Tag: anime

Batman Ninja: A Solid, if Wavering, Attempt at Batmanime

Oftentimes, when stories are told in different forms or transferred between different cultures, there can be an exchange in ideas that can add and enhance each other. For instance, as anime and manga have grown more popular in the Western world, concepts and tropes from those stories have been borrowed and used in Western media, along with vice versa. The trope of the magical girl warrior has become an inspiration behind Western cartoons like Star vs. the Forces of Evil and comics like Zodiac Starforce, while traditional superheroes are a major topic in anime series like My Hero Academia and One Punch Man. Of course, this is not necessarily a new thing. Back in the late 1960s, manga writer Jiro Kuwata went to work on creating a manga series centered around Batman (known to fans these days as the Bat-Manga). Now, Batman has received a second treatment from Japan, this time with the anime film Batman Ninja. Hosting a diverse amount of impressive talent from the anime genre, the film is visually striking with some crazy and absurd ideas. Unfortunately, the actual plotting leaves a bit desired among the movie’s kooky spectacle.

One dark night, Batman and his allies face down Gorilla Grodd and a host of classic Batman foes as he debuts his newest invention: the Quake Engine, a machine capable of bending space and time. In the ensuing battle, the machine is activated and transports the myriad characters back in time to Feudal Japan. Batman is the last to be transported across time by only a few moments, but it is enough for him to arrive two years after everyone else. The result is that Batman’s foes (including the Penguin, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, and Deathstroke) now rule over the warring states of Japan, with the Joker and Harley Quinn possessing the most power under his title as the Demon King. Batman is not alone against this major threat, however. Along with his time-displaced allies (including Nightwing, Red Hood, Red Robin, Robin, Catwoman, and Alfred), he finds that there is a ninja clan known as the Order of the Bat, who believe a warrior from the future wearing the face of a bat will bring peace to Japan. With their forces united and training in the ways of ninjutsu, Batman might just have the edge he needs before any of these wicked foes can conquer Japan and change the course of history.

Batman Ninja is an alright film. When it comes to the more positive elements of the film, one of the biggest things that it has going for it is the sense of visual flair. For instance, a lot of the character design offers some memorable reinterpretations of classic Batman characters with a Feudal Japanese style.  A good example of this is with the Joker, whose purple royal robes, green hair done up with a topknot, and a boutonniere inspired by the real-life Oda clan symbol all add up to a vision of the Clown Prince of Crime that comes by way of a classical shogun. This also goes hand in hand with the core spirit of the film, which throws out plenty of memorable and crazy sights. From a samurai sword duel between Batman and the Joker to a castle that transforms into a giant mecha, the movie gleefully throws out its eyecatching sights that mash up these two different styles. It is as if someone were to take a Silver Age Batman comic and mix it in with a heavy dose of Japanese history and anime tropes. As exciting and fun as that combination can be, however, it is tempered by a weak story that is patchwork in its pacing.

The plot of the film, of Batman thrown back in time and having to learn how to adapt his techniques to Feudal Japan, is a solid story idea. However, the film does not do a lot in actually showing Batman facing his own weakness and learning the classical ways of ninjutsu. Likewise, while this idea would seem to be a solid hook, the plot ends up shifting gears into a giant mecha anime with a whole host of giant robots about halfway through the movie. In essence, the plot feels uneven in the execution. It could have been more engaging, for instance, if they had spent more time taking advantage of the Feudal Japan setting. Imagine following Batman and his allies as they learn and adapt to the ninjutsu techniques of the Feudal era, take on these various villains and their armies using a mix of classic and modern methods over the course of the film, and then have the surprise of Joker having a giant mecha castle in the film’s third act. That would create a better narrative flow for the film, along with taking more advantage of the setting and cultural potential. As it is, the film ends up being more a scattershot that sometimes lands its hits instead of a clear bullseye.

As anime and manga grow more popular in the Western world, more and more media between the two have been sharing ideas and tropes. Batman Ninja is an example of this mixture of ideas, though the result tends to focus more on the spectacle instead of a solid narrative.

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Sailor Moon: Fighting Evil By Moonlight, Changing Archetypes by Daylight

A fascinating element in the evolution of stories is how archetypes can alter and change over time. Take for instance that of the “magical girl”, a character type that is more prominent in anime and manga. The magical girl is a character type that first appeared in the late 1960s with series like Sally the Witch and Himitsu no Akkochan. In these shows, the main character was the magical girl, a girl gifted with magical abilities who would use her abilities to deal with the problems that crop up in her everyday life. However, that is not necessarily what most think of when it comes to the term “magical girl”. Ask someone, and they would be more likely to describe a teenage girl who uses her magical powers to battle evil and save the day. What would bring such a shift in this archetype? Well, it is all thanks to the work of mangaka (manga artist) Naoko Takeuchi, who created Codename: Sailor V and its far more popular sequel, Sailor Moon. The manga for Sailor Moon hit shelves back in 1991, while its first anime series premiered in 1992. In no time at all, the series would come to lay a new foundation for the magical girl archetype thanks to its memorable characters and superhero-like action.

Usagi Tsukino is a schoolgirl living in Tokyo. Though she is well-meaning and kind, Usagi is not exactly a role model student. She’s immature, an underachiever, and prone to bouts of clumsy antics. However, her life makes a major change after one chance encounter. After saving a cat from being harassed by some boys, the cat tracks her down and reveals that it can talk. The cat’s name is Luna, and it has chosen Usagi Tsukino to serve as Sailor Moon, the soldier of love and justice. Giving her a brooch that can allow her to transform into this super-powered alter ego, Luna explains that it is her duty to bring together the other Sailor Scouts along with finding a legendary princess. With this new duty handed to her, Usagi reluctantly takes on the mission. Along the way, she finds new friends that join up as the Sailor Scouts, such as the shy but brilliant Ami Mizuno and the hot-headed shrine maiden Rei Hino. Usagi even finds love sparking in her life, thanks to the presence of the mysterious and handsome Tuxedo Mask. Unfortunately, her new mission has also drawn her into the crosshairs of foes like the Dark Kingdom, an alliance of enemies that threaten humanity in their search for the legendary Silver Crystal.

It is no wonder that Sailor Moon would become a hit so quickly. For one, the series offers fun characters who stand out from the previous waves of “magical girl” stories. Take, for instance, Usagi Tsukino. Though she is immature and a bit of a fool, her experiences as Sailor Moon lead to her growing and becoming a more responsible young adult by the end of the series. Along with that, there is also her fierce devotion and loyalty to her friends, which help build and develop her connections to the girls that become fellow Sailor Scouts. In essence, these are well-executed versions of tropes from shojo (young girl) anime and manga. However, what helped make such a strong impact was what Naoko Takeuchi added to this particular “magical girl” story. The trope of a person who could transform into a super-powered alter ego thanks to a device is one that has plenty of presence in tokusatsu (special effects) series like Kamen Rider and Super Sentai (the original Japanese basis of Power Rangers, for those who do not know). However, that particular trope had not been thought to be used in manga and anime aimed towards girls. By taking that trope and mixing it in with a “magical girl” story, the result was a series that brought together the thrilling action of those tokusatsu shows with the heart and spirit of shojo manga and anime. It is no wonder that this series would come to redefine the idea of the magical girl.

In the initial wake of the success of Sailor Moon, plenty of folks would try to sell their own variation on this new idea of the magical girl. However, as time would go on, this new magical girl archetype would be diffused and examined in plenty of forms. Some would take the core ideas and focus on that classic approach with modern sensibilities, such as Cardcaptor Sakura. Others would focus on the action and offering hot-blooded battles, like in Pretty Cure. Others would even attempt to deconstruct the magical girl and explore the dark shadow of this archetype, most famously with Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Of course, I would say that it is worth visiting the series that would shape all of them. Now, which iteration of Sailor Moon should you check out? A while back, I had posted some anime recommendations for beginners and mentioned Sailor Moon Crystal as a suggestion. I will say that, while this new series does trim down on a lot of the filler, its brisk pace moves almost a bit too quickly through the plot and characters don’t always have as much of a chance to stand out. That is why I might suggest keeping the original 1992 anime in mind. While there is more filler and padding in this show’s version of the story, I feel this series does offer plenty of charm and character that helped it to stick out and become the major influence that it is today. Thus, I might suggest being open to going to the original series and seeing what started it all.

As stories change over time, so too do the kinds of characters that can populate a story. For instance, Sailor Moon would come to redefine the magical girl archetype by mixing its stories of heart and friendship with superhero-like thrills and action.

A Slice of ’80s Cinema: My Personal Picks

Back in 2011, author Ernest Cline hit the literary world hard with the debut of his premiere novel Ready Player One. Telling the story of teenager Wade Watts and his hunt for a legendary treasure in a virtual reality world known as the Oasis, the book grabbed attention not only with its fascinating vision of a VR world that impacts everyday life, but also with the deluge of pop culture references that permeate its pages. In particular, pop culture from the 1980s is a major subject within this sci-fi adventure. In honor of the upcoming release of the film adaptation, which is being done by famed director Steven Spielberg, I have decided to assemble my personal selection of movies from the 1980s. These are an assortment of films I feel could serve as a solid introduction to ’80s pop culture for someone new to the time period. Some are movies I feel capture some aspect of the time, others are a spotlight on filmmakers who impacted the era or began their careers here, and some are simply movies that are generally regarded as classics and worth checking out. Now, these thirteen films are not ranked in any particular order, and they are my personal opinion. With that said, let’s delve into the era, shall we?

1. Back to the Future

Though I have tried not to do any particular ranking to this list, I confess that I chose to start it with a movie from the ’80s that is also my personal favorite film: Back to the Future. Centered around teenager Marty McFly as he goes back in time to the ’50s, the film follows Marty as he inadvertently interferes with his parents’ first meeting and must bring them together before he fades from existence. It is no wonder how the film has become a classic since its release, thanks to memorable characters, a sharp story, and one of fiction’s most remembered time machines in the form of the DeLorean.

2. The Breakfast Club

Teen films were ever present throughout the ’80s, from standard fare like Fast Times at Ridgemont High to more subversive and different works like Heathers. Chief among the filmmakers for such films was John Hughes, regarded as having an ear for writing natural dialogue for his teenage characters. No work better captures that like The Breakfast Club, which brings five high school stereotypes together for detention and break down the social barriers between them.

3. Raiders of the Lost Ark

After cementing the modern blockbuster with the one-two punch of Jaws and Star Wars back in the ’70s, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas would come to be two defining figures in ’80s cinema. The pair would separately direct and produce plenty of ’80s films, but one project where the two worked together was Raiders of the Lost Ark. Serving as a fun and thrilling throwback to the two-fisted tales of the 1930s, the film followed archaeologist Indiana Jones as he battled Nazis and sought to find the legendary Ark of the Covenant.

4. Ghostbusters

Among the many hit movies of the ’80s, few quite struck a nerve as did the comedy Ghostbusters. Following a group of scientists who start a business hunting ghosts, the movie’s sharp wit, memorable characters, and even creepy supernatural threats helped to ensure that the film became one of 1984’s highest-grossing releases. It also doesn’t hurt having one of the most memorable theme songs in movie history, one that was even nominated for an Academy Award.

5. A Nightmare on Elm Street

The horror trend in the ’80s was all about the Slasher movie, a subgenre that concerns teens and young adults being hunted down by some powerful killer. Though plenty of slasher movies like Friday the 13th and My Bloody Valentine were made in those years, I feel a strong example of the subgenre comes with A Nightmare on Elm Street. Following a group of teens haunted by a supernatural killer that can slaughter them in their sleep, the movie offers a good story paired with memorable scares and a brilliant bogeyman in the form of Freddy Krueger.

6. Flashdance

The ’80s gave the world MTV, and with that came the true birth of the music video. In this new avenue of music and visuals working together, one film to capitalize on this moment was Flashdance. Centered around a steel mill worker who dreams of becoming a professional dancer, the movie’s intimate story of pursuing one’s dreams is paired up with several dance sequences that would fit well among the music videos the newfound channel would broadcast.

7. Big Trouble in Little China

John Carpenter is a director who certainly made his mark in the ’80s, with such films as the sci-fi horror classic The Thing and the subversive action movie They Live. However, a work from that time I feel is worth checking out is Big Trouble in Little China. Centered around trucker Jack Burton and his pal Wang Chi, the two face off against monsters and martial artists to rescue a girl captured by an ancient Chinese ghost sorcerer. Filled with plenty of action and some good fun, it’s capped by the film’s cleverest touch: that Jack Burton thinks he’s the movie’s hero, when he’s really the comic relief in over his head in a world of Chinese combat and mythology.

8. The Terminator

James Cameron is a filmmaker who has made two of the highest grossing films of all time, but it’s almost hard to believe how quickly he hit the ground running with his first feature, known as The Terminator. This sci-fi thriller follows soldier Kyle Reese as he goes back in time to save Sarah Connor from a Terminator, an unstoppable android sent to kill her. Its vision of a future ravaged by a robotic uprising and cybernetic killing machines left an indelible mark in the realm of science fiction, along with launching the acting career of Arnold Schwarzenegger and turning him into one of the decade’s biggest action stars.

9. Die Hard

For ’80s action movies, most of them tended to be centered around muscular men who proved to be unstoppable killing machines, such as in films like Commando or The Delta Force. The genre received a solid shakeup from this archetype with the release of Die Hard, centered around officer John McClane as he gets caught in a hostage situation orchestrated by Hans Gruber. John McClane stood out among the action heroes of the time thanks to relying more on cunning and sheer determination to battle these criminals instead of brute strength, along with a charming performance delivered by then newcomer Bruce Willis.

10. Akira

Japan was on the pop culture mind back in the 1980s, and anime was beginning to creep into the West with series like Voltron and Robotech. However, the gates would really open with the release of the cyberpunk anime film Akira. Telling the tale of two friends torn apart when one gains incredible psychic power, its brutal action and surreal visuals caught the imagination of many and carved anime’s first solid foothold into the West, paving the way for its boom in the ’90s.

11. First Blood

Though John Rambo is a movie character whose films would become associated with the excessive action fare most associated in the ’80s, his first film is actually a more serious affair. First Blood is a psychological thriller, one that unfolds when police brutality dealt to Vietnam veteran John Rambo triggers wartime flashbacks and leads to a small-scale war as he fights back. This gripping film explores the issue of mistreatment of Vietnam veterans with a powerful hand, aided by Sylvester Stallone’s haunting performance as Rambo.

12. Beetlejuice

Long before Tim Burton would become one of the crowning pop culture figures in the Goth community, he was a budding filmmaker whose career began after a short film he made called Vincent gained notice. His first feature would be Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, but the film that really would establish him was his follow-up, a comedy known as Beetlejuice. Centered around a ghost couple who mistakenly hire the “bio-exorcist” Betelgeuse to scare a new family out of their home, the film showcases the kind of wondrous visuals and playfully morbid nature that would define Burton’s style.

13. The Princess Bride

The fantasy genre had a major boom in the 1980s, with plenty of variety from sweeping epics like Conan the Barbarian and Legend to more playful fare like Labyrinth and Willow. One work that has grown into becoming a fond classic among this boom is The Princess Bride. Framed within the set-up of a grandfather reading his grandson a story, the film’s tale of adventure and romance as farmhand Wesley seeks to reunite with the lovely Princess Buttercup pulls off a wonderful balance of poking fun at fairy tale conventions while sincerely capturing the joy of them.

So, those are my recommendations when it comes to introducing oneself to movies from the ’80s. I hope that this sample platter of films helps to offer a gateway to ’80s pop culture for someone new. There are plenty of other films I could have added to this list, but I didn’t want to go on too long. Perhaps you might discover these other works yourself, after dipping your toes into the pop culture pool.

Neo Yokio: Class Conflict and Shattered Satire

Comedy is something that does not just have to make us laugh. When properly used, comedy can be a tool that sheds light on problems, whether in another work or in the world. Two forms of comedy that fit into this school of thought are parody and satire. Parody is about sending up another work through an ironic fashion, while satire is about holding flaws up for ridicule in the hope of inspiring others to be better. In both cases, they are about taking the components of something (tired tropes in the case of the former, social vices in the case of the latter) and using them as tools of mockery. Ezra Koenig, lead singer of the indie rock band Vampire Weekend, has attempted to employ these methods for a joint Japanese-American anime on Netflix known as Neo Yokio. Within the series, he attempts to parody anime by playing around with familiar tropes as a vehicle for satirizing the upper class and issues of class conflict. Unfortunately, the result is a six-episode series that wavers in how it wants to tell its story, falling apart in the process.

The City of Neo Yokio stands as a shining example of success and culture. Of course, when a city becomes so powerful and influential, it is only natural that enemies would arise to bring it down. In this case, demons seek to tear the city apart, seeing it as a symbol of greed and decadence. Standing guard against such evils are a collection of people known as Magistocrats, rich descendants of the original wizards and witches brought over to defend the city. Among this class of citizen is Kaz Kaan, a skilled demon slayer and one of Neo Yokio’s most eligible bachelors. Unfortunately, he has no real interest in working as a demon slayer. Despite his stern Aunt Agatha’s insistence, Kaz would rather deal in fashion and lay about in luxury rather than work. In fact, his main aim is to win out over Arcangelo Corelli, a member of the old money that mocks Kaz for being “neo riche” and for having to actually work for his cash. Still, the job of a demon slayer must be done to maintain the city’s splendor. In fact, the work seems more important than ever when a demonic possession causes fashion blogger Helena St. Tesero to drop from the fashion world and set out to cast a light on the city’s darkness.

While the show generally falters in its execution, there are still a few strong points. For instance, the show’s side characters have some fun personality to them that is delivered by good talent, such as Jude Law as Kaz’s mecha-butler Charles or Jason Schwartzman as the snobbish Arcangelo Corelli. There is also a strong sense of an interesting and developed setting, with hints that suggest an interesting alternate universe in which Neo Yokio resides (such as Japan and Italy apparently united as one nation named “Giaponne”). However, the satirical goal behind the show falls flat in its execution. In terms of being a parody of anime, its approach is weak-willed. It attempts to play with tropes like nosebleeds and sudden chibification (rendering a character with a more cutesy, cartoonish appearance), but these uses are rare and the tropes themselves have already largely fallen by the wayside in most modern anime. More than just those misfired attempts at anime tropes is a far bigger issue at play. Namely, the show’s attempts to satirize the flaws of upper-class perceptions flounder in their execution.

Over the course of its six half-hour episodes, it is clear that greed and vanity are two major follies that Neo Yokio wishes to satirize. However, the attempts to mock these points become muddled in how the show operates. For one, Kaz Kaan is presented as a symbol of that decadence and celebrity obsession, wallowing in his own melancholy despite living the good life as ordinary citizens sing his praises. While those close to him do call out his shallow and selfish behaviors, others who indulge similar attitudes (like his best friends Lexy and Gottlieb) are treated as normal and let off the hook. Later, the show attempts to delve into more serious issues of class warfare, but that is stymied by how little the poorer denizens of Neo Yokio are actually shown. It feels as if they are only seen for a part of the last episode. Honestly, there is more focus on class warfare among the upper class between old money and “neo riche” than there is between the rich and the poor. When it attempts to do this more meaningful class struggle, it is too little, too late. It is a shame, really. There is a solid idea for a series at this show’s core. Unfortunately, the writing fails to commit fully to its message and the six half-hour episode format is too short to fully realize the story they wanted to tell.

Thoughout the year, satire has been a school of comedy that has produced plenty of great works that aim to inspire improvement in humanity. Neo Yokio is not an example of those good works, as its attempt to offer a message satirizing greed and class warfare is muddled in how it presents that message.

Death Note: Lost in Translation

As anime and manga grow in popularity around the world, it is only natural that Hollywood would come calling to adapt them. After all, it is a new media vein for them to tap into and adapt to the big screen for a new audience. However, adapting these media genres to films for a Western audience presents its own fresh round of challenges. Plenty of hurdles present themselves, such as trying to translate more extreme illustrated moments to live action or figuring out how to navigate the cultural differences that might be present. Indeed, most of the live-action American adaptations of anime that have stepped up to the plate tend to swing and miss. Netflix has taken their own stab at this challenge, releasing a live-action American film of the popular anime series Death Note. This would seem to have a better shot of making it as an American film, with its clash between the law and vigilante justice being an idea that can work in an American lens. Unfortunately, the resulting movie waters down the source and offers a blander product, missing the core battle of wits that helped to make the series so popular in the first place.

Light Turner is a high school student burning with anger. Haunted by the fact that his mother’s murderer had gotten off scot free thanks to his wealth and connections, he sees the world as one where the innocent suffer and the wicked escape any punishment for their deeds. One day, that fire gets an outlet as a mysterious book known as a Death Note seems to fall from the sky and land near him. Examining the book, Light is greeted with the sudden appearance of Ryuk, a god of Death. With a nudge, he reveals to Light the book’s ability to kill anyone whose name is written in it. After testing the book’s power, Light begins using it to dole out brutal justice, gaining an ally in the form of cheerleader Mia Sutton. The two operate as Kira, making the world fear them as a vengeful god. There is one person, however, who refuses to bow to their power: L, an eccentric and brilliant detective. Gleaming that the Kira killings began in Light’s home town of Seattle, L comes in and sets his sights on bringing the killer to justice. Now, Light must contend not only with L and his pursuit, but also with the growing darkness of Mia and her twisted goals.

While there is plenty of flaws present in this adaptation of Death Note, it is worth bringing up some of the strengths that are in this film. For instance, Willem Dafoe is a great choice of casting as Ryuk. Even though Ryuk himself does not do a lot, mostly serving as an observer to Light’s killing spree, Dafoe delivers a performance that crackles with a mocking delight as he watches the proceedings. Another good choice on the film’s part is that Mia Sutton (the movie’s version of Misa Amane) is a more active participant of the plot. Instead of being merely a pawn in Light’s plans, Mia works alongside Light and helps him in their schemes, while having plans of her own. Even Lakeith Stanfield offers some solid work as L, capturing his drive along with his eccentricities…at least, to a point. Unfortunately, there comes a moment in the plot when L drops the ball and becomes a reckless, emotional idiot, losing the intelligence and calm that are part of his character. That problem is among some of the film’s bigger issues, most of all in how it handles its depiction of Light.

In the original series, Light Yagami was an ace individual. He was handsome, a top student, and a friend to many. That makes his inner darkness all the more shocking (whether a God complex like the original manga and anime, or a frustration with the legal system as presented in the Japanese live-action films and J-drama) when he gets the Death Note and begins blossoming into a killer that sees himself as a god of justice. Meanwhile, this film’s counterpart in Light Turner is presented as a young man bullied by others, disheveled in his appearance, and still nursing an anger from his mother’s murderer avoiding punishment. While that motivation can make it understandable how Light could start down the path of Kira, it feels like they made him too sympathetic by making him look like the sort of outcast that would be picked upon and by making him be pushed further into darkness by Ryuk and Mia instead of pursuing it himself. Along with taking away the great intellect that was part of his character, the result is a bland protagonist who feels made to be too sympathetic and lacks the more unique nature of this blossoming genius teenage madman. In addition, by taking away his genius the film does away with the great battles of wits that are a staple of the series. L would find ways of proving that Light Yagami was Kira, while Light would use a combination of his own cunning and some clever application of the Death Note to spring himself from L’s latest trap. In fact, that battle of wits was the core balance to the anime: a seemingly normal teenager like Light lashing out with a dark vengeance, in opposition to a weird eccentric like L who fought for justice. It is that dynamic which helped to make Death Note such a popular anime, and what the adaptation sorely lacks.

Hollywood has turned its eye to the world of anime and manga as a new source for film adaptations, but unfortunately the track record has not been a stellar one. Death Note is the latest of these missteps, maintaining its basic idea but watering down its protagonist and peeling away its gripping battles of brilliance.

A Beginner’s Guide to Anime: My Personal Picks

In the early 1960s, Japanese animation (more commonly known as anime) would finally hit the television screen. It began with shows like Astro BoyGigantor, and Speed Racer. However, these shows were not just limited to Japanese televisions. American broadcasters began to pick up a few of these shows. It was not much, though the few shows picked up would be the first taste of anime for American audiences. They were small drops, though, compared to the floodgates that would open. In 1988, an animated feature-length adaptation of the manga Akira hit the big screen. Though it had failed in Japan, it caught like wildfire worldwide. It helped to open the gateway to anime for American audiences, with more anime programs hitting TV screens in the states. In fact, Cartoon Network had a block of programming devoted to anime which they called Toonami. Now, what had once been a niche market has grown to a more mainstream appeal. Of course, with so many shows and options out there to see, where should one start? Which shows could serve as a potential gateway for someone that has not seen anime before? Well, that is the purpose of today’s post. I have selected a variety of shows or franchises which I feel would make for a good starting point for someone dipping their toes into anime. Now, before I list my choices, let me be clear that this listing is in no particular order or ranking. Now, with that out of the way, time to list my recommendations of anime shows for first-timers.

1. Dragon Ball Z

Ever since the Dragon Ball franchise first started with a manga series back in 1984, the adventures of good-hearted and devoted martial artist Son Goku have been a landmark series and major influencer in the realm of shonen (young male demographic) entertainment. In terms of checking out this franchise, though, I recommend Dragon Ball Z. This portion of the series shifted gears away from the goofier antics of the series’ beginnings and more towards the high-energy battles that have become a main stay in the franchise, along with introducing classic characters like the hot-headed Saiyan prince Vegeta. Also, there are two options for it: you can check out Dragon Ball Z as it had first aired, or check out Dragon Ball Z Kai, an edited and redubbed version which trims some of the filler from the original.

2. Cowboy Bebop

In the year 2071, former hitman Spike Spiegel spends his days hunting down wanted criminals alongside a crew that includes former cop Jet Black, con artist Faye Valentine, eccentric hacker Ed Wong, and a corgi named Ein. Even as they hunt down that next bounty, Spike’s past begins to catch up with him and threatens to drag him under.  This series is a great entry point, and not just because the overall quality is fantastic. It draws together a fine mixture of styles, such as cowboy Westerns, film noir, and Chinese action thrillers. The result is a mix that offers plenty of accessibility for a Western audience.

3. My Hero Academia

In a world where 80% of the world’s population has superpowers (here known as “Quirks”) and superheroes are a real profession, Izuku Midoriya is a Quirkless boy who idolizes superheroes. When an act of bravery on his part catches the attention of legendary superhero All Might, he finds himself granted with this hero’s Quirk: One for All, which gives incredible super strength. With this new gift, Izuki earns a spot at U.A. High School to train and become part of the next generation of superheroes. This series works as a good entry series thanks to its heavy influence from American superhero comics, while mixing it together with familiar tropes from Japanese shonen action stories.

4. Sailor Moon

Just as Dragon Ball was a major influencer in the realm of shonen entertainment, Sailor Moon made a big impact in the field of shoujo (young female demographic) entertainment. Its tale of Usagi Tsukino, a teenage girl who gains a mystical brooch and discovers that she is the reincarnation of a princess from the Moon, brought together the mystic fun and teenage tribulations of “magical girl” anime while mixing in the action of superhero-like Sentai television shows. As for checking out this series, there are two options. One could revisit the original ’90s anime, or check out the current series Sailor Moon Crystal, which provides a closer plot and visual style to the original manga source.

5. Death Note

When high school student Light Yagami ends up in possession of a mystic notebook known as the Death Note, he decides to become a God of Justice under the alias of Kira by using the book’s ability to kill others to murder criminals. This brings him to the attention of L, a young and eccentric but brilliant detective who will do anything to stop Light. Those looking for darker stories will find this as a good starter, with its gripping chess match of deceit and death between the fiery passion of Light and the cold calculations of L.

6. My Love Story!!

Takeo Goda is a high school students with a massive size and somewhat goofy face who has always been ignored by girls in favor of his best friend, the more conventionally attractive Makoto Sunakawa. When he saves a girl named Rinko Yamato from being harassed on a train, the two fall in love and begin to navigate the hurdles of romantic relationships. For those looking for something a bit more sweet with some romance, this series is a sure treat. Watching the inexperienced Takeo and easily flustered Rinko handled their feelings is adorable entertainment, while the plot nimbly avoids a lot of the usual stumbling blocks in romantic comedies.

7. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

Ever since it first began in 1989 as a manga by Masamune Shirow, Ghost in the Shell has grown to become one of the classic sci-fi franchises in anime. Its themes of identity and the line between man and machine are rich substance to take in, explored through the police work of Motoko Kusanagi and Section 9. Though the 1995 anime film may be regarded as a classic, it might move a bit too slowly for some. That is why I would recommend Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex as a good entryway to this classic franchise. It still has its exploration on the nature of identity, but delivers it with a quicker pace and thrilling action as Kusanagi takes on threats like the Laughing Man and the Individual Eleven.

8. One Punch Man

Saitama is a hero for fun with a rather unique problem: he is just too powerful. He is able to utterly destroy any foe with one punch, meaning that he has no challenge in his life. The result is a boring day-to-day that is occasionally punctuated with punching out a monster. Of course, the arrival of a cyborg named Genos wanting to become his disciple might offer just the change he needs. Much like My Hero Academia, this series mixes together elements and tropes from American superhero comics and Japanese shonen action manga. However, this series serves more as an affectionate parody of its sources, playfully poking fun at the ridiculous elements of both.

So, there are my recommendations on anime shows that might serve as a good gateway for first-timers. Hopefully, you might try one of these shows and find yourself with a new media outlet to enjoy.

Your Name.: Love in the Time of Body Swaps

Over the ages, as many different stories have been written, certain tropes for whole plots have begun to emerge. For instance, there is the “Deal with the Devil” plot, which always centers around an individual making a corrupt bargain with a malevolent force, often with a terrible price paid. Another is the “Going Native” plot, which follows an individual finding themselves among a different culture, then siding with that culture and fighting against that which they once were. The focus for this review, though, is a trope I will call the “Body Swappers” plot. This trope is centered around two or more people finding themselves in each other’s bodies, usually through some mystical force or advanced science. Generally, these sorts of stories involve the participants gaining a greater understanding and respect for each other. Now, while these sorts of plots may be familiar, what gives them their spark is in how they are used and executed. For instance, the “Body Swappers” plot is the basic idea at play in the novel Your Name., which has now been adapted into an anime film by director Makoto Shinkai. Under his direction, the film is a lovely romance that uses the “Body Swappers” plot to develop its characters and cast a light on the changes on Japan.

Taki is a teenage boy living in Tokyo who deals with the constant hustle and bustle as he juggles school and work. Mitsuha is a teenage girl living in a small rural town, bored with her country life and frustrated with her politician father. One morning, a surprise greets them both: they awaken in the other’s body. It seems be to random as to whenever they wake up in the other’s body, and once they return to their own, the memories of their experiences begin to fade away like a dream. Stuck in this rather odd situation, the two try to maneuver through it the best that they can. They leave notes for the other to communicate and advise them on how to act. They try to help the other out as they navigate the hurdles and challenges. The more that they learn of each other, though, the more that they begin to fall in love with each other. Eventually, they seek a way to get past these barriers and finally meet each other face to face…before they potentially forget each other and lose this tender connection.

This new project by Makoto Shinkai is a delightful little movie. The animation is gorgeous, capturing a realistic aesthetic that is balanced by the magical components of the story. Whether it is the modern buildings of Tokyo or the lush forest near Mitsuha’s small town, the quality of detail in the animation is great. The quality of that animation also extends to the actions of the characters. It is not just the strong voice acting that goes to show whenever one person is in the other’s body. The swap is also demonstrated through the little gestures and movements of Taki and Mitsuha. For instance, Mitsuha tends to carry herself with a more careful and submissive air, while Taki can be more proactive and prone to reacting to any slights against him. The body language they sport, even as they try to maintain the other’s normal life, help to reveal just who is in possession of a body at any time. Of course, it is not just the quality of the animation that makes this such a good film. It is also in the story and writing, which offers a fresh feel to a familiar plot trope.

Most of the time, whenever a “Body Swappers” plot is used, it is generally to show two characters coming to learn more about the other and having a greater respect for them. In this case, the film takes this familiar plot and uses it as an inspired approach for a romance. As both Taki and Mitsuha live through days in each other’s lives, they see the worlds they live in and fall for each other in the process. Along with that, they also grow more as individuals thanks to the experiences that they share. Taki begins to see more value in having a cooler head and not just instinctively reacting, while Mitsuha begins to develop more of a spine and stand up for herself. This body swap does not just take advantage of examining the differences between these two characters, though. It also casts a light on the changes in Japan. While Taki spends his days in the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, Mitsuha’s small town lacks a lot of those modern features while holding on to older traditions. In fact, Mitsuha and her sister perform rituals at a local shrine, led by her grandmother who seeks to preserve these parts of the past. These two perspectives serve as a nice way to showcase these two sides of Japan: the ancient cultures and traditions that have been a part of the nation throughout the ages, and the technological landscape that has grown in recent years.

Through the years, many familiar forms of plots have grown and developed. By using the familiar “Body Swappers” plot and applying it to a love story, Your Name. breathes new life by using it to explore self-growth through a shared experience.