Anime Blues

In the late 1980’s I was attending the University of Pittsburgh and trying to cut my teeth at Pittsburgh Filmmakers. At that time Filmmakers were the only gig in town for limited-release, avante garde films and one weekend we had the honor of hosting a film from Japan called Akira.

Image courtesy of Bandai and Geneon Entertainment

At the time, American audiences were familiar with Japanese animation pretty much exclusively through Speed Racer and maybe Astro Boy. The US was the heavyweight in producing high-quality masterworks of animation and between Disney, Ralph Bakshi or Don Bluth studios, America had the theatrical animation market cornered.

Akira was an atom-bomb to the animation landscape declaring that America is no longer the only game in town. Simply stunning.

Since that time, Anime has grown at an exponential rate in the US. Studio Ghibli has given us titles like “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” “Princess Mononoke” and “Spirited Away” which won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature, the first anime film to win an Academy Award. However, if you still ask many people, especially people of my parent’s generation, when asked about Japanese animation they will still only be able to muster up “Speed Racer.”

Kiki’s Delivery service is STILL my favorite of all the Ghibli films.

Well, if you haven’t seen the Studio Ghibli stuff by now, I would of course recommend that you stop reading this and add it to your Netflix cue or run to your local video store tonight to watch them this weekend.

If you don’t feel like sitting down with your parents for two hours to try to indoctrinate them into Anime I highly recommend the following two series instead:

Cowboy BeBop

Great series if your are into are Space/Bounty Hunter movies

Samurai Champloo

Great series if your audience are Clint Eastwood westerns

These two shows are reminiscent of the old “post-1950’s serials” or “chapter plays,” that were broken into 15, or so, chapters. The characters all have a pulp magazine fiction backstory and are easy to grasp on to.

My favorite is definitely Cowboy BeBop for it’s subject matter and brilliant story arc. There is even one episode that focuses on people in the 21st century trying to figure out the difference between VHS and BETA tapes…seriously, how cool is THAT?

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