Recommends: 13 Anime That I Couldn’t Forget…
“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?).
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.
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
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 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’.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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 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