The 2D Revolution

Qoutation of Mao Zedong with Oolong the Pig

A list of anime's that I feel are of interest to a class conscious viewer.

I'm sure I'm not the only one to notice the correlation between young people engaging with words like `Socialism` and sentiments like `Eat the Rich` with anime avatars? Currently everything that can present itself as an alternative to capitalism from religious spiritualism to Anarchistic terrorism is experiencing a boom in popularity.

The other thing the kids are into right now is mass market Japanese pulp entertainment lumped under the banner of anime. Now Anime (I'm also including the stuff that comes with it like comics, games, toys etc.) is incredibly divisive, there have been arguments about its artistic merits if any, workplace practices within the industry, this one has a consensus that its generally low paid highly demanding work, but what is to be done about it is still pretty controversial, and its political content. Oh boy, that last one can get fierce.

The way I see it Anime isn't a genre or art style its a medium, animation. All anime are cartoons and all cartoons are anime. Overall Japan's animation industry is like anyone else's, its also become increasingly incorporated into the global animation industry, the credits of most of them include South Korean and Chinese studio's for example. Some films were created by Directors because it was their life long ambition to make them, others were churned out by committee so a corporation to milk a trend before the consumer base moved on to something else.

Cyber punk and Blade Runner were also hugely influential in the 80s and 90s, so there are a lot of shows from those periods about fighting the big bad megacorps. Bubblegum Crisis is one that gets highly rated for this.

However this does mean that their are some really interesting stuff for anyone if they're willing to look. For example I don't like Japanese jokes, even when I understand the pun its just a lame pun, but I really enjoy trashy, gory horror flicks, and I've been enjoying anime versions of these since I was a child, thank you very much SciFi channel and that German language channel on diamond cable.

If you're feeling misanthropic, then there are plenty of direct to video movies from the lte 80s-early 90s made by creators whom sincerely believed that humanity was a mistake and so made miserable films about humans being really horrible to each other.

If that doesn't suit you, then there are plenty of fluffy slice of life comedy series that are just about friends being hanging out and being good friends. Like Azumnaga Daioh, Lucky Star, Free! etc.

And I know of at least one Anime that called Angel Cop, which was made to promote Nazi party anti-Semitism. That is not a joke or me reading into something, the plot of Angel Cop is that a Communist terrorist movement and an American multinational corporation are both attacking the prosperous and independent nation of Japan. It turns out that both are being controlled by "The Jews"... Incidentally that was one of the earlier animes to be released in the West, you know how they handled the anti-Semitism? They just cut out the references to Jewish people, and left all the other nationalism and bigotry in.

Fortunately overtly political message anime tends to lean the over way, a number of famous and influential directors, writers, artists and animators came out of the Japanese New left of the 1960s and 70s. Including the very famous Hayao Miyazaki, and so I've decided to compile a list of socialistic ( a broad sense) anime's. For both the anime leftist and confused new comer alike. This is just a list and brief description of merits, I have seen more in epth reviews of a number of these shows and will include them, though do bear in mind I don't necessarily agree with everything the say.

Steamboy

A story about the invention of a revolutionary new form of steam power that could improve the whole of mankind. Essentially cold fusion but with steam. Unfortunately the cost of developed this new power meant the inventors had to get investment funds from a company called O'Hara and while its pleased the research project was successful, it really wants dividends on its investment as soon as possible and the fastest way to get a quick profit is of course weapon sales.

In a sense its about how property holds back technological development. The British Imperial Government gets involved, and at first it seems noble compared to the O'Hara mega company, but it becomes clear that they wish to get a hold of the steam technology to develop their own weapons programs and prevent O'Hara from selling weapons to its Imperial rivals.

So neither government or capital come out of this film looking very good, they're both self interested and hypocritical. There's a battle scene between the police and a private security army, highlighting the similarities.

Our hero is a working class lad from Manchester and his inventor Grandad whom wanted to build a new society using the nearly unlimited energy of this new invention he largely pioneered. Its animation is beautiful, it has a very steam punk look, with tanks and fighter planes as they might have looked in the 1860s. It did get some criticism from purists because it was an early adopter of Computer Graphic animation, but it blends with the traditional animations pretty well in my opinion.

If you can, I'd recommend watching the English dub, the dialogue is full of nineteenth century colloquialism's and the cast even manage to pull off Mancunian accents.

The Wings of Honnêamise

No I don't know what a Honnêamise is either, googling just brings up this anime film. I'm just going to call it Wings from now on. Wings is a lot like Steamboy, its about an attempt to put a man into space. Its like Yuri Gagarin the anime. It set in a world that isn't really earth, they're all humans but the nations and history and cultures are very different.

The space agency is incredibly underfunded, and the only way for them to get some support from their government to get a rocket ship and capsule built and ready for launch is to highlight its potential military capabilities. They're all dedicated to space exploration and have no interest in war but they're desperate for funds. One drawback is that a hostile nation now views the program as a threat and tensions between the two nations increase.

Again naked greed and self interest from the powerful actively impedes scientific progress and discovery. It ends with Lhadatt the cosmonaut getting into space and reflecting and praying for humanity to improve itself.
And unfortunately I'm not doing it much justice, its very beautiful in both its looks and its music and sound design.

There's a video review that does show some of that off, but it does also go into extreme detail about the plot and characters so use with caution.

link https://youtu.be/RACl1lhEtGU

There is however one flaw in this film which I should mention, at one point there's an attempted rape scene. I don't why its there, its uncomfortable and doesn't seem to add anything to the story or characters, if anything it diminishes it. It doesn't last long, but it does stick out there. I've been told there are censored versions that just cut that part out, I don't know if that's true, but if it is I'd recommend watching that version.


The Great Adventure of Horus Prince of the Sun


The Adventure of Horus was an early project of Hayao Miyazaki. He and his colleagues had a mission statement to make a film about `Socialist principles`. What this meant in practice is a fairy tale like fantasy film set in a Vikingish land where Horus and his fishing village must work together to defeat an evil Wizard. The villains are all guilty of selfishness in one form or another, wealth, immortality at the expense of other lives etc, and unlike most fantasy stories where the hero and maybe a band of warriors does all the work Horus does need the help and support of the village to resist and defeat the Evil Power.

Personally I think this is perfect for young children, it has lovely singing, and talking animals, including an adorable bear cub called Koro.

Gundam 0083 - War in the Pocket

Gundam is a massive franchise, and I mean massive. There are dozens of anime series, some have continuity with others, some don't, there have been multiple films, video games, comic series, novels toys and model kits. It can be incredibly overwhelming. I've started getting into it, but I had to use a guide written up by a mega fan who had seen it all to figure out where to start and what to skip.

The franchise is famous for its criticisms of war and militarism and given that its been in existence since 1979 and is still going strong today, it maybe the longest running criticism of war and militarism in existence. Unfortunately the quality and extent of that criticism can vary wildly depending on what part of the franchise is being looked at.


With that in mind I've picked War in the Pocket as out of what I've seen its both the most damming in its criticism and accessible to newcomers. It was the first series I'd seen, I didn't really know much at all about the franchise but I had no trouble getting it.

Its six episodes long, and fairly self contained, it does have connections to other shows in the franchise but it isn't vital. It concerns a young boy in a fair away colony. There's a war going on but so far its left their part of space alone, Alfred and his friends like most young boys when there's a war on far away are obsessed with it. Trading stories and war toys etc. Then the war comes home and Alfred still obsessed with the exciting adventure gets caught up in it, makes friends with some soldiers and well the ending is very bitter.

SFDebris did a review of each episode of the series if you'd want more info, massively spoilers though.

Berserk

I've already talked at length about Berserk previously, so I'll just quickly summarise Berserk is in my opinion about power. Domination be it economic, political or personal is never benign. The rich and powerful are cruel even if they don't intend to be, those whom pursue power and wealth do so at the expense of others.

As a consequence of this the series is full of depictions of violence, torture, emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, death in many forms, bigotry, discrimination, persecution, exploitation, slavery, etc. But unlike certain animes that indulge in these things for marketing its all key to the themes, plot and character development.

Guts the protagonist (with the big sword) is a damaged young man who was raised by a mercenary whom while teaching him how to fight and having a sort of paternalistic affection for him, also relentlessly exploited the power and influence he had on the boy and ultimately betrayed him. It takes him years to even start coming to terms with his trauma's and in a way he never has done. The reason he's such an excellent fighter, is revealed to be because fighting in a life or death struggle was the only way he knew how to cope with the emotional turmoil he was in. It takes him years to even tolerate being physically touched by even a friend.

Authorities of every type, religious, military, financial, governmental are shown to be self interested and harmful to the common people.

There's a review of the 1997 series


Link https://youtu.be/tO5bXW1tfhE

And a review of the 1997 series and manga

Link https://youtu.be/rQaUEr65eaI

The Flying Ghost Ship

This one is admittedly quite light, its more a fun mystery adventure then a meaty stew of themes and political discourse. It starts out like a anime version of Scooby Doo, it even has an intelligent Great Dane. This was also another early film Hayao Miyazaki worked on in 1969. It was also the first anime to be shown in theatres in the Soviet Union, and is so popular in Russia that they redubbed it in the 90s, though I've not been able to find a reason why.

Its a light mystery involving a ghost ship, a giant robot that menaces the city, and a conspiracy between private companies and the government complete with a Roger Moore era Bond villain secret base. It has something for everyone. I won't spoil the plot since its a mystery show, but I will tell you that involves the pushing of an addictive soda drink.

Its probably the most spotty in terms of animation, at one point a character is literally slid onto the screen. But all the parts that need to look good, the robot attacks, the Ghost ship, the tanks moving into the city etc. I heard Toei had funding issues at this time, if so then they prioritised very well, the set pieces all look and move very well.

AKIRA

This is controversial for me, I know a lot of people responded to AKIRA as a story about punkish youths getting caught up in a government conspiracy to do... well something, and its probably something bad given that this a pretty authoritarian government with a powerful and very active police and army.

And if you've never seen it its worth watching. Its interesting it looks great, and I do know a few people who responded really well to a general impression of anti establishment resistance the film gives off.

But politically speaking its incredibly vague and kind of a mess, Kaneda the youth on the iconic red bike just stumbles into the plot because a mate of his gets nabbed and he's really attracted to Kei, and her rebel group is shown to be puppets of a corrupt politician. It doesn't help that the plot of the film is itself vague and kind of a mess.

Aggretsuko

Aggretsuko is a short series about modern Japanese worklife. Retsuko is an officious worker whose treated very poorly like most staff, however a combination of her being very nice and eager to help and being a woman means she's singled out for additional abuse and exploitation. She works long hours in a career that's stalled for an abusive manager whose literally a sexist pig.

She can complain about his behaviour, but her coworkers and friends point out how nothing will probably happen to him apart from alerting him that she tried to get him in trouble. Her only consolation is going to a Karaoke booth after work and screaming out Death Metal tirades about how terrible her boss and work is.

The whole show is about alienation at work and sexism. Later on she does befriend two women who are higher up in the company whom help her and she reaches a sort of truce with her sexist manager. This has put off some people who were really into the show. However this does lead to a really important bit, after some confrontations her manager reflects on why he's been so personally abusive and exploitative of his power over the office staff.

He hasn't just been demanding the staff commit to the workload and follow the companies rules, he's been dumping his own work on them and demanding of servant like behaviour too. He realises that back when he was a grunt in the company his managers treated him in the same way, only it was worse because back then there were fewer safeguards and an even more hostile workplace culture rooted in seniority. So when he became a manager he took out all his frustrations on the employee's beneath him and exploited everything shred of power he had.

There's a pretty good review of it here.

Link https://youtu.be/yp_Nts2XpfA

Jin-Roh

This ones a bit different, you may have seen an image of what looks like a future Nazi stormtrooper, being shared around on forums and social media, something like this

This character is from Jin-Roh. Jin-Roh is a sort of alternative history film. Japan is largely a police state with a very large and very active militant left wing revolutionary movement. The opening of Jin-Roh is a riot with a very well armed resistance taking on armed riot police. In response to this social upheaval the government created another police unit specifically to destroy armed terrorists.

Those are the fellows in the armour and glowing red eyes. Essentially they're a death squad. That and the look is probably why right wing types on the net love sharing images and clips of the film. Out of context its a powerful and intimidating image of right wing power. For me though I just assume they haven't bothered watching the film, because in context he doesn't say what they want it to say.

Jin-Roh is the story of one of the members of these special units. You may wonder why I'm including this here, well its because the film doesn't actually glorify these Special Units at all. On the contrary it comes across rather critical, the plot involves power plays between the Special Units and other rival police forces who are constantly jockeying for position in this authoritarian regime. Its also concerned with the question of how much humanity does someone in that position have left? The answer is not much, its incredibly dehumanising, that armour may look cool and intimidating but do that job for long enough and eventually all you are is a bit of armour and a gun, a miserable, sad and lonely existence.

Kill La Kill

Kill La Kill (KLK) is basically the reason I thought about making this list. When I first noticed that internet users with anime avatars were no longer just spewing racist bile or calling me a Jewish agent, a lot of the openly left wing ones had avatars based on characters from KLK or were sharing meme's images and clips from this show. So I got curious.

It popped up on Netflix and I binged the show in a couple of days. Its very watchable and I can see why it appealed. The first scenes open on a lecture about the Nazi party and it uses school uniforms and clothing in general as a metaphor for social conformity and oppression. The main character Ryuko Matoi the girl with the black hair with the red stripe, (incidentally I don't think her red and black colour scheme is coincidental) is new student, she's a rebel at heart who rejects all arbitrary rules. She quickly finds herself in conflict with the school authorities whom have a regime based on strict discipline and hierarchy.

And its quickly revealed that theirs a whole social system being built on the same lines throughout Japan, and there's a clothing company that's busy monopolising the global textile markets in the background.

Its a great show, unfortunately there is one area that I know from experience does put off some people from getting into it. KLK involves a lot of scenes with scantily clad high schools. Unlike some anime's I don't remember it showing this in a leering way, the tone is usually self aware joking, but it still is jokes about high school students beating each other up in skimpy costumes. I don't recommend searching KLK at work, even some of the official promotional material and merchandise would raise some eyebrows.

For me its the weakest part of the show, and I can't really blame anyone for being put off because of it. Though that is a shame.

Tokyo Godfathers

Tokyo Godfathers is a film about three homeless people whom discover an abandoned baby at Christmas. They decide to look after the baby they call Kiyoko, for a night or two before handing her over to the authorities because they fear the baby will grow up to associate Christmas with abandonment. While doing this they decide to track down the parents to reunite the baby, or at least find out why the baby was abandoned in the first place.

This leads to a wacky adventure full of coincidences. The film is like a mix of Down and Out in Paris and London, a Charlie Chaplin era physical comedy. While their are jokes, the fact these people are homeless is never mocked or the subject of a joke, the humour comes from the personalities. Being homeless is depicted as rather bleak even with close friends and a sort of support network. It's full of examples of how homelessness in Japan is treated (about as poorly as everywhere else) and how the homeless survive. We see the three -a transwoman who worked as a drag queen at a cross dressers bar, a young girl runaway and Gin a man who due to debts had his family life destroyed- deal with all sorts of obstacles just moving through the city.

Official society, especially the police are no help at all and aside from handouts from a Christian group who give them a meal in exchange for being proselytised to, they're only help is from other outcasts. They could just give the baby up to the nearest police station, but all that will happen then is that the baby will be swallowed up and passed around by the foster system. At least this way the baby has a chance at family life first.

They essentially form a quasi family and mutual aid group, by working together and pooling what money and connections they have they're able to make it across Tokyo while looking after a baby.

Its really emotional, but due to the subject it covers a lot of pretty raw topics. Hana the transwoman is called a man and several slur words (at least that was how the subtitles translated them*) throughout though Hana is not ridiculed by the film and is shown to be accepted by the other homeless and the character who does insult her a lot is shown to be an well meaning but flippant and ignorant arse. Its not depicted as malicious and he is shown to care about her deeply and they have a weird surrogate relationship going on.

It also covers abandonment, the destructive power of debt, social prejudices, trauma, suicide, relationship breakdowns and how hard it can be to reconnect with family members even when both sides are willing to give it a go.

Despite the humour and the strong emotional core its still quite a sad film.

*I watched this subtitled without an English language track. Apparently while Tokyo Godfathers was localised and released internationally the company that did it didn't bother to dub it at all.

A review

link https://youtu.be/NavLUAm24IA
Skip to around 07:42 to avoid a tiresome tangent about subbing and dubbing.

Manga's

Onwards Towards Our Noble Deaths

Onwards Towards Our Noble Deaths is a fictionalised autobiographical manga by Shigeru Mizuki based on his experiences as a conscript in the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) sent to Papua New Guinea. When pushed Mizuki has stated that about 90% of it is fact. During the war the most of his compatriots were killed and he lost his left arm, and while I recall a lot of the men dying I don't recall a character losing their left arm, so I guess that was the 10% fiction.

Its incredibly bleak, the men are exhausted, starving and eaten by the wildlife and that's before the American army arrive to shoot at them. The style is like a newspaper cartoon with characters heavily caricatured, the exception is scenes of brutality which are almost photorealistic. Its a chilling contrast. Onwards doesn't just say war is physically hell and leave it at that though. It actively depicts military discipline and the officers as brutal, and it ridicules and denounces the militaristic propaganda and the bizarre cult of death prominent amongst Japan's right wing.

A character actually asks a superior why the IJA aren't allowed to surrender after a hard fight, it can't be that surrendering is a form of weakness, the European and American soldiers are allowed to surrender and their winning the battle and the war. The only answer he gets is a smack in the mouth. The unit is eventually order on a suicide march against a superior opposition.

Capital

Capital is a two volume Manga that explains and illustrates various parts of Karl Marx's economic work Das Kapital. Not really much to say really, their is an linking story of a business that grows from a simple one man workshop into a massive cheese production factory. If you're having trouble with the original I recommend giving the manga a try.

Volume I
Volume II