Internet celebrity, local comics retailer, and BFF Chris Butcher Facebook challenged me to blog about my five favorite anime and manga... which is no easy task.
I have watched... a LOT of anime. And I have read... a LOT of manga. On and Offline, printed or scanlated, legitimate and bootlegged (that's a whole other blog post). Admittedly, not all of it is great, and not all of it is good, but it's still a LOT of manga/anime to try and quantify. But I will try...
MY TOP FIVE MANGA (In no Particular Order)
I'm not going to try and put these in any sort of order... I can't specially say there is any one of ANYTHING that I love definatively more than anything else, so I'm just putting these down in the order that they come to me.
1> SOLANIN by Inio Asano
This is actually a pretty recent favorite, and I've been meaning to get around to doing a review of it on it's own, but it's pretty safe to say that SOLANIN is probably going to remain one in my top five for years to come... or, at least, until someone licenses more of Asano's work in North America (NIJIGAHARA HOLOGRAPH and GOODNIGHT PUN-PUN are pretty amazing in their own right). There are many things I like about SOLANIN that give it greatness in my eyes... I like that it's a complete story (especially given the way that VIZ decided to collect both volumes into one giant tome), I like Asano's atypical, intricately detailed, art style (particularly his use of computer effects and lighting), I like his sensitive storytelling, and his offbeat sense of humor.
But that really stands out about his work is how contemporary and accessible it is; moreso than any other manga I've ever read, this is something that really bypasses the culture gap and speaks to things that everyone can understand. It's still set in Japan, and about Japanese characters, and has Japanese cultural references, but it's not done in a way that's so dense and alien that it would be off putting to someone that isn't familiar with manga. It's much close to an alternative graphic novel or an indie movie in it's tone and setting. The closest thing I can liken it to is SCOTT PILGRIM; a story about a group of 20 somethings on the edge of adulthood, dealing with their fears and aniexties about growing up.
SOLANIN really spoke to something in me when I read it, and though it's only been a week, it still stands out as something GREAT to me, and I hold it near and dear to my heart, and probably will for years to come.
2> BATTLE ANGEL ALITA: LAST ORDER by Yukito Kishiro
Ha ha ha... I'm not sure this is a controversial addition to a "TOP FIVE" list, as it's could be considered a pretty basic shonen manga... and a psuedo-sequel at that... but BATTLE ANGEL ALITA: LAST ORDER is fantastic to me. Kishiro's art is at it's best, with years of experience and experimentation behind him, and his storytelling equally as honed and matured, he takes characters that I had a fondness for, goes back and successfully reimagines and reinterprets them. I love the way he mixes character development, psychology, and philosophy, with kinetic martial arts action and well researched sci-fi/space opera. BATTLE ANGEL ALITA: LAST ORDER, to me, takes what started out as a pretty standard, only slightly above average, shonen sci-fi/action fantasy manga, and elevates it to something truely original and special.
3> KUROSAGI CORPSE DELIVERY SERVICE Eiji Otsuka and Housui Yamazaki
KUROSAGI CORPSE DELIVERY SERVICE is something that's a little tricky for me to quantify. It's a book that differs hugely in tone and texture from chapter to chapter, and is more episodic than most manga tend to be, though there is a more serialized story taking place in the background. At times it's can be grim and gorey, at others darkly comedic and offbeat. Whenver I'm asked what it's about by people I tell them, "It's SCOOBY DOO for adults." Short, episodic, offbeat mysteries solved by a group of entertaining and diverse 20 somethings just out of college. Much like SOLANIN one of the things that makes it so appealing to me is it's contemporary setting and how that somehow translates into greater accessability across cultural barriers to me. Something about more modern and comtemporary portrayals of Japanese youth culture really bridges that gap (possibly the greater influence of North American culture in modern day Japan, or possibly in that all young people generally have the same fears and concerns about the final crossing into adulthood?). Either way, every single chapter either intrigues and draws me in with it's perfectly paced storytelling, well researched themes, and original spin on a concept (my favorite remains the insurance adjuster that kills people with probablility), or it's offbeat and dark sense of humor. It also helps that the art is appealing and expressive.
4> PLUTO by Naoki Urasawa
This was actually pretty tough... Naoki Urasawa is probably one of my favorite mangaka, period, and there are MANY titles of his that I find astonishly good (HAPPY, MONSTER, 20th CENTURY BOYS), but if asked which of his series I like the most, I think I can definatively say that PLUTO is at that top of that list.
Now, most all of Naoki Urasawa's works I've read share a certain storytelling aesthetic that has become almost a formula; a small story that slowly grows into a huge conspiracy, with each chapter ending on a bigger and bigger cliffhanger to keep you constantly hungry for the next chapter. And PLUTO is no different from MONSTER or 20th CENTURY BOYS in that respect. Where it does differ though, and thus, what draws me in, is that PLUTO can almost be considered a proffessional fan-wank, as it's based on the story THE WORLD'S STRONGEST ROBOT by manga great, Osamu Tezuka, and features one of the World's most beloved fictional characters, my childhood hero: ASTRO BOY (Tetsuwan Atom).
It's not just that this is a darkly modern retelling of a classic story made to reflect modern day values and real world happenings; it's how obvious from the way the story is presented that Naoki Urasawa is himself a fan. There's a sense of reverence for the material and characters that can be felt on each page; the way he takes pleasure in teasing you with callbacks to the original story, and the quietly grandiose relish he takes in revealing a beloved character (in the first chapter he appears in, Atom is shown on a single full page spread with no dialouge, illustrating the impact that his appearance should have the audience, as it's what everyone has been waiting for).
The power of PLUTO for me is in that, not only is it an intellectually engaging exercise like Urasawa's other works, with beautiful, detailed art, expressive cartooning, and clear, precise, storytelling, but it's also a love letter to something that was important to him as a child, and because of that, it takes me back to that place I was at as a child, were I didn't just dream of being a hero, I dreamed of being a ROBOT hero, and friend of humanity. Though a dark and gritty, adult thriller, PLUTO is about to magically transport me back to a time when my eyes were wide with excitement, and my heart was open.
5> ??? Undetermined
Given that I only have one spot left, it's become incredibly difficult to narrow it down to any one manga... do I give this final spot to DRAGON HEAD, with it's compelling storytelling, and it's bleak world view? Or would I risk alienating PLANETES, with it's deft characterization, and philosophical examination of the human spirit? What about PARASYTE, with it's dark humor and engaging outsiders view of human nature? Or BERSERK, with it's peotic fusion of romance, philosophy, and graphic violence? What about ONE PIECE, which never fails to put a smile on my face? Or GENSHIKEN, with whose characters I can really identify with? GANTZ, EDEN, SUIKODEN III, PILGRIM JAGER, CLAYMORE... the list goes on. I guess I can only really have a top four if I can't narrow it down any more than this.
Ask me again in another year.
TOP 10 ANIME (In no Particular Order)
1> COWBOY BEBOP
Do I really even need to explain? COWBOY BEBOP was, by no means, the first anime I ever watched, or the first one I really liked... but it's still one of, if not THE, best. Brilliantly directed, with great art, great animation, and great writing. With it's offbeat humor, mature storytelling, memorable characters, and shocking ending, I never seem to get tired of watching it, and can always go back.
2> LUPIN THE III: CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO
Hyao Miyazaki could probably be considered his own catagory, in which I could quantify and definatively rank my favorite Miyazaki films in order, but as a stand alone, CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO is one of my favorite animated films ever because it gives you the contemplative and immaculate storytelling of a Miyazaki film, with the chaotic fun and daring do of Japan's favorite anti-hero, Lupin the III, my favorite anime/manga character of all time. Lupin is just a great character. He's fun and charismatic... at times a righteous hero, and at others a righteous bastard, but at no point can you NOT like him. CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO is just a wonderful film on all fronts, featuring a wonderful character.
Oh, and to be even more specific... it's go to be the STREAMLINE dub. Anything else is unacceptable to me.
3> MILLENIUM ACTRESS
Speaking of animation directors that could really have their own catagory, SATOSHI KON. Yeah, he could probably be considered the next Miyazaki in a way; a wholey original and insanely prolific film maker. Of his films, all of which I love, I have to say that MILLENIUM ACTRESS is probably my favorite. What makes it my favorite? I'll be honest... I'm just being completely arbitrary here... it's one of the only films to make me actually shed tears. And that's a very short list (three of them are also animated. :B). I chalk it up as a testiment to Kon's ability to make something so beautiful it's actually able to move my cold, robotic, heart with genuine emotion. All of his films and great and fill me with wonder, but this one actually moved me.
4> GIANT ROBO: THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL
EPIC. GIANT ROBO is just... isanely epic. It's so grandiose, with it's massive symphonic score, breakneck pace, and mind bending visuals (the Eifel Tower twisted and snarled, as Paris is riped apart as a choir cries, "DIESE IRADE!", and the Eye of Volger looks impassionately overhead). Heroic sacrafice, tragic deaths, savage betrayals, hidden agendas, family secrets, heroic destinies; GIANT ROBO has fucking EVERYTHING. It's just insane, frantic, pulpy, fun and excitement, and I just keep going back for me and more.
There's actually a whole lot of stuff I can put on this list, but I do actually have 5 things that edge out just about everything else in the world, and AKIRA is one of them. AKIRA is something I saw very early on in my early exploration of anime, back when all that was available to me was VHS recordings I had my aunt and uncle make when they had a US Satellite. WAAAAAAY back when the SCI-FI Channel was doing SATURDAY ANIME. Yeah it was cut and yeah it was censored for languege, but that didn't affect my fasination with this movie, and the subsequent fasination it sparked for more of it's like and for the culture that spawned it.
The detail in the art, the audacity and ambition of the animation, and just how fucking COOL psychic power battle could be... it was unlike anything I'd ever seen before, and is unmatched to this day in a number of respects... even by it's own creator. AKIRA is a very tough act to follow.
Game set and MATCH, Butcher.