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A Graduated Guide to Geeking Out on Japanese Anime

Still from Mononoke no Hime (Princess Mononoke), courtesy of VIFF Centre.

The Curve is a column dedicated to exploring and feeling out the corners of complex, multi-dimensional, often hierarchical and always completely random subjects. The aim is to inform readers – in progressive, graduating fashion – on everything from gin and poems to cheeseburgers and trees.

When we heard about the new Beyond Ghibli: New Japanese Anime series, screening at VIFF Centre from March 18th to 30th, our interests were immediately piqued – we had to know more. So, in order to add an extra layer of context before Beyond Ghibli hits the big screen, we consulted with two of the Centre’s team members who are particularly well-versed in this vast animated universe: author, journalist, and current year-round programmer at VIFF (since 2009), Tom Charity (also formerly a film editor and critic); and VIFF Centre projectionist and Anime nerd, Tory Ip.

BEGINNER

My Neighbour Totoro (1988).

Tom: I think Studio Ghibli – and in particular, My Neighbour Totoro (1988) – is the ideal gateway drug. It’s one of the sweetest family films ever made, completely universal, and just about irresistible. The Ghibli brand pretty much certifies quality – a bit like PIXAR used to be in North America – and connotes films that all ages can enjoy… A couple of generations have grown up on these films and for many casual fans, they’re close to synonymous with Anime. They’re also very easily accessible in dubbed and subtitled versions, not least on Netflix.

Tory: Mononoke no Hime (Princess Mononoke, 1997) will have to be my Studio Ghibli pick – it is a fantastic film with amazing animation, perfectly matched with the beautiful story that (Studio Ghibli co-founder) Hayao Miyazaki weaved. A tale filled with characters that are both human and mythical, Mononoke no Hime leads us to wonder about the relationship between humans and nature. Outside of Studio Ghibli, I would suggest Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. The story of the Elric brothers and their heart-wrenching path into the world of Alchemy in Amestris is definitely not one to be missed. Brotherhood is an animated adaptation of the manga of the same name – Fullmetal Alchemist, by Hiromu Arakawa – and with a mere 64 episodes, this is a binge-worthy series that will leave you wanting more!

INTERMEDIATE

Still from 5 Centimeters Per Second (2007), courtesy of VIFF Centre.

Tom: If Ghibli co-founder and Totoro director Hayao Miyazaki is to be considered the most important and influential Anime director, then Satoshi Kon could be considered his peer. Kon’s work is completely different, though – edgier, more adult-oriented, and contemporary. It includes: thrillers like Perfect Blue; science fiction, such as the astonishing Paprika; and the comedy, Three Godfathers. Sadly, Kon passed away in 2010 at the early age of 46. The other director who is routinely described as “the heir to Miyazaki” is Makoto Shinkai, who enjoyed a massive international hit with the fantastical teen romance, Your Name, in 2017. Shinkai’s early feature, Five Centimeters per Second (2007), is getting its first ever theatrical screening in BC as part of the VIFF Centre’s Beyond Ghibli series this month, alongside his latest movie, Suzume (2023). Shinkai is a director who combines the emotional idealism of Miyazaki with the visual modernity of Kon.

Tory: If you are looking for something a tad bit edgier and with a bit more grit, then I have a few suggestions: Hunter X Hunter, written and illustrated by Yoshihiro Togashi, centres around Gon, Killua, Kurapika and Leorio, who undertake the Hunter licence exam in the opening arc of the series. A fun fact about the author is that his partner is Naoko Takeuchi, author and illustrator of the Sailor Moon series! Due to a decline in his health, Takeuchi would often lend a hand in Togashi’s work, leading to some of the artwork in Hunter X Hunter having close similarities to Sailor Moon. Monster – illustrated and written by Naoki Urasawa – and Mushi-shi – illustrated and written by Yuki Urushibara – are also great Animes to sink one’s teeth into. While Monster can satisfy the need for a cerebral thriller, Mushi-shi will show you the dark and dangerous world of supernatural beings known as ‘Mushi’.

ADVANCED

Tom: Anime is such a vast subject, and so much is being made all the time. I think the only way to keep up with it is through a website like Anime News Network. It’s a great place to stay informed about what’s happening in the Japanese industry, and how you can see the latest series and films here, along with reviews and encyclopedic entries on the talents who make them. There are lots of beautiful books out there too, and millions of manga. It’s an expensive habit to cultivate, if you really want to get into it…

EXTRA CREDIT

Still from Blue Giant (2023), courtesy of VIFF Centre.

Tom: Be sure not to miss our first screening of the ‘jazz-ime’ (sorry) film, Blue Giant, which comes with a free live jazz performance by Anime fans, the Erika Chow Blue Giant Trio, (March 23rd, 7:30pm).

Tory: Conventions are a great place to see how far our imagination and creativity can grow from having watched an Anime, or read a manga/web novel! The number of fanart, fanfiction, and of course, cosplays that artists will, quite literally, toil away to bring to life, is amazing beyond belief! Here are a couple of useful websites for more information on upcoming conventions in BC and Seattle (there are others, but you would have to travel a little further): AniRevo 2024; SakuraCon 2024. If you would like to see all the conventions in Canada, you can visit this site.



Tory Ip and Tom Charity, of VIFF | Founded in 1982, The Greater Vancouver International Film Festival Society is a not-for-profit cultural organization that operates the internationally acclaimed Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) and the year-round programming of the theatres at the VIFF Centre.

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