Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Random Anime Recommendations (for people who like animation that's not for kids)

Recently, I read an article online about people's perceptions of God, wherein this trope was brought up:   - The article mentioned a study in which participants were asked to "draw a picture of God" and, reportedly, the people who drew a bearded old man were children and atheists while adult believers typically drew something very abstract or nothing at all. (I have to think that *some* clever atheists drew nothing at all, too, but that wasn't cited). 

I might have drawn the King of All Cosmos from "Katmari Damacy" just to be cheeky...  (I did once write a short fan fiction where a guy dies and expects to meet God only to meet the King of All Cosmos and have his mind spin.  He was subsequently sent back to Earth to roll a Katamari for eternity).  For those who don't know what I'm talking about - it's a bizarre and wonderfully addictive video game, look it up.  The King is hilarious.

Anyway, considering some of the stuff I run into online regarding debates about the meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything and who may or may not be running the show, I sometimes wonder if some people who "left something behind in childhood" are really stuck upon the images and concepts related to that childhood in a way that they just assume that anyone who is (still) into that particular thing by necessity keeps that conception.  (Not helped, of course, by being surrounded people that *do* have such conceptions, the problem is when people assume *all* people who enjoy a concept enjoy it simplistically or childishly). 

Anyway, theological debates aside, it made me, perhaps randomly, think about cartoons. 

Seriously, I thought about cartoons.  Specifically, I thought about that time I happened to be in a Toys R Us and curiosity led me to look at the movies for children rack.  I was probably looking for something nostalgic, seeing if it had movies I enjoyed when I was a kid, what was still popular, etc.  In among the Care Bears and the My Little Pony, the Barney and the Transformers (something nostalgic for my significant other and a good friend of mine) and all the other kids' stuff, I see.... Ghost in the Shell.

Ghost in the Shell.   The link will take you to its entry on TV Tropes. 

Um, if you don't know your anime, do look it up, if nothing more than that Tropes page.  It's been a while since I've seen the film, but I can tell you that it's not for kids.  It's a sophisticated sci-fi thriller that deals with concepts that go over the heads of many *adults* (the nature of souls/minds/sapience) and has lots of graphic violence.  Even a bit of full frontal female nudity (though, to be fair, the Major is actually in a skin-suit cloaking device), but, you know, as I recall, within the first fifteen minutes, someone's head explodes in loving detail.  

What was it doing on the children's movies rack? 

My conclusion was that probably some dip who couldn't even bother to look up what movies belonged in what case just saw "Oh, it's animated, it must be for kids."  

While those of us who "never grew out of cartoons" KNOW BETTER. 

If you're techincally an adult and interested in animation and are looking for something beyond the "American kiddie fare,"  let me tell you about some of my favorite series and films out of Asia (where no such "animation age ghetto" exists) that are mature (without being porn) and have sophisicated themes: 

The aforementioned Ghost in the Shell, including its sequel and its multi-episode television series are great if you like cyberpunk and things exploring humanity's relationship to technology. 

Neon Genesis Evangelion - For people who love eschatology told in the weirdest way possible!  Infamous for its very liberal use of symbolism from Christianity and Jewish mysticism, (none of the creators were Christian or Jewish), it is one of the nerdcore animes that all serious anime fans would seem to be required to watch to show their cred.  I've not seen the Rebuild (and an Eva-purist friend of mine will not touch it), but I've seen both the original TV series and the End of Evangelion movie.  Full of angst and explorations of Freudian psychology as well violence (including one of the bioweapons EATING its kill in a graphic manner) and said bioweapons spewing literal gallons of blood when injured, this is one of the ultimate "cartoons that ain't for kids." 

Although Cartoon Network did try to edit it to put on their Toonami block once.  People make fun of this because as it turned out, they could only air butchered versions of the first two episodes becuase it's damn impossible to kid-fy this thing. 

Warnings:  If you're a Christian - before you watch this, make sure you're a Christian like I am: open-minded and one who enjoys sci-fi to a point that complete botching of symbols relating to your religion doesn't matter to you.  This anime, as I once saw someone put it is "Teenagers killing angels in order to become God." (though a more accurate description might be "Teenagers killing angels in order to ascend to a higher existance and become an angel).  Er. this show is weird. It will make your brain spin in your skull.   Also, if you have any psychological problems, it might be hard on you - it's fairly depressing, all of the characters are messed-up (their head messed-upness is a major part of the plot).  It was made by a severely depressed man who was off his medication at the time and it shows.   (In fact, the crew that worked on it immediately worked on a crazy comedy anime immediately after they were done with NGE as "relief"). 

Trigun - This is my very favorite anime.  It is not widely praised by critics for its sophstication like the ones I mentioned above, but it is actually very deep.  In fact, I've said that if I didn't already have a religious leaning, that I would create a religion based upon the main character of this.  I would call it "Vashism."  Its tennants would be "Love and Peace" and its sacriment would be donuts and beer.  I have an agnostic/atheist friend I met in the fandom for it who said she'd join this religion in a heartbeat.

Anyway, Trigun is a space-western (that was created *before* Firefly, in fact, I'm pretty sure the latter took some inspiration from the former regarding some of those backwater towns on desert planets).  It starts out in a lighthearted mode and keeps an air of comedy through *most* (though not all) episodes. It does get progressively darker. (And the manga - comic series - of it is even darker, edgier, and tons bloodier.  The anime has a lot of serious themes without a lot of blood, the comic has scenes where superpowered characters walk around with their guts slopping out. If you like gore, pick up the manga, if you don't, stick with the animated series). 

The story follows a man wanted for horrible crimes, including the destruction of entire cities - the most feared outlaw on the planet with an astronomical bounty on his head.  Turns out he's a nice guy, a goofball and a pacifist.  Vash wanders the planet trying to spread his mantra of Love and Peace, as well as "looking for someone" (if I said who, it would be a spoiler). He tries to talk bad guys out of violence (and sometimes succeeds!)  He also does very crazy things to save people (and shows it in his body, he has horrible scars under that big red coat of his).  He does use guns, but he's perfected the art of shooting weapons out of peoples' hands and wounding them without killing them and other feats the real world laws of physics would not allow.  He's very much a classic "messianic" character - he wants to save everyone - even his enemies. 

He winds up being tailed by a pair of female insurance adjusters who are tough and know how to kick ass when necessary (and pull of being both plain and pretty, rather than the typical fanservice anime heroines).  He also makes a friend in the form of a dubious priest whom he sometimes has to remind "Thou shall not kill!"  There are also bad guys with freaky psychic powers and a lot of people who are just over the top and would be hilarious if they weren't psychotic killers - and some who are hilarious even with that. 

The story plays a lot with themes of morality - particularly philosophy regarding "whether or not it is justified to kill anyone."  Vash goes out of his way to save everyone, but sometimes, you're left wondering if he should have.  Though there's lots of fun, like his love of beer and donuts, there's a lot of heartbreak, too.  And the manga is even darker.   Also, for the eggheaded, there's quite a bit of Christian and Buddhist themes and symbolism in this, a few of them rather blatant (though it is definitely a secular story), and unlike with Evangelion, above, the creator knew what he was doing with it. 

(I once got into an argument on a message board when I casually remarked that I found Vash's "Love and Peace" philosophy to relate to my experience with Christianity.  A very angry regular there confronted me and basically told me that I was not allowed to relate Love and Peace to my faith because, according to her, Love and Peace were anti-Christian because Christianity was evil.  And no, my own personal, subjective experience didn't matter because she had taken a college course on world religions and, naturally, my not being an atheist like her made me too stupid to even have a subjective experience.  I found person to be insufferable on other things related to the fandom, too, and is the major reason why I no longer go to that particular message board. I seem to remember ranting and raving that the creator of the series was wrong, wrong, wrong! because he ended the comic in a way no one expected and she didn't approve of).... anyway, I felt privately VINDICATED when I later read a translated interview in which the creator revealed that he had converted to Roman Catholism when researching his work and was a "Catholic who retained some Buddhist ideas." 

So, yeah, he used the symbolism and did so knowing what he was doing with it. A self-proclaimed Japanese Christian of any stripe is about as rare as a Muslim born and raised in Alabama, so that makes things interesting.  

Hmm. I have a poster for the side-movie, "Trigun: Badlands Rumble" over my bed right now.  I've also been known to cosplay Vash at anime conventions, even though I'm female. 

Haibane Renmei - Another favorite of mine.  Don't let the look of the characters fool you, they aren't actually supposed to be angels - just people with wings and halos.  This is a much *quieter* anime than the ones above.  It's not violent, though there is a little blood (the first episode involves a character painfully growing her wings and there's a flashback in a later episode to a time when a character got hurt doing something forbidden).  HR is a story about a mysterious walled town that people are born into from coccoons with a vauge sense that they had another life that they cannot remember.  They live by using the things no longer useful to humans and are protected by a mysterious order and the walls around their town.  It is each Haibane's destiny/apsiration to eventually be brought to their "day of flight" which is a kind of ascension after they've discovered some missing piece of themselves.  This is a mysterious work - the audience is never told what's beyond the walls or whether the Haibane are actually dead people in limbo (that's the popular fan speculation), but despite it's sweet nature, I wouldn't say that this one is for kids because it deals with issues related to psychology and... suicide.

I can tell you truly - if you've had any kind of problems with depressive illness, this anime will make you bawl your eyes out - but in a completely GOOD, cathartic way.  This anime actually helped me get through a rough patch and has a special place in my heart because of that.

By the way, if you click the tropes link and look up the Fanfic Recommendations, yes, someone recommended one of my old fanfictions.  I'm the same Shadsie. Also, ArkNorth is my fiance'.  So, yes, the fanfic recs there are by me and someone I know and neither of us recced them. Heh!  We love our HR in our house. 

Now, I think those are some good recs for now - they'll give people something to consider watching, or at least, disepell the notion that at least one thing that people label as "childish" must and always will be so.  

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