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STUDENT BLOG #9: Another Stab at Explaining and Exploring Anime
September 5, 2011  | By David Bianculli


[The Rowan University student who has written more guest blogs for TVWW than any other is Rich Greenhalgh, who is, among other things, a walking encyclopedia of Anime programs and sub-genres. Last time I asked him to explain the appeal, and various archetypes, of the animated Asian imports. This time, I challenged him to list some of the programs he thought readers of this website might like best -- and places where to sample them. Fasten your seat belts... he compares some to Rubicon, House, even Lost... -- DB]

By Rich Greenhalgh

Recent developments in online distribution and streaming of Anime and other international programs have made it possible for me to show you samples of series that can be watched even as they're presented as first-run premieres overseas. And not only are the examples relatively fresh -- most are dubbed or subtitled, as well.

anime-steins_gate_Group.jpgSteins; Gate. This is a mind-crunching cat-and-mouse murder mystery of 4th-dimensional proportions. Rintaro Okabe is a self-proclaimed genius who reconfigures his microwave oven to send text messages into the past. Afterward, unfortunately, Okabe and his eclectic band of friends begin being hunted by a mysterious organization called SERN for doing so.

As our heroes test, and learn the rules of, this discovery, realities change and lives are ripped apart with simple text messages. Okabe must figure out how to control time itself to his advantage, or lose the lives of his friends -- and even his own sanity -- against an unknown enemy bent on taking his future, and the world's, for their own ends.

This show could easily be part of AMC's drama line-up as it stands, or made into a live-action drama. If you liked the conspiracy head-scratching of Rubicon, you might want to check out Steins; Gate. The opening sequence has been praised for its artistry and style, making it an instant classic opening among Anime fans. Watch it here:

And for an English-subtitled advance trailer, you can click HERE.

For even more, you can watch full subbed episodes of this and other anime series at Crunchyroll, a website billing itself as "the official source for anime and drama." These include the most current episodes available, and they're subtitled. If these descriptions make you interested in exploring anime, Crunchyroll is a sort of one-stop shopping -- and includes recent live-action Japanese dramas as well.

anime-Angel-Beats.jpgAngel Beats. This is a fresh offering from Sentai Film works (formerly known as ADV Films) depicting high school as purgatory -- literally.

When Ontanashi wakes up with no memory on a strange campus, he is greeted by a mysterious and cocky girl named Yuri who asks him to join the "Afterlife Battlefront." In this new existence, he can feel pain but can't die, as Yuri and her gang of misfits wage war against God for all the pain they can't let go of in their former lives.

Ontanashi decides to join the battlefront until he can remember who he is and how he died. Nothing is what it seems as, in this world, God's enforcer is the adorable student council president, and she has her own secrets and agenda, with lethal weapons all her own.

Here's a dubbed clip from Episode 3, of the series presented currently by Anime Network. Imagine the island of Lost as a high school with diverse students with mysterious backstories and far too many weapons:

Did I mention it's also a dark comedy? If you liked the gallows humor of Dead Like Me, or the character building of Lost, you would most likely enjoy Angel Beats. By the end of the series, if you don't feel something, you have no soul. It's just that good.

anime-GOSICK.jpgGosick. This is an exceptional anime series adapted from the works of award- winning light novelist Kazuki Sakuraba. Set in a fictional European country in 1924, this ambitious and clever series presents Japanese exchange student Kujo Kazuya and his adventures with the immensely brilliant crime-solving prodigy, Victorique de Blois.

He's a stranger in a strange land, and she's a four-and-a-half-foot tall ball of arrogance, nicknamed "the golden fairy" with her doll-like face and curls. You would think this was one of the worst setups in the history of fiction but the characters are so cleverly constructed -- down to the way they engage each other as they get moved around a tableau of an expanding, grander worldwide mystery -- you'll get addicted before you realize it.

The mysteries are pretty puzzling, too, as in an episode of House. You might also enjoy that our waif-like heroine Victorique shares a few of Dr. House's more bitingly blunt personality aspects. It's lavishly drawn, and so superbly acted and scored that you might even forget it's Anime.

Gosick currently is being simulcast by CrunchyRoll, but you can also find it by searching on Hulu. Inquiring minds can sample the flavor of the series, and of Victorique, with the English-language trailer HERE.

Other past Anime series TWW readers might enjoy, complete with English dubbed versions that are currently available on Netflix, are listed below complete with trailers. Any one of these could gain an instant audience in a live-action version and add even more electricity to the lineups of HBO, Showtime, or Starz.

anime-Death_Note.jpgDeath Note. A supernatural notebook than can kill people by writing their names in it is used by a college student to rid the world of criminals. Who decides what is justice? This series was a heavy fan favorite on Cartoon Network's late-night Adult Swim. It's spawned a live action film, and is in development for a US remake, but I can already tell you that the Anime will be better. Sample a taste HERE.

Black Lagoon. Revy and Dutch are two mercenaries doing what they do best: transporting stuff from one place to another. In their line of work, that often requires having to fight with, or against, basically every criminal element on the globe.

It's just another day at the Lagoon Trading Company, trying to get paid in a world full of ex-KGB, crazed neo-Nazis, child-sized assassins, the Japanese Yakuza, The Chinese Triad, The CIA, and South American drug lords. Bring ALL your guns; it's not going to be easy. This show is so violent and action-packed, even filmmakers Michael Bay and Quentin Tarantino might wet their pants. Here's a trailer: No words necessary.

Speed Grapher. A Neo-noir police drama about a war photographer who is given a disturbing ability: the power to kill whomever or whatever he photographs.

He must protect the girl responsible for giving it to him, while finding a way to shut it off before it kills him. Of course, he needs to fend off other freaks, given even deadlier and stranger abilities by the same girl. With each new reveal, the tangled web gets weirder, and the noose gets tighter. Here's the trailer, complete with dunned noir-ish narration:

Spice & Wolf. A charming romantic adventure about an enterprising trader and a lost female deity, searching for her former homeland after being abandoned by her people. These two will be tested by their ever-changing world as they strike an unusual partnership.

This was the breakout role for actress Brina Palencia, now one of the most chameleonic and celebrated talents in all of voice acting.

Pani Poni Dash. The trailer will explain this far better than I could. You'll know if this speaks to you. It's from the classic era of ADV films (2006), and let's just say they don't make them like this any more.


[Rich: You had me -- and may have lost me, at the same time -- at "the cat who lived in the soda machine." Readers, what are YOUR reactions, if any, to this genre, and these selections? -- DB]

pete stich said:

Very nice list.

I will have to check on the ones mentioned above. I have seen and enjoyed Black Lagoon and even more Spice and Wolf.

Here are some that I have enjoyed. Note that I like the less frenetic type of anime (for the most part).

Haibane Renmei.

Tokyo 8.0.

Kino's Journey.

Crest/Banner of the Stars.

Dennou Coil.

As always, should you or any of your team not like my recommendations I will disavow any knowledge of your actions. Good luck, Rich. This tape will self-destruct in five seconds.

Comment posted on September 7, 2011 6:03 PM

Rich said:

@Pete All solid titles you got there. I wanted to include "Magica Shoujo Madoka" but that's a whole blog in itself. Also, "Spice & Wolf" just released the English dub of season 2!

Comment posted on September 8, 2011 9:08 AM

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