It’s New Year. It’s not a new me.

There was no article delivered by me in December. Dreadful. I got a new-ish job, worked a lot, felt like shit, lost track of who I was and entered a wrath-inducing battle with a corner shop to release a parcel for me of a long awaited pre-order of the exclusive Evangelion box set (Third Party couriers are conmen: not breaking news). Excluding Christmas, everything in the run up to it was a total loss to me.

My Rage personified - Violence Voyager (Ujicha, 2018)

I broke all the promises I made to myself this year, proof as to why I never promise anything to anyone else. I never edited the feature I wrote, I never finished the first draft of a novel I thought I had a feel for and I never got on top of my short projects. What a joke, right?

In theory it would be good to be kind to myself, but when one is in the endless cycle that the filthy, X-rated Anxiety, it suddenly becomes infuriating. It’s as though I’m addicted to fear, addicted to failure. I’m like one of those captives, who no longer want to hope yet find the glimmers of it when a tap on the bars at their window reminds them that maybe someone came for them. Only, there is a magpie, throwing pebbles to pass the time. I don’t really know what magpies do but it seems accurate. That glimmer of hope; that warm fuzzy feeling of things wildly out of my reach, that fantasia I can slip into without having to lift a finger exists for such a brief time and yet I get sky-high on it. Until it's gone, reality smothers me and I go, numb, I guess.

A Mood - An Elephant Sitting Still (Hu Bo, 2018)

So I can’t sit there and go, ‘Cool, I’ll try this and then that and I’ll be inspired and write something and do something’ because I won’t. For one; this fatigue that runs so deep within me bears a weight older than this planets rotation and I believe it is rooted in millennial misery, decaying planets and unsettling futures and blah, blah, blah… What can I do about it? Get on with it? It’s hard to do when the future isn’t there anymore. Not the one I picture, anyway. So I need to do what I want to do; not what anyone else thinks my generation or my being should do which is a great mindset to be in but not so great to play out.

"Giving up halfway is worse than never trying at all" - Misato Katsuragi, End of Evangelion

I don’t know really. I’m a huge mess. It’s a grotesque sensation. I feel the bile raging just below the surface, at myself incidentally. I saw some amazing movies this past year that niggled that little part of me that loves to write and create and talk about the things I love. I’ll do a little round up at the end of this just to make it a lil’ positive. But why didn’t I do anything with it? It’s strange how stunted I fell I have become, I don’t know. The creativity is there but my bullshit and the crap, the pressure that comes from being me is stopping me. Often I wonder what it would be like to go live in a hole and see how I would like it. It is has power outlets, DVD’s, video games and books, perhaps a couple of dogs, I would be in paradise.

Would I though? Well, still yes, but once a month I might just want to pop my head outside and suffer the world. Or would I start dreading that, feel the incineration of the sun’s rays on my skin, the clawing prickles of cold, harsh wind, recoil at the pinches of each plop of raindrops. The hole would be a bit nicer. If a day came where I could no longer enjoy those things, it would be a life unlived. Notice, however, that I have not mentioned physical ‘human beans’.

Another Mood - The Woodsman and the Rain (Okita, 2011)

If Covid taught me anything, it’s that I hate what we as a race have become; selfish, greedy and delusional. Yet I’m the one that feels bad about myself? Gosh in that context I should wise up. I want to, I really do, but as long as that self-doubt is chilling out in the lounge of my brain box, I won’t be able to get that squatter out. The legalities are too complex.

What would I like to do this year? I’m not sure. Every year I hope for something, something only I can make happen, and then I shoot myself in both feet and some passers-by just for good measure. Can I still say I hope to finish this draft? I hope to watch all the movies I splurged on out of some need for validation as a collector, film lover and for all I believe I will miss out on the in the future. I hope to read all the books on my pile that grew three times in size this year. I hope to do more articles; I kind of still like screaming into the abyss about things I like. I hope to write more short stories and to write a one page of some ideas I’ve had locked up in a chest stored beneath the very couch the self-doubt squatter has claimed as his own. There’s a load of empty beer cans around that couch, left over Maccy d’s that smell like hell and he, the squatter, is a weirdly light sleeper. He makes me feel like a stranger in my own home.

That Big ole' Sky - All About Lily Chou-Chou (Iwai, 2001)

Most of all I hope to find whatever it is I’m looking for. Not just the locked chest, but that thing that has always been in me, that I can hear singing on the tail end of a breeze, smell in the bloom spring, can feel in the tantalizing sting arrival of winter and see in the gentle hues of dawn. I must find that thing that is so heavy in me. Whilst it is dormant, or hiding, or lost… whatever it is, I hope to find it this year. All this searching is absolute exhausting.

Like Shinji Ikari (another mandatory Evangelion reference) had to keep getting in that bloody robot, the one he kept running from, instead not only hiding himself away from the problem, the terrifying Angels but from responsibility and everyone who knew him, dwelling in his own unhappiness and never being able to connect to anyone, or doing so and losing all he gained from that leap of faith, I'm scared to jump. I'm scared of that robot. But I'm also sacred of the end of the world, the end of the future that for now I can fantasise about but later may discover was a waste of a dream. Can dreams even be a waste?

"I don't think anyone is born to live. It's something you have to find for yourself." - Tohru Honda, Fruits Basket

I think I have to keep fighting. That’s not left me yet, doesn’t feel quite ready to. Write, read, watch and learn. That’s what keeps me ticking over. Without them, it’s a moonless night where the stars may shine but all comfort and ease seems to have gone astray. When I do one of these things, all of these things, the moon comes out.

Neon Genesis Evangelion (Anno, 1995)

A creature of pure drivel as always has come out this afternoon to unload a whopping mass of self-consciousness and emotional baggage. Like I said though, what’s New about me? Let’s see if I could manage more articles this year, try to do things because I like it and for nothing else. Is life on this planet for us to have a nice time or to just suffer ‘til the end? A bit of suffering is fine, love it, it’s part of being human, in fact I’m a total freak for it in any story, give me that bitter-sweetness and fatalism to any great novel and they have my heart for life – no reason why I should do so all year round. But maybe I wanted to sprinkle some positivity as I bow out on today’s rant. Optimism? Total lunacy of course.

The year was not entirely lost in my time of nervous confusion. Some You May know - I never shut up about them - others, I displayed some form of self-control but in the end, I liked them all very much and they are the ones that have, insidiously or otherwise, wriggled their way into my conscious daily thought. Here are my Top 20 Favourite New Watches of 2021:

20. Death By Hanging (Nagisa Oshima, 1968)

19. Ugetsu (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953)

18. Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (Paul Schrader, 1985)

17. It’s Okay, That’s Love (Kim Kyu-tae, 2016, TV)

16. Remains of the Day (James Ivory, 1993)

15. The Taste of Tea (Katsuhito Ishii, 2004)

14. All About Lily Chou-Chou (Shunju Iwai, 2001)

13. Woodsman and the Rain (Shuichi Okita, 2011)

12. Tampopo (Juzo Itami, 1985)

11. Violence Voyager (Ujicha, 2018)

10. An Elephant Sitting Still (Hu Bo, 2018)

9. Mind Game (Masaaki Yuasa, 2004)

8. Blue Spring (Toshiaki Toyoda, 2002)

7. Memories of Murder (Bong Joon-ho, 2003)

6. Fruits Basket (Various, 2019 -2021, TV)

5. Poetry (Lee Chang Dong, 2010)

4. Violet Evergarden (Various, 2018 – 2021, TV + Film)

3. Drive My Car (Ryusuke Hamaguchi, 2021)

2. Minari (Lee Isaac Chung, 2021)

1. The Buddhist Trilogy (Akio Jissoji, 1970 – 1972)

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  • Kerry Chambers
“If it’s possible for one person to be hurt by another, then it’s possible for that person to be healed by another.” – Hatori Sohma

I'm back, making more excuses for you all. Besides Gintama, Ghibli and Ghosts Stories (and Bebop; Live action just makes me crave the original) being my constant go-to’s, I found a few things to get me all feely inside. In fact, they have been unforgettable. Laughing, crying and all the mucky bits in between, these anime have been a rather nice addition to my viewing. I have been inactive. I’ve not watched a whole lot of stuff to be honest and I couldn’t tell you what I’ve been doing instead (it’s classified?).

Violet Evergarden (Kyoto Animations, 2018)

Anyway, it wasn’t spent watching all of this anime. This was done over the second wave, when I needed reminding of how to feel all those emotions, and was scarred by so much good viewing whilst coming to terms with a new normalcy I wished had less contact in it. I suppose the old emotion box needs some computing. From the state of this blog I probably have way too many feelings to compute and should shove them away in a musty drawer where I keep the undesirable-but-emergency pants.

Dawn - Fruits Basket (2019)

I’d be lying if I said this article wasn’t to make up for stuff I missed watching on my last list – I’ve seen more since and my list of favourite has expanded rather outrageously. I don’t want to edit the old lists. I just want to tell everyone things they don’t need (or probably want) to know. Let’s get started

Honourable mentions :

- Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day (2011), 1 Season, 11 eps – Dir. Tatsuyuki Nagai

Cried.But if I included all the weepie ones we would be making a totally different list.

- Jin-roh: The Wolf Brigade (1999), Film – Dir. Hiroyuki Okiura

Once upon a time I was going to write about fairy tales in Japanese cinema... and then I felt too dumb to do it. So I never got to talk about this film. It’s remained in my mind and it’s a bleak direction I’ve taken this post (so soon, too soon?), especially considering that I like to imagine that I’m not quite so miserable. A desolate tale examining a man’s battle with humanity, his own relinquishment of it as he commits barbaric acts in the name of causes he does not understand, Jin-roh is a unique addition to the impressive anime coming from Japan during the decade.

- Moomin (1990-1991),TV Series

A Japanese team made it, it counts; they love the laughter, living, sharing, caring and giving… I needed them this year!

13. Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto (2016)

1 Season, 12 Eps – Dir. Shinji Takamatsu

“When you aim to reach high places, you may find yourself on narrow footing and feel disheartened. And then your confidence will falter, and you will find it ever harder to believe in yourself. If you ever feel that you can’t believe in yourself, please believe in your friends.” – Sakamoto

This is so dumb. I love it; a ridiculous comedy to begin our odyssey together. You see? I am capable of light heartedness that doesn’t carry some deeper meaning or go into some dark, ugly places. Sakamoto is that anime that gets mad weird pretty quick, plays on all those outrageous tropes that have kind of defined Shoujo and Shonen storytelling all these years and produces an over the top entity all its own. Probably not a starting point for anyone looking to get into anime, comedy but once one is familiar it can crack one up right good.

Sakamoto is a mysterious student who joins the school year and alters the lives of all who meets him. He is strange, totally overly invested in the simplest of tasks he is set, such as catching rogue bees and wiping down desks, yet the girls fall for him, the teachers adore him and even the school ruffians aspire to be him. Best in his classes and everything else he does (watch him save that bird) he enraptures all who meet him. This description doesn’t quite cover the experience of watching the show however; it gives the term extra a whole new meaning. Highlights include a trip to a karaoke bar, a game of cat and mouse with his school pals mother and an attempt to extinguish a fire.

12. Josee, The Tiger and The Fish (2020)

Film – Dir. Kotaro Tamura

The Conch Shell - Josee (Tamura, 2020)

Twas the year of the Fish. Korea had a remake of the original 2003 Japanese film that very year, meanwhile Studio Bones was having its own redo. And managed rather well. Despite the excessive sobbing of a fellow cinema lover in the row in front of me, lapping up a sentimentality that I personally felt the film did not quite drench itself in, it was a lovely watch. You see, it’s not every day we get stories exploring disability and more so romances. Ultimately a story of resilience, Josee also captures that familiar essence that makes Anime slice-of-life so enjoyable; some of it may be formulaic, (what isn’t?) but it exceeds this by plunging into far darker waters. I may have gotten a little wet-eyed at this bit, but I kept the noise down.

A Trip to the Beach - Josee (Tamura, 2020)

A student is saving money so that he can study oceanography abroad and is need of another job to help realize his dreams. A chance encounter with the titular Josee, rescuing her from her own runaway wheelchair, he is eventually hired by her grandmother to help out around the house. Although disliking him at first, Josee comes to warm to him as they discover a mutual love of all things ocean, and begin to make secret trips out together around the city, to the library and (of course) the sea. It’s super nice!

11. Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai (2018)

1 Season, 13 eps – Dir. Sôichi Masui

“I don’t mind if I only had one person. Even if the whole world hated me, I could keep living if that person needed me.” – Sakuta Azusagawa

For something so brief, it took me too long to watch. But upon finishing this series, I came to understand why it was one of the most popular anime of that year. The slice-of-life, as I have so mentioned before, can get old and the school drama tropes can get rather bland, and grating. But when the creators on these Anime productions get it right (and when the original Mangaka slay it), we see something that far exceeds expectations of the drama and becomes strikingly poignant. In the end everything is a rehash, it’s the voice that is given to the material that makes it new, and much like the previous entry, this takes the teen dilemma into new, heart-wrenching territory; that territory being ‘Adolescence Syndrome’.

Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai (Masui, 2018)

A high school boy who keeps to himself encounters a girl dressed as bunny in the school library. Yet he is the only one who can see her. Following this meeting, he forms a friendship with her, discovering that she is a senior, an actress on hiatus and that she suffers from Adolescence Syndrome, something that he has also suffered from in the past as well as his younger sister, caused by insecurity and instability during puberty. Despite this knowledge, he seeks to discover why the actress has become invisible to others and finds in her a comfort he never thought he’d know.

Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai (Masui, 2018)

The fear of vanishing, being forgotten, fading into the background is essentially what every teen goes through. It’s also their conundrum. You could have all the friends in the world but still no one understands you, right? Sometimes you want to be seen and heard, but other times you want to fade away, because it’d just easier that way. Sometimes you need to hide; from bullies, from family, from responsibility. Perhaps much of the success for this show is because so many others never felt like they grew out of that part of life but that’s just part of it; maybe it’s just that reality really sucks and there was never anything to grow out of at all. You see why I couldn’t forget this show? It really had me thinking.

10. Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms (2018)

Film – Dir. Mari Okada

A Mother's Love - Maquia (Okada, 2018)

Many a lake was formed upon concluding this film; I would bury my head in the nearest ditch and weep until I felt the salty water tickle the tip of my nose, and promptly, I would pass on from my sodden triumph in search of another pit in which to shed my tears. That’s right, I cried again. A lot. For good reason too. Maquia did that thing, the thing Wolf Children (Hosoda, 2014) did, and made it equally as tragic in a new, innovative way, focusing not just on the struggles of motherhood (not at all on wolves - if that is the thing you thought I was referring to, I did actually mean mothers), the harrowing reality of war and learning to let go. It’s all made so much more upsetting by the premise. Okada has been behind many powerful stories, penning some favourites of mine including The Anthem of the Heart (2015), Anohana (2011) and Toradora (2008) and this was her first feature in which she helmed yet it feels the work of a seasoned filmmaker, her vision uniquely gentle.

Maquia (Okada, 2018)

In a fantasy realm, an ancient race exists closed off from the rest of the world in a sort of utopia, leading long lives and often sought after for their eternal youth. A young girl, already hundreds of years old by their standards, wonders about the life beyond and is warned never to fall in love for it will be certain death for her. Following a raid on the city, the young girl escapes to the outside and stumbles upon a horrific scene. A baby cries, wrapped tightly in the grip of his deceased mothers arms, protected from the fatal accident that took her life. She takes him, deciding to raise him as her own and makes a life for them both, often mistaken for a troubled young mother. However, as time passes and the boy grows each day, she does not change. Soon, in the life that is brief to her, her son becomes a man and decides to set out on his own in the world. She cannot forget him… Then I cried.

Maquia (Okada, 2018)

9. Belladonna of Sadness (1973)

Film – Dir. Eiichi Yamamoto

‘"...but I want to pursue my love, even if it means going to the devil" - Jeanne

Yo, some of those feelings I feel are repulsion, anger all in some kind of hypnotic concoction. Anyone who is anyone will find themselves having some sort of physical or emotional reaction to this film, beyond its animation and bleak tale, and it is certainly hard to forget. The Devil has never been so… phallic. It’s the seventies, who knows what they were smoking. Part of the erotic Animerama series (in which the previous two entries A Thousand and One Nights (1969) and Cleopatra (1970) were directed by legendary Mangaka Osamu Tezuka), it took a major tonal shift both visually and narratively. Where the others had been overtly sexual and often times slapstick in their delivery, Belladonna weaves a sultry fable, mostly of watercolour stills; the style is sharp, a psychedelic Gothicism throughout.

On her wedding night to a man she is wildly in love with, a peasant woman is raped by a local lord. A tale of revenge unfolds when she turns to the dark lord himself to aid her on her vengeful path, granting her witchly powers and giving herself to erotic desires and madness. Now picture that story with some of the most gorgeous art you’ll see in animation. A wild ride, right? Truly a masterpiece, it was the best of the Animerama films and probably the most polarizing, still shocking and graphic almost fifty years on. It has to be seen to be believed and that it got made is pretty impressive; that it still holds up to this day is even better.

Solitude - Belladonna of Sadness (Yamamoto, 1973)

8. After the Rain (2018)

1 Season, 12 eps – Dir. Ayumu Watanabe

“… even if it couldn’t fly away there might be some happiness it could find by staying there. It might even forget about the others. But if that swallow didn’t fly away because it gave up trying… then I’m sure it’d stare up at the sky everyday… forever and ever.” - Kondo

This show is so underrated. I have briefly mentioned it before in a previous post but damn, I love it so much. A little taboo, it never goes too far and eventually paints a rather tender portrait of two broken people. Subsequently, I’ve managed a few rewatches of this and love the space it treads, the characters it portrays and it’s accomplishment at portraying mundanity.

A teenage girl, following an injury, has quit the track team despite being the best in the school. To fill her spare time, she clocks in hours at her job as waitress in a small diner on the other side of town, a place she also finds solace in the platonic (although she wants more) company of her middle-aged manager, a divorced father of one and a failed novelist. Despite the age gap, the two get along well and over time begin to confide in one another, forced to face their fears and failures along the way. Describing it again, it still sounds sketchy. It really isn’t. Two lost souls floating around this complicated world is far from problematic, in fact the show manages to warp those tasteless conventions that this sort of premise could lend itself to and studies something more poignant between its two characters who have reached different points in their lives but are facing similar hurdles.

Kondo and Akira - After the Rain (Watanabe, 2018)

7. Mind Game (2004)

Film – Dir. Masaaki Yuasa

“Fear takes the shape we're willing to give it.”- Nishi

Mind-blowing more like. This will not be the last time I mention Yuasa on this list (nor is it the first time I've talked about him, I'm a huge fan of 2017's The Night is Short, Walk On Girl), his filmography is an absolute dream, a term I use both emotively and as, probably, a marvellous way to encapsulate the experience of his works. Capturing an unease of being, an existentialism most often found in our younger years, he uses his platform to give the chaos of this mindset some kind of shape; a glorious mess of visuals. Not only does this early entry of the director now officially rank in my (very long) list of best films of all time, it also includes some other major firsts for me. Like, it’s made me wonder about ranking the best sex scenes in cinema because this film has the best sex scene I’ve seen in animation. I have never seen anything like it before, unlikely to be found in any live-action works. It’s so good, moving but also incredibly sexy, a metaphorical journey of two tentative lovers and not in a pervy way… I promise.

A Confrontation - Mind Game (Yuasa, 2004)

Following a violent encounter with two yakuza, a down on his luck lay-about goes to heaven and back again. Upon returning, he is united with his childhood sweetheart, suddenly on the run and entering some major psychedelic trips along the way that lead to a rather unexpected place. It’s an awful description. All the best movies are. Yuasa has a way with visuals; the elongation and morphing of limbs, cartoonish expressions and actions that seem more familiar to a Looney Toons short create this uncanny reality. Not to mention the use of block colours, and specifically in this film, the occasional dabbling of superimposed photos to replace characters faces, it’s all great leaps of experimentation. He takes the physical form, exaggerates everything it can do to mimic the emotional turmoil of his characters, and I can still sit there and say, ‘I feel that, my dude.’ The most impressive of all though, is that Yuasa remembers to pack it full of heart. Giving it substance, we see the humanity through the slapstick and invited into the madness of his exciting worlds.

6. Devilman Crybaby (2018)

1 Season, 10 eps – Dir. Masaaki Yuasa

“Crying for other people and thinking about other people. That might just be a fantasy. But if it’s a person with a heart like that, even if that person is a demon or a human, I’ll accept that person.” – Miki Makimura

What did I say? Told you he’d be back at it again, and soon… Yuasa returns with more mad sex. And homoerotic tragedy. And Stomach-churning violence. And misery. Ten episodes make you feel a lot of things… Bleaker that the previous entry but still bold, Devilman is another great example of the weird but wonderful style of its helmsman. If you have read the original Manga, deemed quite rightly as a classic, or seen the less than ideal eighties adaptation, Yuasa is not the first person to come to mind when adapting this melancholic tale. However, with some modernisation, new character designs to die for (Akira…), Evangelion references and a pulpy soundtrack to get you right in the funk of its hellish world, he breathed new life into a relatively timeless tale.

Friendship, betrayal and love lie at the heart of this story, biblical in scale. Two childhood friends are reunited after years. The cold Ryo, seeking to expose the rapid increase of demons descending on the world and the people they inhabit, incites the help of his wimpy friend Akira who, as the title may suggest, is a total crybaby. During their infiltration of a famed hellmouth nightclub, Akira is possessed. Able to resist the monster that has merged with his body, Akira becomes the Devilman, a demon who still harbours his human heart, now enhanced both physically and mentally. Together they seek to find and destroy as many more of the monsters as they can. All the while, Akira pines for his classmate and track teammate, the pious and kind Miki, whose family he has lived with for years in the mysterious absence of his parents. Ryo, on the other hand, is not revealing everything to the man who he considers his best friend. What follows is a study on the ugliness of humanity, the redemption of us all and the tragedy of mankind’s greatest crux; love.

Ryo and Akira - Devilman Crybaby (Yuasa, 2018)

5. Weathering with You (2019)

Film – Dir. Makoto Shinkai

“Who cares if we don't see the sun shine ever again? I want you more than any blue sky.” – Hodaka

I’ve just watched this a lot. Saw it in the cinema, then like three times on home release and still cry at the line about the seeing her over the sunshine. 2016’s Your Name may be my favourite, but Shinkai shanked me hard and painfully right here on this film, and I haven’t talked about it yet so there. If there is anything that the director is most famous for it is his handling of light, its reflections and glow, on a large scale and intimate scale, enhancing the set pieces of his teenage epics of recent years. Predominantly self-taught, it’s a true wonder to behold. And, for me, it was his last three films where I feel he balanced the visuals with his narratives and characters. Weathering With You, because of this, is a delight for the senses. Helps that he got the RADWIMPS back again to score this one.

Sunshine Girl - Weathering With You (Shinkai, 2019)

During the rainy season, a runaway ends up in Tokyo, finding work with an occult magazine publishing company that investigate urban legends. Eventually he encounters an orphan girl working in a fast food restaurant who can manipulate the weather. Together they form a business in which they summon the sunshine for those willing to pay. However, things go awry when the weather stops behaving and the police hunt down the two youths when their troubled pasts catch up with them. It all becomes rather epic. With intricate characters, side stories given more screen time than previous works, Weathering With You certainly feels a more fleshed out. I may prefer shooting stars, but rainy days aren’t too bad either.

4. Space Dandy (2014)

2 Seasons, 26 eps – Dir. Shinichiro Watanabe

“I think I either know something, or have no clue at all.” – Dandy

Funny, very funny, sometimes sad and totally insane, never-ending entertainment; everyone needs to see some Space Dandy. I was late to the game on this one. My previous list of favourite anime featured three Watanabe shows (guess what my favourite was… this girl will always be bebopping), but by that point I hadn’t seen this. When I finally got around to it, I binged it like there was no tomorrow and then wondered why I felt that ominous emptiness inside. I cried and laughed and then had my universe expanded. Couldn’t really tell you why or how. Playing on vintage sci-fi, pop culture, self-references and reality bending, Dandy is a comedy series that is incapable of taking itself seriously and somehow still getting you totally wrapped up in madness of the future. May I also add, that the voice acting is simply delightful. Oh, and the soundtrack is impeccable, as to be expected of a Watanabe production.

Dropkix - Space Dandy (Watanabe, 2013)

Dandy is an air-headed bounty hunter who, with the help of his robot QT and an alien cat named Meow, seeks out rare undiscovered extra-terrestrials for reward money. Travelling across space and galaxies, they are pretty much always down on their luck, penniless and spending much of their free time slobbing, looking at porn or at the universal chain restaurant Boobies. Dandy loves Boobies. Despite this description, it’s actually an incredibly clever show. Genre blending, defying even, it bounces from set piece to new tonal shifts, with pretty much a new plot every week in an every shifting reality. We see Dandy and the team trapped in a Groundhog Day like loop, sucked into wormholes on the hunt for the best bowl of ramen, attending high school in a musical way, forming the best short-lived band of all time and even becoming and adjusting to life as a Zombie. Anything is possible in Dandy and he pulls it all off, somehow. One of the funniest shows I have ever watched, if you need a laugh but want a bit more from a chuckle, then do yourself a Dandy. Also, where else are you going to find the beautiful love story between a vacuum and a coffee pot?

3. The Tatami Galaxy (2010)

1 Season, 11 eps – Dir. Masaaki Yuasa

“Always dreaming of the unrealistic, I never looked at what I had right around me” - Watashi

The last time I bring up Yuasa, I promise. For many this is the show that perfectly embodies the director’s works and his original voice; I would have to agree. Tatami Galaxy has a feeling all of its own. A conflict of youth, of expectation versus the crushing real world; a living-in-the-now story that succeeds over its original source material, this show is fast-paced, full-speed ahead and so clever. It’s another slice-of-life of sorts that totally shakes up what could be very generic. I slayed this in an evening, finding each episode passing me by and wanting to know more and more of the delusions of the college student at the heart of this story, the fantasies that are sapping him of a fulfilling life. Perhaps it was all just far too relatable for me; Yuasa’s captured that displacement of youth. The disappointment.

A college student has encountered all sorts of people in his life at university, but a meeting with a demi-god allows his to relive his past in order to win the heart of the girl of his dreams, always on the cusp of his existence. Turning back the clock, meeting the same old faces, embarking on outrageous escapades, bizarre love quadrangles and getting lost in the mania of other people’s lives, the student is still too focused on all he never had. Eventually, he seeks the security of his 4 ½ Tatami lodgings, disappointed when each time his experiences do not live up to the rose-tinted campus life of his dreams. Everything I have discussed about Yuasa up until now is used here, to the best of his abilities. The cartoonish antics, the exaggeration, the colours, the characterizations; it’s just a total conglomeration of a storytellers skills coming together. He nails it with the soul of the show, perhaps because there is something so uncomfortably familiar to us all, longing for lives we do not have and missing out on what is truly important. The series is concise, hectic and wild and all in its favour, leaving perhaps making the biggest impact.

Rose tinted Campus Life - The Tatami Galaxy (Yuasa, 2010)

2. Fruits Basket (2019-2021)

3 Seasons, 63 eps – Dir. Yoshihide Ibata

“It’s not always easy to see the good in people. In some people, you might even doubt that it’s there at all. But if you can somehow, find a way to believe…sometimes that’s all it takes to help someone, to give them the strength to find the good in themselves.” – Tohru Honda

How to make me feel 101 – Fruits Basket, the Redo. I’m not alone when I say that the original adaptation left much to be desired. But with the manga being complete, in 2019 we were blessed with a new retelling of the beloved classic, in all its finished glory. With it, it blew the original out of the park and took on a whole new life; I laugh, I cry and I play the theme songs on repeat. Plus I can’t choose a favourite Zodiac member, it’s always changing and it’s simply too overwhelming… Hattori? Shigure? Hatsuharu? Do you see my dilemma? More importantly, Fruits Baskets is the kindest anime of all time, a story of struggling people learning to forgive themselves, accept themselves and to love and care for one another. I mean, a story like that quite obviously is going to set me off.

Summer - Fruits Basket (2019-2021)

Orphan Tohru lives in a tent in the woods, as you do, whilst her grandfather is staying with relatives during renovations. Not wanting to worry anyone and desiring to make it on her own in the world, Tohru chooses to keep this secret whilst balancing school work and her job as a cleaner. However, one day she is discovered by her classmate Yuki and his older cousin Shigure of the mysterious, illusive Sohma family, who happen to own the land that she, is living on. Before she can explain herself, a rockslide destroys her tent and they invite her to live with them. There’s a hiccup, however, when meeting another guest at the house, the wild, deeply troubled Kyo, an accident happens which leads to her embracing him. Twist; a revelation of the curse upon the Sohma’s, that when hugged by the opposite sex they transform into animals of the Zodiac.

Sounds super cute right? It is for a while, and then it gets deep and moving, horribly twisted as abuse and violence reign supreme under the thumb of the family head. Next thing you know the characters feel like family and you can’t stop watching but also desperately want to because they are all so very sad! Anyway, watch it. You’ll love it. It’s unforgettable, if a little twee at first, but sinister as it goes on. More importantly, its message is universal; it’s trust in the good in people boundless; a story that reminds us that Every Night Finds a Dawn.

Kyo and Tohru - Fruits Basket (2019-2021)

1. Violet Evergarden (2018-2021)

1 Season of 13 eps, 1 OVA + 2 Movies – Dir. Various

“You’re going to learn a lot of things, But it might be easier to keep living, if you didn’t learn them, if you didn’t know them. You don’t realize your body is on fire and burning up because of the things you did. You’ll understand one day. And then you’ll realize for the first time that you have many burns.” – Claudia Hodgins

Number one is super fun! Jokes, did you really think my final entry on this list would be anything but a soul-shattering, soggy mess of emotions? I actually think it should be illegal for something to be so bloody moving; Kyoto Animations has officially unwound my last nerve, I can never trust them again. Their art style, their attention to detail, the construction of their adaptations, their scores (Evan Call really did a number on my heart hear)… the list goes on and on and on as they repeatedly beat me with their mastery. Believe the hype. Violet Evergarden is perfection. It’s all over, far too soon, yet so wonderfully brought to a close. All jests and dramatics aside, when I finished the final movie the other weekend I genuinely no longer knew what to do with myself, the scope of the story of our little Violet had explored the very breadths and depth of human emotion, yet I still wasn’t ready for it (I also wasn’t ready to give up the jests and dramatics, defence mechanism I suppose).

Violet Evergarden (Kyoto Animations, 2018)

A child soldier during the war, Violet is now alone in the world. She has lost her arms and they have been replaced with robust prosthetics, which she struggles to adjust to at first. All she has left is a beautiful brooch given to her by her guardian, Gilbert Bougainvillea who is now lost in action, the man most important to her and the final words he said to her: ‘I love you.’ Her quest begins as she seeks to understand what those words mean, joining a postal company as an Auto Memory Doll run by an old friend of Gilberts, in which she pens letters for people, finding just the right words to convey what they wish to say. It takes her time to learn her role and she encounters many people on her travels across the country, the friends she makes, learning to understand the scope of human relationships, searching for meaning, for a life all her own… and for Gilbert. This is something so very honest. Violet Evergarden encapsulates the theme of love and shows it for all the forms it takes, the bonds it makes. As much as it is about finding the words to say, we also see how much of what we do speaks volumes to those who mean the most to us. The anime celebrates life, and those we have and will love. It reminds us to forge our own paths, carry that sadness and renew it into remembrance.

There is romanticism to letters that will never fade. When Violet says, “No letter that could be sent deserves to go undelivered”, it strikes a chord in me. All those letters that were never received, nor sent, words lost in death and separation, the story holds up what is most important in this brief life of ours. Contrary to my own persona as I write about all these sorts of things, I’m a total cynic. But watching Violet Evergarden, it sparked an intense reaction from me, to my relief. Reminded of my capacity to care, to see the minuteness of our lives and the webs entwined throughout our lives, it’s what brings us all together. If I can remember that, then people are not quite so disappointing. How can I forget Violet Evergarden? It’s not an anime that should be forgotten, after all, it’s about the Love That Binds Us. Violet Evergarden tells us to live, no matter how mundane or unexciting that life is. Simply, live.

Gilbert - Violet Evergarden (Kyoto Animations, 2018)

There you have it; thirteen anime I certainly couldn’t forget. Following rigorous weeks of dramatic overhauls in my life, I have managed to complete this, with the onslaught of exhaustion nipping at my heels, I’ll probably find myself returning to a lot of these. If you think I missed anything then check out my Top 20 Anime Films That Have Influenced Me and my Top 20 Anime series. Hope you’ve found a new favourite and catch you on the flippity flop.

The Scene - Mind Game (Yuasa, 2004)

"The root of all your evil is in always relying on one of your other possibilities to get your wish. You must accept that you are the person here, now, and that you cannot become anyone else other than that person. There is no way that you can lead some worthwhile college life and feel satisfied."

- Seitarô Higuchi, The Tatami Galaxy

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“After all, it’s just a matter of flesh and blood. No more than a pile of bone and ash in the end right? There has to be something more important than that?” - Haruki Murakami, Men Without Women

Let's talk about Haruki Murakami! I love him. Lot's of people do. Murakami is a novelist who accentuates simplicity. His narrative style is stripped back to make way for some amazing storytelling, immersive worldbuilding and striking characterisations. You feel a Murakami story. With a major cult following, perhaps moving beyond this now with such impressive renown as he is one of biggest selling living international authors, his strange stories have caught the imagination’s and hearts of many. Magical realism, unusual characters, lots of cats, even more jazz (classical music too, encyclopaedically logged) and left-field scenarios, he’s become beloved amongst readers.

Nishijima as Kafuku (Drive My Car, 2011 - Janus Films)

So he is a tough one to adapt. His style has made way for some outstanding adaptions in various forms in cinema, theatre and even upcoming animation projects. But it’s easy to lose what makes Murakami so Murakami in this translation. Especially on celluloid, often struggling to capture the atmosphere and oddities that make his works so engaging. Look to Tran Anh Hung’s 2010 adaptation of his powerful novel Norwegian Wood. Despite a visually sumptuous take with a great casting of its main character, Watanabe, the film itself lacks the spell that Murakami wove within his writing. Although enjoyable, it doesn’t hold up to its source material.

The Saab (Drive My Car, 2011 - Janus Films)

But his short stories lend themselves to something more. Immense extension, interpretation and, let’s just face it, runtimes. Take Lee Chang-dong’s 2018 feature Burning, a dark twisted tale exploring the notable class structure in South Korea and the inexplicability, the hollowness of evil. It’s bleak and beautiful. Taken from Murakami’s short story Barn Burning, featured in his collection The Elephant Vanishes, Lee manages to use it as a blueprint to withdraw a visually and thematically rich film, equally beautiful and ominous. Can you guess I liked this one? (I've written all about it before, check it out here). Even Tony Takitani, Jun Ichikawa’s 2004 effort is in many ways a creatively and emotively more impressive addition to the adapted works (it’s short story can be found in the collection Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman) than the high profile Norwegian Wood. Less really is more. Less can be more.

A Chauffeur? (Drive My Car, 2011 - Janus Films)

And now Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s had a go. And a go he did make of it – his best screenplay at the Cannes film festival reflects the making of it he did go (and the nomination for the Palm d'Or). He took Drive My Car. Based on the short story of the same name from the collection Men Without Women, it was a favourite for many from the compact book and one of the less uncanny works of the author. The story is as follows: an ageing actor, Kafuku, who, unable to drive his treasured Saab by himself, is recommended a twenty year old girl for his chauffeur. A relationship blossoms between the two whilst he reminisces about his deceased wife, a woman he loved dearly but who kept many secrets from him. With this, Hamaguchi formed something more. An epic odyssey. I ain’t kidding.

Yusuke Kafuku (Drive My Car, 2011 - Janus Films)

With a runtime on the cusp of three hours, you’d think it would be a massive task to manage. Well, I hardly noticed. I always notice. I fidget, I ache, emotionally unravel like a toddler way past its bedtime. I get really hungry, too. But not this time. Squeezed between two fellas on a soggy Monday evening, I forgot they were there within minutes, and could have endured far more. It exceeded my expectations, finding so much to be reaped from the seed sown by Murakami, to the point that I envy the mind that could find so much there. In doing so Hamaguchi almost (ALMOST) blew Burning out of my top spot for Murakami adaptations. How can this be? twenty year old girl for his chauffeur. A relationship blossoms between the two whilst he reminisces about his deceased wife, a woman he loved dearly but who kept many secrets from him. With this, Hamaguchi formed something more. An epic odyssey. I ain’t kidding.

“Can any of us ever perfectly understand another person? However much we may love them?” - Haruki Murakami, Men Without Women

A silhouette of a woman against the dawn, the colours of the blues and oranges burning behind her, the urban outlook framing her mysterious frame; this is how we begin. Part of me wonders if the opening shot is a nod to Lee’s impressive work; I certainly recalled it as the woman tells a story. The storyteller is Oto Kafuku (played by Reika Kirishima). A strange tale; a schoolgirl breaking into her crushes house and leaving little gifts for him there. Yet the story remains unfinished. This woman is the Yūsuke Kafuku's (played by Hidetoshi Nishijima) wife, and following sex she recalls a tale that comes to her. The next day she asks Kafuku to tell her the story again, asks if it is worth writing down and then turns it into a script for the television company she works at.

Oto and Kafuku (Drive My Car, 2011 - Janus Films)

There is a harmony and balance between them that endures, it is revealed, despite being struck by the tragedy of their daughter passing many years before. They are still together. Kafuku hears her stories. Oto recites his plays on a tape, monotonously performed, a beat that she understands to be his in which she can leave his lines unread, yet met in the ebb and flow of the works he is rehearsing. They are in sync and they are close.

Kafuku's latest performance will be as the titular role in Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, the story of an elderly professor returning to his estate, his second wife in tow, unsettling those that call the house their home, a play in which the actor not only performs but directs. Behind the players is a screen translating the dialogue into various languages, shredding the barriers of nationality and communication; for he is interested in language, and the deconstruction of it, and the inclusivity of storytelling with his audiences. Following this, Oto introduces him to a young man who is excited and eager to meet him. The newcomer is about to star in one of her scripted works.

Rivals in love? (Drive My Car, 2011 - Janus Films)

More happens, of course; diagnosed with glaucoma following an incident in his Saab (the one from the books), called to rehearsals away from home and a missed flight later, Kafuku is unsuspecting of the events about to unfold. So are we. Resigned, accepting but troubled, he remains introverted and withdrawn, all the while questioning the woman he is married to and himself, what he missed. When tragedy strikes, he is never able to get the answers.

And then the credits begin. A crooning original jazz track plays composed by Eiko Ishibashi (a great score all around), the first music we have heard, non-diegetic that is. The diegetic classical piece that played earlier announced the startling treachery that plays out during one of the films inciting incident. Two years on from the prologue we see Kafuku arriving in his Saab, to the city of Hiroshima. It is here he plans to direct a new performance of Uncle Vanya for the festival theatre there. He will not reprise his role. Despite his protests, he is forced to accept a chauffeur (played by Toko Miura), relinquishing his freedom and personal time alone with his thoughts (and the tape he still plays recorded by his wife). He has nothing to worry about. Her name is Misaki Watari. She does her job, he does his.

“Words, they felt, could only cheapen the emotions they were feeling.” - Haruki Murakami, Men Without Women

Hamaguchi tweaks the original plot. Kafuku’s wife passed away rather abruptly, whereas before she suffered a long illness. This lends itself to the melancholy and confusion that the actor is experiencing in the years that pass. Language, Chekhov, lies, perceptions and more are flaunted and challenged here under the director it all works so well. Drama layered upon drama, easy to follow but interwoven seamlessly; and he spent the first hour simply setting up the premise.

Outdoor rehearsals (Drive My Car, 2011 - Janus Films)

But this is what makes Hamaguchi’s film so marvellous to experience. He plays around, not so much with narrative storytelling as the majority of the plot is linear, but with the stories the characters tell one another. Each significant scene is carried through a story. Yet the audience and the characters are looking for what’s in between. It’s a story about stories, about what we can say without words. About the people we know and what they are beyond the being we see in front of us. Murakami’s’ story was all about the words that we could not say.

Uncle Vanya rehearsal (Drive My Car, 2011 - Janus Films)

One of the best devices Hamaguchi uses is the execution of language. By having his Kafuku direct a play but cast a variety of people with different nationalities, it parallels the challenges for the actors with regard to the Kafuku's own life. Because language is barrier. And in Hamaguchi’s film, it’s the ultimate opposition to all. Actors who only speak Japanese, actors who can speak English and Japanese, English and Mandarin and the most interesting of all, an actress who can hear but is mute, communicating only through Korean sign language. Kafuku's cast have to find a way to communicate the text of Chekhov without following the usual prompts of dialogue. The cast must springboard from feeling. It’s tender to watch and feels very poignant and relevant now. One begins to recall the sentiments of Bong Joon-ho at the Academy Awards, of the little subtitles one must overlook, and can see warmth in the side narrative the Director has constructed. It’s that inclusivity again, gets me all mushy inside.

“What can we do? We must live our lives... We shall live through the long procession of days before us, and through the long evenings; we shall patiently bear the trials that fate imposes on us; we shall work for others without rest, both now and when we are old; and when our last hour comes we shall meet it humbly, and there, beyond the grave, we shall say that we have suffered and wept, that our life was bitter, and God will have pity on us. Ah, then dear, dear Uncle, we shall see that bright and beautiful life; we shall rejoice and look back upon our sorrow here; a tender smile—and—we shall rest… we shall rest.” - Sonia in Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov

The use of Chekhov’s text is a delightful addition. Having seen and read rather a lot of Japanese fiction, it is clear that Russian literature is a huge influence on their works and I can’t say I blame them. I’m rather inclined to it myself. Filled with turmoil, produced during times of unrest and political overhauls, Russia’s history is complex and often harrowing, far too intricate to go into here but well worth reading up on, and despite this they produced some of the greatest authors of all time. The works are hard going, heavy but bleakly funny. Their vision is unique. Akira Kurosawa adored Fyodor Dostoevsky even adapting The Idiot in 1951; Shimei Futabatei who was credited as the author of the first modern Japanese novel Ukigumo in 1889 admitted to being heavily inspired by the likes of Nikolai Gogol and Ivan Turgenev; Osamu Dazai pretty much lived his life like a Russian nineteenth century novel. Thank goodness is all I can say because some of the most wonderful interpretations of the texts are found in Japan.

Miura as Watari (Drive My Car, 2011 - Janus Films)

Hamaguchi is another fan, clearly (how can you not be?). The scenes in which the Watari and Kafuku sit silent are filled with the wonderful dialogue of Chekhov, sharpening the scenes. Not only is Hamaguchi using the lack of language but also the lines from an old but often performed piece of theatre to fill the space in between what goes unsaid. There is an urgency in the dialogue, a hundred years on still as poignant as ever. As much another language, Chekhov’s words become something else one must learn beyond what is actually being said. For me, I was heart-breaking in the monotony of the Oto's voice on the tape; though linking it to his work, the main character is stuck on a loop, over and over searching for an answer as much as stability that comes from lingering in the past.

Kirishima as Oto Kafuku (Drive My Car, 2011 - Janus Films)

What is lost in translation is found through action. Yet the story asks us to see even beyond that, to the depths of emotions that joins people together. Kafuku is emotionally stunted. He opens ups with the help of his Watari, the young woman who left her small rural village after tragedy to Hiroshima and never quite went beyond. She is just as stuck, dwelling on a past that weighs heavy on her mind, feels unresolved but impenetrable. She is happy to talk very little with him. It suits them both. Yet it is this relationship that is closest of all within the film as they find understanding between one another. As he says, she’s the best driver he’s ever met. She has plenty of secrets of her own. Like him. Watari finds comfort in the voice of Oto on the tape he still listens to. That it is Chekhov does not matter, she is listening beyond the words. Despite being a figure filled with tall tales and secrets, it is the deceased wife who is the thread that mends.

The Moment (Drive My Car, 2011 - Janus Films)

The connections between the people he meets gradually unravel the bindings on his wounds. It’s what has kept him safe, kept him from having to face the actions of his wife and all they never got to say to one another. The story Oto never finished for her husband. The questions he wanted to ask. The answers, the truths he knew would hurt but should have sought out. The things he always wished he said. When the Watari and Kafuku hold their cigarettes up through the skylight of the car, driving silently down a lonesome street late at night, what they are feeling for, reaching for, it comes to them in that moment of silence and smoking; they find some understanding, if only with each other.

“So in the end maybe that’s the challenge: to look inside your own heart as perceptively and seriously as you can, and to make peace with what you find there. If we hope to truly see another person, we have to start by looking within ourselves.” - Haruki Murakami, Men Without Women

What was managed with this short story was wonderful. Hamaguchi captured the soul of Murakami and bottled it perfectly so it shines and glitters in all the right places. It is long, but not a minute is wasted. The character studies, the incorporation of words, the visuals and the patience it carries itself with are all totally engaging. Perhaps I would even be so bold as to say it’s the best film I’ve seen this year (besides Violet Evergarden: The Movie… we don’t talk about the oceans shed with that film).

We have plenty more awards contenders to go, but Hamaguchi did something special. He himself is making a statement about the inclusivity of our worlds and he’s also handled a very human story that the themes of this story rotate. It’s powerful, even funny in places. But most of all, it’s a road trip though regret and grief. I loved it. I hope you all do too. If you’re willing to give it a go, it’s something rather cathartic and, I can confidently say, unforgettable. Just as a Murakami piece should be.

There is, unfortunately, a suspicious lack of cats.

**** ½

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A Space for Reviews, World Cinema Appreciation, Essays and Reflections by Writer Kerry Chambers

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