Compared with even 6 months ago, there are now many anime series televised every week on UK TV. Today, Anime Network and the inbound Anime Central are at the forefront for anime on UK TV; note that these are dedicated digital channels devoted to showcasing the latest and greatest in Japanese animation. And so, in these exciting times for the UK anime community and on the brink of the launch of Anime Central, it’s easy to lose track of what to watch – but never fear, because our team at Anime UK News have come up with a list of recommendations that should provide any starving otaku with a more than filling preview of what’s to come.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand-Alone Complex, by Martin
Does the Ghost in the Shell franchise need any introduction? For many anime fans it probably doesn’t – it’s proved to be one of the enduring classics of animated science fiction since the first animated adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s manga series hit our screens. For those of you who aren’t aware of what it entails (where have you been all this time?!), it is a futuristic thriller that concerns itself with the staff of Section Nine, a division of the government that tackles high tech crime.
The Stand-alone Complex is an alternative take on the Ghost in the Shell universe whose timeline is separate from the two feature films that Mamoru Oshii directed. Fans of the films are reunited with familiar characters but because the storylines are completely new you don’t have to have seen either film beforehand to appreciate the series. The episodic ‘case of the week’ structure makes it a bit easier to digest the technical jargon and finer points of the plot too, which is a bonus for those of us who found the movies a bit hard to understand!
The first season is a mixture of self contained episodes and a recurring story arc featuring a Salinger-quoting master hacker known as the Laughing Man; the second ups the ante with another long-running case featuring a collective of terrorists and hackers known as the Individual Eleven, plus a political subplot that threatens Section Nine itself.
So, why watch the Stand-alone Complex? I’d say it’s because this one of the most polished, intelligent and ‘grown-up’ pieces of sci-fi anime around today. It looks fantastic, Yoko Kanno’s soundtrack is spectacular and there’s a great balance between action and intrigue. In short it is well written, action-packed and thought-provoking television that you can’t afford to miss.
TV INFO: From 13th September, Ghost in the Shell: Stand-Alone Complex airs on Anime Central every evening at 22:30.
Cowboy Bebop, article by Lewis
The behemoth is back on UK TV at last! For those of you unaware of the legendary Cowboy Bebop, come and join the fun as we follow Spike and the gang traveling across the solar system chasing bounty. In the year 2071 the solar system is connected through a series of hyperspace gateways. With many new places to explore, crime thrived and several syndicates came into power. In an effort to curb the spiraling crime the government introduced a bounty system. Now capturing criminals mean prizes, or in the crew of the Bebop’s case, a decent meal. For once.
There are many reasons that Cowboy Bebop is as big as it is and there have been pages written on the subject. But in a nutshell Bebop has a great story, fantastic animation and one hell of a soundtrack composed by the one and only Yoko Kanno (Macross Plus). It was also written by Keiko Nobumoto (Tokyo Godfathers, Wolf’s Rain) , so a sharp and fitting script is guaranteed. With plenty of action, comedy and some very touching moments. Cowboy Bebop has topped many a favourite Anime list for a reason.
Cowboy Bebop made its UK debut as one of the headlining shows on CNX in 2003. When that kicked the bucket our supply of anime on TV hit rock bottom. Why is Bebop a great choice for a brand new UK Anime Channel? Well, with a loyal following and episodic nature (If you miss an episode you won’t be in the dark the following week) it really begs the question, Why not?
2007 is the year for Anime in the UK and there is no other title I’m looking forward to more than Cowboy Bebop. If you’re a fan of great action, exciting dialogue, beautiful animation and scenery or even a jazz soundtrack that’s a delight on the ears. Then Cowboy Bebop is for you.
TV INFO: Cowboy Bebop will air on Anime Central, but as of publication of this article, it has yet to scheduled.
Azumanga Daioh, article by Ryan
Anime is naturally informed by Japanese culture, making it more than just another line of cartoons – this, and the relatively episodic nature of Azumanga Daioh (originally a manga series consisting of almost entirely random four-frame jokes), makes it the perfect choice for television.
Although supposedly following the story of Chiyo-chan, a ten year old genius who has skipped several grades to arrive at high school, and eventually become her class’ mascot – you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise, given that almost every character in Chiyo’s circle of friends gets just as much attention as she does. This includes Tomo Takino (a hyperactive academic slacker), Yomi (Tomo’s best friend from grade-school and the most serious of the group), Sakaki (the athletic one whose love for cats isn’t reciprocated), Ayumu Kasuga (who quickly becomes ‘Osaka’, and is just plain weird), their teachers (don’t go there) and Kaorin (a lesbian who … don’t go there).
The characters essentially move through three years of high-school, with visits to Chiyo-chan’s summer house, successive sports and holiday events and a school trip to Okinawa being among the only things breaking up their almost ordinary lives. Rather than hindering the series. however, this only affirms how lovable a cast has been assembled for the anime, as viewers turn in simply to watch the tragic amalgam of students and teachers fall into disarray for seemingly trivial reasons (e.g. Chiyo’s minorly contagious hiccups).
Like Fruits Basket, Azumanga Daioh is a series with a good chance of putting a smile on most people’s faces. The schoolyard comedy also seems to be back on everyones’ radar, with Pani Poni Dash, Ouran High School Hostclub, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Lucky Star and more Negima on the way, so there’s no better time to see Azumanga Daioh, a classic of the genre.
TV INFO: Azumanga Daioh airs on Anime Network UK every Saturday at 20:00. It’s repeated on Thursdays at 20:00.
Wolf’s Rain, article by Sarah
In a bleak, wintry future where wolves are thought to be extinct, Kiba, a lone white wolf, moves amongst men in human guise. He is following the elusive scent of Lunar Flowers to find the flower maiden Cheza whom he believes will open the gates to the wolves’ paradise, ‘Rakuen’. Kiba is joined by three other shape-shifting wolves: Toboe, barely more than a cub; easy-going Hige, and scarred, embittered Tsume. But others have more sinister designs on Cheza, and the wolves are faced with unimaginable hardships and unexpected betrayals as they pursue their quest.
Why watch ‘Wolf’s Rain’? The TV series (2003) is a gripping blend of fable and science-fictional adventure from the gifted team that created ‘Cowboy Bebop’. Beautifully drawn and animated, with a visual style influenced by Art Nouveau, the series is enriched by another of Yoko Kanno’s affecting scores. From the raw opening song ‘Stray’ to the aching sadness of the closing song ‘gravity’, Kanno enhances the mood of every scene of this unusual and addictive anime. And those viewers wary of insensitive dubbing need not worry: the US dub is a fine one. With voice actors inhabiting the roles of the calibre of Crispin Freeman (Tsume) and Johnny Yong Bosch (Kiba), the tension rarely flags. On the minus side, there are four filler episodes halfway through the series (apparently due to production delays at the time), but these are more than compensated for by the addition of four OVAs that bring the tale to a satisfactory and surprising conclusion.
Be warned, though! This is an involving and moving story and I defy any viewer to watch this series through to the end with dry eyes.
TV INFO: Wolf’s Rain will air on Anime Central, but as of publication of this article, it has yet to scheduled.
Full Metal Alchemist, article by Nargis
I first heard of FMA when I was in a children’s book shop. The sales assistant was wearing a t-shirt featuring the many characters from the show. He was trying to get me to buy a manga I didn’t particularly like. I can’t remember the name of the book but I do remember the t-shirt. Not knowing any better, I originally dismissed the series thinking it was just another kids show. Gosh – was I wrong!
If you don’t know the story, the essential gist is this: Two young brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric try to bring their dead mother back to life using alchemy. But for breaking alchemy’s most forbidden law, the brothers pay the ultimate price, Edward loses an arm and a leg, whilst Al, loses his entire body. Some years later, the brothers begin their journey to find the mythical Philosophers Stone, rumored to have the power to bring back the dead.
Why watch FMA? Quite simply, it’s one of the best anime’s out there. It’s not just an action adventure series, FMA deals with some disturbing themes, questioning humanity by delving into the darker side of human nature. Most anime’s struggle to sustain a story, but at a staggering 51 episodes, FMA has the ability to reinvent itself along the way, staying fresh and interesting.
At times, an often compelling story, both funny and shocking but always engrossing. Humanity may be flawed, but that’s why the world needs imperfect heroes like the Elrics. Edward and Al have already made the biggest mistake of their lives and it takes great courage to keep on walking forward. And that, they do. If you missed out the first time round, pack your bags and join the Elric brothers on what will be a truly unforgettable journey.
TV INFO: From 13th September, Full Metal Alchemist airs on Anime Central every evening at 22:00.
KURAU: Phantom Memory, article by Paul
Aside from being a thoroughly excellent series in its own right, the beauty of something like KURAU: Phantom Memory is that it’s almost completely unknown to the UK anime community. We’ve all seen (and hopefully loved!) Fullmetal Alchemist and Wolf’s Rain, but I doubt you’ve even heard of KURAU – funnily enough, all three were produced by the acclaimed Studio BONES, but for whatever reason, in 2004 KURAU fell under the radar. So, while I can understand you avoiding your fifth viewing of Cowboy Bebop, failing to glimpse a rare gem like KURAU on UK TV is nigh on unforgivable. In other words, you better not let me down, UK otaku!
True to the style of Studio BONES’s previous productions, KURAU: Phantom Memory is an intelligent series that takes an already emotional character journey and drops in lush visions of science-fiction and heart-pounding, rapid-fire action. It begins in the year 2100 AD when a young girl (called Kurau, surprisingly!) falls victim to a tragic scientific accident; visiting the lab to meet her doting father, she is caught in the wrong place at the wrong time and is hit by a sparkling gold energy that’s flowing through the room. Almost immediately, it’s clear that despite her normal appearance, Kurau is no longer human; in that moment the little girl died, her body now playing host to a foreign spirit yearning for its “pair”.
Jump forward 10 years and the adult Kurau is blessed with amazing physical skill and capable of sky-scraping feats of martial arts, yet her striking confidence utterly fails to conceal a palpable loneliness. Soaring through the star-lit skies of a realistic future, the sad human-alien is still awaiting the arrival of her destined soul-mate; someone to understand, to laugh with, and to love.
TV INFO: KURAU: Phantom Memory airs on Anime Network UK every Saturday at 21:30. It’s repeated on Thursdays at 21:30.