I’ve been lax in my posting recently, and haven’t done an Influences one in a while, so since I currently have a stack of manga on my desk waiting to be read and another one on my decrepit iPad — the only thing beside music that the damn device will access — I might as well talk about those.
I got into anime and manga when I was in my early teens. Can’t recall exactly when, but I know that by about 15 I was a regular in the local comics shop, buying bootleg fansubs on VHS for at least two shows. Sounds hilarious now, when you can’t turn around on the internet for tripping over torrents or legit streaming video, but back in the day the only way to watch anime was on cheap-ass fan-made physical media.
I went through a lot of anime in high school and college — was a part of the anime club, even, which would screen a couple hours of random episodes in one of the university’s auditoriums every week. Ugh, that sounds so dated. I wonder what anime clubs do these days, or even if they even exist now that you can get everything so easily…
Anyway, what drew me to that stuff is probably the same as what draws me to fantasy: imagination. I didn’t like the school shows, or the slice-of-life stuff; I liked action, sci-fi, horror, weirdness. One of my first and definitely my favorite show was Shojo Kakumei Utena (or Revolutionary Girl Utena), which while done by the same mangaka (writer/artist — manga-maker, basically) who did Sailor Moon, was just so … weird and twisted under its candy-coated shell, and so resonant with me as a teen girl who would rather have a sword than a dress…
All right, so she had a bit of both. But that was fine. And the show was funny and nasty and mythic and catastrophic and even now, all this time later, I still adore the crap out of it. I reference it. I can’t help myself. I’ve got five of the soundtracks. There’s so much pink, it’s ridiculous.
Other series followed. I have no clue on a chronology, so I’ll just hit some of the highlights. Berserk was a bloody great show that I loved from the theme music (by the fantastic Hirasawa Susumu, who also did music for Paprika and Paranoia Agent and such) onward, from its start as a medieval-ish mercenary’s journey to its disintegration into monsters and horror. None of it is for kids, but the manga especially; gore, nudity, etc. A great example of a seinen (aimed at adult men) manga.
I have to admit that Cob is a little bit based on the guy in the middle — who’s technically named Guts but whom I’ll always call Gatsu, because dangit, that’s how it was spelled in my first fansub! But he’s based on him in the same way Shai is based on Trent Reznor; a vague kind of vibe, and then off in an entirely different direction.
Speaking of dark and fucked-up stories, I have recently read all of Claymore, which for a long time I disregarded because it looked like a bunch of skinny girls with ridiculous swords and skimpy outfits. Probably going to be fan-service fodder, right? Well…yes, in a way, but also the biggest dose of body-horror I’ve seen since Gantz (which was meh, more in it for the shock value than any kind of story). I still haven’t seen the anime, but seriously…this kind of says it all:
It also hit one of my story-themes: monstrous humans versus human-shaped monsters. They’re all nasty, they’re all deadly, but some of them still care. And what happens to them — and because of them, and despite them — is terrible.
Then there’s Fullmetal Alchemist.
I watched the original anime run and loved it, but never read the manga. As it usually goes, though, the anime was being made before the manga was finished, so had to completely make up an ending — meaning what I saw isn’t at all what was supposed to happen. I just started reading the manga recently, because there’s a second anime series out now that finishes the story properly, and I gotta say, some of these mangaka really know how to play rough with their characters and their world. I love it. I only hope I can live up to these trails of devastation.
Another old series that I caught up with again recently is Rurouni Kenshin. Watched that during my college days with the club, I think, and while I liked the anime, there were a lot of arcs and characters that felt resoundingly ‘meh’ to me. So finally, ten years later, I got around to reading the manga and discovered that all those characters and arcs were filler made up for the show. Frickin’… Not only is the story so much better with that stuff cropped out, but several of the major characters that I’d found annoying in the show are no longer nearly so abrasive — like they were being forced to be kid-friendly at the time. Wish I’d realized it before, but I still got a chance to enjoy it. Yay!
Mmm… Speaking of character inspirations, the guy on the left (Saitou Hajime) is one of the guys I think of when I consider Sarovy’s gestation. Again, my character isn’t like him at all, but he had a big influence on the aesthetic and the mood and the cutthroat undertone. Plus I love him. Oh man I love him so much, the wolf-eyed bastard.
Also, this is still one of my favorite fights ever. It was fantastic character-building within the series, and even if it has the talkiness-problem of most fighting anime, it’s still nice and vicious.
I could go on endlessly. Anime and manga are still a pretty underrated medium; most people see the zillion episodes of shows like Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, and go ‘that stuff must be useless kiddie fluff!’ And yes, a lot of anime is useless fluff — because it’s made from manga, while the manga is still being written, and so is packed full of made-up filler so that it can keep running while the mangaka tries desperately to write/draw the actual storyline. Some shows know how to make the filler nearly indistinguishable from the main story (One Piece) while others just crap out ten to twenty episodes of drek to tide them over (Bleach, Naruto). Heck, the Bleach filler tends to be so bad that they have actually stopped producing the show (temporarily?) to allow the manga to get ahead, rather than make up another arc of that bullshit.
But then there are the manga that don’t run into the dozens-of-volumes trap and thus can have a quick, clean anime series made from them, or the anime that are content to just cover a portion of the story and let the rest stay on paper. Pumpkin Scissors — nice little show, sort of a gentle crossbreed of Berserk and FMA without the alchemy or body horror, but still with large guns and government corruption. Serial Experiments Lain, just all around crazy-making. Dennou Coil, a Google Glass future with ghosts. Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, zany and colorful then dark and kind of grim…and still zany. FLCL, just, what?? Red Garden, which I should watch again. Neon Genesis Evangelion, ditto. Scrapped Princess, which had its (amnesia-related) missteps but really gave me some food for plot. I mean thought. Maybe both.
Mushishi. Akira. Samurai 7. Cowboy Bebop. Darker Than Black. Full Metal Panic. Melody of Oblivion, which allowed me to guess one of my storyteller’s villain’s issues, because it’s that. Fushigi Yuugi, because holy fantasy soap-opera, Batman. I watched that one with my best friend, and all her favorite characters died, while both of mine lived. VICTORY!
The best anime don’t mind having a bit of a body-count.
I’m sure there’s a lot of great anime I’ve missed. I haven’t watched much in recent years, and I’ve forgotten a lot. And, like with all media, 99% of what gets produced is trash, so it’s easy to end up with a bad taste in your mouth. I’ve seen a lot of things that I wished were better, or that I dropped after one or two episodes. Slick art can mask a lot of flaws, too.
But the stuff is still worth a look, and I would say that my work has been heavily influenced by it. Body horror, arcane visuals, explaining through combat… Some of the fights in book 2 were pretty much designed to be animated. In my mind, that’s how the series looks: bright colors, distorted-human monsters, large-scale magic, scenery destruction. If I had a couple million bucks, I’d commission a studio to make it real.
Maybe that’s still in my future. Who knows.