It’s time to face the facts, and get a look at how anime was actually doing in the US. In truth, in the 80’s, it never went past being an extremely niche market for diehard fans.
Tapes were expensive for less interested viewers, you had to absolutely know what you were buying unless you just wanted random fansubs since most titles were changed, most of the “modern” internet communication was little more than bulletins, and it was all word of mouth or the rare chance that an anime appeared on cable television.
Many times you hear about anime becoming less “mature” or less “dark” over time, especially in the 00’s. A lot of people say otherwise and provide loose facts, pulled quotes, and slightly uniformed opinions.
The market shifted.
What this meant for the US was the huge slew of budget anime titles, and the association that anime was just another form of cartoons for kids. The Japanese animation/American produced cartoons gave a bad frame of reference and made it hard for older adults to see it as anything less, and as lame or backwards thinking like that is, it was a fact of the day.
The previous titles (well at least the ones that made it to the US) from the previous posts were just stars in the sky, never really breaking through to people whom anime was a serious medium.
What anime needed was a power hitter, a real home run to drive home that anime could just more than just animation.
AKIRA -What Lies Beyond
However much an anime is popular in Japan is (in this time period), meant squat to the US market. Animation was synonymous with children, and the lesser quality of writing and storytelling for children. Many a BBS or Usenet had critics of anime comparing it to Satan or supporting “anti-culture“. For anime to become really popular, it needed to prove to its harshest critics that it could stand alone as a medium. What anime needed wasn’t Yamakan, but an amazing represenative. Luckily this came in the form of AKIRA.
People have mixed views on the movie itself, mostly because it’s common to form your own opinion, or to remain intensely cynical and critical of popular things, different strokes for different folks. If anybody should be singing the praises of AKIRA, it would be American anime fans.
AKIRA actually had an American theatrical release (though less widespread than the 2001 re-release)that was actually really popular, and it credited with creating the “second generation” of anime fans in the US. It left a deep impression that resulted in the movie becoming a cult hit and receiving critical acclaim across the board. The fact that many people have cited as positive influence on their own personal works is a testament to a medium at it’s best.
APPLESEED – I Have Seen The Future and It Is Cyberpunk
My first experience with Appleseed was at a flea market; luckily I purchased it and watched it. It is the classic story of humanity in a golden cage, life never changes inside beyond the comfort of peace and stability enforced by the cold authoritarian rule of a machine. Naturally, most of the residents in this utopia are more capable of abstract thought, and feel that they will never leave Olympus or obtain true independent freedom. The antagonists of this film isn’t some mustache twirling psychopath, Calon feels just as bitter and angry as human that has experienced loss. As for A. J. Sebastian, he’s a cyborg committed to the theft of a weapon of potential mass destruction.
Calon’s wife committed suicide after becoming displeased with the formulaic life within Olympus, as she was an artist it implied that there was no beauty left for her to capture. These feeling of a beleaguered and weary citizen is very common in Cyberpunk stories, but it has strange parallels in the real world, weariness of international affairs and protests held in outrage in the US are visible strains in the fragile peace kept together with promises of riches or fame. Things aren’t as great as they seem, and the one’s who know this are despaired and troubled individuals that must share their prophetic foresight with those unaware, possibly hoping for change. This can change good men into violent men, being unable to communicate or just not listened too will force more dramatic measures to make a point.
Things would change in Olympus had Calon and AJ succeeded, but their methods were too heavy-handed. They are obviously stopped by Olympus and the protagonists, Deunan and Briareos. What becomes of their plot? Life continues as normal in Olympus.
Briareos is an interesting example of a cyborg character, as very little or if at all of him is still human. His entire body is composed of cybernetic components and implants, yet none of his humanity is lost or lessened. Even being backed up by an augmented CPU brain doesn’t distort his humanity.
UCHUU NO SENSHI (STARSHIP TROOPERS) – This Isn’t the War I Signed Up For
Starship Troopers is a horribly misunderstood series. Most people know if from the dumb movie, and don’t realize that it was loosely based on and adapted from a novel that predated the movie by decades. Or that had an anime. A good one to boot.
It even served as an important inspiration for Yoshiyuki Tomino when he was creating the Mobile Suit Gundam series (citation), and to a lesser extent, having a role in the creation of the “Real Robot” Genre.
Unfortunately, being an unauthorized adaption of the novel, there are a few artistic liberties taken with the anime, such as Juan becoming John Rico, and the fact that his race was changed from Filipino in the book to a white, blonde haired Argentine. Kazutaka Miyatake provided the designs for the power armor, which is more like a design from Macross than the wacky Flash Gordon designs of the past, but it all looks good regardless.
If you’re looking for an excuse to watch the anime, you should give it a look, it’s rather faithful (as much as an anime can be) to the source novel. It’s an interesting adaption of the Starship Troopers series, and is far better than the movie wished it could have been.