Exactly What I Wanted: Anime Gems for Story Lovers

So your holiday gift certificates are burning a hole in your pocket, but you don’t want to be hasty.  What are you looking for?  Good anime for the permanent collection?  Well, I’m always looking for the same thing, too, but I freely confess that I don’t always have time or money to check out each new one hitting the market.  I do look for bests – best shojo, or girl’s anime, best shonen, or boy’s anime, best for humor.  And if I really enjoy it, it goes on the “watch for a sale” list.

After five months of anime watching, and reviewing, I can tell you certain things about certain anime.  But this report will miss some anime.  I haven’t watched all of FULL METAL ALCHEMIST, or INUYASHA, or THE LAST AIRBENDER, or MORIBITO – I’ve seen many episodes of BLEACH and NARUTO, but there are lots more to come.  Still – for certain audiences, here are some anime worth your time AND money.  Again, the first and foremost requirement is good storytelling, followed by good characters and good artwork.

Do you want something for young girls with humor, good storytelling, a touch of romance and mystery?  FRUITS BASKET will fill the bill.  The manga gets much darker as it goes along, but that will give plenty of time for thinking and growing up with the characters.  In the anime it’s fun to see the characters come to life, the music is wonderful, the characterization spot on and intriguing.  Boys will stand a good chance of liking this one – it’s not mushy, and has strong male protagonists.  The fighting is martial arts, and minimal in the overall storyline.

Need action for the boys on the list?  BLEACH will satisfy their desire for swordplay and blood, and so far most of the characters seem to be surviving the storyline, although the characters do sustain injuries that mere humans wouldn’t survive.  Fortunately, most of them are shinagamis (soul takers) so human survival is merely a detail.  There’s a lot of humor in some, but not all episodes, and a touch of romance, although our hero Ichigo is too young to admit any interest in his childhood friend, much less the pretty soul taker he made friends with.

Want to satisfy young girls and young boys, and the budget will only stand one purchase?  Get them the first DVD of the series INUYASHA.  Plenty of adventure, humor, promised romance down the line, battles with demons – something for everyone, with wonderful artwork, characters that will slowly mature and gain new strengths, and a liberal dose of Japanese mythology.

Ready to invest in an entire box set?  For my money, story fans need these three in their collection – PRINCESS TUTU, THE STORY OF SAIUNKOKU and THE TWELVE KINGDOMS.   Only Princess Tutu  is an original anime – the other two are based on popular young adult Japanese novels.  How to choose?  Who are you buying for?  If you want it for both boys and girls, if the boys are all right with a female heroine starting things off, I’d say SAIUNKOKU.  A good mix of drama, humor, adventure and romantic promise, with plenty of well-fleshed out characters of both sexes, SAIUNKOKU has something for everyone.  This is not American animation pacing, where everything is wrapped up by dinner.  I’ll warn you – the romance elements do not resolve in this first season, and the books haven’t been translated, although there is something like 14 of them.  I’m hoping that we can sell enough of the anime that the books will get translated!  Plus a second season of SAIUNKOKU exists, although it currently is not subtitled.

THE TWELVE KINGDOMS also has a female heroine leading the way into the Twelve Kingdoms, but there’s a good mix of swordfights with monsters, world building, and simply ideas – about reality, imagination, a world where the Heavens determine rule by mandate – fantasy gamers will enjoy the complexity of the world.  But this has Japanese pacing, and will move too slowly for action-all-the-time viewers.  It has some magic in it, and the magical kirins who choose the rulers are a dominant note, but in many ways this is more about an alternative world that uses Chinese mythology and history as its basis.  There’s humor, but not constantly, and no romance in the first 45 episodes.  Still, it’s next on my purchase list.  Three of the six novels have been translated into English, with a fourth translation due to release in March, 2010.

PRINCESS TUTU is the crown jewel of story, the five star series, and the one that constantly amazes as you go deeper into the tale.  It has a silly title, as far as Americans are concerned, but there is nothing fluffy about where this series will take you.  The first episode tries to fool you into thinking that it’s just a silly shojo anime.  Uh-uh – hang in there.  Humor, romance, adventure, and a host of darker emotions will take you on a roller coaster ride.  At the halfway point, you’ll wonder if the story is over.  Then it just gets better.  It’s a fairy tale about hope, and worth every minute of your time.  The manga, a later production, is very different and a less successful story.

You’ll find reviews of most of these titles in my previous posts.  I’m currently simultaneously watching the last season of InuYasha online (in Japanese with subtitles – it’s been captioned for English speakers simultaneously with its first Japanese appearance) and starting over at the beginning online and on Netflix.  That’s why I’ve tossed the series into this mix – the production quality remains high, even in the movies, although in the movies I prefer the Japanese voice tracks to the English tracks.  And the kids don’t get tired of the interactions of rough-hewn InuYasha, sweet and strong Kagome, lecherous Miroku, determined Sango, cat demon Kirara and trickster fox demon Shippo.  This series does have the occasional skimpy costume, or pat on the butt, but the girls keep the boys in order, and in today’s tell-all environment the InuYasha series is definitely a G overall (PG for younger children – some of the monsters and battles are fairly intense.)  This story meanders on its way to the end, but kids will enjoy it all.  Chances are good that you’ll like it, too.

You’ve got my list – if you want anime story, it’s PRINCESS TUTU, THE STORY OF SAIUNKOKU, THE TWELVE KINGDOMS, FRUITS BASKET, and finally INUYASHA.  I won’t be posting for a while here at BVC, but I will continue to watch and to write.  Eventually I’ll be back with more reviews, but in the meantime, there’s several hundred hours of anime mentioned here.  Get started on it!

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About Katharine Eliska Kimbriel

Cat Kimbriel is working on a a contemporary fantasy about curses, ecological change, and very different ways of looking at the twilight worlds. She's still working on a short Nuala piece and mulling over a new Alfreda novel. You can find her fantasy & science fiction, including free samples, at her Book View Café bookshelf. These books can also be found at major online booksellers. Her personal blog is here, and you will find her on whatever social media currently interests her. Cat builds worlds that contain compassion and justice -- come join the journey.

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Exactly What I Wanted: Anime Gems for Story Lovers — 5 Comments

  1. A great blog post series deserves a great comment ^^ =>

    Yes, this -I’d arranged them exactly like this, too (because the meat of Furuba actually started after volume 6 – although the anime is a beautiful show in and off itself – which is why the author, Natsuki Takaya, wasn’t too impressed with the anime version and didn’t authorize a second season)! The only anime (and manga) that I ran out of steam for was the endless Inuyasha – I find that shows with 52 seasons (with some rare exceptions) seem to have the most well-rounded story arcs (especially if based on a manga or book), and sometimes 26 episodes or even 12 episodes can do it.

    Saiunkoku Season 2 has been subbed, but it has not been licensed, unfortunately, so far. I started buying the Geneon version which went out of business, but luckily it was rescued by Funimation (and the available box sets are both from Funimation, so should remain available).

    So does that mean you’ve only started watching anime this last half year? You certainly have an eye for great shows.

    Other lovely series available for buying (in no particular order):

    – Aria (52 episodes in all of which two thirds are licensed), subbed only: science fiction (what if Mars had been engineered to become a water planet?) shoujo slice of life, cityscape based on Venezia, life of a girl gondolieri (called Undine) and her friends and their experiences with the year in the city. Not much on drama or action, but on beauty, friendship, everyday things. – manga available and is even more beautiful. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NraaWUZxWZw

    – Victorian Romance Emma (26 episodes in 2 seasons), subbed only: Another shoujo romance with slice of life, but this time impeccably researched Victorian England and quite a lot of drama(the happy end of a love between a scion of the rising gentry and a housemaid is the only completely fantastic bit) based on the incredibly intricate artwork of the manga by Kaoru Mori, which is also available in the US
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-U4pzJi0Xg
    The mangaka at work on her current series – not licensed so far: Otoyomegatari process vids

    – Someday’s Dreamers (12 episodes), sub and dub: This urban fantasy explores a world where magic is part of every day life, but you have to get a license to practise it and if you don’t do that, you’ll have to give up your magic. The people who decide to get a license then practise magic to help others (I think of it as similar to being psychologist or menthal health professionals), however there magic has its limits. The story centers around a girl from the country, Yume Kikuchi, coming to the city to learn to be a mage and the upsets and victories on her way there, new friends, different mages at different stages in their lifes, disillusionment all make her ask whether she actually wants to be a mage after all Based on the manga of the same name, which is available in English. (downside: released by Pioneer/Geneon so most likely only available out-of-print)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UVqsHL6vzEw

    – Kamichu! (16 episodes), sub and dub: What do you do when you wake up one day (as a 13-14 year old Japanese teenage girl in a provincial town) and discover you’ve become one of the many gods of nature? This is what happens to Yurie – and how her friends and family and the surroundings react to that is the storyline.
    If you liked the glimpse into shinto belief in Sen-to-Chihiro-no-kamikakushi aka Spirited Away, you might like this morme light-hearted view at the idea (however there’s one not very US-friendly episode in the bunch, focussing on a famous sunken ship in WW2). Also a Geneon release, so probably only second hand.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yB3ci55NuS8

    – El Hazard The Magnificent World OVA (7? episodes), sub and dub: My one pure shounen fantasy entry here, quite old, too – but one of the best alternate world comedy drama fantasies available. It starts out with a lot of laughs and slowly gets darker and more serious, until you get the classic I-have-to-save-the-world-and-the girl, which is a dilemma this time because the girl is the one who is going to destroy it. The characters are incredible fun, as is the middle eastern vibe of the fantasy world, and the artwork still stands up to current times (this was so popular it had multitudes of ovas and a tv series as follow-up, all not as good). Probably hard to get due to age.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6KZiPXYqM0g

    – Here is Greenwood (6 episode OVA, but based on a manga also available in English): this is a shoujo impression of boys at a boys’ only school – which means we get lots of action and VERY crazy comedy and characters, but also relationship bits. It’s zany and fun and slice-of-life of Kazuya Hasukawa who decides to go to boarding school because his older brother, whom he lives with, married the woman he himself was in love with… he never knew what he was getting into there. Also quite an old release, so probably only available second hand.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGJgvjRhtiA

    – Scrapped Princess (24 episodes), sub and dub: this is probably most closely related to your own recommendations, as a shoujo/shounen fantasy story, but medieval based again (also based on Light Novels, one of which definitely has been translated and released) about a 16 year-old-teenager who is the female twin of the heir to the kingdom, but has been hunted since she was a baby because there is a prophecy that she will destroy the world – so she was thrown away as scrap. A loyal follower of the queen saved her from death and his children now protect her, swordsman and sorceress. Pacifica knows all this, but she’s also a teenager so she gets tired of being chased all the time and wants to make new friends. And of course, is she really going to cause the end of the world? The series lives off its characters and plot (the single world building ingredients have been seen before), and is very strong on drama and action. There’s a bitter-sweet happy end.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ijIIA1x0wIY

    – And finally, for the sheer crack factor (if you can handle Kaori Yuki manga, you can handle this) and the impeccable production values – Gonzo’s shining Last Exile, steam punk drama fantasy with airships.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SUjiXriGFbo

    I really appreciated your series of reviews ^^. I hope this list introduces you to some new favourites.

  2. I know what you mean about InuYasha going on and on — but remember the Japanese and Chinese appetite for adversity against the hero or heroine — often to the point of, they may succeed, but they give up all they care about and/or die. Plus there’s the fact that Rumiko doesn’t outline at all, just starts — and you don’t need to factor current corporate $$ hopes into the length of the series. She would have written Victorian newspaper cliffhangers, in another era. I enjoyed individual episodes, I simply gave up trying to watch them on Adult Swim. I’m starting at the beginning now, giving VIZ’s Beta advertisers viewers.

    Of course watching anything on Adult Swim is a challenge in and of itself. And my DVR is constantly a PITA. I may have to continue with BLEACH online, I’ve waited months on Adult Swim.

    But for younger viewers, most will like that InuYasha goes on so long. So that’s why I put it where I did. There is a strong plot for an anime — it just meanders.

    I started casually watching anime to have something else to do with a boyfriend, started thinking about writing a manga, and then a writer recommended PRINCESS TUTU. A local friend loaned it to us, and I became intrigued. Big-eyed little girls, yes, but clearly there was more to anime than big-eyed and breasted little girls with no knees, men with swords and porn.

    She gave me recs, and she’s a librarian, so story is important to her, too. I became too ill to read anything, so turned to anime. I went on from there, marking things in Netflix, reading about the series first, because I have no time to waste on “more of the same”. I’ll go add your suggestions to my queue at NetFlix!

    I have been writing reviews of animes I’m watching, and filing them away. When I’m ready to return to BVC blogging, I’ll go back to posting them, because you never know when someone who likes anime might stumble into the site through those reviews.

    In the meantime, writing again and re-learning how to draw dragons! Keep your fingers crossed for me (or toes, if that’s more convenient….) ;^) Thanks for all your comments, encouragement and suggestions. I value them.

  3. Are you still posting at Estara? It looks like it’s een a long time since you’ve posted. I was going to add you to my RSS!

  4. Gah, I haven’t seen this! I’ve been recommending your series of reviews left and right, but as BVC’s blog has no subscription feature I sometimes loose track of replies after a certain time.

    I haven’t blogged in ages, true, I am an avid online commenter mostly on LiveJournal. My right eye is still too iffy for me to want to commit to that – you need daily content on a one-person blog to make it live. I don’t even manage that on LJ.

    I work my way through my reading list whenever I’m online, and often comment there – you guys I read on that feed first and then come comment when I’ve got something to say
    Friends Page.

    And thanks for enjoying my feedback ^^. As I said, I really enjoy your posts, too.

  5. *keeping my fingers crossed and pressing my thumbs * – which is what we do in Germany!

    Health gets us all – may your bout be bearable and completely healable.