It’s no secret that I’m a fan of animated television shows. I’ve written about “Voltron,” “Samurai Jack,” “Steven Universe,” “Rick and Morty” and other shows in this column. However, my love for anime is a bit more reserved.
As a kid I watched cartoons imported from Japan on a regular basis. You couldn’t grow up in the 90s without being a fan of “Pokemon,” “Digimon,” “Yu-Gi-Oh!,” “Dragon Ball Z,” “Gundam” or whatever else was on Saturday mornings.
But I outgrew them or lost interest from the clichéd stories.
Note: I’m only referring to television shows. I’ve seen almost every movie made by the fantastic Studio Ghibli. Given the chance I could watch Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” or “Princess Mononoke” any day of the week.
I didn’t watch a single anime episode after middle school. It probably would have stayed that way until “Attack on Titan” came out in 2013.
The premise is that all of humanity now lives within a country surrounded by a series of concentric 50-meter high walls to protect them from Titans, grotesque humanoids that eat normal humans. The walls, which some believe were built by a divine hand and think it taboo to leave, haven’t been breached in over 100 years. Of course things don’t remain peaceful or else the show wouldn’t have much of a plot.
Over 10,000 people die in the attack on the outer wall and retaliation is futile. A Titan’s only weakness is a deep slice across the back of the neck. Soldiers are equipped with special grappling gear that help them get near the behemoths in forests and buildings like Spider-man yet they can be squashed as easily as a fly.
Like “Game of Thrones,” the stakes are high; no character is safe from death on the show. I won’t give away all the details, but characters eventually develop special abilities to make the fight fairer. Though it still isn’t easy and moments of peace don’t last.
I wasn’t the only one to enjoy the anime. It was the number one selling anime and spawned a live action movie and miniseries in Japan. In the U.S., the manga used as source material became a “New York Times” best seller.
After I finished the season I decided to catch up on other hits I missed. Thanks to the magic of the internet and niche streaming sites it’s more convenient than ever to watch foreign media.
I started with the then recently released “Kids on the Slope,” which follows high schoolers in the 60s as rock n roll replaces dying jazz. The music is just as an important character as those seen on screen so I pursue other works directed by Shinichiro Watanabe. That leads me to that classic space western “Cowboy Bebop.” The genre is exactly what it sounds like—just replace steeds for ships and saloons for space stations and you’re set. Naturally, bebop jazz is prevalent in the soundtrack.
I proceed in chronological order and watched “Samurai Champloo” next. This time Watanabe goes with hip-hop. Later on in “Space Dandy” the music du jour is Japanese pop. The combinations don’t sound good on paper but they honestly harmonize beautifully. The fact that I bothered to learn the name of an anime director is a testament to his talent.
I scratch my philosophical itch with the popular “Neon Genesis Evangelion” and the stylized “Monogatari” series questioning existence and agency. From there I see how the magical clothing in “Kill la Kill” smartly critiques anime’s poor portrayal of women characters. To get political I watch “Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet” and its antiwar themes.
Finally I have fun with the short and sweet “FLCL.” Clocking in at only six half-hour episodes the quirky show provides a much-needed mental break. Carefree and smoothly animated, it was a big inspiration to Nickelodeon’s “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” and its sequel “The Legend of Korra.”
Now to return to the impetus of the column. The second season of “Attack on Titan” premiered on streaming service Crunchyroll on the first of April. I honestly believed it was a prank because I thought it would never come out. Still in the dark about the nature of titans, things get interesting when the season starts with an alarming discovery of a titan within the walls. The third episode airs this Saturday and I urge you to catch up and be ready to watch by then.