Listening to: Space Lion – Yoko Kanno (Cowboy Bebop OST)
Spoilers have been kept to a minimum, in the interests of being helpful to those who are considering watching the shows in question.
For me, final exams are over and it’s time to consider kicking back and relaxing until school resumes again. Of course, what would a relaxing winter break be without anime of some kind? …exactly. Even if you’re not an inveterate watcher of anime, there’s no time like the present to get into the genre.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the time to commit to multiple seasons of any show, much less to even more of one of the long runners. But fear not! To ease the pain of commitment, I’ve put together a list of anime that tell a complete story over their runtime, without a plethora of supplemental material required. The number of episodes is handily listed below, along with a short explanation of what you can expect and why they made my list. Enjoy!
Images are screencaps from episodes of the works in question. As I do not profit from the publication of this blog, this is fair use under U.S. Section 107, et cetera.
7. Angel Beats! (2010)
Runtime: 14 episodes
Quote: “If you’re here, then that means you’re dead.”
Description: Angel Beats! (exclamation point mandatory) is a short, sweet little series about a group of teenagers who find themselves in a high school which is actually the afterlife. Or the afterlife, which is actually a high school. Either or. They form a guerilla organization known as the Afterlife Battlefront, or various other things, depending on the day. Their purpose is to learn more about the world that they’ve found themselves in. The Battlefront’s archenemy is Tenshi (Angel), president of the student council, who just wants them to attend class and act like normal students and will make them conform with violence if necesssary. Guns, grenades, and a halberd are involved.
What you can expect: Action, comedy, people repeatedly dying and being resurrected, philosophical thoughts on what gives life meaning. And tears. Many tears.
Why I recommend it: Angel Beats! is a show that can effectively pull off moments that are both heart-warming and hilarious, often within seconds of each other. Not many shows can do that. I don’t always have feelings, but when I do, I recommend watching anime.
Dub or sub?: Sub. (This is TK’s fault.)
6. Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (2007)
Runtime: 27 episodes, 1 movie
Available on Netflix.
Quote: “Don’t believe in yourself! Believe in the me who believes in you!”
Description: After living underground his entire life, mild-mannered minor miner Simon (pronounced sea-moan) discovers a face-shaped robot underground. Shortly afterward, a giant robot crashes into the underground village from the surface, and Simon’s adventure begins. Accompanied by his best “bro” Kamina (the manliest man to fight a three-story-tall robot with a katana) and Yoko (a girl with a laser sniper rifle and a flame-print bikini), Simon begins an epic quest across the surface to defeat the Beastmen keeping humanity confined below the surface. Explosions ensue.
What you can expect: Action, comedy, escalating action, humongous mecha, over-the-top action, fanservice, ridiculously over-the-top action, rap/opera fusion, ACTION BEYOND THE IMPOSSIBLE. And tears. Manly tears.
Why I recommend it: Gurren Lagann is the mecha anime to end all mecha anime. With a wildly optimistic tone and a simultaneous irreverence and respect for the genre, the anime is a wild roller-coaster ride of crazy-awesome antics, open defiance of the laws of physics, and the power of the human spirit. The literal, logic-defying power of the human spirit.
Dub or sub?: Dub. “Just who the hell… DO YOU THINK I AM?!?”
5. Cowboy Bebop (1998)
Runtime: 26 episodes, 1 movie
Quote: “I’m just a humble bounty hunter, ma’am.”
Description: To quote the opening, Cowboy Bebop is “The work, which becomes [a] new genre itself.” It follows the [mis]adventures of the bounty-hunting crew of the Bebop, an outdated spaceship traveling across the solar system in search of gas money. The show has a variety of influences, ranging from film noir to Westerns, and this fusion of genres combines with an episodic structure to make a show that is eminently digestible, whether one episode at a time or five. Also, it has the best sign-off ever. SEE YOU, SPACE COWBOY…
What you can expect: Action, spaceships, a ragtag crew of characters, looming bankruptcy, intense bouts of melancholy, and a fantastic jazz score.
Why I recommend it: Bebop was Firefly before Firefly was Firefly. A Space Western, a rather melancholic take on the future, and a cast of interesting characters, each one with their own story. It’s considered a classic, for good reason.
Dub or sub?: Dub. Steve Blum and Wendee Lee absolutely nail their respective roles, and the rest of the voice actors are no slouches either.
4. Steins;Gate (2009)
Runtime: 25 episodes, 1 movie
Quote: “Consider. Can the universe justifiably be called infinite? Doubtful.”
Description: Self-styled “mad scientist” Okabe Rintarou (better known by his hammy and conceited nom de plume, HOUOUIN KYOUMA) manages to create a device capable of sending text messages back in time. After witnessing a murder (or did he?), he sets off to test this technology by recruiting a group of his friends to help test the device. As he investigates the subject deeper, however, Okabe begins to uncover more and more disturbing information, and the conspiracies he idly speculated about begin to seem more and more real.
What you can expect: Time travel, friendship, humor, hamminess, horror, hope, and even some romance. (Oh, and sadness. Because I watched it.)
Why I recommend it: First of all, HOUOUIN KYOUMA is my spirit animal. I analyzed him. Our speech patterns are very similar. Secondly, the show pulls off moments from both ends of the spectrum of humor and sadness. While it doesn’t switch gears between them quite as quickly as Angel Beats! does, this serves to make the characters more identifiable. Definitely one of the best anime I’ve watched recently.
Dub or sub?: I watched the dub, although the sub has quite a few moments where it shines (the English language, for example). According to TV Tropes, the dub makes the internet memes referenced easier to understand, so I’d stick to that.
3. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (2009)
Runtime: 26 episodes, 1 movie
Quote: “First off, I’m not interested in ordinary people. But if any of you are aliens, time travellers, or espers, please come see me. That is all.”
Description: After letting go of his childhood dreams of aliens, time travelers, and espers, beginning high school student Kyon (no other name given) is literally dragged (see image) into helping to start up a club. The purpose of this club, the SOS Brigade, is to find aliens, time travelers, and espers. The
club president Brigade Leader, Haruhi Suzumiya, is an energetic and eccentric girl who pulls the members of the SOS Brigade through a plethora of wacky situations, which in practice means that the genre of the show is anything from sci-fi to comedy to mystery, depending on the episode and/or Haruhi’s mood. The entire series is underscored by Kyon’s internal monologue. His sarcastic exposition and continued annoyance with practically everything is good for as much entertainment as the characters themselves.
What you can expect: Comedy, wacky situations, unexplained magic powers, and the most sarcastic narrator in fiction. Actual aliens, time travelers, and espers.
Why I recommend it: I originally began watching Haruhi Suzumiya because TV Tropes told me it was a classic. They did not lie. This show has everything I want in a comedy: humor that’s everywhere from intellectual to slapstick, and the greatest sarcastic narrator of all time. Truly. Kyon is the best.
Dub or sub?: Opinions are split on this one. On one hand, Aya Hirano embodies the character of Haruhi in the sub. On the other hand, Crispin Freeman knocks his performance of Kyon out of the park. (In case you couldn’t tell from all my gushing about the sarcastic narration, I chose dub.)
2. Puella Magi Madoka Magica (2011)
Runtime: 12 episodes, 3 movies
Available on Netflix.
Quote: “Make a contract with me… and become a magical girl!”
Description: Madoka Kaname is an ordinary student until the fateful day when she and her friend meet a mysterious creature named Kyuubey who offers them a deal: he will grant each of them one wish, if they become magical girls in return. They also meet two other magical girls: kind and caring Mami Tomoe, who wants them to join her; and the nigh-emotionless Homura Akemi, who is dead set against it. Their debate over whether or not to take Kyuubey’s offer continues as the show goes on, but one thing is for certain: all of them will get much more than they bargained for.
What you can expect: Beautiful music, beautiful character development, beautiful visuals. An effective genre deconstruction. Heartbreak.
Why I recommend it: At 12 episodes, the series proper is the shortest one on this list, and yet in those 12 episodes it manages to turn the audience’s thoughts and feelings upside down. Why? You’ll need to see it for yourself.
Dub or sub?: Personal preference. I have no recommendations in either direction.
1. Fate/Zero (2011)
Runtime: 25 episodes
Available on Netflix.
Quote: “I hereby swear… that I shall be all the good in the world. That I shall defeat all evil in the world.”
Description: In Fuyuki City, Japan, around the turn of the millennium, seven magic-wielders known as “Masters” gather to battle for the right to the Holy Grail, said to be an omnipotent wish-granting device. Each of them summons a Heroic Spirit, or “Servant,” to aid them in this war. These fourteen characters (supported by a few others) all have reasons of their own for wanting to obtain the Grail, and all of their reasons are explored as the series goes on. The emphasis on an ensemble cast rather than an individual protagonist is one of the strengths of this show, and the clashes between them grow more and more desperate as the plot progresses. When a device that can grant any wish is on the line, there are few things that people will hesitate to do.
What to expect: A rich, complicated cast and a plot suitably epic in scale. Fight scenes that are unmatched in their composition. Duels with magic, duels with firearms, duels with words. An animation budget that could buy some countries. Thoughtful debates on the nature of God and authority. Mounting despair.
Why I recommend it: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Fate/Zero is likely the best anime I’ve ever watched or am likely to watch. Its pacing is neither too fast or too slow (once you get past the exposition-packed first episode), it handles its mature subject matter with a touch that is neither too light nor too heavy, and when taken overall it doesn’t have a single major weak point.
Dub or sub?: Sub. Preferably after reading up on Japanese pronouns, in order to get at the nuances of character dialogue.
And that’s it for this week! Hopefully this gives you something to occupy yourselves over break. Another thing that might be diverting would be reading “The Knights’ Tale” here, updated every Wednesday. Regardless, I hope that you’ve enjoyed this little list of recommendations. Signing off, until next week!