by Susan Cohen
I've got to get something off my chest. I'm going to take a deep breath ... OK, that's better. And now I'm finally going to admit to myself, and to all you City Paper readers, that yes, I like anime.
Wow. That feels really good.
See, I grew up in the taboo time of anime, the stuff of Pokemon cards and Dragonball Z. The kids who liked it were the weird ones with Japan fetishes, pre-teens to whom animated sexual innuendo was very important. I heard it was smutty and violent, and so I was mostly turned off to it. Except for Sailor Moon. Sailor Moon was perfect.
In high school, it was socially acceptable to watch Adult Swim up to a certain hour. Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Sealab 2021, fine. Cowboy Bebop ... well, then you're entering a gray area. I didn't have cable growing up — still don't — so I didn't watch much Cartoon Network. On one family trip, I caught an episode of FLCL and instantly, and guiltily, found it fascinating. It's been a long time since then, but I remember a badass girl with a bass guitar and a yellow Vespa, and aliens or robots or some other kind of evildoers trying to destroy the world. I kind of liked it. But then we went home.
As I got older, and as we moved further and further away from the Pikachu era, the tide was starting to turn. Films like Spirited Away and Paprika were receiving critical acclaim and, in the former's case, even an Academy Award. I still wasn't completely sold. Once, in college, I walked in on my roommate/BFF Brian watching Perfect Blue, a feature-length anime film about a young actress who gets raped and you can't tell if it's real or if it's a part of her job or if it's all in her head. I found what little I watched from the doorway of our kitchen to be very unpleasant.
But while working at the video store (which I went on and on about last week), I pondered our anime rack and finally decided to just dive in. And I dove in with Paprika. One of its central images is a bustling parade of anthropomorphized inanimate objects, frogs, and other bizarre marchers. It's both fantastical and frightening. I learned that while the animation of the Japanese cartoons of our childhood wasn't the best, the better films are epically visual. Anime can walk the line between make-believe and reality in ways that live-action films and television shows cannot.
I was still skeptical. Until I saw Akira. And that was the end for me. If you haven't heard of Akira yet, you will soon, since an American live-action remake that's been rumored for decades is becoming more of a possibility (and it might star Robert Pattinson and Justin Timberlake, which is sacrilege). Released in 1988, it's based on a multivolume manga series set in post-World War III Tokyo. Tetsuo, a member of the Capsules biker gang, begins to develop uncontrollably violent psychic powers after encountering a strange little boy, and his best friend Kaneda must stop Tetsuo from destroying the world. There's more to it than that, but I won't give you the entire run down. Just rent it.
I watched Akira with Brian two nights in a row. The plot is scary and sad, and you'll get wrapped up in it. And it's beautifully animated. Skyscrapers rise tall from the ground, motorcycles leave behind a wake of multicolored tracers as they ride off into the distance, and teddy bears and toy cars become the stuff of nightmares. It's become one of my favorite films. In doing research for this column, I found out that Kanye West's music video for "Stronger" was influenced directly by Akira. If Kanye approves, then it's got to be cool, right?
For the last few months, the Greater Park Circle Film Society has been hosting free screenings of anime films (plus kung-fu flicks) in a partnership with FUNimation and the Lowcountry Anime and Gaming Club. On Wed. April 6 at 8 p.m., they're showing Evangelion 2.22, an offspring of the Neon Genesis Evangelion television show franchise. It's another cartoon about the end of the world and the people who are fighting to keep it safe. I may have found the show itself to be too episodic and formulaic, but Brian swears by it. It's also spawned other films, including Park Circle's selection. I only made it through a couple of episodes in the series, and I really regret not finishing it.
And I also regret never watching Cowboy Bebop. But you know what? That's OK. I don't feel any shame about it.