Thundercat’s guide to anime

The American musician-singer-songwriter loves cartoons as much as mind-melting jazz. Here are his tips for beginners.

Thundercat’s on the phone, and he’s diagnosed himself with arrested development. This is not surprising. While blessed with a virtuosic ability to create psychedelic jazz, mind-melting basslines (for To Pimp a Butterfly) and one of the most ethereal falsettos you’ve ever heard, the LA artist formerly known as Stephen Bruner owes his stage-name to a cartoon. 

During Thundercat’s childhood in the 80s and early 90s, a lot of the best cartoons were inspired by anime: from G.I. Joe to Thundercats, they all had Japanese animators on their teams. He says his earliest memories of the genre came at the age of five. I was glued to the TV man, my mum wouldn’t buy me the toys because she thought I’d fucking worship them.” He giggles. 

The obsession continued, and soon he would spend his weekends hanging out at the local comic book store, Collector’s Paradise. By the age of ten, he’d started working there. That’s the one job I ever had, and they couldn’t pay me because I was too young – I got paid in comic books and toys and shit.” 

Thundercat’s got a new album called It Is What It Is out on Friday, which he’s had to talk about a lot, of course. So we thought we’d provide a little respite in the press grind by discussing anime instead. There’s been the recent Netflix and Spotify democratisation of Studio Ghibli, plus, the album features a single called Dragonball Durag, so the topic is arguably just as appropriate anyway. 

He agreed. Fuuuck yeah, fuuuuuck yeah oh fuck yeah. Talking about anime for an hour? This is the best shit ever, this is the tightest fucking interview ever. Ok. I’m getting slightly horny. Uh…”. 

SET THE VIBE

My ideal environment is sitting on my couch in the dark, with the speakers blasting and my cat (Turbo Tron Over 9000 Baby Jesus Sally) at my side. I like to watch anime straight through until I finish it. If I fall asleep, I pick up where I left off when I’m awake again – I sleep in increments of a couple of hours at a time, a few times a day.”

WHERE TO START

Start with Cowboy Bebop. I feel like that’s the one that translates no matter what genre you normally subscribe to. When I show my friends anime, if I go straight into shit like Fists of the North Star, they realise I’m crazy. But Cowboy Bebop draws you in and makes you feel like you’re part of it, you start to see yourself within its world. Only a few anime that do that. 

Number two, Akira (the movie). Definitive for a number of reasons. If you say you watch anime and you haven’t seen Akira, you kinda should get slapped. You can’t say you watch anime if you haven’t seen Akira - it’s offensive. 

Akira is timeless. You can see it in our current political state. With the earth trying to throw us up, it feels like the end of the world every now and then, and Akiras got that apocalyptic feeling. It’s a very good snapshot to our ideal end of the world, and the emotions that accompany it. Not to mention the animators are A1 – top-notch. And the soundtrack is very nutritious.”

THE BEST SOUNDTRACKS

It’s more songs that stick to me than entire soundtracks generally. The first one that comes to mind is the theme song from Neon Genesis Evangelion [A Cruel Angel’s Thesis]. It’s perfect because this is pop culture that the rest of the world is being introduced to, but it’s a very normal sounding track in Japan. It’s a bit playful, but something about it feels really powerful when you hear it – the sense of melody and harmony is amazing. I have a track called Evangelion on my second album, Apocalypse.

Also, the intro to Samurai Champloo, and its composer Nujabes in general. I think it’s been set in stone how special a moment this is because he’s no longer here, and people respect Nujabes in the same manner that they respect J Dilla. There’s something about it that’s just so special – you never wanna fast-forward past that intro. If I had to choose one entire soundtrack, it’d be Samurai Champloo, because it paid attention to hip-hop and there’s a newer mindset about music than you’ll find in most anime. I think that’s one of the reasons it did so well as a series.” 

WHICH ANIME HAS THE BEST FASHION?

Everything is starting to look like Ghost In The Shell. Everybody’s got their VR headsets and wants to look futuristic but somehow looks kinda normal. They nail the idea that you could still see someone wearing a T‑shirt and cargo jeans, but they’re holding some crazy tech. It’s like: here’s what I spend my money on, but this is how the future looks. There’s a lot of monochromatic fits going on too, it has some wild fits.

Other than that, for some of the coldest outfits, we’re in space and we’re talking about Mobile Suit Gundam and Neon Genesis Evangelion. If we follow those then everybody’s gonna walk around looking like they’re Tyler, the fucking Batsuit. Which I wouldn’t mind, in fact, I’d like to see it.”

TOP THREE STUDIO GHIBLIS

Are you serious? Damn…

Well, Grave of the Fireflies is my all-time favourite Studio Ghibli. Very rarely do the Japanese people let you into their emotional side, or where they really feel they’re hurting. The fact that Studio Ghibli took on such a story, one of the hardest moments for Japan and for most of the people around the world – WWII – is incredible. Sometimes things get washed over in history, but these stories are very important. Watching something unfold in such a saddening way, watching how endings are not always happy, is important. There’s a sense of survival and life moving forward here too, but it’s mainly very sad and powerful. I’ve never had a cartoon pull so much emotion out of me in my entire life. 

Coming up next, of course, is My Neighbour Totoro, as that’s just a masterpiece. And my third favourite is Ponyo. I love Ponyo.”

TOP 10 (OK, YOU CAN HAVE 13) ANIME RECOMMENDATIONS:

Alright, let’s fucking go:”

Cowboy Bebop

Fists of the North Star

Dragon Ball fucking” Z man… 

Neon Genesis Evangelion

Akira

Street Fighter (specifically Part II: the animated movie), 

Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz

Mezzo Forte (and for that matter, it’s sort-of-prequel, Kite).

And Golden Boy

That’s ten isn’t it? Can I give you two more? I can’t leave them! Basilisk: The Kouga Ninja Scrolls and Shigurui: Death Frenzy

OH FUCK, AND NINJA SCROLL. You gotta have Ninja Scroll!” 

Thundercat’s new album It Is What It Is is released 3rd April via Brainfeeder.


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