Anime is such a big industry that seiyuu, or voice actors, become celebrities in their own right. Queen among seiyuu is Megumi Hayashibara. She debuted with a bit part in Maison Ikkoku, and went on to become nearly ubiquitous in 90s anime. Star parts have ranged from girl-type Ranma (Ranma ½;), to the quick-tempered sorceress Lina Inverse (Slayers), to the emotionless Rei Ayanami (Evangelion), to hard-luck woman Faye Valentine (in the mega-hit and mega-hip seriesCowboy Bebop). Like many seiyuu, she also sings, with several successful albums and countless anime themes to her credit. Side projects include hosting a radio show and writing an autobiographical manga; she also dubs films into Japanese, including voicing the title character in Amelie.
What would Macross Plus be without Sharon Apple's future-pop ballads? What would Escaflowne be without its symphonic battle themes and Gaiean folk songs? What would Cowboy Bebop be without its bebop? Thanks to composer Yoko Kanno, we'll never have to find out. After working in commercials and video games, she broke into anime with the theme for Please Save My Earth, a project that brought her into contact with two frequent collaborators, Hajime Mizoguchi and Akino Arai. (Another collaborator is Gabriela Robin, a lyricist and vocalist unknown outside of Kanno's works and widely suspected to be Kanno herself.) Kanno is known especially for the diversity of her music; her influences range across the globe, and she's gone so far as to write lyrics in made-up languages when real ones didn't fit the bill. Aside from the hits named above, you'll find her work in Brain Powered, Rahxephon, and many others.
To briefly summarize such a huge and popular phenomenon like anime is nigh impossible; think of this primer as merely an introduction to a wondrous and diverse universe. Once you start, you may never look back. You can also dip your toes in the waters by stepping into our ever-active Anime discussion board: get further insight, recommendations, and read many lively debates about anime series from Angelic Layer to Vampire Hunter D. And below are a few of my own picks for some great anime titles to start out with. Enjoy!
Julie Newcomb is a sometimes writer, longtime otaku, and proud employee of GreenCine.
Vampire Hunter D
These are some of my picks for the best anime has to offer, a diverse batch of titles to start out with:
Angel's Egg: This slow, haunting, virtually plotless early feature by Mamoru Oshii will charm those with the patience to let it work its magic. Character designs by Yoshitaka Amano, who worked on Vampire Hunter D as well as the Final Fantasy game franchise.
Blood: the Last Vampire: If you can accept that it's nothing more than 45 minutes of slick animation and cool fight scenes, then you'll enjoy this one (I did). The unusual setting of an American military base in Japan in the 1960s, complete with a bilingual script, adds interest.
Boogiepop Phantom: Favorably compared to Serial Experiment Lain, but often overlooked. This complex supernatural puzzle is definitely worth the time you'll spend trying to get your brain around it.
The Castle of Cagliostro: It's pre-Ghibli and very unlike his later work, so it's easy to forget that this 1979 hit helped establish Miyazaki. His take on comic thief Lupin III is well known for the clocktower climax.
Cowboy Bebop: Notable not just for its Yoko Kanno score, but for its blend of 40s noir and 70s action, and for that rare thing in a TV series -- a truly satisfying ending.
FLCL: Gainax shows what they can do without Anno: rock out. So rich in gonzo plot, off the wall characters, and punk rock, you won't mind that there's only two episodes on each disc. (The great commentary track helps, too.)
Great Teacher Onizuka (GTO): A foul-mouthed ex-member of a biker gang decides to become the Greatest High School Teacher ever and is assigned a homeroom class with more troubled teenagers than you can shake a stick at. Crude, yes, silly, yes, but it's funny.
His and Her Circumstances: For all its Gainax-ian hyperactivity, this really boils down to a sweet and realistic story of first love. It's also a good way to ease into shojo.
Key the Metal Idol: Not content with a Philip K. Dick storyline about a girl who may (or may not be) a robot, this series also tackles religion and the phenomenon of celebrity. The opening sequence is not to be missed.
Martian Successor Nadesico: Addictive space battle saga with an anime-within-an-anime subplot. The whole cast is amusing, but brainy girl Ruri Hoshino steals the show.
Perfect Blue: Director Satoshi Kon leads you through the dizzying fantasies, anxieties, memories, and (perhaps) reality of a young actress. See also his latest Millennium Actress, a similar juxtaposition of timelines and perspectives.
Read or Die: Mild-mannered bookworm saves the world from an array of historical villains so obscure, they'd leave the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen scratching their heads. Nothing but fun from the James Bond-esque opening and on through.
Voices of a Distant Star: Made by just one man on his personal computer; both the animation and story are professional grade. Don't miss the short included on the DVD, "She and Her Cat."
Witch Hunter Robin: One of those that just hits all the right notes: interesting characters, good plotlines, dark, subdued animation and atmosphere to burn. Plus a great opening theme. A personal favorite.
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