What it’s about: A gigantic alien monster emerges to tower over a Japanese city. While the army is called in to contain it, it doesn’t seem to be concerned with doing very much. None of this concerns the schoolgirl Yuki, though, as she’s far more interested in the smaller monster that she discovers is being secretly cared for by her friend Tetsu. Named Cenco, it demonstrates bizarre shapeshifting abilities and a penchant for eating any snacks it’s offered. There seems to be some sort of connection between the two creatures, but what is it?
Why you should watch it: It’s surreal, thought-provoking, and utterly unlike what you’d expect in an anime. In part this is down to being the work of a single creator, Atsuya Uki, who wrote, animated, and directed the whole thing by himself, only drawing upon outside talent to provide the music for the end credits and the voicework (including the industry darling HanaKana). It’s downright Dali-esque in places, not just in terms of animation but in its blending of the real and absurd. It’s also quite short – a single 26-minute episode. If you’re in the mood for something different, Cencoroll is a good bet.
Caveats: The characters are quite detached and hard to empathise with. Apathy is perfectly normal in teenagers, but it doesn’t make them any more fun to watch. The limited runtime naturally means that there’s little development.
Themes: There’s a lot of stuff hinted at here, but not much is developed in full. The most obvious reading of it is as a commentary on adolescence, not in the typical “coming of age” kind of way, but on the combination of boredom and recklessness that embodies what it means to be a teenager.
Similar works: In terms of actual content? Not much. If you want another “auteur” anime work, try Voices of a Distant Star, which was a similar one-man-show created by the now-famous director Makoto Shinkai.