The Five Japanese anime you should be watching now — and the five you will be watching in the future
In the 1980s, while Americans were worrying about losing dominance in the automobile industry, Japan was taking over the animation business. Now, 60 percent of the world’s animation is made in Japan, where it’s a $20 billion industry. The good news is that anime is almost uniformly better than the cartoons you grew up with in the ’80s; and since the Japanese never decided cartoons were just for kids, they’ve made plenty of animation that’s worth your while as a bitter adult. Here are ten of the best anime out there: five you can watch now, five you’ll have to hop a flight to japan to see (at least for now).
Five to watch now
Five to watch in the future
|If you haven’t heard of Naruto, add the word “yet.” This tale of ninjas in training has the potential to hit Pokemon-big soon, so expect kids to start pelting you with imaginary throwing stars any time now. Screw-up Naruto, sullen Sasuke, and spunky Sakura try to climb the ninja ranks, and end up facing countless bad guys, resulting in awesome ninja fights with crazy powers. Naruto is everything you wished your ’80s action cartoons had been: the characters are basic but endearing, moral lessons are learned, and people literally get riddled with throwing stars. It airs Saturdays on Cartoon Network’s Toonami programming block.|
|Fullmetal Alchemist is one of those anime that is both metaphor-filled masterpiece and massively entertaining; you’re unlikely to find a better cartoon on the air. Two brothers, Ed and Al Elric, try to resurrect their dead mother with forbidden alchemy. Ed loses an arm and a leg, and Al loses his entire body, but Ed manages to bind Al’s soul to a giant suit of armor. The two set out through an awfully familiar fantasy world to find a way to return their bodies to normal. Hilarious, heartbreaking, and full of plenty of modern political allegory, Fullmetal Alchemist airs Saturdays on Adult Swim.|
|If the idea of Akira Kurosawa’s seven samurai fighting giant robots doesn’t pique your interest, seek medical attention. The rest of you: turn to the Independent Film Channel to watch seven re-imagined samurai re-enact scenes and dialogue from the 1954 masterpiece in a sci-fi setting while slashing through hundreds of the giant mecha “bandits” that threaten a pathetic farming village. It’s got all the drama and commentary on class relations of the original, plus a robot Kikuchiyo.|
At first glance, Zatch Bell looks to be a normal kids’ cartoon. Then it slowly s tarts to dawn on you: is that small boy wearing a dress? He is. Zatch is a mamodo (a kid-friendly term for a demon) who, along with 99 other mamodo, has been sent to Earth to fight; the last mamodo standing will be named king. The catch is that the mamodo need a human to read a spell book to activate their powers, and Zatch is stuck with surly, super-smart Kiyo. So there’s lots of fighting, learning about friendship, and pure Japanese weirdness: Kiyo’s would-be girlfriend is quite mad; Zatch is mercilessly beaten by small girls; and, in the Japanese original, the dress-wearing Zatch sports no underpants. Thankfully, it’s edited for Saturdays on Toonami.
|In the roaring ’30s, a nun and a good-hearted demon fight the minions of Satan in New York. It’s one of those plots only the Japanese seem able to realize to full effect (and without cracking up). Plus, it’s worth watching for the peculiarly foreign view of both US history and Catholicism, for nun Rosette not only packs plenty of heat, but also has a special risqué nun habit to aid in her demon slaying. And there’s a wee mite of poignancy: the devil has kidnapped her brother, and Chrono, the kind demon, is inadvertently stealing Rosette’s life as they fight against evil. Watch ’em on Showtime Beyond on Fridays.|
These anime are not available in the US at this time (and if you try to buy them online, you’ll get either bootlegs or region 2 DVDs, which won’t play on your standard Yankee DVD player). Just read this as a warning to get ready for them.
| The 2000 short movie Blood was so awesome that it 1) made Quentin Tarantino hire its animators, Production I.G, for Kill Bill’s equally violent animation sequence, and 2) made the eternal tale of schoolgirls fighting vampires seem new again. This long-awaited TV series is not necessarily a sequel, but it does star the original movie’s heroine, Saya (with a makeover and amnesia), and plenty of monstrous vampires, called Chiropterans, for her to slay with her trusty katana sword, natch. Sony picked up the rights to the TV series but hasn’t yet announced an American-TV release date. |
|In a utopian yet exceedingly dark future, Ergo Proxy star Real Mayor hangs with an android to try and solve a supposedly impossible murder mystery, which leads to a rather gothic conspiracy. Evanescence lead singer Amy Lee isn’t trying to solve a murder — but you’d be forgiven for thinking so, since the be-gothed vocalist looks just like Mayor. Hey, Radiohead dug the cartoon enough to make their song “Paranoid Android” its closing theme. Although nothing has been signed, this series seems bound for Adult Swim.|
|Two girls named Nana happen upon each other on their first night in Tokyo and decide to move in together. One Nana is a high-strung, naive, impossible romantic; the other Nana, a badass rock star in the making. Sure, it’s a sexy Odd Couple, but calling it that doesn’t do justice to the funny, accurate, and shockingly entertaining tale of two friends trying to deal with relationships — awful and otherwise — in modern Tokyo. The original manga series is so popular in Japan that it spawned not only this cartoon, but also two live-action movies.|
|Bleach is kin to Naruto in that they both appear in Japan’s mega-popular weekly comic anthology Shonen Jump. High-school student Ichigo is irritated by his ability to see ghosts — and he grows more irritated when he suddenly gets drafted as a warrior to fight evil spirits called Hollows. Like Naruto, there’s a constant influx of new drama, new baddies, and new powers to fight with which to fight them. Bleach is set to debut on Adult Swim in September.|
|The title says it all: one man, one Afro, and one sword travel a violent but hip trail to avenge a father’s death. Probably. On the way, he’ll most likely fight bizarre bad guys, including a sword-wielding dude in a bear costume, possibly some giant mutants, and definitely hordes and hordes of doomed samurai fodder. A truly international-minded anime, Samuel Jackson will provide the voice for Afro in this cartoon and star as the titular badass in a live-action adaptation slated for the future. The cartoon will air this fall on Spike TV.|
Robert Bricken is the editor of Anime Insider magazine.
, Samurai 7
, Adult Swim