It’s come to my attention recently that whilst this blog is intended to be a reflection of my personal thoughts and feelings, I haven’t shared very personal content. However, it’s often hard for me to share very personal things on public platforms. So to compensate, I’ve decided to start a series of some things that I love - to better express the person I am and the things I believe in.
I got hooked on anime when I was in high school, and it’s been a (somewhat small) part of my life ever since. Although there’s been a recent period where I’ve neglected to watch, it will forever hold a special place in my heart.
Anime (Japanese Animation) is a pastime that has an ‘uncool’ label attached to it - it’s often seen as something a light-sensitive basement dweller might watch. But a lot of anime has influenced and taken influences from western pop culture too - and as society moves towards acceptance instead of stigmatisation, I’ve started to feel open enough to talk about such things. Although I rarely watch anime anymore, I’m still often in awe of how good some of the classics are. Not everyone knows this, but anime changed my life. Seriously - and I would recommend everyone to check these out when they get bored. So listed below are a few of my favourite series that influenced me the most.
This one should come as no surprise. In fact, none of these should. They’re classics. But Cowboy Bebop? What a concept. To blend Blues Jazz and sci-fi space fantasy with an overarching Old Wild West vibe. Somewhat reminiscent of Die-Hard, but with snazzy remarks and even snazzier retorts - The characters' too-cool-for-school attitudes are foiled only by their comically bad luck. At only 26 episodes, the series can often seem to take on a "Simpsons-like" episodic nature. But as all good things come to an end, so must this - and the underlying message seems to be: You cannot run from your past. Whilst it isn’t evident during the course of the short series, one only has to read between the lines to notice that everyone is running from something. Their playful adventures and wild goose chases serve only to distract from their erstwhile longings and pains.
And not to mention, of course, the cinematography and direction impeccably blends bebop jazz with karate fist-fights, tense shootouts and bizarre drug-induced rampages. Cowboy Bebop is Shinchiro Watanabe’s breakout anime series which gained a cult following years after its initial release. For more of Watanabe’s works, check out Samurai Champloo, Terror in Resonance, Space Dandy and Genius Party: Baby Blue.
The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi (Season 1)
A little less ‘adult’ and slightly more light-hearted - this anime’s premise sparks immediate interest, and its skilful execution was key to gaining its intense popularity. What if the world revolved around one high school aged girl, and she didn’t know it? And what if she wasn’t a normal girl, but one that was bored by the current state of the world? Are we all, therefore, in danger of perishing at the her whimsical follies and subconscious distortions of reality?
And what if you’re someone who isn’t too keen on the current state of the world too? What if the way you’ve lived up until now was rather nonchalant and apathetic? Would you simply let the world wither away? Or fight, struggle and plunge head-first into the void to save the world as it is? Or, perhaps - (as the series might suggest) would the world become more interesting to you as you delved deeper into the events and lives of people unfolding around you. A lesson in curiosity and intrigue - maybe the world is more interesting than you had originally thought. And maybe your perception was narrowed by the routine of your ordinary life. Learn to appreciate the everyday things you take for granted, and venture out into the unknown with a good mix of fear, love, friendship, anger and wonder. At only 13 episodes, with a mixed episode order for re-watchability - it’s gained a cult following amongst anime fans and casual watchers alike.
FLCL (Fooly Cooly a.k.a. Furi Kuri)
A 6-episode Original Video Animation coming-of-age series. It features Naoto Nandaba: a 12-year old boy in a working class family living with his widowed father and grandfather in an isolated industrial city which he himself describes as "a city that never changes". A series of wild and wacky events occur in a royally f**ked up and comical way to him as his life gets turned upside down by the intrusion of a crazy woman into his life (and the extrusion in his forehead). Naoto’s life becomes an unwanted sci-fi/fantasy adventure, one which he resists whilst insisting that his life is already laid out for him. Heavy on musical references and with a soundtrack by The Pillows - the production quality is undeniable. FLCL not only breaks the convention of anime, it flips it on its head and shakes out everything you thought you knew. Incredibly fast paced and action packed - a series where comprehension is not as important as the continuity and scenes it’s able to depict. And in the end, all that will be left is what you have been able to take from it - and how you come to terms with it.
Destination is a state of mind. An androgynous traveller Kino rides on the back of a talking motorcycle named Hermes. Their only rule is to visit every land they happen upon for only 3 days. Highly reminiscent of Saint Antoine Exupery’s 'The Little Prince', Kino’s travels explore happiness, sadness, pain, decadence, violence, wisdom - and above all, beauty. And through it all, they never lose their sense of freedom. This is a series about the vastness of the open world, and the commonalities that bind us. “The world is not beautiful, therefore, it is”. For me it was one of the strongest motivators to travel and experience the world for myself. Upon watching this series, I was personally motivated to travel alone for the first time in my life when I was 17. And I would do it all over again.
Neon Genesis Evangelion
Upon writing this review, I have realised that there is no way I can give an unbiased review of this series, as I can only tell this from my truth, or how I experienced it. And whilst your mileage may vary, it quite literally changed my life. So, since I am extremely biased on this topic, I will take wikipedia’s explanation:
There - that’s not so complex… is it? Actually it sounds completely fucking insane. But to take this at face value would mean missing out what could be a life-changing experience of a series. No anime has set out to explore the depths of human emotion and the spectrum of traumas that pervade our psyches. It doesn’t matter that they’re dealing with an absurd reality of fighting supernatural beings with controllable bio-robots, because to be honest - our own reality is just as absurd - only we do not stop to point it out. To truly appreciate this story, you cannot go in with the mindset of a fully functioning member of society - one must be able to empathise on a deep level with the characters themselves, and their very human struggles with trauma and depression. It isn’t often that I can say that about an anime series. You really have to put yourself into their shoes sometimes and piece together the puzzles of their lives - try to understand them and the way they act and feel - so if you're watching as a light-hearted form of escapism, this show is not for you.
The first half of the 26-episode series focusses on the setting and character development, whilst dropping small hints here and there about the true ambitions of the individual characters’ motivations, which are kept hidden behind a shallow facade - much like we do in reality. The second half raises more questions than answers - though eventually the cracks start to show in the armour of the shadowy figures that pull the strings as their plans progress. What happens at the end is anybody’s guess, but does it really matter? See the world through a different lens, and perhaps you can find your purpose in life.
Honorable Mention: Haikyuu!
I’m not a fan of sports anime - but the direction and pace of this anime got me hooked. It’s huge on motivation, trying your best and never giving up despite insurmountable odds. It’s not unrealistic, pretending that some sort of miracle can happen if you suddenly change your mindset, but it’s real about what a shift in perception can do for you in the long term. If you work hard, you will see the fruits of your labour. And if you love what you do, it will be altogether rewarding and fulfilling - not for the rewards, but for the acts and journey itself. I love this anime because it inspires me to be better, and I think we often need a little push to get the confidence to make decisions.. and sacrifices.