Giving the Gift of Anime

Vivid graphics and bright, stylized images characterize the popular Japanese style of animation called anime. Animation expert Charles Solomon offers advice on all the hot, anime-related gifts out there this holiday season.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Well, we're coming up on the very last minute for holiday gift shopping. Even offerings in the video store have been picked over. But if you find yourself checking out the animated titles, you might want to try to Japanese animation, or anime. Writer Charles Solomon has some gift suggestions for anime newbies and experts alike.

(Soundbite of "Full Metal Panic Fumoffu"; humming)

CHARLES SOLOMON reporting:

Anime is often wilder, funnier and more dramatic than American animation, which is why high school- and college-age audiences love it. But even if there aren't any students on your list, anime could still make an excellent gift.

Nothing I've seen on American TV can match the take-no-prisoners silliness of "Full Metal Panic Fumoffu." The four discs of this mismatched romantic comedy center on a reasonably normal high school girl and the highly-trained and terminally dense ex-mercenary who loves her. To rescue her and a friend from thugs, he steals plush walk-around suits and forms a posse disguised as the ultra-cute mascot Buntakun, who can only say `Fumoffu!' The juxtaposition of martial arts mayhem and over-the-top cuteness suggests Hello Kitty going postal.

(Soundbite of "Full Metal Panic Fumoffu")

Unidentified Girl #1: I can't imagine a more embarrassing way to be rescued.

Unidentified Girl #2: You think so? I think our rescuers are rather cute.

Unidentified Girl #1: I didn't want a bloody end like the movies, but I'm not sure how I feel about being rescued by Buntakun, either.

(Soundbite of Buntakun)

SOLOMON: If you're looking for something more serious, there's "Porco Rosso," "The Crimson Pig," from Oscar-winning filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. "Porco Rosso" is an odd, but affecting adventure about a dashing pilot who was somehow turned into a pig after an act of cowardice. Set in the 1930s, the film features exciting, well-choreographed aerial stunts and dogfights. In the new English-dubbed DVD, former Batman Michael Keaton gives one of his best performances as the tough, but wounded title character.

(Soundbite of "Porco Rosso")

Mr. MICHAEL KEATON: (As Porco Rosso) My good buddy Berlini(ph) was right beside me. He had just gotten married to Gina, but war called so he had to go back into battle right after the ceremony.

(Soundbite of airplane)

Mr. KEATON: (As Porco Rosso) Suddenly, we were in the middle of the worst dogfight of my life. Friends and enemies were falling all around me like flies. I had three planes trying to chase me down, and all I thought about was myself.

(Soundbite of music)

SOLOMON: Finally, there's the sci-fi adventure "Trigun," which helped to redefine cool in Japanese animation in the late '90s, mixing comedy and adventure more successfully than many American features. The first 14 episodes of the series have been reissued in a three-disc boxed set that makes an excellent gift choice for serious anime fans on your holiday list. The hero of "Trigun," Vash the Stampede, is a puzzling character: a crack shot, an outlaw with an enormous bounty on his head, a pacifist and a good-hearted doofus who'd rather eat doughnuts than fight. When Vash meets gun-toting itinerant priest Nicholas Wolfwood, the two become a space-age Butch and Sundance, swapping quips and blowing away enemies.

(Soundbite of "Trigun")

Unidentified Man #1: When you're around, things always seem to get much worse. My brain's about to explode into pieces!

(Soundbite of sound effects)

Unidentified Man #1: It's your fault! Do something!

Unidentified Man #2: You fell in all by yourself! You're the outlaw!

Unidentified Man #1: What's that got to do with anything?

SOLOMON: These suggestions should earn you the heartfelt thanks of anime fans and novices. They may even win you a reputation for being hip.

BRAND: Charles Solomon watches animation for DAY TO DAY here in Los Angles.

DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News with contributions from slate.com. I'm Madeleine Brand.

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