Sun, Shades, Cartoons: Summer Anime Suggestions
I sometimes suspect that The Ultimate Summer Playlist is an easy solution for bored culture journalist oppressed by the heat, but bless ’em for it anyway. It’s a cliche, but a good one, a nice break to celebrate a season and bop to the lightest, brightest pop songs. Besides, something that’s a source of so much happiness for its readers and writers must still be virtuous. My taste is music is fairly large, because I value variety and new experiences so highly, but what season it is will heavily influence what I’ll listen to. Pop, jazz and dance are naturals for the summer, but I also find an airy, complicated performance of a baroque piece refreshing. Fall is for folk, blues and any quirky or arty music, and spring attracts to me a variety of rock. And for winter, of course, you can’t beat metal- try listening to Lumsk without hearing the whoosh of the wind over a snowy fjord- but a lengthy, involved symphony is also a fitting choice.
I know the new anime season is creeping up on us, and to be honest, it looks kinda dull. So how about we ignore our oppressive habit of watching whatever happens to be airing at the moment and borrow a well-worn page? Below are some suggestions for anime to watch this summer, some of them well-known and loved, others a little more obscure, all them bright, happy and perfect to watch while cooling off in an air conditioned room.
“I think I became a god last night,” Yurie confides to her best friend over lunch. “Hmmm? And how did that happen?” “I don’t know. I think I just woke up that way.” And that kind of casualness just adds to the charm of an already cute series. Japan’s native religion, Shinto, believes that all things have gods, so it makes sense that even middle-schoolers will get their own kami. In Kamichu‘s Japan, kami roam modern cities, unseen by most folks but a simple fact of life even to those who can’t see them, so becoming a kami doesn’t elicit any skepticism from Yurie’s friends, parents, teachers or peers. It makes for an easy, frictionless series that might be boring if it also wasn’t so restless. This largely-episodic series only spends a few episodes on the implication of Yurie’s new godhood before going into even weirder territory, from a spirit cat fight club to negotiating the release of a Martian from the Japanese government. But no matter how weird it gets, it always stays enjoyable, with an even, calm mood belied by sugar-sweet cuteness.
Summer usually means students have a lot of free time on their hands, and since Funimation has uploaded hundreds of episodes of One Piece to Hulu, this is probably the best time to try what is probably the greatest Shounen Jump anime ever made. I’ve been saying that for about a year now, and guess what, it gets truer every week, since they’re still uploading episodes. I know the idea of watching 200+ hours of anything is intimidating, but twenty episodes in, you probably won’t mind anymore. You might let your cell phone die and never recharge, your forum boards go unchecked and your e-mail unanswered as you burn through episodes with no regard for time or social obligations. The combination of humor and drama, which One Piece always manages to balance without overwhelming the other, makes it a light but absorbing watch, especially in latter episodes. One Piece may also be the only series of its length that has gotten better with age and a wider narrative scope. Catching up now will probably pay dividends later, when mad genius Eiichiro Oda gets around to wrapping up the full story. I’m oddly confident he’ll pull it off.
Re: Cutie Honey
On the opposite end of lengthy, involved cartoons is Gainax’s short burst of awesome contained in three episodes inspired by the Go Nagai property. The first episode, directed by Imaishi with his characteristic flair, should be buried in a shrine for future civilizations to study and worship as the godly embodiment of what makes cartoons awesome. The other two are pretty good as well, and wrap up a simple, but surprisingly emotional about a robot with a massive sex appeal, super powers, and the ability to change into anything and the woman who befriends her. It also has more bang than most summer action flicks, all inspired by Go Nagai’s demented style. This might be directed by famous emo-man Hideki Anno, but it’s the polar opposite of Evangelion: a joyful and manic anime.
California Crisis: Gun Salvo
I’d be hard pressed to say California Crisis is good. Story-wise, it’s a bit rough around the edges and oddly unsatisfying, but where it excels is as a mood piece that lovingly works with a story that would be just an average 80’s American teen movie, but as an anime, feels special. A lot of this is because of the beautiful art and music, especially that scorching ending theme by Miho Fujiwara, and somehow it all comes together to make for an OVA that somehow transcends the weakness of its individual parts. If you want to dig into “old” anime, this is an appropriate choice for the summer.
Like Kamichu, this is another yokai-focused comedy from the mid-Aughts, but with a little more romance and a little more gentleness. Youkai have started to openly live with regular humans, and they’ve even been integrated into the same schools. So of course a little bit of inter-species romance flourishes, especially between the human Shingo and Hatoko, a girl who sticks to things like dried gum, especially if that thing is something she really likes. Like Shingo. There’s a lot of great character comedy in this show, especially from the youkai, who all have weird, minor quirks, like blending in with concrete. All that quirkiness and cuteness might be a little overwhelming to folks who don’t normally watch that kind of thing, but if K-On! is your cup of tea (oh I am so clever) this will be a treat that you’ve probably overlooked for too long.
Lupin III: Season One
I know that this excellent theme is Lupin’s iconic tune, and I love it, but I can never get over the very first opening ever attached to Lupin III. It’s a bit repetitive, to the point where if you hear it once, it will never, ever leave your head. You will also start pronouncing “Loo-pin” as “Loo-PAN.” Much like it took a few years for the franchise to settle on its iconic opening, it also took a while for the Lupin gang we know and love to take shape. The first series feels like a rough take, and can be rough going for a few episodes, but hang in there. After a while, it settles into something a little more familiar, though it contains some of the most far-out stories and escapes I’ve ever seen from the franchise. Some of these episodes are still iconic and referenced in later specials, making them educational and fun. Hats off to Diskotek for their near-future region one release.
Aria: The Animation
This is my iconic summer anime, and not just because it’s set in a science-fiction summer resort city. It’s still the pinnacle of any slice-of-life comedy, and under the guidance of one of the genre’s masters, is effortlessly endearing. It seemed like a radical series when I first watch it half a decade ago, since it’s a science-fiction series with a positive outlook on the future and humanity in general. There is almost zero conflict here, just a gentle ride of thirteen episodes of easy watching with characters that inspire a more positive outlook on life. The term most often associated with this series, to the point of cliche, is “relaxing,” which is still kind of a novelty when one of the key elements of what’s considered good narrative is “tension.” Aria ignores that, and that’s one of many reasons it’s so goddamn magical.
So what do you think? Do you have a favorite anime you think is a great fit for summer? See you in the comments section.