It’s been nearly four decades since the cyberpunk genre began to take shape, and it’s been sadly strip-mined of its urgency and turned into a retro aesthetic that is served to audiences by the same multi-billion-dollar corporations that the genre was built to criticize. Sure, the neon lights shining in the rain, and the urban futurism still looks cool, but there’s rarely anything new or of value being said in most modern cyberpunk stories.

So it is a genuine pleasure to see Akudama Drive live up to its cyberpunk roots and so blatantly speak out against certain institutions while still checking all the cyberpunk boxes you’ve come to expect. 

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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.)

It turns out 2020 is refusing to go, because the start of 2021 has been a bit of a mess. That being said, one of the beauties of the anime medium is how easily it can take you on a journey and immerse you in an entirely different world. Whether it’s a fantasy world where humanity hides behind useless walls and are hunted by man-eating Titans, or a sci-fi world where 14-year-olds get inside giant robots to fight against giant monsters, there is something for everyone — even those who simply want a good and heartwarming anime about the joys of camping.

We haven’t really covered that many slice-of-life shows in this column before, but that’s changing now, because we all could use a little escapism. Forget about giant mecha and superheroes, it’s time to grab your tent and sleeping bag, and set out to enjoy the marvelous landscapes of Japan in Laid-Back Camp.

This show does for camping in Japan’s outdoors what Lord of the Rings did for trekking through New Zealand. The show focuses on high-schooler Rin Shima, an introverted girl who loves to go camping alone, and the friendship that grows when she meets Nadeshiko Kagamihara, an energetic girl who joins an Outdoor Activities Club after discovering camping as a hobby. From there, the show doesn’t really evolve – it continues to do exactly what you think it’s going to do. It takes you on a journey to exciting new locations, teaches you a bit about camping, and makes you feel warm and cozy all-around.

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Flight of the Navigator Revisited

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

Before Disney was known for its corporate synergy and obsession with remaking old animated classics, they actually took a lot of bold chances, especially in the ’70s and ’80s. And especially when it came to sci-fi, fantasy and horror films. Sadly, few of these were successful at the box office, though some managed to become cult hits once they hit home video. One such film is Flight of the Navigator.

One of many films about kids befriending alien beings that arrived in the wake of E.T., Flight of the Navigator is a rare Disney film that knows when to take its sweet time and build up character and atmosphere. It also explores a relatively dark and, frankly, messed-up story, all before evolving into the whimsical sci-fi adventure film the title and poster promise.

So let’s go back to the ’80s and explore the tale of a kid who befriended a sentient spaceship.

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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.)

For the past couple of months, this column has explored various mecha anime to showcase the variety within the genre. But when it came time to say goodbye to 2020 and embrace the possibilities of the new year, there was only one show that could take the gargantuan task of encapsulating the bleakness and loneliness, but also the moments of unity, we’ve had this year, all while ending on a rather optimistic note about the future. That’s right! It’s finally time for Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Evangelion‘s reputation as an inaccessible show — both in regards to it being out of print for years and also for its dense and layered narrative – can certainly be daunting. It’s fitting then, that the show’s story is equally daunting to its protagonist. Evangelion takes place in a world on fire, constantly under attack by giant monsters known as Angels. The only ones capable of fighting the Angels are a group of teenagers piloting giant robots called EVAs.

What starts out as essentially Ultraman fan fiction (not entirely a coincidence that this was made by the same director and studio who made a tennis anime fan fiction in Gunbuster) evolves into an abstract and intimate exploration of everything from mental illness to religion to loneliness to toxic masculinity to our relationship with anime as escapism. There is a lot to cover, so grab your copy of the Dead Sea Scrolls and get in the robot, because we’re taking a look at Neon Genesis Evangelion.

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Cobra kai Season 3 Review

At a time where so many properties are getting sequels or reboots decades after the fact, Cobra Kai stands out by surpassing all expectations and becoming not only a great continuation of The Karate Kid, but a nuanced piece of commentary on the franchise and its legacy. After a shocking cliffhanger and an agonizing delay as the show moved from YouTube to Netflix, Cobra Kai builds up to a crane kick of a climax with another knockout season.

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Tron Legacy Revisited

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

In 2010, we saw the release of several would-be franchise starters based on ’80s properties, including The Karate Kid, and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Most of these ended up being forgettable films that added nothing to the conversation, but there was one sequel that managed to do something different and unique — Tron: Legacy.

Tron: Legacy builds upon the, uh, legacy of the 1982 cult hit Tron, with visuals just as spectacular as those in the original film, a neat story about fatherhood, and one of the best movie soundtracks of the century — all while incidentally paving the way to our current slate of blockbuster filmmaking. Get on your light cycle and hit play on that Daft Punk score, because we’re heading back to the Grid for Tron: Legacy.

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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.)

It’s impossible not to think of studio Gainax and Hideaki Anno when considering the most influential or popular mecha anime of the past two decades. Between Neon Genesis Evangelion, Gurren Lagann, FLCL, and the creation of Studio Trigger, few studios have added so much to the genre outside of Sunrise (the creators of Gundam). But while many anime fans (and even non-anime fans) have heard of Neon Genesis Evangelion, the same cannot be said about the show that paved the way for Anno’s entire career as a director, the phenomenal OVA show Gunbuster

Gunbuster, also known as Aim For the Top! in Japan, was a six-episode OVA from 1988 heavily inspired not only by classic mecha anime like Getter Robo and Space Battleship Yamato, but also by the tennis shoujo (young girls) anime Aim for the Ace! and the Hollywood blockbuster Top Gun.

This strange blend of influences is part of the charm of Gunbuster, which begins as a standard high-school coming-of-age story. We follow Noriko, a young woman training to impress her senior classmate and role model, and become the pilot of a giant robot. 

But wait! Humanity has been preparing for a massive war against space monsters, and the show evolves to becoming a poignant exploration of war, expectations, and friendship — all while doing time-dilation better than Interstellar. Oh, and there’s a “Danger Zone”-esque soundtrack that doubles down on how wonderfully ’80s the whole thing really is.

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Code Geass

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

Because of its incredibly long and daunting history, it can be really hard to know what mecha shows to watch. On this column, we have already covered an Evangelion-like mecha show, a throwback to Saturday morning cartoons, and the best introduction to the massive Gundam franchise. This week, let’s do something a bit different and explore an anime that’s like one giant political chess game and also a fun teenage drama show. It’s time to declare war on Britannia and join Zero in Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion.

In an alternate version of our world, the French Revolution spread across Europe, and all European nobles fled to the American colonies (which never gained independence) and founded the Holy Britannian Empire. The Empire controls most of the entire world since it invaded Japan, now known as Area 11, and rules with the highly xenophobic, racist ideology of “all men are not created equal” that puts the strongest at the top and everyone else is treated like crap. No matter how many rebellions begin, they’re brutally smashed by the Empire.

That is, until we meet Lelouch Lamperouge, secretly the 11th prince of the Britannian Empire who was exiled by the Emperor to live in Japan with his sister, who is now obsessed with getting revenge and discovering who murdered his mother. The show evolves into a combination of the mecha and war themes of Gundam, the psychological and moral games of Death Note, and all the teenage drama of a CW show. And it begins the moment Lelouch gains literal superpower, a “Geass” that allows him to mind control anyone and give them one command they can’t refuse. 

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Sky High Revisited

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

For over a decade now, Disney has dominated the superhero film market thanks to the colossal success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But in the early 2000s, the thought of audiences getting not one, but multiple superhero movies each year was unthinkable, and a superhero movie that connected to a larger world of other heroes was but a mere wishful thought.

Except Disney did all that years before the Avengers first assembled, with an unassuming, family-friendly superhero movie that poked fun at expanded universes, superhero legacies, and every trope in the book. With the film having celebrated its 15th anniversary earlier this year and finally becoming available on Disney+, it’s time to take the “hero or sidekick” test and revisit Sky High.

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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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