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Three Classic Anime Series for Beginners to Watch

Three shows to try for those of you out there thinking of dipping your toes into the world of anime for the very first time.

FULLMETAL ACLCHEMIST: BROTHERHOOD (2009-2010)
Brotherhood was the second anime series based on the Fullmetal Alchemist manga by Hiromu Arakawa. The first series, which was also produced by Bones, began airing in 2003 before the manga was complete. Per Arakawa's request, it went off in a completely different direction halfway through. Brotherhood came out six years later, just as the manga was being completed, and faithfully adapts the entire story.

Set in the fictional nation of Amestris, which resembles early 20th century Europe, Fullmetal Alchemist follows brothers Edward and Alphonse Elrich as they set out in search of a Philosopher's Stone to restore their original bodies after a failed attempt to resurrect their dead mother using alchemy. Edward was left without his right arm and left leg while Alphonse's entire body was destroyed leaving his soul bound to large suit of armour. Their search brings them into conflict with the Homunculi, artificial beings each representing one of the seven deadly sins, who have terrible plans for the Elrichs and the people of Amestris.

I've seen both FA series and if I had to choose which of them I think is the best I would pick Brotherhood every single time. The 2003 series isn't bad, but it drags too much in the first half before struggling to take all the set up from Arakawa's story and turn it into a completely different story. The new villains it comes up with are also rather weak and the ending anti-climatic with many things left unresolved. You have to watch the follow up film, Conqueror of Shamballa, to see how it all ends. Brotherhood doesn't have any of these issues and is superior to the 2003 series in almost every single way. The storytelling is tighter and better paced, steadily building towards a truly colossal and mind blowing finale. The animation is also a massive improvement resulting in some absolutely amazing action sequences.

Like the 2003 series, Brotherhood was followed by a theatrical film after the series concluded. Released in 2011, The Sacred Star of Milos was not a continuation, but a standalone adventure that takes place somewhere between episodes 15 and 24. It's alright, but perfectly skipable if you don't feel up to it. A live-action film, which adapted the first four volumes of the manga, was released in 2017. I haven't seen it so can't really say what it is like.
COWBOY BEBOP (1998-1999)
Sometimes it can take a couple of episodes for you to really start enjoying a show. Sometimes it can even take a couple of seasons. But there are those times when you just instantly fall head over heels in love with a show right from the very start. That happened with me and Cowboy Bebop. I knew I loved this show pretty much from the second the opening titles started playing.

The year is 2071 and humanity has long abandoned the devastated Earth and spread out on colonies across the solar system, most of which just look like present day cities. The series follows a misfit group of bounty hunters, known as cowboys, as they roam around the solar system on their crappy ship, the Bebop, looking for bounties so they can make a quick buck woolong and finally have something to eat. There were some ongoing arcs concerning the crew's various mysterious pasts, but they never really dominated things. This was predominantly an episodic show with each of its 26 episodes designed to function as its own mini movie.

Cowboy Bebop could best be described as a sci-fi noir western action thriller/elaborate jazz music video. It was the first anime series shown on Adult Swim and was the gateway drug for many Western anime fans. This is one of those shows where pretty much everything about it is great, from the characters and the stories to the animation and music. Oh god, the music!!! Yoko Kanno's soundtrack for the series is a flippin' masterpiece full of absolute bangers from the very beginning to the very end.

The series was followed by a theatrical film released in 2001. As with Brotherhood, this was a standalone adventure rather than a follow up to the series. Netflix has produced a live action adaptation starring John Cho as Spike that is due to be released sometime later this year.
NEON GENESIS EVANGELION (1995-1996)
This series takes place fifteen years after the world has been devastated by an event known as the Second Impact. Since then, giant creatures known as Angels have regularly attacked the Earth. The Nerv origination, run by the shady Gendo Ikari, uses bio-mechanical mechas called Evangelions to combat the Angels. In the first episode, Gendo forces his own estranged son, the emotionally fragile and inexperienced 14-year-old Shinji, to pilot one of the Evas during an Angel attack..

This is the show that got me watching anime. I stumbled upon it while skimming through Netflix during lockdown and decided to give it a go. Like Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z, this is one of those iconic 90s anime series that I was vaguely aware of, but had no idea what it was actually about. The irresistibly catchy and upbeat theme song made me think was going to be a fun action series about kids piloting giant robots to fight giant monsters. By the end of the first episode that illusion was shattered completely. Neon Genesis Evangelion is a really intense show about how kids piloting giant robots to fight giant monsters can be deeply traumatic and will totally fuck them up. Creator Hideaki Anno drew on his own struggles with depression while writing the series and often took the characters and story into some pretty dark places. NGE can be difficult to watch at times and will not be to everyone's taste.

The series originally ran for 26 episodes with the final two being deeply divisive. Due to multiple factors, including budget cuts and creative differences, the final two episodes were low-key and introspective as the main character talked and worked through his various psychological issues. Fans hoping for an epic finale that answered all the lingering questions and delivered massive robot fights were very vocal in their disappointment. This led to the creation of The End of Evangelion, a feature film released in 1997 that acts as an alternative ending to the series. This was also very divisive. It delivered on the massive robot fights and answered many of the lingering questions, then took a dive bomb into a pool full of WTF???!!! It's been over a year since I saw it and I'm still a little freaked out and confused by it, although I'll admit there is a deranged beauty to it all.

Ten years after The End of Evangelion, Anno returned to the series with the Rebuild of Evangelion, a series of four films that acts as a reboot for the entire Evangelion saga. This was his chance to do it all over again without the pressures or constraints of producing a weekly TV series. The first two films are more or less condensed recaps of the original series with more up to date animation, but the plot begins to diverge in the second film and the final two films tell completely new stories with a different ending.

Other shows worth checking out: Lupin the Third, Sherlock Hound, Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion, Attack on Titan, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba

Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011 More Mark Greig

7 comments:

Matthew said...

whenever i get people into the chaos that is anime I always ask whats there favorite genre of entertainment

if they like romance then I recommend fruit basket
if action and adventure full metal brotherhood
horror and mystery death note

I'm in the anime hole so deep I can see the core :D love it

Baby M said...

One of my boys convinced me to watch Ergo Proxy, which is remarkably complex and intelligent. I'd add that one to the list.

Onigirli said...

^Ergo Proxy is great, kudos to whichever boy of yours that was. I'm still dining out on the fact that they used Paranoid Android for the ED lol.

"[...] but it drags too much in the first half"
Whaaa? The first half is the one thing I think everyone would agree '03 does better! Brotherhood's first cour was completely forgettable and clearly done with an air of getting through things quickly. I hated the 'summary' nature of it, '03 actually let things breathe.
But by the end of its story there's no denying Brotherhood is the way to go if you had to pick one. It's so satisfying.

I'm casting in a vote for both Death Note and Code Geass, I don't care how typical I am. They're still the good stuff.

An Honest Fangirl said...

Brotherhood was my introduction into anime, and it's honestly hard to think of a better choice. It's a show that really just has everything.

Gurren Lagann is also a good intro anime. Fantasy action with lots of glorious mech battles. And it isn't 100+ episodes like some other shows are.

For horror/Hannibal/Minority Report fans, I'd also recommend Psycho Pass. It can get very gory and disturbing at times in terms of subject matter, but it's an amazing cast of character in a gorgeous world. You only have to watch Season 1 though. The others aren't worth it.

Onigirli said...

^Huge Fannibal myself so I'll look into Psycho-Pass.. especially since it seems to be done by Madoka's Urobutcher. Thanks for the warning about season 1.
Mentally slapping myself for not mentioning TTGL too, considering I'd just recently rewatched that (and I forget yet again the recap movies exist so I need to watch that too).. good call. It's so good

Mark Greig said...

Onigirli, I enjoy some of the Flashbacks to Edward's early days as a state alchemist, but there were just too many filler episodes, like the one with the cat burglar or the fake Elrichs, that often made it a slog for me to get through.

CelStudios said...

I thought Brotherhood's pacing was slightly too fast in that first arc. It definitely lacked any fluff, but some of its stories (the Nina one in particular) just couldn't be fleshed-out enough in a single episode. After that, the series is fantastic.

I'd say Bebop, FMA, and NGE are definitely the ones I'd suggest newcomers try out as well, with Eva being my personal favorite of them. My all-time fav is Puella Magi Madoka Magica, though. I watched it pretty early on too and absolutely loved it, although I'd recommend people go into it as blind as possible.