by Charlie Jordin
Whether you love it or hate it, anime is more popular than ever. With streaming services such as Netflix having over 60 anime titles available, it is more accessible than ever in the UK. Despite the genre’s popularity, it is also one of the most controversial due to its graphic violence, hypersexual representations of women and gratuitous nudity. Frequent areas of criticism are the representations of female characters, who often have unrealistic, out of proportion bodies with oversized breasts and vapid personalities. Too often female characters exist only for the male gaze, or ‘fan service’ as it is known in the industry, which has put many fans off anime. This is an issue that Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki, one of the most revered figures in anime, has also criticised. He condemned modern anime’s creators for not ‘watching real people’ and portraying women in an unrealistic way. Many others simply dislike anime for its ‘cutesy’ art style or think that it is for children.
However, many anime series are also thought-provoking and challenging, with creative and immersing narratives, beautiful animation and strong female characters. Below are my top picks of anime series to try, whether you dislike anime or have never seen it before:
Set in modern Tokyo, a young character designer is under pressure to create a character as popular as her last. As she walks home alone one night, she is attacked with a baseball bat by a mysterious assailant wearing roller skates. The police do not believe her bizarre story until more crimes are reported thought to be committed by the same figure. As hysteria spreads, the crimes become more and more violent, whilst the police are helpless against the growing sense of terror which seems to exacerbate the attacks.
The series is unrelentingly disturbing, exploring uncomfortable themes such as suicide, rape and paedophilia, criticising modern society’s urge to escape reality through technology and fantasy. The eclectic and unconventional cast include an office worker with multiple personality disorder who moonlights as a prostitute, a senile old man with the ability to predict the future and a toy dog that comes to life. Difficult to watch at times, the Lynchian, surreal nature of the series will resonate with fans of psychological thrillers; its influence can be seen in films such as Inception.
Attack on Titan is set in a dystopian future in which humanity has been almost wiped out by enormous, humanoid titans who eat people indiscriminately and without reason. Whilst the rest of the world has been conquered by titans, the remaining survivors reside inside huge walls where they live in peace until a colossal titan appears, breaking the walls and unleashing hell. As three childhood friends vow to fight against the titans, the series explores the human race’s relentless determination to survive.
The beauty of the series is its mythic narrative, simplicity and of course, the titans. The titans are so terrifying because they bring out a primal fear of being eaten alive and humans are helpless against them. This is why the premise of Attack on Titan is so effective and genuinely scary. The show also challenges conventional anime by refusing to sexualise female characters. Male and female characters dress the same, are treated the same and are equally good at fighting. Beware – the show is addictive, so prepare yourself for a Netflix binge! A second series is on its way this year, so there isn’t a better time to watch than now.
Samurai Champloo is a refreshing interpretation of the samurai genre, or Chanbara as it is known in Japan. It follows a waitress and two swordsmen whose lives collide during a brawl in a teashop. The waitress hires them to be her bodyguards on a trip across Japan to find ‘the samurai who smells of sunflowers’, a mysterious figure from her past.
Its modernised, hip-hop soundtrack blends seamlessly with the backdrop of stoic Japan, with factual historical events interwoven in the story. The series is fast-paced, with each episode focusing on a different part of their journey and the characters they meet on their way. Heart-breaking at times, we learn more about the main characters as the journey goes on and we begin to see the humanity behind their violent actions. The beautiful animation both embraces traditional Japanese artwork and modern anime style, creating an unusual visual feast for the audience. The show explores a part of history that is rarely seen on Western screens and is a must-watch.
A fun and visually stunning combination of the Sci-fi and Western genre, Cowboy Bebop is considered one of the best anime series of all time. The charismatic cast, iconic Jazz soundtrack and post-modern charm are some of the many reasons it has been hailed as a masterpiece both in Japan and in the West.
Set in 2071, Earth is now uninhabitable and people live on moons and planets. The series follows a group of bounty hunters travelling through space in an old fishing vessel in search for big money. The series is action-packed and humorous but also deeply affecting as the story goes on and we discover more about the characters. Fans of films like Bladerunner are sure to enjoy the series.