Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Update!

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So what have I been doing?

It's been a while since I wrote a good old fashioned update post for the blog. There's been a lot of things going on recently so I never really get to post about my work as much.

This update can be summed up into four points:

First: I have two short stories currently being sent out. No, they are not for Cirsova. They don't quite fit the mood that magazine is going for. I'm hoping to here word back on them within the next few weeks. These stories are great and were a lot of fun to write. If you enjoyed my story in volume 3 of the Crossover Alliance then you should dig these. I hope you get to read them sooner than later, but that is mostly out of my hands at this point.

Second: I am near completion on a novella I have been working on for some time. It's an off-kilter story with a lot of action that was a different sort of experience to put into words. More on this when I have it all hashed out and ready. I'm hoping the folks in the pulp revolution crowd will like it as much as I do.

Third: Book 2 of Knights of the End needs a heavy rewrite. I had written it a while back since before the first book was even published and I've learned a lot since then. I've also had a few epiphanies regarding that world. So you can hopefully expect this by the end of the year, God willing.

Fourth: All of those things happening is contingent on events currently unfolding in my personal life. As it is, I will most likely be out of town on the first week of July. So the likelihood of any of this coming out soon relies on forces outside of my control. Thoughts and prayers would be appreciated.

And that's basically where I am at right now.

As I write it out it actually feels like I'm a lot further along than I initially thought. Despite what I've got going on I'm still pushing ahead and writing what I want (and from what I've heard, what my audience wants) and doing it at a pretty solid pace.

Thanks to everyone who reads and links to this blog, including Brian Niemeier, Jeffro Johnson, and the Pulp Revolution folks. I've been having a blast writing and reading all this stuff I didn't know existed, or was even certain it could have. But things are changing, and I hope to be a part of that change.

Rev it up, everyone!


Friday, 16 June 2017

A Review of Cirsova #4 [Part 2]

Check it out Here!

A friendly reminder that Cirsova is still taking submissions for off-kilter science fiction and fantasy stories. And with that done, we now return to our regularly scheduled post continuing from last week.

For those who missed it, I reviewed the first half of the issue here. This post will cover the remainder of issue four.

. . . Where There Is No Sanctuary by Howie K. Bentley is next and it is a real punch in the face. This might be my favorite story in the issue. A werewolf warrior cuts his way through a demonic tower that has fallen out of time. Lots of action, horror, and imagination. This is the type of material that I read Cirsova for.

But then we have another turn. Dust of Truth by Joyce Frohn is about a group of barbarian women looting and pillaging before a wedding to her subservient man. And that’s the whole story. There aren’t any twists or turns or real sense of danger. Events transpire around the main character, and then it ends. There is also no reason given for the sex-flipped roles, and it is distracting. This is easily my least favorite story I've read in any issue of Cirsova.

Thankfully, it was a one-off. The Priests of Shalaz by Jay Barnson is another great tale. This one is about a border between worlds and involves the British Empire, magic, and giants. It’s very much in the vein of Burroughs and sets the pace again after the last story's bump in the road.

It’s followed up by The Last Dues Owed by Christine Lucas, a story about an assassin that finds himself trapped in a plot that involves Egyptian magic, a battle between assassins, and his possible family(?) on top of it. This was another solid read.

Then we have the second and final novelette of the issue, Shadow Vision by Preston Dennett. This was right up my alley. A boy with a strange gift travels through a shadow fog with his companions and meets some . . . interesting obstacles along the way. This is pure Fantasy Adventure.

As we near the end we reach The Ride by Edward McDermott. This is about a man escaping pursuers into a mountain cave system and facing what lies in the dark. It's creepy, unsettling, and action packed. The issue has really turned around since Dust of Truth. This story is very much what I enjoyed about Cirsova the most.

The last story in this double-stuffed issue is The Phantom Sands of Calavass by S.H. Mansouri. This was about an investigator landing on a desert planet and looking into some strange murders. Naturally, because this is Cirsova, things go south very quickly. This was a good story to end the issue though it took a while to get moving and the ending was not quite satisfying enough for me. This was another solid tale.

At the end we have an essay by Liana Kerzner called The Feminine Force Awakens about that recent Disney fanfiction Star Wars movie with a similar title, though it is really about women roles in science fiction and fantasy and how said movie gets credit for doing something it should not be getting credit for. If you want to know the real history of women and their place in the history of the genre you could do a lot worse than this. As an example, you could be reading mainstream blogs that vilify everything written before 1980 in another pathetic attempt at revisionism.

To sum it up, this was not one of the best issues of Cirsova. Issues #2 and #3 are still the ones to beat. However, it still offers a good amount of bang for your buck, and a few of the stories (as well as the poem and essay) are some of the best they've yet put out. If you're new to Cirsova, I recommend any of the earlier issues, but if you're a fan then dig in.

We need more magazines like Cirsova, reminding us jut how inspiring and jaw-dropping speculative fiction can be. In an age of grey fog, it is the lighthouse shining the way back home. You are doing yourself a disservice if you are not reading this magazine.

Recommended.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Homesick for the Future

If the universe were to randomly cease existing tomorrow (we've been waiting billions of years, what's the hold up?!) I imagine one thing would happen with 100% certainty. Before being erased from existence, one man will speak. He will wear a smirk on his face before stating to the terrified: "It's really not so bad. You're just nostalgic for your childhood. This is fine." Then the universe ends and we all swirl into the void.

It is a fascinating mentality to have. Imagine being so dismissive and scared of the past that one can't admit there were aspects of it better than where we live in the present. Now there is something to be said about being obsessed with a time period in one's life, but it is much different today. This type of "forward" thinking is now one step away from being cultism.

A long time ago, there was a saying. It was a line used to excuse degrading standards and subversion of classic properties in a way to dodge all legitimate criticism. It is not used so much today though the spirit is very much alive.

The motto went like this:

Question: What is the Golden Age of *insert subject here*?
Answer: Age 8 to 10.

This was the original nostalgia argument used to shut down any criticism of a newer product from the time of the 1970s and '80s, and earlier. This argument can be found looking in old letter columns from the era. However, nobody uses it anymore. It is easy to puzzle out why it has. Because this claim falls apart on closer inspection and has been proven wrong with, ironically, the passage of time.

Time has passed, and many fans of different entertainment mediums have not had the benefit of being 8 or 10 years old when Superman's first comic was released or when The Moon Pool was first run. So then, how can there be people alive today who prefer that older age in comparison to what is currently being put out? It is unclear, according to these types. How can one prefer action movies of the 1980s when they were born in 1994? That should not happen. And yet another individual who grew up with those very same movies is apparently only able to enjoy them due to a nebulous concept called nostalgia. That simply cannot be the case, at least not in every example.

The fact is that different eras consist of changing aesthetics, different morals, and, sometimes, varying quality. Film grain used for a TV set in the 1980s is different from the HD widescreen contraptions of the modern era. Black and white is different from early colorization. This begs the question of how would one argue that the preference of one over the other is due to what each individual experienced in their youth.

Better yet, how does one prove this is the reason for the preference?

This accusation requires a heavy duty dose of projection from the accuser, as it otherwise has no real bearing on a discussion centered on taste. And what it tends to lead to is the revelation that the accuser is really a member of The Cult of the New.

"How can you possibly like this old thing better than this new thing! This was made more recently, therefore it must be better. All the progress we've made in history dictates this! Clearly, you must only like this inferior relic is because you are pining for a long lost youth and are simply out of touch with what the standard is now."

The trick in this accusation is that it can't be argued against. Reasons for taste and preference cannot be proven. Therefore The Mists of Avalon is an objectively better book than Le Morte D'Arthur because of the centuries of progress since the latter. Stories of knights are simply better because they must be. How can one argue against it? Progress dictates it must be so. Taste is absolutely no factor here.

However, it is.

It always is.

As a personal example, my favorite video game is Super Mario Bros. 3 and it has been for many years. Many gamers seethe at this revelation. I have been confronted with the nostalgia argument because there simply can't be any reason I could prefer an old action game to the cinematic scripted hallway shooters of today. Clearly, I must be deficient, otherwise how can I possibly prefer anything old? Old things are always inferior to new things, remember. I must be shunned. This way the narrative of New is allowed to persist. This is how the cult operates.

The problem is that I am never asked why it is my favorite game. I have no special memories regarding the game. It was not the first entry in the series I played. It was not released on my favorite video game console. I prefer the art-style of 16-bit and 32-bit sprites over 8-bit. There is no nostalgia attached to my preference.

If anything, my nostalgic attachment should be to Super Mario World, which falls into nearly every criteria above, and is not even close to one of my favorite games on the system it was released for. I could beat the game in less than ten minutes in my youth, and yet I don't really care much for it these days. Any sentimental attachment I have for it is divorced from my opinion of the game's quality.

But if this situation were to flip, one could find the same issue with The Cult of the New. Every new release is showered with aplomb and gusto before being forgotten within months. We live in a throwaway culture.

Take the Avatar film by James Cameron. It was showered with praise upon release, made more money than most filmmakers can dream of, and critics were hounded, insulted, and spat upon for daring to point out any flaws it might have had. Now you will struggle to find anyone who cares one whit for it, or is looking forward to its sequels. Video games also have this problem. BioShock Infinite was hailed as an unparalleled masterpiece, as was Uncharted 2, and any game Guerrilla Games has ever made. These products are bathed in a tsunami of attention at release, and then forgotten in a year. As a prediction: by November there will hardly be anyone still talking about Prey instead of the newest holiday releases.

Which group has the shallow attachment to the product?

It happens on a wider scale, as well. Any criticism of the legion of faceless, interchangeable modern popstars is met with held noses while few garden variety music fans, if anyone, purchases said artists' work or could name a song by them if confronted. Hollywood can still do no wrong in the face of so many people, yet those same members of the audience will admit that much of what Hollywood puts out is of lackluster quality when confronted. It is a form of Stockholm Syndrome. The entertainment industry has been around so long, and constantly "improving" from the terrible old days, that surely they must be leading the way to a brighter tomorrow. After all, that is what they have been promised.

And yet, it is a facade. Television ratings are in the toilet and Hollywood serves up warmed over remakes every week in the theater. If a member of The Cult of the New is confronted with this, they will cop to it. Yes, the entertainment industry is not in a good place right now. It's stagnant, sterile. It looks as if the entertainment industry worldwide has connived together to create bland formless grey goo to get the audiences trained. Get them on gruel, and they'll stop expecting steak.

Most know this, and yet will continue to insist that new is objectively better than old in every case. They must continue to hold these contrasting ideas in their head that current art and entertainment is lackluster and old works are critically flawed and clearly are not worth any attention, otherwise they will need to face the truth. What they are saying, and do not even realize, is that everything is lackluster. Entertainment is lackluster. Art is lackluster. Everything ever created is lackluster. Therefore, life itself is lackluster.

One has to wonder if the current epidemic of depression and suicide has anything to do with this mentality. That is, if they have the time to reflect before the next product Hollywood wants them to consume is put out. That will keep them good and distracted!

If one can only like the old because of an intangible itch in the heart, then where does that leave those who worship the new because of an intangible itch in their heart?

What is The Cult of the New hoping for? Are they looking to the future for a perfect utopia that they are certainly owed? But this very idea is dependent on tearing down the old, and abandoning the new at a faster and faster rate with every passing day. This is merely hedonism at breakneck speed. Consume, consume, consume. Don't think! There is a new product on the market. It's totally original and brand new! What do you mean it has been done before? You're just being nostalgic. This is better because it has perfected and sanded off all those problematic old things. Quickly now! Get it before it's gone!

And before they know it, they are old, alone, and with a shelf full of useless junk that they indulged in once and never give a second thought to. Just like a lemming coming off a sugar rush, the consumer is left broken at the bottom of the cliff wondering how they got there and why they feel so empty. One who only ever looks forward is doomed to miss the road falling out from under their feet-- looking down, up, and backwards, is an important tip to keep awareness!

This is a generation that does not indulge in dealing with the old. It will do them good to remember this thought process when they are living out their latter days in a retirement center, depressed and alone. Grandma is old. Grandma is outdated. Grandma is useless. Grandma is dead. Why are you still thinking about her, are you some kind of nostalgic? Keep your eyes forward and on the glorious future ahead. Don't think about it. Don't ever think about it. Don't look down. Hey, look, a new Star Wars movie!

Forget yesterday. Forget today. Forget tomorrow. Is history--is the world so easily disposable? This is the world the cult is creating around you at this very moment.

Yes, there are Baby Boomers who think the 1960s were perfection and untouchable for purely selfish reasons. Yes, there are Gen-Xers who think Nirvana is the best thing to happen to music. Yes, there are Millennials wishing that old Disney sitcoms were still around in a non-ironic way.

They might all be wrong, but at the very least their preferences are not steeped in a cult like belief of blindly charging down a dark train tunnel toward the light while ignoring they whistle blowing at the other end. Hey, if it's at the other end of the track, it must be better than the starting position. Progress dictates it is!

Nostalgia is a drug, but it is not a proper argument against enjoying the old. This is a conversation killer for a reason. Nostalgia is also not nearly as dangerous as the opposite is proving to be.

At the end of the day, it's really about taste. Aesthetics, design, content, and character, are all dependent on what the individual prefers.

What is not about taste is the blind belief that the road ahead is smooth and the sun so bright one needs to wear sunglasses. To believe something like this is less about any of the above qualities and more about about an empty and desperate hope that those who dare stop along the road to destiny and look back are simply mistaken and fundamentally flawed thinkers. This is about projection and reassurance to the cult member, not taste.

If it weren't about the forceful acceptance of new, revisionism wouldn't be nearly as popular as it is. Sure, the reason you've never heard of an author like A. Merritt must be because he is old and his stuff wasn't that good. It certainly can't be that he has been slandered, purposely let out of print, and scrubbed from history despite his popularity when alive. If you believe that, then you're either already part of the cult or you aren't paying attention. You're homesick for a place that does not even exist.

But you don't have to be. You can simply like things for what they are regardless of when they were made. It's not all that difficult.

You just have to stop, think, and look around.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

A Review of Cirsova #4 [Part 1]



Before I continue on, there is something readers should know. For those interested, Cirsova is open for story submissions. Have a Heroic Fantasy and Science Fiction tale? Then send it in to them. More information on submissions can be found on their site.

In the meantime, here's a review I've been meaning to get out for awhile.

This review took a while to get off the ground. Not only was I away from blogging for a while where this fell on the back-burner, but this issue of Cirsova is twice as big as a normal issue. There is a lot to cover.

With 18 pieces to go through, I decided to split this up into two posts. I hope you will indulge me in this since one long post would clutter everything up.

First up we have Wall Wardens by Lynn Rushlau. This is a fantastical story set in a dystopic world where a warden is framed with one of the worst crimes imaginable. This was a great start to the volume since it slides the reader into a world that clearly screams that this is a pulp magazine. Quite enjoyed this one.

The Lady of the Amorous City by Edward M. Erdelac is next. Two boys are tasked with slaying a monster in absence of a proper knight to take the quest. But things might not be quite what they seem. I have a bit of a weak point when it comes to stories of honorable knights so I already have a bias for this. Great characters and a simple, but engaging, plot. The ending was also my favorite in the issue.

In the third story, The Unfolding of the World by Harold R. Thompson, Captain Anchor Brown is tasked with mapping a river and is enveloped in an adventure when he ends up over his head. This tale features some exciting duels and plenty of adventure to go around. The ending is a bit quiet for my taste.

Then there’s The Sands of Rubal-Khali by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt. This one is about a slave girl on a distant planet desperately trying to win her freedom and find her sister. I wasn’t much of a fan of the ending as it stopped short without resolution; it just missed feeling satisfying.

Next is The Witch of Elrica by Jennifer Povey. This one was about a teenager and a witch getting together during an arranged marriage party. This wasn’t really my type of story, and the ending didn’t do much for me, but it was well told.

The Vault of Phalos by Jeffrey Scott Sims is the first of two novelettes in the magazine. The start was really slow as it was used to set the world up. It took far too much time before we even got a main character’s name. However, it eventually all comes together to a phenomenal final encounter making the wait worth it. It just could have stood a bit more trimming overall.

Ever wonder what a more fantastical Jason Bourne story might be like? The Bubbcat by Sean Monaghan might be what you’re looking for. There are a lot of quick cuts to other locations and times which can make the story disorienting at times, but it works well in the frame of the story. There seems to be a bit of unresolved story revolving around the brother unless I missed something. Nonetheless, it’s one of the best stories in the issue.

After that we come to A Suit of Haidrah Skin by Rob Lang. This was a really imaginative story that was so bleak I thought the pages were turning a shade darker as I read along. This was a fascinating read, but not really my sort of story.

The ninth story is Lost Men by Eugene L. Morgulis. It was a meta take on Peter Pan and I really didn’t like it. I saw the ending coming far too soon in the story. If you like these sorts of stories you will most certainly like it more than I did. The prose was splendid.

The third part of My Name is John Carter by James Hutchings followed, and it was a pleasant breather from the last two stories. I’m no expert on poetry but I do appreciate this series as they attempt to retell the John Carter story. If there is a reason to collect Cirsova issues beyond the excellent stories, it’s for material like this.

There's still more to go, but for now I'll end it here. Tune in next time when we finish off the issue with some great (and not so great) stories to go over.

Oh, and if you have a story you're looking to sell, be sure to check out Cirsova. They'll be open for submissions from June 1st  to July 15th.

Until next time!

Thursday, 1 June 2017

100 Accessible Anime Guide for Fans (Part 4)

And with this post, we reach the end of this short series on anime.

This last list of 25 was the most difficult to compile. After 2004, the pickings got slim, and between 2007 and 2015 the industry was hitting lows in breadth of series and in general quality. I've already covered this many times by now, so I'll skip it here. You already know the last ten years of anime has not been the most accessible for older fans or your garden variety genre or cartoon fan.

But it's not all hopeless.

By 2015 the industry began to offer more content for the audiences they'd been neglecting. This later came to light that 1 in 4 studios are currently losing money (it was 20% between 2011 and 2014) which obviously means a change in focus is needed. The industry has been skrinking by design since 2007, and it has been proven a bad direction.

Despite that, there were some great series during this period, and I'm going to try to point out as many as I can. As always, if you have any other suggestions, please let me know.

Enjoy!




76. Gungrave (2003)
Genre: Action Fantasy
Length: 26 episodes
Studio: Madhouse
Writer: Yasuhiro Nightow (creator, original concept), Yousuke Kuroda
Director: Toshiyuki Tsuru


PlotGungrave opens thirteen years after Brandon Heat is betrayed and killed by his best friend Harry McDowell. He is reborn through the use of necrolyze as Beyond The Grave, and begins a quest of revenge against the crime syndicate. The series then backtracks to Brandon's youth, and follows him and Harry as they rise through the criminal underworld, detailing the circumstances that led to their eventual falling-out.

Opinion: Featuring most of the Trigun staff (sans the director who was busy with Hajime no Ippo), Gungrave represents one of the few adaptions of a video game property that surpassed the source material. Partially because of the Trigun staff's involvement, Gungrave turns into a reflection of that series from the perspective of innocence to corruption and the possibility of redemption from the point of no return. Fans of Trigun would do well to see it, but it stands well enough on its own.



77. Last Exile (2003)
Genre: Steampunk
Length: 26 episodes
Studio: Gonzo
Writer: Koichi Chigira
Director: Koichi Chigira


Plot: The story is set on the fictional world of Prester, where its inhabitants use aerial vehicles known as vanships as a means of transportation. On this world which is divided in eternal conflict between the nations of Anatoray and Disith, sky couriers Claus Valca and Lavie Head must deliver a girl who holds the key to uniting the two factions.

Opinion: This really popular steampunk series received a lot of attention back in the day. It was one of the few that was promoted heavily in trying to get younger audiences into anime overseas. That was back when companies cared about that. The series features a lot of questions before it starts providing answers and might turn of the impatient. However, those that are willing to wait will be rewarded. This type of unabashedly old school design was already becoming rarer by 2003; there is little chance a series like this would thrive today.



78. Planetes (2003)
Genre: Science Fiction
Length: 26 episodes
Studio: Sunrise
Writer: Makoto Yukimura (original manga), Ichiro Okouchi
Director: Goro Taniguchi


Plot: The story of Planetes follows the crew of the DS-12 "Toy Box" of the Space Debris Section, a unit of Technora Corporation. Debris Section's purpose is to prevent the damage or destruction of satellites, space stations and spacecraft from collision with debris in Earth's and the Moon's orbits. They use a number of methods to dispose of the debris (mainly by burning it via atmospheric reentry or through salvage), accomplished through the use of EVA suits.

Opinion: If you didn't know any better, I could tell you this series was written in the early '80s and you would believe it. This is par of the course with Makoto Yukimura who wrote this science fiction manga that felt equal parts adventure and philosophy lesson. It focuses on the wonders of life and hope while introducing a cast of characters you can't help but root for in a future bordering on creation and destruction. This was an anomaly back in 2003, but it in a good way. Unfortunately it's out of print these days and goes for for quite the penny. Here's hoping for a re-release.



79. Tokyo Godfathers (2003)
Genre: Drama
Length: 92 minutes
Studio: Madhouse
Writer: Satoshi Kon, Keiko Nobumoto
Director: Satoshi Kon


Plot: One Christmas Eve three people, a middle-aged alcoholic named Gin, a former drag queen Hana, and a dependent runaway girl Miyuki, discover an abandoned newborn while looking through the garbage. Deposited with the unnamed baby is a note asking the finder to take good care of her and a bag containing clues to the parent's identity. The trio sets out to find the baby's parents. The baby is named Kiyoko, literally meaning "pure child" as she is found on Christmas Eve.

Opinion: Satoshi Kon movies are very hard to recommend due to how oddball and off kilter they are. This one is different. Essentially, Satoshi Kon was trying to make a Frank Capra movie, highlighting the importance of traditional families (as aggravating as they can be) and how we are all connected by coincidences we can't always understand. This is a film people who might not like Kon's works could even enjoy. If you haven't seen one of his films yet, this is the best one to start with.



80. Fullmetal Alchemist (2003)
Genre: Fantasy Adventure
Length: 51 episodes
Studio: Bones
Writer: Hiromu Arakawa (original manga), Sho Aikawa
Director: Seiji Mizushima


Plot: The series follows the adventures of brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric, who are searching for the Philosopher's Stone so they can regain the bodies they lost in a failed attempt to bring their dead mother back to life.

Opinion: Fullmetal Alchemist is an adventure manga about the laws of nature and playing God (or pretending to act in His stead) that was the progenitor of two different anime. I'm not going to get into the other series, but this one came first and is the one most people talk about so I will list this one here. The original series goes in a different direction than the manga, but it is nothing to shake a stick at. Needless to say, FMA was a phenomenon 14 years ago for a reason. It would be a long time before an anime exploded this big in the west again.



81. Monster (2004)
Genre: Thriller
Length: 74 episodes
Studio: Madhouse
Writer: Naoki Urasawa (original manga), Tatsuhiko Urahata
Director: Masayuki Kojima


Plot: The story revolves around Kenzo Tenma, a Japanese surgeon living in Germany whose life enters turmoil after getting himself involved with Johan Liebert, one of his former patients who is revealed to be a dangerous psychopath.

Opinion: Monster is one of my favorite manga series, and this is a perfect adaption of that story. A doctor is pushed to his breaking point and does a good deed that ends up causing horrific events years down the line. Monster is a battle against good and evil with a cast of memorable characters and twists that never stop coming. The only trick is to find this legally. It was dubbed entirely in English and yet the full series was never fully released over here. The manga is much more easily available, but the anime is still a great watch. If you can find it, give it a shot.



82. Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad (2004)
Genre: Music, Slice of Life
Length: 26 episodes
Studio: Madhouse
Writer: Harold Sakuishi (original manga), Osamu Kobayashi
Director: Osamu Kobayashi


Plot: Beck tells the story of a group of Japanese teenagers who form a rock band and their struggle to fame, focusing on 14-year-old Yukio "Koyuki" Tanaka, who until meeting guitar prodigy Ryusuke Minami was an average teen with a boring life.

Opinion: This is a show made by rock fans and for rock fans. The original manga was known for making the music have impact on the reader without sound, but the anime adaption really adds a whole new layer to just what the bands are actually playing and how it shapes their lives and relationships with each other. Beck is a tale about how music affects as all in ways we can't always understand. It's a pretty unique show that hits every mark.



83. Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo (2004)
Genre: Science Fiction Drama
Length: 24 episodes
Studio: Gonzo
Writer: Alexandre Dumas (original novel), Shuichi Kouyama
Director: Mahiro Maeda


Plot: The story takes place in the far future of the 51st Century, during the year 5053. While visiting Luna for the festival, Viscount Albert de Morcerf and Baron Franz d'Épinay make the acquaintance of the Count of Monte Cristo, a self-made nobleman.

Opinion: This is like the book you remember, and not. The plot has many differences from the source material but it never shies from the main theme of the novel or the character's motivations. This is still The Count of Monte Cristo. That said, despite the differences, this is a fantastic adaption and one of the most unique. It was fairly popular back in the day, but who knows if anyone remembers it now. Give it a shot.



84. Paranoia Agent (2004)
Genre: Horror Thriller
Length: 13 episodes
Studio: Madhouse
Writer: Seishi Minakami, Saotshi Kon
Director: Satoshi Kon


PlotParanoia Agent is about a social phenomenon in Musashino, Tokyo caused by a juvenile serial assailant named Lil' Slugger. The plot relays between a large cast of people affected in some way by the phenomenon; usually Lil' Slugger's victims or the detectives assigned to apprehend him. As each character becomes the focus of the story, details are revealed about their secret lives and the truth about Lil' Slugger.

Opinion: Satoshi Kon's work is, as I said, hard to recommend without reservations. This TV show is probably the best distillation of his unusual style fleshed out to its fullest and best. Ostensibly about responsibility and the inability for the modern world to see things as they are, Paranoia Agent features a lot of strange happenings on top of its really odd imagery. It can also be surprisingly funny. There isn't anything else like it.



85. Honey & Clover (2005)
Genre: Romance, Slice of Life
Length: 36 episodes
Studio: J.C. Staff
Writer: Chica Umino (original manga), Yousuke Kuroda
Director: Kenichi Kasai / Tatsuyuki Nagai


Plot: Yūta Takemoto, Takumi Mayama and Shinobu Morita are three young men who live in the same apartment complex and are students at an art college in Tokyo. One day, they are introduced to Hagumi Hanamoto, the daughter of a cousin of Shūji Hanamoto, an art professor, who has come to live with Hanamoto and has become a first year art student at the art school. This is when everything changes.

Opinion: It's hard to find genuinely good romance series in the anime world. Chica Umino is well known for being one of the best with this series and the currently running March Comes in Like a Lion, and it is mainly do with how well she develops relationships and attraction without having to fall into perversion to get the point across. If you are looking for a good romance anime, this is what you're looking for.



86. Gurren Lagann (2007)
Genre: Mecha, Space Opera
Length: 27 episodes
Studio: Gainax
Writer: Kazuki Nakashima
Director: Hiroyuki Imaishi


Plot: Gurren Lagann takes place in the future where Earth is ruled by the Spiral King, Lordgenome, who forces mankind to live in isolated subterranean villages. The plot focuses on two teenagers living in a subterranean village, Simon and Kamina, who wish to go to the surface. Using a mecha known as Lagann, Simon and Kamina reach the surface and start fighting alongside other humans against Lordgenome's forces.

Opinion: I'm not the biggest fan of Gainax around, honestly. I find a lot of their material too self-aware and fetishistic. However, this show is remarkably over the top and honest about what it is to such an extent that it's hard to really dislike it. If you're a fan of mecha anime and over the top action, Gurren Lagann might just be what you're looking for. This is a show that earned its status.



87. Summer Wars (2009)
Genre: Science Fiction
Length: 114 minutes
Studio: Madhouse
Writer: Mamoru Hasoda (story), Satoko Okudera
Director: Mamoru Hosoda


Plot: The film tells the story of Kenji Koiso, a timid eleventh-grade math genius who is taken to Ueda by twelfth-grade student Natsuki Shinohara to celebrate her great-grandmother's 90th birthday. However, he is falsely implicated in the hacking of a virtual world by a sadistic artificial intelligence named Love Machine. Kenji must repair the damage done to it and find a way to stop the rogue computer program from causing any further damage while dealing with Natsuki's family.

Opinion: This was a film that came out of nowhere. Essentially part action adventure and part family drama, Summer Wars is the type of anime film you don't see too often. It was also the first in a long while I could enjoy that wasn't made by Studio Ghibli. While Hosoda went on to direct some pretty good films after this, I'm still of the opinion that this is his best work. Summer Wars is good for nearly the whole family.



88. Tiger & Bunny (2011)
Genre: Action Adventure
Length: 25 episodes
Studio: Sunrise
Writer: Masafumi Nishida
Director: Keiichi Sato


PlotTiger & Bunny is set in a futuristic city where heroes fight crime whilst promoting real life sponsors, focusing on two superheroes, the old-fashioned Kotetsu T. "Wild Tiger" Kaburagi and the rookie hero Barnaby "Bunny" Brooks Jr., as they are forced by their employers to work together. But villains aren't always hidden in plain sight.

Opinion: This is a superhero buddy cop show like none other. Tiger & Bunny was a mega-hit in Japan. Superheroes, villains, and enough Silver Age to shake a stick at, this was clearly the best anime the year it came out and still works so much time later. This never got much exposure over here compared to Japan, but it definitely deserves more. The usage of CG for the suits is a bit awkward, but given how well it work with the comedy it fits well enough. Be sure to watch it. Now let's get season two already, Sunrise.



89. Psycho-Pass (2012)
Genre: Cyberpunk
Length: 22 episodes
Studio: Production I.G.
Writer: Gen Urobuchi
Director: Naoyoshi Shiotani, Katsuyuki Motohiro


Plot: The story takes place in an authoritarian future dystopia, where omnipresent public sensors continuously scan the mental states of every passing citizen. Collected data on both present mentality and aggregated personality data is used to gauge the probability of that citizen committing a crime, the rating referred to as that citizen's Psycho-Pass. Authorities are alerted whenever excessive ratings are detected, and officers of the Public Safety Bureau are dispatched with weapons called "Dominators", energy pistols that modulate their power in response to the target's Psycho Pass. The story follows Shinya Kogami and Akane Tsunemori among other members of Unit One of the Public Safety Bureau's Criminal Investigation Division.

Opinion: It had been a while since the last anime like this. This series was about due. Which makes sense, since the creators of Psycho Pass made it specifically because they wanted to create a series in the vein of Mamoru Oshii. You can expect similar types of themes and action from this show, but be wary of the second season which has a completely different writer and is more or less non-canon. Season 1 is what you want.



90. Kids on the Slope (2012)
Genre: Drama
Length: 12 episodes
Studio: MAPPA, Tezuka Productions
Writer: Yuki Kodama (original manga)
Director: Shinichiro Watanabe


Plot: The beginning of summer, 1966; because of his father's job situation, freshman high school student Kaoru Nishimi moves by himself from Yokosuka to Sasebo in Kyushu to live with relatives. Until then, Kaoru was an honor roll student who tended to keep to himself, but meeting notorious "bad boy" Sentaro Kawabuchi starts to change him. Through his devil-may-care classmate, Kaoru learns how much fun it is to play jazz and finds the first person he can call a real friend.

Opinion: Speaking of returns, it had also been a long time since we'd seen an anime series directed by the man behind Cowboy Bebop. This time he handled a coming of age story with plenty of music, religious undertones, and gut wrenching drama. But what I think really makes this work is the ending. I won't give it away, but it hits the mark in a way an anime had not in quite some time.



91. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (TV series) (2012)
Genre: Action Fantasy Comedy
Length: 26 episodes
Studio: David Production
Writer: Hirohiko Araki (original manga), Yasuko Kobayashi
Director: Naokatsu Tsuda, Kenichi Suzuki


Plot: The series focuses around the mysterious adventures of the Joestar family, beginning with an encounter involving Jonathan Joestar, his adoptive brother Dio Brando and a mysterious Stone Mask which all tie into the fate of their family line. This is the story of the ultimate fate of the Joestar family line.

Opinion: I'm going to be upfront, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure is not for everybody. Basically, unless you like your anime wacky and insane while being clever at the same time, this might not be the series for you. I'm not the biggest fan of the franchise, but I have enjoyed what I've seen with Part 2 and 4 being my particular favorites. Each member of the Joestar line is a star of his own part, all of which have different approaches and styles to them, and this series contains the first two parts. Needless to say, it had been a long time since Japan put out a hotblooded action series. This was more than welcome. If you want to know if the franchise is for you, this anime is the best place to start.



92. Attack on Titan (2013)
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Length: 25+ episodes
Studio: Wit Studio, Production I.G.
Writer: Hajime Isayama (original manga), Yasuko Kobayashi
Director: Tetsuto Araki


Plot: It is set in a world where humanity lives in cities surrounded by enormous walls; a defense against the Titans, gigantic humanoids that eat humans seemingly without reason. The story initially centers on Eren Yeager, his adopted sister Mikasa Ackerman and childhood friend Armin Arlert, who join the military to fight the Titans after their home town is invaded and Eren's mother is eaten.

Opinion: This is only on here because this is a gigantic series with a lot of appeal to a lot of people. I'm not one of them. But if you like dark fantasy with crazy giants that eat people like zombies while flying around a lot, this is for you.



93. My Love Story!! (2015)
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Length: 24 episodes
Studio: Madhouse
Writer: Kazune Kuwahara (original manga), Natsuko Takahashi
Director: Morio Asaka


Plot: The story follows Takeo Gōda, a tall and muscular student who doesn't have much luck with women. Every girl he likes ends up falling for his best friend, Makoto Sunakawa, who is charming and good-looking. This all changes when he saves Rinko Yamato, a petite shy girl who, above all other expectations, falls in love with Takeo, beginning a unique love story.

Opinion: The funniest part of this series is how it was touted as being something subversive. It's actually very much not. This is a series about how a manly man who doesn't understand women and a girly girl who doesn't understand boys meet and are attracted to each other by their corresponding traits. Neither are treated as inferior, but complementary in how they influence the relationships of everyone around them and how their relationship becomes something to aspire to. Forget modern anime romance, this is better than anything you'll see out of modern Hollywood.



94. One Punch Man (2015)
Genre: Action Comedy
Length: 12+ episodes
Studio: Madhouse
Writer: ONE (original manga), Tomohiro Suzuki
Director: Shingo Natsume


Plot: On an Earth-like super-continent planet, strange monsters and supervillains have been mysteriously appearing and causing disasters. To combat them, the world's superheroes have risen to fight them. Saitama is one such superhero, hailing from the metropolis of City Z and easily defeating monsters and villains with a single punch. However, he has become bored with his power and only gets truly excited when fighting strong opponents that can challenge him. Over the course of the series, Saitama encounters various superheroes, supervillains, and monsters. He gains a disciple in the form of the cyborg Genos and eventually joins the Hero Association in order to gain official recognition.

Opinion: Another supposedly subversive work, One Punch Man is a superhero story about a superhero who is too strong, but still maintains the heart of a hero. There's much comedy that can come from this, but there's still a lot of drama in just how the villains will be stopped or if Saitama will even make it in time. ONE is an indie manga writer with traditional sensibilities where no matter the joke, the bad guys are always bad and they always lose in the end, and good guys are always those to aspire to be. With season 2 on the way, hopefully more will begin to see that side of the series.



95. Ushio & Tora (TV series) (2015)
Genre: Fantasy Adventure
Length: 39 episodes
Studio: MAPPA, Studio VOLN
Writer: Kazuhiro Fujita (original manga), Toshiki Inoue
Director: Satoshi Nishimura


Plot: Ushio & Tora centers around the travels and battles of Ushio Aotsuki, who is constantly being stalked and aided by a gigantic, supernatural, and sometimes invisible, tiger-like monster named Tora.

Ushio's family maintains a temple in Japan, where 500 years ago, his samurai ancestor battled Tora to a standstill, and eventually trapped him against a rock using a cursed spear called the "Beast Spear", which grants strength, speed, and endurance to the wielder in exchange for his soul. Ushio accidentally unsealed the cave Tora was trapped in which attracts monsters from the far corners of the world. Now they have to fight the oncoming darkness together.

Opinion: I've written a bunch about this series on this blog, but it really is as good as all that. From the director of Trigun comes an action series of light against dark in the ultimate battle to save the human race. There's plenty of action, adventure, and comedy to be had along the way, but there's also quite a few excellent plot turns on the way. Again, I'm biased. This is one of my most favorite anime series. There are few series as unabashedly bright, big, and positive, without reveling in irony or self-awareness as Ushio & Tora.



96. Blood Blockade Battlefront (2015)
Genre: Action Fantasy
Length: 12+ episodes
Studio: Bones
Writer: Yasuhiro Nightow (original manga), Kazunao Furuya
Director: Rie Matsumoto


Plot: The plot revolves around a young photographer named Leonardo Watch, who obtains "The All Seeing Eyes of the Gods" at the cost of his sister's eyesight. After the incident, Leonardo moves to the city of Hellsalem's Lot to join an organization known as Libra to fight several monsters as well as terrorists in the hope of finding a cure for his sister.

Opinion: Speaking of Trigun, here's the newest series by the creator! Blood Blockade Battlefront is a buddy cop show with supernatural battles at the edge of eternity. This series is better to watch dubbed so you can concentrate on everything going on, but it is one wicked ride to the end. And that ending is pretty close to perfect as you can get. Imagine an '80s police procedural meets urban fantasy meets serious theological concerns and you come close to what this series is. With a second season on the way, I can only hope for more of the same.



97. Erased (2016)
Genre: Thriller
Length: 12 episodes
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Writer: Kei Sanbe (original manga), Taku Kishimoto
Director: Tomohiko Ito



Plot: The story follows Satoru Fujinuma, a man who somehow possesses an ability that sends him back in time moments before a life-threatening incident, allowing him to prevent it from happening. When his mother is murdered by an unknown assailant, Satoru's ability suddenly sends him back eighteen years to when he was still in elementary school, giving him the opportunity to prevent a kidnapping incident that took the lives of three of his childhood friends, two classmates and one young girl studying at a school nearby.

Opinion: I still can't believe what a pleasant surprise this series was. It's a thriller about facing the past to shape the future with a surprising love of life, second chances, and a big focus on hope. I don't find the mystery all that mysterious, but the resolution at the end is well worth the entire trip. This anime was a blast.



98. Mob Psycho 100 (2016)
Genre: Fantasy Action
Length: 12 episodes
Studio: Bones
Writer: ONE (original manga), Hiroshi Seko
Director: Yuzuru Tachikawa


Plot: Shigeo Kageyama is an average middle school boy, nicknamed Mob (means “background character”) for lacking a sense of presence. Although he looks like an inconspicuous person, he is in fact a powerful esper. As he grows older, Mob realizes that his psychic powers are strengthening and becoming more dangerous. To avoid his power getting out of control, he constantly lives a life under an emotional shackle. Mob wants to live a normal life just like the others, but a barrage of trouble keeps coming after him. With the suppressed emotions growing inside Mob little by little, his power threatens to break through its limits.

Opinion: ONE once again knocks it out of the park. This is based on his long running online serial of the same name, and carries much of what people enjoy about One Punch Man including the over the top action, the unexpected comedy, and the surprising superversive themes in face of what could easily be a subversive bore. A series about the importance of family, friends, emotional control, mental and physical health, growing up, and good over evil, Mob Psycho 100 is as great as the animation is incredible. Now for the wait for season 2.



99. Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu (2016)
Genre: Drama
Length: 25 episodes
Studio: Studio DEEN
Writer: Haruko Kumota (original manga), Jun Kumagai
Director: Mamoru Hatakeyama


Plot: A man is released from prison and becomes the apprentice of a famous rakugo performer. The story focuses on the backstories of the performers and their struggle to gain popularity. Whilst learning he befriends another performer who has a completely different style.

Opinion: I'm still not sure how to properly explain this show. It's a drama about regret and the end of an age, in more ways than one, involving the ancient art of Rakugo storytelling which is also dying. I'm not only surprised this got an anime (with hour long episodes at that), but that it got two complete seasons to finish the story. There are few dramas like this out there, so if this looks like your thing, give it a go.



100. My Hero Academia (2016)
Genre: Action Fantasy
Length: 13+ episodes
Studio: Bones
Writer: Kohei Horikoshi (original manga), Yousuke Kuroda
Director: Kenji Nagasaki


Plot: Izuku "Deku" Midoriya is a regular middle school student in a world where 80% of the people are born with superpowers known as "Quirks", and he is completely quirkless. However, he still dreams of one day becoming a hero. One day he meets his personal hero, and the greatest in the world, All Might, and Midoriya's fate takes a sharp turn.

Opinion: Speaking of Trigun (again), the anime for this hit manga is currently being penned by the writer behind that anime. My Hero Academia is the ultimate superhero anime. The team behind this show knows the main appeal of the source material and bring it out with big direction, bombast writing, grand music, bold colors, and larger than life themes. This series is a celebration of heroes as a concept and a truth. I couldn't think of a better series to end this list with than a series that emphasizes all the best of what came before. The sincerity of how the series treats the best thing about any story (the heroes) is pitch perfect. Here's hoping the currently running second season improves on the first just as the manga did. My Hero Academia is a classic in the making, and should be watched by any anime fan, past or present.



And that's everything. I decided to end this with 2016, since 2017 is still going and no series have ended yet. But there look to be a few good shows coming down the pipe later this year.

Anyway, the point is that anime has a lot to offer any fan of entertainment. It's not just boob jokes and wish fulfillment. There are genuinely great dramas, fantasy series, SF tales, thrillers, and action pieces on par with anything else aired on television or in the cinema. Especially these days.

So there you are. That's 100 examples of the best anime has to offer. Seen them all? Never seen a single one? Well, here's your chance. With online streaming so easy, there's never been a better time to get into it. If you're a lapsed fan then you have even less of an excuse! Go catch up on what you missed!

The industry might be having trouble, but there's still a lot to look forward to, and a lot in the past to learn from.

Here's to Japan for using animation to such a scale and ambition that few other countries have tried. And here's hoping they don't forget what they've accomplished.

Now if you'll excuse me, I think I have an episode of My Hero Academia to catch.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Stray Cat Samurai ~ Nekogahara Volume #1 Review



From the creator of the popular manga, Shaman King, comes a strange throwback unlike anything he has ever done before. Hiroyuki Takei has created series with Stan Lee, and he has had hits of his own, but this series is something of a hidden gem. It's a bit odd that this title has so far flown under the radar.

The story stars a stray cat (this world's version of a ronin) named Norachiyo, a violent, sadistic, greedy, lout, who wanders from town to town looking out for his own skin and advancing his own cause. He is confronted by "kept cats" (this world's version of nobles) who are taken care of by people. Norachiyo considers kept cats suckers and weak and isn't above cutting them down to get what he wants. Despite all that, he is merely looking for a place to die for some unexplained reason that is at odds with how he acts and behaves.

This is not a samurai story like Rurouni Kenshin, or even Lone Wolf & Cub. Norachiyo is not a good guy/cat, he's not even an anti-hero. However, he is quite an entertaining character to follow. The reason this works is because Takei writes the characters around Norachiyo as innocent, evil, or noble, and contrasts them with his philosophy and the bad cat he is. But there are also hints at more. For such a greedy and selfish stray, the stray cat samurai didn't appear out of then air. There are even hints that his philosophy might merely be a smoke screen.

You see, Norachiyo is the name of a child. It is a custom for children when they come of age to receive an adult name and enter society. He never received his name. Norachiyo is an "old cat", but he's a spoiled child at the same time. There's a contrast with a younger teenage kitten who is immature, but comes to a lot saner conclusions than our main character does even when misguided. This leads to some good humorous moments, but also opens questions as to what exactly happened to Norachiyo to make his a stray. He was once a kept cat, but he doesn't act it. He still keeps his bell, a sign that he was owned by a person, but as much as he hates humans and their pets, he can't seem to abandon his memento of his old life.

In this volume, Norachiyo encounters many characters, some noble, some less so, but he always ends up in the thick of problems both outside of his control and those he directly causes. There's a lot of action, a lot of blood, but no real gore: you won't see organs, limbs, or heads rolling around. The most that is shone are enemies cut in two through shadow or clever use of clothes covering the wound. Takei is very clever about his use of violence.

Nekogahara: Stray Cat Samurai is a trashy action comic with hints at a bigger story in the background. Whether Norachiyo learns exactly how far off the beaten path he is remains unseen, but for a first volume this works exceedingly well to start from. It's easily Takei's best work since Shaman King and quite a breath of fresh air in a stale manga market.

The use of animal designs with the world of samurai really gives the art style its own look and feel. Takei's art is incredible in detail and intensity which allows it a groove of something like a lost series from the 1980s, with 1990s anthropomorphic animal designs. From an artist like Takei, this was a surprise, and a bit out of his wheelhouse. He had always done actions series, but not one in the spirit of older pulp-style manga like this.

What makes the series work is that it feels exactly like those old trashy manga magazines you would find in the '80s and early '90s hidden in bargain bins. It's violent and stylized, but there are hints there might be more to what we are seeing in the world of Nekogahara.

If you're a fan of manga from before "Japanimation" hit it big, this is a series worth looking into. They don't make them like this anymore.

Recommended.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

"The Stronger the Light, the Darker the Shadows" ~ My Hero Academia Volume 8 Review




At the end of volume 7 Midoriya and Bakugo were in a wee bit of a pickle. If you have been keeping up with the series then you know the score. The two former friends are locked in a battle with the #1 hero All Might and have to beat him to get a passing grade for the semester.

No pressure or anything.

This leads to a fight that is impossible to win. Not just because it's All Might, but because Midoriya and Bakugo have to work together, and for two people who haven't liked each other since childhood to suddenly team up . . . that's a tall order.

However, what ends up happening is a bit remarkable, for both of them and for All Might. I also don't want to spoil it, but the results of this test comes back in a big way later, so be sure to keep special attention on what each of them say and do.

But there's more than those three to talk about. There's also focus on all the other students as they deal with their End of Term Exam, and how they've grown as heroes over the course of the series so far. They are having just as much of a tough time as Midoriya and Bakugo are. Here's a spoiler: they don't all pass.

Kohei Horikoshi has said before that the series is all about seeing what makes a hero. This volume is a good chance to see that in action. There are several characters who get a refresher on what it means to be a hero, and some that move closer to their goal of achieving it. Just wanting to be a hero isn't enough, it's all about the whys here. What is it that makes you don the cape to go out to fight evil and save people? For several students, it's a question they must ask themselves as they face their toughest challenge. Of course, they're also in a battle with pro heroes. The difference in experience and skill is very apparent, and that might make all the different whether some pass, or fail.

Volume 8 is a bit of breather between the insanity of the Field Training story where Midoriya and his fellow heroes in training fought a killer before he struck again, and the upcoming Summer Camp where things begin to go sideways. You'll see when we get there. That's not until next time.

What this means is that volume 8 is bit heavier on character development in between the action than the previous volume. It's still as great as ever, but at this point the story is building up to the next event. And trust me, what this leads to is going to be worth it.

What I want to bring up is the end of the volume where Midoriya meets someone he hasn't seen for a long time and has a nice heart to heart chat with him. Who am I speaking of? Let's just say he's handy at breaking into schools and threatening the #1 hero. This interview is the final dramatic sting to end the volume. It also leads to one of the best parts in the series . . . but that will have to wait until volume 9.

On a somewhat related note, this volume is where I feel season 2 of the anime will end. So if you want to get ahead of the pack who are watching but not reading, this volume will have you covered.

Until next time!

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

100 Accessible Anime Guide for Fans (Part 3)

And now we get to the part most people would be interested in. Around the mid-90s was when Japanimation outgrew its underground roots and invaded the mainstream, eventually becoming a staple on popular television blocks and in the late night arena. In Japan itself, anime was also booming. Creative idea men were given the reins to write, design, and direct many of the most popular series that are still referenced to this day.

This was also the era of Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and the toy-show craze, which allowed anime and manga to explode on a wide scale--a scale it would never hit again. This was when anime was at its peak.

Suffice to say, this is where anime hit worldwide critical mass, and where you are likely to see many favorites of your own.

So dive in to part three, and enjoy:



51. You’re Under Arrest! (1994)
Genre: Action Comedy
Length: 51 episodes
Studio: Studio DEEN, Bandai Visual
Writer: Kosuke Fujishima (original manga), Hiroshi Watanabe
Director: Kazuhiro Furuhashi


Plot: The story revolves around Natsumi Tsujimoto and Miyuki Kobayakawa, two female members of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department and the protagonists of the show as they are stationed at the fictional Bokuto Police Precinct located at Sumida, Tokyo. The series is largely episodic, and much of it focuses on the interaction between the main characters and the humorous supporting cast.

Opinion: There are sequel series to this, but the original is the best. It was originally an OVA before bleeding over into TV (with the same staff) which makes it quite unique considering it's a buddy cop show. This is by the creator of Oh! My Goddess, which is harder series to recommend, however You're Under Arrest! is funnier and far more consistent overall. They don't make them like this anymore.



52. El-Hazard: The Magnificent World (1995)
Genre: Fantasy Adventure
Length: 7 episodes
Studio: AIC
Writer: Ryoe Tsukimura
Director: Hiroki Hayashi


Plot: The story focuses on three high school students, Makoto Mizuhara, Katsuhiko Jinnai and Nanami Jinnai, and the History teacher Masamichi Fujisawa, who are mysteriously transported to the fantastical world of El-Hazard. El-Hazard is threatened by a possible war between the human nations and the insectoid Bugrom tribe.

Opinion: There are many versions of this franchise, but the original OVA is the one to go for. Directed by the co-creator of the Tenchi franchise, this series has fallen under the radar in recent years despite its status. However, it does represent much of the appeal of anime in the '90s and is absolutely recommended.



53. Slayers (1995)
Genre: Fantasy Adventure Comedy
Length: 100+ episodes
Studio: E.G. Films, J.C. Staff
Writer: Hajime Kanzaka (original novels) / Takao Koyama (first series) / Jiro Takayama
Director: Takashi Watanabe


Plot: Slayers follows the adventures of teenage sorceress Lina Inverse and her companions as they journey through their world. Using powerful magic and swordsmanship they battle overreaching wizards, demons seeking to destroy the world, and an occasional hapless gang of bandits.

Opinion: I've written about this before, but Slayers is one of the reasons anime became popular here in the first place. It's wacky, it's exciting, it's got memorable characters, and a great world design and background. If you're a fantasy fan you probably already know this series. If you don't, then what are you doing? Get to it!



54. Ghost in the Shell (1995)
Genre: Cyberpunk
Length: 82 minutes
Studio: Kodansha, Bandai Visual, Manga Entertainment, Production I.G.
Writer: Masamune Shirow (original manga), Kazunori Ito
Director: Mamoru Oshii


Plot: The film's plot follows the hunt by the public-security agency Section 9 for a mysterious hacker known as the Puppet Master. With the assistance of her team, Motoko Kusanagi tracks and finds their suspect, only to be drawn into a complex sequence of political intrigue and a cover-up as to the identity and goals of the Puppet Master.

Opinion: This movie is one of the reasons anime even has a presence overseas at all. Though it is different from the original manga, this movie also kick-started a franchise that has since blown up and become much bigger than its humble beginnings would allow for it. That said, this is quite a good film with some stellar animation and direction. It's well worth seeing even twenty years since its release.



55. Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995)
Genre: Mecha
Length: 26 episodes
Studio: Gainax, Tatsunoko Production
Writer: Hideaki Anno
Director: Hideaki Anno


Plot: Evangelion is an apocalyptic anime, set in a futuristic Tokyo fifteen years after a worldwide cataclysm. The story centers on Shinji, a teenage boy who is recruited by his father into the shadowy organization NERV to pilot a giant bio-machine mecha called an Evangelion in combat against monstrous beings known as Angels.

Opinion: I had to list this even if I've fallen far out of this series over the years. It's deconstructionist and it has an abysmal ending, but it does still work as a typical mecha show with ideas of its own outside of that. There's decent action and some clever fights to be found within. There's a reason it's the only outright subversive show on here. It still works on a surface level.




56. Martian Successor Nadesico (1996)
Genre: Space Opera, Mecha, Comedy
Length: 26 episodes
Studio: Xebec
Writer: Sho Aikawa
Director: Tatsuo Sato


Plot: The series takes place in the year 2196. Earth is at war with a race of alien invaders called the "Jovian Lizards". A company called Nergal designs a space battleship, the ND-001 Nadesico. While the ship is powerful and its crew consists of the top civilian experts in their fields, these individuals tend to have "some slight personality disorders".

Opinion: One of the problems with Neon Genesis Evangelion was that it had scores of imitators perfectly content to smash the mecha genre into bits and revel in the pieces. It's much like the affect Watchmen had on the Western comic book industry. Nadesico is part reconstructionist and part parody. It goes all the way back to Space Battleship Yamato to try to remind everyone what made mecha (and space opera) anime so great in the first place while having fun with itself since NGE and its successors sucked joy dry from giant robots. Of all the many series to come in the wake of NGE's success, this is the best and the one that holds up the strongest. It still pokes fun at itself, and it has some warts of its own, but it is far more enjoyable than NGE.



57. Those Who Hunt Elves (1996)
Genre: Fantasy Adventure Comedy
Length: 24 episodes
Studio: Group TAC
Writer: Yu Yagami (original manga)
Director: Kazuyoshi Katayama (season 1) / Hiroshi Fukutomi (season 2)


Plot: The Elf Hunters seek five spell fragments that have been placed on the skin of elves, similar to tattoos, throughout the magical world they have been transported to. When they find them, they will be able to return to Japan.

The Elf Hunters travel by means of a Type 74 tank, which has been transported to the magical world with them.

Opinion: One of the series that started the late night anime boom, Those Who Hunt Elves is as strange and risque as it is unique. I won't lie, this show is flat out bizarre. But there's also nothing like it--if it were made now it would be unfettered trash. If you can find this show, definitely give it a shot.



58. The Vision of Escaflowne (1996)
Genre: Fantasy Adventure, Mecha
Length: 26 episodes
Studio: Sunrise
Writer: Shoji Kawamori
Director: Kazuki Akane


Plot: The series focuses on the heroine, Hitomi Kanzaki, and her adventures after she is transported to the world of Gaea, a mysterious planet where she can see Earth and its moon in the sky. On Gaea, Earth is known as the Mystic Moon. Hitomi's latent psychic powers are enhanced on Gaea and she quickly becomes embroiled in the conflicts between the Zaibach Empire and the several peaceful countries that surround it.

Opinion: Initially conceived by Shoji Kawamori as the fantasy answer to Macross, Escaflowne is the rare mecha anime from the '90s that completely ignores the existence of Evangelion. And that's to its benefit. You get swashbuckling, romance, and giant robots smashing each other to bits. This is one of the most unique fantasy anime out there and still holds up excellently today. If you haven't seen it, then get on it!



59. Saber Marionette J (1996)
Genre: Science Fiction, Action, Harem
Length: 25 episodes
Studio: Hal Film Maker
Writer: Mayori Sekishima
Director: Masami Shimoda


Plot: After having drifted ashore in a small pond, Otaru finds himself at a rural athenaeum, the Japoness Pioneer Museum. He curiously explores the decrepit building, falling through a trapdoor and into a secret underground basement where he finds and awakens an encapsulated marionette. She introduces herself as Lime, embracing the dumbfounded boy with a laugh and revealing an unprecedented ability to express emotion. This is where the adventure begins.

Opinion: One of the few Harem series to come along after Tenchi to not be utterly disposable, SMJ is worth your time. There is also a sequel series that ends the story and has many spin offs of its own. However, it's the original anime that is considered the best. If you enjoyed Tenchi and want something similar that actually attempts a story, then this is what you'll be looking for.



60. Detective Conan/Case Closed (1996)
Genre: Mystery
Length: 800+ episodes
Studio: TMS Entertainment
Writer: Gosho Aoyama (original manga), Junichi Iioka
Director: Kenji Kodama / Yasuichiro Yamamoto / Masato Sato / Kojin Ochi


Plot: Shinichi Kudo is a high school detective who sometimes works with the police to solve cases. During an investigation, he is attacked by members of a crime syndicate known as the Black Organization. They force him to ingest an experimental poison, but instead of killing him, the poison transforms him into a child. Adopting the pseudonym Conan Edogawa and keeping his true identity a secret, Kudo lives with his childhood friend Ran Mouri and her father Koguro, who is a private detective. Throughout the series, he tags along on Koguro's cases, and helps him to solve them without his guardian being any the wiser.

Opinion: One of Japan's longest running mystery series, Conan is insanely popular over there running over two decades and still counting. It's got a bit of a unique concept, but mystery series with unique protagonists have been a thing since Father Brown and, before him, Sherlock Holmes. However, if you're looking for an anime version of Murder, She Wrote or Monk then you'll get it here. Just don't expect to catch up any time soon.



61. Princess Mononoke (1997)
Genre: Fantasy Adventure
Length: 134 minutes
Studio: Studio Ghibli
Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
Director: Hayao Miyazaki


Plot: The story follows the young Emishi prince Ashitaka's involvement in a struggle between the gods of a forest and the humans who consume its resources.

Opinion: This was the first Miyazaki film released over here to actually get push and attention. You could complain about the obvious man vs nature set up, however neither side is treated as altogether bad or evil. They are both trying to survive, only one has the firepower to win. The animation and action in this movie is some of Miyazaki's best and highly worth seeing. It's not my favorite Miyazaki film, but I do think it is one of the best made ones.



62. Berserk (1997)
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Length: 25 episodes
Studio: OLM, Inc
Writer: Kentaro Miura (original manga), Yasuhiro Imagawa
Director: Naohito Takahashi


Plot: The story centers on the characters of Guts, a lone mercenary, and Griffith, the leader of a mercenary band called the "Band of the Hawk" and how their reputation grows to become a force to reckon with.

Opinion: Berserk is a rarity for me in that it is a dark fantasy that works. Essentially the tale of the man who sold the world to make himself king, Berserk is a tragedy of a band of brothers that are separated by greed and the powers of the dark. This anime tells the tale of how demons came to roam the land and how the legendary Black Swordsman came to be in this desolate age. It's a good watch though the ending is a downer. Just be wary of the newer anime continuing the story which has abysmal CG, terrible animation, and fusses a lot with the story.



63. Cowboy Bebop (1998)
Genre: Space Western
Length: 26 episodes
Studio: Sunrise
Writer: Keiko Nobumoto
Director: Shinichiro Watanabe


Plot: In 2071, roughly fifty years after an accident with a hyperspace gateway made the Earth almost uninhabitable, humanity has colonized most of the rocky planets and moons of the Solar System. Amid a rising crime rate, the Inter Solar System Police (ISSP) set up a legalized contract system, in which registered bounty hunters (also referred to as "Cowboys") chase criminals and bring them in alive in return for a reward. The series' protagonists are bounty hunters working from the spaceship Bebop. The original crew are Spike Spiegel, an exiled former hitman of the criminal Red Dragon Syndicate, and his partner Jet Black, a former ISSP officer. They are later joined by Faye Valentine, an amnesiac con artist; Edward Wong, an eccentric girl skilled in hacking; and Ein, a genetically-engineered Pembroke Welsh Corgi with human-like intelligence.

Opinion: Regularly regarded as the best anime ever made (among westerners), you've probably already seen this. It's one of 1998's fan-named Space Western trilogy and is fairly close to perfect. Full of excellent animation, direction, music, and writing, it encapsulates the best of '90s anime. Make no mistake, this deserves ever bit of praise it has. But it's not my favorite of the Space Western trilogy. The best would be . . .



64. Trigun (1998)
Genre: Space Western
Length: 26 episodes
Studio: Madhouse
Writer: Yasuhiro Nightow (original manga), Yousuke Kuroda
Director: Satoshi Nishimura


Plot: Trigun revolves around a gunslinger known as "Vash the Stampede" and two Bernardelli Insurance Society employees, Meryl Stryfe and Milly Thompson, who follow him around in order to minimize the damages inevitably caused by his appearance. Throughout his travels, Vash tries to save lives using non-lethal force while looking for a paradise of his own. He is occasionally joined by a priest, Nicholas D. Wolfwood, who, like Vash, is a superb gunfighter with a mysterious past.

Opinion: Well, this blog is named after this anime so you should expect it here. The original manga was a rip roaring action adventure, but the anime wanders off into its own story halfway through leading to a much more powerful ending than the source material. An action show obsessed with life, death, and eternity, there is very little Trigun does not cover that truly matters to us all. As far as I'm concerned, this is the best anime ever made, and I'm still waiting for something to come close. If you haven't seen it, don't believe the revisionism that only Cowboy Bebop is worth seeing of the big three--they're lying. Trigun is absolutely an anime every fan should see at least twice.



65. Outlaw Star (1998)
Genre: Space Western
Length: 26 episodes
Studio: Sunrise
Writer: Takehiko Ito (original manga), Katsuhiko Chiba
Director: Mitsuru Hongo


Plot: The series takes place in the "Toward Stars Era" universe in which spacecraft are capable of traveling faster than the speed of light. The plot follows protagonist Gene Starwind and his motley crew of an inherited ship dubbed the "Outlaw Star" as they search for a legendary outer space treasure trove called the Galactic Leyline.

Opinion: The most forgotten series of the Space Western trilogy, Outlaw Star is more of a straightforward action adventure show than the previous two. Though it does involve a possible meeting with God, ancient forgotten magic, and enough swashbuckling to shake a stick at, it regularly gets overlooked despite its qualities. But don't let it pass you by. Outlaw Star is one of the best anime series of the '90s. Also, it continues with the odd trend of the trilogy being far more popular overseas than in Japan. If you haven't gotten the point by now, you really should see all three.



66. Sorcerous Stabber Orphen (1998)
Genre: Fantasy Adventure
Length: 24 episodes
Studio: J.C. Staff
Writer: Yoshinobu Akita (original novels), Masashi Kubota
Director: Hiroshi Watanabe


Plot: Orphen is the greatest sorcerer that the tower has ever seen but he is more interested in chasing the Bloody August, an infamous and very mysterious dragon. Along with his apprentice Majic and their companion Clio he heads off on a quest with the Sword of Baltanders, the only thing that can free the Bloody August or 'Azile' from the spell she is under.

Opinion: I listed the first season of 24 episodes. Orphen has two separate seasons which do a good job showing how designs and animation changed so abruptly in only a few short years. That said, the first season is the better of the two and is a good 'ol fashion adventure. The first 24 episodes is the best Orphen has to offer. Unfortunately, they really don't make them like this anymore.



67. Serial Experiments Lain (1998)
Genre: Cyberpunk
Length: 13 episodes
Studio: Triangle Staff, Pioneer LDC
Writer: Chiaki J. Konaka
Director: Ryutaro Nakanura


Plot: The series focuses on Lain Iwakura, an adolescent middle school girl living in suburban Japan, and her introduction to the Wired, a global communications network which is similar to the Internet. Her life becomes upturned by a series of bizarre incidents that start to take place after she learns that girls from her school have received an e-mail from a dead student, Chisa Yomoda, and she pulls out her old computer in order to check for the same message. Lain finds Chisa telling her that she is not dead, but has merely "abandoned her physical body and flesh" and is alive deep within the virtual reality-world of the Wired itself, where she has found the almighty and divine "God". From this point, Lain is caught up in a series of cryptic and surreal events that see her delving deeper into the mystery of the network in a narrative that explores themes of consciousness, perception, and the nature of reality.

Opinion: Lain has a reputation for being an odd series. It is. But unlike most weird anime, this was headed by Chiaki J. Konaka who got his start on the Digimon kid's franchise and made the surprisingly good Digimon Tamers in the process. In other words, he knows how to present complex ideas without talking around or down to his audience. I'm only disappointed that he doesn't have a bigger output than he does.



68. The Big O (1999)
Genre: Mecha, Noir
Length: 26 episodes
Studio: Sunrise, Cartoon Network Studios (Season 2)
Writer: Chiaki J. Konaka
Director: Kazuyoshi Katayama, Lia Sargent (Season 2)


Plot: The story takes place forty years after a mysterious occurrence causes the residents of Paradigm City to lose their memories. The series follows Roger Smith, Paradigm City's top Negotiator. He provides this "much needed service" with the help of a robot named R. Dorothy Wayneright and his butler Norman Burg. When the need arises, Roger calls upon Big O, a giant relic from the city's past.

Opinion: This might actually be the most controversial inclusion on this list. The ending to The Big O is extremely divisive, but the quality of the show as a whole is why it still retains its fanbase. The art style is a throwback to both classic anime and western animation as well as Batman: The Animated Series, and the action and music are both stylish and top notch. There isn't anything like Big O. The second season only exists because of western fans, which might have been a hint that tastes between western and eastern fans were starting to splinter off around this point.



69. Hajime no Ippo: Fighting Spirit (2000)
Genre: Sports Drama
Length: 76 episodes
Studio: Madhouse
Writer: George Morikawa (original manga), Tatsuhiko Urahata
Director: Satoshi Nishimura


Plot: Hajime no Ippo follows the story of high school student Makunouchi Ippo, as he begins his career in boxing and over time obtains many titles and defeats various opponents.

Opinion: There have been multiple series past this original anime, but this is the one that hits the mark. Hajime no Ippo is one of the most popular and influential manga in Japan, and this adaption by the director of Trigun is well worth your time. Join Ippo as he learns the basics and becomes a fighting powerhouse. There is a reason it is the second most popular boxing series behind the already listed Ashita no Joe. It's only a shame that it is out of print over here and hard to find.



70. Spirited Away (2001)
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 125 minutes
Studio: Studio Ghibli
Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
Director: Hayao Miyazaki


Plot: Spirited Away tells the story of Chihiro Ogino, a sullen ten-year-old girl who, while moving to a new neighborhood, enters the spirit world. After her parents are transformed into pigs by the witch Yubaba, Chihiro takes a job working in Yubaba's bathhouse to find a way to free herself and her parents and return to the human world.

Opinion: The most popular Miyazaki film is definitely one of the best. It's also the only anime to ever win an Academy Award, too. Despite that stain on its reputation, it's a clever fantasy adventure film like most of Miyazaki's works. I'm just going to assume anyone reading this has seen this, but if you haven't . . . well, I can't help you.



71. GetBackers (2002)
Genre: Action Comedy
Length: 49 episodes
Studio: Studio DEEN
Writer: Shin Kibayashi (original manga), Akemi Omode
Director: Kazuhiro Furuhashi, Keitaro Motonaga


Plot: The series tells the story of Ginji Amano and Ban Mido, a pair of super powered individuals known as the "GetBackers". The duo operates a freelance repossession service out of one of the seedier areas of Shinjuku, Tokyo. For a fee, they will recover any lost or stolen item for a client with "an almost 100% success rate". The GetBackers' job often leads them into bizarre and dangerous situations in order to "get back what shouldn't be gone". Their targets range from lost video games to misplaced components of an atomic bomb. The plot mostly revolves around their adventures, often complicated by the pair's convoluted, individual pasts and a mysterious place known as the Infinity Fortress.

Opinion: One of the most popular of the buddy cop style of anime series, GetBackers is also the last of its breed. The story goes down both comedic and mysterious paths depending on the job the heroes get lending a bit of wonder and mystery to the action and comedy. The anime also has the distinction of not having a horrible ending like the manga does. If you're an older fan of anime, chances are this was one of the last series you watched before your interest faded. It's not because of a lack of quality on this series' part. GetBackers is still a lot of fun nowadays.



72. Full Metal Panic! (2002)
Genre: Mecha, Military Science Fiction, Comedy
Length: 50+ episodes
Studio: Gonzo / Kyoto Animation / Xebec
Writer: Shoji Gatoh, Fumihiko Shimo (season 1 only), Koichi Chigira (season 1 only)
Director: Koichi Chigira / Yasuhiro Takemoto / Katsuichi Nakayama


Plot: The series follows Sousuke Sagara, a member of a covert anti-terrorist private military organization known as Mithril, tasked with protecting Kaname Chidori, a spirited Japanese high school girl. He moves to Japan to study at Chidori's school, Jindai High School, with assistance from his comrades Kurz Weber and Melissa Mao.

Opinion: After years in purgatory, FMP is finally getting a final season to end it off. Being one of the last anime that hasn't jumped on the CG mecha bandwagon, FMP felt like a throwback even when it was new. Part mecha, part military science fiction, part comedy, but all exciting, this is a show most anime fans have heard of but have never seen. If you're one of them, you really should remedy that error.



73. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (2002)
Genre: Cyberpunk
Length: 52 episodes
Studio: Production I.G.
Writer: Masamune Shirow (original manga), Kenji Kamiyama
Director: Kenji Kamiyama


Plot: The series centers on the members of an elite cybernetic law enforcement unit known as Public Security Section 9 as they investigate cyber-crime and terrorism cases; these cases often are connected to their pursuit of an elite "Super Class A" hacker and corporate terrorist known as "The Laughing Man".

Opinion: For many people this is the definitive Ghost in the Shell product, eclipsing both the original manga and the movie. A slower and more thought-provoking series, it has also established a niche of its own in the franchise. This has advantages the movies simply do not. The longer length allows for the characters to breathe and grow in a way they simply weren't in the older stories, and thereby makes it a favorite to many. If you're a fan of the franchise this is a must see. It also might be getting a third season soon, so heads up on that.



74. RahXephon (2002)
Genre: Mecha
Length: 26 episodes
Studio: Bones
Writer: Yutaka Izubuchi
Director: Yutaka Izubuchi


Plot: RahXephon is about 17-year-old Ayato Kamina, his ability to control a mecha known as the RahXephon, and his inner journey to find a place in the world. His life as a student and artist in Tokyo is suddenly interrupted by a mysterious stalker, strange planes invading the city and strange machines fighting back.

Opinion: RahXephon is more or less the final word on the philosophical mecha series trend that Evangelion started. Modeling it closer to older series like Megazone 23 and Brave Raideen, the series manages a more coherent ending that wraps everything up neatly than most of its ilk had. I would wager it's a better series than most of those sorts of shows of the era, though your mileage may vary. Nonetheless, it's the last mecha anime of its type that really deserves to be seen.



75. Mermaid Saga/Forest (2003)
Genre: Fantasy Horror
Length: 13 episodes
Studio: TMS Entertainment
Writer: Rumiko Takahashi (original manga), Yunichi Miyashita
Director: Masaharu Okuwaki


Plot: According to an ancient legend, mermaid's flesh can grant immortality if eaten. 500 years ago, Yuta unknowingly ate a piece of mermaid's flesh. For centuries, he travels across Japan, hoping to find a mermaid, thinking she may be able to make him a normal human again.

Opinion: This series is relatively unknown despite its famous creator. I'm not sure why. This short series was adapted into 13 episodes featuring some disturbing speculation on the horrors of immortality. It really is a shame Takahashi doesn't do works like these more often, because she is quite good at them.



Since this entry of the list covered a decade of shows, there are clearly a lot missing, and there are sure to be series missing that many would decry. But that is what the comments are for. So if you have a favorite anime of this era and wish to share it, please post it below. I would appreciate it.

Next time we will enter the final stretch, and I suspect it will be the most controversial. As is well known, the industry made a deliberate change in focus around 2006 which hobbled much of its appeal to non-otaku fans. This will make the pickings not only slim, but awkward. You'll see when we get there.

For now, enjoy the list. Hopefully there are some series you missed out on that you'll enjoy. There's quite a good bit to choose from.

Until next time!