Mobile Suit Gundam The 08th MS Team

(Welcome to Ani-time Ani-where, a regular column dedicated to helping the uninitiated understand and appreciate the world of anime.)

It’s taken some time, but it’s finally time to address the Gundam franchise in this column. Mobile Suit Gundam is arguably the biggest anime franchise there is, and one of the biggest media franchises around. In many ways, it is Japan’s answer to Star Wars, and much like the galaxy far, far away, the Gundam franchise includes so many entries, timelines, and universes that it can be incredibly daunting for newcomers. So let’s explore the easiest (and best) way to dip your toes into this massive property — by watching the excellent Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team.

Set right in the midst of the One Year War that both kickstarted and also defined much of Gundam, The 08th MS Team moves away from the epic space battles and instead focuses on a grounded, grittier side of the war. Deep in the jungles in Southeast Asia, we meet a Federation soldier named Shiro Amada who, after a fateful encounter with separatist Zeon soldier Aina Sahalin, starts to question the nature of the war and whether he really wants to fight the other side instead of running away and marrying an enemy soldier. 

What starts as the misadventures of a dysfunctional group of soldiers quickly escalates into an exploration of the pointlessness of war, with a poignant anti-war message. Oh, and there are also giant robots with laser swords. 

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Devilman Crybaby

(Welcome to Ani-time Ani-where, a regular column dedicated to helping the uninitiated understand and appreciate the world of anime.)

It isn’t controversial to say 2020 has been a hellish year, and you don’t need us to explain why. But given all the awful things that have and continue to happen this year, it finally felt like the right time to explore Netflix’s first anime masterpiece on this column. This is the show that put the streaming giant on the anime community’s map as not only an acquirer of great shows, but as a powerhouse producer that allows for some of the boldest and most innovative anime shows around: Masaaki Yuasa’s Devilman Crybaby.

Based on the popular Devilman franchise from the ’70s created by Go Nagai, the father of the super robot genre, the show follows Akida Fudo’s journey from brooding teenage boy, to brooding half-demon. After his best friend Ryo shows up one day talking about how demons exist and want to destroy mankind, he takes Akira to a rave where he stabs a number of people in order to attract a demon to possess Akira and lend him its powers. But since Akira still has the heart of a sensitive and empathetic human, but the body of a demon, a “Devilman” is born.

What starts as a monster-of-the-week show –where Akira finds and kills a new demon that’s wreaking havoc – quickly evolves into a bleak exploration of bigotry, hate, humanity, and love, as the fear of the “other” causes the whole world to go insanely violent to the point of near extinction due to panic and bigotry. You know, complete fantasy. This show is bleak, and also very much NSFW, so be warned. Though Devilman Crybaby won’t be for everyone, if you stick with it, you’ll be rewarded with one of the best works of animation of the past decade.

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(Welcome to Out of the Disney Vault, where we explore the unsung gems and forgotten disasters currently streaming on Disney+.)

George Walton Lucas Jr. will forever be remembered for Star Wars. His non-Star Wars work, however, is about as fascinating and inconsistent in quality as his more famous work. For every Labyrinth and Indiana Jones, there was a Howard the Duck, and also Strange Magic.

This is the final non-Star Wars project Lucas and Lucasfilm worked on together before he sold the company to Disney, and it’s a bizarre, not exactly great movie. However, it is still a visually dazzling film that’s the closest we’ve come to an animated version of Moulin Rouge. So, play your favorite song and sing along as we revisit Strange Magic.

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Demon Slayer

(Welcome to Ani-time Ani-where, a regular column dedicated to helping the uninitiated understand and appreciate the world of anime.)

Because battle shonen anime is arguably the most popular anime genre there is, it is bound to become a bit formulaic. Just like superhero movies can at times feel like they’re just following a series of checklists, too many battle shonen anime feel like a repeat of things you’ve already seen. This is to say that, whenever something even remotely fresh comes along, it feels like a remarkable achievement, even if it still mostly adheres to the tropes and conventions of the genre.

Demon Slayer is one of those battle shonen anime. Sure, it’s still about a young boy joining a group of elite warriors and training to become the very best that ever was. Set during the Taisho era (roughly the 1910s), we follow young Tanjiro Kamado, whose entire family gets murdered by a demon one night. Well, everyone except for his younger sister, Nezuko, who suffers a different fate. Tanjiro then sets out on a quest to become a Demon Slayer, part of an elite group of swordsmen, in order to find a way to bring his sister back to being human. 

The show starts out quite conventional, as it eases the viewer with familiarity before throwing unfamiliar things at them, like how the show places a greater emphasis on empathy and compassion than many other similar shows. Demon Slayer may be about killing tons of creepy monsters, but it’s also about how we demonize others. Oh, and the animation is simply outstanding. 

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Digimon Adventure 2020

(Welcome to Ani-time Ani-where, a regular column dedicated to helping the uninitiated understand and appreciate the world of anime.)

It’s hard to be excited when a reboot of a beloved franchise is announced. Why mess with something that isn’t broken? What can you possibly add to the original that could justify a remake or a reboot? Well, according to Digimon Adventure: 2020, the answer is a lot. The reboot of the popular Digimon franchise is a celebration of its 20th anniversary and it takes a page out of the Planet of the Apes reboot trilogy, the Hunter x Hunter reboot, and the recent Fruits Basket reboot. Digimon Adventure: 2020 takes everything you loved about the original while recognizing that the world has changed and reflecting those changes in the show.

The reboot moves the action to the present day and reimagines Tai and the other DigiDestined as young children living in modern-day Japan, and the show acknowledges that our relationship and dependence on telecommunications have changed drastically since 1999. Like in the original, a group of kids are mysteriously transported to a Digital World, where they discover they are destined to save not only the Digital World, but our own with the help of monsters called Digimon.

In the 17 episodes that have aired so far, Digimon Adventure: 2020 has followed the general plot of the original series, while vastly quickening its pace and adding enough mythology to make it feel almost like like an entirely new show. If you are at all interested in the 20-year-old franchise, this is a great place to start.

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(Welcome to Ani-time Ani-where, a regular column dedicated to helping the uninitiated understand and appreciate the world of anime.)

There is an unwritten rule that you should give a new anime three episodes before deciding whether to keep watching or drop it entirely. The idea is that a show usually needs around three episodes to breathe before it shows what it’s really about and what the rest of the story is going to look like. Some shows need a bit more time (like Cowboy Bebop) while others hook you in right out of the gate. 

Some shows, however, use their first episode to lull the audience into a false sense of security by drawing comparisons to other high-concept shows, like Attack on Titan in this casebefore pulling the rug – and basically the entire house – out from under the audience to reveal an absolutely cuckoo bananas premise that completely changes everything you had previously thought about the show. And all this at the beginning of the second episode. That show is Deca-Dence, a show that draws you in with a post-apocalyptic Fury Road-like dystopian action story that changes tone and even visuals to reveal a colorful, hilarious, and bonkers anime equivalent of Fall Guys — all while being a pretty timely indictment of how capitalist systems oppress those caught both in and outside of it.

The twist in Deca-Dence is such a big one, and yet such an essential part of the show’s real premise, that I’ll change things up for this column. I’ll mostly talk about the first episode, and vaguely touch on some of the themes from later in the series, and then and add a well-marked section at the end to cover all the delicious spoilers. 

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(Welcome to Out of the Disney Vault, where we explore the unsung gems and forgotten disasters currently streaming on Disney+.)

Now that we’re entering spooky season, it’s time to scout the Internet for hidden and not-so-hidden horror gems to add to your Halloween watch list. Of course, because of Disney’s decades-long reputation as a provider of family-friendly entertainment, a column about Disney movies is not the first place you’d look for horror recommendations. However, this series has already explored some films from the one period in the studio’s history where dark and creepy was not only allowed, but encouraged. 

However, decades before Return to Oz or The Black Cauldron traumatized kids everywhere, we got arguably Disney’s best gateway animated horror film: their animated adaptation of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Part of Disney’s 1949 package film, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow manages to be both family-friendly and a cool little musical to boot, but also a fantastic gateway horror film that is the perfect way to start the Halloween season.

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Great Pretender

(Welcome to Ani-time Ani-where, a regular column dedicated to helping the uninitiated understand and appreciate the world of anime.)

In 1987, the legendary Freddie Mercury released a cover version of “The Great Pretender,” a 1955 song by The Platters about how we lie to ourselves and the world and pretend to be happy right after a devastating breakup. Mercury’s version is as glamorous as you’d expect from the Queen frontman, who performs with his signature swagger.

But the song has another meaning, which is brought to light the moment Mercury starts revisiting and parodying some of his best known moments with Queen, like the music videos for “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “I Want to Break Free” and “Radio Ga Ga,” and the irony of the lyrics starts to reveal immense vulnerability and a poignant understanding of the singer’s life as a stage performer and the many acts he had to put on over the years while hiding his real self and his real feelings. That the song was released mere months before the singer was diagnosed with AIDS just adds to its depth and meaning.

Why have I spent so many words on Freddie Mercury in an article about an anime show? Because Netflix and Studio Wit’s latest show, Great Pretender, shares more than just a title with Mercury’s cover, which plays at the end of every episode with a recreation of the song’s music video (starring animated versions of Mercury’s actual cats). The Netflix show also shares the song’s knack for spectacle and showmanship, and more importantly, the meaning Freddie put into the lyrics — that essentially we are all con-artists, putting up a facade for the world while hiding our true selves.

Great Pretender follows Makoto Edamura, a small-time con man in Japan who gets swindled by a world-class confidence man named Laurent Thierry into working for him, pulling heists all over the globe with a crew of messed up yet skilled swindlers. Read More »

Meet the Deedles

(Welcome to Out of the Disney Vault, where we explore the unsung gems and forgotten disasters currently streaming on Disney+.)

The goofball subgenre of comedy, where the protagonist is the dumbest person alive and somehow becomes the center of a plot much bigger than them, was all the rage in the late ’80s and early ’90s. From The Naked Gun movies to Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure to Dumb and Dumber, these movies gave us dumb yet lovable buffoons who got into a ton of trouble, but still have a certain charm that keeps them from being so dumb that they’re unlikeable.

In a different world, Disney could have had its own franchise of lovable idiots in the late ’90s. Instead, the studio did too little too late, chasing after a trend long after audiences had already expressed their desire to move on from the subgenre. We’re talking, of course, about Meet the Deedles, a movie that came four years after Dumb and Dumber but feels like it was made 20 years later by someone who only had a passing knowledge of what the movie is like. But hey! At least the cast includes Paul Walker and Dennis Hopper.

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(Welcome to Ani-time Ani-where, a regular column dedicated to helping the uninitiated understand and appreciate the world of anime.)

Adapting manga into anime can be very tricky. Once you catch up to the source material, there is no easy way to wait out for more of the story to be released without losing the audience or losing sight of the story. But in some rare cases, an anime adaptation can split off from its source material and tell a story that is so ambitious and different from the source that it can be seen as an original work, while challenging the notion that the book is always better. 

This, of course, refers to Fullmetal Alchemist, Studio BONES’ 2003 adaptation of the popular manga of the same name. The anime famously got the blessing from the original author to adapy the early chapters of the manga and split off into becoming a bold, ambitious, and largely original work aimed at general audiences rather than those with prior knowledge of the manga. 

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