What it’s about: Two hundred years ago, a swordsmith created a legacy that would shape the future of Japan. The thousand blades he forged decided the victor of the civil war, but those weapons were just practice. His true masterpieces – the 12 Deviant Swords – passed into legend. Now, a wily courtier named Togame has sought the help of a legendary martial artist in tracking them down.
Why you should watch it: It’s a beautiful show. From top to bottom. The painterly and stylised art style, the choreography and animation, the incredibly varied character designs, the eclectic yet fitting soundtrack, the plot, the characters, the themes and the way that the writers and director manage to pull them all together into an even greater whole. The relationship between the two protagonists has one of the most fun dynamics I’ve seen in anime: simultaneously sweet, funny, and continuously changing as they learn more about each other and themselves. I particularly liked the casual intimacy, in a medium that often struggles to have characters physically close without playing it for laughs. Each episode works almost as a standalone, but when strung together form a truly beautiful story. The show gives its themes space for elaboration without becoming navel-gazing, and keeps things moving with a blend of comedy, action, and conversation.
Caveats: If you’ve tried any of the writer’s other works – particularly the Monogatari series – you’re likely familiar with the sheer weight of dialogue he heaps onto every scene, and Katanagatari is no exception. Characters will talk while they walk, eat, relax, and fight. It’s all well-written stuff, but I know that it bothers some people so it’s worth mentioning up-front.
Themes: The burden of legacy. How you need to abandon the past, abandon the expectations placed upon you and the grand goals you set for yourself, and simply live. After all, time brings an end to all things, and the moments that pass will never be recaptured. Living for others and not yourself is the act of a tool – a sword – not a true person. But despite being a show about mortality and futility, it manages to convey a bright message all the same.
What it’s about: Fate has a sense of humour. As a samurai-in-training during the turbulent Japanese Sengoku era, Jin dreamed of an unbreakable steel body and unbending heart. And, after his death, his wishes are granted – via re-incarnation in the modern age as a Korean coffee vending-machine. With his enemies long since passed and a body unsuited to his ambitions, Jin struggles to find meaning in his new life, until a college student, Hemi, drunkenly carts his steel frame up to her room one night.
Why you should watch it: It’s a somewhat avant-garde short film, but the story it tells is ultimately quite simple. That’s actually one of the major draws of the piece. That, and the bizarre, almost dream-like fantasy setting that the characters seem to take almost completely in stride. The show is more or less an ongoing conversation punctuated by the occasional action scene – it feels almost like an indie European animation, really. In all, Coffee Samurai is a charming, whimsical story of love and evil polar-bear ninjas. If you want a relaxing fairy-tale, something a bit out-of-the-norm, give it a try.
Caveats: At times, it just feels a little empty. The minimalist soundtrack, the introspective dialogue, and the rambling nature of the story come together in an odd fashion. Not necessarily bad, but odd.
Themes: Growing out of dreams and finding new ones. Love sprouting from the strangest places.
Similar works:Cencoroll and several of Makoto Shinkai’s movies, such as The Place Promised in Our Early Days.
What it’s about: Filling in an online “Otaku Quiz” is an odd way for your life to be turned upside-down, but that’s exactly what’s happened to Shinichi. It turns out that the Japanese government has made contact with another world, one filled with magical races and fantastical creatures. The ruler of this strange land has expressed an interest in learning about Japanese culture, and it’s down to Shinichi to act as a “cultural ambassador”, exporting anime, manga, and otaku culture to a new frontier.
Why you should watch it: It’s a fairly light-hearted comedy mixed with a fantasy adventure. Outbreak Company is otaku culture poking fun at itself, with constant references to existing anime, manga, or media tropes. On top of the referential jokes and self-parody are a lot of slapstick and some relationship humour between Shinichi and the expanding cast of characters that he meets as part of his new job. And while there’s plenty to laugh at, the show actually does do a good job of conveying some deeper messages about cultural imperialism, discrimination, and commercialism. It also has a half-elf maid, animal-girls, and a tsundere princess. What’s not to love?
Caveats: The show doesn’t make many mistakes, as such, but it never really tries to be *great*. While I had a lot of fun while watching it, I don’t really expect to remember all that much about the characters or plot a year from now. In short, it’s a fun but ultimately disposable show.
Themes: It has a little to say about a lot of things. Commercialism, materialism, objectification, cultural imperialism, the negatives and positives of “otaku culture”. But at its core, it’s about spreading the ideas that you love and support to another person, while desperately hoping that they’ll like it too. Overall, the thematic development plays second or third fiddle to the comedy and fan-service elements of the show, which is just fine in a fun, light-hearted show like this.
Similar works:No Game No Life. For a more serious take on “Modern Japan meets fantasy world”, Gate.