If I were to guess the top two anime works most popular with Westerners who don't like anime I'd probably name Cowboy Bebop and Ghost in the Shell. Which makes it pretty funny there's apparently an uproar about Scarlett Johansson being cast as the main character in the upcoming Ghost in the Shell live action film even though her character is an android and the creator of the original series approves of the casting. Thousands of voices who don't complain about Japanese students who routinely look Caucasian in anime have complained about a white woman playing a synthetic life form with a Japanese name.
Anyway, lately I've been watching through Cowboy Bebop again, watching it through for the sixth or seventh time, I think, marvelling again at how good it is and how it seems to just get better with age. And it does, in many ways, feel more Western than Japanese. It lacks many attributes of the artform with its starkly demarcated traditions for targeting demographics. There's a central male character but he's not surrounded by a harem of girls lusting after him, openly or secretly. There's little of the psychological exploration that marks some of the best anime aimed at boys and young men, girls and young women. Instead, there are references to French films of the 60s and American films of the 70s. Spike Spiegel has more in common with Barry Newman than Ikari Shinji. Faye Valentine may be closer to a standard anime character but even she has something of Anna Karina in her.
Despite the greatness of Cowboy Bebop its creator, Shinichiro Watanabe, has, since the end of Cowboy Bebop, failed to equal his success with that series either artistically or in terms of popularity in his subsequent series. I'd lay the blame at the feet of misguided devotion to post-modernism. On might assume the mishmash of cultural and artistic references in Cowboy Bebop would mean that the fusions in Samurai Champloo and Space Dandy would also work. But without the commitment to the reality of a universe that Cowboy Bebop had, intentionally or not, the other series could only be insubstantial and unsatisfying. Like the French New Wave films Watanabe pays homage to, Cowboy Bebop endures because of its respect to the characters and the motives of the characters, not because it is an erudite collage of media.
But it turns out that Samurai Champloo and Space Dandy aren't the only series Watanabe's worked on since Cowboy Bebop. I somehow failed to hear about, until last week, an eleven episode series Watanabe did in 2014 called 残響のテロル; Terror in Resonance in the U.S. but I prefer the literal translation of the original title "Terror of the Echo". I watched the first episode this morning.
This, unlike Cowboy Bebop, feels very much like an anime--a shojo anime, one aimed at girls. With two attractive, vaguely bisexual young men as protagonists who are charmed by a shy, bullied, pretty girl, one is reminded of shows like Kimi no Todoke, Fushigi Yugi, or even Death Note, given the dangerous nature of those two male protagonists. They're terrorists.
Since the very real world threat the characters embody sets them apart from the supernatural or softball misdeeds that define "bad" boys in typical shojo, Watanabe seems to have been doing something interesting and daring with the well worn genre. He certainly avoids the pitfall of post-modernism. Well, so far--I have only watched the first episode; for all I know, one of the characters will turn into Miles Davis while the girl plays guitar on a Titanic made of gum wrappers.
The first episode has exceptionally good animation and Yoko Kanno's music is really nice. I particularly liked the ending theme.
Twitter Sonnet #865
Replete with timely chokes, the coke was hot.
When all the retinue was in their seats,
The mead could only make a softer cot.
A navy strained the oats into the beets.
Depressing dogs have grabbed the stage from law.
The babies in the snow will fight again.
A flock of cannibals arrived for raw.
No eyes for kings bereft of giant djinn.
A fifty year divided piece of pig
Ascends to push us off a petal chair.
An inconvenient lamp was broke to rig
Our basic needs and quality healthcare.
The varied paints appeared in black and white.
Narrators sank in sand from sound and sight.