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'No-No Boy': John Okada's First, Last, And Only

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The first major piece of fiction by an Asian-American originally vanished from sight, and seemed all but gone after the death of its author, but found new life in reissues across the decades

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'Unforgiven'/'Yurusarezarumono': From The Wild West To The Deep North

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Sang-Il Lee's Meiji-era remake of Clint Eastwood's now-classic Western doesn't quite eclipse its predecessor, but it doesn't need to; it stands very nicely on its own

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'Steins;Gate': Stand Back, We're Going To Try Weird Science

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How comedic banter, science-fiction mind-bending, and an irresistible cast of characters combined alchemically to make one of anime's best moments in recent years

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'The Face Of Another': Confessions Of A Mask

Kōbō Abe's novel, and Hiroshi Teshigahara's film adaptation, explore an extreme case: a disfigured man given a new face to present to the world, and thus all the perils of existential absolute freedom

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The function of science fiction is not to predict the future's details, but to help us anticipate their emotional impact. The Face Of Another is not about when or how the details of the human body will become malleable, print-on-demand commodities, but about how that would force us to think about the morality of having an identity tied to our physique. Who am I to you, or to myself, if I can erase everything you would normally use to single me out? That was the subject of Kōbō Abe's novel, and Hiroshi Teshigahara's film adaptation (both from 1966), both of which revolve around a possibility that has since passed out of the realm of SF and become feasible. Book and movie alike both suffer slightly from the intellectual preciousness that tends to infect mainstream books built on SF concepts — it's as if they don't want to be caught dead being called "SF", so they work overtime to be called "Kafkaesque" or "existential". But both works also know that the problem of modern life is that while we have no technical solution for our spiritual ills, we're very good at convincing ourselves otherwise. For a while.

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'Black Lagoon': Boiled Harder

The animated adaptation of Rei Hiroe's ferocious homage to '80s action and Hong Kong cinema has all the attitude and muscle of its source, and also all its soul and insight

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The greatest entertainments of any era either totally embody their moment in time, or seem outside of time altogether. Black Lagoon, now back on Blu-ray in a budget-priced reissue set, started in the first category and has since bounded vigorously into the second. Like the long-running Rei Hiroe manga it adapts, it melts down and blends 1980s and 1990s action-movie influences — Hong Kong gun-fu epics, Hollywood slam-bangers like Lethal Weapon, the direct-to-video boobs-'n-explosions antics of Andy Sidaris. Done well, that stuff has a timelessness all its own, but Black Lagoon has another layer atop it all: some of the finest characterization, storytelling, and thematics of any anime or manga. It has something to say about its characters and the way they elect to ignore, confront, or exploit the chaos of the world around them. It knows it's a thrill ride, but it never settles for being just that.

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'Samurai Champloo': The Mix

At the Venn intersection of "47 Ronin" and "Cash Rules Everything Around Me" is this glorious jumble of period samurai adventure, road movie, anti-romantic triangle, comedy, drama, and stone cold classic

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sa·mu·rai n. 1: military nobility of feudal Japan; from verb meaning to wait upon or accompany a person in the upper ranks of society

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