“The war goes on” – Holy crap, check out “The Dark Knight Returns” animated trailer!

I know I said some negative things about Frank Miller’s influence on the Batman universe but I didn’t realize I’d be so excited to see the first trailer for the animated version of “The Dark Knight Returns.” I mean, holy god. In this first part of a pair of films, we’ve got the iconic battle between the Bat-tank and the mutants, the “operating table” scene and a loving homage to Batman’s battle with Two-Face. I mean, check out the link above, just watch it for yourself and let me know what you think.

“The Spin Zone” – 12 lazy, petty, vindictive, lying pop culture media members with a motive

There’s a reason the media rarely is portrayed in popular culture. Where the government, the military, the police and criminals can all be portrayed as proactive forces, the media is very reactive. As such, they can be portrayed as easily manipulable, lazy, elitist, pretentions or just plain bothersome to those who actually have good honest work to do. This leads to the media taking a lot of flack in popular culture but, interestingly, most negative portrayals of the media end up saying far more about the creators and editors than the reporters they skewer.

1. Battlestar Galactica – “Final Cut”

“Battlestar Galactica” was a great show with a mess of storytelling problems, namely some of its more fascist tendencies. The show never had much tolerance for the pacifistic, meddling media but nowhere is this clearer than in the second season’s “Final Cut.” There, the Galactica excepts a well known journalist to make a newscast about the men and women who keep the battleship running. Of course, the reporter, Diana, turns out to be a Cylon, solely interested in collecting intel about the surviving humans. Its barely a twist and its a cruel one if you want to consider it that.

2. “Spider-Man”

J. Jonah Jameson doesn’t speak too much of anything but necessity. There was a desperate need for Peter Parker to have a villain that was able to hold a candle to the villains that Spider-Man routinely faced and the biased editor of The Daily Bugle served just that role. Jameson’s campaign against Spider-Man put Peter in a quandary and provided a solid enemy that was both untouchable and necessary.

3. NewsRadio – “The Real Deal”

NewsRadio had a lot too say about the vain, narcissistic, self-mythologizing and just plain mean men and women that made the news but it was always in service of humor. In one memorable episode, on-air columnist Bill McNeal, played by the late great Phil Hartman, has to nab a great interview to keep his show on the air. Naturally, his narcissism and inability to, y’know, talk to people, gets in the way of his interview with Jerry Seinfeld, so he gets creative in delivering his story.

4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer – “Earshot”

By season three, Joss Whedon had ironed most of the problems out of his supernatural teen soap opera but the flaws are apparent in “Earshot.” Delayed because of the Columbine Massacre, Buffy becomes aware of someone planning a killing spree at Sunnydale High. The episode’s great red herring is the slightly goth school newspaper editor, a guy who’s writen nothing but negative, extremely pessimistic about the people and institutions of the school. Even when its revealed that he’s not behind the plot, there’s still an bitter taste left in the mouth.

5. Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Adam Jensen’s been dealing with the very worst of global corporations and espionage by the time he heads to Montreal to find some answers. There, he’s attacked by mercenaries and left to try to find newscaster Eliza Cassan who’s been manipulating satellites to hide several people Jensen thought dead.  In the world of “Deus Ex,” its not that the media is innately evil, more that they can be bought and sold by anyone with the credits or enough strength to take what they want.

6. Mr. Show with Bob and David – Scams and Flams

Bob Odenkirk and David Cross had done their fair share of parodies of the emptiness and shallow reporting that characterized the daily news. One of their best was the “Scams and Flams” sketch, focusing on a gullible local features reporter sent to investigate businesses that might be scams. He’s, however, bought off by a man running a wishing well/ice cream parlor. Mixing a parody of local news with one of gotcha journalism, its a dark and witty satire.

7. Blitz

Jason Statham vehicle, “Blitz” has a lot of incoherent things to say about police brutality, serial killers and stardom but its main message is one focused on serial killers wanting the fame that accompanies their killings. Its a popular belief, one that many conservatives have bought into as a way to assign a motive to shooters and the film makes the media complicit in the killer’s crimes, feeding his actions.

8.  Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

J.K. Rowling’s consistent portrayal of the Daily Prophet as a near faceless antagonist is one of the most troublesome aspects of her series. Where she turns writers such as Rita Skeeter into reporters more interested in an entertaining piece than a truthful one, she focuses most of his ire on the paper to their view on Voldemort. By “Order of the Phoenix,” the Prophet has been reduced to a mouthpiece for the Ministry of Magic. The only possible explanation for her choice was laziness. With an inability to clearly show the government’s denial of the dark lord’s return, she blamed much of the propaganda on the Prophet, even reducing them to cartoonish villains willing to run a smear campaign.

9. That Mitchell and Webb Look – What do you reckon?

As newspapers and network news gasp against user created media and online news, they’ve attempted to integrate community feedback, often to insane levels. A fantastic sketch from across the pond, Robert Mitchell and David Webb set up a news team that wants to hear whatever the viewer “reckons” about nearly anything and they’ll read it on the air just because they feel like they have to. As the sketch escalates, their boredom makes everything funnier, showing the ridiculousness of losing the professional line of separation.

10. Parks and Recreation – “The Reporter”

In the underrated first season of “Parks,” Leslie’s enthusiastic attempts to do something with the pit is thrown up against a never ending line of red tape. In “The Reporter” she faces the media as well as problems within her own team as Mark tells a reporter after sex that the pit will never be fixed. The episode affixes plenty of blame on the reporter for her unscrupulous reporting techniques and the Parks’ departments mistrust of the newspaper continues well past the episode. I mean, they still really hate the library, but they’re not in love with The Pawnee Sun.

11. Dr. Who – “The Long Game”

The problem with “The Long Game” is that the targeting of the media doesn’t quite go far enough. After Rose and the Ninth Doctor jump far into the future, they come across a media outlet that’s broadcasting programming for Earth in an attempt to keep the people of the planet complacent. Its kind of a weak plot, with a monster that isn’t intimidating enough or make enough sense making it another not quite cooked relic of the Eccleston era.

12. 24 – “9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.”

After the first season of FOX’s groundbreaking action series, viewers were left to deal with the international drama inherent in Palmer becoming president. The writers show their view of snooty, truth seeking reporters early when, after failing to bribe him, President Palmer imprisons correspondent Ron Wieland in a government facility. In the world of “24,” you either let the brave, strong, patriotic men do their work or you’re going to jail.

“A rope stretched between bat and Batman” – 11 uncharacteristically adult episodes of “Batman: The Animated Series”

“Batman: The Animated Series” may be one of the most technically accomplished, innovative and well written animated series of all time, able to appeal to both adults and children alike. The show would occasionally handle this balance masterfully with classics such as “Heart of Ice,” “The Man Who Killed Batman,” “Trial” and “POV” but other times, they didn’t quite hit the mark. That, however, is when we really get into the head of the dark knight, exposing children to the mind-set of an aging billionaire who dresses up in leather to punch out psychopaths. For whatever reason, whether it be the aforementioned psychological content, sexual themes, long spanning Bat-style or plain old uber-violence, these are the episodes that should have gotten a second look before plopping the kids in front of the TV and might just have been more entertaining and well-rounded for their parents.

1. “Dreams in Darkness”

Clearly inspired by Grant Morrison’s “Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth,” this episode finds Batman being checked into Arkham and having to confront the futility of his quest for justice as well as his own psychosis. Although there’s the copout of having Scarecrow being behind his enemy’s incarceration, the dream sequence in which Batman watches an amorphous blob morph into his enemies in disgusting ways is a standout sequence in the entire series.

2. “Mad Love”

“Mad Love” is a bit of an adult episode for an entirely different reason. While it does succinctly explain the origin of Harley Quinn and her obsession with the Joker, it is most remembered for a sequence in which Harley petitions the clown for sex, asking him if he’d like to “rev up his Harley” and then making the above shown motorcycle motion. There’s a difference between the innuendos that the show trafficked in early in the run and this one that makes the character’s relationship a bit too explicit.

3. “Two Face Part 1”

In what might be my favorite episode of the animated series and in my opinion, one of the most important moments in DC’s TV future, “Two Face Part 1” shows Dini’s genius by fundamentally changing Harvey Dent to make him an even more tragically flawed character. Here, Dent has been fighting a losing battle with schizophrenia, trying to hold back an angry and violent alter-ego. Dini is able to balance the idea that Dent may have always been damned to become a villain with the fact that he’s another character, much like Batman and the Joker, who just had a single terrible day.

4. “Sideshow”

Batman’s goal is to stop crime and his sole tools have always been fear and brute force. “Sideshow” is the first episode of the series to posit the idea that a villain could voluntarily leave crime behind. After a train escape, Killer Croc is on the run and he teams up with a rogue group of sideshow freaks. The entire episode focuses on his turmoil over whether he’ll be able to find a new life in a community that accepts him or if he craves anarchy.

5. “Harley’s Holiday”

Dini always adored writing Harley Quinn and it was rarely done as well as it was here. When Harley tries to go straight after being discharged from Arkham, she struggles to change the way she reacts to people, leaving beside her psychotic violence and cruel treatment of other people. The episode concludes with an incredible action sequence that sees all of Gotham turning against Harley but that’s nothing to the way Batman associates with and feels sorry for a girl who he sees much of himself in.

6. “Perchance to Dream”

One of the theories that fans love to debate is whether Batman is the alter ego of Bruce Wayne or the other way around. “Perchance to Dream” doesn’t try to answer the question definitively but it does show the way that Bruce Wayne needs to be Batman. The dark knight is Bruce’s purpose and as the episode advances, audiences see the lengths he’ll go to wear the cowl once again.

7. “Second Chance”

The relationship between Harvey and Bruce is one of the friendships that define the early episodes of the show and makes Harvey’s fate even more tragic. “Second Chance” takes another look at their relationship with Batman having to challenge the dichotomy between Two Face and Harvey and it leads to one of the most tense and heart-rending finales of  the series.

8. “House and Garden”

Its a shame that the animated series was so rarely able to really take advantage of everything that makes Poison Ivy such an effective character. Rather than use her femme fatale charms, here, she’s claiming to go legit, be a mother and totally give up all the killing and robbing. Instead, Ivy reveals how twisted her vision of the domestic life and the actual psychosis of the men and women who terrorize Gotham.

9. “Babydoll”

I’m always amazed when presumably children’s shows do episodes about the ennui of fame and the hollowness of public admiration. “Babydoll” pulls it off admirably, focusing less on the ways in which Babydoll’s life is empty and more on the tragedy of finding out how figuratively small you are. “Babydoll” ends up being one of the best combinations of literal and symbolic storytelling that the show could pull off. Rather than have a character who became a villain because of a tragedy, here, we’re exposed to a villain who is and will always be a tragedy.

10. “Deep Freeze”

“Heart of Ice” is the better and more memorable episode but “Deep Freeze” is a considerably more adult tale, with viewers not only having to deal with Mr. Freeze’s lost loves but also the loneliness he faces as an immortal that will never be able to feel. Freeze’s work with a blatant Walt Disney parody who wishes to be made immortal is cruelly ironic and the final image of him sinking into the sea, gazing at the frozen Nora is haunting.

11. “Legends of the Dark Knight”

One of the pleasures of being a long time reader of any comic series is seeing the ways that a book or a character changes in big and small ways. “Legends of the Dark Knight” shows a pair of vastly different versions of Batman, one based off of the art of 1940’s penciller Dick Sprang, with the other being a direct homage to “The Dark Knight Returns.” Its a fun episode and by the end, there’s an approachable look at the way that all the visions of Batman make for a character that people enjoy for a variety of reasons.

“Well, it isn’t our dapper dark knight” : 10 intriguing Batman stories that don’t feature the Caped Crusader

Batman has long been one of DC’s most enduring heroes and one of the most recognizable characters in American pop culture. He’s also one that is ripe for examination, parody and re-appropriation. What makes this more and more interesting is the way in which different authors have used the Batman archetype to explore different universes and to examine the character in ways that he hadn’t been looked at in his own universe. Some great books even manage to spin the character into someone that could be interpreted far differently than the hero we all know.

1. “Astro City: Dark Age Part 1”

In Kurt Busiek’s epic retelling of the way that comics evolved from the late silver age into the hyper violent and complex bronze age, Street Angel plays a moderately small role. A vigilante battling crime in the streets while the more powerful heroes battle against the intergalactic enemies that are taking on the city, Street Angel is hoping to keep his moral code against killing as the city descends into chaos but as Silver Agent begins to make the difficult choices, Angel has to face that the pain he brings criminals may not be worse than killing them. When we last see him, he’s sitting in his misery, not knowing whether his future in Astro City will be an accommodating one.

2.  “The Duck Knight Returns” – Darkwing Duck

Frank Miller is may be my favorite comics writer ever but he’s really easy to mock. If you know his best known work, “The Dark Knight Returns,” you’re going to have a lot of fun with Darkwing Duck’s take on the story. When he finds his city completely under the control of publicly traded organizations with businesses even controlling the police force. He’s driven to put back on the cape and sombrero and bring justice to St. Canard. Making everything more fun, classic “DuckTales” characters  contribute to the Darkwing Duck adventure in major ways.

3.  “Revenge is a Dish Best Served Three Times” – The Simpsons

Bartman has been aluded to many, many times in “The Simpsons” but in a direct parody of “Batman Begins,” Bart tells a story about how awesome and useful revenge can be. It might be worth watching just to see Snake taking the role of Joe Chill.

4. “Showdown” – Batman: The Animated Series 

Batman and Robin both show up briefly in “Showdown” but most of the episode is a flashback about one of Ras al Ghul’s sons being defeated by one of Old Gotham’s best killers, Jonah Hex. Its an invigorating episode, filled with great fights, an awesome plot and a great peak at the relationship and respect that Batman and Ras have for each other, despite being enemies.

5. “Asro City: Confession”

Busiek’s written Batman for the Justice League as well as in his exceptional “Trinity” series but its clear that he has a soft spot for the violent hero that could face down anything and anyone. “Confession” stars Astro City’s other Dark Knight analogue, the Confessor, and is told through the voice of his sidekick, describing a series of slayings in Shadow Hill, a bizarre storyline featuring alien invasions and corrupt government officials and a hero in black who’s controlled by his own moral code as well as struggling with who he is. This is less of an analysis of Batman and more of an engaging what-if story, but it does delve into the mindset of the teenage Robins who give the dark knight their allegiance.

6. “Holy Terror”

By no means is “Holy Terror” a good book. Its misogynistic, utterly dark, misanthropic, overly violent, overly masculine and jingoistic. Frank Miller’s mess of a 9/11 graphic novel was meant to be about Batman’s hunt for Osama bin Laden but ended up being a book about dull Batman and Catwoman analogues shooting terrorists. On its own, “Holy Terror” is an utter failure but it does almost make one consider what it was that Miller was really intending to communicate in the thematically similar “The Dark Knight Returns.”

7. “Battle for the Cowl”

Sadly, Grant Morrison will probably be best remembered for killing Batman in the frankly, pretty terrible “Final Crisis.” That being said, he was able to craft much more engaging stories about the Dark Knight, namely “Batman Incorporated” but “Battle for the Cowl” is an enormously engaging series about the future of Gotham. As Bruce Wayne battles his way through time, the Bat-family engages in a city encompassing war for who will wear the cowl. Morrison is obsessed with Robin and he shows it here, developing Dick Grayson into an adult hero as well as showing the future role that Damian would play in fighting for the future of the city. Much like Jeph Loeb’s “Dark Victory,” “Battle for the Cowl” explores the ways in which the Robins have to accept power and what the future of holding this power can hold.

8. “Kabuki: Circle of Blood”

Perhaps the best comic series of the ’90s, David Mack’s “Kabuki” is an enthralling fusion of neo-noir, international espionage, World War II fiction, metatextual analysis and “Alice in Wonderland” imagery. The story, initially a battle between the agents of the Noh and a terrorist group, the narrative blooms into a story about Japanese trauma, living up to the memories of a parent and leaving a better world than the one you came into. The story of Ukiko, a child orphaned after her mother’s murder, and her eventual transformation into the assassin Kabuki borrows heavily from the Batman mythos and repeated uses of Alice and Wonderland imagery, particularly borrowed from Grant Morrison’s “Serious House on Serious Earth,” ties Kabuki very strongly to a certain Western hero. However, the way that Mack grounds his hero in real world trauma and extistential angst makes us view both the minds of Bruce Wayne and Batman in a considerably more nuanced and fractured way.

9. “Death of the Goon” – The Goon #39

The list of characters, writers, artists, trends and storylines that are skewered in Eric Powell’s delirious parody issue of superheroes is nearly endless and he manages to mock the Batman/Catwoman relationship mercilessly. In a series of panels where Goon decides to become an interracial street avenger who stops people who realized that “hanging out in an alley would really pay off,” he saves a woman only to go into a long monologue about why he can’t fall in love. Meanwhile, Franky checks “angst ridden monologue” off the list of tropes that need to appear in their superhero issue. Of course, that’s all before Goon and Franky decide to become gay Republican Puerto Rican socialist transvestites from space who believe in Jesus. You know, solely for the media attention.

10. “Sin City: The Hard Goodbye”

After smoking his 400th cigarette of the day and fucking a hooker with a heart of gold, Frank Miller spits on the piss slick floor of his apartment, swallows a mouthfull of whiskey, curses and wonders whether there’s a way he could add more hardcore violence to neo-noir. After “The Dark Knight Returns,” Miller devoted himself to putting even more violence into a story about a man with nothing to live for, trying to save a city that long ago lost its’ soul. This is the Batman that Miller wishes he would have written and it serves as a better companion piece to “Year One” and his other works than “The Dark Knight Strikes Again.”

Super villainy is hard, let’s go shopping!: 9 questionable representations of women in “geek culture”

One thing the internet has done that is great is bringing fans of niche programming together. In years past, we’d all have to meet up at conventions, send letters or read specialty magazines for the information that is now available in seconds. The not so great thing this has led to is what I call “geek elitism.” As fans of science fiction, comics, videogames, anime and all sorts of nerdy content, we’ve now thought that we can band together in lording over anyone who can’t quote chapter and verse in nerdery.

Nowhere has this been more evident than in slut shaming and judging of women. Just because Joss Whedon put a whole bunch of powerful women in his shows, his acolytes view said content as intrinsically superior to any show that has, say, a sexual woman who appears in a clothing that flaunts her body. One of my favorite blogs, recently did an entire post based on the picture posted above and the phenomenon of geek culture celebrating itself which sums up the issue much better than I can but it got me thinking about the ways in which pop culture hasn’t always given us the greatest of role models, even in content that has been targeted at for lack of a better word, geeks. So, let’s do the exceedingly lazy list thing.

1. Seven of Nine – “Star Trek Voyager”

Voyager has a lot of problems. There’s no doubt about that. That being said, so many of those problems begin and end with Seven of Nine, a freed Borg that aids the crew in their many dealings with the Queen and her minions. The unfortunate thing about her wasn’t so much what the brought to the crew or the storytelling problems but more about he way she was viewed on screen. She was always in a skin tight jump suit, even after she wore a Starfleet uniform and was often shot to accentuate her body. Even worse, many characters on the ship seemed to value her more for her looks than anything else. I don’t blame Jeri Ryan or the character really, it’s more in how the writers portrayed her as little more than a sex object and not a particularly willing one at that.

2. Yeoman Rand – “Star Trek”

That being said, the original series had many more problems with women but none stand out as much or as significantly as the ship’s most prominent yeoman and Kirk’s implied love interest Rand. Rand was another case of being more of an object than character, often targeted by enemies interested in sexually assaulting her. When she was given lines, most of them were focused on how scared she was or how she needed protection. Blame it on the writers, blame it on the time period, whatever.

3. Molotov Cocktease – “The Venture Bros.”

Yes, Molotov is supposed to be an over the top parody of James Bond-esque female spies with a dash of Black Widow thrown in and the show goes to elaborate and hysterical lengths to make her more than a sex object. That being said, you maybe wouldn’t want to buy her action figure for your daughter.

4. Harley Quinn – “Batman: The Animated Series,” “Batman” and “Suicide Squad”

Like pretty much everyone, I adore Harley as a character. She’s gleefully evil, unbelievably focused on creating chaos and sowing discontent and is a great partner in crime with the Joker and Poison Ivy. That being said, she’s pretty much been defined by her relationship with the Joker, often to her own detriment. In the episode “Mad Love,” Quinn is routinely beaten and abused by her lover yet goes back like a kicked dog. Her inclusion in the New 52’s Suicide Squad seemed like it could be a neat place for her before the book’s release but her costume redesign wasn’t meant to showcase her character.

5-6. Silk Spectre I and Silk Spectre II – “Watchmen” and “Before Watchmen”

When Alan Moore gets up in the morning, cracks his knuckles, sits down in front of his typewriter as he eats breakfast, fires off a couple of quick letters to movie studios calling everyone a bastard and finally starts writing comics, the first thing on his mind is how he can write more rape and sexual assault into his stories. Look, I like Moore’s work but it is hard to find a female character he’s written that isn’t defined by sexual assault. Their motivations, their powers and even their strength is tied directly to the trauma they’ve suffered. In “Watchmen,” Silk Spectre is raped by The Comedian, causing her to become a paranoid and controlling mother to Silk Spectre II, who is further defined by the knowledge of her father and the evil that men do. Not helping matters, it looks like the trend is continuing in “Before Watchmen,” where the original Silk Spectre is still a wreck although her daughter is given great definition. We’ll have to wait and see if her character is defined better by mini-series end.

7. Kara Thrace – “Battlestar Galactica”

Its a shame to put Starbuck on this list. For the first two seasons of the show, she’s the epitome of a well written character. She’s personally strong, does what she wants, has a powerful moral compass and she’s an inspiration to the rest of the Galactica. That all turns around in the last two seasons of the show, where she becomes a messianic figure who used to have mommy and daddy issues. That is, only when she’s not drinking herself to death, fucking everyone she comes across for no real reason. The failing of Starbuck was simply a writer problem but its one of the most unfortunate ones of the show.

8. Wonder Woman – David E. Kelley’s “Wonder Woman”

When a Wonder Woman TV show was announced last year, I was legitimately pretty excited. Diana is my favorite character of the DC universe and I figured everything could have worked out. Then we found out it was a David E. Kelley who was turning one of the most powerful super heroines and an icon of womanhood into a corporate attorney by day while fighting crime and just looking for the perfect guy. It was such a hackneyed take on the character and the leaked script of the pilot didn’t make her into much of a character. Even after the rewrite, it still seemed like Kelley was more interested in making a superpowered “Ally McBeal” rather than writing a character that was worth of Wonder Woman’s legacy.

9. Starfire – “Teen Titans” and “Red Hood and the Outlaws”

Like Kara Thrace, having Starfire on the list is a shame. Pre-New 52, she was a sexually liberated very well developed character with motivations, love interests and a deep rich backstory that made her a fan favorite. All of that changed when she teamed up with Jason Todd in the New 52’s “Red Hood and the Outlaws.” Suddenly, she was requisitioning everyone she came across for sex and not in a way that made her a character wanting intimacy. She was strictly an object of wish fulfillment. This rightfully caused a stir amongst critics, many putting their focus on schlocky writer Scott Lobdell. Some were gentle, others were really not so much. Comics Alliance focused on how the character was little more than a surrogate girlfriend for horny nerds, Andy Hunsaker said that the character had been reduced to little more than a “highly advanced Real Doll” and Matthew Peterson said the character’s sexual appetites reduced her to a walking punch-line, hurting a book that had such a small cast. The only thing I can say is that there’s a difference between a well written character who is interested in sex and a poorly written one who is little more than a willing wish fulfillment vessel.

Not all just schoolgirls, cardgames and tentacle rape: an essential anime primer

A friend of mine recently livetweeted her first viewing of the landmark animated film “Akira,” the seminal 1988 anime that changed the way that the medium was viewed and remains one of the high points of the genre. I talked to her after she finished the film and mentioned that she had heard the film was the main anime that people needed to see to understand the genre. At the time, I agreed but now, I’ve reconsidered. Anime is a diverse, difficult genre that’s unbelievably unwelcoming to new viewers and offers so much content that it can be hard to differentiate the good from the bad. By no means am I an expert on the genre but here’s my primer of the essential anime for any fan.

Akira

Its the first and by that means, its essential. The animation is impressive, the adaptation from a 1000 page manga to a fairly complete film is well done and the whole thing reeks of polish. It may stand up to more modern films of the genre but it is an impressive, essential moment in the development of the genre.

Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro

A personal favorite of mine, “The Castle of Cagliostro” is a Chuck Jones meets Japanese style gangster romp through Europe. A lot of classic anime archetypes are introduced here, whether its the consummate lady killer/thief, the BESM (Big Eyes, Small Mouth) princess, the noir inspired story or the neverending adventure resolution, this is a pure classic. It all makes sense when seeing that its one of Hayao Miyazaki’s first international movies and he would go on to be one of the biggest names in anime internationally with several other huge releases. Plus, the whole movie is available both on YouTube and Netflix Instant Stream. There’s no excuse not to check it out.

Grave of the Fireflies

Truly a heartbreaking film, this meditation of World War II, the atomic bomb, innocence and childhood is an unbelievably draining film but it is also one of the best pieces of Japanese entertainment. By no means is this untread ground in anime (the landmark “Barefoot Gen” covered it exhaustingly), but “Grave of the Fireflies” handles the moment beautifully and makes this worldwide tragedy into an innately personal tale of trials, sacrifice and death. Even Roger Ebert sees the relative international appeal and importance of “Grave of the Fireflies.” This is dark, difficult and tear jerking. Try to get through it with dry eyes.

Cowboy Bebop

Not only is it one of the most important televised anime but its one of the most important animated series ever, regardless of style. “Cowboy Bebop” integrated music, cyberpunk, space opera, noir, western and kabuki theater into a stunning and moving series. Every episode is another stylistic experiment in the melding of music, mystery and action and the series finale is a gorgeous climax to a wonderful series. The movie, which falls somewhat in the middle of the series, is also an essential piece of anime for anyone with a love of the genre.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team

Along with “Dragon Ball,” the Gundam series was one of the first anime shows to really break in the U.S. “08th MS Team” took Gundam’s traditional focus on love, sacrifice and the human cost of war and focused it on a tiny team of soldiers fighting a jungle battle against the Principality of Zeon. What makes the series so memorable is the lack of heroes. None of the pilots are aces and the show manages to take a look at the way the everyday soldier has to deal with a war that’s so far beyond them. That being said, the series manages to show off some spectacular action sequences, one of the best love stories of the Gundam franchise  and a well developed and controversial finale that set up one of the later, much less successful series.

Afro Samurai

Taking anime and filtering it through blacksploitation and Bruce Lee’s greatest kung-fu films was avant garde as fuck when it debuted as a manga. The transition to anime was wonderful although it feels very traditional. The thing to remember is how ambitious the series is. “Afro Samurai” perfectly represents Japan’s obsession with the west and our mutual love of the culture and Samuel L. Jackson and Ron Perlman serving as the voices in the anime is a tribute to the genre’s appeal. Seriously though, the movie, “Afro Samurai: Resurrection,” is totally not worth your time.