Once you’ve watched a certain amount of anime (aka, more than is probably good for you), there comes a point when top ten lists don’t really do the job of encapsulating your favourites anymore. When such a time comes, the only thing you can do to showcase your favourites is make a highly ambitious and incredibly lengthy post about not just ten, but fifty-plus anime that you feel you absolutely must recommend to everyone. Such was the origin of this post, and so it was that after much thought, a hefty list of no fewer than sixty series were collected together. Some of them could never make it onto an overall top ten list, but they are nonetheless so good at what they do that they still require a mention in some capacity.
On a side note, don’t expect the likes of Ghost in the Shell, Cowboy Bebop and Evangelion to appear on here. Whilst the first two at least are certainly solid enough, they appear on recommendation lists throughout the land, and it’s time they stood aside to let worthier series get some of the spotlight.
The Grand List Part One: A to L
Of course I wanted to include Dennou Coil on here, but since it hasn’t finished airing yet, it’s a bit too early to pass final judgement.
What’s it about?: When travelling puppeteer Yukito comes to a new town, his only thought is earning enough to eat, but in short order he finds himself drawn into the mysteries of the inhabitants. Based on an eroge by Key, Air is split into three arcs- the Summer arc, in which Yukito becomes entangled in the life and back story of the various female protagonists; the Summer Arc, which goes back a few centuries and explores the lives of the previous incarnations of the protagonists, and the Air arc, which concentrates on main girl Misuzu as sickness threatens to consume both her life and her bond with her adoptive mother.
Why watch it?: Far more than a simple harem series, Air unites a likable lead with a group of girls whose stories are far more compelling and heart-wrenching than the standard â€œmother died and father disappearedâ€ of so many series. Coupled with the beautiful visuals and poignant music, the series creates an atmosphere that inevitably draws you into its world and makes you care about what is happening onscreen (unless of course you happen to be Owen).
Devil’s Advocate: With only twelve episodes to fit everything in (the thirteenth and final episode is a mere recap), it isn’t surprising that the anime has to proceed forward at a brisk pace, sometimes to the detriment of letting a point sink and truly make sense. Even so, when you consider that 24-6 episodes could have made the whole thing painfully slow, and that the Summer arc at least got two special episodes to help expand it a bit more, maybe its current incarnation is all for the best.
Final Verdict: Atmospheric and beautiful- an eroge adaptation done right.
What’s it about?: One rain-soaked night in the 1960s, a teenager named Akagi Shigeru lights up the underworld by winning a high stakes mah-jongg match- despite having never played the game before. From then on, Akagiâ€™s rare talent and unique genius for risking everything blazes a trail through the underworld as he becomes involved in a series of increasingly high-stakes matches.
Why watch it?: An entire series based around mah-jongg may sound dull, but Akagi proves to be a compelling series that draws you into its world regardless of whether you have any prior knowledge of the game. With its expertise at creating tension, Akagi can make you care far more about the flip of a single tile than some series do about the death of a major character.
Devil’s Advocate: Yes, it’s ugly, MANLY and the ending is inconclusive, and for this reason most people will be put off before they even begin. Even if such things aren’t to your taste, however, I must urge you to put aside your preconceptions and at least try the first few episodes.
Final Verdict: It may look like an unattractive testosterone fest, but Akagi’s extreme mah-jongg action can draw anyone into its world. Sit back and enjoy the ride- and maybe learn something about the game along the way.
What’s it about?: On the terraformed planet Aqua (formerly Mars), beautiful gondoliers known as undines ply the canals of Neo Venezia, a recreation of Earth’s Venice. Having come to Aqua from Earth, Akari Mizunashi works and trains hard for the day when she too will become a full-fledged undine, although on the way there is plenty of time for her and her friends to explore the secrets and wonders that their world has to offer.
Why watch it?: Aria is the epitome of slice-of-life- gentle, tranquil, charming and yet never dull. Thanks to the sense of wonder that infuses the entire series, even the simplest of actions seems fresh and new once again, and with such delightful characters exploring a beautiful city, it seems impossible to tire of their adventures. Oh, and there’s a fat cat too- what more can you ask for?
Devil’s Advocate: For those who aren’t as enamoured of the genre, Aria may seem a little slow and boring, even the most dedicated of followers cannot deny that there are moments when the whole thing becomes a little too saccharine and sweet.
Final Verdict: Though not quite perfect, Aria is still very good, and if you have any liking at all for quieter anime series, you must absolutely give this a try.
rnWhatâ€™s it about?: Six very different girls are attending high school together- ten-year-old prodigy Chiyo, loud and energetic Tomo, completely spaced out Osaka, hard-working Yomi, quiet cat-lover Sakaki and sports jock Kagura. Accompany them through their high school years and experience everything from everyday events to the downright bizarre.
Why watch it?: It may not be Pani Poni Dash or early School Rumble, but Azumanga’s randomness and running gags are a lot of fun. Even though on the surface it doesn’t seem to go anywhere, Azumanga guides us through three years of high school antics, whilst sparking all sorts of oddball encounters and random conversations through the combination of six very different personalities.
Devil’s Advocate: The way the series moves from one short skit to another will not sit well with viewers looking for something more continuous, and even fans may have to admit that showing similar events occurring in the girls’ first, second and third years is more a route to repetitiveness than amusement.
Final verdict: Yes, not every part hits the mark, but when you consider that each episode is divided into five five-minute sketches, it is still quite impressive that so many of them manage to amuse.
What’s it about?: Koyuki is a bored fourteen-year-old who feels distanced from life- at least until her meets the dedicated yet eccentric Minami Ryuusuke, a young man looking to set up his own band, Beck. Gradually, Koyuki finds himself drawn into the world of rock music, eventually joining Beck as the band struggles to make a name for itself.
Why watch it?: Most music-based anime are hopelessly idealistic, with the lead becoming a star mere moments after they first pick up a microphone- not so with Beck, which aims to give a more realistic portrayal of the difficulties of breaking into the industry. Victory is not inevitable here, and so for once you can really throw your lot in with the characters as you long for them to overcome the odds and finally succeed.
Devil’s Advocate: On the flip side of the coin, because things can and do go wrong so often, it can sometimes be a little painful wondering if the band’s latest success will only be a fleeting one.
Final verdict: Even if you don’t like rock music, I urge you to give this a try- unless you are completely apathetic and dead to the world of music, you will find yourself drawn into the world of Beck.
What’s it about?: Feared as the Black Swordsman, the mighty warrior Guts roams the land in search of revenge on the powerful Griffith- yet once, Guts and Griffith were comrades and fellow mercenaries in the Band of the Hawk. What was it that drove the two men apart?
Why watch it?: Berserk may look like a sausage-fest of manly men wielding large swords in an age of gore, but beneath this off-putting exterior, it truly is very good. An immersive tale of the lives of its characters, Berserk may be explicit, but such things seem vital to the nature of the story rather than gratuitously included for the shock value. Just like Guts’ bulging muscles and mighty sword, this is a story that is solid as iron and substantial through and through- you’ll get so drawn into its world that you will absolutely need to keep watching.
Devil’s Advocate: Admittedly, with all the gruesome monsters and bloody battles going on, this is not for the faint of heart, and there are many who dislike the turn taken by the conclusion of the story (although personally, whilst those scenes are quite disturbing, I accept them because that it where the story was going all alone). Also, the anime only covers the flashback arc of the manga, with the ongoing present day events left out through lack of time.
Final verdict: One of the rare series that manages to be MANLY yet worthy, Berserk will gleefully welcome you into its world of extremes, and may never let you go.
What’s it about?: Forty years ago, a disaster occurred that changed the face of the planet and left the survivors without any memory of their past; now, gathered together under the domes of Paradigm City, humanity tries to live as best it can, but fragments of memories have a way of resurfacing. As a Negotiator, Roger Smith acts as a mediator in various cases throughout the city, but when things turn ugly, he must rely on the assistance of Big O, a giant robot that answers to his call.
Why watch it?: Big O is one of those delightfully complex series that packs in everything from giant robot battles to a deeper mystery that examines the nature of self and memory. From memorable moments such as Roger re-spraying his car on the fly to elude pursuers to the deeper questions as to what the whole series was about (whole internet sites are devoted to this topic), Big O certainly leaves you with enough food for thought to mull over long after you finish watching it.
Devil’s Advocate: By the same token, Big O is confusing- so much so that it’s debatable whether anyone other than the writers knows what it was really meant to be about. This is not a series that takes well to casual viewing- you will need to invest a bit of effort to get the best out of it.
Final verdict: It may be confusing, but with such uniqueness in both storytelling and visual style, it stands apart from the crowd and is thus worthy of attention.
What’s it about?: Binchou-tan is a tiny girl who lives on her own in the forest and spends her days gathering necessities from the surrounding area, heading into the nearby town to work, or just taking time out to relax. Join Binchou-tan and her equally diminutive friends as they fill their days with both work and play.
Why watch it?: Binchou-tan is epitome of “simple yet sweet” slice of life, whose quietly charming approach and beautiful settings make it addictively cute rather than saccharine. With each episode only running to ten minutes in length, it never has time to get boring or outstay its welcome.
Devil’s Advocate: That being said, just because I didn’t find it dull doesn’t mean others will take to it as warmly- Sasa for one lost interest in it early on, and others may find themselves put off by the moe aspect and extremes of chibiness.
Final verdict: It’s not Aria, but nor is it as sickeningly cute as you might think- instead, this is a nice little slice-of-life series that should satisfy most fans of the genre.
What’s it about?: Something changed the night the white light was seen in the city. People started evolving, gaining new abilities beyond those of normal humans, whilst all across the city, strange phenomena began to appear. What triggered these changes? What is the truth behind the mysterious Towa Organisation and their interest in evolved humans? And just who or what is the shinigami of urban legend known as Boogiepop?
Why watch it?: A series that combines horror, mystery and the supernatural, Boogiepop Phantom is just one part of a much larger franchise, but even taken on its own, it proves an intriguing and absorbing series. With individual stories told from different perspectives and often encompassing different time periods, Boogiepop slowly but skilfully builds up the bigger picture whilst simultaneously delivering content that works on an episodic basis.
Devil’s Advocate: Unsurprisingly, this is another series that only rewards concentration and multiple viewings- without them, it can be hard to even remember the bulk of what happened, let alone grasp the overall story. It also has to be admitted that not all the episodic elements are up to par- episode three in particular stands out as a poorly done and largely pointless piece.
Final verdict: It is a bit inconsistent in places, but overall Boogiepop Phantom is a quirky and unique series that stands as one of the better horror and supernatural offerings out there.
Le Chevalier d’Eon
What’s it about?: The year is 1742, and the body of Lia de Beaumont has just been found in a coffin floating down the Seine- and for her brother d’Eon, it signals the start of a journey. Possessed by Lia’s restless soul, he finds himself driven to find the cause of her death, and in so doing, he and his comrades find themselves travelling across Europe and uncovering conspiracies and agendas that permeate even the highest of authorities. Can d’Eon survive long enough to uncover the truth, or will he fall victim to mysterious powers possessed by the many forces seeking to advance their own agendas?
Why watch it?: Historical series always have the appeal of letting us relive another time and place, and Chevalier is no exception, combining drama and politics with a splash of fantasy for generally positive results. It may teeter on the edge of the realms of cheese, but somehow it always pulls itself back from the brink with strong performances that bring a little piece of 18th century France, Russia and England to life.
Devil’s Advocate: Much as I love it, I would be the first to admit that Chevalier is not without its flaws. On close inspection, several key story elements seem questionable (especially the ending), and certainly those looking for more mindless action and less introspection may find themselves disappointed- it also won’t go down well with the ‘history is dry and boring’ crowd.
Final verdict: A series that encourages you to overlook its flaws rather than dwell on them, Chevalier is the kind of series that breeds new addicts to historical fantasy.
Crest of the Stars
What’s it about?: When Jinto was just a boy, his father handed his world to the Abh Empire, a mighty stellar force of genetically modified human who believe their empire is the best buffer against instellar war. Flash forward a few years, and Jinto is now an honorary Abh being given the same off-world education as any noble in the Empire. On his way to military college, however, he not only undergoes a fateful meeting with the beautiful and proud Abh Lafiel, but becomes embroiled in the forefront of events when the so-called United Mankind decides to declare war on the Abh.
Why watch it?: Set in a well-realised sci-fi universe, Crest of the Stars proves to be an adept hand at presenting close-up character drama alongside space opera on a grander scale. Whether you like coming-of-age stories or simply yearn for aliens, politics and tense space battles, Crest of the Stars has it all, and it all makes for compulsive viewing.
Devil’s Advocate: Take on its own, thirteen episodes is really only just enough to get the series going rather than wrap everything up- for more of the same you’ll have to progress to the sequel series Banner of the Stars.
Final verdict: It may be getting on in years, but sci-fi fans will eat this one up.
What’s it about?: The remote Tatsumiya Island is one of the last outposts left to humanity in its war against the alien Festum. The children of the island remain completely unaware of this, however, until the day a Festum attacks and the truth of their world is revealed. Now recruited into the battle against the Festum, teenager Kazuki Makabe and his friends must learn to pilot the Fafners, giant robots capable of holding their own against the enemy, but at a terrible cost to the pilot.
Why watch it?: I almost judged Fafner not quite good enough for this list, but even though objectively it can be considered a flawed and incomplete work, there is just something about it that makes it curiously compelling. Perhaps it is the glimpses of sheer potential seen in such moments as the death of a pilot, maybe it is simply the top notch presentation of battles between Fafner and Festum, but the series exerts pull beyond that of most mecha series, making one desperately want more.
Devil’s Advocate: Whilst I wouldn’t quite call it the bastard child of Evangelion and RahXephon as so many do, Fafner does suffer from a lack of overall cohesion- interesting story ideas are woven in, but inconsistent writing often makes it hard to penetrate the intent of a scene, or why the series as a whole took a particular direction.
Final verdict: Far from perfect, but possessed of an addictiveness few mecha series achieve and thus more memorable than the bulk of the genre.
What’s it about?: Throughout history they have a appeared- a group of white-haired children wise beyond their apparent years, searching for something they once lost. Who are they, what are they looking for- and why does their quest seem so intimately involved with that hazy and forbidden realm that separates the living from the dead?
Why watch it?: Although it’s hard to explain the story without giving away too much vital information, in some ways it is enough to merely say that Fantastic Children is sheer excellence. A carefully woven mystery that will keep you guessing right up until the end, Fantastic Children entices without frustrating as it slowly but surely places its cards on the table. With its strong characters and adeptness at handling everything from tense action scenes to lighter moments, Fantastic Children makes good use of every single minute of screen time.
Devil’s Advocate: The simplistic character designs may make the series look a little childish at first, but spend enough time with them and you will begin to appreciate their odd attractiveness.
Final verdict: One of the finest examples of anime to date, it may not have the visual allure of other series, but the story really packs a punch.
What’s it about?: When high school student Tohru Honda becomes a housekeeper for the Sohma family in exchange for a place to stay, she discovers that they are afflicted with a most unusual curse- when hugged by members of the opposite sex, they transform into the animals of the Chinese Zodiac! It may seem comical, but their unique condition has led this family to experience their own problems of fear and isolation; can Tohru’s optimism and kindness help them to open their hearts to others?
Why watch it?: It’s hard to find someone who has watched Fruits Basket and doesn’t love it, and even now it remains one of the best character dramas out there- delivering heart-wrenching serious content whilst knowing when to lighten up without destroying the moment or feeling too flippant.
Devil’s Advocate: Since it aired whilst the manga was still ongoing, the series covers less than eight of the story’s twenty-three volumes, but whilst this leaves it definitely unfinished, it has to be admitted that it prevents the anime from experiencing the same decline as the manga. There’s also some odd pacing in the last quarter of the series, possibly because these later episodes are drawn from the manga in a changed order.
Final verdict: If you can put aside the disappointment of the later manga volumes and just focus on the anime alone, this remains a worthy series.
What’s it about?: Loosely based on The Count of Monte Cristo, Gankutsuou takes the classic tale of revenge and sets it in a space-faring future. When the mysterious Count of Monte Cristo returns to Paris, young Albert de Morcerf is very taken with the rich and enigmatic noble, but beneath his fabulous wealth and genial outlook lurks a hidden past, and a deep need for revenge on those who once wronged him.
Why watch it?: Gankutsuou immediately captivates with its unique visual style and use of patterns and textures, but beneath this there is also plenty of substance. Yes, the sci-fi elements give away the fact that staying true to the book is not the series’ prime concern, but even so, it retains a strong and compelling story with an entire cast of distinctive characters.
Devil’s Advocate: Book purists will no doubt be put off by the sci-fi setting and changes to the original story, but overall there is little to say against this series.
Final verdict: Unique, stylish and one of Gonzo’s better efforts- why can’t all of their adaptations be like this?
What’s it about?: It’s not the anime club, and it’s not the manga club- this is “Genshiken”, the Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture. Looked down upon by their fellow university students, this eclectic bunch nonetheless strives to embrace the otaku side, indulging in everything from cosplay to doujinshi.
Why watch it?: Ever wanted to peek into the otaku lifestyle? Perhaps you just want to be reassured that, compared to some, your obsession with the hobby is really quite mild. Either way, Genshiken will do the trick for you, offering an amusing yet often disturbingly realistic glimpse into the lives of various otaku and the people closest to them.
Devil’s Advocate: The only downer is not from Genshiken itself, but from the accompanying Kujibiki Unbalance OVA, which is meant to parody various anime but actually comes across as quite dull and generic in the process.
Final verdict: Always good fun, Genshiken mixes memorable characters and apt observations to make a solid final product. Look forward to the upcoming second season.
What’s it about?: Harry McDowell is the chief of the criminal organisation Millennion, a powerful man who fears only one thing- his resurrected nemesis Brandon “Beyond the Grave” Heat. Yet these two men were once the best of friends- what could have happened to change things so?
Why watch it?: In its first sixteen episodes or so, Gungrave has the makings of a masterpiece, a tale of friends who must inevitably turn against each other, driven by ambition, ideals or just a desire to protect. The dialogue is incredibly well-written, layering each scene with a variety of intents and meanings, whilst the mafia setting allows for a healthy dose of action as well.
Devil’s Advocate: Sadly, once it hits the home stretch, Gungrave turns from a top notch character drama into a straight-out adaptation of the first game, thus offering little more than a series of successive boss fights. Yes, there are still good moments, but compared to what came before, it feels like a bit of an anticlimax.
Final verdict: Although it is let down by its later episodes, the mafia drama of the earlier arcs is enough to warrant investigation.
What’s it about?: Italy’s Social Welfare Agency- on the surface, it is an organisation dedicated to helping disadvantaged children and giving them a new lease of life. Whilst this not strictly inaccurate, however, what few people know is that the girls taken in by the Agency are actually turned into cyborgs and given training and conditioning designed to turn them into deadly assassins. The girls seem happy enough with their new lives, but can anyone justify robbing them of their childhood and turning them into mere tools to be used and discarded? Or is this the only way the Italian government can hope to fight back against the terrorists who would go to any length to ensure their message is heard?
Why watch it?: A strong character-driven piece, Gunslinger Girl combines the trials of adolescence with the unique condition of being a cyborg, trained to kill and show utter devotion to one’s handler. The true meat of the series comes from exploring the different cyborg-handler relationships, with a healthy dose of action and intrigue thrown in for good measure. Production values are also top notch, bringing Italy to life through both visuals and music.
Devil’s Advocate: Admittedly, some of the political elements are somewhat forgettable, and minor characters don’t really get much development- an unfortunate consequence of only covering the first two manga volumes. Happily, a second season is on its way.
Final verdict: Beautiful in every sense of the word, Gunslinger Girl is a must-watch for anyone who considers themselves an anime fan.
What’s it about?: It started with a dream of falling, and then she woke up in a new world with no memory of what had come before. Given the name Rakka by her peers, the young woman grew wings and gained a halo, thus becoming a Haibane. Together with her fellow Haibane, Rakka begins living and working in this mysterious land within the walls, but it cannot last forever- for one day each Haibane must undergo the Day of Flight and finally move on…
Why watch it?: As well as carrying deeper themes that will give the viewer much to think about both during and after the series, Haibane Renmei is to be commended for its incredible attention to detail. Every piece of this world has been painstakingly brought to life, and you can do no less than completely immerse yourself in it from start to finish, sharing the emotions and experiences of its characters.
Devil’s Advocate: This is not a series for those who like clear, definitive answers, because for the most part, it leaves you to draw your own conclusions. Certainly it isn’t hard to put together an interpretation of the series, but if you yearn for explicit explanations of every single aspect of the series, then you will be left feeling frustrated.
Final verdict: Touching and heart-wrenching, Haibane Renmei is a series to be drunk in and remembered in all its vivid detail for a long time to come.
Hikaru no Go
What’s it about?: Whilst rummaging around in his grandfather’s attic, Shindo Hikaru gets more than he bargained for when he comes across an old Go board- a board that just happens to be possessed by the spirit of Heian Era Go player Fujiwara-no-Sai. Since his last chance to get out of the board and play some Go came over 140 years ago, Sai instantly takes the opportunity to possess Hikaru in the hopes of being allowed to participate in a few more matches. Unfortunately, Hikaru is not at all interested in Go, but as he reluctantly indulges his ghostly partner, he begins to discover a new appreciation for the game.
Why watch it?: I know what you’re thinking- a Shounen Jump series about a board game you’re probably unfamiliar with can’t be any good, right? Think again, for Hikaru no Go not only sidesteps the usual SJ conventions by offering a likable cast who are more than mere stereotypes, but it is also filled with an infectious love of Go that will make you want to play too. Instead of sighing at the cliché adventures of Hikaru and his friends, you’ll be urging them on.
Devil’s Advocate: Sadly, the later volumes of the manga are not covered by the anime, and even a New Years special only takes the story partway through the final arc. Another complaint which can be equally levelled at the original material is that the ever expanding cast means that certain characters get forgotten along the way, although efforts are usually made to check up on them later.
Final verdict: “SJ done right”; my favourite Shounen Jump series and a truly addictive one at that.
Honey and Clover
What’s it about?: Takemoto, Mayama, Morita, Hagu and Yamada are all attending art college and experiencing the same problems as students everywhere, from assignments and lack of money to deciding on a career and sorting out the love life. Join them as they go through the turbulent years that separate education from the “real world”.
Why watch it?: The events of Honey and Clover will ring true for anyone who has gone through even vaguely similar life experiences, ensuring that you cannot help but empathise with the characters as they undergo their own struggles. At times simple, funny, touching or just plain quirky, Honey and Clover always knows how to deliver on the emotional front.
Devil’s Advocate: The second season, sadly, is another matter, spending too long on minor characters and transforming some of the leads into simplistic caricatures (such as Mayama’s stalker tendencies). It’s also a sad fact that this series won’t even appeal to everyone in the first place- if you lack similar experiences, then you simply won’t “get it”.
Final verdict: A burst of nostalgia for those college years.
Hunter X Hunter
What’s it about?:After learning that his father is not only alive, but also a prestigious Hunter, Gon Freaks becomes determined to follow in his footsteps. At age 12, Gon leaves his home in order to take part in the Hunter Exam, a rigorous assessment of skill and stamina where even making it to the next exam is a test in itself. Together with the friends he makes along the way- hot-headed Leorio, logical Kurapica and youthful assassin Killua- Gon becomes determined to meet all the challenges that come his way, and prove himself capable of becoming a true Hunter.
Why watch it?: Another decent Shounen Jump series, HxH may get off to a slow start, but once it finds its feet, it proves to be a worthy adventure that combines elements of action and fantasy. With a fast pace that avoids the drawn out fights of other series whilst still getting in more detail and development than the manga version, Hunter X Hunter continually goes from strength to strength, proving to be an addictive experience fronted by likable rather than annoying characters.
Devil’s Advocate: The pace does slow a little in some of the later arcs such as the Sky Arena and Yorkshin auction, but this is only a temporary blip.
Final verdict: It may not be especially sophisticated, but HxH is plain good fun that rarely drags.
What’s it about?: Most sixteen (or rather twenty in the anime) year olds would choose to hang out with people their own age, but Nobue Itou is a little different. She would much rather spend time with fifth and sixth graders from elementary school- to be precise, her sister Chika, next door neighbour Miu, and friends Matsuri and Ana. Join this unlikely group as they while away the days amusing themselves with games, banter and all the other minor diversions that crop up in day-to-day life.
Why watch it?: Even though it isn’t really about anything and there’s no plot in sight, Ichigo Mashimaro manages to entertain rather than bore thanks to some smart pacing and comic timing. The observations are always amusingly apt, the jokes never drag on past their sell by date and the characters are most certainly distinctive and memorable.
Devil’s Advocate: The loli factor will certainly put off some (and indeed, Nobue’s obsession with the girls is a little disturbing at times) but if you can look past these moments, there’s a good slice-of-life series to be had.
Final verdict: It looks like it’s about nothing, but give it a chance and it proves to be an amusing experience.
Iriya no Sora, UFO no Natsu
What’s it about?: After the summer vacation, a new student transfers into Asaba’s class- a mysterious girl named Iriya. A friendship quickly builds up between the pair of them, but as Asaba soon discovers, there is more to Iriya than meets the eye- for she is the pilot of the Black Manta, and the last line of defence in a war between aliens and humans that has secretly been going on for decades.
Why watch it?: Whilst the series may seem like a carbon copy of Saikano, Iriya brings its own unique flavour to the concept of a high school tied in with an alien war. A touching story set in an almost dreamlike environment, Iriya layers light and simple high school content like eating contests and club activities with darker undercurrents running just under the surface.
Devil’s Advocate: Due to its brevity, it is left to the reader to connect all the dots and figure out everything from the information presented, which means at least two viewings will be needed to gain a solid understanding of the series. It is also difficult to decide afterwards whether the ending was genuinely touching and emotional or just plain cheesy.
Final verdict: It may not always be clear just what is going on, but Iriya is nonetheless a compelling OVA that is more than the Saikano-clone it first appears to be.
What’s it about?: A self-professed “Queen of Vanity” with an insatiable hunger for praise, Yukino Miyazawa spent years playing the model student, her facade so convincing that only her close family members knew the truth. When she enters high school, however, she finally meets her match in Soichiro Arima- an accomplished classmate who appears to be the real deal when it comes to being a paragon of virtue. Desperate to retain her position at the top of the class, Yukino declares Arima her bitter rival, but when Arima finds out the truth about her, it seems that matters can only get worse…at least until her anger and resentment start giving away to deeper feelings of friendship and even love.
Why watch it?: A cut above your average high school romance, Kare Kano takes strong characters with interesting quirks and back story, and puts them in a situation where they can naturally grow and mature. Nothing is abrupt or jarring0 instead, matters develop in a natural manner, with a healthy dose of comedy thrown in to prevent the series from ever getting bogged down in deep drama.
Devil’s Advocate: Not only does the anime stop rather abruptly less than halfway through the manga story, but budget issues mean that the animation is extremely short-changed, with much of the series relying on stills and other money-saving tricks. Although the inner excellence of the series still shines through, this lack of proper animation takes some getting used to, and early on it can even the alienate the viewer from onscreen events.
Final verdict: It may be a mere taster of what the manga can achieve, but that doesn’t stop it from being very good.
Kimi ga Nozomu Eien
What’s it about?: When Mitsuki helped her best friend Haruka to get together with classmate Takayuki, what she didn’t count on was falling for Takayuki herself- and when Haruka ends up in a coma after a car accident, she ends up being the one to help Takayuki get through it. Now, three years later, Mitsuki and Takayuki are an item, but when Haruka awakens from her coma with no knowledge of how much time has passed, he is to find himself torn between his past and his present.
Why watch it?: One of the rare worthy eroge adaptations, KimiNozo somehow takes a situation that should be totally laughable and ridiculous, and turns it into one where you actually find yourself on the edge of your seat as you wait to see what will happen to the protagonists. With its mastery of emotion, the series can make you laugh and cry in the same episode without ever feeling that the changes in tone are forced or abrupt.
Devil’s Advocate: That being said, there are many who find the entire series angsty and overdramatic, and indeed, even those who love it can see their point of view.
Final verdict: Like Marmite, you’ll either love it or hate it, but there’s no real way to guess which until you try it.
What’s it about?: Kino is a traveller who journeys from country to country on her talking motorcycle Hermes; by her own rules, she must stay in one place no more than three days, but whilst there, she makes an effort to see everything it has to offer. Join Kino and Hermes as they turn up all the weird and wonderful things to be seen across the world.
Why watch it?: Although it is entirely episodic in nature, Kino’s Journey is hardly lacking in depth, with each episode introducing a new country and leaving the viewer with plenty to think about. With so many sights to see, and Kino acting as a thoughtful yet sardonic guide with a distinctive personality and back story of her own, it is impossible not to appreciate all the sights the series has to offer.
Devil’s Advocate: Although I can’t vouch for it myself, apparently the anime only draws from a mere fraction of the novel material, with some of the best stories to be found only in the original books.
Final verdict: A memorable series that leaves the viewer with plenty of food for thought, Kino’s Journey comes highly recommended.
What’s it about?: Koshiro and Nanoka are siblings, but thanks to their parents’ divorce and twelve year age gap, they haven’t seen each other since Nanoka was a baby. All that is about to change, however, for once she starts high school, Nanoka will be moving in with Koshiro and her father to avoid a lengthy commute each morning. Now, Koshiro will have to learn how to cope with this unexpected intrusion into his life- but will his relationship with Nanoka evolve into something beyond what is considered normal for a brother and sister?
Why watch it?: Incest is not something that very many viewers will be in favour of, but despite its controversial subject matter, Koi Kaze proves to be a highly worthy series. A touching tale of taboo feelings and the two people who struggle with them, Koi Kaze is so powerful that you will actually find yourself rooting for Koshiro and Nanoka in spite of their situation. To quote what I said in my original review, “The gentle music, minimal art and softly spoken characters weave a magic akin to that of any slice-of-life series, the perfect veneer for the tangled web of emotions that lurks beneath”.
Devil’s Advocate: There’s not really much to say against this series, unless you take such a violent exception to incest that a fictional and non-graphic depiction of such feelings cannot even be countenanced.
Final verdict: A series that all mature romance fans should try.
Kurau Phantom Memory
What’s it about?: When she was a little girl, a science experiment gone wrong saw the body of Kurau Amami fused with a pair of Rynax- life-forms from an alternate dimension. Years later, and the strange abilities Kurau has gained from the fusion have enabled her to become a special operative, but when the second Rynax emerges and takes a body of her own, the two women must go on the run from an organisation seeking to harness their unique power.
Why watch it?: A top notch sci-fi series from Bones, Kurau has everything- action, special powers, strong characters and an absorbing story. Instead of starting well and going downhill as so many sci-fi series are wont to do, Kurau goes from strength to strength, creating dramatic and emotional moments without ever going overboard, and including a memorable soundtrack to enhance every scene.
Devil’s Advocate: Finding fault with this series would be being picky for its own sake, so I won’t even try.
Final verdict: The best sci-fi series anime has to offer, and perhaps even one of the best series overall, even among its peers on this list.
What’s it about?: Claus and Lavie are best friends who dream of flying the farthest skies in their vanship like their fathers before them, but when they end up rescuing young Alvis Hamilton from a wreck, their lives are changed forever. Drawn into the battle that rages across the skies of their world, Claus and Lavie are taken on a journey filled with friends, foes, adventure and mystery.
Why watch it?: Another of Gonzo’s better efforts, Last Exile takes us to a whole other world, whose marvellous settings are limited only by the imagination. With everything from distinctive characters to tense airship battles, Last Exile weaves a compelling story filled with painstaking attention to detail.
Devil’s Advocate: Aside from the matter of a rather disappointing ending, Last Exile is one of those series that feels as if it just doesn’t have enough episodes- with so much potential in this world, it really needed more time to be explored further. The direction taken by certain characters is also questionable and a bit disappointing.
Final verdict: Although not without its flaws, Last Exile paints such a compelling world that I cannot help but love it anyway.
Come back tomorrow for part two of this article, covering Mahou Shoujotai to Zipang!