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So, you want to watch anime...

Malthus

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This thread was inspired by a conversation between @"addiesin", @"mnkykungfu" and myself in which Addiesin expressed some frustration at being unable to pin down what exactly they liked in an anime. With this thread I hope to provide some signposts towards some readily available anime and invite you to watch it with an open mind and honestly review it. Think of it as an anime book club.

Trying to pin down what anime actually is is akin to trying to sum up sport or music by pointing to a few well known examples. Curling does not represent all sports any more than Kid Rock represents all music. With that in mind it's probably best to consider anime as a merely an umbrella term that encompasses a myriad of genres and sub genres and just like sport or music it is divisive. There is no one size fits all anime. Of course there are classics which have wide reaching appeal but even these are not universally loved. Engaging with anime is not dissimilar to wine tasting. As a fan of the medium I loathe large swathes of anime but the things that I enjoy I enjoy wholeheartedly. My tastes are varied with no hard delineation between things I should like and things I would avoid. The only common factor is simple enjoyment.

I was drawn to anime during my school years after watching a late night screening of Akira on channel 4. It was worlds apart from anything I had seen before and instantly I was a fan. Inevitably I went looking for similar films and had mixed success. The next film I watched was called Ghost in the Shell and was mesmerising but then I started working through the Manga entertainment back catalogue. To say the least I found the vast majority to be lacking. The reason for this was simple, Manga entertainment would buy literally anything with nary a thought to quality. But I digress, the moral of my story is that just because you like an anime doesn't mean you'll like all anime or to flip it just because you dislike anime X doesn't mean you'll not enjoy anime Y.

There are many ways to approach anime:

Director
Genre
Franchise
Studio
Aesthetic
Format (TV, OVA, Movie, Short etc)

So let's start with a director. This week I would like to invite you to watch one of Hasoda Mamoru's films. His first three movies The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Sumner Wars and Wolf Children are available on Prime and can be viewed for free if you start a 7 day FunimationNow trial. Afterwards I'd love to hear your thoughts about the film.

But wait there's more!

To whet your appetite here is a wealth of anime shorts (~7min) which encompass a huge range of anime styles and genres. There are 20+ shorts to watch but here is an example. Hopefully these will introduce you to a variety of new studios, styles and directors. Enjoy.

 

The Scribbling Man

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Cool idea. 

I do not consider myself an anime fan at all, but I do enjoy a very specific selection of anime. I hate a lot of the classic tropes, art and writing styles involved with a lot of anime, but I'm also aware now that dismissing it in its entirety is basically just dismissing anything animated that comes from Japan. I do think the majority of what comes out is absolutely awful, and even what I've liked I find I have to tolerate things that are just part of the package, but there are some rare examples of gold. 

The thing that turned things around for me was catching a Ghibli on TV. I walked in on Castle In The Sky and was immediately rolling my eyes, but it wasn't my choice what was on the screen, so I sat down and watched it while I ate. Turned out it was great, and so I started watching other Ghibli's - not all of which are good, but some are great, and it made me realise that I couldn't dismiss everything. 

Personally, the attractive thing I find about some "anime" is that I like animation, and Japan produces animation that isn't just for children (some other countries do as well, but not nearly as much). By that I don't mean "adult" crap, I simply mean films that utilise the art style of animation and use it to traverse plots and themes that move beyond what would just appeal to children. I think it's excellently suited to things like Science Fiction and Fantasy. 

I kinda gave up looking for good anime a long time ago, because I just got so frustrated with everything I saw, and what was highly acclaimed just didn't match up to what I considered to be good. 

Ages ago on letterboxd I created a list called The Flawless, The Flawed and The Weird: Anime Worth Watching. It wasn't very detailed though and I haven't been very good at keeping it up to date - more just chucked in all the anime I like, be it good, problematic (but interesting) or things that were just bizarre enough to be entertaining. 

On the current topic, I don't think I like Hasoda Mamoru. I'm basing this off not liking Summer Wars or Girl Who Leapt. I do think he's better than most, but I just find his style a bit twee and cringey (not nearly as bad as Shinkai though *shudders*). If you think Wolf Children will change my mind, then I might give it a go, but it doesn't look very appealing to me. 

Expanding on my list, here is a flavour of what I like, or at least generally interests me (I've hyperlinked ones I've written reviews for):
Directors
Satoshi Kon (my favourite and an outstanding exception)
Hayao Miyizaki
Katsuhiro Otomo
Isao Takahata
Mamoru Oshi

Films I Like
Perfect Blue
Sword of The Stranger
Angel's Egg
Millenium Actress
Tokyo Godfathers
Castle In The Sky
Spirited Away
Princess Mononoke
Grave of The Fireflies
Ghost In The Shell
Porco Rosso
Howl's Moving Castle
Paprika
Akira
When Marnie Was There
The Cat Returns
Lupin The Third: Castle of Cagliostro
Memories (Anthology Film)
Metropolis
My Neighbour Totoro

Films I Enjoy (or, like in spite of flaws)
Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade (on the nose and pretentious, but beautifully put together)
Pom Poko (messy script, bloated)
Tekkonkinkreet (a visual feast, but weak script)
Blood: The Last Vampire (entertaining, but underdeveloped)
Neo Tokyo (anthology. Interesting, but mixed)
Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (fun and looks great, not the best script)
Time of Eve (movie edited from a mini-series. Pretty good, but doesn't really flow like a film)
Steamboy (looks awesome, lots of fun. Pretentious script)
Tale of Princess Kaguya (weak ending)
Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (Visuals and world building are geat, script is poor)
Lupin The Third: Mystery of Mamo (weird and nuts, but entertaining)
Animatrix (anthology. mixed, but some great shorts)
Princess Arette (horrifically paced, but interesting world building)
Ghost In The Shell: Innocence (visual feast, terrible script)
Only Yesterday (not really my sort of thing,but well put together)
Night on The Galactic Railroad (I didn't love it, but it's interesting)
Horus/The Little Norse Prince (pretty good, but dated)

Series I Like
Cowboy Bebop
Paranoia Agent
Serial Experiments Lain
Now and Then, Here and There
Avatar: The Last Airbender (I know, it's American)

Series I've Enjoyed, With Reservations
Twilight Q
Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood
The Promised Neverland
Deathnote

Apart from Twilight Q, I find the above to be quite trashy and typical of a lot of anime. But there's something about them kept me watching. They were enjoyable, but not what I'd call "quality TV" if that makes sense. 

Also, here's a cool short that didn't make your list:

 

Malthus

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The Scribbling Man said:
If you think Wolf Children will change my mind, then I might give it a go, but it doesn't look very appealing to me. 

Honestly I'm not sure that it would change your mind. It is very much in line with his previous films in terms of tone but it does have a more fantasy leaning so it might gel with your other interests. I do however have a recommendation for you.

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

It's a TV series set in the same universe as the original movies but it is its own timeline. I found the first season to be as compelling as the first film with some outstanding stand alone episodes and a solid over arching narrative. It's second season is, quite simply a tour de force. Luckily for you it is available as a two season boxset for £35 which is an absolute bargain. As someone who was watched/read ever entry in the franchise I believe it to be its pinnacle.

I'll take a look at your list. Thanks for engaging with the thread.
 

The Scribbling Man

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Malthus said:
The Scribbling Man said:
If you think Wolf Children will change my mind, then I might give it a go, but it doesn't look very appealing to me. 
I do however have a recommendation for you.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

 I'm sorry to say I have tried to get into SAC on a couple of occassions and it really didn't do anything for me. I've never gotten further than a few episodes. I don't think it's standalone nature helps much.
 

Malthus

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The Scribbling Man said:
I'm sorry to say I have tried to get into SAC on a couple of occassions and it really didn't do anything for me. I've never gotten further than a few episodes. I don't think it's standalone nature helps much.
btmSMsU.gif
 

Jrzag42

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Hello everyone, my name is jrWHAG42, and I am an anime fan.
I guess it all starts with my mother, a big Ghibli fan who had me watching My Neighbor Totoro among others as a smol child. I also used to watch a lot of Pokémon. I recall at a young age waking up at like 5am to watch InuYasha on Adult Swim.
As I got a bit older, I got some more experience with anime. My older sibling's former friend had us borrow his Dragon Ball Z DVDs. My stepmother was a huge anime fan and I borrowed her Bleach DVDs. I borrowed her Netflix and discovered Fullmetal Alchemist, which became my favorite show for a while.a cousin introduced me to Soul Eater which I fell in love with. I also got into Sergent Frog as well as Baka and Test. This paragraph was all around the same time period, I think elementary school.
Time went on, time went on, I fell in love with Death Note, stopped watching Death Note once a certain character died, I started talking about anime online, I read through the entirety of the manga Shaman King, blah blah blah.

I've seen a lot of anime crap, lots of tropes, lots of cringe, lots of amazingness. There are definitely some shows that I watched during the beginning that are..Ii use the phrase "unmistakably anime," it's not accurate as obviously anime takes all kinds of shapes and forms, I mean it in the sense that it's full of gross tropes. I don't think that if I watched something like Baka and Test for the first time now I'd be able to enjoy it.

What is my takeaway here? If you're not a child who doesn't know better and you're just getting into anime, stay away from all the 2000s comedy anime about teenagers. I haven't watched it recently, but I'm sure Fullmetal Alchemist is the way to go. Something that I have watched recently, I highly recommend Violet Evergarden. I wanna recommend Death Note, but it can be a bit odd, watch the first episode and if you don't like it, you probably won't like the rest.
I've been getting into some older anime recently. I'm a big fan of Rurouni Kenshin, it's for a bit of a younger audience and it's very episodic with not much of an ongoing plot until the Kyoto arc (listed as season 2 on Netflix). It's just a lot of fun, nothing too deep.
As for a good comedy with teenagers, I highly recommend Clannad. It suffers from a few tropes, but it's just too good. It's a very sweet and sad romance series.

As far as movies, all I've really bothered with is modern sappy romance stories. Your Name, A Silent Voice, I Want to Eat Your Pancreas, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (to a lesser extent). All very good, some better than others. One more I watched, called Fireworks, is really bad, stay away. It's on Netflix, it looks tempting, but it's unenjoyable.
 

DigModiFicaTion

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The closest I could ever get into anime was Exo-Squad, dubbed the American anime, oh and Little Nemo. The animation style of anime just isn't my thing with all the still frames, moving mouths only, constant slow camera pan movements and over exaggerated everything. I'm open to try new things, but I just haven't found anything that is to my liking.
 

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DigModiFicaTion said:
The closest I could ever get into anime was Exo-Squad, dubbed the American anime, oh and Little Nemo. The animation style of anime just isn't my thing with all the still frames, moving mouths only, constant slow camera pan movements and over exaggerated everything. I'm open to try new things, but I just haven't found anything that is to my liking.

aK3CJVr.jpg
 

mnkykungfu

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Malthus said:
 are available on Prime and can be viewed for free if you start a 7 day FunimationNow trial. Afterwards I'd love to hear your thoughts about the film.
Yay!  You started it!  Bear in mind that a lot of streaming is region-specific.  So I can't watch that stuff on Prime, for example.  But thanks for the shorts!  I guess maybe you will suggest a feature from a particular director each week to start?  I like the idea of highlighting suggestions of a specific director, then maybe digging into what a specific genre/sub-genre (or sub-sub-genre) is.  Moto buono!
 
The Scribbling Man said:
^So much "yes" to nearly everything you said!  I'll check out your Letterboxd list, as you seem to have very similar taste to my own!
 
DigModiFicaTion said:
The closest I could ever get into anime was Exo-Squad
Holy crap, I remember Exo-squad!  Was that anime?!  If that was anime, I feel like we'd have to start counting Thundercats and Silverhawks and Bravestaar and more!
 

Malthus

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mnkykungfu said:
Yay!  You started it!  Bear in mind that a lot of streaming is region-specific.  So I can't watch that stuff on Prime, for example.  But thanks for the shorts!  I guess maybe you will suggest a feature from a particular director each week to start?  I like the idea of highlighting suggestions of a specific director, then maybe digging into what a specific genre/sub-genre (or sub-sub-genre) is.  Moto buono!

That's kind of the plan. I also figured I could use this thread to highlight new anime releases that are noteworthy but could otherwise slip under people's radar. I realize the region issue will be problematic for some but it is what it is. There are a variety of streaming services I'll be using for recommendations; most of which offer free trials. Living in the UK we often get short shrift when it comes to accessibility.
 

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For Kids
Dragon ball 
Pokemon Indigo League
Studio Ghibli (specifically My Neighbor Totoro, Castle in the Sky, Kiki's Delivery Service, and Spirited Away)

For Teens / Grown-ups
Fooly Cooly
Trigun
Big O
Lupin the 3rd: Castle of Cagliostro
Princess Mononoke
Cowboy Beebop
Samurai Champloo
Ergo Proxy

Those are my recommendations, but I would say that a person's anime tastes are even more subjective than for live action films, so watch the first one or two episodes of a series, and if the characters, art style, or tone annoy the crap out of you, then move on to something else.

But here's the thing anime is just a medium its not really a genre (although there are definite cultural affinities in Japan and worldwide to certain genres and tropes within anime). There are serious anime shows set in the modern world. There are anime shows that are silly or dark or magical or philosophical or romantic. It all depends on what you are looking for.
 

Malthus

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It's time for lesson two: Anime TV Series

Personally I didn't watch any anime series until I started university some seven years after discovering the genre. This was mainly due to two things:

- Simple ignorance of what was worth watching
- The prohibitive cost of anime discs at the time

Thankfully I had friends at university who had amassed veritable libraries of anime films and TV and I, as anyone sensible (read as cash strapped and nerdy) person would, took full advantage of them. I gorged myself on anime series and many of the shows I watched then I still love today:

The Vision of Escaflowne
Neon Genesis Evangelion (available on UK Netflix)
Cowboy Bebop
Revolutionary Girl Utena
Kino's Journey (available on HiDive)

The list goes on. Full disclosure, I had of course encountered anime TV series earlier in the form of Pokémon and Dragonball but I wasn't aware of how anime series work. In general there are four types of shows: 1 cour, 2 cour, 4 cour and long form serialisations. Typically lower quality in terms of animation the benefits of a series is the opportunity to explore the world and characters far more. Anime can often be seen as shallow but it has told some of the best stories I've ever encountered. When it comes to anime I far prefer series of films.

This week I'd like to suggest you take the time to watch an anime series. The streaming site Hidive offer a generous 30 day free trail and have a good selection of both subbed and dubbed anime. My recommendations?

Made in Abyss which is 13 episodes of fantasy adventure in the vein of Studio Ghibli and the Dark Crystal.

Perhaps you'd enjoy a vintage style shonen show, if that's the case I recommend Ushio & Tora which gives you 39 episodes to scratch that itch.

They also have the classic Legend of the Galactic Heroes an epic space opera based on a set of ten novels which has been called the Game of Thrones of anime and features a superb cast of richly developed characters.

There's plenty more out to look at but if you've never watched a series before why not try one today.
 

mnkykungfu

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My issue with most anime series is that it's very workmanlike.  You have to realize the situation of the guys (always guys) making these.  They're chained to a cubicle, slaving away on these things 14-18 hours a day.  They like drawing, but this is very much a JOB, not a passion, for most.  What they want more than anything is to have 'a hit' that they can relax with a little bit, market the hell out of, and get some creative power to get off the grinding schedule.  The dream is to become like a Hayao Miyazaki, working on a project at your own pace for years, and it comes out when it comes out.  That's rarified air.

So the result is that anime series are all about hooking an audience.  So many of them are about using recognizable character types with interesting costume designs that are remixes of a theme.  Not actual characters with deep motivations.  They're defined by their exterior design.  Then they get a voice actor to come in and do their same stereotypical voice that they got cast for because they always voice that 'type'.  That actor typically flies through their voice work and is on to the next project, sometimes in the same day.  Getting an actor who actually does "character work" is rare.

Then the story is all about setting up an interesting premise, and making it repeatable.  Having any real consequences that disturb that premise would mess up the production schedule of a show.  Ideally, you become One Piece, with 1,000 episodes on a pirate ship with the same crew, never actually winning or losing anything that changes the dynamics of the show.  (I'm talking out of my ass a little here as I've seen very little of One Piece, but you don't get to 20 seasons of a show by having characters actually progress.)  This kind of story is like an old '70s or '80s style sitcom, where once you know the characters, you could tune in to virtually any episode and enjoy it with minimal catchup.  It's just "what is the gang doing this week?" not "ooh, what's the next step on their journey?!"

All that is to say: anime series go on FOR-EV-ER.  So many series have NOTHING fundamentally change over a half-dozen episodes.  You can sink hundreds of hours into a series before the story actually has any permanent effect on the characters at any kind of emotional level.  And for that reason, I am so impressed by series that have huge stakes and huge changes by the end of Season 1.  Even better if they actually wrap things up in only 1 season, or maybe with a final movie.  You would think Detective Conan would be working hard at figuring out how to get out of his child's body, but no, he never will.  Over 800 episodes, and the character has made zero progress on his fundamental motivation.  Naruto wants to grow up to become the best ninja ever, but in over 500 episodes, he neither grew up nor mastered ninja-ry.  There is always some new fight, some new technique... I don't know how anyone can take these characters seriously or get invested in them.  They're long cons!

Instead, I would recommend a few series that have major emotional sweeps in a short time.  Unfortunately, not all were finished, but you can go find the manga if you love the anime.
-Neon Genesis Evangelion (not Netflix, get the original ADV cut)
-Berserk (again, the original series, not Netflix)
-Record of Lodoss War (the original series)
-Macross Plus (the 4 episode series is better than the movie version)
-Serial Experiments LAIN
-Planetes
-Golden Boy (if you can laugh at ecchi)
-Here Is Greenwood
-Now and Then, Here and There
-Please Save My Earth
-Cowboy Bebop
-Samurai Champloo
-and if you really want to know about Japanese anime fans and what they want in an anime and how the behind-the-scenes works, watch Genshiken (2 seasons but they're short)
 

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Mnkykngfu, I think what you're explaining about the atmosphere is pretty true for much of animated television, though maybe not to the same extent as with Japanese animation. Specifically, for example, I thought much of what you said could be applied to the Simpsons, the big distinction there being that the Simpsons' actual animators were in Korea while the American writers (of the early seasons) all wanted to go off and do their own things. Maybe the situations aren't that alike, but I think it makes for an interesting comparison nonetheless.
 

Malthus

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mnkykungfu said:
Ideally, you become One Piece, with 1,000 episodes on a pirate ship with the same crew, never actually winning or losing anything that changes the dynamics of the show.  (I'm talking out of my ass a little here as I've seen very little of One Piece, but you don't get to 20 seasons of a show by having characters actually progress.) 

While you make some good point about the cookie cutter shows that are churned out year in year out your points about One Piece are way off the mark. It's based on a manga with 90+ volumes and there absolutely is both character progression and goals achieved. There are distinct arcs and overarching narratives. It's biggest issue is the use of filler episodes while they wait to adapt the latest chapters of the manga.

What you are really talking about is long form anime which typically adapts shonen material eg Pokémon, Dragonball, Bleach, Naruto, One Peace etc. Detective Conan is shonen so it follows the same trend. Shonen effectively translates as 'for boys', it's aimed primarily at children. Consider shonen as the Marvel comics if Japan. There are western analogues as @"addiesin" mentioned. Shoji (effectively for girls material) gets a similar treatment with sailor moon or Ramna Half being good examples.

All of these are adaptations of long running, usually on going manga. Now, let's look at your list:

-Neon Genesis Evangelion (Original anime project ie it's manga is an adaptation of the anime)
-Berserk (Adapts a single arc of a long running manga)
-Record of Lodoss War (An Original story based on an table top RPG)
-Macross Plus (original anime project)
-Serial Experiments LAIN (original anime project)
-Planetes (Adaptation of a very short (4 volume) manga)
-Golden Boy (A lose adaptation of a short manga series)
-Here Is Greenwood (Another lose adaptation of a short manga series)
-Now and Then, Here and There (original anime project)
-Please Save My Earth (A lose adaptation of a manga)
-Cowboy Bebop (Original anime project)
-Samurai Champloo (Original anime project)

There's a pretty clear trend in the titles you suggested.

In recent years light novels and visual novels (interactive comics/video game hybrids) have increasingly served as the source material for many anime projects. Steins; Gate, Baccano and Durarara are good examples of high quality adaptations.

My advice would be looking at what the anime is based on before you start watching and read reviews and check its target audience. I'll be dealing with this more in next week's topic.
 

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mnkykungfu said:
-Now and Then, Here and There

This one is excellent, and so underwatched. I never hear or see anyone mention it. 13 episodes. Well paced, well told, good world building, great characters. Unexpectedly mature and surprising.

It's at the back of my mind to do a movie edit of it at some stage.
 

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The Scribbling Man said:
This one is excellent, and so underwatched. I never hear or see anyone mention it. 13 episodes. Well paced, well told, good world building, great characters. Unexpectedly mature and surprising.

It's at the back of my mind to do a movie edit of it at some stage.

It's a gem. I strongly recommend Escaflowne if you've not already seen it. Similar world swapping shenanigans with all the things you listed.
 

The Scribbling Man

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Malthus said:
The Scribbling Man said:
This one is excellent, and so underwatched. I never hear or see anyone mention it. 13 episodes. Well paced, well told, good world building, great characters. Unexpectedly mature and surprising.

It's at the back of my mind to do a movie edit of it at some stage.

It's a gem. I strongly recommend Escaflowne if you've not already seen it. Similar world swapping shenanigans with all the things you listed.

I feel like I would have checked it out a while back. I know it was on a list... but I can't remember anything about it. I'll take another peek.
 

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addiesin said:
Mnkykngfu, I think what you're explaining about the atmosphere is pretty true for much of animated television... Specifically, for example, I thought much of what you said could be applied to the Simpsons
Definitely for Western cartoons, whose primary (some would say ONLY) goal is to sell toys.  But you don't get adults debating online about the narrative merits of the Thundercats.  A sizable portion of anime is directed at an all-ages audience, or even specifically NOT for kids, which sets it apart from most Western cartoons.

What I'd compare it to more would be sitcoms, and I think that's more appropo to your Simpson's reference.  What I'm describing is essentially bad/lazy sitcoms.  It's disposable, time-wasting TV.  That said, it IS possible to have genuine heart and character arcs within the genre, and that's where I disagree with you about the Simpsons.  I don't give a crap what happens to most anime characters within the first half-dozen episodes.  Most anime are all about hardcore worldbuilding in the form of lots of rule-explaining, history-droning exposition.  Which they will probably break if they last a 2nd season anyway.  They don't give the characters any heart or depth until after you've been watching long enough to get attached just out of familiarity (or for big anime fans, just cuteness/coolness factor.)  In the Simpson's very first episode, I genuinely cared what the kids got for Christmas, what happened to Santa's Little Helper, and I saw actual growth from Homer.  Now, the show has gone on to eat its own tail, as most of the old writers have moved on and Fox has decided that the show can never grow up, only out.  But those first 10 seasons had more heart and cleverness and more to say than 90% of anime out there.
 
Malthus said:
 I strongly recommend Escaflowne if you've not already seen it. Similar world swapping shenanigans with all the things you listed.

I did enjoy the Escaflowne series (and the movie), but personally I wouldn't associate the two.  For me, the world-swapping is kind of a superficial similarity... Escaflowne is more escapist fun, whereas NAT-HAT was much more thought-provoking, personally.

Malthus, I have to think about how I should respond to your other post.  I don't want this to become negative...I'd like to keep it as simply a friendly recommendation about what things we personally enjoy more...
 

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My daughter enjoys Anime, so I have tried on many occasions to watch with her.  Some I liked, most I did not.

Growing up in the 70s and 80s, I devoured a steady diet of "Americanized" anime, which has definitely shaped my tastes.
Shows like:
SPACE PIRATE HARLOCK
STAR BLAZERS
BATTLE OF THE PLANETS (GATCHAMAN)
ROBOTECH

I have watched a few variations of Gundam, which I found enjoyable.

Of modern stuff, I love... LOVE... the updated SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO (aka Star Blazers 2199 & 2202), which I would highly recommend to anyone who is curious about Anime but craves a more traditional story narrative.

 
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