An Anime Sampler

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?

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