Asian TV for the American Newbie Viewer

Want to recommend some anime or J/K-dramas and anime to a normal American who doesn’t know what to make of Japanese or Korean culture? You think they’d love what Asia has to offer, but don’t want to scare them away with too much moe or yokai or plot-lines involving getting kicked out of the family register.

Breaking your typical American viewer into Asian TV

I’m going to suggest anime and k/j-dramas that either have fascinating plots that no sci-fi/fantasy lover could resist, or are understandable plots between cultures. You won’t find any Studio Ghibli on my list because I, personally, found his stuff unattractive when I was first breaking into anime. His heavily Buddhist, strange-creature themes or more simple slice of life films could not be appreciated coming straight out of watching non-stop-action American TV. This isn’t going to make me very popular, but I wouldn’t recommend Ghibli to your average American viewer, personally. My recommendations are clean, relatively family-friendly shows and movies that aren’t so overtly Asian that you lose people. Things you could show your next-door neighbor without being labeled a weirdo nerd.

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Animated:

(Most can be found legally on Crunchyroll.com, and one or two on Netflix.com)

1. Puella Magi Madoka Magica

7facd20f5216202349ad2fc3119e2e5b1329936788_fullYeah, I’m going there.  Honestly, this one has lots of bizarre elements, but the plot is so epic.  It is a deconstruction of the magical girl genre, but totally works as a deconstruction of any superhero genre.  We Americans have been inundated with superhero movies lately, so a show that portrays the real psychological hardships of being a Black Widow or Scarlett Witch? Yes, please. I’ve shown this to most of my non-anime-watching family members, and it’s gone over pretty well.  You’re going to need to sit and discuss a lot of the final episode, however, as it’s big-picture epic with a lot of symbolism.

Warning: Violence and thematic elements in this one.  PG-13

2. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

the_girl_who_leapt_through_time_posterStarts out like a Disney channel show with a little bit of teenage silliness, but quickly turns into a fascinating sci-fi plot.  I really enjoyed this one, and it was the very first anime I ever watched. Only movie-length (not a TV show), this will give viewers a taste of creative YA sci-fi from Japan that makes sense and tugs at their heartstrings at the same time.

Warning: One really stupid sexual line from a side character at the beginning that feels hugely out of place.  There is NO sexuality in the rest of the movie, so one just has to ignore it as bad writing in an otherwise squeaky clean movie.

3. Hotarubi no Mori e

hotarubi-no-mori-e-full-1174801My personal favorite.  Just a beautiful, beautiful little 45-minute film.  Totally an inspiration for the writing of my own book, Lucent Sylph, this movie is tragically gorgeous in every way, and one of my top favorite movies of all time.

Warning: There ARE Buddhist spirits in this one, and Buddhism has something to do with the main plot.  However, one can still follow the movie really well by ignoring this aspect – and, in my opinion, it doesn’t get too weird.  Nothing weirder than Star Wars. Make sure your child is old enough to know that forest spirits don’t exist.

4. Hyouka

A sweet, clean, and pleasant little family show, Hyouka is about an apathetic high schooler who is inspired by a group of friends, including a pretty cute, curious girl, to solve little mysteries for his school. He is intelligent and quirky, and his personal growth as a character is delightful. This anime also has some of the most beautiful animation I’ve ever seen.  Just look at that eye!

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Warning: Japanese hot springs are very popular in anime. There is one episode where the characters go to a hot spring.  No body parts are shown, but one character gets woozy thinking about girls bathing behind a fence.  If you ignore this episode and chalk it up to the writer being in a weird mood that day, the rest is just charming.

There are 22 episodes in this show, and the pacing of the cutesy mysteries might be slow to some.  However, the characters themselves and their interactions make this one a favorite.

5. Kanon

56301Heading the liminal fantasy + break your heart open genres are works by the visual novel company, Key.  (visual novel = interactive computer game story) Many of their visual novels were turned into anime shows. Their best work, in my opinion, isn’t the Clannad series, but Kanon (the 2006 version). It’s not terribly long with a second season like the ever-popular Clannad, nor does it have over-the-top characters.  Instead, each of the Kanon girls have highly fascinating backstories. I was obsessed with this anime, and also watched it very early on in my anime career. The liminal fantasy was modest and subtle, instead of throwing us into a highly elaborate world.  It brought soft elements of fantasy to us, while still focusing on the inter-personal relationships and romance. The story could’ve been set anywhere, and there’s even an English dub (although I don’t think it’s a good one) for the viewer who’s set against subtitles.

The music is gorgeous, the girls are amazing, and you care about their deeply personal and often tragic stories. Highly recommend this one.

Warning: Thematic elements. There’s also a surprise violent scene or two but nothing graphic.  Still definitely a PG.

One character makes a joke about asking another character to buy a pornographic magazine for him.  She refuses.  Again, nothing else is sexual about the entire show, so the line was completely pointless.

6. Patema Inverted

patemainverted_dvd-fTruly gorgeous, imaginative movie, where the sky animation is so amazing you’ll get acrophobia. I showed my whole non-anime-watching family this movie at Christmas and even my dad enjoyed it. They said it was unique and a really entertaining story.

Basically, the world has been divided into two groups of people with opposing gravity, and one girl and boy find each other.  Think a younger Upside Down without all the terrible plot holes and bad pacing.  So much better.

Warning: None. Just a fantastic movie. The plot isn’t even set in Japan, so there’s nothing culturally confusing about it in the least.

7. RWBY

rwby_poster_contest_submission_1_by_vnixxir-d6etrosThis anime-style show is actually American, but is always grouped with its Japanese sisters. The art and graphics in the show get better with each season, but can take getting used to in the beginning. A story about hunters and huntresses in a magic-type school learning to defend their nation while working together.

Warning: Many of the females in this show are pretty immodest, so it might be one I recommend to watch by yourselves, ladies. The first season has silly teenage drama, but when you get to season 2, the plot thickens. By season 3, you’re thrown into an epic story that’s highly entertaining.  RWBY also has some of the best animated battle scenes I’ve ever seen.

8. Avatar: The Last Airbender

avatar-the-last-airbender-free-downloadAgain, this is American, produced on the Nickelodeon channel, but it’s no secret it was succeeded in borrowing a lot of Japanese anime elements.  Safe enough for kids (who can look past the Buddhist-undertones), this show thrilled many adults too. Highly recommend if you’re thinking of breaking into the anime scene but want a safe marriage between something American and something Japanese-feeling.  Poignant characters and huge battles between good and evil, it’s one of those shows where I wish I could wipe my brain just so I can rewatch it with all the delight of seeing it for the first time all over again.

Warning: Some New Age/Buddhist talk – maybe for the older, mature child and adults

 

Live Action (Korean/Japanese Dramas and Movies)

(Most can be found legally on Dramafever.com and Viki.com)

1. Bara no nai Hanaya

172252356144716358_9af14e52_medOne of the most Christian dramas to ever come out of Japan, this is a show with the most selfless male character I’ve ever seen.  In a slow-paced, beautiful display of love (both to his little girl, as well as to the woman pretending to be blind to cheat him), Shiomi Eiji is a fantastic character. I watched this drama a second time and showed it to my mom and sister.  My mom cried every single episode without fail, and then went out and bought the show for herself.

Unfortunately, though, this show is pretty unknown and hard to find.  One would like to imagine the writer was a believer himself, so maybe it wasn’t as popular in spiritually-dark Japan. This is a beautiful Christlike love story in every way.

Warning: There is the most random cross-dressing character that shows up for one quick scene near the end.  It makes no sense and has nothing to do with the story.

2. Death Note and Death Note: The Last Name (movies)

46791113980218_5e2be54e_c2xI don’t recommend the Death Note anime to American newbies, even though it’s fantastic, because the ending goes down a very strange path that frustrated a lot of people, including me. The Death Note movies clean up the ending and change it a bit to make it more tidy and sensible. If you want to get this highly intellectual, cat-and-mouse thriller, but you’re not a purist who needs it in its original manga form with its bad ending, choose the Death Note movies instead.

Basically, an intelligent high school student finds a notebook that claims if he writes someone’s name in it and picture their face, he can kill them on the spot. The highschooler is then forced into a moral dilemma of playing god and goes to battle against the world’s most brilliant – and quirky – detective.

Warning: There are a lot of warnings on this one.  Definitely a PG-13, there is a death god spirit who is pretty scary-looking who follows the main characters around. A very morbid set of movies, I recommend it for the mature viewer.  However, it’s not about blood, guts, and action like you’d have to put up with in America.  Instead, this slower-paced dark show treats the viewer like an intellectual equal by letting you into some really brainy heads. Very well-written.

Do NOT watch “L: Change the World” as it is a non-canon, highly violent side story that I couldn’t stomach or get through.  It has nothing to do with the original plot and should be ignored.

3. Dream Knight

w475oerl_fc8273_c2xIf you enjoyed High School musical, you can put up with the one or two song and dance numbers in this adorable short drama from Korea. A teenager’s dream, a girl has a group of guys magically show up when she’s alone and having trouble in school. The short series takes a very serious and meaningful turn, though, and I was enchanted by how much emotional sweetness they packed into the twelve 13-minute episodes. A really charming liminal fantasy highschool romance that would make sense to any American viewer who watched Disney channel.  I might have squealed out loud a time or two.  *cough*

Warning: (Cute) teenage drama, and a mention of suicide

4. Healer

fullsizephoto531120Have you ever wanted more Jason Bourne coupled with a sweet romance? You got it in Healer.  Having nothing to do with medical illness, “Healer” is the codename of a night courier, basically the Korean version of Jason Bourne, who faces a big moral dilemma when he starts falling in love with the woman he’s been hired to investigate and protect. This Korean drama has it all: action, love, backstory, political evil, mystery, a hilarious computer guru, and outstanding acting. I also had to watch this one through twice – showing it to my husband the second time, and I still enjoy reruns of my favorite scenes.

Warning: PG-13 for the action and thematic elements.  A couple is shown in bed after kissing, but it’s not clear that anything sexual happened.  A few scenes later the young man tells her father they didn’t do anything. Korean shows tend to be very modest, culminating the romance with kissing only, so even while sleeping they are shown entirely clothed and purity is often implied.

5. I Hear Your Voice

ihyv2Imagine if a little boy had the super power of hearing people’s thoughts, and was the only witness to his father’s murder, along with an older high school girl. Now imagine that girl grows up to be a lawyer and the boy a young man whose only goal in life is to protect her so that when the murderer gets out of prison, she can survive.

Mixing in great Perry-Mason-courtroom scenes with a budding “noona-romance” (younger guy with a woman older than he), I Hear Your Voice is a deep, thoughtful, psychological courtroom romance with a fantasy twist.

Warning: Definitely violence and scary characters.  There are a couple of murders and very tense scenes.  PG-13

6. Mirai Nikki (THE JAPANESE DRAMA)

63232769622524244_057fa50c_c2xI repeat again, the Japanese drama from 2012, NOT THE ANIME.  The anime is a piece of disturbing, violent nastiness that I refuse to see, being so revolted by the descriptions of the show I couldn’t sleep at night.

HOWEVER, the Japanese put out an 11-episode drama with the same name that supposedly bears only a slight resemblance to the manga and anime with the same name. This drama was a real treat! Fascinating mystery, kept us guessing the whole time, and, I repeat, CLEAN.  A great clean drama that we could enjoy without feeling in the slightest bit dirty. I highly recommend it to an American breaking into watching Asian dramas.  Just please avoid the anime.

Warning: Definitely psychologically tense and thriller scenes.  PG-13

 

Happy watching!  And remember to watch everything at your own risk.  My recommendation is, by no means, infallible for every viewer.  Do your research and enjoy eastern storytelling!  🙂

 

 

 

Liminal Fantasy and the Stupid Heroine

“I have the ability to tell the future.  I don’t know why or how, but I have it.”

“And what are you doing with this ability?”

“Selling peaches at a roadside stand and going to your Podunk school where I have no friends.”

– Any liminal fantasy book anywhere

BEWARE: Spoilers abound

I really like liminal fantasy.  Truly.  It’s like the marriage of realistic, issue-driven drama that I write and read, with the fantasy that the rest of the world writes and reads.  It’s a win-win compromise for all parties.  Something for everyone.

The definition of “liminal fantasy” is that the fantastic element is part of the normal universe and, though they may not like its effects, everybody seems to just accept it.  When literary fiction (click for definition) does fantasy, it’s usually liminal.

Common examples of this are the anime show Clannad: After Story.  It’s about as slice-of-life as anime comes, except for magical lights that can reverse time and change the course of the future at the end.

Freaky Friday is another one.  Here we have a normal world, normal teenager, and a normal mother (Well, as normal as Jamie Lee Curtis can be!), who suddenly find themselves with their bodies switched.  There is really no explanation for the magical occurrence, and you know, by the end, that it will never happen to this pair again.

Mary Poppins – involving one woman, a nanny, who can bend the laws of the universe a bit just for a chimney sweep and two kids, and who disappears into the air by the end of the movie

The Lake House – where one mailbox at one special glass house has the ability to send letters back and forward two years into the past or future

Click – a magical remote control lets a man mess with his life

Zapped – a dog training app lets a girl control all men

Death Note – a high school guy gets a notebook that lets him kill people by writing their name inside while thinking of their face.

You get the point.  Liminal fantasy is fun, because it takes a human being in his or her natural element, and gives reality a little twist.  It’s fun to think about what it would be like to have a little bit of a superhero power, or to watch people stumble around comically when their bodies change.

I just finished two recent liminal fantasy novels: When (by Victoria Laurie) and Ask Me (by Kimberly Pauley).

In When, Maddie can see the date when someone will die on their forehead.  In Ask Me, Aria has to answer any question she hears – even if it’s not directed at her – and has to answer honestly, meaning she often predicts the future.

Both girls are painfully, painfully shy, timid, and not very bright.  Unfortunately, both authors have to add the “smart trope,” which states that all main characters are geniuses.  Both girls get good grades, one is interested in an Ivy League school, etc.  This “intelligence” is pointless to the story, and utterly unbelievable.  Neither girl can figure out the murder mystery right in front of them, neither use their gifts and special abilities for much of anything, and neither girl can even make a friend if her life depended on it.  They are stuck in the proverbial box in the most painful way possible.

The main character is a super genius. Like, a SUPER DUPER genius. Mega smart. The smartest. Everything comes quickly and easily to them, and everyone wants them to be the center of their secret government organization or rebel movement. Maybe they’re even the youngest captain of a starship EVER. Be mindful of not making things too easy for your protagonist, whether it’s through super powers or super smarts. – YA Common Cliches by maybegenius.blogspot

The problem that can occur, with most liminal fantasy, is The Lazy Plot, otherwise known as Absent Worldbuilding or Lack of Ripple Effect.

A girl can tell the future by being asked questions she has to answer?  This is world-changing.  Not only would the government want to snatch her up, but she’d be a big commodity to anyone.  Forget solving small town murders.  She’s the next super detective, stopping crime completely.  Death Note does this well, with Light Yagami becoming a super villain and the secret dictator of earth – or at least Japan.

But American YA fiction falls completely flat usually.  Instead, our superhero protagonists spend their days barely scraping by (Aria can’t even afford a cell phone or new clothes, and Maddie spends her days trying to stop her mother from drinking herself to death, telling fortunes/death dates in a dinky back room).  They have no goals, dreams, or ideas of how to use their talents.  These are no Peter Parkers.  Otherwise we’d have another Marvel movie.

It is clear that the author desperately wants their story to involve average high schoolers in average situations.

Therefore, she has to dumb her entire world down – especially her in-the-know protagonist and the protagonist’s family members.  In order not to become a crime-fighting Spiderman alter ego, but to keep things simple and close-to-home in a teenage romance mystery, the main characters have to not only be as dull as dirt, but pretty self-absorbed as well.  Keeping their secrets to themselves, painfully shy, over-the-top introverted, and full of confused, angsty teenage thoughts, the girls fail to deliver.

The entire world fails to deliver.  Whether it’s FBI agents and police officers who are too stupid to do their job correctly, to love interests that suddenly take an interest in the main girl, to best friends who give lame small-minded advice, the entire world in the YA liminal fantasy novel is unbelieavable.

My epic-fantasy author friends work at it from the reverse angle.  Instead of saying, “Wouldn’t it be neat to have a small town girl solve a murder mystery with this ability?” and forcing their entire world to bend at their whim to make that one scene happen, these authors create entire worlds from the ground up.  Some have put in many, many years (even a decade) – thinking of you, Bethany, Abby, Heidi, Heather, and Nikki – to create languages, politics, cause and effect, and characters to make their speculative fiction as believable as possible.  Their characters act like human beings.  There aren’t plot holes created in order to keep their teenage protagonists stuck in high schools where they are misunderstood and disregarded.

I respect my fantasy author friends!  I like to write realistic, non-fantasy stories to keep things as believable as possible, and I’m not sure I could do what they do.  To me, realism and humanity isn’t worth compromising, even to entertain.  I respect the great undertaking that is creating a new reality in your fictional story that truly works!

The liminal fantasy books I recently read can be enjoyable on a mere mystery level, as long as you suspend belief enough to realize that the whole world has dropped about 50 IQ points.  If you can put up with the selfish, reclusive inner fears of the main characters, you might enjoy one of these stories.

However, in these novels, the only characters, who have these sorts of realistic, intelligent thoughts and bigger ideas, are the bad guys.  If the author merely took time to give her characters some creativity and brains, no one would still be stuck in Podunk town going to high school.  They’d be out changing the world, which would instantly take it out of the slice-of-life genre.   Therefore, the goals of the liminal fantasy writer can often be mutually exclusive.  You either write realistic YA teenage drama, or you write fantasy.  The two rarely work well together.

The exception is when the liminal fantasy element is negative, and not a desired ability.  I can see how body-switching wouldn’t be anything but awkward, undesirable, and comedic.  No one would be out saving the world as a man in a woman’s body – that is, unless you become a counselor!

Or how about the fantasy element in one of my favorite books, Ella Enchanted (NOT the movie)?  Ella has to follow every command given her.  That’s something I’d want to hide and be selfish about in order to protect myself, if it were me!

Still, even if your character was cursed, I’d think anybody with half of a brain would want to go dissect it and figure it out.  WHY can I see death dates?  WHY do solar panels and water damage make my phone app control human beings? WHY does this nanny show up with a talking umbrella?  Where’s the science, people?

Maybe I haven’t learned how to shut off my brain yet and just be entertained.  🙂

My Husband’s and My Secret Anime Personas

I like to think of myself as represented by Mami Tomoe from Puella Magi Madoka Magica.

My husband aspires to be L from Death Note.

Therefore, I combined these two into a sweet, couple, watercolor painting for the two of us.

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Get your own!  Anime portraits start at $15 for one character and $10 for the second + shipping!

(Tonight I just finished the first anime drawing I was hired to do.  Will be posting that later!)Chad Journal

Also, don’t forget to share this post to receive extra entries into the Chad Journal Drawing!  Comment on this post to let me know you shared it.

Subscribe to this blog to enter as well.  This blog must receive 75 subscribers before the journal will be given away to one random entrant!

 

RJ Conte’s books.  Click on each picture for more information:

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