Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Difference: Anime Edition

So, the new anime season started this past week. Despite not really being into anime much in the last few years, there have been standouts recently.

I posted about Blood Blockade Battlefront and Ushio & Tora before. The former is a series made by the creator of Trigun and the later is based on a manga over 25 years old, which probably explains why they're so much better than a lot of the recent stuff.

You see, once upon a time, anime used to pride itself on crazy comedy, over the top action, fun adventure, and complex romance. You won't find many anime fans who would spurn classics like Irresponsible Captain Tylor, Cowboy Bebop, Dragon Ball (not Z) or Kimagure Orange Road, and for good reason.

But over the last decade there has been less and less to appeal me. Comedy has been replaced with the same jokes uttered from the same stock characters, action has been replaced by nihilistic gore, adventure has been neutered so badly by formula you can see every beat coming before it does, and romance has basically become glorified porn with flesh taking a backseat to character development.

All those aspects are still problems with the industry, but I've noticed a few gems slip through the cracks recently: there are several shows this season that I'm surprised are coming out at all.

The first is the second season of Ushio & Tora:

This barely counts being both the second season to something I listed earlier and also for being based on material 25 years old, but I mean LOOK at that video. Is that not everything you watch anime for in the first place? Action, adventure, comedy, romance . . . it's all there and from the director of Trigun. This is the type of show that got me into anime in the first place and this season will finish the story off, hopefully giving us a classic anime that will be looked back years from now as an example of how to do it right.

Seriously, I don't care if you're sick or shonen anime (boy's adventure) or not, this is one of the best examples of it and predates many of the awful cliches that have stigmatized it 25 years later. You will be amazed by how well it holds up. Just start with season 1. Season 2 starts very plot heavy out the gate.

Next is probably no surprise to classic anime/manga fans:

Yep, the next part of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure just started. Also a manga that started way back in the 80s, this part is actually from the 90s and deals with a mystery aspect to its usual over the top action/comedy focus. This is actually a fan favorite part (the fourth of six in the main series, though there are others after it) and has less of a grand adventure feel that the last two parts had and focuses on a smaller location, a small town, and explores every nook and cranny of it.

JoJo has always been a been mixed in that people either love it or hate it, but this is a good place to jump into if you want to see it for yourself. It is, after all, a fan favorite part. If you like old school anime, you'll probably lap it right up.

Third is actually something more recent:

(Update for April 10th: Official upload)

The very manga I've been reviewing on this blog. My Hero Academia is my currently favorite running manga and the first episode of the anime has not disappointed.

Kohei Horikoshi (the man behind the series) combines everything that makes Comics and Manga great, pours it in a big old pot with a dash of excellent character development, smooth buttery art, excellent action, and heaping dose of fun that hasn't been seen in years. Keep in mind, I don't really like modern shonen much. I thought Bleach fell apart after Soul Society, lost Naruto with the Chase Sasuke arc, and have never liked One Piece as much as others. But My Hero Academia hits that mark the three of them just couldn't hit for me.

If you have ever been or are a fan of manga or anime, you can't go wrong with this. Oh, did I mention the writer of Trigun is involved with the anime? That was a selling point to me, too.

Yeah, I'm watching three shows this season. I don't even remember the last time I've liked more than one show in a season, but here I am as surprised as anyone. If you've given up on manga and anime, and I don't blame you, I still think you should give these above listed shows a shot. You might be just as shocked that I do that the industry still has spark in it beyond glorified porn and empty bloodshed. It's not over yet.


  1. Bravo, Mr. Cowan. You've elegantly summed up the main reasons for my own aversion to post-1990s anime. It's good to know that the creators of Trigun are still in the game. I'll have to sample their new stuff.

    Somewhat tangential: I've long had a theory that Trigun--the anime; not the manga--is a thinly veiled retelling of the Gospel in an SF setting.


  2. Thank you for your post, sir!

    Trigun had a sort of lightning-in-a-bottle combination of talent that has made it stick so well over the years. The original manga by Yasuhiro Nightow (Blood Blockade Battlefront), the direction by Satoshi Nishimura (Ushio & Tora), and the head writing by Yousuke Kuroda (My Hero Academia) all combined together to make a distinctly Christian story into a full blown tale of saving sinners from damnation, discovering mercy and justice are two sides of the same coin, and that the truth is in the Cross, all while the Lord follows alongside the characters.

    Did you ever notice, for instance, that throughout Trigun the two suns are always staring down at the world like two eyes watching everything? That's not coincidental. The very first time they are distinctly shone is in the first episode right after a random character dismisses everyone being saved as "a miracle without God's help" and the camera pans from Vash and lingers on the suns. Every time they are shown afterwards it is in a moment of reflection for a character or just after something horrific has occurred. The way they look like they are blurry and crying after Legato essentially kills himself as very striking. I couldn't believe how much care was put into the series when I realized all of this.

    The way it references so much biblical material from the Fall to Cain and Abel to the Cross saving the damned, all while still telling a ripping yarn about a gunslinger is one of the most impressive storytelling tricks I've come across. It's not message fiction, you can miss all of it and still enjoy the story to an immense degree, but what's there under the surface is truly remarkable. When I realized years later no longer watching from agnostic eyes, I finally understood why it stuck with me for so long.

    That's a long way of saying I agree with you, but I am a bit batty for Trigun. With MacBeth, the Hobbit, and the Outsiders, it is the work of fiction that made me want to try my hand at this whole storytelling thing.

    As for their other works, Blood Blockade Battlefront in so intensely Catholic I'm surprised it came from Japan. Even putting aside the fact that they fight with blood, the final confrontation with the final enemy is not something you see every day.

    Ushio & Tora is Buddhist, but in the traditional way where Good and Evil are things that exist in direct opposition to each other and Good actually will win in the end (as opposed to the modern way where good is basically evil with a lamer jacket so, you know, a pox on both their houses) and has a good Superversive bent to it.

    My Hero Academia is a superhero show where the main character risks life and limb to save people, and lives in a world where superheroes are so common they're taken for granted. I'm a big fan of the manga, so I can only imagine what the writer behind Trigun can do.

    I'm not sure what stars aligned to allow all three of them to have new shows out at the same time, and great ones at that, but I definitely won't be complaining about it. Anime has needed this for some time now.