Greetings! I crawl out of the hell that is everyday life to being you my memories of love.
Some of you who regularly consume this blog will note that I have yet to introduce myself properly. I am a 26 year old project manager for a government owned and controlled corporation in the Philippine gaming/casino industry. I graduated with a degree in Political Science and I am currently taking up my Masters Degree in Financial Engineering. Aside from anime, I enjoy geeking out about economics with my friends such as ghostlightning (you may not be aware, but he’s a hardcore nerd as well). Lastly, I play a lot of tennis in my free time and used to compete as a Junior in tournaments.
The thing is, I am here to write about anime, and none of the above tells you anything about my personal tastes and biases which may have become readily apparent in my posts (well just one so far really), as well as my rants and arguments with ghostlightning. As such, especially since it seems quite trendy in the blogosphere right now (see riex’s, ghostlightning’s, 21st century digital boy’s and otousan’s posts), I give you my epic love story with anime spanning a period of 20 years. It’s a story full of twists and turns, joy and heartbreak, betrayal and redemption.
Please note that this post, as an “about” pertains more to myself and how the following top 11 (see, I did something different) anime affected me, rather than the anime themselves. As such, for your ease of reference, I have liberally linked these anime to their respective Wikipedia articles. Also, if any of you would like me to post a more in depth review of any of these anime, please make such request in the comments section of this post and I will try my best. Warning, long post is long and very personal, so please bear with me. This was something of a catharsis for me as well. And so, without further ado:
It was a fateful day in my childhood when my father came home with 2 betamax tapes from the nearby rental store. One was “The Empire Strikes Back” which began my love affair with Star Wars, the other was an obscure title called “Warriors of the Wind”. For those of you who don’t know, this was the heavily edited and dumbed down version of that venerable Hayao Miyazaki classic, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. It didn’t matter. I was absolutely blown away. The gorgeous animation brought the beautiful, well thought out post-apocalyptic world to life. Nausicaa was a wonderful heroine and the antagonist, Princess Kushana was equally compelling (although she was a shadow of her manga self). In fact, this may have started my love for strong female characters.
Hitherto, my experience of cartoons was a bunch of funny animals chasing each other and inflicting pain with various kitchen/garden implements. I was not prepared for the complexity of the characters and epic story. A lot of people vilify Warriors of the Wind because it butchered Miyazaki’s original work, but without it, I may not have gotten into anime at all.
Much later on, I got to watch the original work and more importantly, read the manga. For those of you who haven’t read it, you owe it to yourself to go out and buy the set right now. In my opinion, its Miyazaki’s Magnum Opus and contains the purest distillation of all the themes in his animated works (I hope to write a post on this in the future).
Several years would go by before I encountered another anime, and what an anime! Although both Nausicaa and GITS depicted dystopian futures, and have strong female leads, the similarities end there. GITS was gritty and realistic, going beyond science fiction and into futurism. GITS gave me my love of hard science fiction (one of the reasons I found it so hard to like super robots). Also, the violence, nudity and sheer maturity of the story made me feel like an adult.
GITS made me aware that there was more of this type of media to be had. I searched feverishly through laserdisc shops and video rental stores for more. What I found was an obscure title called Project A-ko.
This anime was just FUN! The excellent action scenes, hilarious story and well designed characters/backgrounds made it a ridiculously enjoyable experience. Come to think about it, Project A-ko may have been the first mishmash of anime genres. You had shounen type super-heroics (word of God has it that the lead character is the daughter of Clark Kent and Wonder Woman. You even get to see her mom embroidering the stylized S on a shirt!) including super powers and called out attacks (Akigayama Missile!), you had high school comedy (with Ken of Fist of the North Star Dressed up as a giant school girl), shoujo semi-yuri content, and most importantly GIANT BATTLESHIPS AND MECHA! This was a guided tour of everything anime had to offer, and I was hooked.
Although I watched every available anime I could during this period (including Dragonball, Akazukin Chacha, Yaiba), the next anime that would capture my imagination would be an American adaption of the venerable mecha anime, SDF Macross (Robotech). The funny thing is, I encountered this anime in the unlikeliest place. On a trip to the UK as an exchange student, my foster family had just one VHS with the 1st 2 episodes. I can’t remember how many times I watched it! (In hindsight, I may have not represented the people from my country in the best way).
Here at last was mecha that made sense! Military aesthetic, no ridiculously drawn out transformation sequences or called out attacks. It would be much later before I grasped the sheer genius of Macross which married elements of the burgeoning real robot genre started by Gundam with traditional super robot elements (Macross ATTACK!).
Also, the love triangle had me riveted! I tuned in every day just to see who Rick Hunter would choose. Some would say that Robotech Minmay was made out to be an odius whore, but I loved her too! Although of course my heart belonged to Lisa Hayes. The “Force of Arms” episode numbers among my most watched episodes EVER.
During the earlier days of my childhood, anime was quite difficult to come by in the Philippine. Aside from the titles listed above, there existed several other adaptions of popular super robot anime such as Voltes V, Daimos and the Voltron Series (Actually a combination of Go-Lion and Dairugger XV).
As such, the primary outlet for my nascent geekiness was through video games. Before I was an anime fan, I was a video game fan and I loved all the animated adaptions (mostly American) of popular video games such as the Mario and Zelda series (via Captain N the Game Master) as well as the Sonic series which was considerable of better quality. Imagine my surprise however when browsing at my neighborhood laserdisc shop, I saw an animated cartoon of my then favorite videogame, Street Fighter II. Of course, I snapped it up immediately.
It turned out to be light-years ahead of any other video game adaption I had ever seen, and approached the level of my beloved Nausicaa and GITS. The movie truly succeeded in bringing to life the core concept of the video game, seamlessly blending key special moves with excellent fight choreography. In fact, the opening fight scene between Ryu and Sagat in the middle of a lightning storm on a grassy field remains one of my favorite fight scenes to this day.
The characters were extremely well done, conforming to exactly how I as a fan expected them to look and behave. In particular, my favorite character, M. Bison (or Vega in the Japanese version) was finally established as a true villain (something the game couldn’t do very well). The animation (with a movie budget of course) was absolutely breathtaking. The music of both the American and Jap versions of the film (I watched it raw the first time) was appropriate and set the tone for the fights well.
My high school years were a dark time for me in terms of anime, video games and geekiness in general. I was feeling pressure to fit in with the crowd, hang out with the cool kids, get a girl, etc. I constantly lied to myself that I had outgrown the trappings of my youth and was moving on to grownup things like clothes cars and girls.
Luckily for me however, my brothers continued to be avid anime fans during this period, as such, I was forced into watching this particular title. I tried very very hard to hate it, find it childish, anything. I failed miserably. I still remember how I felt during the opening scene when Kenshin’s Master decided to take him as a pupil in the field of graves he had dug for his loved ones and their killers alike. “To you I will give something special”. The director may as well have been talking to the audience through this line. What we got was a beautiful, tragic love story which was at once a tale of original sin and redemption. We got the birth of one of the most compelling anime characters of all time. The entire work was gorgeously animated, had a wonderful soundtrack, and excellent pacing. The love story between the two leads was understated, but heartrendingly beautiful. Lastly, the fight scenes where excellently executed, but didn’t overshadow the major themes of the story.
After I saw this, I returned to the drudgery of everyday life, but something always tugged at me from the corner of my mind. I knew what I was missing.
The renaissance of anime in my life started when I entered my second year in college. I had to drive my brothers to school every morning, but had an hour free before class to hang out at my friend’s house (Great Boota another not-so-closet anime geek who hangs at the SRWG-W forums). Over the course of this period, I had been playing video games to pass the time, so he introduced me to a Japanese game called Super Robot Wars Alpha. Further, to help me appreciate the game, he forced me to watch 1 or 2 episodes of each mecha series that appeared in each stage. SRW Alpha has, arguably, one of the best casts in the series ever including:
a. Macross Plus
b. Neon Genesis Evangelion
c. SDF Macross
e. Most UC Gundam (In particular, 0083, 0080, Zeta, CCA and V)
f. Gundam Wing
I didn’t stand a chance. I remembered love.
The first of these series that I really got into was Macross Plus directed by Shinichiro Watanabe (who instantly became one of my favorite directrs). Much has been written on how good this series is, and honestly, what else is there to say? Awesome, lovable characters (yes, even Guld at the end), the sleek and sexy mecha designs (you can’t go wrong with Macross), stellar music (you can’t go wrong with Yoko Kanno either) and a grown up story that doesn’t talk down to you or insult your intelligence. This anime reminded me how awesome Macross, and by extension all anime, was.
When Evamania hit Philippine shores, I was in the midst of my anime hiatus, However I was astonished at the sheer diversity of fans that the series was able to capture. I remember, half the track team at my high school was talking about it and buying merchandise. Years later, as part of the SRW Alpha Cast, I had the chance to see what all the fuss was about and found that it was nothing less than sheer genius!
What can I say about Eva? This series has already been praised to the heavens (and ironically RAGED to the fiery pits of hell) for the depth of its characters and themes, awesome mecha designs, well choreographed action, and of course the SERVICE! What it reminded me most of however, were the old Godzilla movies I used to watch as a kid. You had two monsters slugging it out in the middle of a city while humanity struggles to survive. Asuka’s final battle against the mass produced Evas (still considered one of the best mecha fights ever) reminded me of this kind of visceral action.
For me, where Gundam straddles the divide between the Real Robot and the Super Robot while leaning closer to the Real, Eva was similar except it was closer to the super robots of old. The realistically conceived aesthetic of the show, as well as the lengths taken to present the show as something intellectual, allowed me to maintain my delicate suspension of disbelief, which is absolutely necessary for me to enjoy a show.
The third anime in my holy trinity of gateway to mecha, Gundam 0083 validated something that I had been thinking about ever since I saw my first Gundam model kit in the toys section of my favorite department store. Gundams just look awesome.
To me, Gundam was more than some foreign TV show (in fact, I was only dimly aware that had been animated at all). Gundam was those rows and rows of impossibly cool model kits that I could never buy, never build, and never play with. Gundam was WANT for more than 15 years. And there it stood before me, my faith rewarded. It was just as cool and stylish as I imagined it to be. The floodgates of my fandom were opened.
While I will be the first to concede that 0083s story and characters may be wanting (ok fine, Kou Uraki and especially Nina Purpleton top the list of most annoying Gundam leads ever), the action and mecha designs were second to none and more than made up for these shortcomings. In particular, my first mecha-fetish was for the Dendrobium and Neue-Ziel mobile armors that Kou and Gato used in the final battle.
It would be years later before I would watch the core components of the UC Gundam canon (1st Gundam, Zeta and CCA), which would solidify my undying love for the franchise. However, although I would like to say otherwise, 0083 contrived to make me into the UCtard I am today by showing me just how awesome Gundam can be, satisfying in one fell swoop years and years of longing for the pretty gunpla kits I looked at as a child.
The months after my reintroduction to anime served as my period of rediscovery of everything that I had loved all along but discarded. Those were good days were my backlog of anime classics was so great that I was watching masterpieces every week. And so it was that I spotted a poster at the corner of my friend’s room with the words “Princess Mononoke” scrawled above the names of Billy Crudup, et. al. (a lot of big names dubbed the English version this anime). When I asked him about it, he casually mentioned that is was ONLY the greatest anime of all time. I was instantly intrigued, so I asked to view it. I wound up watching it a total of 17 times straight (mostly because I showed it to anyone and everyone with an inclination to watch).
Here was the Nausicaa of my childhood, but more angry and feral, the once immature Asbel had grown up and come into his own, and even my old friends kushana and kurotowa were here! I had finally returned to Uncle Haiao’s house, and it was magic. I have done a lot of praising with regard to the animation, soundtrack and writing for the previous works on this list, and of course, the same is true here. But for me, the works of studio Ghibli at once represent the best of anime and at the same time transcend the genre. And of all Hayao’s works (yes including the technically superior spirited away), Princess Mononoke remains my favorite with its perfect blend of high fantasy, action, romance, and environmental themes.
The last item on my list was a relative latecomer compared to the rest. Also, where all the previous anime came at a time where I was discovering myself, I saw TTGL when I was at a relatively stable place in my life. I was happy with my career, I had gotten back into tennis and lost much weight, and I was giving risk management lectures at a major Philippine university. Also, with regard to anime, I was comfortable with my tastes and very up to date with the latest releases thanks to the wonders of torrent.
Anyone in the anime world knows what a huge phenomenon TTGL was. However, given my distaste for Super Robots, I had decided to ignore the hype at the time. Luckily, in a fit of boredom, I decided to pick up the series.
After years of dissing Super Robots as childish and stupid, I finally understood! It took the purest distillation of themes of the genre, some of the highest quality animation in a TV series ever, awesome writing, lovable characters and unbelievable amounts of bombast, but I finally understood! The final frontier of mecha anime had opened before me, and I was finally ready for it. After the awesomeness of TTGL, I re-watched Giant Robo, Gao Gai Gar, and a slew of other Super Robot anime finally learning to enjoy hot blood and guts (wow, that kinda sounded off). More than that however, TTGL is one of those few things that changed me beyond anime, invading my very life. I had struggled with my thesis proposal while I was watching the anime and I was struck by one scene in the final battle. When the Anti-spiral asks Simon how he managed to acquire such power, Simon replies something to the effect that “I am like a drill, if you make even a small rotation, you move forward just a little bit, all it takes is one little step”. I finished my thesis, then watched the last episode of TTGL another 20 times.
And I’m spent! Those of you who are still reading, thank you very much for taking this trip down memory lane with me. I hope that this will give you a greater insight as to any opinions I may express in subsequent posts on this blog. I also hope that I have been able to share some new anime for you to enjoy. Most of all however, I hope that, through this post, you have gotten to know me a little better.