And with this last non-anime entry, I’ll be getting back to posting recommendations for actual anime series and films shortly.
The Legend of Korra
- Trailer: Book 1 Trailer
- What it’s about: The follow-up to the massively popular Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Legend of Korra follows Aang’s successor: a headstrong teenage girl from the Water Tribe named Korra. While she lacks Aang’s spiritual centre, she nonetheless excels in the more physical aspects of her identity and is eager to begin fulfilling her duty as the Avatar. Blocking her progress, however, is her ongoing struggle with mastering the fourth and final elemental magic of Airbending. With the only surviving airbenders housed in Republic City, far away from her childhood home in the Water Tribe, and with mounting rumours of civil unrest requiring the attention of the Avatar, she sets out to find her destiny.
- Why you should watch it: In one sentence: it’s a more grown up version of A:TLA. The morality is more ambiguous, the conflicts less one-sided, and the characters older and explored in greater depth. At the same time, it doesn’t hesitate to draw heavily on the established lore and the fantastic visuals and soundtrack of its predecessor. Korra herself is an interesting character. Her inexperience with diplomacy and sheltered childhood causes her to lean heavily upon the combat-oriented aspects of her nature to pull her through any conflict. But this is a new age: a mechanised, democratic age. Is there any place for the “spiritual balance” role of the Avatar today?
- Caveats: There are a few nits to pick. The writers’ insistence on including a love triangle (until the excellent third season) has a definite negative influence on the plot. Not enough time is given to flesh out the antagonists for the first two seasons, largely due to funding constraints (it was never made clear whether they were getting another season or not). Korra as a character stumbles more than she progresses, falling back into old habits only to relearn the lessons that earlier episodes should have instilled in her.
- Themes: Spiritual balance, and the ongoing struggle between tradition and modernity. Finding one’s place. Each season has its own motifs and themes, usually personified in the villain character and their particular motivations.
- Similar works: The Twelve Kingdoms, Romeo x Juliet, Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic
Given that this blog is meant primarily as a back-up storage for the blurbs I’m using on Reddit, I’ve been oddly hesitant about putting up those rare examples of stuff *other than* anime that I regularly suggest on /r/animesuggest. That said, I’d be annoyed if I lost them, so I’m going to take the opportunity over the Christmas holidays to upload them here.
Avatar: The Last Airbender
- Trailer: No official ones for Book 1, though this unofficial one works nicely.
- What it’s about: The world is split into four political factions, defined by their mastery of a particular Classical element (Fire/Water/Air/Earth). Bridging the societal gap is the Avatar – a hero capable of using all four elemental magics, cyclically reincarnating into each nation in turn. One hundred years ago, the Avatar went missing, and the militarised Fire Nation took advantage of his absence to set about subjugating or slaughtering the other nations. The story follows the recently re-awakened Avatar as he seeks to master his birthright and return balance to the world.
- Why you should watch it: Avatar is that rare fish: a show that, while nominally for kids, has enough witty humour, action, and an intelligent enough plot to entertain adults as much or more. Once the show hits its stride it begins to weave a cohesive story together with fantastically choreographic fight sequences, goofy jokes and character development. The show’s story continues through three seasons and culminates in one of the most viscerally satisfying finales in Western animation. The world, its cultures, and its magic system are all well-realised and explored in depth over the course of the show.
- Caveats: It takes a few episodes for the show to find the right pace and confidence in itself. Until then, it errs a little too far on the “silly” side for an adult audience (though it’d still be perfect for its target demographic).
- Theme(s): Balance (physical/spiritual, emotional/intellectual, etc). Moral courage. Living up to expectations.
- Similar works: The obvious choice would be its sequel, The Legend of Korra, which expands on the same themes in a later version of the world. In Japanese animation, shounen such as Hunter x Hunter or Naruto are the closest parallels.
Howl’s Moving Castle
Trailer: English dubbed version
What it’s about: Sophie, a quiet girl working in a hat shop, finds her life thrown into turmoil when she is literally swept off her feet by a handsome but mysterious wizard named Howl. The vain and vengeful Witch of the Waste, jealous of their friendship, puts a spell on Sophie. In a life-changing adventure, Sophie climbs aboard Howl’s magnificent flying castle and enters a magical world on a quest to break the spell.
Why you should watch it: It’s the archetypal Studio Ghibli adventure film. The story is fun and fast-paced, appealing to both children and adults alike, being both whimsical and deep at the same time. The quality of the soundtrack and animation is first-rate, as is to be expected from Miyazaki. The English dub is well above average, featuring Christian Bale and Billy Crystal, among others. Its a fantastic way to introduce someone to the medium.
Caveats: While it’s got broad appeal, it is at its heart a kid’s film, so go in with that expectation.
Themes: Appearances can be deceiving. There’s also a strong anti-war sentiment woven throughout, particularly with Howl’s conscientious objection to enlistment in the national army. As with many Miyazaki films (Porco Rosso, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Spirited Away, etc), the idea of flight and the wonder and escape that it offers appears, too.
Similar works: Anything by Ghibli, though Spirited Away is probably the closest.