Sunday, 1 July 2012

WHAT FIVE ANIME SERIES RUINED MY LIFE


In response to an article asking this very question. the five titles that turned me onto anime forever more and have likely sealed my place locked away inside my house with little outside contact or sunlight are contained within. This isn't a list of favourites, rather the anime series that played a key role in my unbecoming.



5. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya 

Everyone has come across Haruhi in one way or another, whether they know it or not. Any frequenter of 4chan will recognize the titular character's yellow ribbon, saucer plate eyes and stupid grin almost instantly, yet most will often be unable to put a name to the face. Well the name is Haruhi, and it's just one of many anime series that ruined my life, and the lives of countless others no doubt. Developed by Kyoto Animation in 2006, it's time the people knew that not everything is as bad as it looks, especially in Haruhi's case.

ONE OF US ONE OF US ONE OF US
Still naive and fresh from darker, much more "adult" series such as Cowboy Bebop, and very busy spouting moe-hating nonsense without actually knowing what moe was, I decided to stick my hand in the fire and began the iconic late night Haruhi Suzumiya series, immensely popular as well as infamous among the anime fandom. Thoroughly expecting the TV equivalent of a poke in the eye, I was instead met with one of the most fresh, fun and downright addictive anime I'd ever seen. The story follows cynical bastard extraordinare Kyon, his encounters with a hyperactive classmate Haruhi Suzumiya, who just so happens to have the literal destruction of the Universe itself well within her capabilities without realising it, and the club they form known as the SOS Brigade, tasked with solving any strange mysteries that they can find to stave off Haruhi's boredom. Together with other iconic characters (read: notorious fap material) including Yuki Nagato, an alien, Mikuru Asahina, a time traveller, and Koizumi Itsuki, an Esper, all sent to watch over Haruhi and the end of the Universe, they run around being brilliant for 14 episodes, all the while shouting "FUCK YOU" nice and loudly to any purists along the way. All to prevent Haruhi becoming bored, which means the ending the Universe. It's as stupid as it sounds, but it's also anything but cliche. It's brave, innovative and so much fun it should be illegal.

Haruhi was my first "moe" anime, quite a big step for a person as cynical as I am. Containing many elements of soft sci-fi, great GREAT /GREAT/ production values as well as animation including some of the coolest fight scenes ever, one of the most, if not THE most, iconic and addicting anime ending themesongs EVER and a cast of utterly unforgettable characters, Haruhi is often referred to as the anime fan's anime, with something for everyone. It opened my mind to more "moe" series, so was in turn integral to the ruining of my life quite a fair bit. The second season is perhaps universally agreed upon as being the worst anime season of all time, with 8 episodes being almost literally the SAME EPISODE, a debacle that would later come to be known as the Endless Eight. But in true Haruhi fashion, it all turned around with the release of the Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya movie, which is universally agreed upon as being one of the best anime films of all time, with three hours of the sci-fi elements getting more showcase than ever before.


The worst

4. Code Geass: Lelouch of The Rebellion
Sunrise, creators of the iconic Gundam series as well as a mountain of other iconic classics such as Bebop, VOTOMs and Escaflowne, struck gold yet again with their 2006 original late night series Code Geass. Often compared to Death Note, it was the perfect formula that couldn't fail. The first season was a bomb primed and ready to blow, before exploding upon its episode 25 cliffhanger finale and blowing the minds of audiences everywhere, picking up an unexpectedly massive following, which would eventually lead to its dissolving from over the top fun to absolute stupidity. Either way, it still managed to hook and ruin me.

FABULOUS
Wary of the pretty damn ridiculous character designs, I eventually elected to give Geass a try upon learning of the reputation it had as "The other Death Note" like many others. The comparisons aren't wrong, however whereas Death Note gave us a thriller involving a protagonist with the ability to kill people on whim and a master detective playing cat and mouse with eachother throughout, Geass gave us all that and more, with kickass mecha, a bombastic opening theme (or 5), iconic (noodle people) character designs and political musings throughout. Lelouch Lamperouge, an exiled prince of the world ruling empire Britannia, is a high school genius trapped in a mundane life after the shooting death of his mother, then Queen of Britannia, at the rumoured hands of spiteful Britannian royals. Caring for his blind crippled sister caught in the shooting, the story follows Lelouch after obtaining a mysterious power known as Geass, which enables him to command anything of anyone. Set in a Britannia ruled Japan known as Area 11, Lelouch dedicates himself to leading a revolution against the Britannian government with the remains of a half-defunct terrorist group, dubbed The Black Knights. With the Government after him, potential traitors amongst his ranks and his best childhood friend happening to be a key component to Britannia's victory over the Black Knights with each of them unaware of the other's position, watching Lelouch FABULOUSBASTARD his way out of everything and rise only to be corrupted by power makes for some of the most compulsive anime viewing ever.

TWEEST after TWEEST, Geass had me hooked harder than anything I'd ever seen before. AND IT HAD FUCKING ROBOTS. But nothing's perfect, and much like Death Note taking a nosedive in the second half, Geass R2, premièring in a new prime time slot with many rushed script changes and new characters shoehorned in to appeal to a wider audience, was a complete trainwreck. Oddly enough however, it somehow managed to retain key elements from the former series that made it such addictive viewing and also gave us one of the best anime endings of all time. It was also immensely popular and won wide acclaim, with most people concluding it to be even better than the first season was, somehow failing to spot the almost offensively blatant plotholes, the soap opera-tier bullshit all throughout making season one's melodrama look like The Godfather and the complete 180 of many main character's ideologies and motivations from the first season. What a pile of absolute fuckheaded morons the anime community are sometimes.

Enthralling


3. Cowboy Bebop
Perhaps the best late night anime will ever get, Cowboy Bebop, developed by Sunrise in 1998, was an impossibility. How can a show so perfect exist? Originally a flop in Japan, amongst western audiences it went on to become not only one of the most acclaimed series in anime, but television itself. 26 episodes in length, it is an absolute MONSTER, with an original soundtrack ranking among the best film scores there ever were, polished animation displaying Sunrise at their best and a story worthy of Oscar Nomination topped off with one of the most heartbreaking finales ever written. How could anyone NOT be sold on this series?

Way Cool 
Summarising Cowboy Bebop's plot is difficult. At its core the 26 episodes, 21 being stand alone stories and only 5 forming any overarching plot, follow former gang member Spike Spiegel and former police officer Jet Black as they freelance through the galaxies hunting criminals for bounty. Along the way they are joined by a femme fatale Faye Valentine, who has a lot more going on than would first appear, and Ed, a hyperactive 10 year old hacker who, honestly, is a total mystery. It's so much more than the sum of its parts however, and is just one of those shows that has to be seen to be understood. Nowhere else will you find a show with characters so endearing, or thematics displayed with such subtlety and love. Bebop is a universe unto itself, existing far and away from of any other anime or tv series and way beyond anything either medium would ever turn out since. Considered the spiritual successor to tv series' such as Firefly, sci-fi just wouldn't be the same without Cowboy Bebop and it's influence. It's a benchmark that exists in the frustrated minds of any creator, a perfect work come true, and a story so enveloping told with such sincerity you'd think it were written just for you. When it ends, nothing is ever the same. Rewatch all you like, you will never again capture the feeling you might have had when you first finished Cowboy Bebop.

Seeing episodes of Cowboy Bebop on late night ABC2 was what prompted me to look into anime. Without it I wouldn't have ever seen Evangelion or Code Geass. That anything should be above it in this list is a shame, but as perfect as Cowboy Bebop is, there are just a few more series that played an even bigger role in convincing me that anime was worth my time.

GQ, PH.D, FBI or not, it's pretty funky

2. Welcome To The N.H.K! 

Anyone reading this article that's seen NHK will probably we wondering how on earth it managed to make its way onto this list at all. Deciding to watch NHK upon recommendation by almost everyone on websites like 4chan's /a/ board and MyAnimeList, it was one of the weirdest experiences I've ever had watching anime, which is definitely saying something. 
Developed by Gonzo, the frankly awful studio infamous for low quality titles and awful animation, Welcome to The NHK! aired late night in late 2006 to rather sub-par ratings, and today retains the status of a cult classic. Cooler than cool, it's another series that ruined my life, but this time in more ways than one.

Puzzle
The story follows Satou Tatsuhiro, a 22 year old hikikimori (a shut in with intense phobia of the outside world and interaction) who dropped out of University and has since secluded himself to his apartment, going slowly insane in the process. Answering the door one day to a woman passing out pamphlets, he meets a young girl named Misaki who later seeks to help Satou break out from his seclusion. Later that evening they meet together to talk, and not wanting to appear a hikikimori, Satou tells Misaki that he is a creator that works on his computer indoors, "What I'm working on will make Bill and Linus shit themselves!"
The day after, finally tired of his neighbour playing mahou shoujo anime theme songs at full volume, he goes next door with the intention of telling him to "turn that shit off" but instead finds his next door neighbour to be his old high school friend Yamazaki Kaoru, who is now a woman hating otaku. Telling the story about the girl and his creator lie while drunk, Yamazaki offers Satou the chance to officially create, requesting his help in writing a hentai game. Hardly anything Bill or Linus would shit themselves over, he has to yet again lie his way out of meetings with Misaki and somehow convince her that he's working on something worthwhile. Throughout, Satou finds himself becoming addicted to visual novels, mmorpgs and pornography of both the 2D and 3D kind, getting trapped in a pyramid scheme, seeking out perverted anime figurines and unknowingly signing into a suicide pact group online. It's a story you could only hope to find in anime, and anyone who hasn't seen it is missing out BIG time. It's also worth mentioning that this series is adapted from a book, the author of which is a hikikimori himself now living off the revenue of the book. 


Welcome to The NHK, despite playing itself as a comedy most often, is very heavy stuff and many anime fans find themselves relating a bit TOO well with the main character, myself definitely included. This 24 episode series prompted me to give Visual Novels and MMORPGs a try, which is precisely why it's on this list. Without NHK I would have never played G Senjou, Steins;Gate, Ever17 and countless other top-tier visual novels. The entire anime is sprinkled with references to other series, which makes for even more fun to be had by anyone with a fair amount of anime knowledge under their belt. Though the production values range from great to absolutely beyond awful (thanks, Gonzo), this series is character driven like nothing else and just as depressing at times as it is hilarious. A true anime love story. Fuck your Kanon-worship dating sims.

1. Neon Genesis Evangelion

Well gee fuck, who saw this coming? The 1995 last effort series by studio Gainax, famous for shows such as Gunbuster, and career defining work of lunatic Hideaki Anno, also responsible for Gunbuster, has influenced just about every single facet of anime production since its release, changed the way characters are portrayed in works of avant-garde fiction and blew apart just about every preconception anyone might have had about anime in general, while promptly pioneering NEW preconceptions just because it felt like it. An unexpected smash hit, it's probably responsible for more anime converts than any other series. It sure got me good, anyway.

Promo circa 1996
It's funny that Evangelion has become one of the main entry level series for people new to anime, or that it became even half as big as it did in the first place. It's complicated, convoluted, BEYOND controversial, production values waver a very fair amount and is so love it or hate it you're almost playing Russian Roulette with your social reputation when you recommend it to someone. The story begins with Shinji Ikari, 14 years old, standing amongst the city Tokyo 3 waiting to be picked up and taken to his father by Misato Katsuragi, an employee of the organization NERV which his father is head of. While waiting, he sees an illusion of a blue haired girl off in the distance beside him, before being caught in the middle of an attack upon the city by a being known as the Third Angel. Eventually scooped and hurried to the underground geofront headquarters of NERV, he is emotionally blackmailed by his father into piloting a new protype robot known as Evangelion to defeat the Angel currently laying siege to the city above. Reluctantly accepting, the 26 episode and movie finale saga begins, taking its viewers prisoner and putting them through what is often described as a mindfuck to rule them all, leaving absolutely no survivors. Beyond complex, reviewing as well as research is critical to comprehending Evangelion. Every character is worthy of a 200 page thesis dedicated to furthering the understanding of their motivations and every mention of metaphysics worthy of 200 more.

Evangelion ruined me completely. By the time it was all over, my head was an absolute mess. Not able to resist, I immediately launched into a subsequent viewing with hopes of understanding what in fuck I had just watched, all the while perusing Evageeks for answers to my questions. As the final beach scene in End of Evangelion approached for the second time, the weight and scope of everything that I had just seen suddenly hit me like a freight train. Everything connected, and it reducing me to a blubbering, self loathing mess for the next two weeks. The depth involved in every single facet of this series had me trembling before it, terrified that something this depressing, something that personified utter hopelessness and human frailty so well could actually exist. If Bebop was a monster, Evangelion was Hell itself. For my first anime, I couldn't have known what I was getting myself into. A saving grace in some ways, as everyone is well aware of the staggering hype surrounding Evangelion and the disappointment it often leads to.

Nowadays, Evangelion is in a bad way. With constant milking of the franchise and the new theatrical additions being less than stellar and painfully pedestrian when compared to the original, my love for Evangelion has lowered significantly, making way for similar series such as Kino's Journey and Now and Then, Here and There. The public seem to love the new Evangelion Rebuild additions, but I just can't seem as excited. These people proclaim it to be "Evangelion done right", among other things. If they mean to say "Evangelion done safe and boring" then they're completely right.

After Evangelion I wanted more, prompting the humble beginnings of my search to find anything that could out-do Evangelion, and simultaneously launching my start into anime itself. I also avoid every English dub containing Spike Spencer (who did a  godawful job as Shinji) like the fucking plague. I've since found more than many series that wipe the floor with Evangelion, but none have had the initial impact that it did. Legend of The Galactic Heroes came close, but it looks like none will ever surpass. I think I'm okay with that.

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