I first came across Akira one Saturday morning in 1994. I was channel surfing, as I was prone to do, and came across this little piece of amazing. What in the world was this? Bikers, mutants, lasers, ghosts, psychics, telekinetics, aliens, swearing, violence, drugs, teenage angst, atomic bombs, all in a cartoon. A cartoon! After another viewing, it didn’t actually contain ALL those things, but it was still awesome. Transformers was great, but it couldn’t stand one round with Akira.
This was 1994. I’m making up that date, but it’s about right. Twelve year olds didn’t watch anime in 1994. The big invasion came in 1998 with Pokemon and all the mind-numbing overly-popular evil it brought with it. Akira was something grand and new. It was made in 1988, at the same time America was getting The Brave Little Toaster and Oliver and Company. Nothing against those films (the BLT had Phil Hartman and Jon Lovitz! Didn’t remember that did you?) but they just weren’t for me. The Sci-Fi channel had provided me with my fix. The misused channel hasn’t really done much for me since 1994, but at least it provided this one gift.
I’ve never shown Akira to anyone. That’s not to say that I refuse to, or that I never will. I just haven’t. People have a gag reflex when they hear the word anime. To be patronizing, it’s because they haven’t experienced any quality anime. To be overdramatic, I’m not going to cast my pearls before swine. And to be elitist, I kind of like it better that people don’t like it. Certainly, swine is an unnecessary insult; the Bible’s making me sound like a jerk. Also, the anime the naysayers have seen may very well have been horrible. But if you’re rejecting anime as a whole (which is really tantamount to saying you don’t like any movie that’s in black or white, or was made in Australia) you probably haven’t tried to find the style/genre of anime that’s suitable to your tastes. And that’s fine. I’m probably not going to try to convince you. And I’m definitely not going to try to convince you with Akira.
I have shown people plenty of other anime. My original intention was to write a sequence of movies you could watch to give you a quick education in anime. But I really can’t do that. I don’t watch the kid anime (Pokemon), the teenage anime (Naruto, Inuyasha) or much of the girly anime (Love Hina etc), just as I see little of these categories in American cinema. I just know what I like, and will suggest some fine introductions below:
Miyazaki is the safest gateway anime to suggest to people. If you want something very Disney, try Spirited Away or Howl’s Moving Castle. I prefer Princess Mononoke, and it’s the movie I most often show as an anime introduction.
Number 2 would probably be Cowboy Bebop. It’s not too deep, but it’s got style to burn. It looks great and has a great soundtrack. The action is fun and doesn’t get too extreme. If Cowboy Bebop goes over well I often introduce Samurai Champloo, which is the same production company. Bebop is a jazzy space adventure and Champloo is a hip-hip samurai tale.
If you think anime is for kids, watch Grave of the Fireflies. You’ll cry.
If you have a high insanity threshold, FLCL is one of my all time favorites. If you’ve ever walked out of a movie complaining that it was just too confusing, you probably can’t watch this. But it’s great if you can take blending your mind for a couple hours.
Lain is a couple steps less crazy than FLCL. But you have to be confused for 6 hours instead of 2. It’s also well worth the mental effort you’ll go through.
Neon Genesis Evangelion is a show about emotionally damaged people. In the future. Who use giant organic robots to fight aliens. Using primarily Judeo-Christian imagery. I’d love to recommend this show to people, because the climax is glorious to behold. Unfortunately it takes 12 hours to get there, and not all of those hours are great.
Tenchi Muyo is kind of the opposite of Evangelion. It’s basically a romantic comedy. With demons, aliens, space police, light sabers, martial arts training and a cat-rabbit hybrid. But you’ll rarely be confused, which is a nice change from the last couple selections.
If you don’t understand the range of anime, you can watch Perfect Blue. It’s a murder mystery that could’ve been made with live actors. They just decided to animate it. It’s beautiful and intriguing, so I think they made the right choice. It’s also very dark. If you want something beautiful, intriguing and with less murder and paranoia, go with Paprika.
If you’re a sci-fi nut, you’ll love Ghost in the Shell. But if you’re really a sci-fi nut, you’ve already seen Ghost in the Shell. I wish I could recommend it to more people, but those giant guns and invisible clothing just don’t make it family friendly.
In 1994 watching anime took some dedication. It was hard to find, it cost a lot and people looked at you funny. Now it’s on TV (sometimes before 2 AM!), Netflix gives you nearly unlimited access and people look at you less funny. I decided I wanted to try Death Note last week and within a couple days I was enjoying the show. And as a mini-review, it was fantastic. And while I rarely watch anime anymore (stupid work, friends and other hobbies) I’ll always have fond memories of Akira and the time we’ve spent together over the years.