Been to see Guardians of the Galaxy and have watched all the other superhero flicks that have recently come out and looking around for something more? Why not check out these five anime series? They could be just the thing you’re looking for to tide you over till the next big hero flick…
A CERTAIN MAGICAL INDEX
When magic and science collide, a story is born is the tagline for this series. Set in Academy City, a sprawling metropolis to the west of Tokyo, the show revolves around the two leads Toma Kamijo and Index. Toma is a student struggling to cope with the curriculum of Academy City which is in essence devoted to the development of psychic powers whilst Index is a somewhat ditzy nun from the Anglican Church who is on the run. Turns out that Index has contained within her little grey cells all the collected occult works and grimoires of the world; a fact that makes her a prize for any unscrupulous sorcerer or magical cabal. Oh, and did I mention that Toma has the ability in his right hand to nullify any psychic or magical ability that he can physically touch?
Of course, it’s all not as simple as you might think, and after the first encounter with Index Toma discovers that the calm peaceful life he was living in Academy City is not so calm and peaceful. He also discovers that there are all manner of secret currents moving through his adopted home, weird experiments, alchemists, golems rampaging through the streets and students who have been created from the actual emanations of the psychic powers of others just to name a few. Still despite these trials and tribulations, Toma manages to maintain a somewhat positive outlook on things.
In essence, you could compare Toma to a somewhat flawed X-Man and the city in which he dwells as one citywide Institute for Gifted Youngsters, although the principal isn’t a benevolent wheelchair bound Professor X. No, he is a conniving former magician locked away in a high tech life support apparatus. Aleister Crowley is the head of Academy City and from his cryogenic tube he pulls various strings and oversees various schemes and machinations. Although you see him now and then you not quite sure what his agenda is. So if you like a world where magic and science collide filled with plenty of action, humour, pathos and intrigue on a grand scale then perhaps A Certain Magical Index is up your alley.
BIRDY THE MIGHTY: DECODE
Or perhaps science and magic colliding isn’t your thing. Perhaps you’re more sort of a science fiction/space opera kind of person. Then Birdy the Mighty: Decode might just be the thing for you. As with any anime, a considerable part of the action does take place in Japan and frequently in Tokyo or nearby surrounds. But there is also a fair degree of action that occurs literally off world; in the deeps of space and on distant planets where all manner of diverse alien species coexist in relative peace.
Birdy Cephon Altera is an agent of the Galactic Federation who roams the space lanes busting bad guys, sometimes quite literally. Tracking down some criminals who have escaped to Earth she accidentally causes the death of a young male high school student, Tsutomu Senkawa. Fortunately for Tsutomu he is saved by the alien technology at Birdy’s disposal, the drawback though is that he has to share a body with Birdy until his own can be fully restored.
The drama in the series revolves around an entity/device known as the Ryunka. Once it was under the control of the Galactic Federation, but then criminals managed to steal it from a secure facility. It was these same criminals that Birdy was pursuing and she was finally about to bring to justice when her paths crossed with Tsutomu. As a result of that unfortunate incident Birdy has to regain lost ground before everything goes pear shaped. Plenty of action ensues, although as the series progresses it has to be said that the action becomes decidedly more graphic and this is not a show for kids. Like Index, there is plenty of humour, pathos and intrigue as well as some truly amazing animation. The space sequences are just fantastic and the look of the various space ships is definitely different from the usual science fiction/space opera fare.
DARKER THAN BLACK
Space opera with badass busty female special agents not your cup of coffee? Perhaps you’d prefer something darker, something more filled with suspenseful moments and brooding seething anger? This show focuses around the character of Hei also known as BK 201 and the Black Reaper. The premise behind Darker Than Black is that the stars of the night sky have all somehow vanished and that two regions of the world have become known as Heaven’s Gate and Hell’s Gate, spatial anomalies that create havoc in the nearby areas of where they’re located. Heaven’s Gate was situated in South America whilst Hell’s Gate is located in; you guessed it Tokyo, Japan.
Along with the appearance of the two spatial anomalies, a certain type of individual also appeared: the contractor, a person who was given special abilities ranging from telepathy to telekinesis to teleportation, but at a price. For each time a contractor uses there powers they have to pay a price ranging from breaking the knuckles in the fingers of their hand to smoking a cigarette to sculling a can of Guinness.
Hei is a contractor, though not many people outside of his small circle are aware of this fact. In fact most people think he’s the somewhat good natured but naive exchange student Li Shenshun. Hei’s motive for doing what he does as a contractor is simple, he’s trying to discover what happened to his lost sister Pai who vanished in the war over Heaven’s Gate several years previously to the series start. His unique ability is the power to generate electricity which he can use either to kill or incapacitate. He is also highly skilled in hand to hand combat and uses a unique double bladed knife and wire set up.
Darker Than Black has some really unique characters and a decidedly dare I say darker tone than the previous two anime, in fact once you become acquainted with the character of Hei you can see that there are similarities between him and the character of Batman. Both are characters driven by a deep seated anger, both are orphans and although Hei has an ability to manipulate electricity his real strength comes from his skills and training again like the Dark Knight.
No review of anime could be complete without there being mentioned something to do with schoolgirls, monsters, magic and big swords right? With Ga Rei Zero you get all that and then some. Schoolgirls wielding katanas, female special agents who can use a motorcycle as a deadly weapon and make it look completely effortless and of course monsters aplenty. Once again set in Tokyo Japan, the drama revolves around the two characters of Yomi Isayama and Kagura Tsuchimiya.
This series has an interesting structure as it begins at the end and we thus watch events unfold as to how this particular ending occurred and then the conclusion. A neat way of handing things and it also serves to make the tragic element of the story all that more poignant in my opinion. Its tagline is “Will you kill someone you love, because of love?” Yomi and Kagura are close, so close you could pretty much say that they’re like two sisters than just two friends. But sadly sometimes friendships, even very close ones get broken.
Both Yomi and Kagura operate as vanquishers for the Ministry of Environments Supernatural Disasters Countermeasures Division (SDCD). Their role is to exorcise various supernatural menaces that threaten the stability of Tokyo and Japan. For some unknown reason, previously vanquished spirits are again cropping up in the main streets of Tokyo and creating chaos and carnage. Yet despite their response the SDCD and the Defence Ministry’s own special units aren’t fully aware of the extent of the threat. Kagura herself feels it’s just another day at the office, she soon finds out its anything but.
Like Birdy the Mighty, this series has some spectacular animation with regards to the monsters that occur throughout the show as well as the blue creepy butterflies that frequently crop up. The spirit beast that is tied to Yomi’s sword as well as the one inherited by Kagura’s father at the demise of his wife are impressive examples of animation. And like I said; the fight scene between Natsuki aka Agent 33 and the restless spirits with her using her bike as her weapon is just simply awesome.
A CERTAIN SCIENTIFIC RAILGUN
Perhaps you’re not a fan of the supernatural, nor girls with big swords, but you like the idea of a schoolgirl hero, then we return full circle back to the world of Academy City, that sprawling metropolis to the west of Tokyo. A Certain Scientific Railgun is a spinoff series from Index and features as the titular character Mikoto Misaka, the Ace of Tokiwadai Middle School and more commonly known as Railgun, the level 5 electro master. If Toma Kamijo is a failed X Men then Misaka Mikoto is Professor X’s prize pupil.
The way to the top, though, has not been an easy one. Despite working her way up to level 5 in her power, Misaka is very much a troubled and tragic character. Fortunately she has a cadre of loyal friends and though she has a ‘thing’ for Toma, one that usually consists of her trying to fry him but constantly failing she can count on his support and aid.
Unlike Toma though Railgun doesn’t have much to do with the world of magic and sorcerers, in fact she is very much grounded in the ‘reality’ of Academy City which is to say its technology, its curriculum of psychic development and its very dark and twisted side. She knows too well the darkness that lurks in Academy City for she is aware of the existence of an army of clones of her that are used in the dreadful Level 6 shift experiment. She also becomes aware of how other children have been used as experimental test subjects and even seen one of her friends fall victim to another experiment focused on boosting an espers power through synaesthesia. You have to wonder how she’s able to take all this on, like I said she has a group of friends which is a big theme in a lot of anime. Friendship can be a great strength.
Railgun could be regarded as your typical superhero in the fact that she frequently goes out to bat for the underdog as well as takes on miscreants. A champion of justice is the phrase that frequently gets bandied around in anime, of course unlike others (and like many western superheroes) she doesn’t have any actual authority but that doesn’t stop her.
So there you have it five anime series that if you’re a fan of superhero flicks could well be up your alley. All of them are available on DVD/Blu-ray and can no doubt be streamed online.