I recently began writing for Anime Maki, the anime/manga blog created by my former DVDTalk/AnimeTalk cohort, Todd Douglass. I just finished my first review for that site and am still in full-on anime geek mode.
There are many who claim to have no interest in anime, but underneath the veneer of indifference there’s that nagging curiosity in your mind. That little spark of interest could grow into a wildfire of anime addiction if you allow it to, but you’ve never taken the plunge. Today is the day you walk the path of the otaku (that’s Japanese for anime nerd). Allow me to guide you.
Some people have preconceived notions that anime is just giant space robots or those perverted Japanese bondage cartoons. Well, there is a shit-ton of that available. However, there are so many subgenres in anime, that there truly is something for everyone. This is why I’m floored when somebody tells me that they don’t like anime.
You do not want to begin your otaku journey with something unthinkingly complex or bizarre. Stay far, far away from those Twelve Kingdoms DVD’s. You’re not ready. Also, hold off on the subtitles. Americans, especially, are immediately put off by subtitles. “I have to read a TV show?! Pffffft!” Watching anime with the subtitles flipped on will likely destroy your curiosity. That said, there are also some truly awful English dubs out there like the original Dragon Ball Z series. Be wary. These are even more harmful than subtitles.
Based on your tastes, here’s a guide of tried-and-true anime that’s proven to break in new fans:
Give Me Blu-ray Or Give Me Death
This is for type of person who needs the latest technology to enjoy a show; the type who will stream a standard-definition, Netflix Instant Watch shartbomb before they will taint their precious Blu-ray player by inserting a DVD. You demand to be wowed. For some golly-gee-whiz Blu-ray action, fire up Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. This series is easily the best anime series released in the past decade. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood has it all: stunning visuals, epic battles, a deep storyline, compelling characters, hilarious jokes, and one of the best soundtracks, like ever.
So, Zen, why not just sit all new anime fans down and let them bask in the Fullmetal Alchemist glory? Glad you asked. For one, it sets the bar stupidly high. But more than that, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood often resorts to manga-influenced tropes such as super-deformed mode sight gags. These tend to scare off anime newbs. Seeing a character like Alphonse inexplicably morph into a wiggling wet noodle just reinforces their opinion that anime is that weird Japanese tentacle shit that only kids or social retards watch.
The sights and sounds of Fullmetal Alchemist will dazzle techie-nerds and distract them from those moments of Japanese weirdness. As they watch the pretty colors on their high-priced home theater system, an incredible storyline will unfurl and suck them in.
Since I mentioned Netflix, there are some great anime shows available on Instant Watch, such as Fullmetal Alchemist (not Brotherhood, which is the shiny, new retelling), Clannad, Castle of Cagliostro, and Last Exile. Just avoid Queen’s Blade like the plague. Don’t be lured in by promises of bouncy boobage. It sucks.
Anime Is Dumb, Giant, Robot Cartoons For Kids.
Sci-fi makes up a huge portion of anime releases, but it’s not all robots, space lasers, and punk-ass kids with spikey hair. The best show to dispel the “kiddie robot cartoon” stereotype is Death Note. This series is an intricate game of one-upmanship between a virtuous murderer, Light, and a super-genius investigator known as L.
The plotting in Death Note is unparalleled in anime. It’s as if the creators wanted a challenge, so they wrote their characters into a corner every single episode just to see if they could write their way back out. Death Note will keep you on the edge of your seat for the entire ride. Unlike many other complicated anime series, it’s also accessible to casual and non-anime fans. And if you can’t bear to watch the anime version, there are two successful, live-action films that play like the “Best Parts Version” of the cartoon. In either case, Death Note is must see.
For The Girlfriend, A Storybook Action-Romance. Emphasis On The Action.
If your significant other is into chick flicks, there is an endless supply of shojo (girly) anime to choose from. Fushigi Yugi is an awesome shojo series that men can watch without checking their underwear to make sure there’s still a fly. It’s an old-school, epic series built around a touching love story. Awww.
Yeah, that and Fushigi Yugi also packs a healthy dose of ass-kicking in a Neverending Story-esque plot that makes it an enjoyable watch for both of you. Cuddle up, drink some sake, and immerse yourself in this 52-episode series with your better half.
Am I The Baddest Mo-Fo Low-Down Around This Town?
You don’t want icky-sticky romance. All you want is for bad guys to get beat up and the heroes to get beat up even worse. Die Hard is your idea of the perfect movie. Action fans need to look no further than Dragon Ball Z: Kai or Rurouni Kenshin to initiate their new addiction. The choice is really based on age. Although both series should hook most action fans, the never-ending fight sequences of Dragon Ball Z will have greater appeal to kids.
Adult action fans, on the other hand, will appreciate the nuances of Kenshin’s dual personality as well as the wealth of sword fighting techniques that are detailed in loving excess. Both series span an absurd number of episodes, so you should probably start with a story arc or two and then move on to other series to avoid burn-out. Also worth noting is that Rurouni Kenshin also includes several stand-alone OVA's (Original Video Animation. Think straight-to-video release, which in Japan, can actually be a good thing) known as Samurai X. The image in these releases are far superior, but the stories lack Kenshin's personality. They're still good and have tons of sword-fighting action, though.
And before the Dragon Ball Z fans mist their panties, I recommended Dragon Ball Z: Kai over the bloated original series due to the vastly superior English dub, the remastered image, and the elimination of all the filler. Trust me, I had to qualify this recommendation. I once gave a Dragon Ball Z movie a bad rating and caught some hell from the faithful. Dragon Ball fans scare me.
History Buffs Or Anyone Who Refuses To Sit Through Hours Of Silly Cartoons
Until the movie, Letters from Iwo Jima, Americans were not really exposed to many stories about the Japanese side of World War II. Grave of the Fireflies is a critically-acclaimed movie that follows the journey of boy and his little sister trying to survive the fire-bombings of Japan late in the war.
Warning: Grave of the Fireflies is sad—like you’ll be depressed for days after watching it, sad. It’s also frequently lauded as not only one of the greatest anime ever, but one of the greatest animated films ever. You be the judge. History buffs will appreciate this different perspective on a topic that is widely covered in cable television documentaries. You’ll also have the strange urge to stock up on candy tins.
Decapitations and Disembowelings. These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things.
If you are a sick and twisted horror fan who dyes your hair black and has piercings in the bridge of your nose, then Elfen Lied should satiate your bloodlust. It begins as a shameless gorefest. As Lucy butchers her victims, every drop of blood is detailed in this beautifully animated series. Then the unthinkable occurs and Elfen Lied evolves into a thought-provoking story that explores the depths of human cruelty.
If you are not put off by limbs flying, blood splattering, and a little nudity, then Elfen Lied will keep you eagerly pressing the Next Button on the DVD remote to see the following episode. The innocently creepy soundtrack is also pretty cool and one that I keep handy on my iPod.
Tenchi Muyo especially will appeal to new fans that at least somewhat enjoy sci-fi. Tenchi has been released in many different flavors, but by far, the best series is the original OVA.
Thousands upon thousands of anime fans can probably trace the roots of their addiction to watching Tenchi Muyo. This miniseries is highly accessible to fans of all genres because it features a perfect blend of comedy, sci-fi, action, romance, and slice-of-life. Tenchi does a little bit of everything. It handles each aspect so well that it is difficult to find a potential anime fan that will dislike this series.
There are better series out there, but not many appeal to as broad an audience as Tenchi Muyo. Take comfort in knowing that Tenchi has been converting anime fans for over 15 years. Everyone loves it and you will, too.
All of the links included in the post were for the DVD/Blu-ray releases. Here are the titles I could find for free at Hulu--you know, where it's legal to watch them:
There, now you see the path to a lifetime of otakudom. Follow it and join us. One of us! One of us!