I Am Anime (And So Can You! [Part 2])
So last time I recommended some anime that I thought would be good for entry-level viewers, which was fine and all, but I kept trying to work in some of my favorites. Rather than restrain myself again, I figured I’d just go ahead and recommend some of the anime I like the most. Maybe you have similar taste, who knows. Once again, this by no means me being some “anime-expert” bestowing my wisdom on plebian viewers (if someone ever claims to be that it’s OK to just ignore anything they say next), just a list of what I like, because I like it when people like things that I like.
*Edit: The last paragraph was lost during copy/paste. It’s fixed now.
You know that series/book/game you start on a whim and end up watching from start to finish in a single marathon? That’s what Baccano was for me. Baccano takes place in the US during the prohibition era in the 1930’s, and tells the story of the various mafia, thieves, gangsters, assassins, and alchemists that all seem to collide together. There really isn’t a main character, per se, since each episode rotates who the main focus is on, not to mention jumping between three different storylines in 3 different years. All this, and the fact that episode one opens up by showing the end of the series, makes the first few episodes a bit difficult to keep track of. But I HIGHLY recommend that you keep watching, as it is one of the most fun series I have watched. Baccano draws from the same inspiration as gangster movies like Snatch, and even some Quentin Tarantino films, with their long soliloquys and hyper-violent tendencies. The only complaint I have with the series is that there most likely will not be a second season (even though there’s a lot more source material left to adapt) because of how the novels were adapted (a lot was skipped and changed, it aired on an obscure channel extremely late at night, etc). Even after reading the novels, all that still isn’t enough to keep it out of my top shows. The amazing English dub definitely helps as well, making it a great watch in either language.
It’s hard to recommend a series with the catch that “it doesn’t get good until 20 episodes in”, but nobody ever said this job was easy. Gintama is a long-running (now 250+ episodes) comedy set in an alternate history Japan, that’s about the former samurai Gintoki and the Odd-Jobs service he runs with his friends. That’s really only an excuse letting the author to write about whatever he wants. Gintama has some backstory, and the serious/dramatic arcs are [unexpectedly] good, but the meat of the show is comedy, be it parody, reference humor, or running gags. I’ve also read the manga for Gintama (which was recently dropped by Viz), but it really can’t compare to anime. This is one of those times where the characters were voiced so well by the staff that it far exceeds the original. Sugita’s Gintoki oftentimes leaves me in stitches after a joke, and the rest of the large cast are no slouches themselves (I particularly like Kobayashi as Sa-chan). With 250+ episodes, there are definitely some that hit and some that miss, but Gintama has kept me entertained and I don’t expect that to change any time soon. If my explanation sounds a bit vague, that’s probably because Gintama is all over the place, so I think it’s best if I just let the main character sum it up for you.
Don’t let the pointy noses deter you, after you start reading Fukumoto’s other works you’ll come to love it. The titular Kaiji, a down on his luck good-for-nothing, gets tricked into a high stakes gamble to pay off his immense debts. The games quickly become a matter of life or death (or in some cases, freedom or working as a slave), and the only way out for Kaiji is to keep upping the bet. I don’t want to say too much for fear of ruining the surprises the gambles present, but this show has some of the most suspenseful moments I’ve seen. On the occasions where he does pull through, to see the anguish give way to joy in Kaiji is truly cathartic. Of course, if you get as invested in the character as many do, the lows are heart-breaking in the same manner. To really hammer in the suspense, the series’ narrator will constantly over-emphasize Kaiji’s predicaments with a dramatic flair, and I can’t help but be caught up in it all. Fansubs will most likely be the only way watch either of the two seasons of Kaiji, so give your favorite anime download site a visit and give it a watch if you haven’t already.
“The world is not beautiful, therefore it is”. This is the phrase used to define the world of Kino’s Journey, a world where the darker side of life can be seen wherever you turn, from oppressive rulers to backwards customs, yet it only makes the good parts seem all the more bright. Kino’s Journey is about Kino and her [talking] motorbike Hermes and their travels around the world. Kino spends three days in every location she visits, enough to learn about the area without getting too attached or settling in. The places and people Kino visits are strange or very fixated on doing something in a particular fashion, oftentimes echoing the peoples’ insecurities or problems. Even throughout all the hardships and obstacles that Kino encounters, there are still people that make the world a beautiful place. Each episode of the anime is a self-contained story about Kino and a place she visits, exploring the unique behaviors of the people she encounters. The art style and tone of the show are very relaxing; I found it a nice series to watch as I’m winding down the day. Maybe not the best thing to marathon duce to its slower pace, but still very enjoyable nonetheless.
Legend of Galactic Heroes:
If you’re going to watch an anime, why not just watch the best one? Legend of Galactic Heroes is an OVA (Original Video Animation, released directly to home-video) that aired starting in the 80’s and lasted well into the 90’s. It chronicles the rise to power of Reinhard von Lohengramm as he aims to become the Galactic Empire’s Kaiser, alongside the unlikely career of Yang Wen-li, the historian turned tactician for the Free Planets Alliance. These two exceptional men meet in battle many a time, become fierce but respectable rivals, and through their actions and those of their peers, begin to shape the course of history. At 110 episodes, LOGH may seem a bit of a steep hill to climb, but if you’re anything like me (and have a summer full of free time and night shifts to watch this during), you won’t be able to put it down. While it has a bit of everything, the action scenes like the space fleet combat take a backseat to the political drama and ideal-shaping of the main characters. What really makes it a unique show is how you get to see the effects of the galactic conflict at every level of the world. From farmers on newly-colonized planets, commoners of the capital city, bigwig politicians, and of course the soldiers themselves, no action is without consequence. A rousing orchestral soundtrack tops off this masterpiece, a general ordering the retreat of the attempted flanking maneuver has never sounded so dramatic. The one downside (well, not so much a downside as a slight inconvenience) to LOGH is that there is no official Western release, the only way to watch it is to use fansubs. I usually prefer it this way, but I wouldn’t let that stop you if you have some sort of problem with non-official releases.
So that’s a rough approximation of my top 5. There are plenty I’d love to gush about that I left off. If you like what you see or want to tell me my taste is shit, feel free to comment on that. I’m always taking recommendations to add to my insurmountable backlog as well.