I’ve meant to write this post for a while, but I’ve always put it at the bottom of the pile. There always seemed to be something more exciting or more thought-provoking or more controversial to write about.
But the truth is that I’m sort of ashamed.
Look, I want to like these shows. By that I mean, everyone I respect, almost to a person, likes these shows. They’re often held up as the greatest anime ever made.
I like a lot of trashy anime, just like I like a lot of trashy movies and television shows. Give me James Garner any day of the week, whether he’s Maverick or Jim Rockford.
But I also like a lot of highbrow movies and anime shows. I’m a big fan of On The Waterfront and Midnight Cowboy, just as much as I like Serial Experiments Lain or Planetes.
I end up wondering what am I missing? What is it that these shows have that makes them so universally beloved? Am I just bad at watching anime?
People will say, “Hey, watch what you like to watch,” and they are right. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with disliking something, even if it is a classic. That said, though, I want to like these shows. I want them to be everything that I’ve built up in my head.
But I feel like a list with me just dissing on three classic anime feels too much like me trolling people, which is not my intention. So I’m going to also share three titles that I really wish more people could and would see.
Since I want to save the trolling for the end, let’s start with the shows I wish more people would watch. They are by no means perfect, but they all have something to offer that I don’t see a lot in other anime.
Also, two of them are mecha shows. I’m not sure if that is on-brand or not.
For a long time, Ryu Soma was the mascot for this blog. Argento Soma is basically Ryu’s story. He starts as Takuto Kaneshiro, an egocentric and brilliant metallurgy student recruited to help study the metallic aliens who have been falling to the earth. His girlfriend, Maki Agata, is already working in the lab.
On his first day in the lab, a robot constructed out of pieces of the aliens comes to life. It destroys the lab and kills Maki. Takuto is injured and disappears. He reemerges as Ryu Soma and joins the military on a mission to destroy the alien that killed his girlfriend.
Meanwhile, that robot befriends a young girl named Hattie, and the robot, named Frank, becomes humanity’s best chance at salvation.
While the show has some robot action, the real reason to watch it is to see Ryu Soma be a complete and utter miserable jerk. I know that this seems like it would be annoying, but there’s honestly something charming about it. You see, Ryu Soma really wasn’t that nice of a person when he was Takuto, but he is convinced that he was great.
Watching him and his interactions with Hattie make the show compelling. When we see this kind of anti-hero, they’re usually self-aware. They realize that they’re bad with people, but for most of the show, Ryu really believes he is enacting revenge for a girlfriend that was unjustly murdered.
Hattie’s innocence serves as a good foil for him. She is good and sweet, personified. She isn’t as interesting as Ryu, but she does help to make him more palatable.
My only complaint is that the rest of the cast is kind of dull. They’re all the other pilots in Ryu’s team, but their stories really feel, at best, tacked on to what is really the most interesting dynamic.
Still, it fell between the cracks. There was a release from Bandai Entertainment, which I own, but I’m pretty sure it’s not legally available anywhere, but it’s definitely available through less dubious means.
Zone of the Enders, Delores I
Here is the other mecha show, and this one is a bit more traditional, if only by a bit. Based in the same world as the Zone of the Enders video game, Delores I starts with “cargo transporter” James Links. The down-on-his-luck space trucker has been estranged from his kids and lost his wife.
One day, he was tasked to deliver an Orbital Frame to Earth. The frame, named Delores, ends up activating, and James becomes her pilot.
So this is where the story starts, and it just goes to kind of wild places from there.
What makes this show so enjoyable is a family dynamic that we rarely see in anime. This is an adult father trying to interact with his adult children, who meets a robotic overgrown “child,”
While there are anime that focus on family dynamics, it is typically missing from mecha shows overall. Many of them are about coming of age or self-discovery that this kind of mid-life crisis feels ignored.
Now I don’t think Delores I goes somewhere unique. It’s been several years since I’ve watched it, and I can’t remember how it ends. But I can say that the characters are interesting and the plot has enough action that I don’t have any complaints about it.
Unfortunately, this one is again another show that you have to find on the high seas or buy the old DVDs. It does look like they’re reasonably available that way.
Kaze no Yojimbo
It’s sporadic when I see Dashiell Hammett-style hard-boiled detective fiction anywhere. Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe became the model people used for hard-boiled detectives. This is especially true after Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer.
For a brief lesson, Chandler’s detectives were not morally tainted even if they understood the city’s seamy side. Basically, they’re “from the street” but not “of the street.” If you hear a hero wax on poetically about how “This is the City of Angels” or some such, it’s a pretty good indication that it’s a Chandler detective.
Hammett’s detectives are much seedier. They are tough guys living in a brutal world, and they need to be just a step smarter than the other schmucks to stay alive. No story better exemplifies that than Red Harvest. The story of a detective that goes into a town and is thrown between two different gangs and a wealthy industrialist.
(Side note: If you want examples of these from modern film. The Coen brothers cited Hammett as the inspiration for Miller’s Crossing and Chandler as the inspiration for The Big Lebowski.)
Akira Kurosawa said he was influenced by Hammett when he penned Yojimbo, the story of a ronin who comes to a town ruled by two competing crime lords.
Sounds familiar, right?
Well, Kaze no Yojimbo is a retelling of Kurosawa’s movie only moved into the modern-day. Now I haven’t watched the Kurosawa film, but I can say that this remake definitely has Hammett’s flavor. George Kodama has come to town looking for his brother, and what he runs into is a lot of crime, intrigue and guns.
The show is worth hunting down just for its novelty, but it does have a good enough story to make it worth finding.
I will caution that the animation is a bit lackluster, to say the least. Many of the scenes overlay the person’s face on a static background while they are talking. But the show shines where it needs to.
Three shows I wished I liked
OK. Well, now let’s move on to the three shows that I wished I liked better. What I really want out of this list is for people to explain what I’m missing. If you love these shows, tell me what I’m supposed to be seeing.
I want to like Gundam, and I do like 08th MS Team at the very least, but Gundam Zeta is a puzzle that continually eludes my understanding. This and the three movies are the shows that people point to when they cite the greatness of Yoshiyuki Tomino.
And I just don’t get it.
Zeta, at its best, is a mess. The first half of the show is a dizzying whirlwind of characters and mobile suits being introduced only to be slaughtered. The second half is an interminable slog of characters and plotlines being introduced only to be left unresolved until a “climactic” battle at the end.
I want this story to be a tale of people trying to struggle through a war, or at least a story about characters struggling against each other in war. I keep getting that story from other sources. Most notably, Armored Troopers VOTOMS tells a real story about the cost of war. Or 08th MS Team, which excels at making me feel that these are real people making these decisions.
Zeta doesn’t do any of that. The only antagonist that is remotely interesting is Jarad. Our hero, Camille, is OK, but randomly we have Amuro and Char drop in the middle of the story.
If there is anything that has turned me off from exploring more Gundam, it’s this show. So what am I missing?
Nadia: Secret of the Blue Water
What I find ironic about Nadia is that Hideaki Anno is one of my favorite anime directors because of his ability to take a stale genre and make it feel fresh.
Whether it’s through some clever storyboarding or engaging visuals, Anno can tell a captivating tale even in genres that seem played out. I saw this in Evangelion. I saw it in the early episodes of Kare Kano.
Then why is Nadia so dreadfully dull?
And I’m not just talking about the island arc, which people inevitably bring up when I talk about this. Everyone agrees; the island arc is pretty dull.
No, I mean the whole thing. From the start of episode one until it finally limps to a close, Nadia is dull. Well, except for between episodes 5 and 10, when the show actually felt like it was building to something.
Every other episode was just another adventure, and none of them, at least at the time, were compelling enough to make me excited.
Much like Gundam Zeta, I kept watching, hoping it would get better, but it just didn’t.
Now, maybe the right way to watch the show is as an episodic story. Is that it? What am I missing in this story?
Revolutionary Girl Utena
Of all of the shows on this list, I’m probably the most ashamed that I don’t like Utena. I feel like the scene at the end of Revenge of the Sith when Obi-Wan is yelling at Anakin:
“You were the one Utena. You were going to make me love you.”
When people talk about Utena, they do it in hushed tones that are generally saved for religious experiences or truly classic movies or shows. I heard about how innovative it was, and how imaginative it was, and how it did this or that. Literally, I bought it sight unseen when it was released by Central Park Media.
I was so ready to love Revolutionary Girl Utena. At least, I was prepared to watch a challenging show with psychedelic visuals that would make me feel like I was watching something that I didn’t understand.
What I got was a pretty dull and mundane show about a girl that wants to be a prince. Utena and Anthy were fine, but they weren’t particularly compelling.
To make matters worse, the show was painfully formulaic. Some baddy would be introduced. They would fight Utena, and Utena would win. There was no real tension in any of the fights and no real chance that Utena would lose.
I thought perhaps I was watching the wrong part of the show. With a show of Utena’s length, there are sure to be boring sections. So I skipped forward to another section, and I found more of the same.
So what am I missing in this show? What makes it so appealing to people? Am I just not capable of enjoying high art?
So there it is. There is my pile of shame. I will admit it’s been more than a decade since I’ve watched any of these shows, but I haven’t seen anything that has compelled me to revisit them.
Please, tell me what you enjoy about them and why I should revisit them. I’m willing to give it another try, but I’m not convinced it’s worth it.
And, as always, thanks for reading.