Megalo Box (manga 2018–present / anime 2018)
Manga written by Chikara Sakuma, published by Kodansha. Anime directed by You Moriyama, written by Katsuhiko Manabe and Kensaku Kojima, with TMS Entertainment.
Megalo Box is a modern re-imagining of the 1968 manga series Ashita no Joe by Ikki Kajiwara. In the not so distant future, boxing matches are fought with partial exoskeletons; making punches faster and much, much harder.
The series follows the fighter, Junk Dog, and his drunk coach Nanbu, competing in shady underground Megalo boxing matches. But when a chance encounter pits Junk Dog against Megalo Boxing champion, Yuuri; the defeat spurs the pair in an attempt to qualify for the Megalonia Championship.
I’m not familiar with any of the original Ashita no Joe material, but Moriyama has captured the authentic feel. The illustration has a 1960s look with gritty texturing and a beautiful colour grade, but with slick modern animation and excellent composition.
While commenting subtly on inequality and class divide, the plot is enjoyably straightforward, and the lack of cliche lines is refreshing; though there’s an exciting twist in episode four.
Simulcast Fridays on Crunchyroll
Golden Kamuy (manga 2014–present / anime 2018)
Manga written and illustrated by Satoru Noda. Anime directed by Hitoshi Nanba, written by Noboru Takagi, with Geno Studio.
Golden Kamuy is a historical, action, mystery set in the Hokkaido region, a short while after the Russo-Japanese War (1904–05). The story follows former soldier Saichi Sugimoto, and young Ainu Asirpa; in their search for a cache of hidden gold rumoured to be worth around ¥800 million. The catch is, the map is tattooed on the backs of 24 escaped prisoners from the infamous Abashiri prison.
Historical fictions usually aren’t my bag, but I couldn’t resist the unusual premise — Golden Kamuy is now a firm favourite. Noda has a compelling style of storytelling and does a fantastic job of vilifying, and then redeeming characters. I found myself warming to the extended cast’s charming quirks. Not to mention, they’re seriously fucking funny.
Some studios tend to overuse 3D, but Geno Studio has struck the perfect balance between traditional animation and visual effects. The hand-painted background’s capture Hokkaido’s wilderness beautifully, and create a dramatic contrast with the character design. The restrained and subtle use of VFX to generate fire and animal fur, raise the bar high for a TV series — even though I’m up to date with the manga, watching will be a delight.
Though for me, what makes this series great is Noda’s use of historical facts and research. Hiroshi Nakagawa, an Ainu language linguist from Chiba University, supervised production. Noda also included many historical, flora and fauna notes in the manga; which helps tremendously with the culinary sub-plot, where Sugimoto and Asirpa eat absolutely everything they get their mitts on. Literally every chapter they’re enjoying a new dish, and going by the amount of detail included in the books — I’d bet these are legitimate recipes. Hinna! Hinna!.
Episode one aired April 9. The anime looks incredible; I highly recommend watching the season and picking up the manga where it leaves off.
Stream on Crunchyroll
Kokkoku: Moment by Moment
Manga written and illustrated by Seita Horio. Anime directed by Yoshimitsu Ohashi, written by Noboru Kimura, with Geno Studio.
Kokkoku is a time travel, mystery set in present-day Japan. It follows Juri Yukawa, a young woman struggling to find a job while living with her family. But when a cult kidnaps her brother and nephew, she learns her seemingly ordinary family has the ability to stop time — but what awaits them in the motionless world of Stasis?
The idea of being able to move around in a single moment captured my interest immediately. I love the depth of the thinking behind interactions and physics within the world. Frozen objects aren’t immovable; they can be moved, used and left floating mid-air; water can’t flow and forms a space-like jelly; fire doesn’t burn, so you’re unable to prepare food.
Horio’s storytelling is compelling, as he covers the family’s underlying internal struggles, the motivations of a cult leader and its followers; all while unfolding the mystery behind Stasis and the grotesque monsters that lurk within. While I felt the ending was a little ‘convenient,’ the direction the series takes from the fourth act is unexpectedly refreshing.
Stream from Amazon Prime
Ghost in the Shell
Ghost in the Shell (1995 film)
Based on the manga by Masamune Shirow, written by Kozunori Itō, directed by Mamoru Oshii with studio Production I.G.
Ghost in the Shell is a political, cyberpunk, action-thriller set in 2029 Japan. Technology has advanced to a point where the body can be replaced with cybernetic parts or the brain encased in a mechanical shell with network connectivity. We follow Major Mokoto Kusanagi, a full cyborg and leader of Public Security Section 9 of New Port City.
The film balances story and action exceptionally well, the dynamic sequences are short but have exceptional choreography. Though where it truly shines is the level of detail throughout, from the intricate cyber bodies to sprawling urban landscapes; the film gives you plenty of time to enjoy them. Some of my favourite moments are the simply observing the futuristic city.
While other iterations of Ghost in the Shell don’t quite match the perfection of this film, they are worth a look.
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004 film)
Based on the manga by Masamune Shirow, written and directed by Mamoru Oshii with studio Production I.G.
Apparently, Innocence isn’t a sequel as much as a separate work, though it’s set after and references the original as well as parts of the manga. The plot isn’t as straightforward as the first film and leans heavily into psychological mystery. While looking like something from the Ghost in the Shell universe, Oshii has given Innocence a distinctly different feel. 3D and visual effects are blended with traditional techniques to produce a beautiful animation style. City scenes and Batou’s apartment are gorgeous, and the way reflective surfaces are treated particularly stand out. Despite the mixed reception, I like Innocence and feel it fits well into the overall series.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (2002–05)
Written and directed by Kenji Kamiyama with studio Production I.G.
The TV series includes two seasons and a bunch of specials which will take too long to cover here, but they’re worth watching if you enjoy the films. The character design resembles the manga a little more, and the animation quality is typical of a series. Personally, I prefer season one over two; I found storyline more engaging. The series also spends plenty of time telling the backstory of supporting characters as well as a fun side plot with Tachikoma.
Ghost in the Shell: Arise (2013–15)
Written by Tow Ubukata and directed by Kazuya Nomura with studio Production I.G.
Arise is the latest adaptation set two years before the original film and the formation of Section 9. On paper, the series order is a little confusing. Arise can be watched two ways; start with the five OAVs (Border 1–5) or the ten-part series (which is each OAV split into two episodes); then watch Ghost in the Shell: New Movie to wrap it up — see, confusing right? I don’t think Arise takes the series anywhere new, I found it underwhelming, and the character designs were a little bland — the Major, in particular, had lost her edginess.
AKIRA (1988 film)
Based on Katsuhiro Otomo’s manga. Directed by Otomo, written by Otomo and Izo Hashimoto with studio TMS Entertainment.
Technically, this was the first anime I watched; my uncle played it for me when I was around 7-years-old, and it scared the shit out of me. I’ve viewed it more times than I can count and it’s still an incredible film that holds up today.
AKIRA is a dystopian sci-fi set in post-apocalyptic Neo-Tokyo, a city simultaneously rebuilding and falling apart after WWIII. It follows Kaneda, a high school dropout and leader of a motorcycle gang; and his friend Tetsuo who acquires telekinetic powers after the military performs tests on him.
The film is complex, gritty, violent and gorgeous. The trailing tail lights and explosions during the opening motorcycle chase, look spectacular thanks to the 160,000+ animation cells used to create the film’s super-fluid motion. The fully realised, futuristic urban landscapes are painted with incredible detail, you can tell the ¥1.1 billion budget was put to good use. AKIRA has had a lasting effect on the industry and pop culture, many famous scenes have been parodied in everything from music videos to South Park.
I suggest watching the film, then read the manga. If you don’t fully understand all the psychic stuff — you’re not alone. It can take a few viewings to get your head around it, but the manga does a better job of explaining it. While the film can be considered an abridged version of the book, there is a whole lot more to the story that can’t fit in two hours.
Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995 series)
Created by Hideaki Anno with studio Gainax and Tatsunoko Production.
I still remember the night I flicked channels and landed in the middle of a Neon Genesis fight scene — I was immediately hooked — to this day it’s one of, if not my favourite series.
Neon Genesis Evangelion is a sci-fi, mystery, mech thriller set in 2015, fifteen years after a global cataclysm wiped out a significant portion of the population. Now the UN and secret organisation NERV, are trying to prevent monstrous giants called Angels from wiping out humanity with another disaster. We follow Shinji, an introverted teenager with daddy-issues, who pilots the bio-mech weapon Evangelion into battle with the Angels. I still consider the EVA designs to be some of the best in the genre; they have a bestial quality that adds a disturbing undertone.
The series gets pretty dark; it uses theology derived from Kabbalah, Christianity and Judaism which adds an excellent level of mysticism. I find appropriation of religious text makes for good fictional lore; especially when combined with scientific elements — for example, the Human Instrumentality Project is referenced early on and serves as a source of intrigue throughout.
The original series is wrapped up by two films, Death & Rebirth and The End of Evangelion. The films were created after fan outrage as the final two episodes of the series are hugely disappointing — you’ll see why.
Evangelion was rebooted in 2007 with Rebuild of Evangelion, a four-part film series with an alternate story and ending. The final film is yet to be released, but as of April 2017 it had resumed production; hopefully, we’ll see a 2019 release.