Monday, April 16, 2007

Anime off the Beaten Path

If you've been watching anime for a while and you're not an otaku (fanboy), you are probably aware that lots of anime seems to be designed to appeal to people that aren't you.

That's certainly true in my case. I haven't been a shounen for several decades now. I have a chibi-me running around the house, a wife, a job...all that stuff. So yet another schoolboy doing derring deeds saving the universe while looking longingly at the fanservice-intensive female lead probably isn't going to get me very interested most of the time.

So I'm always looking out on the margins. What's new and sounds strange? What are older seinen like me in Japan watching? What can I watch that I won't automatically compare to the last five things I saw just like it?

Here's some fun stuff that has come out of this search:

1. Old stuff. Yes, there's more great old stuff around now than there was five years ago. Central Anime in Kansas is doing a great job of fansubbing on the Uchuu Senkan Yamato cycle (see my capsule review of S1 here). They're using the cleaned-up R2 DVDs released to vintage otaku types there. I've run across some of the Harlock series as well, but the subs haven't been very good. I also ran across a nice dual-audio copy of Vampire Hunter D, and a good fansub of Macross from the restored R2 DVDs (I'd never seen the original Macross before - wow is that OP song bad).

I think I ran across Legends of the Galactic Heroes somewhere, and there's likewise the entire Gundam franchise which I've never watched. I should be set for vintage space warfare for quite some time. My one big regret so far is that nobody seems to have English subs on Heidi, girl of the Alps, which apparently never ran in the US. No, I haven't lost my mind - I have a rug rat to entertain, and he digs Yamato and Nurse Angel Ririka SOS down to the ground. What's not to like about a Shoujo show made by Miyazaki and Takahata?

The above points out that not all obscure old stuff is from people you've never heard of. Studio Ghibli, for instance, has an extensive back catalog. You probably haven't seen everything in it. I haven't, yet, and I'm making an effort. Mimi wo Sumaseba (called Whisper of the Heart in the US, but more accurately titled as If you Listen Closely), for instance, is a fine example of a perfectly nice teenage romance you've never seen with all the characteristic Ghibli pretty views and (generally) good soundtrack. I'll warn you, though, that a John Denver song figures prominently in the plot, although the heroine (to my amusement) says the lyrics are trite after translating them literally.

My favorite seldom-seen Ghibli movie is Omohide Poro Poro, which translates as something like "Memories Falling Like Raindrops." It's a more adult story than most Ghibli offerings, and is set in (mostly rural) Japan of the recent past. If you ever wondered what a slice-of-life Ghibli movie would be like, you need wonder no more. So check out the back catalogs of big names you know - you might find a gem or two.

2. Stuff meant for older viewers. The first HD series I downloaded right when I got back into anime after the decade hiatus was Kamichu! It sounded fun and quirky, and I wanted to see how good it looked. Right on all counts. It's set in Onomichi of the 1980s, so has a distinct nostalgic feel for anybody who lived through that time, even if on a different continent. Turns out it's designed to micro-target men my age...

Milady, who is the same age I am less a few months, is an avowed fan of Hataraki Man. The Go-Gos-like OP tune sets the mood perfectly, and it definitely speaks to her. I find it amusing as well, even though several of the characters fall into shoujo/josei stereotypes. I'll say this: the workaday world of Japan doesn't often make it across the pond to be fansubbed, and it's our loss. All of the few work-life comedy anime and manga I've seen were enjoyed, and some are favorites.

I haven't really got it figured out yet, but I think Binchou-tan might fall into this category as well. It's so purposefully sparse verbally (less than 150 words spoken in the first ep), so pretty to look at. So pathetic. In its own way it evokes the Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou manga for me more than the two OVAs did. It's too slow for kids, so I think it's actually seinen as well...

3. Odd fish. The manga/anime industry in Japan is so big that they semi-randomly create wonderful mutations. Somebody takes a silly idea (say tactical cyborg loli-assasins) seriously and creates something sad and wonderful like Gunslinger Girl.

Or a couple of guys get together and do a what-if show about breaking down the barriers between the internet and the physical world which, amazingly enough, is really good, like Serial Experiments Lain.

Or somebody sells Bandai Visual on this great novel idea they've got involving aerial warfare, lolitas, ancient priesthoods, forgotten wisdom of the ancients, teen-age sex changes, and some other stuff I'm probably forgetting. Something like Simoun results.

Or somebody decides to do Thelma and Louise, except with Thelma being kickass at kung-fu, and Louise being deadly with a katana walking around Edo era Japan with lots of slapstick comedy, like Kazemakase Tsukikage Ran.

These mutations are such prizes. And they inevitably have a long shelf life, and are usually well made. I always hope the next thing I discover will be another one.


anitra said...

senile, you speak to my heart here. i'm probably younger than you, but it doesn't take much to be older than the typical manga fan, and being also married and having offspring, i hear your words loud and clear... i may read shounen and shoujo, once or twice in a blue moon, but very little of it seems really worth my time.

i make very little use of the television, so i don't keep up with much anime -- but i did watch serial experiments lain all in one day, when my family was out of town, and i utterly lost my heart to it. (i also got through kino no tabi and fantastic children on the same vacation.)

from your words, i'm starting to be quite interested in gunslinger girl and simoun (though at this point the fansub may be difficult to dig up -- and you really have been quite harsh on the poor official-licensors), and if i have time, i may perhaps dig up some of the of your other selections.

the point being, thanks! ;-)

Senile_Seinen said...

You're welcome!

A clarification: I'm hard on the official licensors of the Gunslinger Girl manga. The US anime was done by Funimation, and while I don't particularly like the dub track; I don't loathe it either, and the subtitles are pretty decent.

The manga and anime are both thoroughly worth your time. I could not, however, recommend either for young children - they're quite violent in spots.

Simoun's US release may be good, or it may be bad. We simply don't know. So far, the tea leaves suggest that they will be referring to the Simoun Fans fansub during their own sub process, so we can hope that at least the subs will be good. Whether or not they even try to do a dub track is irrelevant to me, but we can hope that they do a good one.

In any case, both series are certainly worth watching no matter how good or bad the dub track is.