I was first introduced to Japanese anime series and OVAs (original video animation) at 10 years old, back when laser disc was still popular. I had no idea what to look for, but I met someone who led me in the right direction. My first dose of anime started with Vampire Princess Miyu and Dominion Tank Police miniseries. Both movies are weird, but I liked what I saw and wanted more.
Though I initially thought everyone watched anime, as an anime noob I had very little guidance on what to look for, so I searched on my own. I had to go through a lot of different genres to find what I liked. That includes watching titles that I shouldn’t have (seeing the Hentai film La Blue Girl as a pre-teen horrified me). Discovering that anime was a “niche” fandom was interesting. According to the Anime News Network, less than 10 percent of Americans are anime fans or have watched Japanese anime in some capacity. That makes so much sense. Now I know why I would get blanks stares from my friends when talking about the series I was exploring.
Most of the general audience is familiar with what is considered “anime mainstream,” which includes the likes of Akira, Speed Racer, Sailor Moon, Naruto, the Hayao Miyazaki films (particularly Princess Mononoke), and more. This list has a ton of great choices to explore, but remember there are multiple routes to venture through in Japanese anime if you are a beginner.
With that said, I recommend some “off the beaten path,” series and OVAs you should check out based on a certain time period. That is if you’re looking to get into this sub-genre. There is action, drama, thrillers, and mystery, but nothing ridiculously violent….yet.
DOMINION TANK POLICE (1986)
Dominion Tank Police comes from the mind of Masume Shirow (writer of Ghost in the Shell). This miniseries takes place in a distant dystopian future in Newport City. This city is plagued with a poisonous cloud that contaminates the air, forcing the inhabitants to wear gas-masks. Leona Ozaki is a young police officer who has just transferred to the Tank police division. With the help of her custom built tank Bonaparte, Leona, and the whole Tank squad wage a war against crime in Newport city.
This is one of my favorite anime short series of all time, but here are some other titles from this time period to check out:
8 MAN AFTER (1993)
TENSHI MUYO (1992-1993)
INITIAL D: FIRST STAGE (1995)
ROUJIN Z (1988)
PERFECT BLUE (1997)
This psychological thriller (OVA) has no talk of Ninjas, Samurai, or magic, and debunks the myth that Japanese anime is just silly cartoons. Written by Sadayuki Murai, and directed by Satoshi Kon, Perfect Blue is said to the inspiration for the Oscar-winning film Black Swan. The movie is about Mima Kirigoe, a former pop-star who leaves the business to pursue a career in acting. Once she leaves the music business, all hell breaks loose and her world begins to spiral downward. Sounds like a simple plot, but it’s so much more. This film is rated M for mature. It’s not hyper-violent, but I would watch with some discretion. Other recommended titles from this time period:
FLAME OF RECCA (1997-1998)
BIG O (1999-2005)
MITCHIKO and HATCHIN (2008)
SUMMER WARS (2009)
SAINT YOUNG MEN (2013)
Saint Young Men is an original OVA written and illustrated by Hikaru Nakamura. That story follows Jesus Christ and Buddha as they vacation on Earth, and try to adjust to living as roommates in modern day Japan. This lighthearted comedy chronicles the daily routine of the world’s most revered “saints.” Watch these other titles ASAP:
WOLF CHILDREN (2012)
HEAVY OBJECTS (2015-present)
Die-hard anime fans may not agree with my list, but I want to reiterate that there is nothing too crazy, bloody, or violent here because I wouldn’t want to make anyone’s first experience with anime traumatic. Don’t get me wrong, I like to watch that type of Japanese anime as well, but since this is an acquired taste, one should be eased in slowly.
There is a wide variety of choices present, so I hope you find something you like. If not, I encourage you to explore and find what works for you. Google is your friend!
Featured Image: Rex Entertainment
Images: Maiden Japan/DOGA Productions, Rex Entertainment, A-1 Pictures