The week of featured guest bloggers on simpleek continues! Please welcome the lovely Sam Leung of CheeeseToastieandVideoGames. From what you can tell from the title of her blog, she talks video games. She also posts up YouTube videos of her Let’s Play. You’ll want to check out her blog if you want detailed reviews about the games she plays, deep discussions about critical aspects of the games industry, or you want to hear her commentary as she plays whatever game she is playing at the moment. While Sam’s blog only focuses on video games, she is actually an avid fan of anime and manga. This week, she decided to write about five animes that left a lasting impression on her and how it shaped the way she saw the world growing up. Her viewpoints on each anime are enlightening, and it may make you want to watch them if you haven’t already. Please be sure to visit her blog and follow her on Twitter.
You may (or may not) know me as the video game obsessed blogger over at cheeesetoastieandvideogames. Perhaps a lesser known fact about me in the blogosphere is that I’m also a devoted anime and manga fan. As my blog, so far, has been dedicated to video games, I thought it would be nice to write something about that other passion of mine––anime.
I was born and lived in Hong Kong until I was 3 and then returned when I was 7, and don’t worry, there is a point to this. I’m not going to subject you to my autobiography. My point is that Hong Kong is a mecca for all things anime, after Japan of course. It’s everywhere you look. There are even whole malls full of that kind of stuff, along with all sorts of cut-price video games. It’s on TV constantly. As a result, I literally grew up watching anime. I couldn’t get away from it even if I tried! As I grew older, I’ve sampled anime across many different genres and although I lean toward those with tons of fighting and action and less towards those that focus on romance and fluff, for instance, I do try to be as broad in my sampling as possible, because, well, you never know what gem you’ll find! However, as much as I enjoy anime, the truth is, very few anime have really stuck with me. Even some of my favourites like, One Piece have provided me with hundreds of hours of entertainment, but haven’t really made me think or reassess my world view in any way. Of course, that’s usually totally fine. I often watch anime as a fun way to pass the time, so they don’t all have to be deep and meaningful, and most of the time I’ve found that to be the case. That’s why when I do find an anime that gets me thinking about deeper issues or has a profound effect on me in some way, I really sit up and take notice. That’s why I want to share with you 5 anime that made me reassess myself in the hopes that you might find them as thought-provoking as I did.
This is an oldie, but a goodie. I watched this one for the first time when I was about 3, which was probably unfortunate, considering this is DEFINITELY not for kids. This was the days before parents understood that anime is for adults and cartoons are for kids. Hmm, that probably explains a lot about me actually. Slam Dunk was originally a manga series by Takehiko Inoue and is one of the best-selling series of all time.
Slam Dunk is about a teenager called Hanamichi Sakuragi who is well-known in his area as a delinquent gang leader. He’s considered by most as an idiot and a thug and terrifies most of his classmates to the point that hardly anyone talks to him outside of his three friends. This is especially true for the girls at his school. At the start of the anime, we see Sakuragi being rejected for the 50th time. In fact, this kid has been rejected from pretty much everything in his whole life.
Things start to change when he meets Haruko Akagi, who he immediately develops a gigantic crush on and joy of joys, for once, she doesn’t run away from him and actually talks to him like a normal human being. It’s Haruko that discovers Hanamichi’s natural athleticism and suggests he join the Shohoku basketball team (their school team), despite the fact that he’s never played basketball before or for that matter, any organised sport. He joins for her, so he can impress her, but he begins to discover his love for the sport. It’s not easy going though, both because their basketball team kind of sucks (they’re pretty much unknown) and the fact that they don’t really accept him as one of their own because of his reputation, as well as his violent, temperamental and often immature behaviour. Despite all of that, the team captain dreams of winning the national championship with their band of outcasts and misfits.
The fact that Slam Dunk is about basketball is awesome, but also kind of secondary. What this story is really about is exclusion, loss, friendship and determination in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. It’s truly an underdog story and you can’t help but cheer Hanamichi on, despite the fact that he constantly sabotages his own life. This anime doesn’t shy away from the hard topics and takes a serious look at juvenile delinquency. Sure, he lashes out violently against people at the drop of a hat, but what was his home life like? What would it do to a person to be alone and rejected their whole life? Some people start out with a really bad hand in life and it’s not easy for them to just climb out of that hole rather than keep on sinking. In that sense, it’s also a story about acceptance and understanding people who are different from you. Especially, when I watched it again when I was older, I realised how much the story had stuck with me and perhaps helped me out a little as I navigated the perilous waters of teenagehood and beyond. It’s a great story for everyone, as long as you don’t mind the old animation style. Just keep a few tissues nearby for times when it gets a bit…dusty in the room.
I’m assuming most of you anime-lovers have at least heard of Naruto. It’s an ongoing manga series by Masashi Kishimoto and its reputation is ridiculously huge, in the East AND the West. In fact, it’s one of the best-selling manga series of all time. As animes go, it’s a lot of fun. There are some truly epic fight scenes, it’s huge in scope, spans years and is about ninjas with crazy powers. What more do you need really? The thing is, I love all those things, but what I love the most about Naruto is its story. This is again, an underdog story, but on a much wider scale.
The star of the show, Naruto, is a kid who lives in one of the great ninja villages called Konoha. Sounds like an alright life so far, except the fact that everyone in the village despises him for reasons he’s not clear on at the start of the series and are forbidden from being discussed. To make matters worse, he’s an orphan, so he doesn’t even have anyone to stand up for him as he’s bullied by adults and kids alike throughout his whole childhood. As a student at the ninja school (they start young), he’s fallen far behind the others. He can’t seem to get the hang of the jutsu (ninja skills) that they learn. Like the rest of the village, the kids there hate and mock him with no understanding of why, beyond the fact that their parents told them to stay away from him. As a result, Naruto causes a lot of trouble, because being hated is at least better than being ignored. Despite all of this, he is determined to one day become the Hokage (the leader) of their village and gain the acceptance of everyone. Obviously, there’s much more to the plot than that, but I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll stop there.
The show can be a little silly at times, especially before the new series (Naruto Shippuden) came out, which follows him after he’s grown up a little bit. It’s often also genuinely emotional and heartfelt. I admit, I cried a lot while watching this and I don’t usually cry while watching anime! Like Slam Dunk, this anime is about rejection and acceptance and trying to find your place in an often hostile world. What I find most inspirational about Naruto as a character is that despite everything, he always keeps his head up and never complains. He doesn’t let anything keep him down and he has a kind heart despite everything. I think we all have a lot to learn from Naruto about appreciating what you have and about pushing yourself to achieve your dreams.
This is an interesting one. It’s set in a sort of alternate universe version of Edo era Japan, a tumultuous time of change and a great period for the arts. Sounds normal right? Now throw in a hip-hop backdrop and you’ve got Samurai Champloo. It’s a deliberately jarring fusion of traditional Japanese and modern urban culture and it works.
There is very little actual direction to the story, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t heavy on plot. The meandering nature of the story mirrors the journey that the three main characters – Fuu the teenage waitress, Mugen the unpredictable wanderer and Jin the introverted ronin (a samurai without a master). They are vastly different people from different backgrounds who come together after Mugen and Jin rescue Fuu and she asks them to help her find ‘the samurai who smells of sunflowers’. From that point on, the story drifts onwards.
This artistic choice of blending two seemingly very different styles is not random of course and neither is the aimlessness of the plot. The show takes an often brutal look at many of the issues plaguing Edo era Japan, but are also very much relevant today. This series explores issues of identity, duty, homosexuality and trying to find a place for yourself in the world when you just don’t seem to fit in. Jin, for instance, is a samurai and probably one of the last of his breed, as they were dying out by that time. Though he hangs on to his old ways, who is he really when those ways don’t even really mean anything anymore? Samurai Champloo is like being cast afloat on the ocean, and during that time, you’re forced to look at your own life and values and wonder what it’s all about.
This one is a little out of my usual style of anime as it’s incredibly fluffy, includes a lot of romance and is quite…pink. However, I think it would be a mistake to dismiss this anime as a show for little girls, even though this one is probably aimed at a slightly younger crowd. It has some of the best depictions of non-conventional relationships I have ever seen and puts across its often important messages in a very subtle way, which adds to its poignancy. I watched this when I was quite young (around 10-years-old) and I mainly watched it for the magic and its happy-go-lucky portrayal of life. It wasn’t until I re-watched it many years later when I was in already in my 20’s that I realised how much lay beneath the surface of its bright and sparkly exterior. It struck me how many of my values and ideas about relationships had developed during that period, and had most likely been affected by this show without me even realising it!
CCS (by the manga group Clamp) is about a girl called Sakura who accidentally releases magical cards called Clow Cards from the Clow Book, which is in some way connected to a mysterious sorcerer. Each card can transform into magical beings with their own unique powers. The guardian of the book, a little lion with wings called Cerberus emerges and tells her that she has to find the missing cards and seal them away. Of course, she can’t tell anyone about this other than her best friend, although, she has many other friends and her older brother and father to emotionally support her as she sets out on her quest.
CCS has an amazing cast of characters and every episode has an incredible feeling of warmth. Despite the fact that Sakura is only ten-years-old, she’s emotionally and physically tough, capable and independent, while still being very gentle and compassionate. It’s undeniably, at least in part, a story about female empowerment, but it’s done in a way that’s very natural and doesn’t shove it down your throat. The message of the show, in its portrayal of Sakura and a variety of other female characters, seems to be they are equals to their male counterparts. Just like men, there are strong women and weak women, good women and bad women. CCS points out that gender has little to do with emotional maturity and strength of person.
As I mentioned before, the treatment of relationships was what really drew me back to the series. CCS portrays all sorts of relationships that you wouldn’t typically find even in anime aimed at an older crowd, for instance, homosexual relationships or relationships with large age gaps. All relationships are presented in non-judgmental ways, even those that may be controversial and seeks to challenge people’s views in a subtle and beautiful way. The overall message is one of true love across boundaries and one of acceptance.
Death Note is almost the opposite of CCS. It’s dark. Really dark. I mean it’s called Death Note, so that should give you a clue. Part of what makes this series so special is how clever it is. It’s got plot twists within plot twists within plot twists that like to smack you in the face when you’re least expecting it. However, what I really love about Death Note is its exploration of human nature and law and society.
Light Yagami is a bored high-school aged genius who has very little empathy or patience for the lesser beings around him. One day, he comes across a notebook labelled ‘Death Note’, which unbeknownst to him, was purposefully dropped by a shinigami (a death god) called Ryuk. The rules in the book state that anyone can be killed by writing their name in the notebook as long as you know their name and face. Light uses this to begin a crusade to create a ‘better world’ where he’ll rule as God with only the world’s greatest detective––L to stop him.
What was excellent about this series is there are no clear cut answers. The situation is presented to you and doesn’t require you to take any particular side. Is Light the hero? Is he the villain? Or is L the hero or villain? You may find yourself questioning ideas you held about morality and law and order that you never thought you would. Death Note really got me thinking about what striving for ‘a better world’ really means and how far you would go to achieve it, and I’ve never stopped thinking about it since.