View from Mudsock Heights

For the last little while I’ve been watching a remarkable program, “Wonder Egg Priority,” that adopts an unconventional approach in considering the tragedy of child suicides. Before that, I watched and very much enjoyed a series, “Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai,” which despite the weird title takes a metaphysical view of adolescent issues. My favorite movie is the highly praised “Your Name,” a comedy-romance-thriller-mystery, though I’m told I’ll have a new favorite when I see “A Silent Voice.”

They’re all Japanese cartoons.

We in the West call Japanese cartoons “anime.” And here, anime is often looked down upon. I propose that its reputation is undeserved. If you miss out on the best of anime, you are missing a lot of great art, as good as the best artistry found in live-action motion pictures and television shows, and often better.

A year ago I hadn’t ever seen any anime. Then, by accident, I clicked on a YouTube link and found an over-the-top discussion by a young woman, Sydney Poniewaz, known as “Sydsnap,” who specializes in dark and lewd Japanese popular fiction in several media. Her posts led me to her boyfriend, Garnt Maneetapho, known as “Gigguk,” who has produced many intelligent and thoughtful (and really funny) pieces on anime; he in turn led to Joey Bizinger, an Australian-Japanese lad who posts as “The Anime Man” and who is also highly knowledgeable. (They all, by the way, embrace excessive profanity, which doesn’t bother me but which isn’t for everyone.) They make clear that a.) there’s a huge amount of anime and b.) much of it isn’t worth one’s time, both of which assertions I have been able independently to confirm. They also pointed to some really good stuff.

Anime does take some getting used to. You catch on to the tropes and conventions quickly enough. These include but are not limited to hash marks by the heads of angry characters to illustrate that they’re angry, corkscrew eyeballs when a character is confused or unconscious, and the peculiar practice of overly animated oversized bouncing breasts (sometimes with accompanying sound effects) and a fixation on panties, collectively called “fan service.” Not all of these are in all anime series and movies, and some anime have none of them. Their presence or absence is oddly not tied to the quality of the show. (Anime also has what amounts to soft- and hard-core pornography, the latter called hentai. Anime is age-rated, as with live-action movies.)

You very quickly learn that while there are anime for children, the medium is mostly for adults or those who believe themselves to be adults. They cater to adult tastes no matter the genre. You’ll find great comedies, exciting dramas, remarkable science fiction, fantasy that will consume you, and more. Once you get into the good stuff you’ll find yourself binging it – which was welcome during the last year, there being no better escape from a world turned unattractive. Anime can be more immersive than you’d expect cartoons to be.

Starting out, you decide whether you prefer the “purer” subtitled or the more accessible dubbed versions of a particular show. The battle between “subs and dubs” is fiercely fought. There can be no winner. All else being equal, I prefer dubs, because I find it easy to watch the action or read the subtitles but not both. Still, sometimes the subtitles are truer translations and occasionally (as with the superb “Monogatari”), a dubbed version would kill everything good about the show. (In the case of “Monogatari,” there is sometimes so much text on screen that the pause button quickly becomes your best friend; that having been said, it is the best series of series ever made.)

In case you’d like to have a taste, a few recommendations are in order. A great first anime series is season one of “KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World!” It’s a sweet and delightful comedy with lovable characters (especially Megumin!). The closing song – ED, as they’re called – is “Chiisana Boukensha,” which I had seen and loved long before I’d ever heard of the show.

There’s a lot of really good music in anime. The ED of “Bakemonogatari,” the first series of Monogatari, is a delight. As a rite of passage I spent New Year’s Eve watching all 26+1 episodes of the legendary and influential “Neon Genesis Evangelion,” and the only thing I much liked about it was “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis,” the opening song, or OP, and probably the most beloved song in all of anime. When you watch “Wonder Egg Priority,” the OP practically announces that you might as well start crying now. Heaven help you if you’re an “Anohana” fan and are in public when “Secret Base” comes on.

My very favorite anime, “FLCL” (pronounced “Fooly Cooly”) would be nowhere near as remarkable without the evocative English voice acting and the perfect soundtrack, performed by a band called The Pillows.

“FLCL” may not be a good first anime to see – I’ve watched the whole six-episode series a few times and while it always brings me joy I do not understand a lick of it. I think of it as a three-hour surrealistic visual fantasy poem. (It was made by the same people who made “Neon Genesis Evangelion,” a show that kinda-sorta made sense until the end, when the wheels came off. A newly written ending episode didn’t help much; nor did a three-movie series known here as “How I spent New Years Day.” The fourth movie, “Evangelion 3.0+1.0” was to have been released two days ago. It might finally provide the decent ending disciples of the Evangelion religion have awaited for 25 years.

Anime series often have awful or nonexistent endings. That’s because when they’re made it’s not known whether there will be another season. One of the most bemoaned of these is “The Devil is a Part-Timer,” a very worthwhile comedy despite its abrupt ending. People still hoped for another season – after eight years. And, this just in, there apparently will be one: Saturday a second season was announced. (That wouldn’t be a record delay: there were 18 years between the first season of FLCL and the nowhere-near-as-good second and third seasons which came out three months apart in 2018.)

Another recommendation (in addition to all of the above): “Shirobako,” anime’s love note to anime.

I’ve left out a lot, especially epics and the like. An example is the very popular “Attack on Titan” in which ridiculous-looking humanoid monsters try to kill and eat people who aren’t at all likable, so who cares? I must mention “Ex-Arm,” a current series that wasn’t so much produced as exuded, like pus from a boil, and that is the current laughing stock among anime fans. “One-Punch Man” and especially “Mob Psycho 100” are excellent in the funny-but-violent category. You can find shows that align with your tastes.

You might want to take a look at what’s available — or, as the experts mentioned above would say, crawl down into this rabbit hole. You aren’t likely to regret it, even though you might never emerge.

Anime is a place where art and value reside.

Editor’s note: Dennis E. Powell’s column appears every Wednesday in The Athens NEWS. You can reach him at dep@drippingwithirony.com.

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