I started last week's column with a Spoiler Warning, and I think doing the same for this week is a fantastic idea. You don't want to spoil the ending for choice #1 the same way I did several months before I even got into the series. Sigh. Thanks, 4chan.
So we're ready to keep counting down the supposed Ten Best Moments in anime, a list I put together for another website. A link to the feature will be available at the end of this column, as will punch and pie.
Before I resume though, I should note that this is interesting timing for a "Best Of" list. The anime community is currently buzzing with big news: anime distributors ADV might be in some class of financial trouble. It's too early to know anything for sure, but this might mark the beginning of some major reforms in the anime industry. Publishers may start to exercise greater scrutiny in deciding what gets translated and what doesn't. Putting more thought behind such selections can only be beneficial.
That said, there's no disputing the greatness of the following clips. I guess it's up for debate about whether or not you, as a person, feel they're the absolute best…but speaking for myself, these are moments that won't fade away from me even as I'm gibbering to myself in an Old Folk's Home.
4. Akira -- Tetsuo Transforms
Many fans broke their anime cherries with Otomo's bizarre science fiction film. Animated in 1988, Akira's fluid animation was an enormous step away from the budget anime that was produced (and sadly, still produced) by Japan at the time.
Every country experiences an animation Renaissance of sorts, America included. But whereas American animation reached new heights with the help of beautifully animated Disney films like Beauty and the Beast, Japan broke new ground by meticulously animating piles of slithering guts and exploding heads. The transformation of the black sheep Tetsuo into a pulsating mound of flesh is as disturbing as Tetsuo himself is disturbed. One thing's for sure, though--climaxes this memorable don't occur in movies often, animated or no.
3. My Neighbour Totoro -- The Bus Stop Scene
Sandwiched in between two of anime's most horrific events is one of anime's most endearing scenes. You can't have a "Best Of Anime" list without referencing Studio Ghibli (it's true, I looked it up)--and heck, a "Ten Best of Studio Ghibli" would be a hell of a list on its own.
The bus stop scene in My Neighbour Totoro is simple: The giant cat-like Totoro uses an umbrella for the first time and revels in the sound of the raindrops on canvas. It sounds like a mundane moment, but Ghibli really excels with turning the smallest movements and sounds into wonders: The way the rain drips on Totoro's nose, the experienced and casual way Satsuki holds her sister, and the sheer fun of being in the rain--when you're protected by an umbrella.
The scene ends when the multi-legged Cat Bus shows up to pick up Totoro. Actually, scratch what I said about My Neighbour Totoro having friendly imagery: That Cat Bus still manages to steal a few hours of sleep from me.
2. Barefoot Gen -- Hiroshima Bombing
If there's one thing anime is equally praised and criticised for, it's the fact that the medium doesn't pull any punches. Barefoot Gen, the story of a young boy who survived the Hiroshima bombings, even garnered applause from Art Spiegelman (author of Maus) for its unapologetic realism.
The scene referenced here starts with Gen's family going about their morning business moments before the bombing. We watch them do their daily tasks while knowing precisely what's coming. And when it comes, it's unforgettable. People left unprotected by the atomic bomb's heat literally melt away. The blast that follows propels shards of glass into their skin and eyes. Collapsed beams from houses impale those unfortunate enough to be caught under them.
Barefoot Gen isn't a blame piece, however. The bombing scene is animated with such realism to remind us about what nuclear weapons are underneath all the swagger about terrorism and MAD: "The power of gods in the hands of children," to borrow a quote from The Chrysalids.
And on that cheerful note, we're down to numero uno:
1. Cowboy Bebop -- "Bang."
Sorry if this doesn't come as a surprise, but I didn't have the heart to even consider another contender. The final five minutes of Cowboy Bebop are stunning, an adjective that doesn't even begin to describe the mastery that went behind them. Spike's final fight with Vicious is worthy of being called one of the greatest confrontations in movie history--and in my mind that includes big-budget live action as well as animation--but it's his death that will, ironically, live forever. The silence, the choreography, the blinding lights…and, of course, Spike's final word.
Thus concludes this small countdown. Thanks for hanging on! Clips of all the selected scenes are available here, and they're all worth watching.
I lied about the punch and pie, though. Sorry.