What was your first anime? How did you get into anime? Questions like these are rather popular in various chain blogposts. When you read a new writer’s introduction on a group aniblog, you are almost sure to find their answers to them in the text. A word of warning before you delve into my post: The headline is Gateway Anime, but I’ll be talking about recommending anime quite a bit too.
The term gateway anime developed from the expression gateway drug used to describe a recreationally abused substance, such as marijuana or alcohol, which supposedly leads to more addictive and dangerous hard drugs. So whenever I say/write about your gateway anime I mean the series which captured your heart and lured you to taste the toxic, yet delectable, menu of all things otaku. If used generally, it means anime through which most people enter the otakubase. The most often quoted ones nowadays are probably Naruto and Bleach. In the olden days it used to be Neon Genesis Evangelion here.
A little more to the distinction between you first and the gateway one: The first anime I ever watched was Maya the Bee. It’s a kids’ series from the 1970s about Maya, a young worker bee, who gets in trouble all the time on account of her curiosity and nonconformity. It had close to 150 episodes, but the stories were made to work independently. Anyway, the point I am taking a bit too long to get to is that Maya the Bee wasn’t my gateway anime. Back then I had no idea there was anything like anime or that Maya was anime (going by the definition that anime = Japanese animation).
My gateway anime was a shounen, even though I’m a girl. Shounen are good candidates for gateway anime in non-Asian places, because they’re kind of similar to our superhero series, there is not much knowledge of the Japanese culture required et cetera.
Actually a good way to look at this might be from the point of recommending a series. A very vague scenario: A friend comes to you saying “Hey, I hear you like anime. Could you give me something to test it out?” What do you say? You think for a bit and consider what you know about him – you two went to see The Avengers together and he loved that, he likes a good soundtrack,… “Maybe Gatchaman Crowds? Superheroes have to save Japan/the world from an evil alien. It’s pretty new, only 12 25-minute episodes and the music is good. Just don’t take the main character too seriously, she’s a bit of an overkill.”
I have a couple of guidelines I try to follow when recommending first-time or early series.
First of all you have to realize that anime is just a medium, on par with film, comicbooks or literature. It’s not a genre. So for a start you might want to ask what kind of “normal” shows they like.
Secondly, as I’ve already mentioned, for most part people asking for a first-time anime don’t know much about Japan and its cultural nuances.
Scenario no.2: Choose something for a 15-year-old girly girl from a devout Christian family. My first thought was Natsume Yuujinchou, because it’s well-liked among female otaku (as far as I know) and if I don’t want to suggest a romance anime, it’s my go-to one for girls. Unfortunately some knowledge of Japanese lore is needed and with a girl as religious as her, spiritual anime is pretty much off-limits. (An aside: My mother once tried to capture the family’s conservativeness saying, “Mary’s mother considers mascara an abomination to God.”) In the end I went for Chihayafuru, because it’s a sports anime with enough romance undertones to be entertaining even if she is bored by karuta and on the other hand it’s not primarily romantic, therefore not to be considered shallow. Plus I think Chihaya is a good female protagonist.
This second point is often the problem with epic and/or legendary series. Of course you would prefer to recommend the best works to date, but those are usually sprinkled with cultural references that a first-timer is not likely to understand. I loved Eccentric Family (a.k.a. Uchouten Kazoku), but I believe a good part of the story would be lost on me, if I didn’t have at least the vague idea of how tanuki and tengu are traditionally portrayed in Japanese folk stories. It’s a similar story with Genshiken and its Sue (the character in this blog’s headers), whose only means of speech was originally quotes from anime, from mainstream to bizzare.
Third thing to keep in mind is to choose an anime of normal length. To illustrate this very clear point, try to imagine the overwhelming feeling upon finding out that anime you want to start has 627 episodes and is still airing. (Yes, that’s One Piece.) My idea of a good length is one to two-cour.
My fourth rule is to pick a newer series because of the animation. Older, and I mean hand-drawn old, anime just aren’t as pretty, flashy and CG-perfect. Sure we like 1980s Lum in her tiger-striped bikini and Go-Go Boots or mecha from the 1970s. Still today’s animation wins hands-down. The well-known exception here is Ghibli – while they do use computers nowadays, they still Miyazaki’s signature style of character designs which hasn’t changed from the early 80s – Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind came out in 1984.
Fifth and final piece of advice: Choose anime that pick up and get interesting early on.
To sum recommendations up: I consider the person’s tastes and try to pick something newer and short with a quick start, which requires little or no knowledge of the culture.
And gateway anime tend to follow these guidelines. NGE might be a bit heavier than your average TV show, but back then the guys (there were barely any girls in our community) were crazy about it. It caters to young adult males. It has huge robots and pretty girls in bodysuits. I wager that were it live, it would be a hit as well. Ehm, back to gateway anime in general…
The gateway anime tend to be mainstream, because the most popular ones are going to stand out and be more available. A large fanbase means it is liked by a variety of people, which raises the probability that a random person will like it. It is also most likely new enough to have nice modern animation.
Well then, what was your first anime? Which anime seduced you and made you an otaku?