On my 22nd birthday, I decided to stop doing things “grown-ups don’t do”, and I figured anime was near the top of the list. Now, I recognize that sentiment for the pretentious bullshit it was. So, I’m dipping my toe back into the chibi-and-mech-infested anime waters.
There’s just one problem: It’s been 7 years since I’ve watched anime. I’ve devised a project for people like me who are trying to get (back) into anime. Like any good scientist —coughnerdcough— I’ve laid parameters for my experiment.
1. No Series Older Than 6 Years Old: Nothing older than 2008, nothing newer than now. Iconic anime are always an exception.
This parameter isn’t perfect, because it poses another question. How does one define “iconic?” Is it an anime that everyone has seen, or at least heard of? Could it be characters so memorable they have become cosplay staples? How about an in-joke so “out”, that even people outside the culture get the reference. Fortunately, one my anime-watching friends were happy to counsel me, but we’ll get to that.
2. Multi-genre Sample Pool: It wouldn’t be a proper pseudoscientific experiment if the sample pool were too narrow. It can be Action, Romance, even—gulp—Kids.
To keep things simple, I will just be picking anime who have cover images that look different from one another. This may lead to me watching two anime of the same genre back-to-back, but it should be the exception rather than the rule.
3. Two Episode Minimum: I must watch two episodes of each series before giving a review and verdict. That will force me to give every series a fair chance. (Yes, I am a nerd. Have we met?)
UGH!: Asinine story, structural problems, and cardboard characters. There are serious problems, beyond my lack of interest.
Meh: There isn’t any major problem with the plot or writing, but the story just didn’t grab me. On to the next one!
More!: Solid and intriguing storytelling and characterization meets pretty, pretty pictures. This series warrants at least two more episodes.
Hell Yeah!: Amazing art, cool music, and a story that makes me weep from the sheer beauty and complexity. I don’t care where the writers are going, I’m going with them!
Now for the first trio of reviews.
07 Ghost (2009) Studio Deen.
What it Says on the Tin: 07 Ghost is the story of Teito Klien, a former slave who has become the top student at a military academy. Teito’s fortunes change and he finds himself a fugitive. The clergy of a nearby church offer shelter to Teito. In the church, he begins to discover the truth about his past, the empire, and the mythical 7 ghosts that serve as guardians for the church and her congregation.
Episode 1 and 2: Episodes 1 covers Teito’s final exam, the recall of his violent past, and his arrest and escape. Episode 2 introduces the secondary protagonists. Oversexed Hot Guy (who I’m sure has a tragic past), Smart Hot Guy (whose main function seems to be scolding Oversexed Hot Guy), and Adorable Hot Guy (we don’t see him for most of the episode).
Why It Bites: I’m a fantasy girl at heart. The magical religious mythology aspects of 07 Ghost’s story should have had me early in the first episode. The problem here is the characters. Teito swings from brooding teenager to annoying smart mouthed kid in the middle of the second episode with no rhyme or reason. I will admit, he is dealing with traumatic circumstances. Even so, the mood swing would be more believable in the opposite direction. The secondary characters are featured very little, and when they appear at all it’s to hint at their upcoming arc. I know as well as anyone that dramatic moments have to be earned early in the story, but both of the first two episodes feel like just set up. The episodes don’t conclude, they just stop when the allotted time has passed. Most of the time I found myself wondering when the plot would do more to draw attention away from the flat characters. It never did. Too bad.
Oshiri Kajiri Mush/Bottom Biting Bugs (2012) NHKEnterprise
What it Says on the Tin: Bottom Biting Bug’s (also known as B.B.B.) family opens a shop known as the “Bitery.” The Bitery helps people by giving them motivation…via a bite in the ass.
Episode 1 and 2: Each episode is 5 minutes long. The first two episodes cover the opening of the Bitery and a competition at B.B.B’s school.
Why It Bites… My Ass: See what I did there? The synopsis isn’t long, because the series isn’t long. B.B.B is a flat character. He’s well-meaning and amusing, but his troubles never quite amount to anything dramatic and are easily solved in…well… five minutes. The series is obviously designed for children, but given that amazing storytelling can happen in media meant for kids, that’s a poor excuse. If you gather a group of friends and a lot of alcohol this might make a fun drinking game. Otherwise, pass.
Cowboy Bebop (1998) Sunrise
What it Says on the Tin: Spike and Jet are bounty hunters/friends and business partners who cruise around on the starship Bebop. Over the course of the series they track down criminals and recruit Faye Valentine, Ed, and Ein—a super cute, sentient dog.
Episode 1 and 2: The first two episodes each involve a different bounty. The first bounty is a couple I swear are based on El Maraichi. The second is an expy of Kareem Abdul Jabar. Spike’s haphazard methods of collection are brilliant, funny, and cause as many problems as they solve. Ein appears in the second episode. You won’t be able to resist the cuteness, but as an exercise in futility, I invite you to try.
Why It Rocks My World: Bebop fell way outside the six year limit, but it got a pass because it was the only anime my friends unanimously called iconic. “It has an intense but funny story, [the] art and music are impeccable,” one friend said as she insisted I add Cowboy Bebop to the experiment pool. Thank god she did!
Bebop is an homage to spaghetti westerns, film noir, and science fiction. At times the partnership of Spike and Jet brings shades of Han Solo and Chewbacca, but I was too busy laughing to be annoyed. The most impressive choice by the creators is the decision to let the world emerge organically. In a science fiction space opera it’s easy to dump chunks of information on the audience so they are all caught up when the action starts. It’s a natural inclination, and it’s the exact wrong thing to do. Instead, we discover things as the characters discover them, sometimes too late for a happy ending. The art looks dated to my eyes, but it works well with the “lived-in” future in which the characters operate.
So, the results of my first experiment are less than impressive. Big thanks to my friend Abby and Raging Crow for talking me into Cowboy Bebop. You two saved round one of the experiment. See you next time for “1 Out of 3 Ain’t Bad” or “The Experiment 2: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.”