avalanche of Anime
November 21, 2008
By Avi Green
Years ago, in my childhood, one of the first Japanese cartoons I saw
was Kagaku Ninja Tai Gatchaman,
which was first adapted and aired in syndication in the US under the
title of Battle of the Planets
and then as G-Force: Guardians of
Space. The thing is, back at that time, I was but a pup,
and had no idea that primarily in Japan, manga and anime have a
culture and reputation all their own, and are so intertwined and
transcending, you almost couldnít tell the difference!
Itís only been years later that I was able to fully appreciate
manga, but particularly anime, for what it is Ė something that
offers a lot more intelligence and sophistication than most American
and even European cartoons usually do.
In Japan, manga and anime alike are BIG business, with children and
adults alike all reading them everywhere, and the anime production
success is so huge, theyíve even come up since the mid-80s with the
concept of Original Video Anime (OVA), to help facilitate the
And thereís only so many series worth noting here that are worth
watching. Iíll try to list some of the best I can think of.
Of course, let me also note that many can be an acquired taste,
since they involve adult situations, violence, sex, and even shock
tactics that us westerners may find objectionable. But if you can
work your way past some of that, there is plenty of good stuff to
find in anime.
So here goes:
Speed Racer. This was one of the most
famous anime series that proved even more popular outside Japan than
it did at home. The adventures of a young sports car racer named Go
Mifune in the original Japanese, but renamed Speed Racer in the
English adaptations, itís got plenty of good slapstick and even
serious moments of suspense. The cast even includes Trixie, Speedís
girlfriend, and Pops and Mom Racer, and also little Spritle, the
younger brother of Speed, and his pet monkey Chim-Chim. The latter
two provided plenty of comedy relief as they stowed away in the
trunk of the Mach 5, Speedís racecar. Our racing hero strives to win
the world tournament while facing many menacing criminals along the
way. Itís the kind of suspense story where serious sci-fi elements
appear around the edges, as action takes the front seat.
Science Ninja Team
Gatchaman. One of the most famous cartoons produced during
the early 1970s, broadcast in the US as Battle of the Planets and later as G-Force: Guardians of Space,
this was about a team of five youngsters trained by Dr. Kozaburo
Nambu, a leading member of the International Science Organization, a
division of the UN in a future era, whose mission was to battle the
evil forcers of Galactor, a terrorist organization governed by an
alien creature named Leader X, whose second in command is Berg
Katse, a crazy, masked figure who, as we later learn towards the
seriesí end, is meant to be a sci-fi variation on a transvestite!
More precisely, what happened is that Leader X took two fraternal
twins, male and female, and merged them into one entity that could
even shift between sexes, making for one of the creepiest villains
Iíve ever seen in a cartoon. There were two sequel series that came
a few years later, Gatchaman II and Gatchaman F (short for Fighter),
where Leader X tried to strike back, first by exploiting a child
named Sammie Pandora by trying to transform her into a tall being
called Gel Sadra in the second series, and then by hiring the
services of one Count Egobossler, in the third series (where a
surviving fragment of Leader X had first mutated into Leader Z). The
story ended with the death of the alien warmonger, but also with
that of Dr. Nambu. And there was no clear telling: were the Science
Ninja Team still alive? It was later remade as an OVA in the
This was the first mecha series to feature one that's formed
together from a few different machines. The plot involved a future
war the human race found itself entangled in with a reptilian race
called the Dinosaur Empire, comprised of lizardlike foes who were
determined to make humans extinct and return the Earth to the era of
dinosaurs again. Based on a manga book by Go Nagai and Ken Ishikawa,
it starred three teenaged pilots from the same school, a soccer
player/martial artist named Ryo Nagare, a rebel loner named Hayato
Jin, and a short, stocky judo master named Musashi Tomoe. Together,
they were assigned by Professor Saotome, who'd initially worked on
the project for space exploration, to manage the three airships that
would comprise the giant robot to combat the reptilian menace and
their dino-shaped mechs.
Some of the teen drama featured here was surely inspired by that in
Gatchaman, and there is a female pilot here too that the heroes vied
and cared for, Michiro Saotome, the lovely daughter of the scientist
who heads the project. The series would later lead to some sequels,
Getter Robo G (which was broadcast in the United States under the
Force Five compilation in the early 1980s), Getter Robo Go, Shin
Getter Robo, and even some OAVs that remade some of the stories.
The Super-Dimension Fortress Macross. This
was the most important part of three series shown in the US under
the umbrella name of Robotech.
It was an allusion to the Cold War, which is now returning, and the
story was about the attack led by an alien race called the Zentraedi
to reclaim technology aboard a ship which had crashed on earth a few
decades before the series takes place, which serves the goodies in
this series for making robots disguised as F-14 Tomcat fighter jets.
Through an accident in an attempted space warp, the huge ship not
only warps into the farther reaches of the solar system, it even
takes the whole town that grew up around the project with it, and
the battle continues from there.
Yep, thatís right. It was courtesy of series like these that the Transformers were inspired and
became popular in America. Though in this series, all this serves as
a backdrop for human drama, as relations develop between some of the
leading players, including the main protagonists, Hikaru Ichijyo,
Linn Minmay, and Misa Hayase. During the course of this series,
Minmay goes on to become a famous idol singer and inspiration for
many earthlings, and her music helps to bring the enemy down and
convince many to defect and surrender.
This led to a lot of followup series, films and OVA over the course
of many years afterwards, featuring many other protagonists in the
brave new world of 30 years into the future, and is still one of the
most well regarded anime productions to this day.
Sailor Moon. A standout example of a
magical girl adventure, this was about a young teenage girl, Usagi
Tsukino (named Serena in the English version) chosen to become the
carrier of the Sailor Moon gemstone and fight the Dark Kingdom,
which long ago destroyed the Silver Millennium kingdom, which was
located on the moon. Sheís approached by a talking cat named Luna,
who provides Usagi with her first tips on how to get into action.
She sometimes gets backup assistance from a boy named Mamoru Chiba,
who goes under the disguise of Tuxedo Mask, whom Usagi falls in love
with. As the series progressed, our heroine was joined by a couple
other cuties who use the names of the various planets in the solar
system, and together they became quite a team. It was series like
these that popularized miniskirts for heroines in adventures like
these, and Sailor Moon went on to become one of the most famous
anime productions of the 1990s, with various extra merchandise
appearing in its wake.
Thereís only so much more I could name, but that would probably take
a bit too long, so Iíll conclude here, and if to cite more, Iíll
leave it for a later occasion. But for now, this is just some of the
most notable examples of anime productions from Japan worth noting.
Whatís great about how the Japanese write their manga and anime is
that they can involve a lot of things that you might not see being
discussed in trashy, worthless cartoons like Scooby Doo: thereís talk of
economy, military, environment, politics, even if theyíre
futuristic-type, and even different nationalities.
Plus, their animation cels and other techniques are
far superior to the cheapjack animation you see being used in
American cartoons on Saturday morning TV. Toei Animationís famous Puss in Boots film from 1969
(whose title hero, Pero, later became the company mascot), had
animation that was far better than Disneyís phony-baloney cartoon
motion. And more recently, anime has taken on splashier styles that
can even mimic zoom-lens effects you could see in a live action
One minor shortcoming though, is that while the Japanese can
certainly draw hot girls, they may not emphasize the size of their
lips enough, which is a shame, as I think itíd make them a lot
sexier if their lips were bigger and with more color. Nevertheless,
theyíre still quite good-looking, and certainly do qualify as
Of course, it should be noted that anime and manga also involve
their share of adult situations, among other things that may not be
suitable for children. Unlike America, and sometimes even Europe,
where cartoon popularity among adults is iffy, in Japan, adults are
solidly into the art form as well as children. So there are many
that have violence you may not be used to seeing in a
western-produced cartoon, as well as sex. Things that by western
standards can be considered blatantly insulting, but by Japanese
standards, are iffy. Thus, for some westerners, manga and anime can
be a very acquired taste. But there are still plenty of things that
are well worth noting in the art form, and quite worth reading and
watching to check out. It all depends on how you view it and if
youíre prepared for what to expect.
Now, Iím off to check out some more of this interesting art form
from the far east. And with any luck, Iíll try and write more about
manga/anime in time.
Copyright 2008 Avi Green. All rights reserved.
Home FAQ Columns
Blog Food Blog