Michael Basile, an expert of anime, has written for Digital Fox for over a year. It’s about time we spoke to him about everything anime.
For those of you who don’t know Michael, he has a popular Youtube channel, and devotes an incredible amount of time consuming and talking about anime.
1. How long have you loved anime for?
I grew up on children’s anime like Pokemon and Digimon, so at least since I was about six years old. And, like a lot of American kids, I watched Toonami whenever I could to see shows like Dragon Ball, Rurouni Kenshin, and Gundam. I even watched the shows aimed at girls like Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura because the characters and animation were so appealing.
Sadly, Toonami went away when I got into high school, so anime kinda faded away for me for a while. It wasn’t until I rediscovered it in college that I really started diving hardcore into anime. Weirdly enough, the two I started on in college were both directed by Tetsuro Araki: Death Note and Highschool of the Dead.
2. When do you think anime began reaching global popularity?
Anime found a very niche market in the West as early as the 1980s, especially with movies like Akira airing on the SyFy channel. However, it wasn’t until Dragon Ball Z premiered in North America in the late 90s that anime really started taking off and got more public recognition.
This was the first golden age for both Toonami and FUNimation, the company that licensed the show for distribution. This was also around the time when Pokemon was starting to blow up as well, so it was the perfect storm of new shows grabbing the global audience.
Later on, there was the beginning of simulcasting in the early 2010s. With Crunchyroll, a former illegal fansub site turned professional anime licensor, leading the way, anime could be brought to a global audience much faster and much easier. Without it, the massive success of shows like Attack on Titan and Sword Art Online might not have been possible, or at least nowhere near the level it’s at today.
3. How many anime shows do you watch a week?
That’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer. Before I started going all-out with my YouTube channel, I could probably finish about 4-5 shows a week. I still remember the summer when I blazed through all 26 episodes of Darker Than Black in one day.
Now, though, I’ve gotten much more choosy with what I try to finish. After nearly missing one of my favourite shows of last year, Three Leaves, Three Colors, because the synopsis didn’t interest me, I decided that I would give every show in a season a shot, no matter how bad it initially sounded on paper.
Of course, trying out 50 new shows every season makes it impossible to finish all of them, or even most of them. Nowadays, with how busy I get, I’m lucky if I finish one or two in a week, though there’s usually a significantly higher “dropped” list for that week as well (when starting to catch up on the latest season, I ended up dropping about 7 or 8 shows in the span of about three hours).
4. What do you think is the best anime series ever?
However, it’s Your Lie in April that takes #1 and will always be an extremely special series for me. It portrays the struggles of classical musicians so deeply and intensely that it’s hard for me not to tear up sometimes, being a classical musician myself. It might just feel like a normal romance drama at first, but it’s so fantastic at being one that it makes the experience all the more enjoyable, even when you know the story beats it’s going to hit. It also has easily the best animation that A-1 Pictures has ever produced and the soundtrack is phenomenal. I actually left my living room after the final episode to go cry in my bedroom because I didn’t want my roommates to see me.
5. What do you think is the best anime movie ever?
Again going out of my usual comfort zone, I’d have to pick Hayao Miyazaki’s latest work, The Wind Rises. I love stories about prodigies and how they rise up in the world (also applicable to YLiA), and seeing that formula applied to Jirou Horikoshi, the creator of Japan’s Zero Fighter during WWII, was an absolutely captivating experience. This is Miyazaki’s best work without a doubt, and if it ends up being his final project, then that’s a fantastic note to go out on. I am also very excited to see if his new project, How Do You Live?, comes to fruition.
6. You’re a classical musician and often write about the anime scores. What makes a good anime score and who is your favourite composer?
A good score for me has two primary attributes. The first is to actually be noticeable. If I don’t even notice the music while I’m watching, then I just won’t find it that interesting because it means that the composer didn’t put enough style into it for it to stand out.
The second is to add new levels of emotion to the scene that are fitting for the scene taking place. Every new element that you add to a film or episode modifies its meaning, and music has the power to create emotions and feelings that simply aren’t possible through other methods.
Without a doubt, Taku Iwasaki is my favourite soundtrack composer. Soul Eater, Gurren Lagann, Gatchaman Crowds, JoJo part 2, Noragami, Jormungand; all soundtracks I would love to own (one of which I already do). Iwasaki is known for throwing literally everything into the pot when crafting his soundtracks to create a unique and bizarre sound all his own. In particular, his mastery of jazz, rock, and electronic music is simply infectious.
7. There are a few prolific anime studios, but do you think one is the strongest right now? If so, why?
My favourite studio has always been Studio Bones (FMA, Soul Eater, Mob Psycho 100) for their amazing action work. That might change in the near future though since Trigger has been on such a role lately. I’ve been hooked on Trigger’s unique style ever since Kill la Kill, and they just keep making incredible shows. Space Patrol Luluco was in my Top 5 for 2016, and Little Witch Academia will mostly likely be my Anime of the Year this time around.
Trigger is the absolute epitome of fun when it comes to anime, and knowing that they already have three new shows on the horizon, a sci-fi collab with A-1, an adaptation of a tokusatsu series (think Kamen Rider and Power Rangers), and an original series by the Gurren Lagann/Kill la Kill duo, makes me unbelievably excited.
8. Is the future of anime something worth getting excited for?
It’s a… very complicated situation at the moment. There is more anime being made right now than there has ever been before in the history of anime by a long shot. While that might seem like a good thing for those with niche interests, it’s also putting a heavy strain on the industry. What’s more, a lot of these shows are just straight-up bad and not even worthy of being made. Digibro had an excellent rant about this subject a little while ago.
However, I’m still very hopeful of anime’s future. There are always a couple sparkling gems that come out each year, and the anime community rarely ever passes them up. I already have three shows from this year that I would consider personal favourites (March Comes in Like a Lion, Little Witch Academia, and Made in Abyss). That, combined with an ever expanding community and reach makes this one of the best times to be an anime fan.
9. Tell me some exciting anime titles still to come in 2017.
The Ancient Magus Bride has been the centre of upcoming attention for a while now, and with good reason. Studio Wit (Attack on Titan) doing an adaptation of a mildly-dark fantasy series seems like a great idea. Black Clover seemed like it had promise at first being the next big Shounen Jump adaptation, but Studio Pierrot always manages to find a way to screw things up, and the anime adaptation has been abysmal.
I’ve checked out at least one episode of every from the current season so far, and Girls’ Last Tour and Magical Circle Guru-Guru are my favourites right now. Cute girls exploring a post-apocalyptic cityscape, and perfectly executed comedy with an RPG/high fantasy flavour make these shows a bunch of fun to watch.
Of course there’s a ton of great sequels as well. New Gintama and Food Wars for the Shounen Jump fans, and the second season of March Comes in Like a Lion has me super excited.
10. Why do you think anime is so popular?
Again I have to reference another Digibro video, but the biggest draw of anime for me is simply that it does stuff that I want to see in storytelling that simply isn’t being done anywhere else. The vast majority of popular live action TV shows in the West are cop and medical dramas. While it’s nice to tune into an episode of Blue Bloods every now and then, I’m all about experiencing something new and exciting, and anime can always give me that.
Nowhere else will you see an 800 episode and counting adventure series like One Piece that tells a continuous, serialised story. Nowhere else will you see a contemplative apocalyptic drama with gorgeous artwork like Casshern Sins. Or a comedy series about a squid girl who tries to conquer the earth but ends up working in a beachside diner like… well, Squid Girl. And that’s not even close to the weirdest and most unique stuff that anime has to offer.
What’s more, anime is also a very meta medium, especially when it comes to adaptations of light novels. It’s a medium that is hyper self-referential and constantly builds upon itself. There are even jokes in some shows that you simply wouldn’t get without knowledge of the hugely popular shows that came before, such as the references to Haruhi Suzumiya in Lucky Star.
There’s just so much about anime that sets it apart from traditional media that it’s hard not to fall in love with it.