There are two factions. One, anime is synonymous with Ghibli. The other, Ghibli is an exception and anime is just… Anime.
As Ghibli has carved out its own special niche with animated films well-loved by most mainstream audiences and critics, let’s focus on the latter – the “just… Anime”. While its lovers swear by the virtues of anime, non-lovers scoff at it, view it with disdain, and even avoid it with a restraining order. At least, most of the non-anime-lovers I know do.
Most of the non-anime-watching population are under the impression that anime is just the Japanese version of cartoons, coupled with fanservice on steroids (think ecchi, lots of upskirt, scantily clad girls with an overt amount of oppai (boobs) action, high-pitched cutesy type characters, etc.). Granted, such a stereotype would generally send any remotely self-respecting person (or anyone into heavy denial… *shrugs*) running in the opposite direction. Admittedly, this was the impression that I had of anime not too long ago. However, after watching anime for a good couple of years, I think it is safe to say that “anime = fanservice” is a common misconception and over-generalisation, because there really is just so much more to anime than the frequent pantsu (panty) shots.
It is a pity that anime suffers from such a reputation, since it covers such a wide range of genres with something for everyone. Ranging from your weekend morning shows catered for school-going children (Yokai-Watch, Digimon, Pokemon), to series aimed at mature audiences with their gritty and noir themes (Psycho-Pass, Monster); there’s action (Rurouni Kenshin, Sword Art Online), romance (Kimi ni Todoke, Ao Haru Ride), fantasy (Madoka Magica, Natsume Yuujincho), and even slice-of-life (Kimi to Boku, Anohana). As a form of media, anime is versatile and exhilarating, allowing creators to play with realities, scenarios and characterisations impossible to film in real-life, and yet present fascinating and moving stories in a medium that engages the eyes, the ears and the minds of their audiences.
Therein lies the challenge. We want to introduce the wonderful world of anime to people who have not exposed themselves to it, yet we are wary of alienating them. I believe it all boils down to two main points: plot and presentation. Here are three of my own personal recommendations, that debunk stereotypes, concomitantly showcasing the wonders of anime as a medium, with their compelling plots that are capable of keeping most intelligent audiences captivated.
Shingeki no Kyojin (Attack on Titan)
What is this series about?
Hundreds of years ago, man-eating titans pushed humans to the verge of extinction. No one seems to know where the titans came from or how they even appeared in the first place. In a bid for survival, the remaining humans built extremely high walls to keep these titans out from their cities.
Fast forwarding to the present, the sudden appearance of aberrant titan types, including an ‘armoured titan’ and ‘colossal titan’ causes the destruction of the outer walls. As more titans flood into the outer city, mankind struggles to counter their relentless attacks. Which side will emerge victorious in this epic battle for survival?
Why watch it?
Released in Spring 2013, Shingeki no Kyojin made sensational waves that year. This iconic anime series captured the imaginations of both non-anime and anime fans alike with its heart-stopping action. Cliffhanger after excruciating cliffhanger kept viewers on the edge of their seats, with the mystery behind these towering monsters. Add to that with an array of well-developed characters audiences can either admire for their skills or identify with their flaws and you have a winning combination that had fans clamouring for more.
Shingeki no Kyojin stands out for its accessibility – many non-anime believers were converted after watching this, my own family and friends included. This series was so massively popular even with mainstream audiences that not only did it catapult all related media (DVDs, CDs, etc) to the top of all charts, it became a cultural phenomenon with a multitude of tie-ins, including Real Escape Game, and fast food joints, and even a live-action film in the making. Given the reach that this series has achieved, most can proudly admit to being a Shingeki no Kyojin fan. With the live-action movie in the works and the second anime season confirmed, the fervour for more Shingeki no Kyojin is far from dying down. This is certainly a future classic not to be missed.
Zankyou no Terror (Terror in Resonance)
What is this series about?
Tokyo is under attack, from a mysterious terrorist teenage duo calling themselves “Sphinx”. Masterfully carrying out a variety of attacks calculated to caused most mayhem with least causalities, Nine and Twelve were determined to wake the people from their slumber and pull the trigger on this world.
More on Zankyou no Terror previously on AFACHAN: [ANIME] Terror in Resonance Overview.
Why watch it?
The main draw of Zankyou no Terror (Zankyou) is its gorgeous music, courtesy of soundtrack goddess Yoko Kanno. Zankyou’s exquisite music soundtrack was integrated so well such that the music and scenes melded to form a breathtaking masterpiece. But the soundtrack wasn’t the only draw of Zankyou. Zankyou engaged the audience with its clever riddles, just as how the in-show terrorist duo Sphinx ensnared the police with their wits. The plot broached deep issues in terrorism and politics, and its heavy implications in real life will definitely pique the interest of many. With its stellar plot and lovely music, Zankyou is more than just another anime about terrorism.
Undoubtedly, what makes Zankyou so special is its production genius, in how every single aspect of the show was tied together ever so neatly. Zankyou is a truly cinematic experience, infusing its plot so elegantly with intense thought and consideration while painting a most complete picture. The attention to detail and realism– those painfully real facial expressions on the characters – was mesmerizing, intricately weaved into nuanced emotions and dialogue of its characters. Nothing short of a masterpiece executed at the highest level of sophistication. It may not be mainstream, but Zankyou is a subtle yet impressionable series, one that showcases the true artistry of anime. And by the end of its 11-episode run, viewers were made to realise that Sphinx drew attention to themselves to shed light on their situation and to be remembered by the public. That remembrance can be translated to the watching experience, because Zankyou is a series that evokes such a lasting effect, leaving an indelible ache in your heart that you will continue to think fondly of for years to come.
Psycho-Pass (season one)
What is this series about?
The series follows a police unit from the Public Safety Bureau’s Criminal Investigation Division. Unit members are either Inspectors or Enforcers, tasked with maintaining order in society. Set in a futuristic, dystopian world where people’s crime coefficients (a mental state scale of a person’s probability to commit crime) are measured by the Sibyl System to help identify potential criminals. Persons with dangerous crime coefficients face enforcement from the police through hand-held Dominators, which can subdue or disintegrate individuals even before committing a crime. Facing rehabilitation, imprisonment or a messy death simply because they might… This is “prevention is always better than cure” gone awfully awry.
Why watch it?
Psycho-Pass is one series that I would recommend, for how non-conformist and non-stereotypical it is. In fact, Chief director Katsuyuki Motohiro was so adamant about countering current anime trends that the entire production team had to abide by a “no moe” rule. Psycho-Pass’ futuristic setting, engaging storyline that explored darker aspects of civic behaviour and morality, presented with sleek, visually stunning animation, should not be difficult for non-anime watchers to immerse themselves in, especially sci-fi fans. Scriptwriter Gen Urobuchi drew his inspiration from esteemed science-fiction author Philip K. Dick (whose works were also quoted in the series), and was heavily influenced by western films such as L.A Confidential and Minority Report.
My love for Psycho-Pass can be attributed to the amount of thought that went into the scriptwriting. Psycho-Pass explored dark, psychological themes in the most thought-provoking manner – how far can a society go for peace of mind? What is considered a social norm and who or what decides this? What does it take to be part of a society? These are just some questions that Psycho-Pass asked its audiences throughout its entire run. The level of originality this anime series possesses is unrivalled, and the plot twists kept us guessing the motives and actions of both the protagonists and antagonists. I was enthralled by the ingenuity of it all, and each episode was such a treat for the mind. Urobuchi, or also known as the Uro-butcher, was certainly no GRR Martin; the violence was never gratuitous, and character deaths were wielded with brilliance to deliver the deepest impact.
Psycho-Pass is undoubtedly my favourite anime series of recent years. Anime series of a high calibre are few and far between. I daresay it will be difficult for other anime series to measure up to the quality that Psycho-Pass has spoilt me with and I strongly urge any and all who haven’t seen it to please do so.
The allure of anime over dramas is that it is fantasy-based, and not live-action. I view anime as a form of escapism, a relaxing treat after a long day of real life. You may have your own idea of what is good for non-anime lovers. Even our own fellow AFA writers had a multitude of suggestions, which included Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica (another Urobuchi creation), Full Metal Alchemist, as well as shoujo series like Ao Haru Ride.
However, as a relatively recently converted anime lover with distant memories of non-anime-lovers’ perceptions, Psycho-Pass, Shingeki no Kyojin and Zankyou no Terror are anime that I believe non-anime watching friends are likely to enjoy. I am confident that with an open mind, this introduction will help you (or your friends) appreciate anime, and from there, possibly venture further into our quirky and wonderful world.