A Beginner's Guide to Anime
By Kellen Scrivens
03 May 2010 — Anime is a crazy medium. With its flashy colors, outrageous mannerisms, and the potential for an innocent-looking series to end up being a dark affair (and vice versa), it can be a pretty intimidating task for someone to get into it. The shows that make their way onto the basic cable channels are often your hundreds-of-episodes-long action series that are targeted towards teenage boys. Worse still, anime DVDs are not cheap. So unless money is burning a hole in your pocket, it's tough to justify buying a 13-episode series for $60.
That said, this column is for those that want to dip their foot into the pool of anime. I will feature a handful of series / movies that are easy to get into without having to know the nuances of anime or knowledge of a massive universe. For the purposes of this column I am working under the assumption that you, the reader, know nothing about anime. To make the list, these series had to meet three criteria: 26 episodes or less, good, and easily accessible. These aren't the best anime series ever, but they are the best series for anime rookies.
What it's about: At the time of his murder, Afro Samurai's father was the best samurai in the world. Now, 20 years later, Afro wants his revenge.
What does this show have that every other anime in the world doesn't? Samuel L. Jackson. Aside from the fact that Jackson plays two of the shows main roles (Afro and his companion Ninja Ninja), Afro Samurai has plenty going for it. From a technical standpoint, it is absolutely stunning; the animation is brutal; the voice cast — which also includes Ron Perlman, Phil LaMarr, and Yuri Lowenthal — is superb; and the soundtrack provided by the RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan is something unlike anything heard in anime. Throw in a simple but effective story, and it is a damn good show.
Read or Die: Original Video Animation
What it's about: Yomiko Readman, AKA The Paper, is a secret agent for the British military that has the power to control paper. When attacks are waged in London and Washington, Yomiko must learn who's behind it.
I have yet to find anyone that does not like this OVA. The animation is absolutely gorgeous, the music is incredibly catchy, the story is engaging, and the characters are all relatable despite being put into such a crazy dilemma.
While the power of being able to control paper may seem stupid on paper (pardon the pun), it is actually handled very well. Yomiko's bookworm nature allows her to come up with all sorts of creative ways to use her power, almost to the point of being akin to Green Lantern's ring.
One of the things that makes Read or Die so accessible is its length (which equates to a short feature film), and while you can be satisfied with just the OVA, there is much more to the franchise beyond it; there is a 26-episode TV series that follows, as well as a slew of manga titles.
BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad
What it's about: Koyuki is a teenager who's in a rut until a few chance encounters have him reconnect with a girl from his childhood and meet a local guitarist. He then finds himself through the music and people that come into his life.
There is just so much that is right with this show. To begin with, the majority of clichés that are present in many well-known anime are nowhere to be seen. And the show is relatable in many ways; reliving those awkward teenage years where music could mean so much to a person, finding your first love, and all the weird emotions that go along with that are covered in such a way that you can't help but want to reach through the TV and pat Koyuki on the back at times.
The other thing BECK has going for it is the music itself. If you're going to create a show about music, you must get it right — and this show has it in spades.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
What it's about: By sheer clumsiness, a girl named Makoto ends up with the ability to leap through time. At first she simply has fun with it, but then she finds out where this power comes from and things get interesting.
Legendary college basketball coach Jim Valvano once said that any day where you laughed, cried, and spent some time in deep thought was a good day. I think that this idea can be applied to movies and television series as well, and if that's the case The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a damn good movie. It has characters that can be latched onto, genuinely hilarious moments, creative ways to make use of time travel, and some genuine emotions that can bring a tear to your eye.
What it's about: In the future, Spike Spiegel is a bounty hunter that travels the solar system, but will his past creep up on him?
Without getting too deep into spoilers, the thing that makes this series unquestionably awesome is how Spike's past comes back on him. Also, in the grand scheme of things, many of the early episodes barely end up playing into the finale, however, you probably won't care because they're so good.
Also great is the soundtrack, mixing elements of jazz, folk, and rock, Yoko Kanno & The Seatbelts did an amazing job of always having a song ready to outline exactly how a character is feeling.
The characters also add a unique element to the show, from the self-obsessed Faye Valentine (who has an interesting history of her own) to the Rain Man-esque computer hacker Ed, the character interactions help this show through its lighter moments.
So there you have it, the five anime series you absolutely must give a look if you've ever been interested in the medium but were too afraid to go in blind.