Japanese animation is riddled with recycled and bizarre tropes. It’s for this reason that a majority of Westerners are turned off by the medium due to the repetitive situations and formulas reused time and again. Despite this, there’s a good deal of anime out there that defy the rather annoying archetypes we’ve grown to despise. These new classics are the things that cult hits are made of, and without much further ado, we present to you our list of anime for those that hate the medium.
Critics have often cited this movie as the progenitor for commencing America’s love affair with Japanese animation. Not surprisingly, it lives up to its hype. Thankfully, it avoids deforming the proportions of it’s characters and presents a storyline particular to Japan. The social direst is reminiscent of the student protests back during 60s in the wake of a post-war Japan. In the end, it did something different that was unique to Japan and it’s doubtful that American live action will successfully recreate it and make it creatively its own.
Ghost in the Shell
This movie from the 90s offered a deep meditation on post-humanism and identity in the wake of technology’s rise. What’s more, the Wachowski brothers cited this film as one of its chief inspirations for the Matrix. Its successors are no exception and do the first film justice. Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence furthers its philosophical discourse on what it means to be human in a post-human world. At the same time, the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex series extrapolates the anxieties of living in the information age. This is cyberpunk at its finest.
The pioneer of synthesizing the Hip Hop aesthetic with anime and paved the way for other emulations like Tokyo Tribe2 and Afro Samurai. What’s notable about this anime is that it brushes upon issues historically exceptional to Japan rather than just simply borrowing an exploiting American Hip Hop wholesale. It features the marginalized groups like Japanese Christians, the Ainu, Ryukyuans, Proto-Gaijin Japanophiles, courtesans, ronin, and other individuals. While the first episode openly claims to not be historically accurate, the ironic part is that it’s closer to reality than some of the other shows that make hurdles to romanticize the age of the samurai.
Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade
Mamoru Oshii–the director of this movie based on his magnum opus, The Kereberos Saga–is a prominent figure in anime, having earned the admiration of James Cameron and the Wachowski Brothers to name a few. He envisions and alternate history of Japan in which America remained neutral throughout the 2nd World War. As a result, Japan became occupied by a Nazi Germany and remained an authoritarian police state. Fuse, a member of an elite unit, is confronted with his own humanity when he refuses to gun down a child terrorist. His romance with a woman formerly of a terrorist cell culminates in one of the most chillingly heart wrenching endings in cinematic animation.
While this show features many of the tropes animephobes abhor, what they ignore is that it turns the archetypes of the genre upside down. Shinji is essentially possesses an isolated personality reflective of his Otaku fan base. Both Asuka and Rei are Mary-Sue characters, but that’s the very point. Asuka psychologically collapses because she’s unable to confront the imperfections in her seemingly perfect persona. As for Rei, she’s merely a vacant doll representative of the empty lust objects in manga literature. As problematic as these archetypes are, the ending in the movies grants a revolutionary solution to the complications of identity in an otherwise bleak Postmodern world.
Grave of the Fireflies
At the forefront for Japan’s current anti-war stance, this film offers an account of the bombings in Kobe near the end of World War II. Both the main character, his sister, and struggle to survive. It offers an alternative glimpse into the World War II experience without a scatter brained school girl in sight.
Serial Experiments Lain
This television show is beyond any definition. It’s narrative is disturbing and fragmented. In terms of its creative vision, it’s comparable to none aside from perhaps Metal Gear Solid 2.
Great Teacher Onizuka
Based on the hit manga and drama, this anime features the exploits of the teacher we all wished we had. Even though it features some of the zany humor endemic to most animes, it still possesses a subtle criticism of Japan’s rigid education system and displays a mildly accurate portrayal of modern Japanese culture, except livelier.
Hayao Miyazaki has an entire collection of masterpieces beneath his belt. Every one and anyone with a lick of taste considers Miyazaki bearable at the very least and while it’s debatable as to which of his films is the best, but how many have earned an Academy Award?
Possibly one of the most popular anime movies outside of Japan aside from Ghost in the Shell and Akira, this film is pure action gold. While it may not be anything intellectually stimulating, but at the very least it’s free of the more annoying elements of anime and is chock-full of adrenaline while we’re at it.