Haiku is a traditional Japanese poem consisting of three lines and 17 syllables. Unlike Western poetry, haiku rarely rhymes. This poetry conveys layers of meaning by using natural imagery. Zen Buddhism appears throughout haiku, and a specific branch of poetry, called jisei, or death poem, were written just before the writer died in battle or committed ritual suicide. Many haiku are rather funny too. I’ve included a few of those in this selection. Here are some traditional haiku.
Iio Sogi (1421-1502)
Snow yet remaining
The mountain slopes are misty—
An evening in spring
Does not China also
Lie beneath the selfsame sky
Bound in misery
Ame shita to ya
Passing through the world
Indeed this is just
A shelter from the shower.
Mono goto ni
Oi wa kokoro no
Ato mo nashi
Yamazaki Sokan (1464-1552)
Even at the time
When my father lay dying
I still kept farting.
Waga oya no
Shinuru toki ni mo
He o kokite
Matsuo Basho (1644-1694)
The quiet pond
A frog leaps in,
The sound of water.
Mizu no oto
Seeping into the rocks
The cicada’s voice.
Iwa ni shimiiru
Semi no koe
The roadside thistle, eager
To see the travelers pass
Was eaten by the passing ass!
Mukuge wa uma ni
Stabbed in a dream—
Or was it reality?
The marks of a flea.
Yume wa makoto ka
Nomi no ato
Yamamoto Kakei (1648-1716)
I have no wife, said I.
And so my landlord gave to me
A tiny maiden flower.
Tsuma nashi to
Yanushi ya kureshi
Uejima Onitsura (1661-1738)
Although I say,
“Come here! Come here!” the fireflies
Keep flying away!
Koi koi to
Iedo hotaru ga
I’ll be looking at the moon
With no child on my knee.
Kono aki wa
Hiza ni ko no nai
Ogawa Shushiki (1669-1725)
The cherry by the well
Is dangerous for one
Drunken on wine
Sake no ei
Kaga no Chiyo (1703-1775)
What are the dreams that make him
Flutter his wings?
Nani o yume mite
I sleep…I wake…
The bed with none beside
Nete mitsu kaya no
Tan Taigo (1709-1771)
The change of servants
Splash on the tatami.
Tatami e otosu
Yosa Buson (1716-1783)
There’s no loincloth
On that butt blown in view –
In the spring breeze.
Haru no kaze
Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827)
“The peony was as big as this,”
Says the little girl
Opening her arms.
Kore hodo to
Botan no shikata
Suru ko kama
Ours is a world of suffering,
Even if cherry-flowers bloom.
Ku no shaba ya
Hana ga kirakeba
Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902)
I’m trying to sleep—
When you swat flies.
Nemuran to su
Nanji shizuka ni
Hae o ute
How much longer
Is my life?
A brief night…
Ikubaku ka aru
Bowers, Faubion. (1996) The Classic Tradition of Haiku: An Anthology. New York: Dover Publications
Anime has a dim opinion of men. Anime’s misogyny gets a lot of ink, but men suffer from their own issues in the medium. Many parts of the medium look at men as sex-driven, impulsive, and deadbeat. In many slice-of-life anime, the father isn’t around. While this reflects the unfortunate reality of the Japanese salaryman, it is also a slight on men. It shows how men do not place much importance on the family. To be fair, earning the family’s way is how many men express their affection for the family, but society feels the lack of a male presence in families. When anime fathers do appear, they are often zany and weird. Bleach’s crazy dad, Isshin Kurosaki provides a modern example.
The meathead and the pervert pervade anime’s portrayal of men. The meathead is the impulsive, headstrong hero who charges head first into everything. They win while the thoughtful, introverted males take supporting roles. They do not “get the girl.” I won’t touch on the issue with women being the reward for a hero in this article. Speaking of being sex driven, the perverted male appears throughout anime. He appears in two forms: the comedic extreme and the underlying focus on sex that afflicts many protagonists. The comedic extreme has the guy obsessing over panties, breasts, butts, and sometimes the nape of the neck. It becomes a consuming part of his character and his chief motivation. The Comic Artist and His Assistants provides a good example. Yuki Aito’s fetish for panties drives every aspect of his personality. According to the story, it was the reason he became a manga artist. His obsession extends to his interactions with the female cast and becomes the source of his problems. This type of man lives in the comedy and ecchi genres, but the perspective leeches into other genres. Men who focus on sex, the “get the girl” motivation plays into the dialogue most men grow up with. Women come to those men who conquer; intimacy–that is, emotional intimacy rather than sex–isn’t considered manly. The fact I have to qualify the word intimacy because of its close association with sex points to how society skews relationships.
In any case, many male characters have perverted tendencies. Nosebleeds symbolize this. Nosebleeds stand in for male arousal, and some characters practically hemorrhage. The lesser symbol for perverted tendencies, the blush, doesn’t get as much attention as the nosebleed, but when a male character seems a panty flash (the most common cause), he will blush. This reaction shows a latent preoccupation on sex. If the character didn’t have it in his mind, he wouldn’t react. Honestly, this would be a nice change of pace. Anime assumes all men have a fetish for panties or are turned on by women’s underclothes. More asexual male heroes would be a welcome change.
The focus on sex that runs through male anime characters reflects societal views on masculinity. Western culture views men as sexually motivated and focused. To be a man is to be dominating and sexually active. He must chase, and she must withhold. American men and women are raised with his dichotomy. Manhood and sex drive connect, and “real” men seek sex instead of intimacy. Magazines aimed at men focus on sexual prowess. Car commercials have strong phallic imagery (a car driving into a tunnel) and dominance imagery (driving fast and controlled along a curvy road–curvy roads recall the curves of women, after all). This perspective infects anime. The other side of masculinity– gentleness, self-control, love, tenderness, thoughtfulness, compassion–get little attention in society and in anime. Just look at all the meathead, impulsive shonen heroes.
Why not? Why are these qualities of manhood not emphasized?
Many of them overlap with feminine ideals. Misogyny dictates anything that is feminine is of lower status. For another, they are not conducive to consumerism. These traits of (true) manhood come from self confidence. They undermine the need to look to the outside for fulfillment. They also counteract misogyny. They show how men are capable of being motivated by ideals higher than sexuality. Removing the sex drive from the center of masculinity prevents men from feeling the need to own women and dominate them. It removes one of the major sources of insecurity: sexual prowess. If a man can’t perform sexually, he isn’t a man.
Nonsense. A penis doesn’t make the man.
Aside from this, impulsiveness characterizes men in anime more than anything else. A character with self control makes plotting more difficult for the writer. Impulsive action makes plots easier to write. A character can act based on a simple motivation–such as protecting his friends. The writer then plots the consequences. But a thoughtful character with self-control would think through his actions first. This means the writer needs to come up with consequences neither the character nor reader could foresee. Granted, most people act from impulses than thoughtful consideration.
Luckily, some anime shows the true face of masculinity. Goku from Dragonball Z shows many of the best traits of manhood. Although he still suffers from impulsive behavior. Goku shows fatherly love toward Gohan and shows little interest in sexuality. He is compassionate toward his friends and enemies. His ability to train hard shows his self-control. Another example: Holland from Eureka Seven develops into a father figure. He lacks self-control in the beginning of the story, but he grows into a stronger man — one of control, gentleness (toward Talho), and compassion. Holland remained thoughtful throughout the series despite anger overwhelming him at times.
Anime writers can keep perverted characters if they add depth to them. For example, Miroku from Inuyasha has perverted traits (he loves to rub women’s bottoms), but he balances this with gentleness, thoughtfulness, and compassion. Miroku continues a traditional character from Japanese literature, the perverted monk. However his interest in the ladies isn’t a consuming factor of his personality. It doesn’t drive his every action like many characters. Throughout the series, the group relies on Miroku’s knowledge, and his compassion for those who suffer drives him. He shows tenderness and concern for Sango, the demon hunter. In one of his best scenes, Miroku wishes Sango a happy life when he thinks she plans on leaving to marry a lord. The sincerity of his wish, along with his suppressed inner pain, shows how much he cares for her. Miroku provides a good example of the middle road. Perversity can work for comedic effect, but it doesn’t have to be a motivating factor of a male character.
Culture’s focus on the sex drive as the defining characteristic of maleness insults men. Men are more than walking penises. Sex isn’t as important as society makes it out to be. Anime would benefit from revealing the true side of masculinity with more thoughtful, tender, and compassionate male characters. Moving away from meatheads and impulsive behavior would improve anime stories and provide better fictional role models for male anime fans. Don’t get me wrong. Many anime have great values and excellent characters, but there is room to improve. The stories we consume shape our perspectives of reality. A shift toward thoughtful, quiet, and controlled male characters (like Jin in Samurai Champloo for example) would show young anime fans a different side of manhood. Perhaps such a shift would also reduce the misogyny present in anime and Western culture. Misogyny, after all, comes from traditional, macho values.
Manhood involves more than conquering, violence, and sex. It involves softness, tenderness, confidence, quietude, thoughtfulness, other-centeredness, and other traits not represented in modern views of manhood. Anime, more than any other medium, provides a view of these traits if only it would step away from the tired male tropes on which it clings and embrace the side characters, the introverted men, and the other types of men already present in their stories.
I got into anime at an old age compared to most. My early twenties, and that was over 10 years ago. Now, as a fan at the further end of the age spectrum (anime skews teens and early 20s as the average age of fans), I am aware of the liabilities of enjoying the medium. American culture still views anime as something for kids, teens, and immature college students. Rural areas like mine are particularly like this. Because I study anime and American otaku culture, I receive a double hit of stigma. Intellectualism isn’t popular in today’s United States. Americans look at intellectuals (not that I see myself as one) with suspicion. I am considered even stranger for studying and writing about what I do. Luckily, my family and inner circle of friends accept my interests. My girlfriend is an otaku and Japanophile. But it is hard to expand my inner social circle in an area dominated by football and beer.
Despite these issues, being an anime fan and researcher offers more advantages than disadvantages. My specialty compliments my job as a librarian. Teens and college age students come to me with anime and anime research questions. They feel comfortable and appreciate having an older fan to speak with. Teen fans in my area face the same stigma, looks, and misunderstandings as I face from well-meaning neighbors. I provide a older voice and nonjudgmental access to anime and manga of all types. Many come to me looking for new anime to watch or seeking “touchier” subjects like yuri and yaoi.
General Research Division, The New York Public Library. (191-?). The ‘Odori’, a Dramatic Dance in Old Time Costume. Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-8422-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
Studying anime and Japanese culture continues to shift my perspective. It points out poisonous areas in American culture–such as the culture of selfishness–and offers solutions. A day where you fail to learn something new is a wasted day. Anime, with its international reach, extends a taste of Japanese culture to everyone. That culture differs quite a bit from Western culture, yet has enough Western elements that it remains accessible. Zen, in particular, influenced my perspective on life.
Ten years ago I had a crisis of faith sparked by a series of deaths in my family and an ugly breakup with my girlfriend at the time. I plunged into a dark depression of which I remember little. My Christian faith died. But one day stands out in the blank spaces of memory. One day at a local bookstore I stumbled across “Peace is Every Step” by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen monk. I remember having the exact amount of money in my pocket to book cost, down the the penny. The book changed my perspective forever. I couldn’t get enough of Zen. I read Japanese Zen writers and everything else I could get my hands on. Gradually, my Christian faith began to revive under Zen’s care. While it appears strange, Zen is a practice that can stand alone or plug into an existing belief set. It revived my Christian faith, but the resurrected faith is quite different from the childish faith I once had.
While Thich Nhat Hanh’s writings were the catalyst for my Christian faith’s resurrection, anime was where I had learned about Zen’s existence. It introduced many of the concepts and provided a starting point. It sounds cheesy, but I guess you could say anime changed my life, if indirectly.
The messages we consume changes our view of the world. Information and stories are food for the mind. Much of anime is junk food, but to be fair, American TV is mostly junk food too. The American mind suffers from obesity, stories that lead to impulsive behavior and misunderstanding. One the whole, anime contains good messages: friendship, persistence, loyalty, and community. Anime exposes people to Japanese culture (even if it is a glossed over, watered-down exposure) and helps you escape an American-centric view. American media can be insular and white-washed. Anime raises awareness of different approaches to characters and storytelling.
These messages influence us in ways we are not always aware. Advertising works in this way with its messages of dissatisfaction, selfishness, and greed. Most of anime contains messages about appreciating the moment and relationships. Since I started my anime habit and my study of Zen, I find I enjoy the journey more than I had in the past. Before my studies, I focused on outcomes and destinations. Now I enjoy the path more than the destination. I view mistakes and failures as learning experiences, as ways of improving. Many anime characters embody this idea: Goku and Ichigo for example.
I am not sure how long I will continue to study anime and American otaku culture. I consider myself an outsider rather than a member of otakudom. In order to study it, I have to have some distance. Writing about anime allows me to pull my interests in history, sociology, psychology, art, and economics together. But it does come out a small price. I care little what others think, however. I rather like the label of eccentric.
I am hesitate about this post. I dislike publicly speaking about myself. Few know that I had struggled with depression, but I can confidently say “had struggled.” Depression no longer troubles me. Now, it is an old friend that visits for a few hours to tell me something is wrong before leaving again. The trick with depression is embracing Zen and Christian meditative tradition and practice. It isn’t easy, and it isn’t instant. It takes years of work, but depression can be embraced, even welcomed. If you have problems with depression, I urge you to learn zazen and practice it. Again, it requires persistence and patience and time. I write this personal post with the hopes it will inspire you, lift you. I want you to know that you are not the only one who struggles with stigma from those who fail to understand anime and Western interest in Japanese culture. But you can thrive despite the stigma. Only those with narrow minds and dull lives fail to understand how Japanese culture and anime and manga can fascinate. Have sympathy for such people.
How has anime influenced you? What stigmas do you face as a fan or researcher? Have you wrestled with depression?
Japanese fox folklore has many romantic stories. The Foxes’ Wedding is one such story. According to Japanese beliefs, the fox–or kitsune if you prefer–is a loyal and dedicated lover. Most stories feature a human marrying a female fox. This story is a love story between two foxes, which is fairly rare. White foxes are viewed as divine and benevolent, unlike red foxes. Red foxes can be tricksters or as benevolent as white foxes. This story focuses on white foxes.
One final note: this story is also unusual because of its ending. Most Japanese folk stories dealing with foxes have tragic endings. Western fairy tales have trained Westerners to expect a “happily ever after” ending. However, in Japanese folktales such an ending is rare. Japanese culture considers a story incomplete without sorrow. If you want to learn more about the Japanese fox, check out my book:Come and Sleep: the Folklore of the Japanese Fox.
Once upon a time there was a young white fox, whose name was Fukuyémon. When he had reached the fitting age, he shaved off his forelock and began to think of taking to himself a beautiful bride. The old fox, his father, resolved to give up his inheritance to his son, and retired into private life; so the young fox, in gratitude for this, laboured hard and earnestly to increase his patrimony. Now it happened that in a famous old family of foxes there was a beautiful young lady-fox, with such lovely fur that the fame of her jewel-like charms was spread far and wide. The young white fox, who had heard of this, was bent on making her his wife, and a meeting was arranged between them. There was not a fault to be found on either side; so the preliminaries were settled, and the wedding presents sent from the bridegroom to the bride’s house, with congratulatory speeches from the messenger, which were duly acknowledged by the person deputed to receive the gifts; the bearers, however received the customary fee in copper cash.
When the ceremonies had been concluded, an auspicious day was chosen for the bride to go to her husband’s house, and she was carried off in solemn procession during a shower of rain, the sun shining all the while. After the ceremonies of drinking wine had been gone through, the bride changed her dress, and the wedding was concluded, without let or hindrance, amid singing and dancing and merry-making.
The bride and bridegroom lived lovingly together, and a litter of little foxes were born to them, to the great joy of the old grandsire, who treated the little cubs as tenderly as if they had been butterflies or flowers. “They’re the very image of their old grandfather,” said he, as proud as possible. “As for medicine, bless them, they’re so healthy that they’ll never need a copper coin’s worth!”
As soon as they were old enough, they were carried off to the temple of Inari Sama, the patron saint of foxes, and the old grand-parents prayed that they might be delivered from dogs and all the other ills to which fox flesh is heir.
In this way the white fox by degrees waxed old and prosperous, and his children, year by year, became more and more numerous around him; so that, happy in his family and his business, every recurring spring brought him fresh cause for joy.
Note: This account dates to 1871 and contains unconventional spellings for transliterations. For example, daimyo is spelled daimio. It also uses British-English spellings of words such as honour. I decided to retain these spellings and retain the old grammar rules to help you become used to these conventions. As you dig through old stories (the oldest English translations of most Japanese stories date to the late Tokugawa period and early Meiji period), you will encounter unusual transliterations. Western Japanese studies were in their infancy. With some translations, you will even encounter sections of Latin. You don’t have to worry about that with this account. Latin was used to represent imperial Japanese, the language of the imperial court during older periods of Japanese history. You will see Latin in the Kojiki and other documents that have gods and emperors conversing. Lafcadio Hearn, in particular, used this convention in his translations.
A ronin was a samurai who didn’t serve a lord. This story about a band of ronin remains a favorite in Japan. It represents the values of bushido, or the samurai code of honor. Forty-seven Ronin accounts a true event in Japanese history with a few flourishes, of course. The event is also known as the Ako incident or Ako vendetta.
While some of the details are questionable, scholars consider this account by A.B Freeman-Mitford authoritative.
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. Samurais in Armour Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-c600-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
At the beginning of the eighteenth century there lived a daimio, called Asano Takumi no Kami, the Lord of the castle of Ako, in the province of Harima. Now it happened that an Imperial ambassador from the Court of the Mikado having been sent to the Shogun at Yedo, Takumi no Kami and another noble called Kamei Sama were appointed to receive and feast the envoy; and a high official, named Kira Kotsuke no Suke, was named to teach them the proper ceremonies to be observed upon the occasion. The two nobles were accordingly forced to go daily to the castle to listen to the instructions of Kotsuke no Suke. But this Kotsuke no Suke was a man greedy of money; and as he deemed that the presents which the two daimios, according to time-honoured custom, had brought him in return for his instruction were mean and unworthy, he conceived a great hatred against them, and took no pains in teaching them, but on the contrary rather sought to make laughing-stocks of them. Takumi no Kami, restrained by a stern sense of duty, bore his insults with patience; but Kamei Sama, who had less control over his temper, was violently incensed, and determined to kill Kotsuke no Suke.
One night when his duties at the castle were ended, Kamei Sama returned to his own palace, and having summoned his councilors to a secret conference, said to them: “Kotsuke no Suke has insulted Takumi no Kami and myself during our service in attendance on the Imperial envoy. This is against all decency, and I was minded to kill him on the spot; but I bethought me that if I did such a deed within the precincts of the castle, not only would my own life be forfeit, but my family and vassals would be ruined: so I stayed my hand. Still the life of such a wretch is a sorrow to the people, and to-morrow when I go to Court I will slay him: my mind is made up, and I will listen to no remonstrance.” And as he spoke his face became livid with rage.
Now one of Kamei Sama’s councillors was a man of great judgment, and when he saw from his lord’s manner that remonstrance would be useless, he said: “Your lordship’s words are law; your servant will make all preparations accordingly; and to-morrow, when your lordship goes to Court, if this Kotsuke no Suke should again be insolent, let him die the death.” And his lord was pleased at this speech, and waited with impatience for the day to break, that he might return to Court and kill his enemy.
But the councillor went home, and was sorely troubled, and thought anxiously about what his prince had said. And as he reflected, it occurred to him that since Kotsuke no Suke had the reputation of being a miser he would certainly be open to a bribe, and that it was better to pay any sum, no matter how great, than that his lord and his house should be ruined. So he collected all the money he could, and, giving it to his servants to carry, rode off in the night to Kotsuke no Suke’s palace, and said to his retainers: “My master, who is now in attendance upon the Imperial envoy, owes much thanks to my Lord Kotsuke no Suke, who has been at so great pains to teach him the proper ceremonies to be observed during the reception of the Imperial envoy. This is but a shabby present which he has sent by me, but he hopes that his lordship will condescend to accept it, and commends himself to his lordship’s favour.” And, with these words, he produced a thousand ounces of silver for Kotsuke no Suke, and a hundred ounces to be distributed among his retainers.
When the latter saw the money their eyes sparkled with pleasure, and they were profuse in their thanks; and begging the councillor to wait a little, they went and told their master of the lordly present which had arrived with a polite message from Kamei Sama. Kotsuke no Suke in eager delight sent for the councillor into an inner chamber, and, after thanking him, promised on the morrow to instruct his master carefully in all the different points of etiquette. So the councillor, seeing the miser’s glee, rejoiced at the success of his plan; and having taken his leave returned home in high spirits. But Kamei Sama, little thinking how his vassal had propitiated his enemy, lay brooding over his vengeance, and on the following morning at daybreak went to Court in solemn procession.
Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. (1900 – 1940). Samurai warrior in armour. Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/c261ef12-e4eb-3577-e040-e00a18067776
When Kotsuke no Suke met him his manner had completely changed, and nothing could exceed his courtesy. “You have come early to Court this morning, my Lord Kamei,” said he. “I cannot sufficiently admire your zeal. I shall have the honour to call your attention to several points of etiquette to-day. I must beg your lordship to excuse my previous conduct, which must have seemed very rude; but I am naturally of a cross-grained disposition, so I pray you to forgive me.” And as he kept on humbling himself and making fair speeches, the heart of Kamei Sama was gradually softened, and he renounced his intention of killing him. Thus by the cleverness of his councillor was Kamei Sama, with all his house, saved from ruin.
Shortly after this, Takumi no Kami, who had sent no present, arrived at the castle, and Kotsuke no Suke turned him into ridicule even more than before, provoking him with sneers and covert insults; but Takumi no Kami affected to ignore all this, and submitted himself patiently to Kotsuke no Suke’s orders.
This conduct, so far from producing a good effect, only made Kotsuke no Suke despise him the more, until at last he said haughtily: “Here, my Lord of Takumi, the ribbon of my sock has come untied; be so good as to tie it up for me.”
Takumi no Kami, although burning with rage at the affront, still thought that as he was on duty he was bound to obey, and tied up the ribbon of the sock. Then Kotsuke no Suke, turning from him, petulantly exclaimed: “Why, how clumsy you are! You cannot so much as tie up the ribbon of a sock properly! Any one can see that you are a boor from the country, and know nothing of the manners of Yedo.” And with a scornful laugh he moved towards an inner room.
But the patience of Takumi no Kami was exhausted; this last insult was more than he could bear.
“Stop a moment, my lord,” cried he.
“Well, what is it?” replied the other. And, as he turned round, Takumi no Kami drew his dirk, and aimed a blow at his head; but Kotsuke no Suke, being protected by the Court cap which he wore, the wound was but a scratch, so he ran away; and Takumi no Kami, pursuing him, tried a second time to cut him down, but, missing his aim, struck his dirk into a pillar. At this moment an officer, named Kajikawa Yosobei, seeing the affray, rushed up, and holding back the infuriated noble, gave Kotsuke no Suke time to make good his escape.
Then there arose a great uproar and confusion, and Takumi no Kami was arrested and disarmed, and confined in one of the apartments of the palace under the care of the censors. A council was held, and the prisoner was given over to the safeguard of a daimio, called Tamura Ukiyo no Daibu, who kept him in close custody in his own house, to the great grief of his wife and of his retainers; and when the deliberations of the council were completed, it was decided that, as he had committed an outrage and attacked another man within the precincts of the palace, he must perform _hara-kiri_,–that is, commit suicide by disembowelling; his goods must be confiscated, and his family ruined. Such was the law. So Takumi no Kami performed hara-kiri, his castle of Ako was confiscated, and his retainers having become Ronins, some of them took service with other daimios, and others became merchants.
Now amongst these retainers was his principal councillor, a man called Oishi Kuranosuke, who, with forty-six other faithful dependants, formed a league to avenge their master’s death by killing Kotsuke no Suke. This Oishi Kuranosuke was absent at the castle of Ako at the time of the affray, which, had he been with his prince, would never have occurred; for, being a wise man, he would not have failed to propitiate Kotsuke no Suke by sending him suitable presents; while the councillor who was in attendance on the prince at Yedo was a dullard, who neglected this precaution, and so caused the death of his master and the ruin of his house.
So Oishi Kuranosuke and his forty-six companions began to lay their plans of vengeance against Kotsuke no Suke; but the latter was so well guarded by a body of men lent to him by a daimio called Uyesugi Sama, whose daughter he had married, that they saw that the only way of attaining their end would be to throw their enemy off his guard. With this object they separated and disguised themselves, some as carpenters or craftsmen, others as merchants; and their chief, Kuranosuke, went to Kioto, and built a house in the quarter called Yamashina, where he took to frequenting houses of the worst repute, and gave himself up to drunkenness and debauchery, as if nothing were further from his mind than revenge. Kotsuke no Suke, in the meanwhile, suspecting that Takumi no Kami’s former retainers would be scheming against his life, secretly sent spies to Kioto, and caused a faithful account to be kept of all that Kuranosuke did. The latter, however, determined thoroughly to delude the enemy into a false security, went on leading a dissolute life with harlots and winebibbers. One day, as he was returning home drunk from some low haunt, he fell down in the street and went to sleep, and all the passers-by laughed him to scorn. It happened that a Satsuma man saw this, and said: “Is not this Oishi Kuranosuke, who was a councillor of Asano Takumi no Kami, and who, not having the heart to avenge his lord, gives himself up to women and wine? See how he lies drunk in the public street! Faithless beast! Fool and craven! Unworthy the name of a Samurai.”
And he trod on Kuranosuke’s face as he slept, and spat upon him; but when Kotsuke no Suke’s spies reported all this at Yedo, he was greatly relieved at the news, and felt secure from danger. One day Kuranosuke’s wife, who was bitterly grieved to see her husband lead this abandoned life, went to him and said: “My lord, you told me at first that your debauchery was but a trick to make your enemy relax in watchfulness. But indeed, indeed, this has gone too far. I pray and beseech you to put some restraint upon yourself.”
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. (187-). Japanese Yakonin in dress of ceremony Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-c596-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
“Trouble me not,” replied Kuranosuke, “for I will not listen to your whining. Since my way of life is displeasing to you, I will divorce you, and you may go about your business; and I will buy some pretty young girl from one of the public-houses, and marry her for my pleasure. I am sick of the sight of an old woman like you about the house, so get you gone–the sooner the better.” So saying, he flew into a violent rage, and his wife, terror-stricken, pleaded piteously for mercy.
“Oh, my lord! unsay those terrible words! I have been your faithful wife for twenty years, and have borne you three children; in sickness and in sorrow I have been with you; you cannot be so cruel as to turn me out of doors now. Have pity! have pity!”
“Cease this useless wailing. My mind is made up, and you must go; and as the children are in my way also, you are welcome to take them with you.”
When she heard her husband speak thus, in her grief she sought her eldest son, Oishi Chikara, and begged him to plead for her, and pray that she might be pardoned. But nothing would turn Kuranosuke from his purpose, so his wife was sent away, with the two younger children, and went back to her native place. But Oishi Chikara remained with his father.
The spies communicated all this without fail to Kotsuke no Suke, and he, when he heard how Kuranosuke, having turned his wife and children out of doors and bought a concubine, was grovelling in a life of drunkenness and lust, began to think that he had no longer anything to fear from the retainers of Takumi no Kami, who must be cowards, without the courage to avenge their lord. So by degrees he began to keep a less strict watch, and sent back half of the guard which had been lent to him by his father-in-law, Uyesugi Sama. Little did he think how he was falling into the trap laid for him by Kuranosuke, who, in his zeal to slay his lord’s enemy, thought nothing of divorcing his wife and sending away his children! Admirable and faithful man!
In this way Kuranosuke continued to throw dust in the eyes of his foe, by persisting in his apparently shameless conduct; but his associates all went to Yedo, and, having in their several capacities as workmen and pedlars contrived to gain access to Kotsuke no Suke’s house, made themselves familiar with the plan of the building and the arrangement of the different rooms, and ascertained the character of the inmates, who were brave and loyal men, and who were cowards; upon all of which matters they sent regular reports to Kuranosuke. And when at last it became evident from the letters which arrived from Yedo that Kotsuke no Suke was thoroughly off his guard, Kuranosuke rejoiced that the day of vengeance was at hand; and, having appointed a trysting-place at Yedo, he fled secretly from Kioto, eluding the vigilance of his enemy’s spies. Then the forty-seven men, having laid all their plans, bided their time patiently.
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. Osaka Castle Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-c4cc-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
It was now midwinter, the twelfth month of the year, and the cold was bitter. One night, during a heavy fall of snow, when the whole world was hushed, and peaceful men were stretched in sleep upon the mats, the Ronins determined that no more favourable opportunity could occur for carrying out their purpose. So they took counsel together, and, having divided their band into two parties, assigned to each man his post. One band, led by Oishi Kuranosuke, was to attack the front gate, and the other, under his son Oishi Chikara, was to attack the postern of Kotsuke no Suke’s house; but as Chikara was only sixteen years of age, Yoshida Chiuzayemon was appointed to act as his guardian. Further it was arranged that a drum, beaten at the order of Kuranosuke, should be the signal for the simultaneous attack; and that if any one slew Kotsuke no Suke and cut off his head he should blow a shrill whistle, as a signal to his comrades, who would hurry to the spot, and, having identified the head, carry it off to the temple called Sengakuji, and lay it as an offering before the tomb of their dead lord. Then they must report their deed to the Government, and await the sentence of death which would surely be passed upon them. To this the Ronins one and all pledged themselves. Midnight was fixed upon as the hour, and the forty-seven comrades, having made all ready for the attack, partook of a last farewell feast together, for on the morrow they must die. Then Oishi Kuranosuke addressed the band, and said–
“To-night we shall attack our enemy in his palace; his retainers will certainly resist us, and we shall be obliged to kill them. But to slay old men and women and children is a pitiful thing; therefore, I pray you each one to take great heed lest you kill a single helpless person.” His comrades all applauded this speech, and so they remained, waiting for the hour of midnight to arrive.
When the appointed hour came, the Ronins set forth. The wind howled furiously, and the driving snow beat in their faces; but little cared they for wind or snow as they hurried on their road, eager for revenge. At last they reached Kotsuke no Suke’s house, and divided themselves into two bands; and Chikara, with twenty-three men, went round to the back gate. Then four men, by means of a ladder of ropes which they hung on to the roof of the porch, effected an entry into the courtyard; and, as they saw signs that all the inmates of the house were asleep, they went into the porter’s lodge where the guard slept, and, before the latter had time to recover from their astonishment, bound them. The terrified guard prayed hard for mercy, that their lives might be spared; and to this the Ronins agreed on condition that the keys of the gate should be given up; but the others tremblingly said that the keys were kept in the house of one of their officers, and that they had no means of obtaining them. Then the Ronins lost patience, and with a hammer dashed in pieces the big wooden bolt which secured the gate, and the doors flew open to the right and to the left. At the same time Chikara and his party broke in by the back gate.
Then Oishi Kuranosuke sent a messenger to the neighbouring houses, bearing the following message:–“We, the Ronins who were formerly in the service of Asano Takumi no Kami, are this night about to break into the palace of Kotsuke no Suke, to avenge our lord. As we are neither night robbers nor ruffians, no hurt will be done to the neighbouring houses. We pray you to set your minds at rest.” And as Kotsuke no Suke was hated by his neighbours for his covetousness, they did not unite their forces to assist him. Another precaution was yet taken. Lest any of the people inside should run out to call the relations of the family to the rescue, and these coming in force should interfere with the plans of the Ronins, Kuranosuke stationed ten of his men armed with bows on the roof of the four sides of the courtyard, with orders to shoot any retainers who might attempt to leave the place. Having thus laid all his plans and posted his men, Kuranosuke with his own hand beat the drum and gave the signal for attack.
Ten of Kotsuke no Suke’s retainers, hearing the noise, woke up; and, drawing their swords, rushed into the front room to defend their master. At this moment the Ronins, who had burst open the door of the front hall, entered the same room. Then arose a furious fight between the two parties, in the midst of which Chikara, leading his men through the garden, broke into the back of the house; and Kotsuke no Suke, in terror of his life, took refuge, with his wife and female servants, in a closet in the verandah; while the rest of his retainers, who slept in the barrack outside the house, made ready to go to the rescue. But the Ronins who had come in by the front door, and were fighting with the ten retainers, ended by overpowering and slaying the latter without losing one of their own number; after which, forcing their way bravely towards the back rooms, they were joined by Chikara and his men, and the two bands were united in one.
General Research Division, The New York Public Library. (191-?). Armour and Weapons of Ancient Warriors. Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-83bf-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
By this time the remainder of Kotsuke no Suke’s men had come in, and the fight became general; and Kuranosuke, sitting on a camp-stool, gave his orders and directed the Ronins. Soon the inmates of the house perceived that they were no match for their enemy, so they tried to send out intelligence of their plight to Uyesugi Sama, their lord’s father-in-law, begging him to come to the rescue with all the force at his command. But the messengers were shot down by the archers whom Kuranosuke had posted on the roof. So no help coming, they fought on in despair. Then Kuranosuke cried out with a loud voice: “Kotsuke no Suke alone is our enemy; let some one go inside and bring him forth. dead or alive!”
Now in front of Kotsuke no Suke’s private room stood three brave retainers with drawn swords. The first was Kobayashi Hehachi, the second was Waku Handaiyu, and the third was Shimidzu Ikkaku, all good men and true, and expert swordsmen. So stoutly did these men lay about them that for a while they kept the whole of the Ronins at bay, and at one moment even forced them back. When Oishi Kuranosuke saw this, he ground his teeth with rage, and shouted to his men: “What! did not every man of you swear to lay down his life in avenging his lord, and now are you driven back by three men? Cowards, not fit to be spoken to! to die fighting in a master’s cause should be the noblest ambition of a retainer!” Then turning to his own son Chikara, he said, “Here, boy! engage those men, and if they are too strong for you, die!”
Spurred by these words, Chikara seized a spear and gave battle to Waku Handaiyu, but could not hold his ground, and backing by degrees, was driven out into the garden, where he missed his footing and slipped into a pond, but as Handaiyu, thinking to kill him, looked down into the pond, Chikara cut his enemy in the leg and caused him to fall, and then, crawling out of the water dispatched him. In the meanwhile Kobayashi Hehachi and Shimidzu Ikkaku had been killed by the other Ronins, and of all Kotsuke no Suke’s retainers not one fighting man remained. Chikara, seeing this, went with his bloody sword in his hand into a back room to search for Kotsuke no Suke, but he only found the son of the latter, a young lord named Kira Sahioye, who, carrying a halberd, attacked him, but was soon wounded and fled. Thus the whole of Kotsuke no Suke’s men having been killed, there was an end of the fighting; but as yet there was no trace of Kotsuke no Suke to be found.
Then Kuranosuke divided his men into several parties and searched the whole house, but all in vain; women and children weeping were alone to be seen. At this the forty-seven men began to lose heart in regret, that after all their toil they had allowed their enemy to escape them, and there was a moment when in their despair they agreed to commit suicide together upon the spot; but they determined to make one more effort. So Kuranosuke went into Kotsuke no Suke’s sleeping-room, and touching the quilt with his hands, exclaimed, “I have just felt the bed-clothes and they are yet warm, and so methinks that our enemy is not far off. He must certainly be hidden somewhere in the house.” Greatly excited by this, the Ronins renewed their search. Now in the raised part of the room, near the place of honour, there was a picture hanging; taking down this picture, they saw that there was a large hole in the plastered wall, and on thrusting a spear in they could feel nothing beyond it. So one of the Ronins, called Yazama Jiutaro, got into the hole, and found that on the other side there was a little courtyard, in which there stood an outhouse for holding charcoal and firewood. Looking into the outhouse, he spied something white at the further end, at which he struck with his spear, when two armed men sprang out upon him and tried to cut him down, but he kept them back until one of his comrades came up and killed one of the two men and engaged the other, while Jiutaro entered the outhouse and felt about with his spear. Again seeing something white, he struck it with his lance, when a cry of pain betrayed that it was a man; so he rushed up, and the man in white clothes, who had been wounded in the thigh, drew a dirk and aimed a blow at him. But Jiutaro wrested the dirk from him, and clutching him by the collar, dragged him out of the outhouse. Then the other Ronin came up, and they examined the prisoner attentively, and saw that he was a noble-looking man, some sixty years of age, dressed in a white satin sleeping-robe, which was stained by the blood from the thigh-wound which, Jiutaro had inflicted. The two men felt convinced that this was no other than Kotsuke no Suke, and they asked him his name, but he gave no answer, so they gave the signal whistle, and all their comrades collected together at the call; then Oishi Kuranosuke, bringing a lantern, scanned the old man’s features, and it was indeed Kotsuke no Suke; and if further proof were wanting, he still bore a scar on his forehead where their master, Asano Takumi no Kami, had wounded him during the affray in the castle. There being no possibility of mistake, therefore, Oishi Kuranosuke went down on his knees, and addressing the old man very respectfully, said–
“My lord, we are the retainers of Asano Takumi no Kami. Last year your lordship and our master quarrelled in the palace, and our master was sentenced to _hara-kiri,_ and his family was ruined. We have come to-night to avenge him, as is the duty of faithful and loyal men. I pray your lordship to acknowledge the justice of our purpose. And now, my lord, we beseech you to perform _hara-kiri_. I myself shall have the honour to act as your second, and when, with all humility, I shall have received your lordship’s head, it is my intention to lay it as an offering upon the grave of Asano Takumi no Kami.”
Thus, in consideration of the high rank of Kotsuke no Suke, the Ronins treated him with the greatest courtesy, and over and over again entreated him to perform hara-kiri. But he crouched speechless and trembling. At last Kuranosuke, seeing that it was vain to urge him to die the death of a nobleman, forced him down, and cut off his head with the same dirk with which Asano Takumi no Kami had killed himself. Then the forty-seven comrades, elated at having accomplished their design, placed the head in a bucket, and prepared to depart; but before leaving the house they carefully extinguished all the lights and fires in the place, lest by any accident a fire should break out and the neighbours suffer.
As they were on their way to Takanawa, the suburb in which the temple called Sengakuji stands, the day broke; and the people flocked out to see the forty-seven men, who, with their clothes and arms all blood-stained, presented a terrible appearance; and every one praised them, wondering at their valour and faithfulness. But they expected every moment that Kotsuke no Suke’s father-in-law would attack them and carry off the head, and made ready to die bravely sword in hand. However, they reached Takanawa in safety, for Matsudaira Aki no Kami, one of the eighteen chief daimios of Japan, of whose house Asano Takumi no Kami had been a cadet, had been highly pleased when he heard of the last night’s work, and he had made ready to assist the Ronins in case they were attacked. So Kotsuke no Suke’s father-in-law dared not pursue them.
At about seven in the morning they came opposite to the palace of Matsudaira Mutsu no Kami, the Prince of Sendai, and the Prince, hearing of it, sent for one of his councillors and said: “The retainers of Takumi no Kami have slain their lord’s enemy, and are passing this way; I cannot sufficiently admire their devotion, so, as they must be tired and hungry after their night’s work, do you go and invite them to come in here, and set some gruel and a cup of wine before them.”
So the councilor went out and said to Oishi Kuranosuke: “Sir, I am a councillor of the Prince of Sendai, and my master bids me beg you, as you must be worn out after all you have undergone, to come in and partake of such poor refreshment as we can offer you. This is my message to you from my lord.”
“I thank you, sir,” replied Kuranosuke. “It is very good of his lordship to trouble himself to think of us. We shall accept his kindness gratefully.”
So the forty-seven Ronins went into the palace, and were feasted with gruel and wine, and all the retainers of the Prince of Sendai came and praised them.
Then Kuranosuke turned to the councillor and said, “Sir, we are truly indebted to you for this kind hospitality; but as we have still to hurry to Sengakuji, we must needs humbly take our leave.” And, after returning many thanks to their hosts, they left the palace of the Prince of Sendai and hastened to Sengakuji, where they were met by the abbot of the monastery, who went to the front gate to receive them, and led them to the tomb of Takumi no Kami.
And when they came to their lord’s grave, they took the head of Kotsuke no Suke, and having washed it clean in a well hard by, laid it as an offering before the tomb. When they had done this, they engaged the priests of the temple to come and read prayers while they burnt incense: first Oishi Kuranosuke burnt incense, and then his son Oishi Chikara, and after them the other forty-five men performed the same ceremony. Then Kuranosuke, having given all the money that he had by him to the abbot, said–
“When we forty-seven men shall have performed _hara-kiri_, I beg you to bury us decently. I rely upon your kindness. This is but a trifle that I have to offer; such as it is, let it be spent in masses for our souls!” And the abbot, marvelling at the faithful courage of the men, with tears in his eyes pledged himself to fulfil their wishes. So the forty-seven Ronins, with their minds at rest, waited patiently until they should receive the orders of the Government.
Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. Fujiyama, Japan. Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/c260bdb3-9b60-4552-e040-e00a18066d81
At last they were summoned to the Supreme Court, where the governors of Yedo and the public censors had assembled; and the sentence passed upon them was as follows: “Whereas, neither respecting the dignity of the city nor fearing the Government, having leagued yourselves together to slay your enemy, you violently broke into the house of Kira Kotsuke no Suke by night and murdered him, the sentence of the Court is, that, for this audacious conduct, you perform hara-kiri.” When the sentence had been read, the forty-seven Ronins were divided into four parties, and handed over to the safe keeping of four different daimios; and sheriffs were sent to the palaces of those daimios in whose presence the Ronins were made to perform hara-kiri. But, as from the very beginning they had all made up their minds that to this end they must come, they met their death nobly; and their corpses were carried to Sengakuji, and buried in front of the tomb of their master, Asano Takumi no Kami. And when the fame of this became noised abroad, the people flocked to pray at the graves of these faithful men.
Among those who came to pray was a Satsuma man, who, prostrating himself before the grave of Oishi Kuranosuke, said: “When I saw you lying drunk by the roadside at Yamashina, in Kioto, I knew not that you were plotting to avenge your lord; and, thinking you to be a faithless man, I trampled on you and spat in your face as I passed. And now I have come to ask pardon and offer atonement for the insult of last year.” With those words he prostrated himself again before the grave, and, drawing a dirk from his girdle, stabbed himself in the belly and died. And the chief priest of the temple, taking pity upon him, buried him by the side of the Ronins; and his tomb still remains to be seen with those of the forty-seven comrades.
Freeman-Mitford, A.B. (1871) Tales of Old Japan. London,
Ah yes, another top 100 list. Every anime blog must have one right? While most anime lists include anime the writer likes, this one contains many I didn’t like at all. However, their importance and popularity demands they have a place. I have seen at least a few episodes or scenes from nearly every anime on this list. As with any top 100 list, there is a lot of subjectivity. Many more deserve a mention but without watching (or knowing about) them I cannot make a judgement. These anime are ranked by impact, popularity, and importance. Their representation for good and bad anime habits also influenced their rank. Anime has many bad habits that can be traced all the way to Astro Boy, filler being one of the main issues. Over time, anime developed its own stereotypes and tropes. I tried to include shows that best represent these bad habits and story-telling stereotypes. The worse they are, they better they ranked as a representation of the bad. I considered making a separate list for these, but everything needs to be understood in context, so I settled on combining them with the good. This list has a bias toward newer anime; I ranked them higher because more fans are familiar with them than anime from the 1980s and 1990s. This is an image heavy post.
Kekkaishi plunges us into the world of Japanese folklore and cake. You can’t forget cake. Kekkaishi starts slow with far too many cake jokes before it picks up. It’s world is interesting and features many monsters and creatures from Japanese myths and legends.
There is a trend in fantasy stories to pull elements from role playing video games. Overt mentions of experience points and leveling up makes you wonder if the anime is yet another world within a video game. 11 Eyes has some of this, but it is a case study in how execution and lack of time can hurt a story with potential.
Girls und Panzer
Sometimes anime combines two of the furthest possible ideas together. Girls und Panzer takes school age girls and combines it with tank warfare. The ridiculousness of the idea illustrates how anime isn’t afraid to experiment.
Red Data Girl
Shinto ideas sit at the heart of Red Data Girl. It is a fair watch, but like many high school anime it is hard to take the threat seriously amidst the high school backdrop.
Baseball bats and street assaults? Strangely enough victims of the attacks find their lives improved after the attacks. If you like psychological mysteries this is a show for you.
Guilty Crown has a bold story and interesting characters. Sadly, action sequences fall apart into panned still images. Budget constraints have hurt many stories.
Mobile Suit Gundam SEED
Mobile Suit Gundam SEED was my introduction to Gundam. SEED takes place when humans on earth, called Naturals, are different from those who live in space, the Coordinators. Like other mecha, expect a twisted plot mixed with philosophy and moral dilemmas. Gundam remains popular in Japan, and SEED introduces the franchise to a new generation.
Parasyte – the Maxim
Parasyte explores what it means to be human and the roles humans play in the environment. A race of creatures called parasytes begin to take over humans. They like to take over the human brain so they can completely control the host. Shinichi Izumi’s right arm is taken over by one of these parasytes. The characterization of Shinichi makes this anime stand out. He is believable and lacks the usual boneheaded shonen personality (impulsive, overly protective, and action oriented). Shinichi acts like a normal person with doubts, weaknesses, and resolve.
Barefoot Gen follows Gen Nakaoka and his family in Hiroshima during the last years of World War II. It is a look at what people endured (such as food shortages) and the after effects of the nuclear explosion that ravaged the city. Barefoot Gen was among the first manga (the anime came much later) that portrayed the horrors of war and nuclear destruction.
Section 9 is sent to investigate a series of murders involving gynoids, sex android. Innocence offers a tangled crime drama laced with references to Zen and philosophy. The movie proves anime can be mature, but its philosophical dialogue can be hard to follow. It challenges viewers to pay attention and think.
Fairy Tail is one of the most popular series in recent years. It doesn’t break new ground, but it shows how fantasy stories still have a place in modern storytelling.
Soul Eater’s unique art style makes this anime come to life. The strangeness from the moon to the character designs shows how anime can break expectations. Not to mention the characterizations and storytelling have interesting twists on common anime tropes.
Berserk’s dark feel shares similarities with the Dark Knight. Set in feudal Europe, this series is a welcome respite from anime’s focus on high school and teens. It provides a nice diversity away from Japanese centric fantasy based on samurai or futuristic police.
Rurouni Kenshin is many anime fan’s first exposure to samurai and Japanese culture during the Meiji Restoration. Fill with good fights and good plot (canon plot anyway), Kenshin leverages its setting in ways that make it feel authentic. However, Kenshin, like many anime, suffers from filler arcs that hurt the story and characterization.
Yu-Gi-Oh Yu-Gi-Oh popularized its namesake card game with American children. For many, this series was among their first exposure to anime. Like Pokemon,Yu-Gi-Oh ran on Saturday morning and after school cartoon line ups. This allowed the show to be seen as a cartoon rather than an anime. This association allowed Yu-Gi-Oh to avoid some of the negative ideas the word “anime” may have had for some parents. For a long time, anime was associated with extreme violence and sexuality. Yu-Gi-Oh proves the ability of anime to be a diverse way to telling stories.
For many Digimon appears to be a knock-off of Pokemon. Digimon proved to be popular in its own right. Like Yu-Gi-Oh, it provided exposure to Japanese art styles and animation styles for many young Americans. Pokemon,Yu-Gi-Oh, and Digimon are the modern “gateway drugs” to an interest in anime, much like Speed Racer, Astro Boy, and Voltron did in previous decades.
The magical girl genre, since Sailor Moon made it widely popular, often comes off as stale and formulaic. Cardcaptor Sakura breaths new life into the genre. The series targets an audience often forgotten in the West: girls. However, Cardcaptor’s story and characters offers a little for everyone, much like Disney movies are watched by all genders and ages.
Arpeggio of Blue Steel
Arpeggio of Blue Steel features a storyline centered on battleships and submarines. Quite a difference from the usual big robots. Each ship’s AI system is represented by a cute girl (after all ships in the West are female in gender). Arpeggio deserves a place on this list because of how it could be loosely called a mecha (without the robots) and creates a plausible world without international trade.
Studio Ghibli takes a human cursed to be a pig (and who happens to be a pilot) and tells a story set in the 1930s. The time period between World War I and the rise of Hitler is often glossed over. The story is human: trying to let go of the past. Porco Rosso is often forgotten in the list of Studio Ghibli films. It is well worth a look.
Maria the Virgin Witch
Maria the Virgin Witch has many, many problems. But it is on this list because of how it plays with Western ideas of witch craft. Maria is a young witch loved by those who know her, feared by those who hear of her, and hated by the church. Maria’s resistance to the church and the will of heaven (represented by the archangel Michael) speaks to our modern relationship with traditional religion. It handles this rather ham-fistedly, but it still has an interesting story and perspective.
Kiki’s Delivery Service
Most of Studio Ghibli’s films lack world-shattering stories. Instead, they focus on a single person. Kiki’s Delivery Service follows Kiki on her flying broomstick as she grows into adulthood. The theme has been trod many times, but we each have to go through the same transition. Kiki’s Delivery Service gushes with Ghibli’s vibrant animation.
Slam Dunk is one of the most popular series in Japan during the 1990s and early 2000s. The story helped popularized basketball in Japan. Like many anime, this is a high school coming of age story.
Nana tells the story of two women with different personalities who become close friends. Nana is one of the rare josei Western releases. Most anime aims at high school and college age audiences. Nana and those like it aim at older adults.
No Game; No Life
No Game; No Life adds to the trend of video game based stories. Both main characters are intelligent and calculating, which is a welcome change over the usual hotheaded impulsive heroes anime favors. Some of the anime’s oddities (such as the too close relationship between brother Sora and sister Shiro) may turn off some fans not used to anime’s proclivities.
Shin-Chan is what happens when a kindergartner mixes with Family Guy. Full of sexual humor and childlike innocence, this anime is a funny romp on the playground. The art style is straight out of a 4 year-old’s drawing book and may be off putting for some. But the style lends a childish flavor to the antics. Don’t expect high humor or satire here.
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children
Final Fantasy VII stands at the heights of video gaming for many. Advent Children revisits the characters and breaths stylized realism into blocky polygons of yesteryear. The level of detail and realism contrasts against Western computer animated films targeting children. Animation lends itself to fantasy better than live action.
Gunslinger Girl takes teenage girls and makes them into cyborgs and gives them guns. The anime could fit into the world weaved by Ghost in the Shell. What sets this anime apart is the use of classical music to convey the feelings and thoughts of the characters.
My Neighbor Totoro
My Neighbor Totoro is one of those rare films that doesn’t use conflict and threat to move the story forward. It leverages exploration and situations. It has life-like little girls and human situations. Its sense of wonder and magic returns us to childhood for a time.
Summer Wars raises modern concerns about computers and artificial intelligence. Well written and full of humanity, the story contrasts a vibrant virtual world with a vibrant family life.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is yet another coming-of-age story with imagination and pleasant design. Makoto, being a fairly typical teenage girl, uses her powers to travel through time to help her get perfect grades, avoid being late, and other little things…until she learns her actions can hurt others.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
Ghost in the Shell tells of a future that is more plausible than Star Trek. Theft, rape, and murder continue with technological twists. At its heart, Ghost is an adult crime drama similar to NCIS and Law & Order. For many, it stands at the pinnacle of what anime can do with adult storytelling.
Magical Girl anime typically do not feature dark themes and death. From its inception Madoka Magica was meant to be something different. The developers went out of their way to disguise the dark themes in the expected innocent, frilly magical girl facade. Madoka deconstructs the magical girl genre in similar ways that Neon Genesis Evangelion deconstructed the mecha genre.
Lupin the Third
The longevity of Lupin speaks for itself. The manga released back in 1967, and the story in print and on screen remains strong today.
Fruits Basket relies on characterization to keep fans interested. Their emotions and desires shine through the artwork. Fruits Basket, like many shojo, provide a alternative look at the action heavy anime the West usually sees.
Trigun is one of those strange mash ups. Science fiction and the wild west. The mix proved more popular in the United States than in Japan.
Requiem for the Phantom
Child assassins are a favorite anime theme. Requiem for the Phantom adds another favorite: amnesia. The anime is based on a visual novel, Phantom of the Inferno. You can read my thoughts on it in this review.
The Slayers is one of the most popular anime from the heyday of the 1990s. The art style may not be to many modern fans’ tastes, but the Slayers is one of those a student of anime need to see.
FLCL is less a show and more an experience. The layers stuffed into each short episode attempts to capture the complex frenzy of modern life. You need to be well versed in Jungian psychology to catch all the symbols stuffed into each scene.
The Vision of Escaflowne
The Vision of Escaflowne flopped in Japan but was a worldwide success. The anime suggests a disconnect between Japanese tastes in stories and the rest of the anime market during the 1990s.
Most of the time female warriors wear skimpy armor. Claymore bucks this trend(Clare’s is form fitting, though). Claymore has great action: sudden and violent without the yammering anime is prone toward.
Monster is a complex story with good pacing and still avoids the nonsensical tangle complex anime fall into. Series like Monster show how anime is a great storytelling medium.
Moribito tells a story of motherhood. Balsa is an older woman with experience behind her. This dynamic is a welcome change from most fantasy stories.
The Sacred Blacksmith
The Sacred Blacksmith is best described as middling. What it does right: avoid running the breast jokes into the ground. The anime doesn’t break ground, but it provides an example of where anime stagnated in recent decades.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya was one of the most popular anime back in 2006. It sparked an online phenomenon of parodies and other videos. The anime revealed how storytelling is two directional.
Spirited Away has grossed more in the box office than any other anime to date. Popularity cannot be underestimated when it comes to importance and impact.
Perfect Blue gets into your head. This psychological thriller follows Mima as she poses nude and as rape victims for magazines. The story has a distinct Hitchcock flare. It shows just how good anime can be when it sheds its high school immaturity.
Mazinger Z popularized the giant robot genre back in the 1970s. It is the first time a character piloted a giant robot from a cockpit. It was also the first time a female robot appeared. The anime laid the foundation for later mecha anime.
Macross is a mecha series that tries to avoid black and white thinking. It’s antagonists are not inherently evil unlike other mecha at the time.
Do you like ghost stories? Ghost Hunt is TAPS (Ghost Hunters) with a Japanese twist.
Beyond the Boundary
Beyond the Boundary is a fair anime that provides another look at how anime plays up male fetishes. On a positive side, it handles small gestures well and has a female lead with steel in her character.
Dusk Maiden of Amnesia
Anime ghost stories can be gripping when done well. Contrast is the key, and Dusk Maiden of Amnesia uses anime style humor to accent its dark moments well. The cinematography of this anime lends to the creep factor well. Some of the shots have a distinct Hitchcock feel.
Burst Angel would be a much better anime if it modeled itself after crime thrillers like Ghost in the Shell rather than mix in teen-angst found in mecha focused anime.
Sword Art Online
People either love SAO or hate it. Sword Art Online helped popularize the trapped-in-a-game genre. If anything, this new genre shows the importance of video games in modern culture.
Akame Ga Kill
Akame Ga Kill straddles the fantasy and trapped-in-a-game genres. While most of the time it stands firmly in fantasy, some of the battles and dialog come from video games. The humor of the series comes at terrible times and clashes rather than accents the dark themes present in the story.
Harem series like Shuffle! flirt with the outright ridiculous. However, Shuffle breaks from the pack with a heartfelt story. Some of this is because it is a seinen anime as opposed to an ecchi or shonen harem story.
High school love triangles within yet other triangles and comedy antics mark School Rumble. It is a fluffy show with heart and decent humor.
Howl’s Moving Castle
Based on a children’s book, for many Howl’s Moving Castle is Studio Ghibli at its best.
Thought provoking best describes Mushi-shi. Episodic is another word. The story looks at the relationship we have with the natural and spiritual world we often do not see.
The World Only God Knows
A harem with a heart describes The World Only God Knows. Watch as an aloof, awkward video game dork is forced by a demon from Hell to break out of his shell and use his skills in dating sims to cast out evil spirits.
Last Exile is a great story set in a rusty steampunk world. With superb visuals and pacing, what more can you ask for?
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind was written by Hayao Miyazaki. The movie cemented Studio Ghibli’s place as a major player and even inspired chocobos in the Final Fantasy video game series.
Cute female android. Check. Awkward situations with a horny but good-hearted college man. Check. Chobits leads the viewer on a journey to discover love and humanity.
Thought provoking dystopia best describes Wolf’s Rain. The story is complex (and confusing) but the dark themes and music by Yoko Kanno are excellent.
Dark themes and menacing artwork brings this dystopian story alive. It is gothic like a cathedral: darkly beautiful but also vibrantly lit by the sunlight of its characters.
Forget Twilight and sparkly vampires. Hellsing Ultimate is a trip over the edge of psychosis. It bleeds with violence to the point where the story becomes secondary. Much of its brutality seeks to highlight to darkness of bored immortality.
El Cazador de la Bruja
It isn’t often you see an anime set in Mexico. The focus on female protagonists and a believable Wild West feel sets this anime apart.
Stories without violence come as a relief. Barakamon follows a stereotypical dramatic artist on his journey to a small rural island to rediscover his muse. The focus on simple life and relationships makes this story a nice watch.
Gurren Lagann handles suspense right. It’s story is clear and comes with great twists. Surprising for a mecha. Add in a coming of age story that doesn’t involve high school and you have a winner.
One Week Friends
Friendship can be difficult and in today’s society it is a commodity. One Week Friends shows just how valuable friendship and relationships are and how much work they can take.
Code Geass takes mecha themes and doubles down on how mecha questions power and the conflict between ends and means.
For many, Robotech was the first exposure to mecha and anime. Robotech helped the popularity of anime grow in the US during the 1980s.
Mobile Suit Gundam
Gundam fever strikes many as one of Japan’s strange interests. Mobile Suit Gundam remains one of the most popular anime series in Japan, inspiring giant robot statues and more. It set the standard for all mecha to follow.
Naruto remains one of the most popular anime series in the United States. Its popularity has helped make anime legitimate and a staple in American childhood.
Attack on Titan
The popularity of Attack on Titan surprised many. It is one of those few titles that appeals to those who avoid animation.
Welcome to the NHK
Hikikomori becomes more common as relationships become more difficult. Welcome to the NHK examines the trend through the eyes of a sufferer.
Space Dandy continues the family of Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo. Space Dandy suffered from too much hype, but it continues the episodic antics Bebop and Champloo popularized.
Grave of the Fireflies
Grave of the Fireflies is a hard movie to watch. It tells a story of what happened to many Japanese children during World War II. It shows how animation can be serious and heart wrenching when done well.
Princess Mononoke was the first animated film to win the Japan Academy Prize. Many consider the film as a landmark in animation because of its quality and complex, adult script.
Although Fullmetal Alchemist doesn’t follow the manga, the characters break away from the standard shonen type. Edward uses intelligence more than brawn. In Brotherhood, he falls back into the standard impulsive meathead shonen stereotype.
Love, Chunibyo, and Other Delusions
Love, Chunibyo, and Other Delusions looks at chunibyo, or a reluctance to grow up. The anime is full of heart but avoids being overly sentimental. As these stories go, it is well balanced and worth the watch.
Death Note dominated anime for a time with its popularity. It spread across the internet through fanfictions and garnered a cult-like following. Its dark themes and questions about morality (such as the question of ends and means) hit home with many.
Spice and Wolf
Economics doesn’t get enough attention as a plot device. Spice and Wolf sometimes delves too deeply, but the adult relationship and banter between Holo and Lawrence elevates this story. Sadly, it looks unlikely the anime will be concluded.
Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood
FMA: Brotherhood remakes the first series and follows the manga closer than the original. Brotherhood provides an accessible entry point for those looking to start watching anime.
Cowboy Bebop remains a classic. It is the best anime to introduce the medium to those who have doubts. Many who hate anime like Cowboy Bebop.
Eureka Seven shifts the mecha genre while retaining tradition. The bright colors and surfer theme break from the usual dark colors and themes found in most mecha. While the story retains the grandiose plot, the relationship between Renton and Eureka is the focus.
Rose of Versailles
Rose of Versailles is one of the most important stories for women’s roles. In the story, Oscar François de Jarjayes takes a role typically reserved for male characters. She doesn’t lose her identity to her male love interest like other stories of the time period the story released.
Samurai Champloo stands as the spiritual sequel to the classic Cowboy Bebop. It’s strange mix of hip-hop and Edo period Japan. In many regards Samurai Champloo surpasses Cowboy Bebop.
One Piece captures childhood for many. It is the best-selling manga series in history. Popularity creates impact, and few stories have had more impact than One Piece in the lives of fans.
Aside from Astro Boy, Pokemon is the most important anime. This is especially true of the United States. Pokemon may have begun as a video game, but it jumped mediums to television and books without any problems. For many Americans Pokemon defines childhood. Its messages of friendship, perseverance, loyalty, and hard work appeals to parents. Its bright colors and cute characters appeals to children. People around the world recognize Pikachu. What makes Pokemon significant is how it isn’t considered anime. It is simply a cartoon. This shows how anime has gone from being a niche market to a part of the American childhood. Pokemon remains the most popular anime franchise. It opens doors toward mainstream acceptance of the medium and raises generations on the art style. This makes Pokemon a gateway for more interest in anime.