For the last time, Captain Planet is not anime
Back in 1970, April 22 was declared Earth Day. Everyone has their own way of observing the date, from planting trees to cutting back on energy consumption. Here at Crunchyroll, we see it as a perfect day to revisit some of our favorite anime!
Okay, fine, that's us literally every day of the year—but there are lots of anime series and movies out there that have a strong ecological message. There are also plenty that, while not deliberately environmental in nature, remind us of the beauty and wonder of the world around us, and how rewarding it can be to step back and appreciate it.
So, from your neighbor's yard to the bottom of the world, let's take a look at some anime that make for perfect Earth Day viewing. Don't forget to add your favorites down in the comments!
My Neighbor Totoro
A perennial favorite on any day of the year, My Neighbor Totoro carries a variety of messages within it. Besides hailing from Studio Ghibli, already replete with works on respect for nature (which we'll see more of later), it carries a much more targeted message about Japanese village life, and has even aided in local preservation endeavors.
At the forefront of the film, of course, we have Totoro: a kind, eager-to-please forest spirit who helps protagonists Satsuki and Mei adjust to rural life. It's not particularly hard to fall in love with the green forest setting of the film, either: Miyazaki's films often portray nature at its most beautiful and welcoming, as a peaceful place where we can play, learn, and grow. The kid-targeted Totoro aims to teach children to enjoy the wonders of nature amidst our increasingly technological world.
On a much more specific note, Totoro draws attention to Japan's satoyama—agricultural border zones between flat lands and forests, carefully maintained by workers who trimmed back trees for firewood and collected leaves for mulch. As the face of industry and fuel sources in Japan changed, that border became less carefully tended. The loving depiction of the satoyama in My Neighbor Totoro became a major force for the preservation of these natural areas; 30 years later, more than 500 groups are involved in conservation efforts.
Earth Maiden Arjuna
Macross creator Shoji Kawamori has a lot of feelings about natural farming and humanity's involvement with the world. That, plus the Bhagavad Gita, became his show Earth Maiden Arjuna—a sort of magical girl answer to Captain Planet.
Schoolgirl Juna dies in a motorcycle accident, but at the moment of her death is granted the ability to see the true state of the world. And the true state of the world is that it's dying, infested with monsters called Raaja. A boy named Chris offers Juna a second chance at life, on one condition: she becomes the Avatar of Time and helps the planet. While she struggles with exactly how to go about this, she has the support of her boyfriend Tokio and an environmental organization known as SEED.
If you've seen Arjuna in its entirety, you know that the plot isn't quite that simple, and things become a little less cut-and-dried in the end. But throughout the series, there is a strong focus on cohabitation with nature, rather than working over it or attempting to control it. There's also a heavy emphasis on what modernized city life does to us as a society, both in terms of our impact on the world and our ability to communicate with and understand each other.
Blue Submarine No. 6
This one is a slow burn, both in terms of how the environmental factors come into play and how long it took to get adapted. The original manga was created in 1967 by Satoru Ozawa, and didn't get the anime treatment until 33 years later in 2000.
The series is a post-apocalyptic cautionary tale, taking place after the polar ice caps have melted prematurely and submerged much of the world. Fleets of submarines, including the title craft, fight against the reclusive Professor Zorndyke's human/animal hybrids. Zorndyke has further plans for the world (yes, beyond melting all the ice at the poles), and it's up to these submarine forces to find a way to end the conflict before things get turned completely upside-down.
While we're not at risk of that exact issue (as far as any of us know), the message is fairly clear. As the world is changed for the comfort and benefit of one species, things start to fall apart. How far is Zorndyke willing to go for his hybrids, and how much is he willing to sacrifice?
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
There are plenty more Studio Ghibli films that belong on this list, but we promised ourselves we'd limit it to two. Princess Mononoke is another major one to add to the list if you're going on a multi-movie binge watch tonight.
As with many of Miyazaki's works, including the previously mentioned My Neighbor Totoro, Nausicaä presents nature as a place of innocence and kindness. In this particular case, it showed nature attempting to adapt to humanity's influence. As with Totoro, there was a real world influence: the mercury poisoning of Minamata Bay throughout the 1950s and 1960s, leading to the infection of fish and shellfish and the deaths of more than 10,000 people from what became known as Minamata disease.
The film's message was acknowledged within and outside of Japan on its release, receiving a recommendation from the World Wide Fund for Nature.
The last selection on this list is a little different—not an outright environmental show, but a newer one that shows us nature at its biggest, wildest, and most beautiful.
A Place Further Than the Universe was a major hit of 2018, taking four teenage girls to the literal ends of the earth. Whether to find a family member, to fulfill a work commitment, or just to try something new, everyone has something they want to accomplish. Not everything works out as planned, but they make friendships, learn about themselves, and become a little braver along the way.
It may not have focused inspirations like My Neighbor Totoro or specific philosophies on ethical consumption like Earth Maiden Arjuna, but A Place Further Than the Universe is very much a story of existing within nature at its most untamed, exploring it, and growing to appreciate it. Its jumping-off point is a character enamored of the beauties of the wilderness at the bottom of the world, and everyone who makes the trip to Antarctica is pushed to their limits in a way that is ultimately rewarding.
Now it's your turn! What anime do you think are worth an Earth Day watch? Or do you have specific memories or thoughts about the titles we've talked about here? Let's talk it out in the comments!
Kara Dennison is a writer, editor, and interviewer with bylines at VRV, We Are Cult, Fanbyte, and many more. She is also the co-founder of Altrix Books and co-creator of the OEL light novel series Owl's Flower. Kara blogs at karadennison.com and tweets @RubyCosmos.
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