There’s a couple of philosophies available. Usually in America you see anime classified as a single genre along with animation. Doesn’t really work, you know, given the fact that there is no way you can search for what you want under that system. So you usually hear about anime productions from other people that like what you like or like what you don’t like even.
A classical method of searching for anime you might like is regular name recognition.
Miyazaki is the creator of Princess Mononoke and is acclaimed as a master story teller and character creator. In the link you will find a couple of story recommendations with a comparison to Disney animated movies, which are the closest comparison you can get to Japanese anime from US productions.
Disney’s recently production “Enchanted” is a big hit because, I believe, it has more character development than you would usually see anywhere else in American theaters and it is very musical, which is always a big part of Japanese anime popularity in and outside Japan. The musical score must be pleasant to hear, appropriate, and catching. It is there to evoke emotion, to make the audience connect with danger faced by the characters, or as a method to support humor. Used well, and you won’t even remember that it was there.
Enchanted, instead of putting their “theme” music in the beginning and ending credits, they put it on the tongues of the characters themselves. Which brings in the unique American standard of the Song of Music, also a big hit.
Personally I saw a couple of anime shows like Dragon Ball Z, Noir, Fullmetal Alchemist, but it wasn’t until Bleach and Naruto that I became hooked on anime as a specific genre I wanted to watch more of. Before, of course, I was really only able to watch anime on the CartoonNetwork, which was woefully restricted and limited given what the internet, including Netflix, can provide you now a days.
Anime has its own genres or specific themes just like American movies, and you can see some of those genres at netflix, which is sort of a like movie genome project similar to Pandora’s use of the Music Genome project. You have your war drama/love triangle types in anime. You have your fantasy or historically classified types such as Samurai X, Inuyasha, and various other fictional or recreated worlds. This is where Japanese anime delves into Japan’s past of sorcery and magic, sort of like how Americans watch Wild West or James Bond movies. Japanese anime is also fascinated with mecha, represented namely by Robotech and Macross. Then there is the futuristic movie types like Akira and Ghost in the Shell which create a Matrix like future society dealing with robots and other technology of that sort. Techno-punk in many ways. It has a different focus on character design and progression than the latest generation of Japanese tv show animes (which tend to be the most popular syndicated programs).One of the most amusing and charming settings is the “slice of life” settings in which regular Japanese life, usually school and family life, are shown interspersed with various types of supernatural, fantastic, or mystic additions.
A very nice futuristic/apocalyptic utopian movie is Appleseed. It has a nice synthesis of complex motivations for allies, enemies, and so forth in addition to very nice use of computer generated images melded with hand drawn depictions. The futuristic city of Olympia is also an excellent creation in theoretical brainstorming that you probably only see in American science fiction, and only sci fi novels at that. It is very different from Ghost in the Shell in terms of priority and focus. It is also very different from the Risident Evil movie, in that action and character development are split along more even plot spaces than Resident’s Evil 90% action scene and 10% character dev at the middle. Also check out Aeon Flux for the same things I’ve said about Appleseed. There is also an animated series of Aeon Flux that I didn’t get a chance to watch because I didn’t know about it. It was produced by Peter Chung via MTV, it seems. So it would be an interesting way to see how that class takes it.
Many of the Japanese popular anime are produced from manga, comics that is, and translated directly to animated series. And I mean directly. You will actually see exact scenes drawn out in black and white on a manga, on your tv screen in color at times. While this idea is implemented for Spiderman and Superman in America, it is never exactly the same process. The entire “look” of anime starts on paper with still scenes. That is how they communicate suspense, emotions, action, and things of that nature. Whereas in American movies, such things are usually portrayed by “acting” and “special effects”. The manga authors usually start very early by drawing and getting so good at drawing, character sketches, and storyline creation that they just become the single author of an entire manga series, which takes just as much work as any full length science fiction novel published by Baen. It is very different from America’s focus on the director, such as Steven Spielberg, instead of the author of the works themselves, the writers. Both Lucas Arts and Spielberg have written their own plots and scripts, yes, but they are known for their directing, not their writing. While in manga authors, writing and directing at the same thing. There is no split between the two.
Personally, it is very hard for me to see people’s body language, facial expressions, voice tones, when they are fighting full out in some kind of fast paced action scene, you know. Anime slows it down so you have plenty of time to grasp what is going on. Of course, sometimes they slow it down way too much and take 10 episodes to tell a story arc that might have taken nothing but 8 chapters in a manga. A chapter consisting of say 8 pages in a normal comic sized book.
Netflix has a fast and easy method of finding anime that is highly rated in comparison to what you already like. Of course, if you don’t know any that you like, it becomes hard to start without a larger pool to benefit from. For example Dragon BallZ,, Naruto, and Bleach probably belongs to the “character progression through conflict and personal challenge”theme. This is inspired by the martial arts system in which once you master a certain level, there are always greater challenges in store for you to seek or master.
Romantic story arcs in anime tend to be used for character development or love triangle dynamics or harem themes (one man, multiple women seeking his attention), which turns things into half way comedy often.
I started up reading Steven Den Beste in 2002, so I’m one of those that also read his anime blog posts as well. The trick was finding something I liked and recognizing why. I don’t like anime because of the fan service or because of the cute women and girls, which is a far more important rule of thumb for Den Beste than me. He hates watching sad anime endings or anime with dead girls, I like watching anime with lots of killing, tactics, conflict, and what not. I don’t mind nice looking anime characters, of course, but they aren’t really the main show unless the entire anime series revolves around girls, like Sailor Moon.
Don’t know what you would characterize Sailor Moon as. Could be romance, drama, action, modern fantasy, although Japan tends to mix modern fantasy with modern science fiction many times. Godzilla anyone?
I’ve been recently watching Air TV and Mahoromatic via netflix for the former and fansubs for the latter.