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This week on Extra Punctuation, Yahtzee discusses which anime he actually likes and why.
There are a few records that I need to set. See, what you might not realize is that I have nothing to do with the visual element of the extra punctuation. I do all of Zero Punctuation myself, but for Extra Punctuation I just do the writing and narration. This is how he can fit into my work schedule without blowing me away. Matt the editor does the visuals, I usually don’t see them until the final release. He could literally do anything to my avatar right now and I would have no idea. Did I mention how much we all appreciate your work, Matt?
Sometimes this only leads to confusion. In my Persona episode, I mentioned that the only anime I liked was different from what anime usually looks like. A few sample animes popped up, and many commenters assumed these were the animes I was talking about. It wasn’t the intended meaning. I never saw any of the animes that were shown, I don’t know what they were. I’m sure Matt does. I’m sure he would like to tell you about it. But now that we’re on the topic, I thought I could introduce you to some of the anime I was talking about.
Although I reject the weeb label, I am certainly no stranger to anime. If you don’t count the occasions as a teenager where I stayed up until 1am because I heard channel 4 was showing a weird alien cartoon full of gore and boobs, the first time that I really got culturally engaged with anime was when I watched Neon Genesis Evangelion. I got all the VHS from a video rental store, which should give you an idea of how long it was. I don’t know if I would say that I liked it. I don’t feel very inclined to review. It was certainly a fascinating insight into a new sphere of culture. And with the latest episodes, what happens when someone simultaneously loses their mind and their animation budget.
Back when I was single, I spent about a year living with a guy who was a huge anime fan. Like two shelves filled with giant DVD boxes. And most nights he would put on cartoons to watch and it was from this period that I got the feeling that I generally don’t like cartoons. Because what he put on tended to go into a lot of the same tropes. Giant robot fights, teenage angst, ladies turning around so fast their boobies continue to come alive for several seconds after they stop.
Now I know what you’re going to say at this point: “Oh Yahtzee, anime is just one medium, there are so many different ones, all with very different themes and settings.” Yes, I realize that, but you have to admit that some themes are much more prevalent than others. *I* know anime isn’t all about giant robots and a creepy male gaze, but you can’t blame the layman for taking on so much based on what gets the most exposure, could you. So, I will now discuss three animes which are animes that I liked. By the way, please don’t take this as an invitation to recommend more anime. I know you’re evangelists, but damn, I don’t have much time in the day for the things I really don’t care about.
Number one. Cowboy Bebop. Yes, I know, everyone loves Cowboy Bebop. But it’s for a reason. It’s still the dad. I always like cowboys in space as a theme. It’s a very natural combination. Whether it is the western border or the final border, these are borders all the way down. I don’t mean that Cowboy Bebop was the first to do space cowboys, but you can definitely see his influence in most of the space cowboys that came later, from Firefly to Borderlands.
But in addition to cowboys in space, Cowboy Bebop also embodies another of my favorite sci-fi subgenres: bums in space. I’ve always liked works that counterbalance the usual Star Trek of brilliant people at the peak of their careers on highly advanced spaceships with very clean lighting, focusing instead on a bunch of misfits and losers exploring the space on beaten rustbuckets. Stuff like Red Dwarf, Lexx, John Carpenter’s Dark Star. It’s something I invoke very deliberately in my Will Save The Galaxy For Food books.
I love the central cast of Bebop for its eccentric misfit status, its complex stories, its constant struggle to make it through an uncaring universe. And I appreciate that specifically in an anime context because so many other Japanese anime and games seem to build their casts by plugging in a load of standard archetypes with slightly different hairstyles. The serious boyish hero, the slacker friend, the unfiltered energetic girl, the shy mystery girl with lovingly honking horns, and more.
Number two: Gankutsuou. Gankutsuou is a sci-fi anime adaptation of the Count of Monte Cristo. Which already gave it an unfair advantage because The Count of Monte Cristo is one of my favorite books of all time, but even so, I’d go so far as to say Gankutsuou is my favorite adaptation of it. Not that it had any stiff competition if you compare it to the Guy Pearce movie or that French movie I once saw with Gerard Depardieu, where at one point they had him dress up with a fake nose, but Gerard Depardieu already has a notoriously large nose so the end result looked like a fucking proboscis monkey. But I digress.
Gankutsuou puts an interesting new spin on the story by focusing on its protagonist, a relatively minor character in the book. I appreciate the dramatic irony because of course we the audience know who the Count of Monte Cristo is, but we experience the mystery and intrigue surrounding him through the eyes of this poor, unsuspecting idiot as he reconstructs it. It’s not all good, there are several times when it moves, well, when it starts doing anime stuff. Ie some treatment of the female characters, the ending is a bit lame, and at one point they fight in a giant robot fight for no particular reason. But that aside, I found it thrilling, intriguing, and melancholic in all the right places. Plus, the animation has this unique texture that gives it a nice bohemian vibe and brings back fond memories of Stan the vendor from Monkey Island.
And finally number three: Cromartie High School. Horror and comedy are two things that can both be enhanced with a surreal atmosphere. And when it comes from a foreign culture, the sense of cultural distance adds an unintended extra dimension to that atmosphere. That’s why Silent Hill only really worked for me when the Japanese created it. And Cromartie High School is a surreal Japanese comedy. It’s about an idiot who accidentally enrolls in a high school for delinquent idiots, and his classmates include a robot, a gorilla, and a shirtless dumb guy who looks like Freddy Mercury, none of whom are ever explained. .
I love surreal humor anyway. It could be a British thing. Here we symbolically mention Monty Python, but also the vein of even more surreal humor that hardly anyone outside the UK seems to understand, embodied in acts like Reeves and Mortimer, which almost enters the realm of Dadaism. But the other ingredient that Cromartie adds to create a combination that brings me to my knees in my specific comedy testicles is an utterly deadpan delivery. Each character is a really buff dude with a deadly serious expression fixed on his face. Part of that probably comes down to the series being animated on the cheap, but they play a lot. Characters will randomly grow and shrink and appear in parts of the frame or in front of random backgrounds in a way that makes no rational sense. It gives it that deliberate Garth Marenghi Darkplace madness that adds to the anarchic vibe.
Again, there are issues. There are no regular female characters, so it’s a bit non-inclusive, but the silver lining of this is that I can watch it safe in the knowledge that I probably won’t have to watch someone sexualize themselves. inappropriately. Again, I know not all anime do this, but I feel like if I were to watch a random sample of popular anime, it wouldn’t be long before a teenage girl was sexually assaulted by the camera. Or. Just sexually assaulted in general.
So there you have it, three anime that I love. I’ll even throw in a few honorable mentions: Planets, Excel Saga, One Punch Man ahead of season two. I hope this cleared the air between me and the weebs and that you all stop kicking my ass about any future misunderstandings caused by the visuals of Extra Punctuation. Like in the immersive narrative episode when I brought up games adapted for Netflix, and an image of the Witcher popped up. Yeah, that set off all the homing missiles, didn’t it. IT WAS A BOOK, FIRST, MATT.