Mr. Hook's Anime Primer


Mr. Hook’s affinity for Japanese cartoons (hereafter referred to as Anime) is a fairly recent phenomenon which bears some scrutiny if you wish to take his recommendations seriously.

When Mr. Hook was in college he had several well meaning friends who tried to pique his interest in anime. They showed him a small barrage of their personal Anime favorites, assuming that mutual enthusiasm and admiration would follow. They were wrong.

They showed him Akira. They showed him Tenchi Muyo. They showed him Ranma 1/2. Much to his friends dismay, Mr. Hook was NOT impressed. Not even a little bit. The "landmark" film, Arkira, definitely had some impressive animation in it, but the story left Hook cold. The ending, in particular, failed to satisfy. Tenchi Muyo and Ranma 1/2 failed to amuse, and the animation even seemed crude and jerky to Mr. Hook’s virgin eyes. Tenchi Muyo didn’t offer Hook any characters that he found likable in any way. They all seemed bratty or obnoxious or clueless. In order for that sort of comedy to work, you have to actually care about the characters (which his friends obviously did), but Mr. Hook couldn’t identify with any of the characters or their supposed problems.

So Mr. Hook walked away from his initial anime experience with a bad taste in his mouth. His well meaning friends had assured him that he had sampled the cream of the crop. If that was indeed the case, then Mr. Hook was pretty sure he could do without anime in his life. The proliferation of imported kiddie shows like Power Rangers, Pokemon, and Drangonball Z only made matters worse. To Mr. Hook, these anime imports seemed little more than brazen attempts to sell cheap Japanese toys and were as insufferable to watch as Smurfs reruns.

But then, a few years later, another well meaning friend got Mr. Hook and unsolicited Christmas gift. It was the first volume of Macross Plus on VHS (dubbed). Apparently, Hook’s friend had asked the clerk at a local Suncoast Video store for an Anime recommendation (thank you kind sir or madam, whoever you are) and Macross Plus was what he was advised to purchase.

This time Mr. Hook was IMPRESSED! After he picked his jaw up off the floor, he said "Wow!" The animation really was innovative and captivating! The characters really were sympathetic and well written! The plot was wasn’t pathetically predictable and the ending wasn’t an incoherent mess! If only Mr. Hook’s college buddies has shown him Macross Plus instead, they could have added another Anime fan to their ranks. Oh well.

So when you browse through Mr. Hook’s recommended Anime list, you have to keep in mind that he’s using Macross Plus (unfairly or not) as the litmus test for Anime goodness. These are mostly "Mecha" shows of the "teenagers-piloting-giant-robotic-vehicles" or "science-fiction-space-opera-adventure" variety. They make Hook laugh. They make Hook cry. They make him kiss his hard-earned cash goodbye.

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1. Macross Plus - (obviously) Mr. Hook recommends viewing the original four episodes in their entirety, though the condensed version (Macross Plus: the Movie) is also satisfactory if you’re on a tight budget.

2. Vandread whether or not you enjoy this show will depend on whether or not you share its sense of humor. It makes Mr. Hook laugh so hard his gut is usually sore afterwards. Some Otaku (die-hard anime fans) have criticized this series for the way it tries to mesh 3D Computer Generated Imagery and traditional 2D graphics. Mr. Hook is a CGI junkie, so utilizing 3D is always a cause for celebration as far as Mr. Hook is concerned. The first season is thirteen episodes long, and so far the second season (Vandread: the Second Stage) has failed to disappoint.

3. Patlabor: the TV Series – The Patlabor OAV (Original Animation Video) is also worth your time, but the TV series is more fun. This show has a surprising amount of humor considering that it’s also one of the most "realistic" mecha shows ever made. The giant-robotic-vehicle technology is carefully thought out and the ramifications of the technology on human society are plausibly explored. It’s also one of the funniest Japanese cartoons Mr. Hook has ever seen!

4. Gundam X – The original Mobile Suit Gundam series inspired a host of mecha imitators and spin-offs. As far as Mr. Hook knows, Gundam X has yet to be released in American markets, the version he saw was "fan-subbed." Gundam X focuses on the adventures of a rookie Gundam pilot, Garrod, who tries to protect a "newtype" girl named Tifa. In this "alternate universe" Gundam story, newtypes are highly sought after by various military agencies for their renowned psychic powers. Superb animation, plenty of drama, inventive mecha designs and lots of people yelling "Tifa!" This is still Mr. Hook’s favorite Gundam series, so he tends to think unkindly of more adolescent fare (like Gundam Wing or G-Gundam).

5. Zoids: Chaotic Century – Ok, so it’s essentially a half hour toy commercial, and yes, Mr. Hook does own quite a few Zoids models himself, but he started collecting Zoids over a decade ago, long before this wonderful anime series was released on Cartoon Network. Of course, Mr. Hook likes the Zoids "creature" based mech designs way better than the standard "humanoid" Gundam fare, but that’s probably just a matter of personal taste. The mechs in this cartoon are high quality CGI models which are designed to look precisely like the toys, but have a much wider range of movement than the Zoids motorized model kits (obviously). The 3D mechs are also rendered with a "flat" color palette which allows them to blend in well with the 2D characters and traditional cell-painted scenery. To top it all off, this show has an endearing cast of characters, a complex plot-line with rising and falling empires, lost civilizations trying to make a comeback, and mech battles galore! Now if only Pioneer would produce a subtitled version on DVD…*sigh* - P.S. Don’t bother with the sequel series, Zoids New Century Zero (chronicling the adventures of Bit Cloud and the Blitz team). They Pokemonified the whole Zoids experience. It’s atrocious and avoidance worthy!

6. Martian Successor Nadesico – This is a strange space opera / mecha combination which doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s part anime spoof, part sci-fi adventure, and all in fun. This series also boasts one of the most inventive and hilarious clip shows of all time, an anime show within an anime show which pokes fun of the story-line and the main characters of the show itself. You might want to have a couple of mecha series under your belt before you give this one a try in order to catch all of the humor. Definitely worth the effort!

7. Crest of the Stars – the pacing of this space opera can be a little slow at times, but the storytelling compensates with lavish character development and elaborate alien culture exposition. This is easily the best anime space opera Mr. Hook has seen so far and he recommends it unreservedly!

8. Blue Gender – This series is a bit more graphically violent than Mr. Hook usually cares for, but it reminds him fondly of Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles. Imagine if the Roughnecks failed to liberate the Earth from the Bugs at the end of the series, and it might look something like Blue Gender. The viewpoint character is a "sleeper" who goes into cryo-stasis until a cure can be found for his terminal ailment. Many years later he has a rude awakening only to find that his world has been taken over by the "Blue" (viscous insect-like invaders). Dark and brooding at times but keeps you guessing at how things will turn out.

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1. Outlaw Star – This space opera makes it worth your while to sit through the entire series. It’s also worth seeing the unedited version on DVD (as opposed to the edited dub shown on Cartoon Network).

2. Lost Universe – Another highly addictive space opera with a sad ending that will keep this series lodged firmly in your mind long after you’ve finished it.

3. Dual: Parallel Trouble Adventure – From the makers of Tenchi Muyo, a charming mecha series similar to Neon Genesis Evangelion in many respects, only with a lighter tone and a much better ending.

4. Gundam 8th MS Team – This is Gundam at the top of its form, easily the best animated, most carefully crafted Gundam series currently available in US markets (only 13 episodes).

5. Visions of Escaflowne - A whimsical blend of mecha and fantasy story threads, a classic series that makes it well worth your while to watch it all the way to the end.

6. Pilot Candidate - Not a lot of new material here story-wise, but great CG animation and intriguing characters.

7. Detonator Orgun - This classic three-parter has become a standard by which I measure other mecha animes. Great milieu, great characters, great mechs.

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1. Neon Genesis Evangelion – This is far and away the most ambitious mecha series ever made. The first few episodes are visually impressive and the various subplots are titillating. Evangelion is usually near the top of everyone’s "must see" anime list, but the series itself never delivers on the promising potential of the first dozen episodes. The overt use of Christian symbolism prompts many viewers to scrutinize the show for "deeper" meanings, but they search in vain. This series eventually breaks down into a confusing mish-mash of existentialist angst which will test your patience but not your intellect. The last two episodes in particular will leave you wondering why you wasted any time and energy trying to follow the convoluted plot. The "End of Evangelion" movie attempts to give the series some closure, but it plays more like the ravings of a closet misogynist trying to chronicle his own mental breakdown on film. Ambitious? Yes. A rewarding viewing experience? No. Not even close. Avoid this one unless you are simply curious to see what all the hubbub is about. As far as Mr. Hook is concerned, it’s much ado about nothing.

2. Cowboy Bebop – Another fan favorite always near the top of the "must see" lists. This is essentially a spaghetti western staged in outer-space with an spiffy jazz soundtrack. It’s great fun…if your interested in that sort of thing. It’s just not Mr. Hook’s particular cup of tea. Sorry.

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Mr. Hook’s take on the never-ending "Dubbed vs. Subbed" debate: ENOUGH ALREADY!

There are good dubs. There are bad dubs. There are good subtitles. There are bad subtitles. Good dubs are good. Bad subtitles are bad. Any questions?