Samurai Champloo is probably my favorite anime of all time. I am a big fan of mixing things that sound good together on paper and actually lives up to the hype — like dipping french fries into your vanilla milkshake or like having Lebron James and Anthony Davis on the same team. Samurai Champloo is a delicious marinade of Edo period Japan (think samurais, flowers, and art) in a rich hip hop brine.
The series explores competing themes of East vs West during this period in Japanese history through break dancing samurais, fight scenes choreographed to Nujabes’ masterful beats, and a historical perspective on modern culture (this last bit is hard to explain, you just gotta watch it). Also, they do no disservice to your favorite traditional Samurai fight scenes with all the wind blowing through the grass tension and sword-slashing-through-air ASMR sounds included.
WATCH THIS IF YOU LIKE: Lo-fi beats, Jazzy Hip-hop, cool samurai shit.
Created by the same people that made Samurai Champloo, Cowboy Bepop is up there as one of my favorite anime. It’s a jazz infused space westerner that follows the coolest character ever created, Spike Spiegal. He’s like an Asian Rick Deckard from Blade Runner but with Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do, Ryan Gosling’s charm, and Timothee Chalamet’s hair. It’s worth watching this series just to have this fictional dream guy be a part of your life (EVEN THOUGH ALL DREAM GUYS ARE FICTIONAL).
Like Champloo, Cowboy Bepop is an episodic series that, at the beginning, is driven more by art and mood than it is by plot. However, as the series continues, a juicy storyline of friendship, betrayal, regret, vengeance, and redemption (the key ingredients of a great westerner) slowly reveals itself. After typing this and thinking about it, this is the anime I’m gonna rewatch this week — turkey leg in hand.
WATCH IF YOU LIKE: Smooth Jazz, Frantic Jazz, Jazz, Space, and Cowboys.
Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood is one of those series I wish I could completely forget and watch again for the first time. The characters are full fleshed out with mind-blowing back stories that are slowly revealed throughout the epic. Each reveal is both a conversation about human nature and an emotional rollercoaster that ends with tears streaming down your face. For real — I remember finishing this anime with snot coming outta my nose and an urge to hug my two older brothers.
WATCH THIS ANIMIE IF YOU LIKE: Avatar the Last Airbender - both are sprawling epics with unique world building and solid character development that makes you root for the someone you were hating on heavily 3 episodes ago.
Ohoho! Did somebody say Christmas? Tokyo Godfather is a beautifully drawn holiday drama-comedy about spirituality, coincidence, and above all, Bonnie Clyde’s favorite human quality — love.
Yet this isn’t a romance, although it is a romantic film. The premise? Three homeless protagonists, a gambling addict, a trans woman, and a teenage runaway, discover a baby girl with a birthmark on her forehead, abandoned during the cold snowy Christmas season in Tokyo.
Nudging aside the eclectic cast for now, I was hooked right away by the style alone. My taste for anime in recent years has shifted slightly away from huge bubbly eyes and pointy gravity-defying hair and towards what I see in Tokyo Godfathers — stylized realism, with a necessary dose of that classic anime-esque over-the-top expressiveness to pluck melodically at my heartstrings. Hana, the trans woman, is my favorite and to me, the heartbeat of the unlikely trio. She’s a rollercoaster of emotions from beginning to end and my reminder for resilience and warmth. You’ll laugh for sure. You might even cry.
WATCH THIS IF YOU LIKE — Quirky characters, warm holiday fuzzies, and rich metropolitan cityscapes.
Howl's Moving Castle
Just like how a French dip is only as good as its dip, a film can only go as far as its score. And boy is the score for Howl’s Moving Castle something. Life Is A Merry Go Round, the motif of the film, is a riveting waltz that captures not just the essence of the film but also the emotions. The song is an escape from black gobble monsters in suits, a waltz in a European-esque plaza on cobblestone streets, a good cry in the rain outside of…Howl’s moving castle. It’s such a dynamic song that even though my brother & co-founder, Jeff, has been learning how to play this on the piano for the past month — I am still finding little delightful details on the 10000th listen.
In addition to the tunes, the entire world that Miyazaki creates is insanely imaginative — if this was a Disney franchise each side character would have a television series spin-off. We’re talking about a kid with a magical bearded disguise selling potions, a talking fire that pleasantly consumes table scraps, a castle that moves in every literal sense (it teleports, walks, runs, shifts around furniture, etc.) I am in awe at the level of detail and world-building the director achieves. To complete the shitty sandwich metaphor, after consuming this film, all you can do is give it a chef’s kiss. MASTERPIECE.
WATCH THIS IF YOU LIKE — super refined fairy tales with a nuanced story, a good haunting yet beautiful waltz, very handsome wizards who take great pride in being handsome.
Grave of Fireflies
During a heart transplant, the organ is removed from the body for up to 4 hours until the donor’s heart is properly put in place (don’t quote me on this). I imagine if the patient was conscious during those 4 heart-less hours, he/she/they would feel similar to how I felt after watching Grave of Fireflies. Grave of Fireflies is not a sad movie — Bambi is a sad movie, the beginning of Up is sad. Grave of Fireflies is simply devastating. Be prepared to feel the entire gambit of isolation, hopelessness, and everything in between.
Is it sadistic to knowingly expose yourself to the sorrow you will feel from watching this film? Possibly, but underneath the pain, or maybe because of it, Grave of Fireflies is an incredibly beautiful movie. It’s like the Stoic practice of negative visualization. By watching Grave of Fireflies, you realize how fortunate you truly are — even in this locked down, stay-at-home pandemic we now find ourselves in, again.
WATCH THIS IF YOU LIKE — really, really sad stories.