My Favorite Anime

  1. Mushishi
  2. HaibaneRenmei
  3. Seirei no Moribito
  4. UchuuKyoudai
  5. JoJo no Kimyou na Bouken (TV)
  6. Oniisama e…
  7. Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei
  8. Eureka Seven
  9. Aoi Hana
  10. Kiss x Sis

In most previous renditions of this list, since around 2014, the top three have remained unchanged. One of the criteria for a favorite is how much of an immediate impact or lasting impression it has. Undoubtedly, the top three have had the strongest emotional impact of any anime I’d seen—or have seen since. Mushishi and Haibane Renmei in particular hit me on such a personal level that I tend to avoid casually talking about them.

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Seirei no Moribito is like a rare star alignment of story, character, animation, and sound. Every aspect was clearly and skillfully crafted, creating a wholly immersive world and mythology that I still reflect on. Eureka Seven is similar in this regard, though perhaps not as thematically complex. The animation in Seirei no Moribito, which really shines in the action sequences, was produced by Production IG (Jin-Rou), and the soundtrack was scored by the inimitable Kenji Kawai (Ghost in the Shell).

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The characterization in Uchuu Kyoudai (Space Brothers) may actually be more impressive. Even the supporting characters have weight and motivation. My attention span is embarrassingly fragile, and most 12-episode titles end up becoming a struggle for me to complete. Regardless, I breezed through all 99 episodes of Space Brothers with minimal fuss. The times that I did fuss was usually when I had to sleep or work, and couldn’t watch Space Brothers.

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It was fucking hilarious how unapologetically manly and ambiguously gay JoJo no Kimyou na Bouken (TV) was. If I remember right, I binged JoJo TV over the course of a few days so that I could watch Stardust Crusaders as it aired. JoJo TV, along with the two seasons of Stardust Crusaders, were the most fun I’ve ever had watching an anime. If a show can routinely make your stomach tighten from laughter, and make you say “oh shit!” out loud, it deserves to be ranked as a favorite.

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If you like shoujo-ai, you should thank Oniisama e as it’s the spiritual grandmother of the genre. Its direct influence is visible in the classics Maria-sama ga Miteru and Shoujo Kakumei Utena. Aesthetically, Oniisama e is more appropriately categorized as fine art. The hand drawn renderings, done with painstaking detail under the disciplined direction of Osamu Dezaki, are accentuated by a moving piano and orchestral score. It delves into heavy and taboo themes, and was consequently banned in some countries at the time of its 1991 release. There’s some humor, but the subject matter is taken completely seriously, never using its gay characters as props or fanservice. **Aoi Hana** could be considered a lighter version of Oniisama e.

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Lastly, Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei and Kiss x Sis, two anime that couldn’t be more different from each other, and yet are similar in that they are both unafraid of pushing boundaries, and doing the unexpected. The former does so with design and narrative, and latter does so with ecchi and crass humor. My favorite kind of shows, movies, and so on are generally the kind that take risks, that aren’t afraid of being different, or dangerous. I’m a simple man. Keep surprising me, I’ll keep watching.

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Casshern Sins

347549-casshern_sins02“Ruin is the salvation of man and machine.” 

Beneath the flamboyant exterior of fast action fight scenes and fancy shot compositions are some deceptively complex themes. The director, Shigeyasu Yamauchi, who has a propensity for stylish psychological studies, uses Casshern Sins as an opportunity to deconstruct death and hope. 

The first episode establishes the premise with a satisfying level of badassery. In the distant future, Robots have evolved sentience, and can feel emotions like humans can. A global “Ruin”—with a capital R, implying that it’s more than an action—was prompted when Casshern, a highly skilled and gaudily dressed fighter, “killed the Sun named Moon.” Now both humans and robots are on the brink of extinction. 

The robots hadn’t appreciated their lives until death became a reality for them. Having been immortal up until the Ruin, being confronted with the realization that their existence would soon end terrifies them. For some, particularly the humanoid robots, this fear is quelled by love, community bonds, or passionately engaging in their interests. For others, this fear is expressed violently through random acts of desperation and senseless cruelty. 

Everyone except Casshern is affected by the Ruin. As the bodies of the other robots quickly deteriorate, Casshern’s body remains new, and regenerates when it’s damaged. There’s a rumor that the one who “devours” Casshern will become immortal. Consequently, when many robots encounter Casshere and learn of his identity, they have no qualms with abandoning their “humanity” to seize an opportunity to regain their immortality. 

By the halfway point of this series, listening to bleak soliloquies on death and hope—but mostly hopelessness—became mildly taxing. To be fair, the trepidation expressed by these robots is understandable when we consider how new of an experience death is for them. Humans have had over 200,000 years to develop coping and denial mechanisms for death anxiety. On this level, I was able to feel some pity for the robots. 

There’s some sentimentality and melodrama that’s usually, but effectively, scored with slow strings or an acoustic guitar. You can see the emotional chords that they’re trying to pull, but it’s not too hard to go along with it. The action scenes are scored more aggressively, often utilizing tremolo strings or heavy horns like those heard in 90s era historical-action films. Sometimes there’s no score at all, and the scene is simply textured with sounds of wind, rain, or debris. 

The overall style is retro by modern standards, which is to be expected from a director who’s been in the anime industry since the 80s. Unfortunately, this old school style is accompanied by some unflattering old school stereotypes that may annoy some viewers. The one unambiguously black character is a lustful degenerate, and the leading female characters are either manipulative or easily love struck. Even Ringo, an overly cute loli robot who looks like a 4-year-old, fawns over Casshern when she first meets him. 

Casshern Sins has brilliant ideas and beautiful animation that are hampered by some repetition, occasional missteps in characterization, and plot holes. The faults aren’t enough to ruin the viewing experience, but they do hold it back from being the psychological masterpiece that it could have been. With all that said, I still recommend this series if you’re looking for something dark and thoughtful to watch.

 

Mushishi Zoku Shou: Drops of Bells

8UVg2gdOur journey with Ginko, which started in 1999, draws to an end with an adaptation of Suzu no Shizuku (Drops of Bells), the last arc of the acclaimed Mushishi manga by Yuki Urushibara.

In the first half of Suzu no Shizuku, a girl leaves her family behind when she’s summoned to be the next lord of a mountain. Thriving lands, called “Rivers of Light”, require the presence of a lord to maintain the balance of life around that area. Choosing a human as a lord is an unusual move, however. Such a task is usually delegated to animals since they live with fewer emotional attachments.

Several of the introspective themes that were explored in previous arcs are summarized here—most notably interconnectedness, the indifference of nature, and the necessity of letting go. All life—plants, animals, and humans—are dependent on each other, and influenced by the ripples of cause and effect. Nature, which is personified in Suzu no Shizuku as the mountain lord, acts as the unbiased mediator. The overarching lesson is that we should appreciate what we have, and not cling when the time comes for us to move on.

The second half concludes this story without quite concluding the series. The ending leaves some of the questions that were raised in the previous arcs unanswered, but it ties up enough to provide a mostly satisfying conclusion, which I’ll refrain from detailing here. It’s something that really should be appreciated without any spoilers.

The art, animation, and sound design have remained remarkably consistent over the years. The backgrounds in Suzu no Shizuku are just as gorgeous as they’ve been since the first season aired in 2005; the character and special effects animation are fluid and precise; and the soundtrack features the subdued and ambient melodies that have become hallmarks of the series.

When you think about it, it’s kind of a miracle that Mushishi, which is essentially about life experiences and nature, was made with such a substantial budget in today’s impatient, thrill seeking, climate. I’m grateful that ArtLand was willing to take a chance on such an esoteric and spiritual story, and that it’s been successful enough to adapt in its entirety. It’s been a truly remarkable experience.

Bakemonogatari

Hitagi1There’s some debate about whether or not Bakemonogatari (pr. bah-keh-moh-no-gah-tah-re) is an ecchi-harem. A mere six seconds into the first episode, one of the female leads is introduced with a panty shot, and several shots of panties, boobs, and butts are dispersed throughout the series. Aside from two other characters that appear in a few episodes, Araragi, the main character, is the only male, and he’s usually surrounded by females who’ve developed a fondness for him after he helped them in some way.

Is it an ecchi? Most likely. Is it a harem? Probably. Nevertheless, what distinguishes this series from other ecchi and harem anime is that this one could still be entertaining without the ecchi and harem elements. It’s not an ecchi with some story, but a story with some ecchi.

Bakemonogatari, the first anime adaptation of Isin Nisio’s Monogatari novel series, can be summed up as an allegory for how problems grow beyond our control when we don’t tend to them. In this story, unsolved problems culminate into apparitions that can handicap, possess, and even attack people. This premise was likely derived from the Buddhist concept of the āsavā, which is defined as an influence or mental bias that binds people to their desires and attachments; various types of mental binds are illustrated in this story through the lives and interactions of the characters.

This series was headed by veteran director and animator Akiyuki Shinbou, whose style has become synonymous with the Shaft animation studio. His distinctive use of lines, shadows, and off-centered shot compositions are in full effect here. There are some scenes that are likely just meant to look cool, but, generally, the visuals have purpose, and avoid garishness. The visuals are specific, and help to establish tension, isolation, and other tones.

The true highlight of Bakemonogatari is the Tarantino-esque dialog written by Isin Nisio. When the characters converse, they’re not simply saying things that’ll move the plot forward. They’re having in-depth conversations, free of restraints, that seamlessly transition between topics as conversations do in real life. However, that’s not to imply that the characters take themselves seriously. It’s quite the contrary. The characters often tease and challenge each other, and sometimes break through the fourth wall to make the viewer a part of an exchange.

The Monogatari Series would be appreciated by most anime fans who enjoy sleek art, witty dialog, the supernatural, and don’t mind some fanservice. If you decide to pick it up, I suggest watching it in the order that it was adapted: Bakemonogatari, Nisemonogatari, Nekomonogatari: Kuro, Monogatari Series: Second Season, Hanamonogatari, Tsukimonogatari, Owarimonogatari, Kizumonogatari.

 

Texhnolyze

roT0fQITexhnolyze is a show about heavy breathing, grunting, and a pissing contest between a group of gun and sword wielding alpha males in suits who speak in bad mob movie cliches. If you force your imagination enough, you may be able to find something deep in the recesses of this art, but the same could be done if you stared long enough at the textures on a rusty frying pan.

There’s a subplot about “texhnolyzation”, a procedure to repair or upgrade a person using technologies such as mechanical limbs. The transhumanist ideas herein, which have potential, are unfortunately enveloped in a lot of empty atmosphere. Most scenes are comprised of long shots of nothing, sound effects that were ran through one too many flange filters, and cryptic dialog that’s just later reiterated in dull exposition.

The tone is reminiscent of the cheap drawings an angry teenager would sketch up after being sent to his room for cursing out his mother. There’s hardly any diversity among the characters; they all share the same stern facial expression, and communicate by either mumbling or shouting.

Episodes 19 – 22, though still reliant on exposition, are admittedly fascinating as they focus on the aforementioned subplot. With that said, I’m not entirely sure the ending was worth sitting through the preceding 6 hours of tedium. If this show had been around 10 episodes instead of 22, it could have been good, maybe even great.

Mushishi and Patience

687474703a2f2f7777772e6861707079736f64612e636f6d2f77702d636f6e74656e742f75706c6f6164732f323030372f30382f6d757368697368695f6d6174613530302e6a7067When I joined MyAnimeList in 2014, I saw admirers of a series called Mushishi raving about how it was the “best slice of life ever”, using words like “beautiful” and “masterpiece” to describe it. In response to this praise, there were those criticizing it as “pretentious”, and going as far as calling it the “most boring series ever.” With such strong opinions coming from both sides, I wanted to see for myself whether or not Mushishi was as good, or as bad, as people were saying.

At the first episode, I was already siding with the critics. Ginko, the main character, meets with a boy living alone in the woods to investigate a strange ability he has. A perplexing conversation ensues that made me feel like I was back in a college with a professor throwing information at me for an upcoming test. “Are they really expecting me to keep up with all of this?”, I thought.

Then I got to the second episode, which frustrated me even more. For most of the first half, I grudgingly stared at these two kids sitting in a dark room talking about something pertaining to eyelids.

I concluded that this series just wasn’t for me, and I dropped it halfway through the second episode.

As I met and befriended more people on forums, I noticed that many of those who liked the same anime as I did thought highly of Mushishi. I started to wonder, “Why do these people with such excellent taste (lol) love such a bad series? Maybe I’m missing something, and should try watching one more episode.”

I took a deep breath, stilled and cleared my mind, sat back, and attempted to watch the second episode again.

During the first half of the second episode, I felt indifference instead of anger this time because I was in a calmer mental state. I didn’t like what I was watching, but I didn’t hate it either. Then the second half—which I hadn’t seen yet—happened, and everything changed. I’ll explain.

In the first episode, you get a crash course on what Mushi are. It’s not a terribly exciting episode, but it’s a necessary one as it establishes the world you’re about to enter. In the second episode, you see how Mushi can incapacitate people. It starts slowly, as the first episode did, and then—without spoiling anything—all hell breaks loose. I was sucked in.

“Alright, you got me. I need to know more. What are these Mushi?”

Now that the series had my attention, I began to appreciate many things I had overlooked. On the surface, Mushishi seemed like a story about a paranormal investigator who goes around helping random people. As I followed the Ginko on his essential journey—you learn why he can’t stay in one place later in the series—I realized something. The people that he meets aren’t irrelevant characters. They’re us. They’re people modeled after you and me, and their problems are the kinds of problems we’ve all experienced.

Each episode presents a character with a problem we can relate with, and then it guides us through the mental, physical, or sometimes moral process in trying to solve that problem. The stories are blended with subtle commentary on the ways in which we’re interconnected with each other, and with nature. Nature plays a central role in Mushishi, and could be considered a character itself. Sometimes it’s the protagonists; sometimes it’s the antagonist; but it’s never portrayed as an entity that acts in a deliberate way. Nature, and the Mushi that are an extension of it, just are.

What Mushishi managed to accomplish in just 23-minute intervals most series struggle to do over the span of an entire season. I was surprised something so philosophical and unorthodox was adapted into an anime. Artland, the producers, didn’t cut any corners either. The art and animation quality exceeded that of a typical television series, and often reached the level of a feature film. The imagery is enhanced by intricately detailed backgrounds, and a bewitchingly solemn soundtrack that doesn’t call too much attention to itself.

By the end of the series, Mushishi had become my favorite anime. For nearly 13 years, since 2001, Spirited Away had been favorite. Its narrative and visuals were so imaginative, and Miyazaki‘s writing was so sharp, that I never thought another anime would equal it. I went into Mushishi not expecting much, and I didn’t like it when I first tried to watch it. After giving it fair consideration with a calm mind, I also saw how ”beautiful” it was.

It’s amazing the difference a little patience can make.