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Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Anime (But Were Too Afraid to Watch)

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By Chris Kavan - 06/16/10 at 03:39 PM CT

I've held off for as long as I can on this matter. It seems that anime is getting a bad rap from a great many people, and I think it's mainly due to misunderstanding. Most people who refuse to have anything to do with the medium think A) It's all a bunch of kids stuff like Pokemon and Yu Gi Oh or B) It's some disgusting thing usually involving tentacles and schoolgirls.

I will be the first to admit there is a lot of junk that fits into those categories. There are a lot of kids shows devoted to selling you something and there is a small, but graphic segment that is pretty twisted. Yet if that's all you think about anime, you are missing out on some truly great cinematic films - both visually and emotionally.


You say you just want to dip your toe in first? I have two words for you: Studio Ghibli or two other words: Hayao Miyazaki. While Pixar has shown up CGI can be amazing, Miyazaki has proven that 2D animation can be just as captivating.

Start with Spirited Away, the film won the Academy Award for best animated in 2003, along with a slew of other awards. Not only is this a family-friendly film, it is a visual treat - plus, for those who are loath to read subtitles, the English dub is actually well done.

Other good choices to start off with: Ponyo, Howl's Moving Castle, Castle in the Sky or Kiki's Delivery Service. Ponyo is the most recent entry - a take on The Little Mermaid. The animation is simply superb - the ocean, the colors - it all flows so smoothly, it's a love letter to traditional animation and it shines.

Howl's Moving Castle is probably the most adult of the films on this first list. It deals with war and magic - it has plenty that kids will enjoy, but there are themes that will resonate with adults as well. The character design and development is as fine as you will see in any film.

Castle in the Sky and Kiki's Delivery Service are earlier but no less impressive films. But really, you can go with just about any Miyazaki film and start off down the right path.


Here's where things get interesting. A lot of Miyazaki films are good, but are made for a younger audience despite the adult overtones. These next films might be animated, but beyond looking pretty, the little ones might not get the picture.

Start with Princess Mononoke, which skirts the line between cute and very much adult. Like many Miyazaki films, war and ecology are major issues. This has a little more bloodshed than what his other films have.

Expand your mind with Ghost in the Shell 2.0 and Millennium Actress. Ghost in the Shell is a cybernetic future that's no so far removed from reality. Although made in 1995, the film has lost none of its power and in some ways seems eerily prophetic.

Millennium Actress is made by one of my favorite directors, Satoshi Kon. The way the story flows across different eras and styles is simply stunning. This is a film you can watch multiples times and catch something new or gain a different perspective each time.


While Akira is often singled out as an "anime classic", which is true, it's not a good place to start out. Akira is, for lack of a better word, bizarre. It's like watching Jacob's Ladder for the first time - you just go WTF? after it's done, but for some reason you feel like watching it again.

On the other hand, Perfect Blue is a thriller that's better than many live-action films. Satoshi Kon once again blends dreams into reality, so what you believe may not be what is really happening. The animation may look somewhat dated, but that story will never get old.

Finally there is Grave of the Fireflies. Proving that anime can have just as emotional impact as any medium, this film will leave you drained. I mean, it's about two kids left to fend for themselves during WWII - it starts off kind of sweet and innocent, but if you're not affected by the outcome you are a soulless monster.

I'm sure there are many other deserving anime films that I haven't seen - notably absent from my list that I have yet to see include Ninja Scroll and Vampire Hunter D - and there are plenty of series I could recommend if you find the time. However all I hope to impart is that anime isn't just for basement-dwelling trolls and fetishists. It can be enjoyed by all - family, friends and maybe even yourself. So do me a favor and give anime a chance - you may like it, you may still hate it but at least watch some before you pass judgment.


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Wrote on 06/17/10 at 11:28 PM CT

Vampire Hunter D is defiantly worth watching

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