In a bit of a shakeup from my normal posts, about two weeks back Justin from the writing operation over at the Organization ASG blog took the opportunity to plug / nominate my own little anime writeup factory here for one of those ABC Award post thingies. Naturally, I am very thankful for the nod of confidence in what I do here, and that I would be able to make a potentially interesting post out of it! I do apologize for the time it took to actually get posted, but schedules and weather has been more than a little wacky recently.
The rules for this post are straightforward enough: There are twenty six letters in the alphabet, and I select something to fill them with and say a few words about that will ideally help you to get to know me better.
Now, the way I view this sort of viral chain post recognition thing is a sort of opportunity to perhaps make something that would be quite useful to both current and future readers. In that respect, what I will actually be doing is a kind of anime word association exercise: I will write about the very first anime that comes to my mind for each letter. Both Japanese and English titles are fair game, and the years I place next to them will be for anime publishing years rather than any prior source material. I will link to my prior write-ups of varying sizes when possible.
In turn, this will hopefully be a kind of document that helps you get a very solid at a glance sense of where my head is when it comes to my anime thought processes and perspectives. Keep in mind of course, not all of these titles may necessarily be “good” productions, or the “best representative” for a given letter (whatever that would mean), and certainly some really dumb things are likely to come to my mind before certain more enduring classics. This is a shotgun approach of what immediately comes to my mind regarding anime titles off the top of my head, and it should be fun.
A: Angel’s Egg (1985) – small prior writeup
A collaborative film that was the brainchild of artist Yoshitaka Amano and directed by Mamoru Oshii, it is a product that is a prime example of an anime really only could have been made during Japan’s free flowing cash spending sprees of the 1980’s. A haunting piece of animation that is nearly devoid of spoken dialogue, it is a very personal experience for the viewer as they traverse a world bursting with symbolism and takeaways regarding religion, philosophy, and so much more. It provides a great ocean of content it merely asks the viewer to contemplate upon with themselves, and in doing so is a work where multiple interpretations are not only possible but expected and accepted. To this day, Oshii does not really go into much at length about what he was personally thinking about when helming the project. As a film that absolutely monetarily bombed on release and nearly destroyed Oshii’s ability to get future animation projects but managed to go on to be one of its most critically acclaimed directors, it may not have been properly recognized in its own time but we would certainly do well to never allow it to be forgotten.
B: Boogiepop Phantom (2000) – prior writeup
Coming of age as an anime fan during the western boom years of the millennial turn to around the mid 2000’s lead to some really oddball purchases by my teenage self when I look back on it. One of the chief examples of this would be my acquisition of Boogiepop Phantom, where I not only purchased the series but did so in its complete special limited edition collectors box set, complete with soundtracks, art cards, and more. A box that featured no description of the series at all, and I had never seen so much as a single frame of its content. That’s the kind of purchasing decision I could never imagine making today, but what it did lead to was a very particular history this sepia soaked horror series and I share together, as it actually took me roughly a decade to watch the entire show to completion. A highly experimental and ambitious television work in a burgeoning trend of Late Night Anime productions and light novels, and manages to weave the tricky threads of a serial psychological horror show better than many of its competitors.
C: California Crisis: Gun Salvo (1986)
This OVA production is the exact kind of one shot direct to video drek I likely will write some kind of longer column piece on eventually after a re-visitation. The economically flush Japan at the time was very much into Cool America as an entertainment area (this is the same period that cranked out works like the anime adaptation of Cipher, which I actually did write about already), and this was certainly banking on catching some of those wallets. With a incredibly distinct art style that is very much aping classic comic book design from the United States, it unfortunately is incredibly visually garish due to a limited budget that just can not keep up with what they were aiming for when things are actually in motion.
It features a slapdash cornucopia of brand name products (few, if any, I’m sure were actually licensed through the proper channels), an attempt at an era Hollywood Hunky action male lead and The Blonde Girl partner who end up on the run in A Red Convertible across Fabulous California because Government Agents and a potential Alien Conspiracy. One would think it was trying to pass some kind of generic international pop culture citizenship test to be consumed by a more global audience, except it very oddly never saw release outside of Japan.
D: Dirty Pair (Franchise; 1985 – various) – small prior writeups
One of my all time favorite anime franchises, even if the quality levels between the entries can vary quite a bit. A space faring action comedy reliant on character dynamics, witty dialogue timing, and a superb pink and blue neon color palate to sell itself more than the simple fan-service route. Which is saying something when our two leads spend much of their time running around in what essentially amounts to the female wrestling uniforms they were originally inspired by. Dirty Pair is the kind of thing virtually every episodic Girls With Guns anime series since would absolutely adore to be, down at their core. It knows how to be colorful, both in script and in art design, in a punchy yet measured manner that defines it with a more timeless streak than many of its successors. The franchise still has my favorite Halloween episode of any anime! In my revisiting many entries of the series only a few months ago, they do still very much stand up to the pressures of time decades after release, while one would likely be hard pressed to say the same would be true of some of its its ruder and cruder imitators.
Even Project Eden, the feature length film of the series entries, works as well as it does even today because of the timely recognition that the way their scripts operate meant the film would not be able to carry itself on dialogue alone for so long. So they injected it with musical montages to such a point where it is primarily a music video audio visual rollercoaster, making it a superb time for pre-existing fans to kick back and enjoy themselves as well as an incredibly easy to follow ride for folks checking the franchise out for the first time. It knew the strengths of the larger series was also a kind of weakness, which was in that sweet spot of one shot 20 – 25 minute episode adventures, and made the required changes to the formula to overcome the hurdles while retaining the central dynamics. That is a hard level of franchise awareness to be able to maintain through all levels of production, and notability the key reasons the eventual 1990’s reboot in the form of Dirty Pair Flash was received as poorly as it was is due to it forgetting so much of the careful balancing act that made the originals work so well.
E: Excel Saga (1999)
Straight up wild unfettered parody comedy is a dangerous minefield, where it is extremely easy to misstep as a production and blow oneself up. As someone who owns the Excel Saga manga, I was extremely pleased the anime series did not attempt to merely adapt the source material. It follows an entirely different flow and objective set than what the television series chose to do instead, which I think is the right choice when it comes to comedies. I do not want to see the same jokes or techniques repeated at me, and animation is an entirely different format than manga that allows itself to play with a different toolset. Rather than shun the opportunity, it embraces it and ran as far as it could possibly go with the ideas it had.
Regardless of ones own feelings on the Excel Saga anime, this I think is something not enough adaptations take the time to do when it comes to their comedies, to adapt spirit rather than body. It makes for a more passionate work for the production team, to play around with their own jokes rather than mechanically crank out ones already made in manga form months prior. In turn, I think in the madcap shrill drill character comedy style that the Excel Saga anime occupies, where each episode embraces and mocks the tropes of entirely different genres of entertainment media, this looser adherence to the source is to its benefit at it starts getting rather up there in years. That my copy of ADV’s physical release of the series comes with a toggle option for pop-up Vid-Notes, which can handily show up and give tremendous insight for the various references being made, is a premium feature I think many an anime comedy would do well to include to give their releases enduring value.
F: FLCL (2000)
For quite some time, this was a series that was virtually impossible to find a DVD copy of when it first came out domestically, and I was warned ahead of time this was going to be the case as such from a TechTV program on my television. So I managed to purchase all three copies of the original Synch-Point release seemingly just barely in time, as it became a rapidly expensive three volume collectors item with exorbitant prices. Things have certainly settled down after so many years since, and the series is now incredibly easy to come by, but as a personal home media purchasing moment in the years where on demand streaming services were still just out of reach it was certainly a knifes edge sort of exhilaration in the months that followed that I had managed to get my order in before things really got out of hand on the secondhand market.
As a work that to this day is for many western fans their introduction to the OVA format and what it can be or do, and itself being a short format vessel for the staff to go hog wild with some technically demanding animation feats, it in many ways is a kind of experience from out of time. It has more in common with the 1980’s OVA boom than many of its contemporaries, with any of the good or bad that could entail for many, where burgeoning animation staff could more easily experiment with professional level tools and responsibilities. That many of the FLCL staff then would go on to head up some of Gainax’s more critically acclaimed international hits before breaking away to form up Studio Trigger is no small chain of events jumpstarted in earnest by those mere six episodes many years prior. With the OVA market a shadow of its former self when it comes to original intellectual properties, one may even from a certain perspective look at FLCL as a kind of grand party and celebration of a format that has been slowly slipping away in a changing media market. To that end, were that to be the case, at least it was a colorful one.
G: Genocyber (1994) – very small prior writeup
This is one of my go-to series when I consider the blood and gore soaked OVA violence fests that populated huge swaths of the western video rental store culture in their itsy bitsy anime sections. Directed by Koichi Ohata, one of my pet favorite anime directors if only because of the sheer inanity of his career track, he was already “notable” at the time for such works as MD Geist and Cybernetics Guardian. Based on an incomplete manga of the same name, Genocyber is something akin to a haphazardly produced vessel of unchecked hatred and scorn. It is a hopelessly vile cast of character actions, one after another, with few if any individuals to really say we should be rooting for.
I watch Genocyber at least once or twice a year, if but for Halloween alone. The sheer magnitude of what it is up to regarding its very particular take on the human condition is rather… distinct? It is like looking at a vintage alien propaganda film from another world or something, the raw and totality of unyielding contempt that it has. I suppose, as a commercial media product, its existence intrigues me. Looking at it and trying to keep tabs on how it reaches its rather extreme and horrific opinions, how it sees the world through its hellish lens, is a strange sort of professional or academic security comfort exercise. There are lines, there is consciously stepping over the line, and there is then that sort of There Was Never A Line To Begin With self confidence as it just shatters anyone and anything it can get its mitts on.
H: Honnêamise, The Wings of (1987)
The history behind how this film came to actually exist astounds me on multiple levels, even today. The very first full professional animated feature from Gainax, I even wrote an entire article about the DAICON III and IV convention shorts that preceded it. Such was the wow factor impact of those smaller pieces that Bandai Visual Entertainment essentially gave a blank check to what was still very much a ragtag group of university age folks, with the leeway to craft whatever they wanted. In the end, taking full advantage of the opportunity, it cost nearly a billion yen in 1980’s currency to get the two hour film out the door. I doubt we’ll ever again see that level of unfettered financial valves pouring forth all over the industry to such levels, so the least we can do is take part of the wide variety of products that kind of fiscal insanity allowed for.
To wit then, Honnêamise is a story of rockets and wires, of science and old men, of government program legacy issues and a person caught up in a number of things much larger than himself. Focusing on the development of a manned space program of a fictional country, it actually would be the exact kind of movie one would be able to easily get away with showing to a middle or high school science class on a film day, barring perhaps One Particular Scene. With a level of financial and creative freedom afforded to few teams in the medium, let alone a group so young as the Gainax staff at the time, the film is awash in lovingly crafted mechanical animation for even the most inconsequential of shots that to this day has few equals.
I: Interstella5555: The 5tory of The 5ecret 5tar 5ystem (2003)
Pronounced Interstella “four five”, it is a strange beast that very much falls into the “Animation For Animation’s Sake” oddball desk drawer of productions. The film features no spoken words or verbal dialogue of any kind, extremely minimal sound effects, and is instead otherwise driven entirely by Daft Punk’s Discovery album from a few years prior. Start to finish, it is a movie that follows the track listing straight down the back of the packaging and places a visual narrative around it. You watch and you listen.
Released during a time where western animation had hit more than a fair number of extremely expensive stumbling blocks (Perhaps most notably Treasure Planet and Titan A.E., with considerations also for works like Osmosis Jones), while a simultaneous surge was occurring in overseas output and financial success during the millennial anime boom years, Interstella 5555 was a sort of “Is this really happening?” kind of industry moment that for a time was having shades of the late 1980’s all over again. It borders on the excessive, as something that only exists just because Daft Punk really liked the works of Leiji Matsumoto and his eternal set of fictional actors when they were kids. So they took their finished album, effectively a set of their prized thoughts and toys, to Japan and showed it off to the right people at Toei Animation. And they were able to have the studio and man who was responsible for many of their childhood heroes involved in making a movie that used the music they inspired as the plot for a new adventure. It is an incredibly rare stunt to be able to pull off successfully, and precisely the sort of dream that one cooks up as a kid watching cartoons but thinks may only ever be possible in their wildest fantasies.
J: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (Franchise; 1993 – various)
A multi generational narrative in manga form that has been continuously running for more than a quarter century and sold over 80 million copies in Japan alone, JoJo has certainly made a defining impact. In 2009, series writer and artist Hirohiko Araki was one of five selected global comic figures for a special exhibition at the Louvre! Strangely then, for such a long running and well received series, the franchise only had scattered OVA and film releases until a full television adaptation was announced for late 2012. With another season approved for the Spring 2014 span of shows after great acclaim and success, rarely has there been such a better time to actually be a fan of the series, which is a strange and unusual treat for something with such a long history. With a globe trotting story across the centuries featuring everything from vampires to supernatural martial arts and even covering modern events like the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, the whole story is a winding and wild spin with an eye for tremendously stylized visual flair, a tradition the various anime entries new and old have sought to execute upon in their own ways over the years. Through all manners of ups and downs, it perseveres through highly memorable characters and designs, which is one of the the highest levels of compliments possible for something that has managed to continuously stick it out in the marketplace for so very long.
K: Kino’s Journey (Franchise; 2003 – various) – very small prior writeup
I have been lucky enough in life to have been able to travel extensively around the world for both professional and academic reasons. Kino’s Journey is a series that has always been rather dear to me, as it so well captures many of the most essential aspects of being a traveler. As a temporary visitor to the areas she stops in on her travels, Kino recognizes the need to become engaged with the culture she is surrounded with. She seeks to hear the local philosophies and practices different to her own, rather than bulldoze folks with hers. Should she find something to be questionable or perhaps even morally wrong, she seeks the meaning behind such traditions or cultural norms rather than immediately writing a group off.
Fundamentally a series of mostly episodic parables and philosophical arguments for both the characters and the viewer to reflect upon within the structure of a good old roadtrip, our consistent cast consists of merely two individuals: Kino as a traveling young woman, and Hermes, a talking motorcycle. An intimate group, working together as both friends, travel partners, and in many ways in need of one another, their interplay and dynamic is a warm and thoughtful one as they visit and depart various lands. Hermes alone, though possessing no physical expressions to go with their dry commentary, is very much like ones own well trusted travel equipment. Sometimes it many pull the equivalent of talking back, other times it may be the only thing in the whole world one can really talk to. Yet it is still with you, though all manner of the things you meet along the way. For being able to so well capture these kinds of sentiments as I myself have also experienced them in my own life, I will always have a considerate place in my heart towards this series.
L: Little Witch Academia (2013) – prior writeup
Chalk it up to tougher competition in other letter categories or them just not having enough time to worm their way into my psyche yet, but oddly enough this is the only one of the ten productions I wrote about for my six post series on my favorite anime of 2013 that made the top of my head spit-balling title cut for this alphabetical exercise. Be that as it may, Studio Trigger’s broadside canon blast of an entry for the Young Animator Training Project titles submitted that year did certainly make a number of waves, and greatly raised the international attention and profile of the entire Anime Mirai government initiative. A passionately animated love letter to childhood wonder and chasing ones most fantastical dreams through all manner of peer derision, it is easy to read the work not only as a story in its own narrative right but so too as one reflective and representative of the desires and goals of Trigger itself as a new studio trying to push forward against all comers. That their Kickstarter to enhance the runtime of the scheduled LWA sequel was able to meet its $150,000 goal within a mere five hours, and in total raise more than quadruple what they were originally seeking, speaks volumes of how resonant the work became not only to myself but to a wildly appreciative global audience it managed to connect with as well.
M: Macross (Franchise; 1982 – various) – related side project prior writeup
The very first anime I ever saw was Robotech when it was in some variety of televised syndication. An international product smashed together from three entirely different anime (The Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber MOSPEADA) with a recobbled overarching narrative to allow them to function as something long enough as an animated series for US television networks to actually consider picking up, I didn’t know anything about how it was assembled or where it came from. But what I did know was that I was very much enthralled with what I saw, and that first arc consisting of Macross was certainly a transformative experience in my media consumption habits.
It would be a number of years until I actually came to understand the larger goings on with how the series was licensed and assembled (and how it interacted with other franchises I enjoyed, such as the US made Battletech line of products which ended up in various legal battles over mechanical designs), let alone see it in its original format. That the qualities of the original Macross still were able to capture my attention through all of that though I consider a great accomplishment representative of the strong core work. Cheesy as it may seem today with its pop music ballads and the like, not to mention some of the detours the sequel works have taken in the time since, I believe Macross still holds immense value not only as a historical pillar of science fiction anime but as an enjoyably timeless work of wartime space opera execution.
N: Natsuiro no Sunadokei (2004) – small prior writeup
There are a number of oddball little “firsts” that tend to make up ones multimedia career, and in that respect I remember this series mostly for the video game that this adaptation is based on. A visual novel carrying the english title Hourglass of Summer, it was the first one I actually found and purchased in a genuine brick and mortar store rather than any shady online alternatives. There tends to be a lot of propping up of visual novels by anime fandom as a whole, and certainly the reasons for that are many and an entirely different exploratory article in its own right. But as a sight during those turn of the millennium western anime boom years, seeing the game for this on shelves circa its full and legally translated release in 2004 was certainly a moment indicative of how far that boom was really getting to be. Visual novels sold in a major national mall retail chain? It was kind of jarring, and certainly an unexpected sight.
The anime itself adapts the “main” or “true” narrative of the visual novel, which involves a time travel romance mystery story and a high schooler trying to undo the death of a future girlfriend he does not even have yet. At only two episodes however, and unable to break away from the visual novel adaptation habit of trying to fit in sequences involving each of every other potential character route, it is an incredibly cramped fit for such a large swath of material. Fundamentally, it actually is not a very complex story, even as a game. But time travel, as is often the case, puts some running time pressures it just buckles under, resulting in an objectively harmless but slushy experience that I forgot about having watched for years. On some level though, it likely assisted in my keeping a measured level of expectations when regarding visual novel anime adaptations.
O: Otaku no Video (1991)
Depending on the perspective of the viewer, this work by Gainax can either come off as a greatly endearing love letter to all manners of anime fandom and the wide world of people occupying the community, or a fearsomely terrifying work of how horrifying and screwed up some of its deepest psychological pits are. Mixing an animated narrative mixed with live action sequences, it is the kind of production that comes with a keenly appreciative eye for the subject matter it is simultaneously skewering and embracing. Gainax at the time was the precise kind of “ascended fan” establishment to know through the very core of its being exactly the passions behind the how and why they got into the business they did, while also recognizing the mechanics and thought processes behind how screwed up some of the most extreme levels of garage kit, hentai game, and other aspects of the territory can reach.
Much of the animated narrative runs as a “names changed to protect the innocent” kind of warped biography of Gainax’s own founding and resulting hurdles, with the exaggerated for effect live action “interview” segments widely considered to either be Gainax’s own staff or folks closely associated to them. Often, those nearest to ourselves are able to be our greatest supporters and harshest critics, and it is remarkable how many of the arguments brought up on both sides of the coin still hold a degree of weight for so many aspects surrounding anime fandom to this very day.
P: Patlabor (Franchise; 1988 – various) – small prior writeup
This giant robot series, a product of the five member creative artist team known as Headgear (whose membership includes Mamoru Oshii, who directed many of the animated Patlabor entries), this is a series that is prime for those who think they do not like giant robots as a series basis. The problem is not giant robots, the problem is how many giant robot shows treat their robots. To that end, Patlabor is the idea of the anime giant robot boiled down to its theoretical most practical application level while still retaining the identifiable qualities of a giant robot, and seeing how they function in our recognizable level of reality. Which is to say, borderline glorified industrial forklifts and a specialized police unit assigned to use them. And by and large, one of the philosophical themes running through the series is driving home kind of just how superfluous the machines really are, because they are nowhere near center stage most of the time.
The series chooses to instead emphasize things like good old fashioned personal police work, and interoffice workplace character dynamics to do so much of the legwork in this series. The Labors, meanwhile, require an immense level of maintenance to even deploy once. Robots are a lot of work, and that spells trouble when it’s your day job just trying to keep the peace and the funding for your extremely expensive civil services unit could be pulled at any time. The public always love ways to cut down on taxes, and you’ve got papers and all manner of other things breathing down your neck looking for scandals doubletime. Captain Gotoh on more than one occasion dryly mentions to his unit that they aren’t pilots in some silly giant robot anime. This is reality. There’s more emphasis on the slice of life police procedural stuff than robot action, because it handles things from the measured and intelligent perspective that the characters come first above all else.
The machines are merely tools, and cumbersome ones that which are often a right royal pain in the butt at that. Their day jobs get a lot more complicated when they need to actually use those machines, and the series treats the viewer as someone it would like to challenge and present different philosophies on Japan’s place in an evolving domestic and international relations climate. A dormant franchise for a number of years, it has a live action adaptation right around the corner for later in 2014.
Q: Queen Emeraldas (1998)
Another work utilizing Leiji Matsumoto’s iconic character designs, it is a side story within the framework of his larger fictional universe most famously populated by the likes of Captain Harlock and Galaxy Express 999. Taking place half a decade from the conclusion of the final 999 film, it aims to show anime views more of the world of the space pirate Emeraldas, who only had minor cameo and side character status through certain choice moments of 999.
The galaxy is a big place, and one of the key ways in which Matsumoto’s world has been constructed over so many decades is the recognition that it contains not just the story of one individual or crew to tell. The narrative of ones entire world is still happening in but a smaller part of a vast whole, where they are from different perspectives a hero, villain, or indeed of no consequence to another life miles of stardust away at all. But this does not mean they do not possess compelling stories in their own right. The universe functions and has become so well traveled over the years not because everything needs to branch off of a single core, but because many of the characters and situations play well to series exploration and showcases in their own right that can often function wholly separately from prior works as it explores the contents of the furthest stars. The story of Emeraldas in this work, while she features in both the title and box cover, is so too not merely her own. This willingness to make things more about the breadth of the cosmos, that even intergalactically legendary individuals are treated with similar narrative footing with those appearing for the very first time to us as viewers because their stories are just as important, has served Matsumoto’s universe very well over the years. This OVA certainly would not be the most headlining or famous of its entries, but I am glad it came to mind to be able to discuss at least a part of what has made it such an enduring place for a number of anime adaptations since the 1970’s.
R: Robot Carnival (1987) – prior writeup
Anthology films and shorts collections are something that do not always necessarily capture enough credit for the services they provide to the industry. They allow for a wide variety of professional staff to have much needed experimentation time with high grade tools. Sometimes, indeed quite often, all the results of a given collection do not all turn out so great. Even so, a common linking theme does allow for a number of diverse explorations on a subject, and such is the case with Robot Carnival. With an array of mechanical and artificial intelligence focused shorts ranging from comedy to drama and everything in between, with wildly different art styles to match, it very much aims to be placed alongside works like Disney’s Fantasia. It is animation very much for the sake of animation itself, with understandably limited commercial viability without the might of a major production house behind it. A package that has largely collected licensing dust over the years since, I do think that it should be considered as a part of any sort of anime film backcatalog dive for those seeking a crash course of multiple ‘80’s styles in a limited time span.
S: Serial Experiments Lain (1998)
Whole internet tomes have been poured out over what this science fiction psychological horror is up to over the years. There are more rabbit holes here than exist in some wildlife preserves, and it came to make a number of terrifyingly accurate statements regarding the internet and digital identities years before many regular people had the level of routine and high quality home internet access to have experienced it themselves or give it much thought. As a series, Lain was intentionally designed at multiple stages of production where ideally folks from different countries would have very different reactions to it in their own fandom national communities and philosophical traditions.
Certainly, the general consensus is that there are a number of interpretations of where the narrative goes, starting as one where a junior high girl begins to receive internet messages from a girl her age who had committed suicide. Traversing from there into her piqued interest in computers, as the series begins to explore communication, loneliness, reality, and so many other aspects as they can come to mean on multiple levels, I found it astounding just how much difficult research condensed down to television dialogue was being put to the test for a series that on several occasions prominently features the lead in a set of brown bear onesie pajamas. To watch the series and then casually flip through a guide on the number of scientific, philosophical, literary, and other concepts that both overtly and stealthily surge through its veins has been a treat every time for me.
T: Tenchi Muyo! (Franchise; 1992 – various)
Befitting for a series which established many of the concepts that would go on to become the larger harem anime genre concept, it was the first one of that particular genre I actually saw. A science fantasy throwing so much at the wall, and in many respects reminding me of classic pulp novels from the early 20th century. Particularly in the case of the original OVA’s, it is all doing a fair amount of things that make what could have been a chaotic sludge of a production actually gel into something that has a sense of imagination about what it wants to do and how its universe operates. It has so many disjointed parts, but rather than sitting around going “look how random and wacky all this is!” it plays itself straight.
A villain plays a big spaceship pipe organ, another spaceship is itself a cat-rabbit creature, a scientist imprisoned centuries ago in a mirror dimension guarded by giant stone snakes, space pirates and wild galactic geometries virtually out of a Kandinsky painting. It flows as an elastic work of visual design and character interactions that many different settings can and have been draped over, from space combat light sword battles to carnival adventures and even magical girls. Something that has greatly fascinated me from an industry and franchise perspective in all the years since has been in seeing how the later entries of the series slowly break down and destabilizes itself via being consumed by the very harem anime vortex of tropes and cliches it helped create. It is like the series entries have in many ways almost become a general at a glance watermark for where the harem genre is at any given time.
U: Urusei Yatsura (Franchise; 1981 – various)
Much like how the Tenchi Muyo franchise is perhaps the original harem anime, this series is certainly the first anime series parody of the harem anime concept and the magical girlfriend show. Which is doubly notable, because the “normal” magical girlfriend genre itself had yet even see anime form yet (though one can definitely draw parallels to certain live action things like I Dream of Jeannie). An early manga work by Rumiko Takahashi, and in anime form was majorly commanded by a young Mamoru Oshii (Chief Director over 100 episodes of the television show, as well as taking on the first two feature films), the series is not only noteworthy as a historical piece in its own right but so too as a proving ground for folks who would go on to have immensely influential careers on the medium as a whole.
With a title that fundamentally comes down to meaning “Those Obnoxious Aliens,” it makes extensive use of the capacity for science fiction to come crashing down and around suburban life, as the highly episodic nature of the new situations and characters that stampede into hapless leading man Ataru’s life allow for an easy franchise to hop into at virtually any point. A series whose defining setup involves an alien invasion where the extraterrestrials allow the Earth the option to win by defeating their princess in a game of tag, the inanity of the circumstances the show is prepared to throw at the cast and the viewer is established even in its earliest stages. At the same time, it retains the capacity for some genuinely heartfelt moments sprinkled throughout.
V: Vampire Hunter D (Franchise; 1985 – various) – small prior writeups
A novel series that has been running since 1983 across twenty six books and counting, with artwork featuring the distinct styling of Yoshitaka Amano, it is a series that is simultaneously as cranked up to eleven as it is soaringly atmospheric. The titular D is a half human, half vampire who (naturally) is generally shunned by humanity while at the same time hunting full vampires who largely carry themselves in a fearsome aristocratic manner as they rule the lands. With the series taking place incredibly far off into the future (12,090 AD), multiple aspects of diverse genres are mixed together seamlessly to forge a diverse setting, as the associated works are often as science fiction as it is fantasy, as western as it is gothic.
While each of the anime films (Vampire Hunter D and the later Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust specifically aimed with an eye for American audiences) are rather straightforward narratives, they each take the time to capture the genre width of the universe. Ornate castles and energy weapons, desert stagecoach chases and gothic romance. It is a sense of carefully handled stylistic leanings that allows the art to remain immensely iconic throughout the years, rather than be cheaply consumed by it.
W: Wicked City (1987)
Based on a novel and in anime form directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, this film was originally a thirty-five minute short. However, Japan Home Video was absolutely ecstatic with the end product, and requested it be expanded into a full feature length movie, which Kawajiri’s young but keen eye for style, violence, and stylish violence was more than pleased to oblige. Wicked City became a supremely notorious anime staple of western video rental stores, containing numerous on-screen rapes and various extremes of body transformation and mutilation with a distinctive noir style (a relatively safe for work trailer can be found here).
A provocative action horror work receiving an understandably edgy reception due to its contents, it has some narrative hiccups due to its original development as a much shorter work. One can often tell where the seams and transition points tend to be if they are really looking for them, but, the film does maintain a brisk pace throughout that allows this to not be as devastating as it certainly could have been. Kawajiri has always possessed a great personal sense of how to use a camera in an action scene and those developing talents are very much on display here. It is a well shot film with a high level of crisp animation at the command of someone who had never directed a feature length movie prior… with some extremely understandable content reasons one might be put off from wanting to watch it.
X: X/1999 (Franchise; 1996 – various)
Certainly the easiest and most immediate of any of the selections to come to my mind, given that the lone letter is itself the very name of the franchise (known merely as X in manga form). With publication beginning in 1992, the series latched on to various apocalyptics scenarios envisioned to surround the year 1999 and threw the big grab bag into a blender mixed in with its own particular mythologies as well. Featuring the more shoujo oriented visual stylings the Clamp manga group is famous for while at the same time often dealing in punchy displays of violence, it walks many demographic lines… and also remains unfinished after years of publication hiatus due to content concerns over things such as the depiction of natural disasters.
In the realm of anime, X has been tackled by high level directors both in film (Rintaro) and television series (Yoshiaki Kawajiri) formats, each time needing to in their own ways confront the core issue of the source material lacking a defined ending. This is certainly particularly tricky as a franchise that has so many of its eggs placed in apocalyptic baskets. As such, the television series with its longer time for exploring the sweeping nature of the epic tale the story so desires to have has generally weathered far better in reception from longtime and new fans alike, while its preceding adaptation in the form of a technically stunning movie is often considered an incredibly confusing representation of events. One can only imagine that when the eventual final volumes of the manga somehow see the light of day, a third studio swing at transforming the story to anime form may very well be attempted once again.
Y: Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei (2010)
Known in English as The Tatami Galaxy and based on a novel from 2004, this story follows the misadventures and existential crises of an unnamed male college student searching for the idealized campus life of his dreams. Directed by Masaaki Yuasa and animated using primarily traditional cel animation for characters in conjunction with highly stylized live action backgrounds, it was the very first television production to win the Japan Media Arts Festival Grand Prize in the Animation Division. At its core, what the series explores is this area of a sort of quarter life crisis. There are so many pressures on youth today, after all, that almost mechanical level of push from multiple levels of society and self to not merely do well or have great experiences but to have The Best ones and the fear of if one is doing as well or achieving their goals as much as they could or should be. Small choices leading to large impacts, where one ends up in an entirely different lot merely because they did something as seemingly innocuous as picking one university club circle over another, or the different courses of action that can be taken when a compromising personal situation.
Rather than merely raise the points, this is a series built around exploring them, of showing how things can play out so very differently and the lead brick of a mental weight that can really get to be within modern societal confines. These are not merely Watashi’s problems, but indeed also ones we ourselves are often living with in our own lives on one level or another, and the opportunity as outside observers seeing him work through so many similar choices and their impacts was not only enjoyable entertainment and character studies in its own right but also provides windows for our own self reflection.
Z: Zone of the Enders (Franchise; 2001)
Admittedly, this final anime selection for this exercise comes more because I thought of the video game first rather than the animated entry itself. And my brain went to the video game because it had such a colossal marketing push behind the establishment of this franchise, to the extent that it included a demo disk for the hotly anticipated Metal Gear Solid 2. I didn’t even own a Playstation, or have any interest in the MGS series at the time. But the excited “My $50 demo disk came with a free game!” narrative was one that was saturating many an online forum, to say nothing of how media stores were often positioning the product almost exactly as such. In turn, sales for the game skyrocketed as folks chased the demo disk, and with such numbers came the reasonable expectation from Konami that they likely hooked more than a few folks for multimedia sequels to the actual Zone of the Enders brand. As such, out popped an anime OVA and television show, which I have admittedly never actually seen. In terms of trying to manufacture a hit and create a best selling franchise out of thin air however, it was by no means a bad business strategy at all, and that I am recalling it as a “Z” representative even now certainly speaks to the power of that marketing push from so many years ago.
…And that concludes this rather lengthy little exploration on what anime I think of off the top of my head when placing myself under these alphabetical parameters! Naturally, if one were to ask me on a different day, my results would likely not be the same.
Perhaps, if I was very lucky, I was able to potentially steer you to something you had been meaning to get around to yourself in your own backcatalog dives, or you maybe heard about for the very first time and now aim to know more about and experience yourself.
Hopefully, even if you just quickly skimmed through the list, you have picked up a least a little more about some of my own places in the anime spectrum. Maybe you noticed some recurring themes or creators, for instance. Or you noticed some gaps you just can not believe I missed. It was a fun exercise for me though, warping the ABC award rules as I did to make this monster of a post, and ideally you know me at least a little better now when it comes to anime and if you want to stick around as a blog reader!