A skeptic’s guide to anime – Five series to ease you into
Japan’s most popular export
Viewed from afar, Japanese animation may appear to be populated entirely by giant-eyed, squeaky-voice schoolgirls and young men who suffer from frequent nosebleeds. Their plots, too, can seem awfully convoluted at first glance, and so anyone who didn’t grow up with anime or have the chance to catch popular series when they were just getting started may feel completely out of their depth when trying to get into it.
If you’re the kind of person who, like me, despite being into Japan and Asia, never really understood what all the fuss was about anime, or who would like to give this strange medium a chance but doesn’t know where to start, then we have a special treat for you today: no fewer than five anime recommendations from members of our very own writing staff, guaranteed to be easy for even anime-skeptics to get into. Who knows, these might just be the gateway shows you’ve been looking for!
Following a recent discussion with a certain anime-phobic editor <ahem>, we asked five of our RocketNews24 writers to come up with recommendations for anime that might appeal to even the most skeptical viewer. Each of our five writers was given a simple set of criteria to follow: name an anime, talk a little bit about it, and explain why it’s a good choice for those who have never dabbled in anime before but are willing to give it a go.
The shows listed below are, generally speaking, either available to watch via streaming sites such as YouTube and Crunchyroll or easy to rent or buy on DVD or Blu-ray. Since our readers are scattered all over the world, it’s not possible for us to provide links to sites currently making the shows available in each country, but we’ve chosen anime that shouldn’t be too hard to track down if you’re hoping to try something new. Enjoy!
- Joan Coello
1. Name of anime: 銀の匙 (Gin no Saji)/Silver Spoon
2. What it’s about: Silver Spoon is a light-hearted slice-of-life anime created by Hiromu Arakawa, the same mangaka who produced the popular series Fullmetal Alchemist. It started off as a manga in 2011 and was first adapted into an anime series in 2013, airing for a total of two seasons.
The story centers around a scholarly city boy, Yuugo Hachiken, who enrolled himself into an agricultural high school in an effort to escape the high expectations of his strict father. Having spent his entire schooling life buried in books and aiming for the top, he gets the culture shock of his life when he starts schooling at Ooezo Agricultural High School (AKA Ezonoo), where most of the students are already experienced in farming as they come from families with agricultural backgrounds. He soon realizes that his classmates, even though some of them have problems passing their exams, are clear about their future dreams and goals, while he doesn’t have a clue of what he wants to do with his life despite acing every test he takes. However, being the diligent student he is, Hachiken finds the determination to give it his all and starts to enjoy his farming experiences. Before he realizes it, he develops crucial life skills and becomes the guy all of his friends turn to.
3. Why it’s ideal for anime skeptics: I enjoyed Silver Spoon a lot because, having spent most of my life in Singapore where we barely have any land to spare for farms, it gave me a surprising amount of insight on the agricultural industry. I also used to be a student without any big dreams or aspirations of my own, so it was easy for me to relate to the lead character’s feelings of wanting to get out of the academic rat race.
Also, I tend to like anime that don’t focus on just the lead character. This series has plenty of interesting supporting characters, each with their own set of troubles (inheriting the family farm, chasing dreams, etc.), so it feels much more fleshed out and true to life than some anime. The events and problems depicted are very down-to-earth and the character designs are also rather realistic (unlike many series which tend to go down the fanservice route with overly busty female characters wearing skimpy clothing). People who have biased impressions of anime due to unrealistic characters and exaggerated plotlines will find Silver Spoon refreshingly cliche-free and easy to get into.
Oh, and it has a really nice selection of opening and ending songs too!
- Steven Le Blanc
1. Name of anime: Gungrave
2. What it’s about: Based on the button-mashing shoot ‘em up video game of the same name, the Gungrave anime is a far more subtle look at the ties that bind people and what it takes to break them. The team behind Gungrave are largely the same crew that created arguably the greatest anime ever, Trigun. Created by Yasuhiro Nightow, written by Yousuke Kuroda, and featuring one of Tsuneo Imahori perfectly tuned musical scores,Gungrave pretty much has greatness in all corners.
The story follows two childhood friends, Brandon Heat and Harry MacDowell, as they ascend from being regular street punks to the top of their city’s largest crime syndicate. The first half of the series shows us Brandon and Harry’s rise to power, leading up to the point where Harry’s lust for power causes him to murder his best friend (this scene happens early on, so no need to worry about spoilers). The second half jumps 13 years into the future and follows Harry’s attempts to keep control of his empire as others try to rob him of it, just like he did the previous boss. It also doesn’t help that Brandon has been resurrected as a mindless killing machine hellbent on revenge.
3. Why it’s ideal for anime skeptics:
I’m recommending this series because it doesn’t have a lot of the typical trappings of an anime and seems more accessible to people who aren’t typically into the genre. By the time the undead monsters come into play, chances are you’ll already be so emotionally invested in the characters that you won’t be turned off by their arrival. The series moves along at a brisk pace and comes to an emotionally satisfying conclusion – the story is genuinely well-written and will keep you hooked from start to finish.
Just one very important note: if you can, start watching at episode two. I know that sounds odd, but the first episode basically just has a bunch of monster fights – the kind of thing that is a put-off those who are already skeptical of anime – and it isn’t really necessary to begin watching the series. They also basically replay the episode later on, rendering it almost completely pointless. Start at number two and you’ll be sure to enjoy the ride!
1. Name of anime: The Three Musketeers Anime (アニメ三銃士)
2. What it’s about: Set in 17th century France during the reign of Louis XIII, the story, as the title suggests, is loosely based on Alexandre Dumas’ series of novels, the d’Artagnan Romances which include the famous story of the Three Musketeers. However, it has an original plot with plenty of twists including political intrigue and also a healthy yet measured amount of romance; it was originally an anime made with children in mind, after all!
3. Why it’s ideal for anime skeptics: This series is slightly unique from the typical hit anime in that it was created and broadcast by NHK, Japan’s public broadcasting organization, which means it was specifically made to be enjoyed widely by audiences of all ages. While anime is often based on an already popular manga, the way they took a literary classic and turned it into an original story that can appeal not only to young children but also adult sensibilities was handled superbly in this case. When you look at the resolution of the videos available on the Internet, you do have to take into consideration that the work is about 25 years old, but the artwork itself is drawn beautifully. Aramis, one of the three musketeers, is absolutely gorgeous, and even the villainess, Milady de Winter, is darkly attractive. Most of all, when I think back on the anime I’ve seen in the past, this may be the one I most want to watch again from start to finish, just so I can see what the story is like one more time.
Plus, I think the theme song “Yume Boken” (sung by none other than Noriko Sakai) is absolutely awesome and they did an excellent job of creating an opening for the anime with it.
- Casey Baseel
1. Name of anime: Seirei no Moribito (in some territories called Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit)
2. What it’s about: This is a 2007 TV series, produced by Production I.G., the studio behind Ghost in the Shell and The Sky Crawlers, which also backstopped the newly formed Wit Studio on animation for Attack on Titan. It’s based on the first in a series of books by author Nahoko Uehashi, who received the Hans Christian Anderson Award for children’s literature in 2014.
In an Asian-inspired fantasy setting, wandering bodyguard Balsa crosses into the empire of Shin Yogo with the simple goal of having her spear repaired. However, she stumbles across a plot to assassinate the second prince, Chagum, whose mother’s tearfully pleads for Balsa to protect the child. Balsa realizes this would mean trading the life she has for one spent on the run and hiding from elite assassins, as Shin Yogo’s emperor himself is the one behind the recent attempts on the boy’s life. Nevertheless, she pledges to keep Chagum safe, swayed not by the fathomless riches his mother has offered as compensation, but for the chance it offers at redemption for Balsa’s bloody past.
As the pair flee their pursuers, though, they find that the situation they’ve become caught up in is even bigger than Balsa had ever imagined, and are part of a chain of events stretching across history and even the bounds of the reality they know.
3. Why it’s ideal for anime skeptics: More than anything else, Moribito aims to reach the ultimate goal of the fantasy genre. It wants to make viewers feel like they’re visiting a separate but real, living world, and it does that better than just about any anime made in the last 15 years. Despite being based on juvenile literature, Moribito feels incredibly mature, and not “mature” in the sense that it’s crammed with gratuitous nudity and violence, but because you can watch it as a mature adult without having to feel embarrassed about how the characters look or act. There’s no over-the-top slapstick or silly comic relief character.
Visually, with the exception of a few bits of clunky CGI background effects, the anime is gorgeous, with a couple of sequences in its opening episode that are almost movie-quality. The plot is paced somewhat unevenly, as things slow down considerably for a few episodes in the middle, but thankfully even this avoids seeming like pure filler by giving us more glimpses into how people of different backgrounds live in this world, right down to why they eat the things they do.
At 26 episodes, Moribito avoids the cop-out of the current glut of 13-episode anime that leave as many loose ends as possible in hopes of getting a sequel a year or two down the road. Its plot has a distinct beginning, middle and end, and unlike a lot of connected metaverse-type shows, you don’t need to have any previous experience with Uehashi’s novels to understand what’s going on, or run out and purchase any sequels to be satisfied with its ending.
- Preston Phro
1. Name of anime: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
2. What it’s about: This near-future cyberpunk show focuses on Public Security Section 9, a division of the police filled with hardened cops and ex-soldiers. Most of them, especially the series protagonist Major Motoko Kusanagi, have been highly modified with cybernetics, basically making them cyborg super-soldiers. However, not everything in the show is about fighting; the series explores not only a dangerous future but also more serious questions about everything from the plight of war refugees to what it means to be human. That said, the series rarely digs as deep as the philosophical musings of the movies–instead choosing to spend more time on the action.
The second series (titled Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. 2nd GIG) takes a slightly more international view as the team deals with the refugee community in Japan that resulted from the third and fourth world wars. Though they had originally been welcomed by Japan as cheap labor, the refugees eventually found themselves without work. As unrest grows, the members of Public Security Section 9 find themselves working through a tangled plot of political intrigue as they try to prevent civil war and reveal corrupt politicians.
Ghost in the Shell also features one of my favorite “characters” from science-fiction, a team of adorable, sentient battle tanks called Tachikoma, which manage to inject a bit of comic relief into the show. The tanks also provide a sort of outside perspective, posing philosophical questions as much to viewers as to themselves.
3. Why it’s ideal for anime skeptics:
Let me start by saying that I myself am not actually that into anime. I don’t dislike it by any means, but that’s not what drew me to Japan–I’ve always been more interested in the historical aspect of the country. That said, I do enjoy a good cyborg/cyberpunk story and it just so happens that one of the best, in my opinion, is the now-legendary Ghost in the Shell.
The first season of Stand Alone Complex will likely strike a chord with anyone who’s concerned with governmental overreach. The main plot shows the team first tracking down and then aiding a hacker out to reveal a plot by politicians to profit off artificially expensive medicine. While some scenes are undeniably clichéd, for example the first meeting between the Major and the team’s sniper is filled with unnecessary forced tension, the show is never boring and almost always as thought-provoking as it is fun.
If you’re skeptical about anime and you love works like Neuromancer, Snow Crash, or evenThe Matrix, Ghost in the Shell is guaranteed to tickle your brain. While the story can get a bit convoluted at times, the one thing that keeps me coming back is the world and the characters. They’re almost so real you’d believe you could run out and buy a cyberbrain tomorrow.
I know I’ll be trying these out soon to see if I can change my perception of anime! If any you have any further suggestions for people like me who have always struggled to get into anime or found some of the more popular offerings either a bit too twee or over-the-top for comfort, then leave a comment below!
Feature image: YouTube