Whenever I discuss any creative medium, one often is remiss if unable to bring up moments of vibrant inspiration. Moments that not merely find themselves as great water tower conversation starters, but moments which find themselves endlessly replaying themselves over and over again. And this isn’t merely in regards to anime, film, and so on. It can be found in a great book, or even a still work of street art. It’s that runner’s high instant where the creator, and the self seem to match spirits, if for only a second. It can be a few seconds of sheer, unadulterated beauty, or even overwhelmingly absurd. To look back and really consider this, it only happens a small number of times. And when it does, they tend to stick around, coloring a great deal of what makes us–us.
So when I think of this in the anime world, I can but pick out a disparate few that remain important personal milestones. As great series’ of artwork and behind the scenes rigor that somehow transated themselves into pure sensory transcendence. Some people call them Classic Moments.
Or as I sometimes lovingly call them, “High-Fiving-God” Moments.
Here are a few of mine, in no particular order..
Tetsuo’s Olympic Performance
Growing up heavily into 1980s fears of dystopian hell, as well as under threat of technological ahnilation, there was something about seeing our great scientific secrets unveiled by way of unbridled youth. And in one of Katsuhiro Otomo’s landmark feature, AKIRA‘s many iconic moments, we get a penultimate expression in Tetsuo’s arrival at Neo-Tokyo’s neglected Olympic Stadium, a place housing revelations about his own newly-aquired psionic abilities. So much destruction had already taken place since prior to this, but to see such a mammoth structure uprooted, all while a psychically controlled Kei attempts to stop him while one of the more experimental pieces by Geinoh Yamashirogumi screams with guitar wails and drones, and the military and science establishment looks on helplessly. Nature reasserting its dominance over mere custodians. It’s an orgy of sight and sound that has lost none of its power for me.
Naota At The Bat
Having already thoroughly enjoyed a majority of what would become Gainax’s last great work, Kazuya Tsurumaki and crew take their manic rock infused fever dream, FLCL into metaphorical nirvana come the finale of episode 4, Furi Kiri. While admittedly, a majority of this OVA had been leading to this moment by placing quasi-disaffected protagonist, Naota in a fortitude contest against the enigmatic Haruko. Living in the shadow of a never-seen elder brother, his presumptuous nature is taken to extreme task when he finds himself in needing to save his boring town of Mabase by way of using his “bat” to swing at and hopefully stop a careening satellite from slamming into the Earth. All set to the tune of Crazy Sunshine, by cult faves, The Pillows, the scene is so thrilling, so poetic, so patently delirious, it could only be made so in anime form.
A-Ko’s Platform Game Gone Awry
Forgiving the reality that the OVAs that followed leave so much to be desired, the original animator’s anime, Project A-ko remains a dynamo of inspired lunacy nearly thirty years on. But the gag that never ceases to leave me smitten takes place in the final third, as rivals A-ko & B-ko are forced to cease their mass destruction-laden feud in order to rescue the obnoxious C-ko from gender-ambiguous aliens who have descended upon the Earth with terrifying force. A-ko, the redheaded heroine of exceptional strength lacks the ability of flight, and quickly must improvise a strategy of reaching the humongous alien craft by way of playing leap frog with Self Defense Force Jets (most of which are shot down, leaving A-ko little choice but to jump from jet to jet). BUT it’s upon getting closer to the ship that our hapless hero takes on a nightmare run that would give many platform game lovers some form of PTSD! Apparently mostly animated by Dirty Pair designer/animator, Tsukasa Dokite, A-ko breathlessly leaping from missile to missile, with her donning the most exasperated face remains an all-time medium favorite.
Hikaru’s Lack Of Proper Valkyrie Knowledge
Man, I still love me some Macross. Perhaps the ultimate fan anime. Part soap opera, part space war saga, part self-conscious satire of the very young phenom of otaku. Not merely because of the fact that it was a watershed moment for me as a lover of Japanese cartoons, but of how all these seemingly disparate elements came together almost seamlessly. It was also the first transforming robot show to truly take full advantage of its gimmick, and create something that was on a whole, convincing from an engineering perspective. Without merely telling us how the UN SPACY’s latest fighter units worked, we discover the big secret via an outsider character in our lead, Hikaru Ichijo, a civilian whom while sitting in the cockpit of a demonstration Valkyrie, is mistaken for a real pilot, and ordered to take off as alien invaders begin pummeling Macross city. Being suddenly surrounded by plumes of smoke and flame, the shock has only just begun when he falls into a tailspin. With the comlink instructions of one Misa Hayase (the officer who inadvertently assumed he was a fighter), Hikaru selects configuration G (aka Gerwalk Mode), and the resulting action..Let’s just say it remains beautifully timed, and lovingly animated for a low budget tv anime from the early 1980s. This is how you deliver a surprise. (Also look carefully for all the animation studios Hikaru’s Valkyrie pulverizes along the way!)
Lupin III’s Hardcore Parkour
While it has become increasingly niche to consider Miyazaki’s Cagliostro Castle to be the cream of the Lupin III crop, I remain a Cagliostro devotee largely because it remains one of the most directorially consistent, and entertaining of the franchise. But what also makes it such a remarkable experience even now, is the animation and art direction which continue to impress me. There are just too many great action and comedy beats here to list. So when I have to pick one that gives me the face-cracking smiles every time, it has to be the scene in which the mater thief uses the cloak of night to climb his way to a castle tower to reach the captive princess, Clarisse. With merely a little rope with hooks, a few taut-string rockets, and a cigarette lighter to assist him, his mission to reach from one tower to another is pure comic suspense. From the lush background, to the tile roofing, to all of Lupin’s stumbling amidst the breeze, it’s all the setup one needs before he loses that one little rocket…and..
Nagato’s Big Reveal
As budgets for animation have increased, spectacle in our anime has exponentially followed suit. The problem then, of course lands in how it is delivered. While I may have expressed enthusiasm about a number of wild moments, the biggest element that binds them all together is simple; a sense of build. Great moments cannot merely happen, they must be earned. They must come as a response to all that has come before it. The precendent must exist before it can be broken. And in the initial season of the surprise hit, Haruhi Suzumiya No Yuutsu, it comes almost out of nowhere, and in the process it lives up to the buildup in regards to a single character; the largely silent bookworm, Yuki Nagato. Throughout the course of the show’s original out of chronological order narrative, we are privy to the revelation that Nagato claims to be an alien. A being from a digitized world overlooked by an all-seeing data overmind. And as the stories build, we get fragments of her abilities, but it’s nothing compared to when the show’s centra narrator finds himself in a perplexing life or death situation in an empty classroom of all places. The moment of her appearance is exciting enough, bit the ensuing battle culled almost perfectly from the Tanigawa light novels is astonishing to the point of masterful. Turns out she’s the real deal, and the reality is beyond comprehension. One classical theory out there is that all art is a conversation between artists, and in the case of the cyber-battle over a once-very-skeptical lead character, this is the kind of visualization of such a world that has long been neglected in film form, and more common on cyberpunk literature, made corporeal in a high school fantasy setting! It’s wholly bonkers and brilliant. Heck, it even does The Matrix one better by exhibiting what happens to mass, manipulated by way of code. The kind of marriage between concept and action that is capable of greater inspiration.
Nagumo’s Heartfelt Apprehension
There’s just no denying it. Patlabor 2 will always remain in my heart as not only my favorite Mamoru Oshii film, but one of the unsung great Japanese films. Yet unlike the HEADGEAR-inspired science fiction action comedy that it had been up to this point, 2 is a quiet, taut, and contemplative masterpiece that features some of the most poetically beautiful moments the medium has ever seen. While there are indeed moments of action here and there, some of the most gripping moments tend to be the calm moments in between storms, sometimes even after the worst has occured. And in a tale about a future Tokyo psychologically ravaged by an unseen terrorist force, it is all about how a nation reacts, and how simmering feelings can reach a boiling point, never to be fulfilled. So unlike all the previous moments I have made mention of, it is in the finale of Patlabor 2 that I found a deep kinship with Oshii, and character artist, Hiroyuki Okiura. It is with the quiet second in command of the SV2 mobile police unit, Shinobu Nagumo, that so much is said by saying very little. Emotions are complicated, and even more so with those no familiar with expressing openly. It’s widely known that Nagumo was always Oshii’s favorite Patlabor character, so when he’s finally able to grant her center stage, it is with a quiet confidence, and studied patience that he grants her a unique dignity, regardless of the complexity of her current situation. Taking down the perp has never been so pensive, yet resolute. Yep. Not an action moment, but one that calls out the goosebumps like few others.
And there’s several more where these came from..
Have instances of “That Moment” in your anime memories? Ones that made you want to stand a cheer for their electricity? Share them with us!