Book Review: Sisters of the Revolution: A Feminist Speculative Fiction Anthology edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer
As the subtitle of this volume indicates, it’s a collection of 29 short stories written from a feminist perspective. There are selections from the 1960s through the 2000s–SF, fantasy, horror and a couple of stories that seem to be included out of courtesy because of “surrealism.”
The anthology begins with “The Forbidden Words of Margaret A.” by L. Timmel Duchamp, an account of a journalist’s meeting with a woman whose use of language is considered so dangerous that a Constitutional amendment has been passed to specifically ban those words. The journalist has a photo-op with Margaret A. in the prison that woman is being held in, and the experience changes her. It’s an interesting use of literary techniques to suggest the power of Margaret A.’s words without ever directly quoting them.
The final story is “Home by the Sea” by Elisabeth Vonarburg, in which a gynoid in a post-apocalyptic world returns to her mother/creator to ask some questions. The answers to those questions both disturb and give new hope. Like several other stories in the volume, this one deals with the nature of motherhood, and the mother-daughter relationship.
There are some of the classic stories that are almost mandatory for the subject of feminist speculative fiction: “The Screwfly Solution” by James Tiptree, Jr. (men abruptly start murdering people they’re sexually attracted to, mostly women but the story tacitly acknowledges homosexuality); “When It Changed” by Joanna Russ (a planet with an all-female society is contacted by men from Earth after centuries of isolation–it originally ran in Again, Dangerous Visions, an anthology for stories with themes considered too controversial to be published elsewhere, times have changed); and Octavia K. Butler’s “The Evening the Morning and the Night” (a woman with a genetic disorder discovers that she has a gift that fits her exactly for a specific job, whether she wants that job or not.)
The anthologists have also made an effort to include stories that are “intersectional”, providing perspectives from other parts of the world. “The Palm Tree Bandit” by Nnedi Okorofor tells the story of a Nigerian woman who defies a sexist tradition and starts one of her own. Nalo Hopkinson’s “The Glass Bottle Trick” is a retelling of the Bluebeard story in modern Jamaica (this time the women avenge their own), and “Tales from the Breast” by Hiromi Goto, wherein a Japanese-Canadian woman discovers a solution to her breastfeeding problems.
Some other standouts include: “The Grammarian’s Five Daughters” by Eleanor Arnason (a fairy tale about language); “The Fall River Axe Murders” by Angela Carter (one of the stories that really doesn’t feel like speculative fiction, but is really well-written, set in the moments just before Lizzie Borden is about to get up and kill her parents) and “Stable Strategies for Middle Management” by Eileen Gunn (how far would you go to fit into the corporate culture? Would you let them shoot you up with insect genes?)
Tanith Lee’s “Northern Chess” is a fantasy tale of a warrior woman infiltrating a castle cursed to be a deathtrap by an evil alchemist. It’s exciting, but the ending relies on a now-hoary twist. Still worth reading if you haven’t had the chance before.
Most of the other stories are at least middling good. The weakest for me was “My Flannel Knickers” by Leonora Carrington, which falls into the surrealist category and seems to be about a woman who has rejected conventional beauty standards. Probably.
Rape, sexualized violence and domestic abuse are discussed; I’d put this book as suitable for bright senior high schoolers, though individual stories could be enjoyable by younger readers.
Recommended for feminists, those interested in feminist themes, and anthology fans.
Book Review: A Memory This Size and Other Stories: The Caine Prize for African Writing 2013 Introduction by Lizzy Attree
The Caine Prize is awarded to a short story written by an African author (which primarily means one born in Africa–all the authors in this volume are from Sub-Saharan Africa), published in English in the last five years and submitted for consideration. This volume contains the five stories that were shortlisted for the prize in 2013, plus twelve more written at a workshop sponsored by the Caine Prize.
The collection leads off with the 2013 winner, “Miracle” by Tope Folarin. A group of Nigerian immigrants attend a tent revival in Texas. A great faith healer is scheduled to appear, but will there be a miracle tonight, and what form will it take? I found this to be rather a blah story, but I am not one of the judges for the contest and don’t know what criteria they based the decision on. Nigerians dominate this volume, with four of the five shortlisted stories and several of the workshop ones as well.
Three of the five shortlisted stories have a heavy Africa-America connection, to the point that Chinelo Okparanta’s story is actually titled “America.” A schoolteacher who wishes to join her lover there uses the Gulf oil spill as a wedge to try to convince the immigration people to give her a green card. There’s an interesting ending in which the protagonist remembers hearing a folktale similar to ‘Jack the Giant-Killer” except that it stops short of the “ever after” with no explanation of what happens past a certain point.
The title story, “A Memory This Size” by Elnathan John concerns a man mourning for his brother, who died years ago, and yet he cannot let go.
There are common themes in these stories, most of which are “slice of life” tales: government corruption, marital infidelity and environmental destruction.
There are a couple of stories that move into the “magical realism” camp (that is, fantasy, but not called that so critics can treat it as actual literature.) The better one is “Howl” by Rotimi Babatunde, about a dog named Jack who may or may not have the extraordinary powers the villagers think, but is certainly not a normal dog. “Clapping Hands for a Smiling Crocodile” by Stanley Onjezani Kenani, however, has the best title in this volume. That story is about a fishing village threatened by oil developers, and the sacrifice one man makes to save their way of life.
I also enjoyed “Stuck” by Davina Kawuma, told in a series of emails by a young woman who is tempted to have an affair. One final email changes everything.
My least favorite story was “Foreign Aid” by Pede Hollist. This tale of a man who returns to Sierra Leone after many years in America, thinking he will be a big man thanks to his money, was too predictable and made me cringe rather than care.
That said, I am glad I took the chance to read this book and learn what some African writers are doing. There are thirteen volumes of Caine Prize stories published; check your inter-library loan system for any one of them.
I should also mention that there is some disturbing subject matter, and would best suited for college age and up.
Comic Book Review: Uptown Girl Imitation of Life by Bob Lipski
This is another collection of the Uptown Girl comic book stories, filled in with short newer pieces. The main stories feature Rocketman’s never before mentioned career as a pinball champion (and the forgotten rival who wants revenge), and a zoo-related saga that combines an artistic monkey, a talking car, and a robotic dinosaur. Smaller pieces talk about comics and gaming fandom, and Uptown Girl’s sometimes difficult relationship with modern technology. And downer appearances by Sulky Girl.
This is very much a local product of Minneapolis and the surrounding area–see if you can spot all the references! The art is simple but effective, and most of the jokes hit. Uptown Girl tries to do her job as a reporter, Ruby Tuesday tries to do her job as an artist, and Rocketman tries very hard not to do his job as an office drone.
The last story in the volume is “Learning How to Smile” , which is a more somber piece that also provides the book title. Ruby’s uncle has had a stroke, and struggles with the smallest things. This reminds him and her of his mortality, and it’s time for Ruby Tuesday to inherit part of her legacy….
Recommended to small press comics fans, especially in Minnesota.
Once again this year I participated in the “Anime and Manga for Speculative Fiction Fans” panel at Minicon. As promised at the panel, here’s a list of the items mentioned–I make no representations regarding the quality of the ones I have not seen.
.hack: A series of interlocking video games, anime, manga and light novels about a virtual reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) called “The World.” The anime involves a player who abruptly discovers that they can’t log out, and their memories of their real life have vanished. Some parts of the universe have never appeared in a legal English edition, so the explanations contained in these are missing.
Akira: Members of a biker gang in post-apocalypse Tokyo get involved with psychic children, enmeshed in a government conspiracy. Both a really good manga and a decent movie (one of the first anime movies to come to the US labeled as such.)
Assassination Classroom: A junior high class must kill their teacher before graduation or he will destroy the world. Manga and now an anime series–see my previous review.
Attack on Titan: The Earth has been overrun by gigantic humanoids that eat people. The last remnants of humanity huddle behind enormous walls, but now those walls have been breached. It is up to a small army of specially-trained warriors to defend the humans from being devoured. An adequate manga that became a very popular anime. Violent and gory.
Berserk: The nigh-unstoppable warrior known as Guts battles demons invading a medievalish world. The twist is that his former best friend Griffith is the leader of the demons–but the public at large sees him as a savior. A long-running but very slow manga, and two anime series (the first cuts off at the worst possible moment.) Warning: extremely violent, including sexual violence, lots of gore.
Bleach: Ichigo Kurosaki can see ghosts, which is mostly an annoyance until he meets a mysterious girl who gives him the ability to become a Soul Reaper, a kind of psychopomp. After some adventures fighting the evil spirits known as Hollows, Ichigo gets caught up in Soul Reaper politics. Long-running manga and anime, which has been in its final arc for the last two years.
A Certain Magical Index/Scientific Railgun: Interlocking series of light novels and anime taking place in a world where mystics and mutants both exist and attend school together. The series differ primarily in their viewpoint characters. “Index” stars Touma, an unlucky lad with an anti-magic punch, while “Railgun” stars Misaki, an electricity-wielder.
Corpse Party: Originally a survival horror video game, this has also been manga, anime and a live-action movie. When a new school is built on the site of the former Heavenly Host Elementary (torn down after a massacre), some of the students decide to perform a mystic ritual of friendship which goes horribly wrong–they wind up in the old school with the ghosts of the murder victims.
Cowboy Bebop: In the not-so distant future, the solar system has been colonized, but a skyrocketing crime rate allows there to be a subculture of bounty hunters. We follow the quirky crew of the Bebop as they try to stay afloat in the business. Anime series and a really cool movie.
Crest/Banner of the Stars: A light novel series that became an anime and manga. Jinto’s home planet has been taken over by the Abh, a humanoid alien race which has the largest local empire. His father sold out his homeworld in exchange for a position of power, and Jinto has been sent off for education in the empire’s ways. He meets and befriends the Abh princess Lafiel on the way, but they get sidetracked by a war with the remaining human alliances.
Deadman Wonderland: In the near future, Tokyo is destroyed and a prison is built on it, where prisoners are required to battle for the pleasure of viewers. A boy is framed for the murder of his class, imprisoned, and discovers he has bizarre blood-based superpowers. Both manga and anime.
Durarara!!: A light novel series and now anime about the odd happening in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo, It’s urban fantasy with some added elements; everyone has a secret, but few of them are the secrets you might immediately guess. Very entertaining.
Eden of the East: A naked man with a cellphone and a gun but no memory is met by a Japanese tourist at the White House. This begins a rollicking adventure as they try to unravel who he is and why he doesn’t remember anything. Anime series and a couple of wrap-up movies.
Evangelion: In a now-alternate timeline, the Earth is being attacked by alien monsters known as Angels, and must be defended by fourteen-year olds in giant robots. However, not all is as it seems, and the reason the robots require teen pilots is sinister. Started as anime, has had a couple of manga series, is being done as a series of reboot movies. Very influential.
Fairy Tail: Lucy Heartfilia is a young wizard who runs away from home to join the wacky Fairy Tail guild, teaming with a fire specialist named Natsu. They and their guildmates have exciting and long running adventures, both in the manga and anime.
Ghost in the Shell: Cyberpunk action with a special ops group in a future Japan overrun with cyborgs, robots and less definable cyber-beings. Major Motoko Kusanagi, a full-body cyborg, is our main protagonist. Manga and several different anime, both TV and film. Very influential.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time: A high school student discovers the ability to jump through time (literally) and promptly abuses the heck out of it. Eventually, she comes to realize that just overwriting events doesn’t mean they didn’t happen, and there’s a hidden cost to her powers…oh, and they’re about to stop working. Very well done.
Higarashi-When They Cry: A small mountain village is trapped in a time loop–each repeat ends in murder. The characters slowly realize what’s going on, but can they stop it? Originally a “visual novel”, also now anime and manga.
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: A series of series about people with strange powers, all of whom have a “jojo” sound in their name. Check out my review of the first two seasons of the anime adaptation! (The third season, “Stardust Crusaders”, is currently running.)
Kill la Kill: In the indefinite future, a girl seeking revenge for her murdered father comes to a high school ranked by special uniforms, and must partner with a sentient costume to battle against what turns out to be a much larger threat. Warning: nudity, sexual harassment. See my review!
Laputa–Castle in the Sky: A Welsh boy has a girl drop in from the sky–it turns out she’s the last rightful heir to the flying island of Laputa. Another descendant of that dead land wants to use it to conquer the world, and the kids must seek help from sky pirates. Vintage Miyazaki.
Last Exile: An “aeropunk” series set on a world at perpetual war–courier pilots must protect and deliver a girl who is the key to a peaceful resolution. Anime with a manga adaptation.
Legend of the Galactic Heroes: A sprawling epic space opera concerning the clash between two great star nations, and the heroes on each side. Originally a novel series, turned into a lengthy anime. Very rich in character development.
Log Horizon: Another MMORPG gone horribly wrong story–this one is notable for the development of “non-player characters” who suddenly are developing actual personalities and free will.
Medaka Box: A girl who’s good at everything takes problem solving requests from a suggestion box at her school. Several volumes in, it turns out superpowers exist and (according to the fans of the manga) it gets really good. Was turned into a less well received anime series.
Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya: A girl forms a club at her school to look for science-fiction beings, not realizing that she and everyone else in the club are themselves science fiction character types. Light novels, adapted into anime–skip all but the first and last episodes of Endless Eight.
Millennium Actress: A Satoshi Kon film about an actress who played many roles over several decades who’s being interviewed for a retrospective. It interweaves her life story with the history of Japan’s film industry. Some magical realism.
Moribito: A richly-imagined light novel/anime series about a spearwoman who becomes bodyguard to a prince supposedly possessed by an evil spirit. The truth is much more complicated. The author is an anthropology major and it really shows.
Patema Inverted: An experiment to control gravity as an energy source goes horribly wrong and much of Earth suffers inverted gravity, killing billions. The story picks up much later when two young people with different gravity orientations meet and their civilizations clash. This is an Internet-original series.
Record of Lodoss Wars: A Dungeons and Dragons inspired series set on the fantasy island of Lodoss, wracked by periodic wars between good and evil. A band of adventurers discover that there is a hidden hand behind the chaos. Two different animated series–the second is much longer and involves a second generation of heroes.
Redline: A “Wacky Racers in Space” movie–much motor action. The art style takes some getting used to.
Revolutionary Girl Utena: A girl was rescued by a prince as a child. Now Utena has come to Ohtori Academy to become a prince herself. But first she must fight a series of duels. Lots of symbolism and hidden agendas.
Sailor Moon: Wimpy junior high student Usagi discovers that she is actually the reincarnation of a moon princess and becomes a magical girl to fight evil, along with the rest of her Sailor Senshi pals. Manga, anime, live action series, and now rebooted as Sailor Moon Crystal.
Samurai Flamenco: A metafictional series about a male model who decides to become the first real-life superhero. Goes all the way down the rabbit hole and pulls it out the other side. See my review!
Samurai Jack: Japanese warrior trapped in a future where the evil spirit Aku has already won. Not anime, but clearly inspired by it.
Space Dandy: An “alien hunter” (he tracks down new species to register for the government) and his wacky companions run into various bizarre circumstances. Each episode appears to happen in a slightly different reality. Heavy on the fanservice.
String (?): Someone mentioned this, but I have no information on it.
Summer Wars: A math prodigy is invited to his crush’s family reunion to pretend to be her fiance. Meanwhile, an amok AI is taking over Japan’s primary Internet provider. These events are more related than they appear. Very heartwarming movie, but the English dub is heavy on swearing.
Sword Art Online: Our third series about an MMORPG where the players are trapped inside. Very uneven–the first arc is pretty satisfying, but the second is painful and subsequent storylines become divisive. See my review!
Tenchi Muyo–Ryo-Ohki!: Teenage boy discovers that he’s part-alien and has all sorts of alien girls coming on to him. This installment heavily features Ryo-Ohki, the adorable alien cabbit (who might also have a crush on Tenchi.)
Twelve Kingdoms: A very well-done example of the normal(ish) teenager sucked into a fantasy world plotline. Good world-building, and she’s not the first person to be brought over.
Yokohama Shopping Log: A quiet series about a gynoid who runs a cafe after most of humanity has gone away. Very peaceful.
Yukikaze: After an alien invasion, a pilot with an intelligent plane tries to battle the invasion despite interference from other humans.
Your thoughts, comments, anime or manga you’d add?
Disclaimer: I received an uncorrected proof of this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.
Mancreu is dying. This island in the Arabian Sea was once a quiet backwater, last colonized by the British Empire. But a combination of industrial waste and volcanic activity have made the island a biohazardous ecodisaster waiting to happen. A UN mission is just waiting for the final orders to evacuate the locals, and the British government has sent a final Brevet Consul to be the last watchman.
That man is Sergeant Lester Ferris, late of the British army in Afghanistan, a light duty for a man who’s seen too much war. It’s a quiet post, having tea in the afternoon, making friends with a comic book-loving local boy, settling minor disputes and bidding farewell as those who choose to leave the island early trickle away. And of course he very deliberately does not notice the Fleet of ships offshore, the ones who are taking advantage of a legal black hole to do things not allowed on land or sea.
But murder comes calling on Mancreu, and the situation seems to need something more than diplomacy. It needs a hero straight out of the comics, larger than life and gifted with strange abilities. Lester Ferris could be that hero, if he is willing to become Tigerman.
Good stuff: The pacing of the book never feels rushed, without being too drawn out. Even in the early expository bits, it doesn’t feel too slow or sloggish. There are some lovely turns of phrase, justified by most of the people on the island having learned English from movies, and thus talking like characters, and by the atmosphere of Mancreu making everyone a little crazy.
Sergeant Ferris becoming Tigerman is almost plausible; he has “a very particular set of skills”, access to all sorts of interesting equipment, and just enough odd coincidences happening to him that he can believe this is something that needs doing.
The book managed to blindside me with a twist towards the end that’s not entirely original, but works well here.
Not so good stuff: While I realize that American pop culture has steamrollered the world’s imagination, the fact that a British man in his forties makes no references whatsoever to British pop culture is weird. I know for a fact that there is a long tradition of British comic books–Billy the Cat would seem to be an appropriate thing for Sergeant Ferris to think of when he becomes Tigerman. But no, it’s American comics, American TV and movies. I have to wonder if this book were deliberately written to appeal to American readers who might not get the references.
Some readers may find the “quirky” a little too thick for their tastes.
The book is due for official release 7/29/14. I would recommend it for those seeking something a bit more “modern literature-like” in their superhero fiction.
Magazine Review: Conjunctions: 51 The Death Issue edited by David Shields and Bradford Morrow
Conjunctions is a literary journal published twice a year by Bard College. Each issue contains essays, short fiction, poetry and less classifiable writing on a given subject, with this issue being about death. Literary journals tend to have a connotation of pretentiousness, and death is one of the primal subjects, so I approached this 2008 issue with a bit of trepidation.
The issue starts strong with an essay entitled “The Sutra of Maggots and Blowflies” by Sallie Tisdale. It’s a stomach-churning but very informative look at flies, Buddhism, and the Buddha nature of flies. The ending piece is “Andalucia” by H.G. Carrillo, the story of a writer mourning his artist lover, who has died of AIDS.
In between, the most memorable pieces are Joyce Carol Oates’ “Dear Husband”, a chilling suicide note; and “St. Francis Preaches to the Birds” by David Ives, a not-quite-working comedic play about the saint’s encounter with vultures. Several of the pieces caused me to shed a tear. Sadly, as I cannot make head or tail of the appeal of modern poetry, I feel unable to comment on whether any of the poetry was good. Two pieces are illustrated with photographs, the only visual art in the issue.
With forty pieces altogether, this is a thick volume that takes some grit to get through. I understand that the Oates story is in one of her own anthologies, so if noir fiction is your thing, you might want to check that out. The rest is a mixed bag; see if your library system has a copy of this or other issues so you can see if Conjunctions is something you want to subscribe to.
This last weekend at Minicon 49, I moderated a panel on “Anime for Speculative Fiction Fans.” As is common at this sort of thing, a lot of series and films were mentioned very briefly, and not everyone had the opportunity to write them all down. Therefore, I promised to put up a list. I should note that this list covers a wide variety of genres and styles, so you may see things that are not to your taste.
In roughly alphabetical order….
Aesthetica of a Rogue Hero: A story that examines what happens after teens summoned to save magical worlds are returned to Earth. (Note: the main character is a pervert and the show is heavy on female fanservice.)
Akira: Motorcycle gang members deal with psychic children in a post-World War Three Tokyo. One of the first anime films to make it big in America, massively compressed from the groundbreaking manga.
Appleseed: Post-apocalyptic society building with a heavy emphasis on artificial humans so close to biological ones that the lines are blurred at best.
Aria: A very quiet series about gondoliers on a terraformed Mars. The setting is heavily based on Venice.
Attack on Titan: Action series about humans in a walled city battling anthropophagous giants. Extremely violent, anyone can die, some fascinating world building.
Avatar: The Last Airbender/The Legend of Korra: Not actually anime, but heavily influenced by it. An alternative Earth setting with “benders”, people who can control the classic elements via martial arts training.
Azumanga Daioh: A slice of life series about a loose group of friends who go through high school together. Some mild fantastic elements implied.
Big O: In a city that has lost its memory, negotiator Roger Smith must resort to giant robot battles when negotiations break down. Noted for a very dubious ending as the third season never materialized.
Bubblegum Crisis: Cyberpunk series about armored vigilantes that fight Boomers, robots that have gone amok (not always by accident.)
Chobits: An impoverished student in a world where personal computers are humanoid in shape, discovers an amnesiac “persocom” in the shape of a young woman lying in the garbage. some interesting themes of humanity’s interactions with their machines and the effects of computers on society are set aside for soppy romance by the end.
Crying Freeman: A mysterious criminal organization turns an innocent man into their assassin, whose body obeys orders even as his eyes fill with tears. Quite a lot of sex in this one.
Dot Hack: A multimedia series of series revolving around a massive online immersive reality computer game. Can be confusing, as important information only appears in other stories, not all of which are available in America. Spawned a number of imitators.
Final Fantasy Advent Children: An animated sequel to the fan favorite Final Fantasy VII video game, demonstrating the advances in computer animation since the game came out. Cloud and his friends saved the world, but at great cost; can they get together for one last push to keep it saved?
Fruits Basket: An orphaned girl becomes a servant to a big, screwed-up family cursed with animal transformations. Despite their magical abilities, her compassion may be the strongest power of all.
Fullmetal Alchemist/Brotherhood: There are two series based on the Fullmetal Alchemist manga, as the first one aired while the manga was still ongoing and had to come up with its own ending. Both series revolve around brothers who practiced forbidden alchemy and paid the price. They join the military to gain the resources they need to try and make things right.
Future Diary: A young man discovers that his cell phone diary now records what he’s going to do in the future. which would be cool if there weren’t other people with future diaries who want to kill him. It seems the last one living will become the new god. The standout character is Yuuno, the young woman who takes “stalker” to a whole new level.
Ghost in the Shell: By the same artist who brought us Appleseed, the cyberpunk tales of a special police unit that deals with cybercrime of all sorts. The chronology can be confusing, but the themes run deep.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time: A film about a young woman who discovers the ability to leap to the past and redo events, which she promptly abuses. But just because you’ve erased an event doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, and it turns out there are, in fact, rules and a cost for time travel.
Iron Man: Yes, an anime series based on the Iron Man movies, and thus on the comic books. Tony Stark goes to Japan and fights opponents based on Zodiac creatures.
Karneval: A very new series about a young burglar, a mysterious albino boy, and a government agency they join for protection when a bioaugmentation organization puts them on its hit list.
Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya: The title character is a young woman who longs for excitement in her life, so creates a club to seek out weirdness. She is unaware that most of the club members are in fact the weirdness she seeks, or that she herself has a hidden power. Hugely popular.
Moretsu Space Pirates: “Bodacious” space pirates in the American market due to the direct interpretation “flaming” being even less felicitous. A young woman discovers that she is the heir to a pirate ship. “Pirates” in this future are actually privateers, and it’s mostly for show…but then the politics start happening. Notable for centering around a good mother/daughter relationship and female friendships without making the male supporting characters useless or invisible.
Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit: A spearwoman becomes bodyguard to a prince who appears to be possessed by an evil spirit. Things are much, much more complicated than they seem. Notable for such things as having a heroine that’s pushing thirty, good worldbuilding (the author is an anthropology major) and not having a villain as such–everyone is trying to do the right thing, they just violently disagree on what that is.
Nichijou: The ordinary life of four ordinary high school girls, one of whom happens to be a robot. The closest genre might be “magical realism”; many strange and wonderful things happen, but it’s all part of the characters’ ordinary life.
Planetes: A hard science fiction series about astronauts whose job it is to clear space junk from Earth’s orbit. Very down-to-earth (pun intended).
Project A-ko: A girl with superpowers and her ditzy best friend transfer to a new school, where they meet a snobby girl with mechanical genius and a grudge against them. Their battle is interrupted by an alien invasion. Lots of fun.
Psycho Pass: In the future, the cops have a way of detecting whether you are likely to commit a crime. And if you detect too highly, they might act pre-emptively. Dark.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica: A girl named Madoka is offered a wish, any one wish, in exchange for which she must become a magical girl and fight “witches.” Her new friend Homura doesn’t want her to do this, and there are a variety approaches to the life of magical girls. This is a deconstruction of magical girl tropes, so you may want to watch some Sailor Moon or Pretty Cure or other “standard” magical girl show first.
Queen’s Blade: In a fantasy land, several women compete in a tournament to see which of them will become the next queen. Extremely heavy on the erotic fanservice, but oddly feminist otherwise; the women have varied personalities, agendas and agency. It’s a love/hate show.
Record of Lodoss War: Essentially Dungeons and Dragons: The Anime. On the island of Lodoss, a small band of adventurers discover that a secret hand is behind the wars that rack their lands. There are two continuities, the direct to video version, and the television series. the latter replaces the last third of the video version and moves on to a “next generation” plotline.
Robotech: An oldie but a goodie, it took Macross and two other mecha series from Japan and edited them together into a surprisingly coherent continuity. In what is now an alternate history, an alien craft landed on Earth, and was turned into our planet’s best defense against the aliens who had sent it.
Rosario + Vampire: A “harem” series about a boy who mistakenly transfers into a school for monsters, many of whom appear to be pretty girls. Some exciting fight scenes with the many monsters, but also much fanservice.
Samurai Champloo: In a rather odd version of Meiji Restoration Japan, a samurai, a renegade swordsman, and a young woman search for “the samurai that smells like sunflowers.” Interesting music.
Serial Experiments Lain: A young woman builds her own computer, and connects to the Wired. Government agents are not pleased by this. Very surreal, and a mind screw.
Summer Wars: A young man is dragooned into posing as his classmate’s fiance during her family reunion. Meanwhile, a hostile program has taken over a major Internet hub. These things turn out to be much more connected than they might look. Very much a family movie, though the dub adds extra cursing.
Tiger and Bunny: A superhero story in which the heroes are commercially sponsored and appear on a reality show. Surprisingly much less cynical than that sounds, it’s very much a homage to American comic books.
Witch Hunter Robin: Government agencies track down and capture/kill mutants known as “witches.” Robin herself is a witch who serves humanity. But is she really on the side of good?
Wolf Children: A woman falls in love and marries a man who is also a wolf. But he dies shortly after their second child is born, so she must raise their kids/cubs alone in a world that hates and fears wolves.
Yokohama Shopping District: A very humanoid robot runs a cafe at the end of the world as we know it. Humanity is almost gone, but our creations live on. A very quiet story.
Yume Tsukai: “The Dream Master”; the main characters have the ability to pacify nightmares, turning them into restful dreams. Which is kind of important when the nightmares can manifest in the real world.
Zipang: A modern day Japanese destroyer travels through time to World War Two, and changes the course of history. No take-backs, no reset button ending, and semi-realistic consequences, especially when the current Japanese try to interact with their historical counterparts.
Did we miss your favorite title? Want to expand on the descriptions? Just have some questions about anime? Let us know in the comments!