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Popular culture is supposed to be the social antithesis to the cult of traditional bourgeois art. Not bound to ritual, nor dependent on time honored hierarchy, popular culture, in its very nature is a protest either by promising change or by transporting us to a new reality. With few exceptions, it overpromises. Ritual, cultism and celebrities are everywhere. One possible exception is Anime, which still operates on the boundaries of mass culture and still offers the promise of a dialectical conversation with the status quo. Examples of this are found in six classic anime which, while often underappreciated, show us the promise of art as a fundamental vehicle for helping us create a new reality and ignite our imagination.
These are not necessarily my favorite anime films. But I would argue that if the term "classic" even has a hint of legitimacy, then these six titles must be included among the classics. My hope is that this discussion is a point of departure for a larger conversation on anime in popular culture. I hope also that these titles are a useful introduction to those who wish to discover the variety, depth and beauty of classic anime. Enjoy them. I believe they'll be around forever.
1: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 1st Gig and 2nd Gig
Synopsis: The year is 2030. Most people have been turned into cyborgs or have robotic parts attached to them. The Japanese government and other social organizations have become extremely corrupt. Confronting this cesspool of institutional venality is Section 9, a secret government task force headed by Aramaki and his compatriot Major Kusanagi, a female cyborg who, with her band of merry men, takes no prisoners in the fight against corruption. In the first season, Section 9 is assisted by a hacker, The Laughing Man (an homage to J.D. Salinger's alienated storyteller), in their fight against a medical company with powerful connections to the government. In season two, Section 9 fights a terrorist group, the Individual Eleven, who want to start a major war.
Why it's a classic: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex should be considered a classic, though it is not underappreciated by any means. Its politics are transcendent and are especially relevant to our emerging Orwellian reality, in which corrupt politicians and evil, blood sucking corporations destroy people`s lives. This theme is as germane to an unemployed Greek student in the EU as it is to a Walmart worker on the west side of Chicago. Section 9 is a gateway into the "if only" dreams of nascent class consciousness, capturing our fantasies about how we would like to deal with these parasitic politicians and corporations. If this anime would make the Marxists proud, the neo-Freudians are right behind them. Ghost in the Shell addresses the often repressed levels of our universal sexuality. In this anime, sexual expression is one of the few means left to survive in a corrupt world and to express what is left of our humanity. Ghost in the Shell asks two fundamental questions often found in great anime: As Kubrick would ask, what does it means to exist in a world of shit? And even more basic, the question we might ask ourselves everyday if it were not so painful: Who are we and why do we exist? With great animation, great directing, and wonderful music by Yoko Kanno this anime is certainly a classic and well worth the watch, again and again.