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Metal and Meat

By Janet Houck     December 07, 2006


GHOST IN THE SHELL: STAND ALONE COMPLEX Volume 1.
© Manga/Bandai

It’s a fact. Most anime fans are sci-fi fans as well. Besides anime conventions growing out of sci-fi conventions, sci-fi fans are just more open-minded than the rest of humanity. They’re more willing to give a TV show an episode or two before flipping the channel, and most are happy to give a try to bizarre foreign cartoons. Here are some of my favorite picks for anime for the Sci-Fi TV crowd. 

First and foremost on any sci-fi anime list is Ghost in the Shell. The original film in 1995 was a cult favorite, with the beautiful, yet tough as nails cyborg Major Kusanagi searching for the illusive hacker AI, The Puppet Master. Then came the Stand Alone Complex TV series in 2002, where Section 9, headed by the Major and Aramaki, the politically astute section head, investigates the case of The Laughing Man. Due to the popularity of this series, a second season was made in 2004, S.A.C. 2nd Gig, where Section 9 investigates The Individual Eleven, a terrorist group involves in refugee rights. In between the seasons of S.A.C. came Ghost in the Shell: Innocence, the second movie. I myself found this to be probably the weakest of the franchise to date, as it relies upon the viewer being very familiar with the franchise in order to understand the story, and it runs after the original movie, but before the TV series. Additionally, Dreamworks, the US distributor of the film, offered the film only with subtitles, and the early copies containing only closed captioned subtitles. This is one of the few series that I overly prefer dubbed, as I feel that the Manga Entertainment (distributors of all of the other GitS anime) cast does an excellent job. There is another GitS movie on its way to US shores in 2007, GitS S.A.C.: Solid State Society, continuing off of the Stand Alone Complex TV shows. So you have time to start checking out this series if you enjoy your cyberpunk sleek and full of guns and politics. 

The purists would never forgive me if I didn’t mention Akira, the touchstone of anime in the West, although it’s probably one of the worst films for enticing people to the Anime Side. Set in a post-apocalyptic world devastated by World War III, Akira shows a world where post-human beings have appeared... and laid massive destruction. However, the anime is a rather poor adaptation of an excellent, but long manga series (if but dated), and I’d recommend reading Akira over watching it. 

For those who are no longer new to the anime pool, there’s Dead Leaves. Perhaps the only anime to nearly match FLCL in pure plotless insanity, Dead Leaves involves a prison on the moon and a pair of alien criminals who make a run for freedom while engaging in late night old school MTV cartoon antics. If you look forward to Adult Swim on Friday and the weekends, why haven’t you seen this OVA yet? 

For the folks who enjoy steampunk over that futuristic crap, there’s Steamboy. From the director and creator of Akira, Steamboy shares his artistic vision and style, but is more accessible, with an easy-to-understand plot. If you want the anime equivalent of a summer blockbuster, here it is! 

One of the most popular and gateway series is Cowboy Bebop. If you like Firefly and Serenity, you have your new anime. Imagine the Serenity in anime space, where the crew members are all bounty hunters, each working on their own to get the money with loving opposition. Mal-- I mean, Spike has a complicated past that crops up now and again, and then really in the end, but since he’s the hero, it’s all good, but very tragic. The TV series runs for 26 episodes, with a partially stand-alone film, Cowboy Bebop the Movie: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door. Kinda like another series.  

For the romantic geeks out there, may I suggest Voices of a Distant Star? Boy and Girl love each other. Girl gets recruited to pilot a mecha in space, while Boy is stuck back on Earth. Thus begins their long-distance relationship, where he ages at the normal rate and she ages much, much slower due to the distance and the effects of light-speed, where years pass by between emails. The same team went on to make The Place Promised in Our Early Days, which explores love in parallel and divergent universes, as well as a Cold War political environment as if it existed in the 90s. 

Speaking of oppressive futures, Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade presents a world where Japan won World War II, where the government has dog-like teams of elite military who hunt down terrorists as a pack. The anime tells the story of one soldier who has a crisis of conscience when he hunts and fails to kill a young girl, who proceeds to set off a suicide bomb. Searching for resolution, he meets and befriends the terrorist’s older sister... a friendship with a tragic ending.  

Also under the Department of Depressive Futures, Appleseed (the 2004 OVA version) is the story of yet another post-apocalyptic Earth where humanity is on the brink of extinction. The last city, Olympus, contains humans and Bioroids, genetically-engineered humans who serve a supportive role in Olympus society. Deunan, a female soldier from the Third World War, comes to the city, intending to be one of the city’s elite protectors. However, she gets pulled into the deep political undercurrents between the human elders and the bioroid prime minister, who seeks equality for her species. Guns and a giant mecha spider appear in the final showdown. 

Parasite Dolls, a quasi OVA sequel to the Bubblegum Crisis and AD Police OVAs (also excellent shows, but hard to find these days), features violence between Boomers (androids and robots) and humans, and it is definitely for fans of cyberpunk. If you’ve played Cyberpunk 2020 or 2040, this is your RPG come to life, with all its gritty slums and high class society.  

My final sci-fi pick is a combo package: Neon Genesis Evangelion and Rahxephon. Both examine human philosophical questions through the use of mecha and aliens, Rahxephon being the better of the two, as it doesn’t collapse under its own weight (and it doesn’t run out of money near the end). Evangelion, however, is one of those pivotal anime series/films that should be seen by everyone, if only to see how far we’ve come since those days in animation, and with silver, platinum, anniversary DVD editions everywhere and four new movies coming out in 2007 and 2008, now’s the time to seize the remote and the car keys.  

As for me, I’ll fill my sci-fi hunger this month with the latest from Geneon, Ergo Proxy, featuring an Amy Lee look-alike. Mmmm!

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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stormseye 12/7/2006 6:43:03 PM
An excellent list of sci-fi anime. I would easily recommend most of them (there are some I have not seen). If you liked complex, political action/dramas like Jin Roh or Ghost in the Shell, also check out "Gasaraki", drama/thriller with mechs and intelligence. "Venus Wars" was also quite good in its days. "Final Fantasy: Advent Children" is considered anime by many and is definitely worth checking out; although I do wonder if there are any anime fans who have not already seen it. "Cyber City Oedo" only has a decent story, but the beautiful animation is what will really blow you away; it is directed by the same guy who did "Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust" and the samurai on horseback short in "Animatrix".
glyph 12/7/2006 8:53:27 PM
Thanks. It's hard, keeping it to a short list. On the fansub side of the world, I'm digging Innocent Venus, another tale of the rich manipulators of the world vs. the poor mass of humanity, but with mecha suits and a mysterious little girl.
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