While we don't know what aliens will look like, I think we can all agree that they probably won't look like this.

While we don’t know what aliens will look like, I think we can all agree that they probably won’t look like this.

One thing that’s fairly rare in anime is “science fiction” in some of the stricter senses of the term. What is and is not science fiction is a serious ontological debate that I’m not interested in getting into here, but what is clear is that while anime often includes SF settings and tropes (robots, mecha, spaceships, aliens) it’s much rarer for plausibility to be a major concern. More importantly, in my view, the traditional SF role of examining life and society under potential future conditions is often discarded in favor of setting up mecha battles, sexy aliens, and robot philosophers.

There are shows that examine these ideas, though, so let’s look at a pair that talk about the (for lack of a better term) “cyberpunk” future: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Dennou Coil.
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Lost in Animeland: Sword Art Online

Last time I mentioned that I was watching Sword Art Online II, and enjoying it quite a bit. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to talk about part three of a series without spoilers, so I figured I’d save the discussion for next time. So today, let’s talk about it!

This column contains spoilers for Sword Art Online. I won’t talk about any of the big reveals or twists, but information of the “which characters don’t die” sort is impossible to avoid. I personally think you’d be fine reading this and then watching it, but you can make your own decision!
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Lost in Animeland: Code Geass and Endings

Endings have always been a problem in anime. Even among my favorite shows, those that actually come to some kind of satisfying conclusion at the end of the series are a small minority. As an anime fan, it’s just something you learn to deal with — I’m at the point, especially with one season (13 episode) shows, that I just don’t expect them to actually wrap anything up. Even so, it can be frustrating!

(It also means that when a show does have a distinct beginning, middle, and end, planned and executed for its run time, it often stands out. This is one of the reasons Madoka Magika was so impressive.)
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Lost in Animeland: Spring 2014, Part 2

More shows from Spring 2014! Lots of SFF this season.
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Lost in Animeland: Spring 2014

Apologies for the break! I’ve been a bit busy launching my new middle-grade fantasy, which means I haven’t had as much time to watch anime, let alone write about it. But now I’m catching up, which means it’s time to look at what we have on the slate for Spring 2014!

As usual, I’m not going to bother with shows I hated, sequels to things I haven’t written about, or shows with no SFF element. (Though one of my early favorites, Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu ka, is in the latter category as another “cute girls doing nothing” show.) Also as usual, I’m only one or two eps in to these, so these are only initial impressions!
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Lost in Animeland: Lain, Boogiepop, Paranoia Agent

Today I’d like to look at three shows that aimed to create a roughly similar atmosphere, with varying levels of effectiveness. Serial Experiments Lain, Boogiepop Phantom, and Paranoia Agent all try to create a kind of creeping horror. Not jump scares, or sprays of gore, but a weird, oppressive feeling that keeps the watcher disoriented and in suspense. They share some storytelling and visual techniques in places, too: surreal imagery, washed-out color palettes, an emphasis on repetition and paranoia. All three have things to offer a viewer, but in my final judgment only Paranoia Agent, the late Satoshi Kon’s masterpiece, is ultimately successful as a single work. Let’s have a look!
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Lost in Animeland: Hare+Guu and Nichijou

Comedy is hard. To date, I haven’t talked much about anime comedies, for a couple of reasons. First, and most important, in my experience they are much more of a subjective experience in terms of quality. There are shows that inexplicably “click” with me, comedy-wise, that leave others baffled, and vice versa. That makes recommendations, or preparing a best-of list, a tricky business.

Second, a lot of comedies — at least the sort that I like — depend fairly heavily on Japanese cultural and language knowledge. Shows like Lucky Star, for example, are only funny if you understand where the jokes and parodies are coming from, and thus are not particularly suited for a non-otaku audience.

Other brands of comedy, though, cross through cultural boundaries more easily. Here are a couple that I think are worth a look, even if you’re not steeped in anime fandom.
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Lost in Animeland: Winter 2014, Part 2

Today we have the second half of the Winter ’14 season, alphabetically speaking. We’re now four weeks in, so I’ve seen three or four episodes of most of these shows, but I will keep the spoilers to episode one.

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Lost in Animeland: Winter 2014

Well, we’re almost two weeks into the Winter season, which has given me a chance to take a look at the first episodes. This season I’m trying a slightly different format — instead of covering every show, I’m including only the ones I either liked or found ridiculous/hilarious. Winter is traditionally a weak season (Spring and Fall are when the big-money shows air) but there’s a few shows shaping up to be good!

Side note: I’m leaving out a few shows with no SFF interest (Sakura Trick) and sequels to shows I haven’t talked about (Chuunibyou) so this isn’t 100% representative of my own viewing habits. Entries may contain spoilers, but only for the first episode.

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Lost in Animeland: Index and Railgun

Going Forward

Now that I’ve done a once-over of the present season, here’s the plan. I’m going to talk about some shows that I have seen which (a) I think would be of interest to SFF fans, and (b) are not well known outside the anime community. Part of the stated purpose of this column is to be a sort of missionary from Animeland to SFFland, and my observation has been that many of the shows that people who live in Animeland consider required viewing are essentially unknown in the wider SFF world. So, if you’re already an anime fan, some of these are pretty old news, but take it from me that a lot of people still haven’t heard of them.

I’m also not going in any particular order, nor necessarily starting with the Best Shows Ever. (Really, that just provokes arguments.) I’m just going to talk about some shows I think SFF types might find interesting to watch, and try to explain the reasons and explore the flaws.

There will probably be some information in these columns that might be considered “spoilers” in the very strictest sense, but I’ll do my best not to ruin any big surprises, reveals, or endings. In the event that I absolutely can’t avoid it, I’ll slap a warning on the top of the column.

On to the shows!
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Lost in Animeland: Fall 2013, Part Two

Here’s my look at the rest of this anime season. Most of the shows I’d been particularly looking forward to were in the first installment, so this was a matter of sifting through the rest looking for gems — fortunately, some quite watchable stuff turned up! Once again, this is roughly in order from most interesting to least, with a few at the end that I plonked early on for idiosyncratic reasons.

Next time: some favorites from past seasons, all time classics, and more!
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