Ever since I was a young child, Saturday mornings were dedicated to cartoons and the tradition continued well into my middle school years where I had become glued to Fox Kids and KidsWB. Both of these stations in the mid to late nineties showcased a plethora of different anime, but I was completely unaware of what I was watching until Escaflowne aired on Fox Kids.
I religiously followed the story and even set my alarm to make sure I would wake up on time to watch it until one day, it never aired. I was confused and so I waited for the next week thinking that the previous one had been a fluke. Nope. It stopped airing. I was crestfallen and since we barely had internet at the time, I resigned myself.
Fast forward a few years and I was in high school. A kid in one of my classes had the entire Vision of Escaflowne on DVD and offered them to me. I accepted, and was delighted to find out that the version that had aired on Fox Kids had been heavily edited. I marathoned the entire series in two days and became hungry for more. Another friend lent me Full Metal Alchemist and soon, I was surfing Napster for episodes of Inuyasha. I was hooked.
I went to Anime Central 2005 instead of my senior prom and when I arrived at Purdue University, I became an officer in their anime club. Now, anime is at its all time high in popularity and no longer do fans have to scour the internet for bread crumbs. Here are what I consider to be classics and personal favorites that I believe everyone from all walks of life will enjoy and can also serve as good introductions to the genre.
5. One Piece
- Episodes: 701 so far
- Aired: October 20, 1999 – ongoing
When Luffy was a child growing up on a mundane island in the East Blue, a pirate ship docked and took refuge in their small town. The crew, captained by Shanks, took a liking to the youngster and soon enough Luffy could be found wherever the pirates roamed. Luffy was so enamored by Shanks, that he swore one day he would become King of the Pirates and find the One Piece, a treasure left by the previous king, Gol D Roger.
Shanks bestows upon Luffy his straw hat, having Luffy promise to return it once he has become a great pirate. Fast forward when Luffy turns eighteen and sets off on his own tiny boat in search of adventure and his own crew.
One Piece is a story about personal growth and the bonds that draw people together. The story is bold and unafraid to have their main characters fail miserably. Nothing in life is perfect and neither is the stories behind each of the characters involved. The only aspect of the anime that seems to have slipped since the original air date is the animation quality. Toei’s budget has fallen immensely and unfortunately it has effected the quality of the show, but the story is definitely worth the watch.
4. Perfect Blue
- Episodes: Movie
- Aired: February 28, 1998
Mima Kirigoe decides to leave the world of Japanese Idols to pursue acting. Not all of her fans are as thrilled for her though and a mysterious man named Me-Mania decides to punish her. Me-mania is convinced that Mima must be a fake as the real Mima would never accept a drama role as controversial as hers.
Soon all of the important people surrounding Mima’s new job begin to die and Mima is beginning to lose her memory. Who is really committing these crimes? Perhaps she should have never left her tiny idol group to begin with.
Satoshi Kon is a master story teller and his thrillers really make audiences sit at the edge of their seats. Mima is an honest and naïve girl who believes she is making the right decision. The audience grows becomes one with Mima’s feelings, growing from excitement to suspicion and then to downright fear. Perfect Blue is one ride that fans just can not miss.
3. Nodame Cantabile
- Episodes: 23 +1 bonus
- Aired: January 11, 2007 – June 26, 2007
As Chiaki walks through the halls of his music school, he can’t help but hear the sound a piano playing unlike he’s ever heard before. He rushes to the room only to find the room empty. Upon arriving at home, he hears the same music coming from the apartment next door only to discover the creator of such music is a sloppy and clumsy girl name Nodame who is incapable of taking care of herself. Thus begins a musical bond that becomes unbreakable. Chiaki becomes Nodame’s mentor while Nodame teaches Chiaki something about following his own heart.
For anyone who has ever been a part of a school music program, Nodame Cantabile will bring out vivid memories of those precious times. The anime is simplistic and lovely while the classical music will force the record player out of the closet. Everyone loves a good beauty and the beast story and Nodame Cantible takes a unique spin on an old classic.
Chiaki is the perfect, charming prince while Nodame is quite plain and goes her own way forcing much of campus to believe she is some sort of wild animal. Together, they manage to create beautiful music while also halving some laughs at the expense of each other along the way.
2. Rose of Versailles (Berusaiyu no Bara)
- Episodes: 40
- Aired: October 10, 1979 – September 3, 1980
Becoming distraught after birthing six girls, General Jarjayes decided to give his fortune to his youngest. The only problem was that she was born a girl. Her father sought to hide this truth from the world and so he named his daughter Oscar and raised her as the son he never had. As a child, she practiced sword fighting with her Nanny’s grandson Andre and as an adult, she became head of the royal guard and in charge of Marie Antionette’s safety. As a royal guard member she bore witness to the affairs and spending Marie was involved in and ultimately a revolution broke out.
Oscar’s point of view brings an extra layer to a story well known by all. She is the ultimate unbiased source as she has a foot both in the world of the nobility and the world of commoners. The wide range of emotions felt by Oscar are transmitted to those watching her dilemmas on screen- not just her work and political problems, but also her personal ones. Rose of Versailles does well to introduce the audience to the history of the French Revolution, but issues with gender are also addressed.
Oscar lives as a man and wants to continue her duties as a member of the Royal Guard. Her current lifestyle gives her power and respect, but when the love of a man is thrust upon her-she does not know how to react. Should she go back to being a woman? What would that mean?
1. Vision of Escaflowne (Tenku no Esukafurone)
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: April 2, 1996 – September 24, 1996
When Hitomi Kanzaki is transported to another world, she is also given the power to see the future via visions and tarot card readings. Unfortunately for her, she crash landed into the beginnings of a world at war. Along the way, she is saved by two men named Van Fanel and Allen Schezar whose countries are both threatened by the Zaibach Empire run by a man whose goal is to unleash the power of Atlantis. Hitomi and her new gang must stop Zaibach before it’s too late and the reawakened power of Atlantis destroys the world.
While technically Escaflowne is listed as a shoujo, the story opens up to viewers of more genres than any other anime out there. While the story focuses on the adventures of Hitomi and there is a love triangle between Van, Allen, and Hitomi, the story goes way beyond this. Elements of the supernatural ooze through and serve as major plot points. All the battles are also fought in giant mechs called guymelefs and one of them can actually transform into a dragon. Everything is also set into a medieval, fantasy type world where magic is still around and beast men roam. This anime is a classic and one of the best to show to someone who is interested in anime, but doesn’t quite know where to begin.
Anime has a different meaning to everyone who watches it and there are so many sub genres that while everyone reading this may love anime, the unique genres everyone loves may be different. As you can see, I am drawn to anime with powerful stories and independent women who are fully aware of themselves and unafraid to take charge, but others love comedy harem anime. To each their own.
Anime is something truly special, and it’s a shame the general populace still lumps anime in with Saturday morning kids’ cartoons. Education is key and with each passing generation, anime has gained more and more ground. Let us continue spreading the word by challenging skeptics to watch at least one series. Together we can show the world how special anime really is.