There is a certain sense of nostalgia about slightly more old-school anime series. The depth and impact of the storyline, the originality of the characters’ journey… They do not make them like they used to. Without a doubt, we must appreciate the wave of new and exciting creations pouring into this niche market, but it now seems as good a time as any to step back and appreciate some of the old classics, which set the tone for a whole generation of anime fans. And no, this will not be a discussion of why Bleach rocks, because that should be common knowledge by now.
In many ways, it is a pretty mainstream opening, but one cannot overlook the immense contribution of this series to the perception of what anime is. Masashi Kishimoto, the genius behind the original Naruto manga series, introduced readers to a ninja world of adventure and courage in 1999, when the manga was officially released. The anime series, directed by Hayato Date, was broadcasted in Japan from 2002 to 2017. The English version was released in 2005 and ended in 2014. With more than 700 episodes, Naruto is now the third best-selling manga series in history. Quite rightly so too.
The plot follows the journey of the young ninja Naruto Uzumaki, whose ambitions of respect and recognition lead the narrative. It is, in a very engaging and captivating way, an examination of the values, faults and cracks of a world continuous in its rejuvenation, seen through a strikingly humane quest for self-discovery amidst the darkness of secrets and death. There is an intensely inspirational element to this series, signposting the extraordinary power of persistence and belief.
What started as a manga series in 1996 has since turned into a booming franchise. Yu-Gi-Oh!, with its innovative incorporation of gaming into an animated narrative, was first broadcasted as an anime series in April 1998 when director Hiroyuki Kakudō launched what would become a decades-long charm offensive. Featuring a number of equally successful spinoffs like Yu-Gi-Oh! GX and Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s, this series is bound to be remembered as a classic in the genre.
Elements of Egyptian mythology, a multifaceted exploration of the idea of friendship and the alluring concept of an alternative personality are the main building blocks of the narrative which, despite feeling a bit repetitive at times, comes across as surprisingly educational. The notion of the relentless pursuit of justice and the truth carried out through the very relatable format of a card game, and the fundamental concept of maturity and bravery, expressed through alternative personalities, position Yu-Gi-Oh! as something much more than a bunch of kids duelling with monster cards.
There is a widespread and very false belief that anime is strictly kids’ territory. In fact, the majority of the viewership usually consists of an older, nonetheless fiercely devoted crowd. Something like Fullmetal Alchemist, for example, employs its suitably indulgent mix of gore, violence, death and tragedy as a valid selling point. With more than 50 episodes, the anime series, directed by Seiji Mizushima, was first broadcasted in 2003. Following the success of the original series, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood was consequently released as a second series in 2009.
How we understand, move on from and cope with death is the primal concern of this series, as demonstrated through the story of the Elric brothers who have paid a horrible price for meddling with death. Their journey represents at its core a fundamental exploration of human nature: grief and hope, helplessness and courage and above all, unconditional love and devotion to one’s family. It is, as in fact most anime series are, an attempt to make sense of life’s most unattractive and savage moments within the safe space of a fictional, yet poignant in its authenticity world.