So in this long overdue anime roundup post, I’ll start off with what I consider the Big Three series, simply due to their long episode lists and long standing popularity. Chances are, if you’re an anime fan, you’ve seen or at least heard of all of these, or at some time been subject to an impassioned proposition to watch them.
Welcome to the first of the “Big Three”, as I like to call them. Most anime fans have at least heard of Bleach, if not ardently in possession of a burning desire to watch every new episode that comes out. The premise is simple enough and not exactly hard to swallow for anyone familiar with standard Hollywood fare: Ichigo, our carrot-topped protagonist is a loner, and he has a bit of a savior complex. See that expression he’s got in the picture, that “I’m complicated but angry” frown? Yeah, that’s pretty much what his face will look like throughout the series, so get used to it. Little does he suspect, but as with all epic tales, his life will soon be turned upside down, mostly because of the hot little number behind him: Rukia. Rukia is a Death God, a non human with special powers that allow her to see and combat evil spirits that did not go peacefully into the light (surprising how many that happens to, maybe clearer directions to the light are required?).
Ichigo, through a chain of extraordinary events, “borrows” Rukia’s Death God powers and gets a big sword of his own (pictured above) to fight them bad spirits with, and a badass black kimono to do it in, also pictured above. Now Rukia is injured and recuperating in the human world as Ichigo battles her share of evil demons but there is a twist: the other Death Gods will not like a mere human, albeit with a huge sword, having said powers. Did I mention Ichigo has a huge sword? Because we are hit on the head with the “Ichigo’s equipment is really effing huge” metaphor for the first many episodes. Size is not everything, folks, but clearly there is some penis envy at work here because the size of your sword indicated the power within.
So the action really begins when Ichigo is spanked and told to know his place as a human and Rukia is dragged off back to the Death God world for punishment, and Ichigo, being Ichigo, must go rescue her and show off his huge penis, er sword, in another realm. The fights that I saw were decent, the storyline was engaging, at least in the main arc, in the fillers, I completely lost interest, as in the case with another of our Big Three series, Naruto, where fillers begin to border on the ludicrous.
So, to be honest I only got through the first of the major arcs for this anime, and that too the second time around due to the incessant hyping of every Bleach fan I come into contact with and is also in possession of the strangest name for an anime of this type that I can think of. Maybe fans who have gotten into more episodes can explain the connection between any sort of “bleach” and the storyline, but it’s beyond me.
What makes it one of the “Big Three”?
Bleach’s sheer length (it hasn’t ended yet, 302 episodes and counting, according to this Wikipedia article). It’s also one of the more famous series you’ll come across, and a good conversation started with any anime fan, since most would have at least heard of it. Why should you watch it? Because tons of people have and enjoyed it, although my personal taste prevented me from venturing further than the end of the Soul Society arc. Will Ichigo be a frowning and broody hero as he rescues multiple people from certain death? Yes. Will he seem to magically acquire powers that seem above and beyond that of people with normal sized swords for no apparent reason? Yes. Will you enjoy watching it all unfold? Probably, yes.
Time to meet the second of our Big Three. Meet Naruto, the one in bright orange in the middle there. Guess what he does for a living (put aside the fact that he’s supposed to be around eleven years old here)? Given the brightly colored outfit, he must be in a circus or used as live bait for colorblind animals, surely? Nope, he’s a ninja. Yes, let it sink in for a second that a ninja, master of ninjitsu and stealth, is dressed in a bright orange jumper.
Aside from the fashion statement, the story goes thus: Naruto is an orphan who is mostly ignored and often despised in his home village of Konoha, for some odd reason. Parents give him venomous sidelong glances and kids pick up their derisory attitude from their parents and Naruto’s own clownish ineptitude in ninja school. Naruto, however, is no brooding hero, he’s a cheerful and loud kid who insists that one day he will become a ninja and a Hokage, the most powerful ninja in Konoha and the leader of the community and gain acknowledgement in the eyes of the community that mysteriously detests a kid that grew up with no parents. In the early episodes, we discover that sealed inside Naruto is a nine tailed demon fox (the number of tails indicate the strength of the demon) that attacked his village when he was born and the previous Hokage, a beloved figure who died young, gave his life to seal the fox in a newborn child and save the village. The current Hokage forbids anyone to tell him why everyone hates him and also forbid mentioning the demon fox inside the boy, although it would have been a better idea to forbid kids growing up with no adult guardian altogether, but I digress.
So, our colorblind friend makes it to ninja school (how cool would it have been to get to go to ninja school?) and is teamed up with the dark haired and super broody sole survivor of a genius clan, Sasuke and the annoying pink haired cheerleader type love interest, Sakura. Naruto likes Sakura, who of course, likes unsociable broody men named Sasuke-kuuuuuun. The trio come together under the genius copy ninja (you’ll find a lot of early bloomers and geniuses in the ninja world, clearly killing makes children in this village blossom), Kakashi.
So, enough with the storyline, the series itself is quite interesting and emotional for a few arcs, then you come across the filler episodes, and boy are they bad! I cite examples from this show to tell people just how bad fillers can possibly be. In one instance, Naruto uses his hard earned new uber-cool technique to slice ramen on a mission to feed hungry soldiers. In another, he very ostensibly tails a courier ninja (what next, Chef Ninjas, Janitor Ninjas and Librarian Ninjas?) to prevent spoilers reaching their destination? Yes, W-T-F.
What makes it one of the Big Three?
The Naruto series itself is about 220 episodes, with it’s follow up, set two years after the end of the first series, while it’s successor series (Naruto Shippudden) has 196 to date and shows no signs of ending. This series, due to its exporting to the west, is one of the anime series that is very widely known even in English speaking countries. The idea of ninjas and a ninja academy and a boy containing almost unlimited power within without knowing it has its charms, but this thoroughly wore off for me around the end of the Chuunin exam arc. Out of the three main characters, Sasuke is a whiny little brooder and Sakura is a high pitched cheerleader for every obnoxious thing he does, while Naruto remains the blustery immature brat at age 14 that he was at age 11. Admittedly, this was beginning to wear me down, till the Chuunin Exam arc, where many other ninjas are introduced (admittedly some quite interesting ones).
Sasuke cannot stop obsession over his past and the wiping out of his clan, save him, Sakura can’t get over her crush on him even when she’s well into her teens, after he abandons the village, turns rogue and attacks his old comrades when he sees them after years of learning dark ninjitsu, and Naruto finally becomes aware of his inner (literal) demon and starts channeling its power, while obsessed with a one track mission to save the whiny brat, Sasuke, save the world. Are the ninja battles fun? Definitely, most so where we initially see Naruto being extremely resourceful and planning his attack (this does not last long and is very erratic, giving the impression of someone who sometimes shows the skill and IQ of a 6 year old, and at some odd moments, that of a seasoned 20 year old). If you skip all the fillers, you may continue on to watch Shippudden as well and enjoy that too.
Look at that face. See the pure, unadulterated joy? The empty headed smile of a man who knows he’s on a wanted poster and hunted by the world government and every bounty hunter in the world, and does not give a rat’s ass. Yes, welcome to Monkey D. Luffy’s world. Luffy is a boy who ate a Devil’s Fruit, a magical fruit that gives one magical powers, except it’s a bit of a gamble because you could get a really cool power (Flame ON!) or a really stupid one (Nost Fancy, i.e. being able to generate and toss exploding boogers from your nose). Luffy’s random power is that he becomes a rubberman, with powers like Mr. Fantastic, only he uses them much more imaginatively, by becoming a balloon, a canopy to harmlessly reflect cannonballs back at origin, stretching arms and legs for maximum force when they crash down on an enemy’s skull, rapid fire rubber punches, stretching out an arm to catapult the rest of his body towards a destination).
The sheer recklessness of Luffy seems a bit jarring at first, and one could mistake the kid for a moron. After all, along with the rubberman ability, the Devils Fruit makes him a hammer (someone who cannot possibly swim or float in water and would immediately drown in the sea), and he wants to be a pirate and spend his life on the one thing that could kill him in seconds. At first, his simple minded declarations of being the man who will become the next Pirate King, the most powerful and rich pirate in the world, after discovering a legendary treasure, One Piece, seems ridiculous. His future crewmates, with interesting talents and powers of their own, think so as well. Slowly, as are we, they are won over by his heart, his unwillingness to see innocents bear their problems alone, and his sheer power and force of will.
If ever you were a kid dreaming of being on a pirate ship with your best mates and sailing through uncharted waters and reaching a new island with new problems that you can help solve and pick up new friends along the way, this series is pure wish fulfillment for you. Luffy and his ever expanding crew (who I have not added in the picture at all to preserve the surprise) are a unique bunch, with powers ranging from being a swordsman who wants to be the best swordsman on earth, to a cowardly liar who wants to explore the world and justify his lies. It’s a crew and series that, if you give it a chance, you will grow to love for its powerfully emotional themes of friendship, loyalty and determination. Luffy is nothing but an embodiment of an uncompromising mix of those traits.
Look at that face, look at that grin. Watch this series now and you will find yourself with the same grin as you watch the crew struggle and triumph over insurmountable odds and visit wondrous places such as the island on the clouds. If I sound biased, it’s because I am and One Piece is one of my favorite shows ever.
What makes it one of the Big Three?
Well, really it’s nowhere near as popular as Naruto or Bleach, but its episode list is in the four hundreds as well and people are still wrapped up tightly in the storyline. To know why, brave through the distinctive and jarring style initially and press on, you may just find a series you will love for a lifetime.