An Anime Sampler

December 26, 2011

Until this weekend, my experience with Japanese anime pretty much began and ended with Akira; I have vague memories of checking out a few anime series here and there, but no memory of liking anything.

But I’ve always been curious. With a little extra time on our hands during this vacation weekend, we took advantage of instant streaming to check out a few interesting-looking titles from the anime list. First up was Moribito: Guardian of the Sacred Spirit (2007), a period fantasy about a woman warrior, Balsa, who undertakes the protection of an imperiled prince named Chagum. The first two episodes struck me as slowly paced, to be sure — it consistently holds it beats a few seconds too long — but the animation is gorgeous at times, and the main character is quite likable so far. (We’re only two episodes in.) Just be prepared to fast-forward through the theme song. Ouch!

Out of sheer amused curiosity, we turned next to Fruits Basket (2001), lured by its bonkers premise: a young orphan girl, Toru, joins a family that can’t be hugged by a member of the opposite sex without transforming magically into an animal from the Chinese zodiac. We watched one episode and found it flat-out weird, in a mostly good, compelling way. The anime style here reminded me (read: may have influenced) Edgar Wright’s direction of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, equipped with loopy comedic ideas and surprising left turns, animation style randomly adjusting itself to suit each punchline. Definitely curious to see more, here.

My favorite of the three we tried, though, was Samurai Champloo (2004), an attitude-heavy story of two warriors who hire on with a waitress who’s searching for “a samurai who smells like sunflowers.” Huh? Why? I don’t know yet! But the first two episodes are artful and engrossing, a bit more graphic and adult than the other shows, with anachronistic 1970s-sounding music and a tone both gritty and comical.

Chances are we’ll keep going on these series, but if you’re out there and an anime buff, what else have I been missing?

  • SarahP December 26, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    We lrrrrrve Moribito here, too–the kids just finished their second viewing of the entire thing, and Theo’s read both of the novels (translated into English, published by Arthur A. Levine at Scholastic). You already know that we love Fruits Basket, which is one of the most popular animes out there. The one you should also take a look at, if the curiosity continues, is Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, which is streaming free now. That’s the best of anime, though the first episode is a little random. For sheer weird-awesomeness, try Princess Tutu, in which the main character’s superpower is ballet. And it’s all about storytelling.

    That’s the way it is with anime, btw. Weird, weird premises, and they often take a couple of episodes to settle in.

    Have fun!

    • Chris East December 26, 2011 at 8:44 pm

      Thanks, Sarah! I want to say I’ve seen the first Fullmetal Alchemist and wasn’t blown away, but maybe I’ll give it another try. Nice to hear those others are worth hanging in for, it’s kind of hard to tell sometimes…

  • John Sullivan December 26, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    Check out Fullmetal Alchemist as well!

    Heh! And then I saw Sarah’s comment. Don’t start with Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood though! Look for just plain Fullmetal Alchemist first.

    If you like it, there’s a movie called Conqueror of Shamballa (not streamable but available on disc) that follows the events of the original series. It can be skipped though. The series ends well enough without it.

    Brotherhood is a follow-up series that (from what I’ve seen of it so far – I’m still watching that one) goes back and fills in adventures that took place during a lengthy period the original show sort of glosses over. It assumes you know who all the characters are and why they’re doing what they’re doing. So check out the original series first.

    • Chris East December 26, 2011 at 8:47 pm

      That seems to be the series everyone loves…clearly I’ll need to give it another shot! So far Samurai Champloo is the one I find myself leaning toward working through first, though…

  • SarahP December 26, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    Nope, Brotherhood is the same series redone because the “original” series got all whack. Basically what happened is, Arikawa (the author) allowed the anime to begin before she’d plotted out the whole story arc and the plot got wonky. So once she’d figured things out they re-did the anime (as FMA: Brotherhood) and fixed the plot, plus it’s way better actual animation. My advice is to skip the original FMA altogether and just watch Brotherhood. And DO skip Shambhalla, because it is totally and completely whack and stupid.