Tag: anime

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.

Understanding the Arch-Enemy: Corrupt Reflections, Flipped Coins, and Personal Attacks

The Arch-Enemy. The central nemesis. The big foe. They are the ultimate counterpoint to the Hero. Whereas the Hero stands most frequently for the side of justice and good, the Arch-Enemy towers upon the side of villainy and wickedness. However, the simple choice of pursuing evil is not what makes an arch-enemy a fascinating villain. It extends beyond just that basic notion. Rather, what makes the arch-enemy so fascinating is the hero that they stand against. Both are frequently intertwined, their fates tied together in such a way that they are bound to each other in their opposition. Along with that is the sort of reflective nature of their conflict. Thus, our study begins with two familiar approaches frequently used for the arch-enemy, two methods I’ll refer to as the Corrupt Reflection and the Flipped Coin.

The Corrupt Reflection is a take on a villain that serves a particular purpose. Specifically, the Corrupt Reflection shows what the hero may have been like had they gone down a more selfish path and sought merely their own desires instead of going for the greater good. This is frequently presented through an arch-enemy who bares a resemblance to the hero, whether in personality or powers, but twists that resemblance . For instance, Sherlock Holmes is forever remembered as being locked in battle with Professor James Moriarty. Both characters possess an astounding intellect that allows them to pursue their goals, but while Holmes uses his intellect to solve even the most baffling of crimes, Moriarty instead uses his to puppeteer a massive criminal network and become a “Napoleon of Crime”. Another example of this can be seen in Marvel Comics, with the classic rivalry of Spider-Man and Dr. Octopus. Both men are scientists, they received their new gifts in scientific developments gone wrong, they even both take their monikers from eight-limbed creatures. Where they differ is in how Spider-Man fights crime having learned how great responsibility is a part of great power, whereas Dr. Octopus seeks to selfishly  use his new gifts to pursue scientific research and cultivate power at the expense of others. Through the similarities, the Corrupt Reflection helps to show just what makes the hero shine by presenting a counterpoint in a villainous light. Of course, the Corrupt Reflection is not the only way to present an arch-enemy. Another, more obvious approach is that of the Flipped Coin.

If the Corrupt Reflection shows a hero’s greatness in comparison to a villain through similarity, the Flipped Coin makes its presentation through differences. The Flipped Coin, like the term suggests, is the other side of the coin from the hero. If the hero represents one thing, then the Flipped Coin is its opposite. For example, consider Jonathan Joestar and Dio Brando, from Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. Jonathan is a benevolent man raised by a loving father and eventually learns martial arts that allow him to channel the power of the sun, while Dio is a cruel psychopath brought up by an abusive father and gains the powers of a vampire. DC Comics has its fair share of Flipped Coins, as well. Superman is a hero who possesses incredible power and strength while devoted to helping others as much as he can, while Lex Luthor is a figure of great brilliance who seeks to advance his own standing over others. Batman is a dark and brooding hero who is fixated on the notion of bringing order and not killing others, while the Joker is a colorful clown that seeks chaos and will gleefully slaughter others with abandon. Thus, two opposing forces come to be and serve to high-light each other through their differences. It is a simple, but effective, approach in portraying a hero against their arch-enemy. Now, while the Corrupt Reflection and Flipped Coin may be two different methods of presenting the arch-enemy, there is one critical component that must not be forgotten: for the hero and arch-enemy, it must be personal.

Sure, villains can be depicted as engaging in all sorts of criminal or nefarious activity. However, the personal touch is what helps to elevate the arch-enemy above the rest of a rogues gallery. Perhaps it is a shared background the hero and arch-enemy possess before a rift splits them apart, or perhaps one side strikes at the other in such a way that it becomes more than simple hatred that locks them in combat. In most adaptations of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Hamato Yoshi and Oroku Saki begin as equal members of the Foot Clan before forces (whether the love of Tang Shen or the use of the Foot Clan) drive them apart and down the paths that forge them into Splinter and Shredder respectively. In the Metroid franchise, it is the space pirate Ridley’s attack of planet K-2L and the murder of Samus Aran’s parents that starts Samus down the path towards becoming a skilled bounty hunter. It is not just a villain’s actions that can make things personal, though. It can just as easily be the hero who ends up sparking the rivalry. For example, many depictions of Lex Luthor present him as being so hateful of Superman because he sees his very being as the end of human achievement, for who would possibly do what Superman can do? It is an element like that, the personal component, which elevates the arch-enemy and make them such a fascinating figure when challenging the hero, likewise elevating the hero by giving them real stakes both general and personal.

Though the hero is always the one in the spotlight, one must never forget about the importance of the arch-enemy. Whether they compare as a Corrupt Reflection or contrast as a Flipped Coin, it is the personal relationship to the hero that makes both so fascinating.

Lupin III – Part 4: Crime, Italian Style

Among the many classic manga and anime franchises out there, one of the most enduring of the seinen (adult male) demographic is Lupin III, sometimes known as Lupin the 3rd. The franchise is centered around Arsene Lupin III, grandson of a legendary gentleman thief and a master thief in his own right. A master of disguise armed with gadgets and skillful trickery, he is a showman who pulls off master heists and will almost certainly flirt with any beautiful woman in his path. Aided by skilled marksman Daisuke Jigen, modern day samurai Goemon Ishikawa XIII, and the seductive but duplicitous Fujiko Mine, they pull off their expert crimes while pursued by the dogged Interpol detective Inspector Zenigata. Though they may be thieves, Lupin and his team prove to be more heroic as their capers inevitably bring them into conflict with criminals who are far more vile than they are. First created as a manga by an artist under the pen name of Monkey Punch back in 1967, Lupin III has grown to appear in such media as anime, films (both on television and in theaters), OVA (original video animation), and even video games. In fact, there have been multiple main anime series for the franchise, each one marked as a part though ultimately not related to each other. A fourth show can now be added to the line-up, with Lupin III Part 4.

The most surprising news has hit the globe: Arsene Lupin III is getting married. Not only that, he is getting married to wealthy heiress and businesswoman Rebecca Rossellini. Some refuse to believe that such a notorious thief and ladies man would ever let himself get tied down. One such skeptic is Inspector Zenigata, who journeys out to the town of San Marino to prove it. Of course, it turns out to be true. Lupin is indeed getting married. However, he has gone through with the wedding for ulterior motives related to a new crime. He is not the only one with secrets, though, as Rebecca proves to have a wild streak and is seeking to cut loose with heists of her own. Even with these new difficulties, Lupin is taking advantage of his time in Italy, setting out on new scores as his allies have adventures of their own. However, a mystery begins to form that takes hold of Lupin and his allies. Namely, what is the “Dream of Italy” and why does MI6 seem so interested in it?

This latest addition to the Lupin III franchise makes for a fun series.It delivers on the fun that the series has frequently offered, coming up with clever capers that Lupin performs or fascinating character studies for more low-key tales. It takes good advantage of its Italian setting for its stories, drawing inspiration from culture and history for plenty of stories. Whether it is in schemes involving footballers or wine or showcasing the law as handled in Italy, the show is infused with its source locale throughout. Even the music is a delight, crafted by Japanese jazz musician Yuji Ohno. Yuji Ohno has worked upon the Lupin III franchise for a long time, composing plenty of memorable tunes including the franchise’s iconic main theme. His masterful use of rhythm returns once more, making use of the leitmotifs he has made for this franchise in the past along with new tunes that fit the feel and pace of this new series. Of course, the series also features a particular element that stands out among most of the franchise’s various elements: the fact that it has an overarching story told over the course of its run.

One of the things that is a bit of a benefit to Lupin III and its long-running popularity is that it has no real overarching storyline. Most manga or anime series tend to have a singular story that they tell over the course of their entire run. Lupin III is not such a case. It has its main characters, but every series or movie is its own standalone story. Even the previous three main series (not counting the spin-off The Woman Called Fujiko Mine) had each episode as its own standalone plot. The result is that, for such a long-running franchise, a new person could easily jump in anywhere and get into the fun. Of course, sometimes such an approach may seem a little static. A benefit of a longer story, of telling a tale over the course of a show’s run, is the chance for growth and evolution within its characters. That is a benefit this series takes advantage of, being the first main series of Lupin III to craft a narrative over the course of the show’s one season run. It has the fun and the character studies, but also showcases some change and growth. In particular, Rebecca Rossellini grows over the course of the series from being just an adrenaline junkie to seeking a more worthy life as she becomes embroiled in the mystery of the “Dream of Italy”.

Though Lupin III is a franchise that has been around for a long time, it has plenty of places for any new viewer to jump in and become engaged. Lupin III Part 4 is one such starting point, offering the fun and excitement of the franchise with an overarching plot over the course of its one season run.

Osamu Tezuka: Big Eyes and Big Ideas

Nowadays, anime and manga are two forms of media that have quickly spread in the Western world and gained much popularity. It is almost amazing to think of how quickly it has spread over the years, considering its humble beginnings in the late ’50s and early ’60s with programs like Speed Racer and Gigantor. However, among this initial wave, there was a creator who helped to pave the path of manga and anime. That man was Osamu Tezuka, a manga writer and artist whose creations made the world take notice.  His style and influence are still being felt in the worlds of manga and anime, enough so that he has earned the nickname of “God of Manga”. So, just what made Osamu Tezuka earn such a nickname?

Born on November 3rd of 1926, Osamu Tezuka was the oldest of three children. Though he was mocked with the nickname of gashagasha-atama (which roughly means “messy head”), his mother helped to keep his confidence up in the face of teasing. She would also tell him stories which would capture his imagination. It was during his elementary school years that he began drawing his own little comics, finding a passion in his arts. However, there came a point when his arms swelled up from a terrible illness. Cured by a doctor, this sparked a desire in Tezuka to pursue work in the medical field. This led to two halves in Tezuka’s life, one spent as a manga artist and the other spent studying in medical school. Eventually, he faced the moment where he had to decide: become a manga artist and face a none-too-monetarily-rewarding life, or follow the safe and lucrative path of becoming a doctor? His mother’s advice was to work doing the thing he liked most of all. Taking that advice to heart, Tezuka set down the path of being a manga creator. From that point on, he continued to work throughout his life, tackling a wide variety of works. He continued until his death from stomach cancer on February 9th, 1989. In fact, his final words were, “I’m begging you, let me work!”.

The sound of his life may be simple, but it is his work that has left such influence. When it comes to the manga of his time, most artists had a somewhat stilted format for drawings and panels. They tended to show moments before or after action, not really capturing a full feel for the moment. Tezuka, on the other hand,  showcased a cinematic influence in his work.  He could showcase a succession of action, capturing a moment with each essential beat on display. That choice added a greater dynamic energy to his narratives that some of his contemporaries lacked. He also offered a strong knack at presentation of a scene, working with color and scope in each panel to best capture the mood needed. His character designs are another major part of his legacy. His character designs put an emphasis on big and expressive eyes, something influenced by his own appreciation of Disney animated shorts and films. The result is a visual style that has become almost synonymous with anime, with his methods effectively revolutionizing the field of manga.

Another stand out element in Tezuka’s work was the sheer variety of stories that he could handle. He worked in numerous genres and styles, able to bring his particular skills and sensibilities to great use. For example, he dabbled in science fiction with his most iconic creation, Astro Boy. Telling the tale of a robot initially created to replace a scientist’s dead son, it wowed with thrills as Astro Boy would fight to defend the rights of both humans and robots. With fantasy, he struck a major chord with a manga aimed for girls known as Princess Knight. Armed with a rambunctious spirit and skill with a sword, it followed Princess Sapphire as she dealt with not only foiling the schemes of Duke Duralumin, but also living a double life as a masked swordswoman. He also worked in plenty of stories for a more mature audience, with Black Jack being the most well-known of such works. That series follows the exploits of Black Jack, a freelance doctor with a cold and callous facade that hides a desire to help those in need. Of course, these are only a few stories from his impressive catalogue. No matter the genre, no matter the audience, Tezuka was ready and willing to throw himself into whatever was called for with his work.

So, where would be a good place to start if you want to check out Osamu Tezuka’s work? Astro Boy and Black Jack are both two excellent starting points, showcasing some of the range in his storytelling and serving as two of his most iconic creations. However, another manga that may be worth looking into is Phoenix. Considered by Tezuka to be his life’s work, Phoenix is an ambitious series that he began developing in 1954 and continued up until his death. This series covers an incredible range of time, from the Prehistoric Age to the far, far future. No matter what the time period, however, each part concerns the pursuit of immortality and the terrible price that must be paid for it. Within these stories, Tezuka put a lens upon the cruelty that mankind could unleash and how people can be plagued by horrible circumstances. However, he also offered a simple promise: that life went on and was ultimately worth living, with glimmers of hope and love shining through the darkness. It may seem like a simple or quaint message, but it is one that Tezuka offers with grace and skill. It is no wonder that he is remembered as the “God of Manga”.

Slam Dunk: The Lessons of the Game

A while back, I had posted about how anime is a medium that carries more than just stunning sci-fi or high energy martial arts battles. Sure, those are things that come to the mind quickly when one thinks of anime, but that is not all that the medium has to offer. One such style of story that has its niche in the medium is that of the sports series. The challenge of athleticism and the interplay of a team’s members certainly make sports a world ripe for examination in stories.  One need only look at the real world and listen to the roar of the crowd to see the draw and power of sports. Today’s post is about one such anime series, one that roots itself in the world of basketball for its narrative. Not only that, but its methods would become something of an influence on future sports anime. First published as a manga in 1990 within the pages of Shonen Jump magazine and then brought to television screens in 1993, that subject of today’s post is Slam Dunk.

Hanamichi Sakuragi is a delinquent teen with a chip on his shoulder. Of course, that might be expected when he was been rejected by girls an astounding fifty times. That does not stop him from trying again, though, when he encounters and immediately falls for Haruko Akagi. When she reveals that she is a huge fan of basketball, Hanamichi lies about liking the sport (he actually hates it) and tries to act like he is a skilled player. Though his attempt fails, Haruko does recognize a natural talent for the game in him and convinces him to try out for the Shohoku High School basketball team. Hanamichi follows through on that idea, even though he does possess a fiery temper and hates the game. There, he finds himself contending with two rough elements: Takenori Akagi, the captain of the team and Haruko’s older brother, and Kaede Rukawa, a star rookie and the subject of Haruko Akagi’s own crush. Hanamichi’s rough and fiery temperament naturally runs rough against his teammates, but as he learns the rules of the game and plays alongside them, he finds something unexpected: he actually starts to like basketball. Maybe there might be hope for the Shohoku High School basketball team, which sets its sights on winning the national championship.

This is a fun series, starting off strong with some good writing. Its characters stand out fast, giving you a good feel for them fast. Along with that, the series does a strong job in balancing out its drama and comedy. Though there are plenty of jokes to go along with Hanamichi’s desperate antics to try to be seen as an awesome player and win Haruko’s heart, the show is also fully willing to delve into a more serious side of things. Sometimes this may be through looking at actions associated with sports, such as receiving devastating injuries, but other times this comes through in revealing events of the past that still haunt characters. Managing to pull off this balancing act without leaning too heavily on either end works well. However, this series has a unique strength in the writing that shines through in how it approaches the sport of basketball.

Unlike a lot of sports anime where the main character is a natural genius at the sport, Hanamichi possesses a lot of natural talent but is still ultimately a rookie. That means he has to learn the basic, understand how to play the game. Thus, he serves as an outlet for the audience to learn about the game. Just as Hanamichi learns about the rules and techniques that can be used, so too do viewers come to learn and better understand the sport of basketball. It is an inspired idea, one that to me works because it allows the audience to better connect by understanding the game as well as its characters. There are plenty of sports stories that do work with the strength of their characters, but allowing the audience to understand the sport along with the characters thus allows them to enjoy a victory not only in terms of the “why” but also the “how”.

Now, the show itself still does have some flaws. These aren’t weaknesses as much in the characters or the narrative itself, as much as in how it is made. The animation can seem a little lax at times, reusing shots or relying on panning shots to help pad out moments. Similarly, some episodes may feel like mostly padding, with not as much progression in the overall plot as viewers might hope for. Honestly, the series is still able to shine through despite these weaknesses. It feels as if those weak points are more a result of cost-saving measures possibly used during the animation process. They ultimately do not hamper the power of its story, held up through the charming and engaging characters. Along with that, being able to teach viewers about the sport it is following is a great approach to bring them into a deeper understanding of the sport and thus feel a greater connection to its characters. It is a great way to go about showcasing a sports story, and I’m not even that much of a sports person myself.

If you want to check out Slam Dunk, it is available to watch on Hulu and Crunchyroll.

Assassination Classroom: Inspiring Lessons Can Be Murder

Sometimes, when it comes to making a point, a touch of the outrageous can help a story to frame its lesson in an effective fashion. Whether it is in a stylistic fashion or in an over-the-top story idea, going grand can in fact help to sharpen the focus when it comes to the lesson. It’s something evident in all sorts of works, whether it is a satire like Dr. Strangelove and its critique of the Cold War arms race mentality or a science fiction work like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and its pointed view of McCarthyism-induced conformity. Even South Park stands as a strong example of the use of the outrageous, with its perverse sense of humor skillfully delivering important lessons on a wide variety of current issues. The anime medium also has its fair share of sharp-witted messages presented in incredible frames. One such example is Assassination Classroom, an anime and manga series that offers some real fun and a message regarding the education system.

One day, the world is shaken when a tentacled alien-like creature destroys 70% of the Moon, leaving it forever in a crescent shape. The governments of the world unite to stop this creature, but they are stymied at every turn thanks to the creature’s incredible powers. Then, one day, it announces that in a year’s time, the Earth will be similarly destroyed. However, the creature makes a strange offer: it wants to serve as a teacher to the students of Class 3-E in Kunugigaoka Junior High School. In exchange, he will let his students have the opportunity to kill him. With the help of a few hired assassins working in the faculty as fellow teachers for the students along 10 billion yen reward from the Japanese government, the pressure is on for these students to somehow do the impossible and assassinate this creature (whom they eventually nickname Koro Sensai). However, even as their skills improve over time, they’ve found themselves with an incredibly difficult task in front of them. It’s not simply due to Koro Sensai’s ability to move at Mach 20, his quick regenerative abilities, or any of his other outstanding powers. No, the real challenge is from an unexpected factor: he is the best teacher that these students have ever had.

The series is a good watch, offering a good mixture of laughs along with development. The series gets a lot of mileage from its core premise, contrasting the rigors of education with the fact that these students are being taught how to perform on assassination. It also pays its characters off each other well, thanks to the wide variety offered through the students being taught under Koro Sensai’s watchful eye. From the weak but talented Nagisa Shiota to the gifted Karma Akabane to even the shy but brilliant Manami Okuda, the students of Class 3-E offer an interesting variety of characters. They play off each other well, along with offering their own strengths when the spotlight is turned to individual characters for development and backstory. Koro Sensai himself also makes for a fun character. For a figure who is so powerful and who had apparently destroyed 70% of the Moon, he is a kind-hearted figure who is devoted to helping his students learn and improve in not only assassination skills, but also in the sort of subjects one would expect in school. It’s also clear there is more to him than meets the eye, with a mystery that unravels over the course of the show concerning his origins. Something that struck me, however, was the show’s message in regards to education.

Kunugigaoka Junior High School is a place that is regarded as a school which regularly churns out highly successful students. However, the methods taken to achieve this are rather cruel. You see, Class 3-E is considered to be the “End Class”. It’s relegated to an old building far away from the school’s modern main campus. It is provided with improper education material, or just out and out denied key items like schedules or new lessons for exams. In fact, the teachers and all other students are regularly encouraged to mock and insult Class 3-E. All other students, meanwhile, are constantly pressured to do only their best and focus solely on good grades with the threat that any slip-up could land them in Class 3-E. The result is a student body made up of 95% cruel and over-stressed students and 5% constantly put-upon and emotionally crushed students. Koro Sensai represents a threat to this supposed “perfect” school.

With his powers, he helps to offer a more personalized approach to education. He approaches his students with an investment in them, working to help understand their issues and fostering a greater sense of self-worth in themselves. The result is a group of students who are not only eager to learn and grow, but who can feel proud of themselves. Thus, the series speaks a lot to the power of an education that focuses on fostering a love of learning in students, rather than just trying to turn them into perfect grade machines. Sure, teachers may not have Koro Sensai’s Mach 20 speed to attend to every student all at once. However, there is something to be said for not only teachers seeking to offer a more personal approach to education, but the education system itself seeking such a goal. If it were structured in a way that helped to channel its students towards actually wanting to understand and learn, rather than just focusing on memorization and standardized testing as a measure of a student’s success, then perhaps there would be more students whose success  could be seen in their self-worth and understanding instead of just a number.

The first season of the anime of Assassination Classroom can be seen on Hulu. As for the manga, there are currently nine volumes of it currently being sold in stores.