Yata’s 25 Favorite Anime: 2010-2014

‘Sup folks, Yatahaze here. About a year ago, I noticed that the majority of the anime I’ve seen is recent, particularly shows from the last five years. I may not be as well-versed in series that came out before then, but I think I’ve seen enough shit and gold from this last half-decade to tell the difference between the two. From 2010 to the present day, I’ve been surprised and somewhat frustrated that a decent chuck of my favorites have escaped large-scale attention in the West. Not all of them, mind you, but a decent chunk, enough so that I decided to compile the following list of my favorite (and frankly, in my opinion the best) anime to come out of the last half-decade.

Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 9.43.43 AM
Now of course “best” is in the eye of the beholder, and most of my preferred shows involve things that I value when it comes to enjoying any work of fiction. A lot of the series here are brief, just one season long. This isn’t coincidental. The longer you go, the more you risk including filler that drags down the rest of the show. Brevity is a virtue. Family-oriented shows are always enjoyable for me when they’re done well, as is anything with a high emphasis on good character writing. Thematic weight, visual flair, and originality are also things I pay a lot of attention to, and thus if a show doesn’t have any of those, the odds are high that it won’t be here. Shows with abundant fanservice, a heavy reliance on tropes, and generic pandering to low standards are, I hope unsurprisingly, going to be absent. Approximately 40 shows air each anime season. There are four seasons a year and this list covers a 5-year period. If you do the math with me, that means in this post I’m going to be talking about the top 3 or 4% of things that have aired since 2010. Being “passable” or even “pretty good” doesn’t cut it to make this list. You must be exemplary. No ifs ands or buts.

A couple disclaimers before we get started: shows that started before 2010? Not allowed. Shows that started in the acceptable period and are either still going or have cours greenlit in the future? Allowed. Why? Because I said so. My list, my rules. Don’t like it? Make your own list with your own rules. Sequels or spinoffs are counted at my discretion, but shows aren’t included if you have to have seen some other work to follow along first. You should be able to take the plunge with any of these fairly easily. Specific omissions I’d like to mention are Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure/Stardust Crusaders and the Fate franchise because I’m nowhere near caught up with either of them, though if I were to remake this list in the future, it’s highly possible they would both be on it. Besides those two things, I’m pretty confident with this list and I don’t think I’ve missed much that could work its way up here. Feel free to ask about anything that’s not here and why it’s not. Hopefully I’ll be able to come up with some satisfying answer for you. Oh, and no films are included here, but if you’re curious about those, I recommend checking out Wolf Children Ame & Yuki, The Garden of Words, Redline, Giovanni’s Island, and Time of Eve. Ranking the entries below would be both tedious and pointless, so they’re listed alphabetically. Licensing and dubbing info is for English dubs and American licenses only.

Anyway, I think that covers all the need-to-know background for this list, so without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, the best my favorite 30 anime from the past five years:

“Wait, thirty? You said 25 before.”
Oh, but no list is complete without honorable mentions!
Here are five that could have made the cut and probably would have if not for a few little but important setbacks:

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

FROM THE NEW WORLD:

From The New WorldDirected by: Masashi Ishihama
Produced by: A-1 Pictures
Based on: A novel by Yusuke Kishi
License status: Licensed by Sentai Filmworks
Dub status: There is a dub. It is meh.
Episode count: 25
Original airing run: September 2012-March 2013
Alternate name: Shinsekai Yori

From The New World is a speculative fiction drama with fantastic worldbuilding. Its characters drag the first 2/3 of the show down a lot, but the final arc is the stuff of genius. Those first two thirds are honestly kind of a pain to watch, with sloppier direction, poorer animation, and in general a less than compelling, awkwardly-adapted story due to how close to its chest the show holds a lot of information. Is the end worth it? I think so, but obviously sitting through hours worth of mediocrity to get to the gold (and I’m sad to say you really can’t just skip right to it) isn’t everyone’s thing. For this reason, it’s hard to wholeheartedly recommend From The New World, but the good parts are so good that I still think it deserves at least this honorable mention. Its last stretch of episodes is a thriller unlike anything else.

It’s also got one of my all-time favorite ending theme songs. Really beautiful stuff.

LOG HORIZON:

Log HorizonDirected by: Shinji Ishihara
Produced by: Satelight (season 1) and Studio Deen (season 2)
Based on: A series of novels by Mamare Touno
License status: Licensed by Sentai Filmworks
Dub status: Dubbed, though I haven’t seen it. Supposedly it’s okay.
Episode count: 25 (season 1), 25 (season 2)
Original airing run: October 2013-March 2014 (season 1), October 2014-March 2015 (season 2)
Alternate name: N/A

Log Horizon is a tale about some gamers that get sucked into a video game. Log Horizon is also famous for being way better than that one other anime about gamers that got sucked into a video game. The worldbuilding is beautiful, but as the show was meant for a younger audience, the humor can be repetitive and childish and the general pacing is slow. It does have plenty of moments to shine, even on an adult level, and it executes most of them very well, from political crises to economic crises to devising food that doesn’t taste like shit and beyond! Log Horizon is a fun and imaginative grab bag that truly embraces its video game setting in a way that the show that shall not be named didn’t. A less than consistent second season and a tendency to fall back on repetitive slice-of-life tidbits nobody really cares about unfortunately drag it down out of the Top 25 for me, but Log Horizon is still a very respectable effort that more often than not keeps the viewer engaged, thought-provoked, and impressed.

TERROR IN RESONANCE:

Terror In ResonanceDirected by: Shinichiro Watanabe
Produced by: MAPPA
Based on: N/A (anime original) script by Jun Kumagai and Hiroshi Seko
License status: Licensed by Funimation
Dub status: Dubbed, it’s alright, but I would recommend the sub.
Episode count: 11
Original airing run: July-September 2014
Alternate names: Terror in Tokyo, Zankyou no Terror

Two boys who go by the names of Nine and Twelve and the collective title Sphinx stage a terrorist attack in the middle of Tokyo…but no one is killed. The police, obviously concerned, enter a game of cat and mouse to track the boys down as they commit more attacks – but still, no one dies. Is Sphinx just crooked, or is there some revenge plot at work here – one designed to expose a vile truth rather than simply murder?

Man, it’s a shame Terror in Resonance gets a little wonky in its middle stretch, with all its Diehard-esque action sequences and the suspension of disbelief required to fully invest in its backstory, but when you take it for what it is, it’s nonetheless a touching and emotional tale about seeking ways to cope with and escape from loneliness. Thematically, it remains a strong story, and the art direction and precise use of lighting make it not just one of the most film-like anime to come out in years, but also one of the most detailed, with several elements of purely visual narrative that are a treat for the eyes and the mind. This show’s relatively short eleven-episode timeslot is its own worst enemy since it thinks of more ideas than it can properly execute, but even in spite of that, it manages to be gripping and solemn, beautiful in its key moments, and it contains one of the best anime soundtracks ever, courtesy of the extremely talented Yoko Kanno. I would recommend Terror in Resonance on the merit of its art and ideas alone. Just go into it knowing that along the way some of its maximum potential won’t quite be reached, though that’s certainly not from a lack of trying.

THE DEVIL IS A PART-TIMER!

The Devil is a Part-Timer!Directed by: Naoto Hosoda
Produced by: White Fox
Based on: A light novel series by Satoshi Wagahara
License status: Licensed by Funimation
Dub status: There is a dub, and it’s actually pretty damn good. You could watch either the sub or dub and get the same experience.
Episode count: 13
Original airing run: April-June 2013
Alternate name: Hataraku Maou-sama!

The Demon Lord Maou of Ente Isla and one of his generals, Alciel, escape through a portal while fleeing an invasion of forces led by the Hero Emilia. They end up in modern-day Tokyo, and are shocked to find their magic doesn’t work the same way on Earth as it did in their dimension, forcing them to get jobs and adapt to this new world under the guise of normal people while they search for a way back to their homeland. What better place to start working than good ol’ McDonald’s (or MgRonald’s, as they call it to avoid copyright)?

Oh, and Emilia came through the portal and did all that stuff too, and she really really really wants to kill Maou while he’s weak.

This whole show is actually just one goofy comedy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; in fact, for anime comedy, it’s actually pretty good, relying on situational humor more than tropes and the ever-present irony that Maou isn’t such a bad guy on Earth and Emilia’s the one who’s going bonkers even though she’s supposed to be a force for good. There isn’t much to otherwise say about Part-Timer. It’s fun most of the time, the comedic pacing is well thought out, and while there are some unfortunate declines into “oh yep, stereotypical anime joke here”, there aren’t as many as you might think. It helps that the cast is lively and dynamic and has great chemistry, and as I mentioned above, this show also has one of the better English dubs from the last few years. The hurr durr anime humor that sometimes leaks through and the lack of a proper conclusion to the Ente Isla ordeal bring it down a notch, but The Devil Is A Part-Timer is still a recommendable, above-average anime comedy.

YOUR LIE IN APRIL:

Your Lie In AprilDirected by: Kyouhei Ishiguro
Produced by: A-1 Pictures
Based on: A manga series by Naoshi Arakawa
License status: Licensed by Aniplex of America
Dub status: There is supposedly a dub, haven’t seen it.
Episode count: 22
Original airing run: October 2014-March 2015
Alternate name: Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso, KimiUso

Your Lie In April is about Kousei Arima, a child prodigy at the piano who frequently entered and won competitions due to his “Human Metronome” style of playing, but after his mother, the person who chiefly pushed him to practice, started getting abusive and sick and eventually died, Kousei refused to play the piano. He “can’t hear it anymore”, he claims. This changes when he meets a pretty violinist named Kaori Miyazono, who unlike Kousei’s old style, plays with emotion and a free spirit, and as timid and unconfident as Kousei is now, Kaori reignites his spark for music.

Yes, Your Lie In April is extremely melodramatic and prone to slip into episode-long stifled monologues about romance, but the show does focus a lot on the musical side too. You know, in between childhood trauma, and love triangles, and all that stuff. It often feels like it’s caught in between ideas, and while most of the time those ideas can be pulled back together, this show is undeniably longwinded. That said, when it’s great, such as in the plentiful performance scenes and the climaxes of emotional tension, it’s really great. The art is downright beautiful every single second, a rare enough feat for a show with one cour, let alone two, and mainly for that, my love of music shows, and an incredibly strong closing stretch of episodes, this gets a solid enough honorable mention. Just try not to let your heart get torn out.

And now, the top 25:

ANOHANA: THE FLOWER WE SAW THAT DAY:

AnoHanaDirected by: Tatsuyuki Nagai
Produced by: A-1 Pictures
Based on: N/A (anime original) story by Mari Okada
License status: Licensed by NIS America
Dub status: Not dubbed
Episode count: 11
Original airing run: April-June 2011
Alternate names: AnoHana, Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai

A group of six childhood friends who called themselves the Super Peace Busters drifted apart after one of them, Meiko “Menma” Honma, died in a drowning accident. Ten years later, then leader, now recluse Jinta Yadomi begins to see Menma, who asks to have one final wish granted. Initially Jinta thinks he’s only hallucinating, Menma merely a manifestation of his stress and guilt due to his withdrawal from society after the incident, but when she doesn’t leave, he decides to try and help fulfill Menma’s wish…though trying to figure out what that wish is comes first. In the process, Jinta gets the gang back together, but time and unresolved tension have worn their friendships thin, and as if that wasn’t enough, none of them can see Menma…

AnoHana is a ridiculously emotional tumultuous ride, a slow-burner cloaked in guilt and secrecy juxtaposed against innocence. Shows like these have a tendency to be overdramatized, but this one has a firm hold on its emotions and gives the viewer plenty of reasons to care about the characters involved. They make up a small but dynamic cast and the show directly confronts that the reason a lot of them are how they are now – a shut in, a trend-follower, a shy stoic, a bubbly traveler, a preppy schmuck – are direct results of the events that happened earlier in their lives and their inability to cope with them. AnoHana is filled with drama but not for the sake of dramatics; a lot of screentime is down to earth and character development comes smoothly, with no out of place flashbacks or episodic digressions to fill in gaps. When things do pick up, they do so gradually and realistically instead of forcing the “FEEL THINGS” vibe onto you. It lets all the small stuff build up into a predictable but nonetheless enormously satisfying tearjerker conclusion, and while exceptional characterization and coming-of-age stories are things you’ll see a lot of on this list, AnoHana excels at pushing the boundaries of a high school-set coming-of-age character drama. It’s strongly empathetic to its cast in turmoil, and in turn it’s hard for you to not be as well. As far as a ride down Feels Lane goes, you can’t pick a better anime from these last couple years to turn to than AnoHana.

BARAKAMON:

BarakamonDirected by: Masaki Tachibana
Produced by: Kinema Citrus
Based on: A manga series by Satsuki Yoshino
License status: Licensed by Funimation
Dub status: Not dubbed (yet)
Episode count: 12
Original airing run: July-September 2014
Alternate name: N/A

When calligrapher Sei Handa punches an elderly curator in the face for calling his work unoriginal, his father forces him to take a sabbatical on the rural Goto Islands chain off the coast of Kyushu. Sei tries to seize the opportunity away from the city to find new inspiration and improve his craft by his lonesome…but the outgoing islanders just won’t let him be. As he slowly warms up to his new home and its frequent invasions by a couple rambunctious kids, the island’s inhabitants take to him as well, and he learns a lot about community and creativity until he begins to feel like the island is a part of him as much as he is now a part of it.

As you might’ve guessed by that summary, Barakamon is a wonderful feel-good show, bolstered by its lively cast and relaxed setting. It hits a perfect middle ground between gag comedy (mostly a result of the young’uns) and realistic drama due to the phenomenal voice acting from every single person involved. Overarching themes include culture shock and artistic uncertainty. Sei’s growth as a person forms the core of Barakamon’s story, but that growth wouldn’t happen (or wouldn’t feel natural) if the rest of the cast wasn’t spectacular in their own right. If you’re looking for an extremely well-rounded summery show sure to lift your spirit with ease while also containing universal remarks on the creative process, look no further. Barakamon has what you desire.

BUNNY DROP:

Bunny DropDirected by: Kanta Kamei
Produced by: Production I.G.
Based on: A manga series by Yumi Unita
License status: Licensed by NIS America
Dub status: Not dubbed
Episode count: 11
Original airing run: July-September 2011
Alternate name: Usagi Drop

When 30-year-old Daikichi Kawachi returns home to attend his grandfather’s funeral, he learns that his grandfather recently fathered an illegitimate daughter with a younger woman. The six-year-old Rin is considered an embarrassment and outcast by the rest of the family, so Daikichi, annoyed by everyone’s harsh treatment of an innocent child, extemporaneously decides to adopt her. Big emphasis on the “extemporaneously”, because although Daikichi’s heart is in the right place, he’s single and has no experience with raising kids, and this decision shakes up his life more than he could’ve imagined.

But not more than any parent could’ve! Bunny Drop is arguably the only show on this list in the josei genre, and as such it offers a more realistic look into the struggles of adulthood, in this case, parenthood. “Oh wow”, I bet you’re thinking, “it’s a story about a little girl and some old guy trying to act like a father, how boring”, and that’s indeed where the biggest surprise comes. Bunny Drop may stick to the average routines of a family and their close friends, but it’s still a touching tale with an endearing tasteful cast and a lot of heart and character growth. It’s slow and not frilly, so this obviously won’t be everyone’s thing, but if you want proof that anime can reflect reality, there isn’t a much better show to point to than Bunny Drop.

DAILY LIVES OF HIGH SCHOOL BOYS:

Daily Lives of Highschool BoysDirected by: Shinji Takamatsu
Produced by: Sunrise
Based on: A manga series by Yasunobu Yamauchi
License status: Licensed by NIS America
Dub status: Not dubbed
Episode count: 12
Original airing run: January-March 2012
Alternate names: Danshi Koukousei no Nichijou, Nichibros

Daily Lives of High School Boys is about the daily lives of high school boys. Unlike Bunny Drop, these high school boys’ daily lives are nothing like the average person’s…and yet at the same time, they ring so true.

Where does one even begin with this? I could talk about its multiple separate skits-per-episode construction, or its boundless profound stupidity, or how it’s borderline sexist in the way it separates women as fearsome monsters and men as lazy pranksters and goof-offs, but that’s all beside the point, isn’t it? Despite all its surface flaws, Nichibros has such a balls to the wall cast and amps everything up to eleven in the most hysterically anticlimactic ways possible that I don’t even feel guilty about including it. It might just be because I’m a guy, but Nichibros is pure fun. Unfiltered, self-mocking, nostalgic, ultimately inclusive fun. Sound like your thing? When it comes to anime gag comedy, you can’t possibly find much better than Nichibros.

I don’t want to become a lawyer.

DURARARA!! / DURARARA!!x2

Durarara!!Directed by: Takahiro Omori
Produced by: Brain’s Base (season 1) and Studio Shuka (season 2)
Based on: A light novel series by Ryohgo Narita
License status: Licensed by Aniplex of America
Dub status: A dub exists, though DRRR!!x2’s is still catching up.
Episode count: 24 + 2-episode OVA (season 1), TBA (season 2)
Original airing run: January-June 2010 (season 1) and January 2015-TBA (season 2)
Alternate name: DRRR!!

Durarara is a mixed bag romp of gang warfare, supernatural phenomena, and mind games set in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo, with stories told from multiple perspectives in an often-antichronological manner. There isn’t one single overarching plot per se, but there’s no shortage of happenings with a cast as diverse and large as Durarara has. Screentime is split fairly evenly, showing the viewer how much each recurring character knows about a particular incident until all the pieces come together. The pacing is superb and every story retains continuity with the events before and after it. That’s not to say the show won’t get a little over the top every so often, but its components all contribute to a whole greater than the sum of its parts, and masterfully so. The soundtrack is also fantastic, as is the implementation of its tracks at precise moments of action. Compare/contrast with Ryohgo Narita’s other similarly acclaimed previous work Baccano!, which is basically the same thing except set in the Prohibition-era northeast United States. If you like one, you’ll almost surely like the other.

FLOWERS OF EVIL:

Flowers of EvilDirected by: Hiroshi Nagahama
Produced by: Zexcs
Based on: A manga series by Shuuzou Oshimi
License status: Licensed by Sentai Filmworks
Dub status: Not dubbed
Episode count: 13
Original airing run: April-June 2013
Alternate names: Aku no Hana

Flowers of Evil revolves around a pretentious prick named Takao Kasuga who in a spur of the moment urge decides to steal his crush’s gym clothes. As embarrassing as that would be on its own, an intimidating loner named Sawa Nakamura catches him in the act, and decides to hold this over his head as blackmail, forcing him to “enter a contract” with her. The rest of Flowers of Evil is mired with emotional agony and pubescent tension, turning a typical perverted anime trope into a grimy reality that none of the show’s three leads can escape from.

And it’s important to point out that yes, Flowers of Evil’s anime adaption was panned by most people upon its release. It makes sense. The rotoscoped animation is laughable, the plot is sick (and not the good kind), and it’s extremely uncomfortable to watch. Hiroshi Nagahama and Zexcs’ directional choices to adapt it in this artsier and moodier style only serve to make it that much more awkward. But somewhere buried in all that sickness are moments of pure beauty and overwhelming ambition. For all the criticism it receives, the team behind this adaption of Flowers of Evil knew what they were trying to do, and they nailed it 100%. It’s not a fun anime, nor one that will give you immediate gratification, but when it all clicks, it clicks miraculously, in a tormented catharsis I can’t even begin to describe. There isn’t much to lighten the mood that hangs over the show besides a few animation gaffes and the lingering “lol wtf is this kid’s problem” look the adults give to our three protagonists, but that all further heightens the volatile state of mind Flowers of Evil presents. It’s visceral and innovative, and while it’s something not everyone will enjoy watching, it at least deserves some credit. At its peaks, there’s nothing like it.

HUMANITY HAS DECLINED:

Humanity Has DeclinedDirected by: Seiji Kishi
Produced by: AIC A.S.T.A
Based on: A light novel series by Romeo Tanaka
License status: Licensed by Sentai Filmworks
Dub status: Not dubbed
Episode count: 12
Original airing run: July-September 2012
Alternate names: Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita, Jintai

Oh boy.

Humanity Has Declined is about the life of a snarky unnamed protagonist working as a United Nations mediator in a world where humanity has, for whatever reason, suffered a decline and these little shrewd elf-looking things called fairies (yosei) have started to take over as the Earth’s new most intelligent lifeform. There is no overarching story; the show is split up into 5 two-episode arcs and two standalone episodes, almost all of which are in opposite chronological order. Wonderfully avoiding stereotypical protagonist heroism, Jintai’s protagonist is morally ambiguous, her narrations not littered with ethical do’s and do-not’s. Her thing is blunt sarcasm, just as much inside her head as out of it.

Considering that, it’s understandable why some label Jintai as a comedy, but more often than not I find myself in a conflicted guilty chuckle at what it has to say as opposed to uncontrollable laughter. This is social satire at its finest as far as anime is concerned; business culture, politics, private entertainment, selfish desires, and environmentalism are all touched upon, as are a number of other subjects you wouldn’t expect to be addressed in a show with a color template and art design such as this. Some scenes even get unsettlingly macabre (I think the bread scene has gained quite a bit of popularity by now), and pretty much anything that’s the work of a fairy can be expected to leave a blank “what the fuck” stare for a while. Speaking of which, the fairies add an excellent dynamic to the show; taking over as the new race, they operate on a fundamentally different level than humanity, with a few notable changes being they have no concept of birth, they pee pure water, they multiply through being happy around one another (that’s not even a euphemism), and large concentrations of them lead to terrifying situations for everyone else. The best part? They have a wide gaping smile plastered upon their faces every single second they’re shown on-screen.

It’s not like Jintai is free of problems, but the interactions between the protagonist and the fairies are more than enough to keep the show entertaining. Add the surreal humor and the weird overall tone, and it’s undoubtedly one of the most bizarre, witty, and original anime to come out in recent years as well as one of my personal underdog favorites.

HYOUKA:

HyoukaDirected by: Yasuhiro Takemoto
Produced by: Kyoto Animation
Based on: A novel series by Honobu Yonezawa
License status: Unlicensed (oh, the misery)
Dub status: Not dubbed
Episode count: 22
Original airing run: April-September 2012
Alternate name: N/A

At the request of his older sister, energy-conserving Houtarou Oreki joins his school’s Classic Literature Club to prevent it from being disbanded, thinking the risk of attending couldn’t possibly be worse than being harassed if he didn’t. Little did he know his new club would give him no shortage of harassment, mostly in the form of the ditsy but booksmart and insatiably curious Eru Chitanda. Along with his happy-go-lucky “human database” friend Satoshi and a snappy girl named Mayaka who also join the club, Houtarou is dragged along by Eru to solve all the miniscule mysteries of their daily lives. Turns out the kid has a knack for piecing together information.

Maybe it’s just cause I find Houtarou one of the most relatable anime protagonists ever (and that should give you a fair look into the mind of Yata), but Hyouka is not just one of my favorite anime from the last few years, but one of my favorite television series in general of all time. I’d go so far as to say it’s even essentially perfect. The art quality is off the charts beautiful, the characters are extremely well-rounded with personalities that bounce off each other gracefully, and while some complain the pacing is slow, I think that only works to the show’s advantage. The mystery segments of Hyouka are delectable, lush with detail both visually and intellectually, frequently making use of wordplay and the viewer’s initial expectations, which, by the way, also happens to be a recurring theme throughout the show as a whole. Hyouka is both wary of and indulgent in its youthfulness in a quiet manner, in awe of the world around it and searching for big meanings in small things. In doing so, it’s deceptively nuanced and resonating, romanticized but content with that, a wonderful look into a couple of kids looking in different ways at the same things, but not forgetting to try and enjoy their high school lives however they see fit and can in the process. When it comes to slice-of-life anime, you can’t get much better than the understated jewel that is Hyouka. For sure Kyoto Animation’s best work to date and a mature experience that deserves much more attention than it’s got.

KATANAGATARI:

KatanagatariDirected by: Keitaro Motonaga
Produced by: White Fox
Based on: A light novel series by Nisio Isin
License status: Licensed by NIS America
Dub status: Not dubbed
Episode count: 12 (approx. 50 min. each)
Original airing run: January-December 2010
Alternate name: N/A

Katanagatari is the complicated story of a hotheaded woman named Togame the Strategian and her new socially-inexperienced traveling companion Yasuri Shichika, a swordless swordsman and the son of an exiled rebellion leader. The two set out on a journey across late Edo-period Japan to locate “The Twelve Perfected Deviant Blades of Shikizaki Kiki”, superpowered weapons crafted from the reclusive swordsmith via alchemy, magic, and other secret techniques, and bring them back to the shogunate. However, they’re not the only group gunning after the swords and the powers they bring.

Katanagatari is flamboyant in appearance and lengthy in discourse; these characters may fight, and there may be action, but a fuckton of talking is far more common. The original novels were written by Nisio Isin, the author of the unrelated Monogatari franchise and Death Note Another Note: THE L.A. BB Murder Cases, and as you might’ve guessed, his knack for wordplay and long conversations remain rampant throughout this show as well. Growth is the name of the game here, as no character stays the same way they first appear, and deceit runs loose throughout the entire narrative. It’s also full of thematic contradictions; the episodes are formulaic, yet every moment feels fresh. The show shouts a message of disregarding history to move onward, yet every action taken in the show is grounded by the burden of legacy and the events that transpired in generations prior to the show’s present time. In the pursuit of a better future for the living, key changes in personality are spurred on by death, and not just the deaths of people, but the deaths of philosophies, legacies, and even the Edo era itself.

Historical anime rarely speak to me, but Katanagatari has such a neat style and cleverly constructed layout that it’s hard not to fall in love with it. The crew behind the anime adaption deserves a lot of praise too, as they kept Nisio Isin’s monthly motif right down to airing each new episode once a month instead of weekly, and they had the skill to pull off doubling the episode length to compensate for the time gaps without dragging the show out. Filled with unconventionality, Katanagatari is a riveting tale of the contrasts between manipulation and love, legacy and self-fulfillment, and carrying on and letting go. The rest of its presentation is just icing on the cake. A must-watch for action-lovers, dialogue-lovers, and historical anime lovers. The rest of you will find probably discover something enjoyable in it too.

KIDS ON THE SLOPE:

Kids on the SlopeDirected by: Shinichiro Watanabe
Produced by: MAPPA/Tezuka Productions
Based on: A manga series by Yuki Kodama
License status: Licensed by Sentai Filmworks
Dub status: There is a dub. Watch the sub. Please.
Episode count: 12
Original airing run: April-June 2012
Alternate name: Sakamichi no Apollon

In the summer of 1966, uptight introverted high school freshman Kaoru Nishimi moves to Kyushu to live with his aunt while his father works out job matters in the city. Kaoru quickly becomes the target of the school’s notorious bad boy Sentaro Kawabuchi, but after befriending Ritsuko Mukae, the daughter of a record store owner and a family friend of the Kawabuchis, he finds out Sentaro plays jazz drums. Kaoru just so happens to play piano…but classical piano. The two at first continue to butt heads until Kaoru starts exhibiting enough prowess and passion to play jazz. And then they stop butting heads. But then they butt heads again. But then they stop again. But then

Yeah, Kids on the Slope is something of a joke for people who expected the music to play the most prominent role in the show. The music is still there, and it’s clearly inspired by it to enough of an extent that the show’s musical performances are not only beautiful to listen to but downright awesome to watch, but Kids on the Slope is truly a romantic drama. Most of the show’s free time is spent with the characters selling themselves short, failing to properly discuss love with one another, and generally causing their friendships to toss and turn in the process. But like all good stories, Kids on the Slope acknowledges this is what it’s spending its time on, and the character development warrants it. Even though you want to shout at them sometimes for being so dense, the show keeps the drama grounded. The political accuracy and American sailor presence also add more interesting layers to the already fine show. The masterful direction by Shinichiro Watanabe and musical compositions by Yoko Kanno (you know, that duo that did Cowboy Bebop and Terror in Resonance? Yeah, them) has a lot to do with it, but Kids on the Slope is a really heartwarming story about friendship and love and music that could’ve been fine even without the aid of these two industry vets. Like Hyouka, it can be idyllic, but I’d be damned if it doesn’t make the most of its emotions and its mid-20th-century setting. If music’s your thing and you don’t mind a bit of lovey fluff on the side (or vice versa), this is the 2010’s best anime offering for you yet.

KYOUSOUGIGA:

KyousougigaDirected by: Rie Matsumoto
Produced by: Toei Animation
Based on: A 2011 ONA and 2012 extension by the same company and cast*
License status: Unexpectedly licensed long after the fact by Discotek Media for a 2016 release
Dub status: Not dubbed
Episode count: 10
Original airing run: October-December 2013
Alternate name: Kyosogiga

*a note about the viewing order: just watch the Kyousougiga (TV) series. The original ONA is unfollowable and the information from the 2012 episodes is more naturally ingrained into the full 10-episode series. You don’t need to see anything but those 10 episodes.

Long ago, a priest named Myoue had the ability to make anything he drew come to life. He was outcast by his villagers, and so at home, he drew a surreal town called the Mirror Capital and a rabbit named Koto who turned into a woman following a deal with a Bodhisattva. The two of them, along with an adopted child named Yakushimaru hopped into the Mirror Capital for a better life, but it didn’t last long, as Koto was taken away and Myoue left Yakushimaru with two “siblings” he created, Kurama and Yase, some prayer beads, and a promise he would return someday “with the beginning and the end”. In the present day, Yakushimaru, now referred to himself as Myoue, spends his days in the Mirror Capital waiting for his father to come back…that is, until he’s interrupted when a new girl also named Koto unprecedentedly winds up there and searches for a way home herself.

Gonna drop off the great OP here, since video clips of Kyousougiga are kind of scarce.

Kyousougiga is an extremely difficult show to explain, but a very easy show to love. I think LK once described it as “Mamoru Hosoda and Gainax having a baby”, and that’s not too far off the mark. Hosoda’s focus on sentimentality and family and Gainax’s love of colorful explosions and over-the-top eyecandy collided to create this truly one of a kind show, a symbolism-heavy mystical ride through several dimensions and settings, all as intriguing as the last. While it may not make total sense at some points, its conclusion is more than gratifying, the kind of finale that leaves you stupefied and fully impressed, and man, the visual direction. The visual direction is just outright incredible. If you want to think as much you feel, check out Kyousougiga. It may not be an easy journey to piece together, but when you do, the rewards are sooooo worth it.

PENGUINDRUM:

PenguindrumDirected by: Kunihiko Ikuhara
Produced by: Brain’s Base
Based on: N/A (anime original) story by Kunihiko Ikuhara and Takayo Ikami
License status: Licensed by Sentai Filmworks
Dub status: Dubbed, but the sub is superior.
Episode count: 24
Original airing run: July-December 2011
Alternate name: Mawaru Penguindrum

A terminally ill girl named Himari Takakura is miraculously saved from death by the power of a penguin hat. In return for extending her life, the spirit that resides in the hat takes over Himari’s body in her own dimension and tasks Himari’s brothers Kanba and Shouma to seek out an object known as the Penguin Drum.

Which is great and all, yay, Himari’s alive, but nobody has any damn clue what the Penguin Drum is or how to find it.

If you’ve been keeping up with my writings on this season’s Ikuhara show Yurikuma Arashi, you’d know that I love the guy as a fucking weird director and an even weirder writer, with works filled with dizzying symbolism, evocative imagery, and more plot twists than a fucking M. Night Shyamalan film. It’s easy to get lost in Penguindrum, as it digresses on tangents filled with red herrings and unanticipated foreshadowing, making the whole work difficult to wrap your head around. Penguindrum also addresses recurring themes across all of Ikuhara’s work, one of which is sex, and I’m not talking the derpy anime “whoops, I tripped and fell on your boob, haha” sexual humor, I’m talking “holy shit is that girl stalking her teacher to rape him? What the flying fuck” kind of sexual stuff. Penguindrum has moments of comedy, but it spends more time reveling in the filthiness of its characters, the sadness of their pasts, and the connections between them that aren’t as innocent as they first appear. It’s challenging to get into and even more challenging to actively enjoy, but when you finish it, it’s clear that Penguindrum is a psychological drama that no show has come close to matching since its end. It certainly isn’t something I’d recommend to a lot of people, but the fact remains that for what it’s trying to do, this show is something on a whole other level of grand. Give it a go if you’re into really bizarre shit (even for anime standards) and unorthodox storytelling.

PING PONG THE ANIMATION:

Ping Pong The AnimationDirected by: Masaaki Yuasa
Produced by: Tatsunoko Production
Based on: A manga series by Taiyou Matsumoto
License status: Licensed by Funimation
Dub status: Dubbed. I’ve only seen clips, but it seems okay. Probably better to go with the sub though.
Episode count: 11
Original airing run: April-June 2014
Alternate name: N/A

Reserved and quiet Makoto “Smile” Tsukimoto and energetic and loud Yutaka “Peco” Hoshino have known each other since childhood. They both have a natural talent for ping-pong and take part (at their own leisure) in their school’s table tennis club, but Smile’s willingness to keep other people happy prevents him from kicking ass. A coach and some scouts take note of his latent talent and try to give him some drive to play at his best.

OOOOOOOH YEEEEEAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!

So often in sports anime shows revolve around team camaraderie and improving each other for the benefit of the team as a whole, but ping pong, at least for the entirety of this series, is an individual sport, and when the best of the best collide, the characters have no choice but to tear each other apart or let themselves down. If Ping Pong were strictly about Smile, or even Smile and Peco, it could still be a great show, but it takes several steps beyond that. Ping Pong follows upwards of five teenage table tennis prodigies and multiple other people who play for fun, all with their own prior accomplishments, methods of playing, motivations, and goals. This is another one of those shows that makes the characters feel more like people than characters, and their playing styles are figuratively exaggerated instead of literally.

I mean, if they didn’t look so ridiculous, that is. But hey, I love Ping Pong for that reason too! Using this art style was a gutsy move that might not have paid off without Masaaki Yuasa’s amazing direction, as he infuses the characters’ intentionally jerky animations with manga panel-eqsue shot framing and beautiful sound design to create an atmosphere that’s half comical, half innovative, and 100% work of art. The voice acting is superb for a cast filled with relative newcomers; props specifically to Fukujurou Katayama as Peco and Wen Yexing as Wenge “China” Kong in their first anime roles, the latter a fucking bilingual one. Seriously, it’s incredible stuff, and the entire voice cast nails their characters. Ping Pong The Animation is a one-of-a-kind sports anime, and a one-of-a-kind anime in general; a coming-of-age tale of the sternest variety about not just competition and raw talent, but also friendship and mutual love and passion for a unique activity. This is definitely a recommended watch for pretty much everyone.

PSYCHO-PASS NEW EDIT VERSION:

Psycho-Pass New Edit VersionDirected by: Naoyoshi Shiotani
Produced by: Production I.G.
Based on: N/A (anime original) story by Gen Urobuchi
License status: Licensed by Funimation
Dub status: The original has been dubbed, though I’ve only seen clips. No idea if The New Edit Version has.
Episode count: 11 (approx. 50 min. each)
Original airing run: July-September 2014 with 2 episodes from the original Psycho-Pass combined into one and bonus scenes added to equal 11 refined episodes of approximately double the average length.
Alternate names: Psycho-Pass Extended Edition, Psycho-Pass Restart

Not to be confused with Psycho-Pass’ sloppy second season done by a different studio and team or the original Psycho-Pass mired with production problems that this one fixes, Psycho-Pass New Edit Version is a retelling of the beloved 2012-2013 cop thriller. Set 100 years in the future in an authoritarian dystopian Japan where omnipresent public sensors keep track of people’s mental states, personalities, and the probability of individuals to commit crimes, the show follows newcomer Akane Tsunemori and her team of the Ministry of Welfare’s Public Safety Bureau (MWPSB) as they investigate a series of seemingly unconnected deaths and in pursuit of the killers discover the secrets behind the system they’re upholding.

Psycho-Pass is really dark, potentially even the darkest show on this list, but it doesn’t lose sight of its message in favor of cheap shocks. (Well, season two does, but we don’t talk about that). In fact, it’s also one of the most intellectual shows here, with detailed worldbuilding and technology, constant shout-outs to literature, and a plot that makes no missteps to the very end. I’m hesitant to say much more about Psycho-Pass since it’s better to go into it not knowing too much and letting the state of its world surprise you. Just know the show isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s densely packed with information and ideas and it doesn’t think kindly of censorship, so there’s a lot to take in and there are plenty of scenes that will make the squeamish squirm. While cop dramas are nothing new in the West, they’re not as common abroad, especially in anime. Even our acclaimed cop shows don’t quite reach the heights that Psycho-Pass does, so for people that want something smarter and more adult than the average anime or average police show, this is a fantastic option.

PUELLA MAGI MADOKA MAGICA:

Puella Magi Madoka MagicaDirected by: Akiyuki Shinbo
Produced by: SHAFT
Based on: N/A (anime original) story by Gen Urobuchi
License status: Licensed by Aniplex of America
Dub status: Dubbed. Haven’t seen it. No opinion.
Episode count: 12
Original airing run: January-April 2011
Alternate names: Madoka Magica, Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica, Magical Girl Madoka Magica

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A few middle-school girls encounter a weird alien-looking cat thing named Kyubey that offers the girls a contract to have any wish granted in exchange for obtaining magical powers and being tasked to fight witches. Sound like a fun and dandy time?

It’s not.

Madoka Magica arguably received the most widespread acclaim of any show on this list, and with good reason. I, like most guys I would assume, am not particularly partial to the magical girl genre. Too cutesy, too girly, too empty of any analytical weight, it’s just a genre that doesn’t appeal to me at all. But Shinbo, Urobuchi, and SHAFT decided magical girls could present a new narrative; a vivid, thrilling, dark, experimental, and mindfucky one, and they were totally able to pull it off. SHAFT’s love of weird, glassy architecture contrasts well with the nightmarish art design of the witch scenes, and by art merit alone I feel justified in recommending Madoka Magica, but the glory doesn’t stop there. Go into it with an open mind, knowing you won’t be treated to the horror right at the start, but that it will gradually creep up on you and leave you thoroughly impressed by series end. Phenomenal writing, direction, and deconstruction of a genre that desperately needed it.

There are also sequel movies that range from great to (supposedly) hit or miss, but I haven’t gotten around to those yet. Just don’t have the time. That said, guess what I and everyone and their mother does have the time for?

SENYUU:

SenyuuDirected by: Yutaka Yamamoto
Produced by: Liden Films and Ordet
Based on: A manga series by Robinson Haruhara
License status: No distribution company has licensed it, but Crunchyroll has for free online viewing
Dub status: Not dubbed
Episode count: 26 total (13 per season; 4 min. each)
Original airing run: January-April (season 1) and July-September (season 2) 2013
Alternate name: Senyu

One thousand years ago, the evil Demon King was sealed by the legendary hero Creasion. In the present time, a hole has appeared in the world, and through it have emerged many demons. The bumbling human King ordered the 75 possible descendants of the original hero to destroy the demons and save the world. Senyuu follows Alba, one of those descendants, along with an asshole Royal Soldier named Ros as they embark on their own quest to beat the demons. Things quickly go awry.

Senyuu was severely underwatched when it came out given its four minute-per-episode composition, and what a shame that is. This show is the epitome of shounen anime parodies. Everything changes at completely random whims, tropes are spilled out all over the place, and all the characters more or less hate each other. It’s a battle royale of dorkyness that mocks the long-running nature of all adventure anime and manga that came before it and accomplishes all its objectives in under two hours worth of screentime. It’s a mess, but it’s a mess by design, and a total rib-cracking hoot too. If you’re in the mood for a funny and fast watch, Senyuu’s got what you’re looking for.

SHIKI:

ShikiDirected by: Tetsurou Amino
Produced by: Daume
Based on: Novels by Fuyumi Ono
License status: Licensed by Funimation
Dub status: There is a dub, and I think you can go either way, but I’d still recommend the sub.
Episode count: 22 (+ 2 OVA episodes)
Original airing run: July-December 2010
Alternate name: N/A

Just after a strange family moves into an out-of-place European-style mansion on the edge of town, deaths start breaking out in the tradition-oriented remote mountain village of Sotoba. Toshio Ozaki, the current doctor of the village’s traditional family of doctors suspects an epidemic is the problem, but he can’t deduce the cause and his patients don’t seem eager to cooperate with him. As crazy at seems, Dr. Ozaki finally arrives at the conclusion that the deaths are the work of the Risen, the dead coming back to life as according to town legend, but he has no proof, and despite his best efforts the death count continues to rise…

That’s still selling the gist of Shiki short though, because its first half tells in immaculate detail Ozaki and some others’ rush to stop the Risen by themselves, and the discoveries they make verge heavily on spoiler territory for the latter parts of the show. Shiki ultimately ends up extremely brutal, but it isn’t exactly horror, nor is it a true mystery. The art style and character designs are too flimsy to venture that far, and a lot of the show’s younger cast comes off as caricatures, but there’s likely some intent in that. Shiki’s goal isn’t to scare you with shock value, but to show you the very worst qualities of human nature, brought out when people feel trapped and hopeless. Shiki starts as a tale about a place grounded in the ways of the past and its toxic influence on its younger generations, but by its end, Shiki devolves into widespread paranoia and a total bloodbath. There’s an inherent sadness that looms over the entire show, drenching it in an oppressive atmosphere that like all its characters, the viewer cannot escape from. When shit hits the fan, it hits it hard, but the direction here is superb; there are no plot twists solely for the sake of plot twists, and the pacing is downright beautiful for a show of this genre and length.

Shiki’s ending is, for the sake of not spoiling much, somewhat abrupt and far from pleasant. I suppose there’s no way a show like this could have a happy ending without feeling forced and counterproductive, and its success comes in giving the situation of Sotoba finality in the craziest sense of the word. For all the occasionally gimmicky character work, Shiki still allows every one of its characters (and I really mean every character, yes, even this asshole) to feel relatable in some way. The gravity of this show is inescapable, and like I mentioned, poignant and unfortunate, and that together with its characters make it, if not entertaining (which I did find it to be), at least thematically coherent and easily felt. For a show that’s not as dark as it first appears but nonetheless universally sad and critical of human nature, Shiki does what it’s trying to do very well. Check it out if you want a good thrill and resonant subtle social commentary in equal measure.

SHIROBAKO:

ShirobakoDirected by: Tsutomu Mizushima
Produced by: P.A. Works
Based on: N/A (anime original) story by Michiko Yokote
License status: Licensed by Sentai Filmworks
Dub status: Not dubbed (yet)
Episode count: 24
Original airing run: October 2014-March 2015
Alternate name: N/A

Shirobako follows a lot of people (and just look at Wikipedia, I mean a lot) and their jobs in the anime industry, chiefly a young woman named Aoi Miyamori and her coworkers at Musashino Animation, a fictional anime studio. Aoi is busy and stressed, but at least gets sustainable wages and is pleased with what she helps make. The same cannot be said for all of her old high school friends, and while they all planned to get jobs in the industry to one day regroup and create their own original work, that seems like a far off distant fantasy now. In depicting their struggles, Shirobako gives viewers a look into the work that goes on in a lower-budget anime studio, the views of at this point probably near a hundred producers and artists, and the sad truth that not everyone can get by doing what they dreamed of.

But for all the serious bits, Shirobako is a show in constant motion. Things constantly need doing, or re-doing, or approving, or submitting. There’s so little downtime and the Musashino production desk is almost perpetually behind. As such, this is a show filled to its brim with dialogue – planning that flows back and forth with ease, interruptions and busted daydreams, quick-witted remarks, you name it. The show has it all, and it never slows down. It shouldn’t come as a shock, but the anime industry is idealized more often than not within anime, and in a way that creates a false illusion of what it is and how much work goes into it. I won’t say Shirobako isn’t sometimes guilty of this, but it at least acknowledges that the people in this industry can only stay if their passion remains high enough under excruciating pressure. It’s tough and uncertain work, but like all mediums of art, it’s intensely rewarding when everything comes together, and Shirobako treats the viewer (especially in its second half) to moments of unpredictably hilarious and natural comedic sequences. Add to it a cast with plenty of characters visually (and possibly emotionally) based off of real-life industry veterans, and the passion from the crew behind Shirobako is clear. This is a show about animators for animators, but it’s entertaining for anyone else too, and that’s what’s so stunning to me. If you want a workplace comedy weighed down by the frantic present while simultaneously hopeful about the future, Shirobako does that without any errors. It’s essentially perfect.

also Aoi runs on Donkin, so yeah, 10/10.

SILVER SPOON:

Silver SpoonDirected by: Tomohiko Itou and Kotomi Deai
Produced by: A-1 Pictures
Based on: A manga series by Hiromu Arakawa
License status: Licensed by Aniplex of America
Dub status: Not dubbed (yet)
Episode count: 22 total (11 per season)
Original airing run: July-September 2013 (season 1) and January-March 2014 (season 2)
Alternate name: Gin no Saji

Silver Spoon is about a kid named Yuugo Hachiken who moves from Sapporo to rural Hokkaido in order to escape his father’s stern scrutiny and rise in class rankings to give himself a better shot at college recognition. Little did he know his new school was a legitimate agricultural school, and the subjects he’s focused on all his life amount to next to nothing here, where he’s an even bigger fish out of water. Over the course of the show, Yuugo grows as a person while the setting gives the audience a look into countryside farm life, highlighting the hard work that it requires.

Like a couple other entries on this list, Silver Spoon was one of those coming-of-age stories about searching for a purpose in life that really struck me when I watched it. It’s very well made and handles an array of moods and experiences you’d both expect and not, and Yuugo’s character growth comes full circle in an understated triumph at the end of season two. For a more in-depth analysis of Silver Spoon’s themes and why it’s so great, check out my review of it, which also happens to be the first thing we ever posted to the site. Good times, man. Good times.

SPACE BROTHERS:

Space BrothersDirected by: Ayumu Watanabe
Produced by: A-1 Pictures
Based on: A manga series by Chuuya Koyama
License status: Licensed by Sentai Filmworks
Dub status: Not dubbed
Episode count: 99
Original airing run: April 2012-March 2014
Alternate names: Uchuu Kyoudai, Space Bros.

After witnessing what they believed to be a UFO in their youth, brothers Mutta and Hibito Nanba decided that they wanted to be astronauts. Nineteen years later, Hibito has become an official astronaut, the first Japanese astronaut given the chance to go to the moon. Mutta, however has just been fired from his job at an automobile company for head-butting his supervisor after feeling insulted. Blacklisted from his industry and deciding to move back in with his parents, Mutta feels dejected and lost, but Hibito is able to inspire his older brother and direct him towards their original dream; to both go to space. Mutta applies as a candidate for astronaut in training at JAXA, and the rest is history the future all that is Space Brothers.

As Hibito continues to move forward and gain praise, the road to astronaut-dom is long and hard for Mutta, and Space Brothers focuses on the two brothers, their family, their coworkers, their friends, and all their missions in life. And no, you aren’t misreading that info blurb above. Space Bros is ninety-fucking-nine episodes long, and very few of those episodes are below average. Despite its length (even satirized in articles such as this), Space Bros is filled with sometimes internationally stereotypical but nonetheless heartwarming and beautiful characters, another one of those shows whose cast feels more like people than some actual people do. Even if it’s not an exciting watch 24/7, it is a consistently pleasant and at times hilarious one; a feel-good show that doesn’t completely separate itself from either the harsh realities of adulthood or the awe of childhood, allowing it to contain the best of both worlds. Don’t try and marathon it, but watch Space Brothers every now and then, whittling down the episode count. Its reception in Japan was huge and there’s more material to adapt, so we could be seeing more of this franchise in the near future. Better to get caught up now and not miss out on feeling so moon any longer.

Apo confirmed for best dog in anime.

STEINS;GATE:

Steins;GateDirected by: Hiroshi Hamasaki and Takuya Sato
Produced by: White Fox
Based on: A visual novel by 5pb. and Nitroplus
License status: Licensed by Funimation
Dub status: There is a dub, and it’s actually rather solid. Good localization too.
Episode count: 24
Original airing run: April-September 2011
Alternate name: N/A

An eccentric young scientist named Rintarou Okabe, his childhood friend Mayuri, and their hacker friend Daru rented out space in a loft and set up a makeshift laboratory to hang out in and create stupid inventions. All is fine until one day when Okabe attends a science seminar by a young woman named Kurisu Makise that goes horribly wrong…or does it? His friends tell him no such seminar happened, and he can’t make heads or tails of what occurred that day. Back at the lab, the group discovers their only really interesting invention, a Phone Microwave, can send text messages to the past, and the content of those messages can change the past, present, and future. You can guess where this is going: all time travel stories have the same message:

Don’t look into microwaves while they heat up foo-

No, wait, that’s not quite right. Don’t change the past or you’ll be hunted down and everyone you love will die. That’s the real message here.

Steins;Gate can be a tricky watch for someone not familiar with anime because it admittedly does pander to a lot of otaku references during its downtime. Hell, the show is even set in Akihabara, the haven for all things J-nerd. But Steins;Gate pretty quickly realizes its potential is greater than that, and boy, does it capitalize on it. It’s hard enough to construct a story with time travel in it and keep every plot thread continuous. It’s even harder when your entire story is time travel. It’s hard to talk about Steins;Gate any more than that without spoiling anything, so just be aware that shit escalates at an insane pace when the group realizes what they’ve created, and the rest of the show focuses on their attempts to fix the mess they’ve made…with mixed results and, as you might’ve guessed, a lot of additional time travel. While the otaku elements sadly remain, sci-fi is where Steins;Gate’s true heart lies, and as far as its science-fiction elements are concerned, the show is not just great – it’s flawless and, if I may say so, cooooooooru. Sonuvabitch.

THE ECCENTRIC FAMILY:

The Eccentric FamilyDirected by: Masayuki Yoshihara
Produced by: P.A. Works
Based on: A novel by Tomihiko Morimi
License status: Licensed by NIS America
Dub status: Not dubbed
Episode count: 13
Original airing run: July-September 2013
Alternate name: Uchouten Kazoku

In modern day Kyoto, humans, tanuki (raccoon-dogs), and tengu (“heavenly dogs”, flying figures from the Shinto religion) coexist in a delicate state. While tanuki and tengu can take on human appearances, that doesn’t change the fact the two races can tell the difference. The titular eccentric family is the Shimogamos, a tanuki family of shaky reputation whose patriarchal figure Souichirou was killed and eaten by a group of tengu called the Friday Fellows prior to the start of the show. The Eccentric Family follows the Shimogamo family, particularly the third son Yasaburo as he hops around Kyoto carefree until he and his brothers find out the truth about their father’s death. That…changes things.

The Eccentric Family is a visual feast with lush backgrounds and unorthodox character designs, highly reminiscent of the magical feel found in Ghibli films. It’s also a shining example of great character writing and novel adapting, a story about fragile food chains and conspiracies and family and love, a definite must-watch if you like…well, any of those things. For more, check out Harubro’s great piece on it. Be aware its first episode is one of the more eccentric of the bunch, but stick with it and your patience will be rewarded. This recommendation is not a misguided manifestation of my idiot blood.

You know what else this sounds like?

THE TATAMI GALAXY:

The Tatami GalaxyDirected by: Masaaki Yuasa
Produced by: Madhouse
Based on: A novel by Tomihiko Morimi
License status: Licensed by Funimation
Dub status: Not dubbed
Episode count: 11
Original airing run: April-July 2010
Alternate names: Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei, 4½ Tatami Mythological Chronicles

The Tatami Galaxy follows a nameless narrator in first-person as he reminisces on his foiled opportunities to become popular and respected at a Kyoto university. The fun part? This show does not run on one single linear narrative. Every episode (besides the last two) are set in parallel universes where the protagonist enters a different “circle” (club) at the university, chasing “the rose-colored campus life” he believes it will grant him. To his chagrin and our amusement, things never quite work as planned, and the protagonist inevitably resets the clock on his school life and hops to another parallel universe. Every single time, he ends up blaming Ozu, a mischievous friend of his who he believes he’s tied to by “the black thread of fate”, for all his shortcomings. Along the way, other characters appear and reappear with slight variations to their own lives, but the same central relationship between them and the protagonist remains. And my, what a diverse and fun bunch of characters they are! Because the Tatami Galaxy is narrated in first-person and our narrator is so damn unreliable, it’s up to the viewer to catch onto the quirks and recurring personalities of each character. All I’ll tell you is if the episodic format seems like it might not entertain you at first, believe me, it will, and the end of the show when it finally stops will blow your mind.

Frankly, I think you’ll have your mind blown before then, due to the brilliance of Tomihiko Morimi’s (yep, the Eccentric Family writer’s) original story and Masaaki Yuasa’s (yep, the Ping Pong director’s) adaption and direction, as both of them are masters of their craft. The Tatami Galaxy exhibits some of the most unorthodox and creative art in all of anime, from the live-action backgrounds to the bare bones but still fully expressive character designs and rapidly changing color palette it uses. The voice acting is unbeatable for a drama; every voice actor and actress was perfectly cast for the characters they play, their deliveries incredibly natural. Specific props to Shintarou Asanuma as the protagonist; dude talks at the speed of a fucking jet and it never comes off as forced or unfollowable. The Tatami Galaxy is a genuinely unique creation, a tale about both the glory and the doldrums of young adulthood and trying to find yourself, and furthermore a testament of what the animated medium can accomplish when a talented and brave enough team put their minds together.

TSURITAMA:

TsuritamaDirected by: Kenji Nakamura
Produced by: A-1 Pictures
Based on: N/A (anime original) story by Toshiya Ono
License status: Licensed by Sentai Filmworks
Dub status: There is a dub, and while at times inconsistent, it gets the job done enough
Episode count: 12
Original airing run: April-June 2012
Alternate name: N/A

Excessively nervous high-schooler Yuki Sanada lives with his grandmother Kate and frequently moves a lot, never staying in one place for too long or able to establish any friendships before he leaves. Things change when Kate takes Yuki to their new home on the island of Enoshima and the fresh air and beautiful scenery reinvigorate him. Even his class introduction goes comparably well. Things are looking up…until a self-proclaimed alien named Haru (no, not our Haru) shows up with a water gun and fishing equipment, makes living arrangements in Yuki’s new house, and forces an unwilling Yuki to go fishing with him, to “save the world” as Haru says. When it becomes apparent the two of them are awful at fishing, they seek the advice of their grouchy classmate Natsuki Usami, the “Fishing Prince”, who unwillingly ends up giving them some lessons. This catches the eye of a mysterious Indian government agent and his duck, who seem wary of Haru and vice versa…but why?

Tsuritama is without a doubt one of the best anime-original series to come out in the last five years, a perfectly paced and unceasingly fun piece of work that makes the most out of its summery setting and coming-of-age friendship themes. It’s not all slice-of-life silliness either; there’s a serious (well, sort of) plot that lurks under the show from the very beginning, and when that explodes in the second half, man, you’re in for quite a treat. Tsuritama’s wonder comes from how humanely it treats its characters, and that humane treatment never disappears. In fact, I’d say the characters are stronger when the mood is darker and the comedy is goofier (and yes, that all happens at the same time). The art is by Atsuya Uki, a favorite of mine responsible for the near-entirety of the sci-fi short film Cencoroll and the art for the new season of Digimon coming out next month, and I’m glad that should give him more exposure, because his work in Tsuritama makes the show’s visuals so much more enjoyable than your average anime’s. Hopefully that will turn more people onto Tsuritama as well, because it seemed to be underwatched when it aired, probably under the assumption that with four guys hanging around water, it’d end up with some gay vibes. I assure you, those don’t exist in Tsuritama. This isn’t Free!, damnit. Do you people just come up with this for the halibut to push viewers away instead of reel them in?

Hehe. Fish puns. (sorry not sorry)

Tsuritama remains an anime favorite of mine for its unique sense of humor, art, and how well it treats all its components. It’s rewatchable beyond belief and another show that I would consider essentially flawless. For tales of friendship and personal growth, it doesn’t get much better than this. Haino haino haino…

And last but not least:

UN-GO (and UN-GO EPISODE 0: INGA-RON):

Un-GoDirected by: Seiji Mizushima
Produced by: Studio Bones
(loosely) Based on: Novels and short stories by Ango Sakaguchi
License status: Licensed by Sentai Filmworks
Dub status: There is a dub and it has its moments, but I would recommend the sub
Episode count: 11 (+episode 0, the show’s prequel short film)
Original airing run: October-December 2011
Alternate name: N/A

In a post-war and torn apart near-future Tokyo, “Defeated Detective” Shinjuurou Yuuki and his supernatural assistant Inga investigate various murders despite the fact that their findings are always covered up. Inga has the ability to force anyone to answer one question truthfully (or “eat their souls”, as the show puts it), and Shinjuurou, mainly out of necessity given Inga’s impatient personality but also because he needs work decides to use this opportunity to crack down on any severe cases that catch his interest. You know, until they find themselves in a total mindfuck.

It’s really hard to explain Un-Go. The show is mostly arc-centric with overarching character development and its cast and narrative scope is rather small, but the way it mixes its supernatural events and the detectives’ rational thinking can make it hard to follow. It also doesn’t help that it likes to keep the viewer in the dark for as long as it can, but that’s a lot of Un-Go’s charm. It’s madness, but damn enticing madness, with uneasy worldbuilding, a cast in constant tension, and a copious amount of twists and turns. Characters are strong in their own right, but the dystopian violence-prone world is really the most interesting thing in the series, and that makes sense when you realize it’s loosely based on the works of Ango Sakaguchi, a writer from the 1940’s….except Un-Go (yeah, catch that title pun now?) is set in the 21st century. That one setting change requires a lot of pinpoint adapting, and Un-Go provides it well enough to create an exciting and interesting backdrop. If you do choose to watch Un-Go, expect not to understand everything the first time around. It’s a tricky show with an overflowing concoction of sci-fi, mystery, fantasy, and political dystopian themes, and it’s impossible to catch all it has to offer in one go, but that’s the beauty of it. Dig in to your heart’s content and rewatch it as much as you need.

And that’s that.

Wow, that’s a lot of words. If you actually read all that, thanks, and hey, if you only just skimmed to see what I included, then thanks too. That’s fine as well. You know what’s better than just fine though? Reaching out. Did you like this list? Hate it? These shows not your thing? Or have you seen some and agree with me about their inclusion here? What would you have replaced them with? (besides Attack on Titan – guys, it’s pretty good, but it’s not the best thing since sliced bread, let’s be real). I’m curious to know what your opinions are. Go ahead and leave a comment and let me know what you thought. Just try to keep the discussion civil.

Until next time, this has been Yata, talking way too long about animation and desperately hoping he didn’t accidentally leave too many typos in this. Spring’s just around the corner. FGJ will see you soon.

Advertisements

18 comments

    1. Thanks for the comment, buddy! Hard to believe this list is two years old now; there are definitely some things I’d change but the alphabetical order idea was smart at least. I’ll definitely keep that when I revisit this format for a 2015-2019 list.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have a hunch why you’re asking, and the short answer is yes, but that’s one of the decisions I’m least proud of here. At the time, I guess I thought only including shows which premiered in this time frame was a smart idea, but it blatantly disregarded anything that barely began a year or two prior but continued to air throughout most of this period…like, you guessed it, Monogatari.

        It was a particularly gutsy call too, because when I published this, I included two shows which hadn’t yet finished (April and Shirobako), and I also excluded several still very good shows whose first seasons barely missed my mark but whose sequels redeemed their weak points enough that I regret not including them (Oregairu, Gatchaman Crowds).

        I’ll likely address this with an addendum at some point down the road, and when the 2015-2019 version comes around, I’ll try being a little more lenient when it comes to the start and end dates. When the rules are totally arbitrary, it can be rough to separate what should or shouldn’t be eligible. Just went with my gut then, though my perspective on it is different now.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Thank you very very much for this list!
    Until now I just watched “Bunny Drop”, which I found was very touching and wonderfully executed the portrayal of its characters. The pacing of the show helped a lot, it let the right moments fully develop. The list was a highly interesting read and I plan to watch more of your suggestions.
    I am both professionally and privately very much into movies and also always had quite an interest in the medium of animation and therefore anime. I obviously enjoyed the many great movies that came out of this industry (or the recent wonderful Ghibli coprodction “The Red Turtle”), but never quite got into the television productions. Of course I saw some classics or generally acclaimed stuff, but concerning what to me seemed the majority of anime productions, I found it to be mostly quite, well, dumb or lazy and the lists I found while searching seemed to either further prove that impression or lead me to the same productions over and over again.

    This list showed me what can be found if you dig a little deeper, thank you!

    Like

    1. Thank you very very much for commenting! Glad you enjoyed Bunny Drop and are curious about several more of these titles. Great TV anime can definitely be a bit harder to track down compared to movies, and that situation you described about not finding comprehensive lists of good lesser-known titles was precisely what inspired me to make this list, so it’s always humbling to hear that it fulfilled its purpose well. 🙂

      Thanks also for reminding me I actually have to update some of the outdated dub and licensing info on this, which I’ll hopefully get around to soon, lol

      Like

  2. absolutely looved this list. your commentary was hilarious and the fresh picks for these recent seasons are fantastic!!! i also appreciate the non willingness to bow to popular opinion for certain shows which shall remain nameless. thank you loved it!!! 😀

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s