|(Illustration courtesy of Chase Conley)|
So, yeah, I'm going to be writing about anime very soon -- and by soon, I mean that the thing you're reading is about anime. (Wow, that happened fast.) The genre has a warm place in my heart because I grew up with it; I can vividly remember racing home from school each day to catch the latest episode of Dragonball Z and Outlaw Star and Tenchi Muyo! That's not to say that I don't view anime with the same caustic outlook that I have with sports, because I do. In fact, I suspect I'm going to piss off a lot of fanboys because I think 90% of all anime shows are garbage. And even the shows that I think are cool will occasionally break out a terrible, cutesy moment or an awful line of dialogue that'll make me want to expunge the show's very existence from my memory.
It's a guilty pleasure to be sure. But I defend anime, and all its facepalm-inducing bullshit, because it showcases stories and plots and fantasies that simply cannot exist in any other medium. Dragonball Z was almost hypnotizing growing up, because the villains literally had the ability to destroy the planet with their bear hands, and there was no point caring about some stupid cop drama or soap opera when the fate of the freakin' universe was on the line in DBZ. That show would have been an abomination if it was live action (See: Dragonball Evolution), mostly because the budget required in replicating the scope of the cartoon would have been astronomical. In other words, a watchable non-animated version of DBZ could never, ever happen.
And it isn't just DBZ. They made a full-length movie version of Avatar: The Last Airbender in 2010, with major distribution and a $150 million budget, and it's hard to put into words how awful it was; it was about as enjoyable as walking in on your parents having sex, only they never noticed you and your feet got stock in the floorboard, so you had to watch them do it for 103 minutes. There was a Street Fighter movie and it was crap. There were the Transformers movies, and they were also crap. And if Warner Bros. actually goes ahead and makes a live action version of Robotech, which they're rumored to be doing, by all means, find a bookie who's offering a line on whether or not the film will blow and invest your life savings on it.
If you're one of those dudes who looks down on animation as being too kiddy or something that you have to grow out of, kindly remove yourself from my website -- but not before you hit the refresh button a bunch of times and follow me on every social platform imaginable. Yes, a lot of cartoons are crappy and are geared at children who aren't old enough to realize that what they're watching sucks. But cartoons can also be a platform for unique, creative stuff that even adults can appreciate, like that LeBron image. It's a medium that fills a void left open from the limitations of CGI and live action, and I for one dig many of the shows produced with pencils and erasers from the Land of the Rising Sun, even if they can be goofy, and have terrible dialogue, and be padded with WAY too much filler.
Now, as a bridge to anyone who doesn't care about anime, I had considered offering a list of series for anyone interested in getting into the genre, because I'm sure there are people out there going, "I'm not opposed to anime, but all the shows I ever hear about are those stupid fighting ones that don't interest me." However, I'm not going to do that because there are a million places on the web to find a subjective anime starter-list. (May I suggest this A.V. Club entry: "Gateways to Geekery: Anime.") Instead, I'm going to provide a list of what I think are the most socially-acceptable anime shows to admit liking. After all, even if you did grow a fondness for a certain show, what good is it if you can't namedrop it in casual conversation without being mocked?
Understand that when I say "socially-acceptable," I mean to average, non-geeked persons in your age group -- co-workers if you will. Obviously if you're 16, and you're a nerd, the dudes you sit with at the lunch table aren't going to a give a shit if you watch G Gundam. However, maybe you're seeing a chick, and she's a little jaded when it comes to animation, and she asks you if you're into any of that stuff. You're not going to say Dragonball Z, because the screaming and big hair and effeminate aliens aren't going to impress her. You're not going to say Bleach, because you'd wind up having to explain why a show about soul reapers is named after the stuff that gets grass stains out of your socks. And you're not going to say Outlaw Star, because you'd have to dance around the part where the ship the characters fly around in is powered by a naked woman in a tube.
The purpose here is to identify 10 shows that you can theoretically give a shout-out to while also retaining your dignity in the eyes of that hot cheerleader you're seeing. (This is an unlikely scenario, but whatever, just go with it.) I'm sure a different person might choose a list with 10 completely different shows, but until I see such a list and can be persuaded otherwise, these are what I consider the 10 most socially-acceptable anime shows:
- Cowboy Bebop
- Samurai Champloo
- Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
- Blue Gender
- Death Note
- Neon Genesis Evangelion
- Ranma 1/2
Monster is about a Japanese doctor living in Germany who saved a young boy's life, only, the boy grew up and became a serial killer. Which sucks. The doc then spends the rest of the series trying to track the guy down and right his wrong. The concept of the show is grounded enough that I could legitimately see it as a live action drama -- making it the exception to the rule. The killer's backstory becomes preposterously convoluted after a while, but hey, nothing's perfect.
I've yet to see more than a single episode of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, to be honest. I tuned in one time, and there were these cutesy giant robots that talked, and they all sounded like they were six-year-old girls, and I immediately changed the channel. I wasn't sure if some dweeb actually programmed the incredibly annoying voices of little girls into these robots, or if the robots somehow harbored the souls of dead girls... or something, but I also didn't care. It crossed my weirdness threshold and I never went back to it. The show is socially acceptable because non-anime lovers aren't going to know about the squeaky-voiced talking robots. Plus, it's a spin-off from a critically-acclaimed movie that got two thumbs up from Siskel & Ebert back in the day, and the show itself is actually aimed at adults. So while I don't personally like it, G.I.T.S.: S.A.C. is the sort of show you could admit to watching without being seen as an anime freakazoid. Way to go, weird robot show.
|"Damn it, I told you guys to get Michael Ironside to voice the robots. WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED!?!?"|
Blue Gender is one of the least animey animes ever. If Aliens and Starship Troopers had a baby, and that baby was a cartoon show, it would be Blue Gender. There are no cutesy characters, or forced humor moments, or corny speeches. It's a bleak, harsh show where side characters get ravaged by killer aliens all the time; in fact, its biggest downside is probably that so many horrible things happen so regularly that you're not all that affected when Random Character No. 38 suffers a tragic fate. And the ending is really, really rushed. But you could absolutely watch it and not be a fan of anime.
Trigun is about a man named "Vash the Stampede" who has a gigantic bounty on his head because he's allegedly a mass-murderer. Trigun, much like Cowboy Bebop, is acceptable to admit liking because all of the characters wield guns -- rather than, say, DBZ, where the characters are shooting energy blasts out of their fists. It's scattered with light humor elements, but it gets really dark towards the end, with Vash having coming to terms with when it's okay to kill someone. Also, it's steampunk.
Death Note is about a high schooler who gets possession of a notebook that has the power to kill anyone whose name is written in it. It's socially-acceptable because it's grounded in reality (well, at least at first), and the main character goes on a Walter White-esque transformation from mild-mannered goody-goody to complete psychopath that's genuinely fascinating to watch. Evangelion is one of the most highly-respected animes ever, and it's packed with religious symbolism that little kids aren't going to appreciate. It's the only kids-operating-giant-robots shows I'd consider socially-acceptable, mainly because there's somewhat of a logical explanation why the robots are being piloted by children -- and also that the kids don't actually like doing it/aren't experts at it.
Rounding out my Top 10 is something a little different. Ranma 1/2 is about a boy named Ranma who fell into a magical spring one day and now turns into a girl every time he touches water. That's an odd premise, and the show is part-comedy, so you may be thinking, "Wait, how can I get away with saying I like such a show?" The reason is that Ranma 1/2 is indie as hell; it's more or less the only revered anime show of the 80s and 90s that never found its way onto Cartoon Network or [adult swim], mostly because of all the partial nudity that would have had to be edited out. You'll actually get points for admitting you like it because it's popular enough and has an interesting enough premise that you can justify searching it out in the name of artistic curiosity. This is unlike if you admitted you scoured the land to see some crappy kiddy show like Yu-Gi-Oh!, where your venture would come off less artsy and more juvenile.
So there you have it, good citizens. 10 shows with a backstory interesting enough that you can mention them in casual conversation to your hot, supermodel girlfriend without her kneeing you in the crotch, taking your money and fleeing to Mexico. Because that'd like totally happen if you name-dropped some other anime show. Thank me later.