Genre: Dating Sim, High School
This is the first dating sim conversion anime I have watched, so going into it I had no idea what to expect. As it turns out, this ended up being a huge guilty pleasure for me. Amagami SS is basically structured in 4-episode arcs (plus two one-episode arcs), each following a different love interest for Junichi, the lead male character. While the cast, high school, and Christmas Eve event are largely the same in every arc, the show does a good job in keeping things different enough to remain fresh each time around.
I mentioned Amagami as being a guilty pleasure, and that is essentially what it amounts to. No deep philosophical questions are raised, no worldviews are challenged, no cool fight scenes, no excessive fanservice, or anything like that. Instead, you get four episodes worth of romantic pursuit (not always by the guy) and light comedy that wraps up nicely in a single evening of watching. I felt as though the arcs decreased in quality as the show went on, so if you aren’t getting enough warm fuzzies by the end of episode 12, feel free to bail. Nevertheless, I stuck it out until the end, and shall be downloading the follow-up Amagami SS+ (2 extra episodes per arc, starting where it left off).
Genre: Dating Sim, High School
Amagami SS+ is essentially a continuation of the original Amagami series, extending the original 4-episode arcs by two episodes (with one extra for Junichi’s sister). Each two-episode batch is set a few days/months after the events of the original series, and each has its own little story to tell. As you might imagine, there is not any redeeming factors for Amagami SS+ if you did not enjoy the original; there is not much in the way of further character development, and these extra arcs are self-contained. What I will say is that a few of these arcs sort of redeem the weaknesses of the original, at least for a few of them.
Episodes: 1-13 + 2
Genre: High School, Supernatural, Comedy
When Otonashi wakes up with amnesia outside of a high school, he quickly finds out things are much more bizarre than they appear: a group of students are fighting against an “angel” who kills them if they don’t attend their classes. And everyone is immortal. Aside from the NPC classmates. And unless they follow the angel’s instructions, at which point they disappear from the world entirely. The show progresses from that ridiculous premise into a host of novel, comedic elements that set up some rather surprisingly emotional scenes.
I really don’t know how else to describe Angel Beats other than that. It has tropes, counter-tropes, anti-tropes, and leaves you confused as to whether to laugh or cry into your pillow. In a word, it’s good, and in four words, you should watch it. Assuming you enjoy these types of shows.
Genre: Supernatural, Action, Horror
Attack on Titan is a brutal, gruesome anime that focuses on a future where the population of Earth has been pushed back to a single city with 400-foot walls, as a result of the mysterious emergence of human-eating Titans. Society and technology has collapsed back to a sort of medieval period, although special Titan-hunting soldiers have access to grappling hook contraptions that allow them to swing around. The relative peace is destroyed however, when special Titans start appearing who successfully breach the gates and consume most of the populace. The story follows Yeager and his friends as they join the army and train to take back the fallen parts of the city.
Right from the start, you can tell that Attack on Titan is likely the start of the next big-budget anime franchise. The juxtaposition of medieval life with a few pieces of advanced technology and possibly magic makes for very intriguing plot development. The action is quick and brutal, and this is definitely an anime not at all afraid of killing off characters it introduced 30 seconds ago. The only thing I didn’t particularly enjoy were all the “Shinji elements,” where characters were paralyzed with fear; while it is perhaps a bit more realistic, it left me exasperated and spitefully happy when they were bitten in half. In any case, the show is definitely worth your time to watch, if for no other reason that it is/will be the anime people ask if you watched.
Genre: High School, Supernatural, Comedy
Bakemonogatari is an irreverent, arc-driven high school supernatural comedy following the life of Araragi Koyomi. Saved from being turned into a vampire, Koyomi nevertheless has retained the ability to heal injuries quickly and recognize other supernatural phenomenon. It is with this latter ability that he endeavors to assist those around him from succumbing to supernatural circumstance.
Although the show is definitely a comedy, the humor comes not from (just) slap-stick but from the dialog-dense exchanges between the main characters. There is a healthy dose of Japanese puns thrown in, but the anime absolutely had me in stitches quite a few times from the wordplay alone. The brilliance of Bakemonogatari comes through when you begin to realize that it is doing things and presenting scenarios which have never been seen in an anime before. For example, I will never look at a stapler the same way again.
Bottom line: I had a lot of fun with this show, and I was sad to see it end.
Episodes: 1-24 (two seasons)
Genre: Crime, Gunfight, Present Day
Black Lagoon is a sort of modern-day Cowboy Bebop surrounding an extra-legal shipping/acquisition company of the same name. Stationed in the anarchistic pirate haven city of Roanapur, the three-person gang grows by one when a disaffected Japanese salary-man, who they had taken hostage in the opening episode but was left to die by his corrupt bosses back home, asks to join. From then on, “Rock” acts as the audience’s view into the murky world of the underground trafficking.
I compared Black Lagoon to Cowboy Bebop simply because they both share a sort of episodic, occasionally meandering style. But do not get me wrong: this is not a Cowboy Bebop-level anime. It almost felt like Black Lagoon was resisting every opportunity it had to become something a little deeper, or a little more human. The sort of existential angst between Revy and Rock was broached a few times but never explored, for example. Overall it was entertaining enough to make me feel like my time wasn’t wasted, but I wished for something a bit… more. If you are looking for a non-fantasy, non-sci-fi show with some action but lite on the moralizing though, Black Lagoon might be for you.
Genre: Underworld, Normal Life, Supernatural
It is sort of difficult nailing down what Durarara is actually about. The anime follows high school freshman Ryuugamine Mikado as he moves to Ikebukuro, Tokyo, and adjusts to this bizarre new environment with his childhood friend Kida. While Mikado is initially worried about living a boring life, the city turns out to be populated with street gangs, a headless Irish fairy, superhumanly strong bartenders and sushi workers, and equally bizarre/supernatural information brokers.
While I felt that the anime started out slow – the first 8 episodes are seemingly unconnected character introductions – Durarara starts picking up steam soon afterwards. I did end up feeling that the anime was worthwhile watching, but I also had the impression that the show was an extremely condensed version of a much larger narrative. The “main” plot resolves, but there were too many loose ends (or potential Season 2 hooks) for me to be left feeling entirely satisfied.
Genre: Horror, Supernatural, Tragedy
It is abundantly clear from the opening scene that Elfen Lied is going to be a bloody, sexualized affair. A naked woman with an iron mask escapes a scientific/military complex using her supernatural powers, leaving a trial of blood and gore in her path. From there, the anime almost turns into a Chobits scenario in which a local college student finds a mysterious girl with horns and amnesia. As the story progresses, more of the past is revealed as the stakes continue to be raised in the hunt for the escapee, releasing monsters to fight monsters.
If you are at all squeamish in regards to gratuitous blood or nudity, Elfen Lied is not the anime for you. I enjoyed the experience overall, but I would not necessarily say that there are redeeming factors to force yourself to overcome the aforementioned squeamishness.
Genre: Future, Supernatural, Drama
In the opening minutes of From the New World, a large group of ordinary humans spontaneously develops the ability to use telekinesis, and immediately they go on a murderous rampage. From there, time moves forward several hundreds years to what appears to be feudal Japan. What follows from that is a somewhat disjointed examination of middle/high school life for the children of the survivors, all of whom have the ability to kill with even a minor, errant thought.
From the New World is one of those anime which I am most conflicted about recommending. The premise is perhaps the most unique I have ever seen, and the show does a fantastic job of working through all various, completely-logical problems that usually (always?) go unexamined. I mean, it really goes beyond even anime: what story, in any medium, actually explored what telekinesis would really mean? If you can kill with a thought, imagine the harm you would create with subconscious thought.
Recommending the show is difficult though, because I don’t feel that the story flowed particularly well. Part of that might have been intentional, given that forced amnesia (sigh) is involved, but I almost wish the show was condensed down to a 12-episode examination of what was a thoroughly interesting premise. If the topic interests you, by all means pick this show up.
Episodes: 1-26, OVA
Genre: Drama, Mystery/Horror
The premise of Future Diary is that a middle school boy named Yukii goes through life as a passive observer, detailing the random moments and facts of his disconnected life in his cell phone diary. Once at home, he retreats further into an imaginary world in which he converses with Deus, a god who can bend causality to make anything happen. As it turns out, Deus is not only real, but also dying. Deus decides that the best way to pick his successor will be in the form of a survival game, with the 12 participants each having diaries that predict the future in ways that reflect their individual characters. Yukii, against his will, is chosen as one of the 12; the last person left alive will become a god.
If this premise sort of sounds similar to Death Note, you are not mistaken. However, the actual overlap between the two is confined to the cerebral cat-and-mouse game given that while the diaries can predict the future, the diary owners themselves can change said future. The other dimension of difference is in the relationship between Yukii and Yuno, the psychopath diary-owner who has an obsession with Yukii. While I was initially disappointed that Yukii was a middle-school student and thus limited in his range of action, his age actually enabled some rather heavily emotional scenes and drove the plot in interesting directions.
So, basically, if you enjoyed Death Note at all, I highly recommend Future Diary. In fact, even if you hated Death Note for some reason, I would still give it a try. Parts of it can be formulaic, but when Future Diary colors outside of the traditional anime lines, it colors way out there.
Genre: Future, Action, Drama
Guilty Crown is a slick-looking Production I.G. anime revolving around Shu, an introverted high school student who stumbles into the power of the Void Genome in an occupied, post-viral-cataclysm Japan. This newfound power lets him pull the metaphysical “heart” out of the chests of other teenagers and use them in battle, with each person’s heart power being different; sometimes it’s a giant-ass sword, sometimes it’s a gravity gun. When Shu declines to join the Undertakers, a terrorist/freedom-fighting organization opposed to the fascist occupying force, he quickly finds out that this is a fight that has no problem coming to him.
While slick and exciting, and featuring a surprisingly good soundtrack, Guilty Crown also came across as largely by-the-numbers Evangelion derivative: Shu is basically Shinji, Inori is Rei, Gai is Gendo, and the ultimate goal of everyone involved is more or less Instrumentality 2.0. Not every anime has to be a deep, life-affirming experience, of course – sometimes it’s enough to be action-orientated with a bit of high school angst. Overall, Guilty Crown is a perfectly acceptable, if somewhat pedestrian action anime that nods vigorously at its ancestors and doesn’t stray too far from the same basic formulas.
Genre: High School, Comedy
Tomoko is a girl just entering high school who decides life is going to be different this year. Unfortunately, Tomoko is socially awkward, an extreme otaku, and is basically unable to communicate with just about anyone. The series follows her cringe-worthy attempts at making friends and becoming popular all while suffering under the delusion that it’s everyone else’s fault.
I found the show difficult to watch, generally. There are definitely some hysterical moments in there, and there is some (extremely slight) movement towards self-enlightenment towards the end, but the show just feels… bad. As in, I felt bad for the main character, but her behavior also made me feel bad for pitying her because she kinda deserved it, and it was basically like watching That One Kid (everyone knows one) embarrassing himself in high school. If you enjoy the sort of awkward/embarrassing/cringe style of entertainment, this is a show for you. Unfortunately, it really wasn’t one for me.
Genre: High School, Historical, Drama
Kids on the Slope (Sakamichi no Apollon) was a rather surprising historical high school drama/coming of age set back in the late 1960s. Centering on the unlikely friendship between the straight-lace Kaoru and burly Sentarou, the anime really resists all of the common tropes to this genre. Indeed, the context of most of their interactions with one another and the greater plot revolves around the Japanese jazz scene back in the 60s. Rather than distancing myself due to the unfamiliar premise, this show immediately sucked me in to the point of watching the entire 12 episodes in a single sitting; something that does not at all happen frequently.
There really isn’t much else I can say about Kids on the Slope. It’s well-drawn, the dialog is excellent, the pacing is spot-on, and it features yet another incredible soundtrack by Yoko Kanno.
Genre: Comedy, Ecchi, High School
After the success of Ore No Imouto, I thought I would give another anime in the same genre a try. Unfortunately… well, sometimes an anime is exactly what it says it will be. Kiss x Sis is an ecchi comedy that follows the lives of the Suminoe household which features Keita and his two twin sisters who are madly in love with him. As it turns out the two sisters are step-sisters, which makes the frequently cringe-inducing escapades a little less incestuous.
Regardless, there is little to no redeeming value in Kiss x Sis. Whereas Ore No Imouto was legitimately humorous and heartwarming, Kiss x Sis is ridiculous, over-the-top fanservice. At the same time, if you were actually into ecchi comedies or things farther down the hentai scale, Kiss x Sis is surprisingly tame. If this anime was intended to be a bridge between the two “camps,” it was a bridge to nowhere.
Genre: Comedy, High School
Chunibyo follows the travails of Yuuta, a freshman in high school who is attempting to put his “8th grader syndrome” past behind him. Instead, he discovers that he both lives below and has homeroom with Rikka, a girl who is still in the midst of pretending the world is, well, a fantasy anime. What unfolds from that premise is pretty much your standard high school comedy tropes, themes, and plot elements. If you have seen one, you have seen them all.
Personally, even though these sort of anime are a dime a dozen, I enjoyed myself with Chunibyo. There isn’t anything particularly surprising going on, although there were enough poignant moments towards the end to set it apart from the more banal titles.
Genre: Comedy, High School
My Teen Romantic Comedy – SNAFU is pretty much summarized by its title, aside from one important distinction: like Madoka Magica, it subverts all the normal tropes of the genre it is emulating. Hikigaya is a teenage loner who has long since decided that social interaction with his peers is a waste of time. When he is forced to join a “Volunteer Club” with Yukinoshita however, he begins to find that… actually, not much changes. While I am not entirely on board with the comparison, a lot of people would describe this show as an anime version of Daria. Between Hikigaya and Yukinoshita, the two of them deconstruct all the normal themes of RomComs and frequently get into meta-analysis of the scenarios that appear.
Personally, this show was equal parts hilarious, brilliant, and immensely frustrating. See, the thing about deconstructing RomComs is that no matter how many times Hikigaya pulls a hard left when presented with a perfect romantic moment, you are nevertheless horrified by the missed opportunity. But that’s kinda the point, right? I ended up devouring the show in a single sitting and am praying that a second season gets developed at some point.
Genre: Comedy, High School, Slice of Life
Nichijou is a slap-stick, pun-heavy, slice-of-life high school comedy in a similar vein to Azumanga Daioh. Any given episode is broken down into 4-8 discreet parts with few overarching plot-lines, although things “pick up” in the latter half of the series.
While Azumanga Daioh is the closest analog to Nichijou that I have seen, on the whole the shows are not remotely comparable in terms of quality. The core component of Azumanga was the strength of its characters, and this is something Nichijou lacks in a significant way. The 3-4 main girls have personalities, but are frequently muted, occasionally one-dimensional, and not fully explored in any case. As mentioned, the anime gets better in the last quarter or so, but it’s difficult to recommend watching dozens of episodes to get there.
If you are desperate to recreate that Azumanga Daioh feeling, I recommend simply watching Azumanga Daioh again.
Genre: Comedy, Supernatural, High School
Nisemonogatari is a sequel to Bakemonogatari and follows along in mostly the same comedic, word-dense style. About the only thing that changed is that there is a lot more fanservice in this than the original. And by “a lot,” I mean a lot. While I did not feel that it detracted from the show in general, I can appreciate the sentiments from others that this shift weakened the show compared to the original.
In any case, the general plot centers on when one of the charlatans that ruined Hitagi’s life suddenly comes back into town. Not only does it put stress on Koyomi and Hitagi, but Koyomi’s sisters get involved in an increasingly dangerous way. While I would say that Nisemonogatari definitely isn’t as good as Bakemonogatari, I still had a lot of fun with the show. Just like with the stapler before it, this anime changed how I look at toothbrushes forever.
Genre: Comedy, Dating Sim, High School
The title translates as “My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute,” which may right away leave you with the impression that this is some sort of brother/sister complex story. While there is undoubtedly an undercurrent that exists (at least in one direction), the anime ends up being more an impressively hilarious/awkward feel-good comedy than any sort of sexualized story.
Basically, Kyousuke is the brother to the 14-year old Kirino, and they haven’t been particular close siblings in years; in fact, Kirino seems to harbor some sort of grudge or latent hatred towards her brother. After a chance spilling of her purse however, Kyousuke finds out Kirino’s secret: the straight-A track star/model is into little sister erotic games/anime in a big way. From there, Kyousuke ends up helping his sister keep the secret from their parents and her friends, eventually helping Kirino embrace her otaku side.
While this anime follows in the somewhat annoying dating sim tradition of featuring a lead male character that is on the cusp of dating everyone (no doubt to fuel fanfic material for years to come), I actually enjoyed the angst/drama quite a bit. It is a well-drawn, bright, legitimately funny comedy. Indeed, while I normally space out my anime viewings, I ended up watching episode 5 onward in a single sitting. If you are willing to give the premise a chance, I do not think you will be disappointed.
Genre: Near-Future, Drama, Space
Planetes is a fairly standard anime in a non-standard setting. It follows the travails of Tanabe who recently joined the Debris section of a private corporation in space, and how she brings her upbeat, love-centric philosophy to the job of picking up space trash. At least, that is how the anime flows at first. After the usual character introduction episodes are done, the anime shifts gears towards Hoshino and his dreams, feelings towards Tanabe, and what it takes to follow your dreams into the crushing loneliness of space.
While that descriptions sort of oversells what the anime actually accomplishes, I was genuinely surprised how deftly the anime theme changed midway through, and how that theme change turned out to not be all that different from what they presented originally. While the show starts out as a sort of comedy, by the end the laughs are a sort of comedic relief in the face of some very serious introspection.
If nothing else, Planetes sort of gives you a new appreciation towards the problem of space debris.
Genre: Futuristic, Crime, Mystery
Psycho PASS is a futuristic crime thriller in a very similar vein to Ghost in the Shell and Minority Report, and asks many of the same philosophical questions. It follows the story of new Investigator Akane, as she learns the ropes of crime solving in a future where body scans can determine mental state and thus judge people as a latent criminal or not. In fact, the Sibyl System runs tests on the entire Japanese population when it comes to determining what jobs would be best for them and otherwise making most of the decisions for them. Mental states can fluctuate however, and so the police employ Investigators and latent criminal Enforcers, the latter of which do the dirty work to save the mental state of their superiors.
Quite honestly, Psycho PASS is an extremely slick production that riveted my attention from beginning to end. Rather than moralize, the show simply presents the philosophical conundrum of whether this society is worth protecting and giving you space to come to your own conclusions. While I would rate Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex above this anime, you should definitely watch Psycho PASS if you at all enjoyed the other.
Genre: Magical Girls, Fantasy, Horror
Puella Magi Madoka Magica is, at least at first, a fairly typical “magical girl” anime. It features a middle school girl named Madoka who lives a comfortable life with her friend Sayaka. When Madoka stumbles across a strange talking cat named Kyuubee, a being willing to grant any wish in exchange for the duty to kill invisible witches (who curse people in the real world), I began to question why exactly I had downloading this anime in the first place.
As it turns out, Puella Magi Madoka Magica is a “magic girl” anime just like Neon Genesis Evangelion is an anime about giant robots.
Given that this anime is only 12 episodes long, going into further elaboration would risk too many spoilers. But while I would not exactly put it on the same level as Evangelion, it does a rather amazing job at breaking down the tropes of this particular sub-genre. So if you are someone capable of sitting through what superficially looks like an anime for 12-year old girls, I think you’ll enjoy the mind-bending experience of walking away feeling just the opposite.
Episodes: 1-12 * 6
Genre: Action, Ecchi, Magic
This is another one of those anime series in which I should have known better to have wasted my time watching all the way through. Queen’s Blade is set in on a mystical world in which the ruler of the continent is chosen every 4 years by a competition known as the Queen’s Blade. The anime itself introduces a cast of scantily-clad women and then follows their adventures towards the capital to engage in said competition while frequently fighting in ways that reveal their cartoonishly over-sized breasts.
Cartoon boobs aside, there is not much of substance throughout the series. In fact, even if you were primarily watching this series for the ecchi material, I have a feeling you would be disappointed. The fighting scenes are not terrible per se, but it becomes apparent relatively quickly that this series features not the drama of relationships (there are only 2-3 men in the entire show) nor of fighting that actually results in death. In the 4th and 5th “season,” the show tries to introduce a cast of mostly new people with some returning characters, but it just didn’t feel quite the same.
Ultimately, I recommend giving this series a pass, if you were even interested in the first place.
Genre: Ecchi, Fantasy, Current Day
For the uninitiated, Seikon no Qwaser is an action fantasy anime set in the present day (or near future). A secretive sect of the church employs Qwasers – magic-users capable of commanding one element of the periodic table – to foil the plot(s) of the Adepts, a group of heretical disciples bent on leveraging mystical power to become gods/kill God/whatever. The power that fuels the abilities of Qwasers comes from “soma,” which is… breast milk. As in, 100% of the power-up sequences in this anime is men/women ripping the shirts of their “Maria” for a drink, or alternatively sexually assaulting some other random teenager with gigantic boobs. Yes, while said victims scream in orgasmic ecstasy.
If you are still wondering if there could possibly be any redeeming factor in the show, anything at all, let me assure you: that there is not. The anime is extremely formulaic, riddled with tropes – for god’s sake, the female lead was kidnapped once every three episodes – barely passable drama, and overall extremely dumb. And that’s not counting the discomfort that came from watching all the sexual assaults. There is nothing here for anyone, even if breast milk is your “thing”; ironically, there wouldn’t be enough to justify the rest of the garbage across 24 episodes. This show simply fails at anything and everything it set out to accomplish.
Good lord, what a waste of time.
Genre: Fantasy/Sci-Fi, Drama
The premise of this anime is that in the near future, companies have developed virtual reality MMOs. On the launch of this particular one, the titular Sword Art Online, all of the initial players are surprised to find that there is no log-off button. The game’s creator appears in the sky above all of the players and states that they are trapped in the game until the 100-floor dungeon is cleared. And if you die in the game, you die in real life.
What follows from the introduction is actually a particularly nuanced and interesting plot examining common MMO tropes and the people behind them. Would you share items with strangers when you might need them to save your own life? How would you handle the Player Killers, many of whom are either sociopaths or simply don’t believe that anyone actually dies in real life to their blades. How much risk would you actually take in a virtual environment? Would you settle down as a shopkeeper and simply supply items to the players actually progressing through dungeons? And perhaps more poignantly, would you even want to leave the game at all?
Sword Art Online asks and potentially answers all of those questions indirectly, through decent character interactions intermixed with battle scenes and more. While the anime shifted in tone and scope around the halfway mark, I thoroughly enjoyed both the act of watching and the hypothetical questions it raised. If you are looking for something a little more thought-provoking to watch without necessarily getting bogged down in cerebral nonsense, I definitely recommend giving Sword Art Online a try.
Genre: Surreal, Kids
This anime movie follows the lives of Black and White, two semi-supernatural homeless brothers who made it their job to keep Treasure Town safe from rival gangs and sociopathic adults. While the city itself looks amazing, the character design certainly takes a little bit to get used to. Indeed, the best way I could describe the movie would be like a lower-budgeted Spirited Away that makes even less sense.
When Tekkonkinkreet was suggested to me, it came from someone who said this was their favorite anime of all time. While this may have set up unrealistic expectations for the film going in, I am pretty sure I still would have came to the same conclusion either way: I didn’t like it. The characters were forgettable, the plot/themes were basically non-existent, and the setting was inexplicable. If I could take back my 1.5 hours, I would.