I dislike it when the TV shows get preachy. I hated it when the cartoons were more focused on trying to teach me rather than entertain me. A lecture by means of mass-media requires subtlety and delicacy. Mhmm, it should be like an iceberg. The part which is sticking out should be all about girls, humor, romance, badass fighters for justice, lasers, and monsters. The chunk below the water is invisible. It carries the deep, hidden meaning, the message. As long as the top component does not fog your eyes with too many stimulants, you will see the underwater part. Here’s the list of shows which are more educational than you would initially expect.
Natsume Yuujinchou – offers a different take on the story involving demons. It is not a typical ‘a boy finds a power within himself to fight the supernatural’ flick. The main character, Natsume, can see youkai, the monsters of Japanese folklore. When he inherits a book which allows him to control the beings whose names are written in it, he decides to free them from their pacts. Natsume finds an unexpected companion in Madara, a powerful spirit (who usually stays in the form of a chubby and grumpy cat).
The anime has the episodic formula. Natsume meets different monsters, evil and good ones. Each of these encounters helps him learn more about humans and youkai, and also about himself. He finally finds a place he can call home and people (and spirits) whom he can consider friends. The anime is really beautifully done, it literally overflows with feelings. Most of the time it’s so calm and mellow, it just makes you squeeze a manly tear or two.
Slam Dunk – probably the best sports manga ever written, and definitely one of the best manga ever. A goofy delinquent Sakuragi Hanamichi ends up in a high school basketball team in order to fight for affection of a girl he likes. He forms an on-and-off court rivalry with a rookie prodigy player Rukawa Kaede. Despite the fact that he has never played basketball before, he quickly begins to grasp the aspects of the game. As the time passes, he starts to genuinely enjoy the sport. Sakuragi and Rukawa through their constant bickering actually learn from each other.
Slam Dunk is full of humor and the players’ backstories and motives behind their actions are explained very realistically. Apparently the manga had largely impacted the interest in basketball in Japan during the 1990s. According to this piece of news the author Takehiko Inoue was even awarded for his work by Japanese Basketball Association.
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann – why watch anime with the building-sized robots when you can see a show with a mecha larger than a galaxy which uses other galaxies as shurikens?? The idea is just so ridiculously over-the-top that I was left speechless upon witnessing these scenes. tvtropes.org states that the whole TTGL series is a Crowning Moment of Awesome, and I couldn’t agree more.
There’s nothing unusual at the beginning, at least by anime norms. The humans are living in the underground domes, tormented by earthquakes. Kamina, a loud-mouthed bad boy believes there’s an outside world above them. When the chance appears, together with his blood-brother Simon and a busty Yoko they leave the village and reach the higher ground (Red Hot Chili Peppers anyone?). Problems escalate quickly, new enemies and allies appear on the way, there are heroic speeches in every episode and by the end of theanime we get battles of super-colossal robots. In space.
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann shows how amazing humans are; we might not have mechas in real life, but we certainly made a great technological progress over last century or two. The anime is about believing in yourself and knowing that your friends will always be there to help you.
Princess Mononoke (Mononoke-hime) – I remember watching this movie for the first time over a decade ago on the TV. It was nothing like any of the Western animated movies I had ever seen before. Princess Mononoke is not in the vein of cute, kiddie stuff mostly featured in Disney films. The line between the good and evil is distorted. The characters aren’t purely bad or kind-hearted – their actions often fit in the gray area. They are not the usual bunch of individuals either. A cursed prince, a girl living with the wolves, a female town ruler, a wacky monk and the ancient gods. Over-exploiting the forest leads to a conflict with the nature.
Hayao Miyazaki tackles the issues of environmentalism, industrialism and the gender roles in society. It’s a truly quintessential anime movie.
Nodame Cantabile – I must say I’m a big fan of this series, the live-action drama in particular. I’ve seen it before anime and manga, and it’s my favorite Japanese TV show, although it needs to be pointed out that not everyone may like it (none of my friends lasted through first episode) – it’s totally nuts. It incorporates the crucial elements of the manga and makes the actors reenact the same madness.
Chiaki Shinichi, a top student at music college, who’s too perfect for his own good, meets Noda Megumi – ‘Nodame’ – a quirky and quite lazy student who plays the piano and, as it soon turns out, lives in an apartment next to his. Along the way, we’re introduced to a range of other oddball supporting characters. Chiaki and Nodame influence each other in more ways than they imagine, as they learn to appreciate and love music, through conducting an orchestra and playing the piano, respectively.
The magic of anime and drama adaptations results from the fact that we can actually hear the music, which frankly is the most important theme of the series – the one that encapsulates everyone and serves as the main force behind the choices the characters make. Nonetheless, I admire the author of the manga, Tomoko Ninomiya, for writing a manga about music and doing such a wonderful job with expressing it through words.
The lesson we learn in Nodame Cantabile is that the real talent is a gift which should be nurtured. Hard work will yield reward, eventually. There’s always some room for self-improvement.