Welcome back to the lengthiest and most pointless project undertaken by this blog, now in its second and final part. First, a couple of disclaimers- I understand that Twelve Kingdoms is very good, but until my DVD boxsets arrive, I can’t comment. Also, Oh! Edo Rocket must be left out until it finishes airing.
What’s it about?: Alice has always believed in magic, so when she is transported to a world of witches and wizards, it should be like a dream come true. Unfortunately, contrary to her idealistic vision, the people of this world do not use magic only to bring happiness, and so Alice feels compelled to make everyone listen to her optimistic views- and, naïve as they may seem, they may be the only hope of finding a way to save a dying world and ward off a plan to use powerful black magic.
Why watch it?: A new type of magical girl show, Mahou Shoujotai may sound a bit saccharin, but in fact it proves to be a quirky and rewarding series from the minds at Studio 4oC. Complete with a unique and oddly appealing art style, Mahou Shoujotai animates the world of magic we would all have liked to visit as children, but adds in tension, drama and challenges to pit our young heroines against.
Devil’s Advocate: The pacing and story development does feel a little too swift for its own good at times, although this can most likely be remedied with a re-watch to catch everything you missed the first time.
Final verdict: A highly unique series, Mahou Shoujotai redefines what it means to be a magical girl, and raises the bar for everything to come.
What’s it about?: In his trademark suit and tie, Taichi Hiraga-Keaton may look like just another office worker, but this half-English, half-Japanese man is no ordinary person. After graduating from Oxford University, he served in the SAS, before becoming both an insurance investigator for Lloyd’s of London and a researcher and lecturer in archaeology- all the while making sure to spare some time for his daughter from a failed marriage! With a background like that, it is no wonder that both Keaton’s personal and professional life is filled with incidents and adventures, some of which he almost doesn’t make it through in one piece.
Why watch it?: As I said in my review last week, Master Keaton is a series good enough to recommend to anyone- regardless of whether or not they are an existing anime fan. Fronted by one of the most well developed characters to ever appear in anime, Master Keaton has it all- action, ingenious tricks, memorable situations and settings, and the ability to tell a fully fledged story within the space of twenty-five minutes.
Devil’s Advocate: Although it doesn’t detract from the quality and enjoyment of the show in any way whatsoever, it should be noted that there is no overall plot, and that the series remains entirely episodic throughout.
Final verdict: An excellent series through and through- don’t hesitate, just watch it.
What’s it about?: Kenzo Tenma had it all- a beautiful fiancée, a bright career as a surgeon, even the chance of one day becoming hospital director- until the day one simple decision changed his entire life. In the short term, the decision to save a young boy named Johan instead of a more prestigious patient sees him fall out of favour with the director, but the long-term cost is far more devastating- for, years later, Johan has grown up into a clever yet amoral murderer. Accused of a crime he didn’t commit, Tenma is forced to go on the run, with the only hope of clearing his name being to find and confront the true killer- Johan himself.
Why watch it?: If Master Keaton is the epitome of episodic anime, then Monster sits at the opposite end of the spectrum, presenting a complex and well woven story that kicks in from episode one and barely lets up on the quality and suspense. Never short on development for both characters and plot, Monster must rank as one of only two occasions where seventy-four episodes actually didn’t feek like enough (the other being Hikaru no Go).
Devil’s Advocate: Again, there’s not really anything to say against this series, except that it slows down a little around episode twenty when the focus moves more onto one shot characters than the leads for a few episodes.
Final verdict: An excellent mystery series that sets the bar high for the rest of the genre.
What’s it about?: They are known as Mushi- a range of primitive life forms close to the ‘source’ of all living things. Most people cannot see them, but they exist all around us, and their effects are often labelled as supernatural or simply inexplicable phenomena. There are, however, a select few- known as Mushishi- who devote their lives to studying Mushi and dealing with the problems they cause. Ginko is one such Mushishi, and as he travels from place to place, he not only encounters many differents kinds of Mushi, but all the people whose lives have been affected by them.
Why watch it?: Another worthy episodic series, Mushishi takes a simple formula and applies it to great effect, presenting a collection of folk tales that combine drama with fantasy to great effect. The mushi and their effects are always interesting to see, and the setting for the whole series is nothing short of breathtaking.
Devil’s Advocate: Since the very best episodes are so good, it does mean that there are those that feel weaker in comparison- in any other series, they would be fine, but Mushishi’s standard is so high that anything less than perfection seems a little disappointing.
Final verdict: An excellent and immersive series that by rights should go on forever.
What’s it about?: It’s hard enough being a penniless college student, but Mayuko has more problems than most- for one thing, she has a freeloading alien named NieA living in her closet! Despite being an “Under Seven” (the lowest class of alien), NieA is positive and upbeat- the exact opposite of her unwilling roommate. Can NieA help to brighten up Mayuko’s life a little, or is she just an unwanted nuisance with a propensity for building UFOs out of junk?
Why watch it?: Based on a doujinshi drawn by Yoshitoshi ABe, NieA_7 proves to be a nice counterpoint to the dark themes of Lain and Texhnolyze, offering a lighter blend of comedy and slice-of-life. That being said, there are more serious character-based themes running through the series which give it more grounding than simple light, throwaway material.
Devil’s Advocate: After going to the trouble of including these more serious undercurrents, some of them remain woefully unresolved (such as a plotline about the mysterious alien mothership in the sky).
Final verdict: A bright and breezy comedy with strong, memorable characters- complete the ABe quartet by watching it.
Now and Then, Here and There
What’s it about?: Shuzo ‘Shu’ Matsutani lives a normal life in Tokyo until the day a chance encounter with a mysterious girl named Lala Ru results in him being sent billions of years into the future, to a time when the Sun has expanded and the Earth has become a desert world. Now, Shu finds himself caught up in a mad king’s quest for power, and a war that has raged so long that even children are conscripted into the army.
Why watch it?: It may not be Grave of the Fireflies level in terms of harsh realities, but NTHT is a strong and powerful series which conveys the effects of war without ever seeming forced or preachy. Brought to life by its distinctive and memorable characters, NTHT doesn’t hold back on putting its characters through hardship, and yet you cannot help but stay glued to the screen, rooting them on.
Devil’s Advocate: Like Fantastic Children, NTHT can be accused of quite simplistic character designs, but whilst it isn’t the strongest on the visual front, it more than makes up for this with the story.
Final verdict: ‘Children at war’ has never been done so well.
Ouran High School Host Club
What’s it about?: For the idle rich attending the exclusive Ouran High School, the resident Host Club offers the ideal way for beautiful ladies to while away the hours being charmed by handsome men. It certainly sounds like the last thing less well-off student Fujioka Haruhi would be interested in, but after accidentally breaking one of their expensive vases, Haruhi is forced to pay off the ensuing debt by becoming a host- the only catch being that Haruhi is actually a girl! Now, Haruhi must play the part of a gentleman in order to fulfil her obligations, but will her straightforward personality win over the Host Club’s men as well?
Why watch it?: Although it seems to have all the elements of a typical and perhaps not-too-enthralling “odd one out” comedy, Ouran carries itself off with an incredibly infectious enthusiasm that permeates most scenes and makes you want to laugh at the absurd antics of the characters.
Devil’s Advocate: Unfortunately, comedy is the most subjective of genres, and Ouran is no exception; not only will the humour not appeal to everyone, but even fans will tire at times- especially when overdone elements such as the Lobelia Girls’ School start outstaying their welcome.
Final verdict: Put simply, it’s over-the-top fun and no more.
Pani Poni Dash!
What’s it about?: Rebecca Miyamoto is a genius who graduated from MIT at the tender age of eleven, but now she’s about to face her greatest challenge- teaching at a Japanese high school. Join Rebecca, her eclectic class and the perpetually ignored rabbit Mesousa as they prove that high school life can sometimes prove to be anything but routine.
Why watch it?: The craziest and most random high school comedy and parody anime out there, PPD beats out the competition by simply not caring about plot and narrative conventions- each episode proceeds at the whim of the writers, surging at breakneck speed through character exchanges and references to other series. Rather than alienating viewers, however, the series is filled with such energy and vitality that you get swept along for the ride.
Devil’s Advocate: It does take a few episodes to adjust to the randomness and generally bizarre nature of the show, and it has to be admitted that it doesn’t take a great deal to tip the balance in certain episodes and turn the amusing into the slightly tiresome- even so, the hits largely outweigh the misses.
Final verdict: A bit of an acquired taste, perhaps, but certainly the best parody anime series out there.
What’s it about?: An urban legend, or something more? For those who find themselves in desperate situations with no way out, Shounen Bat is their salvation- a juvenile baseball bat wielding attacker who seems to target those most in need of him. But just who or what is Shounen Bat exactly, and what relation does he have with Tsukiko Sagi, creator of iconic mascot Maromi and the first in a long chain of victims of the underage assailant?
Why watch it?: A TV series made up of the leftover ideas that Satoshi Kon couldn’t put into his films, Paranoia Agent uses the ‘relay method’ of storytelling to pass the baton of main character from one person to another as the series progresses, all the while unfolding a mystery that extends into the realms of the psychological. It won’t make sense first time round (and we can even assume it isn’t meant to), but it remains compelling nonetheless, with plenty of replay value.
Devil’s Advocate: The relay method also has a weakness in that a character you particularly like in one episode will most likely be gone or reduced to minor role in the next. Episode five also deserves note for being particularly weak, with its Millennium Actress-esque part-real, part-fantasy trip through an RPG style reconstruction of events not working very well in the context of the series.
Final verdict: Although its events extend into the realms of the bizarre, this is still a well done mystery series with some innovative storytelling ideas.
What’s it about?: In the year 2075, humanity continues to follow its dream of branching out into space. Unfortunately, the final frontier is not as glamorous as some would believe, and among its many hazards is space debris- the accumulated junk over a hundred years of space exploration.
Hachirota “Hachimaki” Hoshino is a debris hauler living and working in space; together with his somewhat eccentric colleagues in Technora’s Debris Section, it is his job to clear up all the unwanted items floating in Earth’s orbit. As he works hard at his job, Hachimaki dreams of one day buying his own spaceship, but how will the arrival of fresh-face rookie worker Ai Tanabe affect not only his daily life, but perhaps his future as well?
Why watch it?: Unlike most space adventures, Planetes is a very human tale about the ‘nuts and bolts’ of going out into space, neglecting the grandiose in order to focus on the real problems people would face- from political issues to smaller day-to-day concerns. Rather than making it dull and pedestrian, however, this focus on realism and human drama actually makes Planetes one of the better sci-fi series out there, as you join the leads on their coming-of-age journey and learn, as they do, that space, whilst a worthy goal, isn’t all about glamour.
Devil’s Advocate: As an incredibly idealistic character, Tanabe can sometimes become irritatingly sentimental, in particular during an episode about the treatment of an astronaut’s remains. Overall, however, these moments are in the minority compared to the worthy content.
Final verdict: A strong space drama with memorable characters- another one that’s recommended for all sci-fi fans.
What’s it about?: Years ago, Tokyo was sealed by the alien Mu, who surrounded it with a barrier that made time run more slowly inside. For those inside, life continues much as normal, and Ayato Kamina is no exception- until the day he meets Haruka Shitow, a woman from the outside. Swept up in a series of events that involves those closest to him, Ayato becomes pilot of the mecha RahXephon and begins a new life on the outside fighting the Mu and their powerful song-controlled weapons, the Dolem.
Why watch it?: Although so many have lambasted it as a mere clone of Evangelion, RahXephon is actually strong enough to stand on its own two feet, even surpassing its predecessor in the opinions of many. Alongside straightforward mecha action and a story that will take several viewings and visit or two to wikipedia to get your head around, RahXephon manages to weave in character development and revelations for pretty much everyone in its extensive line up of personalities- not to mention an increasingly complex love polygon.
Devil’s Advocate: Yes, there are elements that are reminiscent of Eva, but as mentioned above, despite the strong early similarity, RahXephon soon moves off on its own track. The main complaint, therefore, is that the complexity of the storyline can sometimes get a bit too overwhelming for its own good, although this can be remedied with multiple viewings.
Final verdict: Not quite my favourite mecha series, but certainly in the top three.
Requiem from the Darkness
What’s it about?: Lacking the desire to work for the family business, Momosuke Yamaoka chose to become an author instead, but writing riddles for children isn’t exactly what he had in mind. Instead, Momosuke dreams of writing a book of ghost stories- the Hundred Stories- and so it is that he sets out to investigate the various strange tales and rumours of the supernatural that occur across Japan. Along the way, however, he becomes drawn into the affairs of a mysterious trio of people who use their otherworldly powers to investigate these paranormal incidents for themselves and administer their own brand of justice to any wrongdoers responsible. Time and time again, Momosuke crosses paths with this trio, but what are the consequences of spending too much time in their grey world that intersects those of the living and the dead?
Why watch it?: Solid and stylish, Requiem from the Darkness sidesteps the usual blandness or poor execution of many horror series in order to deliver some worthy episodic outings that gradually build up into an overall plot to be concluded at the end. With its striking imagery and memorable stories (each with their own unique twist), this truly is supernatural horror done right.
Devil’s Advocate: Whilst the weakest part of the series is no doubt its CG effects, these are rather insignificant in the overall picture.
Final verdict: Well planned and well executed- a strong horror series overall.
What’s it about?: Shuji and Chise are a typical teenage couple- not even sure whether their friendship is ready to be deepened into love, but ready to give it a go and see how their relationship evolves. Theirs is not to be a normal romance, however, for whilst their sleepy Hokkaido town is untouched, the rest of the world is at war, and Chise has been chosen to become an Ultimate Weapon, a living being who can transform into a killing machine at a moment’s notice. How do you cope when your body is changing in ways you can’t understand, and what do you do when you’re the boyfriend of that person, able only to look on without comprehending?
Why watch it?: A heart-wrenching series about romance tested by unusual circumstances, Saikano focuses less on its setting than on the people affected by those events. Never short on the character drama, Saikano is more than the average coming-of-age tale, for these are young people who must face challenges greater than anything most people will ever encounter- and it is seeing them persevere and explore their feelings in the face of adversity that makes for such gripping material.
Devil’s Advocate: Although the ending will not sit well with everyone, the biggest complaint that can be levelled at the series is that key elements are left unexplained- why is Chise chosen as an Ultimate Weapon (admittedly addressed in the OVA), why aren’t more of her made, and what exactly is this whole war about anyway? Ultimately, however, such things are not what the series was ever meant to be about, and so if you can put those questions aside and focus on the story, it will be a worthy experience.
Final verdict: An excellent tale of drama and romance, with a unique and memorable setting.
What’s it about?: In the country of Saiunkoku, the Eight Families of Colour are the most highly ranked in the land, but that doesn’t necessarily make them particularly well off. In particular, the household of Kou Shouka and his daughter Shuurei has fallen on some hard times, and so it is that Shuurei eagerly accepts a highly paid if somewhat unusual job to enter the palace and try to drum some knowledge and motivation into the current emperor, Shi Ryuuki. It will be no easy task, but little does Shuurei realise it will be only the first step on a long and arduous journey to fulfil her dream of becoming the country first female official.
Why watch it?: Much more than the mere reverse harem series it might appear to be, SaiMono is a tale of drama and politics with a splash of intrigue and fantasy, set in a world that has its own fully realised history. The true draw, however, are the strong and memorable characters, especially Shuurei herself, a strong and determined female lead who is nonetheless likable and very human in her doubts, emotions and fears.
Devil’s Advocate: Although some will initially be put off by the large number of bishies that appear from the start, the true weakness of the series comes in the second season, which, while it is still airing and has plenty of time to redeem itself, has been known to slow the pace a little too much to prevent catching up with the original novel material.
Final verdict: Get over your fear of bishounen and step into one of the best series to air in the past few years.
What’s it about?: When she was born, a prophecy claimed that Princess Pacifica would bring about the destruction of the world on her sixteenth birthday, and so the king made the terrible decision to have his own child killed. Even so, through the intervention of those who could not bear to murder a baby, Pacifica survived and grew up under the protection of the Cassul family, but when assassins come after the fifteen-year-old girl, she and her adoptive siblings are forced to go on the run. Can the princess who was scrapped at birth uncover the truth behind her own destiny?
Why watch it?: Although it quickly gains sci-fi elements, Scrapped Princess can still be considered as one of the best fantasy series out there, almost qualifying for that fabled fantasy series we all hoped for thanks to its memorable setting and characters (who are generally likable if not especially complex). If you want a tale of swords and sorcery that stretches the genre beyond the clichés of Lodoss War and its clones, then this is the one to try.
Devil’s Advocate: That being said, Scrapped Princess is far from perfect- the plotting is almost too convenient at times and certain elements remain a bit too generic, whilst the inclusion of sci-fi elements in the main plot is a little disappointing.
Final verdict: Although not without its flaws, it remains an enjoyable series overall.
Serial Experiments Lain
What’s it about?: These days, everyone’s Navi (computer) is hooked up to the Wired (Internet), but for Lain, such things have never really interested her- at least until the day a classmate who committed suicide somehow sends an email to everyone after her death. Intrigued to learn where reality ends and the virtual world begins, Lain purchases her own Navi and begins surfing deeper and deeper into the Wired- but how far will she need to go to understand the nature of existence itself?
Why watch it?: Each episode of Lain is known as a ‘layer’, and as you watch the series, it is easy to find an interpretation as to why that is- starting from base reality, every instalment takes us deeper into the internet, offering plenty of food for thought along the way. Like several of the other series listed here, it won’t all make sense first time (or perhaps ever), but it is still an interesting outing.
Devil’s Advocate: Sadly, the visuals aren’t quite up to par with other ABe series, with a rather grey-brown colour scheme washing out the beauty of the original designs. Again, it also won’t sit well with people who need definitive answers and a clear plotline.
Final verdict: An interesting look into a world where reality and the internet have blended together.
What’s it about?: Yume Kikuchi is an apprentice magic user who has gone to Tokyo to finish her training under qualified mage Masami Oyamada. Under Masami’s tutelage, Yume learns how to use her powers to help people, but can she ever heal the pain that lurks in the heart of her own tutor?
Why watch it?: A sweet and charming tale that combines magic with slice-of-life, Someday’s Dreamers must be the very definition of healing anime, presenting its tales with a skill that will soften even the coldest of hearts. Complete with a breezy soundtrack and beautiful visuals based on soft watercolour designs, Someday’s Dreamers is like a breath of summer in the midst of a cold winter.
Devil’s Advocate: Compared to the original manga, the series can feel a little too saccharin and sentimental at times, and some of the changes to character back stories may annoy purists.
Final verdict: A worthy healing series whose magic will brighten anyone’s life.
Sousei no Aquarion
What’s it about?: Millennia ago, humanity did battle with the mighty Shadow Angels, and now the battle has begun anew. The only hope for humans to prevail this time around is the mecha Aquarion, comprised of three separate modules piloted by teenagers believed to be the reincarnations of those who fought in the original battle. Unfortunately, the battle has not been going well, and the latest hope for a successful comeback may lie with a feral boy named Apollo, who might just be the reincarnation of the fabled Apollonius.
Why watch it?: Aware that mecha series are all too prone to taking themselves too seriously, Aquarion lightens up enough to tell a good story whilst being able poke fun itself and its pretentious fellow mecha series. Production values are also generally high, leading to top notch animation and a worthy classical-style soundtrack from the talented Yoko Kanno.
Devil’s Advocate: The only real chink in the series’ armour is ‘experimental’ episode nineteen, which uses a simplistic and disappointing animation style to complement its bizarre, drug trip story.
Final verdict: They say it’s a long journey if you can’t learn to laugh at yourself, and Aquarion is all about teaching that lesson to the mecha genre.
What’s it about?: Who are the Blade Children? Two years ago, Kiyotaka Narumi disappeared whilst investigating that very mystery, and now it seems as if his little brother Ayumu is about to be caught up in too. Starting with a incident in school, Ayumu finds himself drawn into the world of the ‘cursed’ Blade Children, but can he really save them from their fate?
Why watch it?: An intelligent mystery series, Spiral weaves a compelling tale as it progresses, impressing viewers with its many twists, plays and counterplays. Never has a battle of wits been so well plotted and engaging, and with strong characters and worthy designs, it just gets even better.
Devil’s Advocate: Sadly, the series does lose momentum in its final arc, and since it doesn’t cover the later revelation arcs of the manga, none of the bigger questions are really answered. Treat it as Ayumu’s coming-of-age story, however, and it doesn’t work too badly.
Final verdict: An excellent mystery series, only slightly let down by an inconclusive ending.
What’s it about?: Kantarou Ichinomiya is a writer who specialises in folk tales, and he has a special advantage in the field- he can see goblins and spirits. Together with fox spirit Youko and “goblin eating tengu” Haruka, Kantarou investigates various supernatural stories across Japan.
Why watch it?: Although it is largely episodic and highly criticised for diverging from the manga, Tactics is simply a lot of fun- and whilst Kantarou is rather dislikeable, Haruka more than makes up for it. If you want some period fantasy and supernatural that is never too demanding, this is the series to choose.
Devil’s Advocate: Tactics is another of those “Marmite” series- you’ll either love it or find that it’s nothing special. I have to admit that most people will probably fall into the latter category, but for those who appreciate its charm, Tactics is an enjoyable little series.
Final verdict: At least give it a try, because if it takes your fancy, you’ll like it a lot.
What’s it about?: In the underground city of Lux, various factions vie for power, and in the ensuing conflicts, limbs are often lost. Fortunately, those with the luck or the means can get replacements in the form of Texhnolyze, artificial limbs whose controls are keyed into the brain. After losing both an arm and a leg, fighter and loner Ichise is given new limbs, but his struggle to adapt to his nbew limbs and find purpose in his life is but one small part of a conflict that will eventually engulf the entire city.
Why watch it?: Texhnolyze is an interesting and unique series not just because of its setting, but because of its bold and unique style of storytelling. After opening with several episodes in which barely any dialogue is used, Texhnolyze tells its story through bold and vivid scenes, leaving much to the interpretation of the individual viewer.
Devil’s Advocate: Yet again, those who clamour for definite and entirely coherent storytelling will probably not gel with this series, which largely leaves the viewer to find their own answers whilst puzzling over whether what they thought just happened was really the writers’ intent.
Final verdict: You may not have any clue as to what is going on, but you’ll enjoy yourself anyway.
What’s it about?: From an early age, Asumi Kamogawa has dreamed of becoming a “rocket driver”, but if she wants to have any chance of doing so, she’ll first have to go to Tokyo and enrol in Space School. With the support of her father, teacher and the masked ghost of a deceased astronaut known only as “Lion-san”, Asumi applies to do just that, and, together with the friends she makes along the way, she takes the first steps towards achieving her dream.
Why watch it?: Like Planetes, Twin Spica is a more realistic space tale, focusing on the harsh training required to become astronaut. Character drama is plentiful, with the ‘present’ story being interspersed with flashbacks that gradually provide insights into Asumi’s past and the seeds of her ambitions.
Devil’s Advocate: Whilst the ‘evil teacher’ storyline that surfaces in places is a little pedestrian, the true disappointment is that at only twenty episodes in the length, the series is unable to cover all of the manga, and is most definitely over far too soon.
Final verdict: Another strong character-drive piece which uses its sci-fi elements to drive the story rather than dominate it.
Victorian Romance Emma
What’s it about?: Victorian England may technically be a single country, but within it dwells two worlds- that of the commoners, and that of the nobles. In an era where status and the opinion of society counts for everything, a romance that breaks class boundaries seems almost impossible to countenance- at least until it actually happens. The feelings between Emma, the maid of a retired governess, and William Jones, son and heir of a wealthy businessman, cannot be denied, but can the couple ever really hope to have a proper relationship?
Why watch it?: With its appealing historical setting and solid tale of romance and drama, Emma scores highly on two fronts, and the combined result is highly enjoyable. Brought to life with the aid of a melodic Celtic-style soundtrack and some technically accomplished animation, Emma is always worthy- in its first season, at least.
Devil’s Advocate: Now, whilst the second season isn’t exactly bad, it does have a little too much material to pack into twelve episodes, and a disappointing filler opening episode does little to help matters. Ultimately, a lot is left out or changed from the original manga, and overall it doesn’t live up to the original material the way the first season did.
Final verdict: Although let down by a weaker second season, Emma is a worthy slice of historical romance.
What’s it about?: Ueshima Nao loves taking photos of the sky, all in an attempt to catch the elusive wind on camera. Imagine her delight, then, when she discovers the existence of Wind Manipulators, people who can call up the wind and control it themselves. And when Nao and her friends learn to manipulate the wind themselves, they realise how everything from the gentlest breeze to the strongest gale can affect people’s lives.
Why watch it?: Another entry in the ‘gentle and charming’ slice-of-life category, Windy Tales takes the simple concept of enjoying the wind, and with the help of a touch of magic, spins it into all sorts of entertaining tales. There’s something here to bring a smile to the face of every viewer- especially if you have a weakness for wave upon wave of flying cats.
Devil’s Advocate: Another series which is hard to fault, the only thing that may turn people off is the simplistic ‘paper cut out’ animation style, but if you can stick with it, you’ll learn to like it- and it certainly fits the series well.
Final verdict: A hidden gem that stands alongside Someday’s Dreamers in terms of simple, quiet and magical tales.
Witch Hunter Robin
What’s it about?: The job of the people at the STN-J is to hunt down witches as part of an ongoing effort to restrain those people whose supernatural powers go out of control. Their newest recruit is Robin, a craft user whose fire powers will come in extremely handy to the team- that is, if she can ever prove herself to her partner Amon. But even as Robin struggles to fit in at her new workplace, she also finds herself questioning what happens to the captured witches sent to the ‘Factory’, and just how much of a line separates her from the ones she hunts.
Why watch it?: A stylish tale that evolves from a monster of the week format into something darker, Witch Hunter Robin delivers on both the action and drama front, offering both enemies to fight and plenty of introspection moments for the lead. With skilled animation and Taku Iwasaki’s deft hand composing the score, Witch Hunter Robin is often compelling, and always atmospheric.
Devil’s Advocate: Even dedicated fans of the series have to admit that in the time allotted, the development of the series is a little uneven- supporting characters never get much of a focus, and even in the last few episodes it remains difficult to see how everything will be wrapped up in time. Fortunately, the overall product is strong enough to withstand the effects of these few flaws.
Final verdict: It could have done with more episodes to develop the story and cast even further, but what we do get is still very good.
What’s it about?: As the world draws to end, humanity can only spend its final days waiting for the inevitable, but for the wolves, there is still hope. Widely believed to be extinct, and possessed of the ability to pass themselves off as humans, wolf-kind has the ability to find Paradise, and although most have given up on the dream, one young wolf still believes. His name is Kiba, the white wolf, and both humans and wolves will become caught up in his seemingly impossible quest to unlock this fabled land.
Why watch it?: Wolf’s Rain is one of those series that brings a smile to my face every time I put it on- not because it is particularly cheerful (indeed, some moments are positively heart-wrenching), but because it is so well done that I love it all. Although the initial premise makes it sound as if it is going to be thirty episodes of chasing leads to Paradise and inevitably failing until the end, Wolf’s Rain is much more than that, able to invest every scene with beauty and emotion.
Devil’s Advocate: Apart from those sadly unavoidable four recap episodes (at the time, the SARS crisis prevented the studio from making any new episodes), Wolf’s Rain main issue is that it feels that there should have been more- not because the ending doesn’t wrap everything up, but because it would have been nice to have more time to explore certain characters and revelations along the way. What we have is very good, but still the urge for more of the same cannot be denied.
Final verdict: A powerful and moving story that knows just how to press viewers’ buttons, Wolf’s Rain remains one of my absolute favourites.
What’s it about?: The end of the world is nigh, and Tokyo is to be the battleground for an epic struggle between those who wish to protect the world, and those who want to scrap it in favour of a new one. Returning to Tokyo after the death of his mother, Kamui Shiro must decide which side he wants to be on, even as those who would be his potential allies and enemies gather in the city to take on their own roles in the coming battle.
Why watch it?: One of the better action series out there, X TV does its best at telling an unfinished story and investing it with plenty of grandiose battles and special effects. It even manages the amazing task of making sixteen or so named characters memorable in the space of only twenty-four episodes, surely a commendable achievement for any series.
Devil’s Advocate: Sadly, with the original manga unfinished, the director has to take liberties in coming up with his own conclusion, and certainly it does get a little cheesy by the end.
Final verdict: Ignore the ending and enjoy the drama and action along the way.
Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou OVAs
What’s it about?: Comprising four episodes over two OVAs, YKK takes selected chapters from the original manga and brings them to life, telling the tale of Alpha, a robot who runs a café in a quiet post-apocalyptic time known as the Twilight of Humanity.
Why watch it?: Although only possessed of a portion of the greatness of the original manga, YKK makes a worthy effort at bringing Alpha’s adventures to screen, giving prospective readers a visual taster of this, the epitome of slice-of-life series. Enjoy the simplicity of everything from brewing a cup of coffee to slowly expanding the scope of your world beyond your own backyard.
Devil’s Advocate: Since anime forces you to take it at a set pace instead of your own, there are times when the first OVA in particular feels like it could have been trimmed down a little. Nonetheless, fans of the manga will clamour for more.
Final verdict: A nice introduction to a venerable slice-of-life franchise.
What’s it about?: Ayumu Aizawa expects to have nothing more than a quiet, boring summer when he goes to visit his father in the sleepy village of Tana, but as he gradually discovers, there is something more going on than meets the eye. Who is the mysterious little boy named Wakkun who keeps insisting that he comes to play with him in the woods? What are the bizarre mechanical creatures that most people can only see in reflections or out of the corner of their eye?
Why watch it?: A most unusual mystery series, Zettai Shounen takes a calm and tranquil setting and injects it with a touch of the supernatural. It’s unlike anything seen before, and for that reason it becomes entirely compelling and addictive, with each episode urging you on to discover what happens next. The characters are strong, and each scene is atmospheric and memorable- truly a recipe for success.
Devil’s Advocate: There’s nothing much to criticise here, except that the jump from the first arc to the second may be a little jarring and unexpected.
Final verdict: An excellent mystery series that everyone should try.
What’s it about?: For the newly commissioned cruiser Mirai, it was meant to be a straightforward trip from Japan to Pearl Harbour, nothing more. Certainly no one on board could have anticipated the storm that would envelop them once they got out to sea- a storm that would send them sixty years into the past, right into the middle of 1942’s Battle of Midway. Now trapped in an unfamiliar era amidst a globe-spanning war, the Mirai must tread carefully, for any action they take could alter the course of history and make returning to the twenty-first century impossible.
Why watch it?: Although it may sound like a dull WWII military epic, Zipang is actually an absorbing character drama that becomes increasingly fascinating as each of the Mirai’s actions has a slow but sure ripple effect that begins altering the course of history. With careful pacing and a noteworthy attention to detail, the series always has something worthy to offer.
Devil’s Advocate: Once again, due to the length of the manga, the series ends rather abruptly with no real conclusion- a second season is sorely needed.
Final verdict: Even if you shudder at the thought of military-style WWII-based series, Zipang is good enough to be tried.
And there you have it- a list that won’t match anyone else’s tastes exactly, but might help a few people pick out what to watch next. Come back again soon(ish) to pick up some manga recommendations, not to mention find out which anime I’d prefer to have avoided entirely.