun – Love it, but a similar situation to FMA Brotherhood. The anime series started and finished years before the manga was even half way. What I wouldn’t give for a full length ‘Trigun Maximum’ series, now that the manga is over.
FLCL – Wacky and excellent.
Black Lagoon – Hail of bullets, bounty hunters and Revy is just excellent.
Hellsing – Particularly the Hellsing Ultimate OVAs, again a more faithful adaptation of the manga. Nazi vampires.
Death Note – Really clever plotting, the first arc is fantastic. It lost me a bit in the middle, but still ended pretty strongly.
Outlaw Star – Paga Wa San Fa
Attack on Titan – Pretty grim stuff. Good grim stuff though.
Bleach – Yeah, yeah. I know it has it’s problems. A lot of people complain about this series and its storyline. The characters always resonated with me and I liked the core story, though I will admit it has become bogged down in constant fighting with limited plot. Also the anime series was awful for filler arcs. I wish it had stopped earlier, and then come back when more manga had been written. I know it isn’t as simple as that though.
Naruto – I used to really like Naruto, but at one point (actually for similar reasons to why people have gone off Bleach) I just stopped caring. Especially compared to One Piece, later on a slew of new characters were introduced that were just terribly fleshed out and I just didn’t care what happened to them. In the last couple of years almost every character has become totally superfluous, with the series being less about ninjas with a few super powers and more about a couple of gods throwing ridiculously powerful things at each other while everyone else tries to stay out of the way. Kakashi is a badass though.
Fate/Zero – A prequel to Fate Stay Night, but I found the story to be much more compelling.
And while this is a series ‘Top Five’, I would be remiss to not mention films like the original Ghost in the Shell, Akira and most of the Studio Ghibli films, in particular Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (but certainly not limited to those), as all being superb and worth checking out.