Author: kdarkdiamond

Gangsta.

Gangsta.

Gangsta

  • Trailer: PV Trailer
  • What it’s about: The city of Ergastulum is rotten to the core, a battleground for mobsters and chemically-enhanced former soldiers known as Twilights. But even – or perhaps *especially* – in a place as corrupt as this, there’s room for some honest mercenary work, and it’s here that the “Handymen” ply their trade. The suave and laid-back Worick Arcangelo and his deaf Twilight companion Nicolas provide their services to both sides of the law, from bodyguard work and errand-running to more…hands-on cleaning-up of the city.
  • Why you should watch it: Gangsta is violent, gritty, and a heck of a lot of fun. Action shows with an adult cast are few and far between in anime, and ones with a production value as high as Gangsta are even rarer. The fight scenes remind me a lot of [Attack on Titan](https://animesuggestblog.wordpress.com/2014/09/29/attack-on-titan/) with their focus on superhuman sword-wielding acrobatics and the heavy-lined and clean character art in grungy urban backdrops. The general “noir” feeling of the Ergastulum underworld is a welcome break from the anime norm, and I definitely appreciated the focus given to a character with a handicap.
  • Caveats: The art is gorgeous for the first half of the show, but budget issues definitely affected the quality in the second. Normally with shows with such an explicitly Western setting I’d recommend the English dub, but I think in this case one is pretty much as good as the other, with the Japanese voice actor for Nicolas putting on a more convincing “deaf voice”.
  • Similar works: Black Lagoon, Gunsmith Cats, Darker than Black
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Katanagatari

Katanagatari

Katanagatari

  • Trailer: NISAmerica trailer
  • 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.
  • Similar works: Samurai Champloo, Hitsugi no Chaika and, oddly enough, Spice and Wolf.

Coffee Samurai

Coffee Samurai

Coffee Samurai

  • Trailer: Fan-made trailer
  • 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.

Outbreak Company

Outbreak Company

Outbreak Company

  • Trailer: Opening animation
  • 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.

Btooom!

Btooom!

btooom

  • Trailer: PV Trailer
  • What it’s about: Ryouta Sakamoto, veteran player of the online  first-person-shooter game Btooom!, wanted to make his hobby into a career by applying to work with the game’s developers. But he didn’t expect his life to change like *this*. He awakes one day on a tropical island equipped with a bag of bombs, a crystal embedded in his hand, and no idea how he got there. But whether he wanted it or not, Ryouta has been entered into a real-life game of Btooom!, with no rematches or respawns. The only way to get back home is to kill seven other hapless participants, all equipped with their own bombs and just as strong a desire to survive.
  • Why you should watch it: It’s a classic battle-royale anime, with a strong focus on tactical action scenes and big explosions. The ways that Ryouta and others adapt their particular skillsets and the equipment that they’ve been given into combat on the island is a lot of fun to watch, as are the plots and betrayals within the various groups. It’s easy to knock it as a derivative of an increasingly popular trend, but it does add some interesting twists on the common story. If you’re a fan of “survival” shows or action anime in general, Btooom! is worth checking out.
  • Caveats: One of the key features of a battle royale is having a wide cast of characters, and the success or failure of these types of shows is in how well it manages to balance the character development of each party. Btooom! kind of puts all of its eggs in one basket with the protagonist pair, leaving most of the side-characters as a bit one-note. Whatever your initial impression of them in the first five seconds is, that’s pretty much as far as they go. The show was also produced mostly as an advertisement for the manga, so while the current arc is wrapped up by the final episode, it’s not a complete story.
  • Themes: Man’s darker desires, and how so many people are largely just looking for an excuse to give into them. At the same time, the necessity of trusting others in spite of knowing that, and continuing to extend your hand even after being burned in the past.
  • Similar works: Mirai NikkiDeadman Wonderland. Outside of anime, works like The Hunger Games or Battle Royale.

Yondemasu yo, Azazel-san.

Yondemasu yo, Azazel-san

Azazel

  • Trailer: The PV Trailer for the second season is the most I can find.
  • What it’s about: The Akutabe Detective Agency is successful for a very unusual reason: it solves its cases by summoning demons. Thankfully for the world, these demons are incompetent, lewd, and limited in their powers by the act of summoning, but their abilities are more than enough to cause trouble. Akutabe’s new intern Sakuma contracts with a particularly useless and perverted demon named Azazel, and struggles to get much work out of him at all.
  • Why you should watch it: It’s crude humour done well. Azazel-san never pretends to be more than it is, and instead revels in sex jokes, gross-out gags and slapstick. There’s just *so much* crammed into every episode that you’re certain to find something lowbrow to laugh at. And you can really tell that the voice actors were having a lot of fun with the script – to a man they all put in stellar performances. The art style and sound design are clean, bright, and complement the writing brilliantly – the character designs make great use of caricature for humour. And the episodes are only generally around 10-minutes long, so it’s not that much of a time commitment to complete the whole run in a binge.
  • Caveats: The show comprises a set of two-episode arcs, and some of the set-ups or characters do fall a little flat. When you find that you’re not enjoying a particular storyline (for me, the ‘pervert arc’ and ‘hospital arc’ of the second season were a bit of a miss), it’s easy enough to just skip ahead. There’s no real greater storyline going on, though there are a few continuity gags thrown in here and there.
  • Themes: “Be careful what you wish for”, at least in the early episodes. It’s fun to watch Sakuma’s changing attitude and outlook as the series progresses and she’s influenced by the idiocy and petty evil of the demonic side of the cast.
  • Similar works: Gintama is probably the best comparison to make.

Song of Saya

Song of Saya (Visual Novel)

Song of Saya

  • Trailer: Fan-dub trailer
  • What it’s about: The fact that he survived the accident was a miracle. To expect him to come out unscathed was too much to ask. Fuminori Sakisaka awakens from the car crash that killed his parents with a bizarre form of agnosia that distorts his perceptions of the world around him into a Lovecraftian hellscape. His friends are writhing fleshy monsters, his food a disgusting mess of gore and filth. Determined to hide his condition for fear of being condemned to an asylum, he contemplates suicide – until a young girl, angelic in contrast to the putrid meat-corridors of the hospital, appears by his bed and introduces herself as Saya.
  • Why you should try it: If you’ve never tried a Visual Novel before, this is a great place to start. Written by the acclaimed Gen Urobuchi, the story takes about the same time to complete as a one-cour anime, and is unusually linear – prompting you for only one *real* decision on how you believe the story deserves to end. Saya no Uta is a story of horror and devotion, of love and monsters both human and otherwise. For all that “tentacle monsters” are a big part of the Western perception of Japanese media, there is a surprising lack of true Lovecraftian horror. Saya no Uta takes up that slack, and weaves into it threads of isolation, sinister desperation and a romance that is both beautiful and horrifying. Finally, the soundtrack is fantastic – I don’t think Shoes of Glass is ever going to come off of my playlist.
  • Caveats: If you are the type of person who requires trigger warnings on the media you consume, steer well clear. Saya no Uta contains murder, rape, cannibalism, slavery, sadism and body horror. It also features H-scenes (porn) with an under-age girl. If you’re not squeamish, or if you’re a fan of Gen Urobuchi’s other works (Madoka Magica, Fate/Zero, Phantom: Requiem), you really should give this a try, though.
  • Themes: The philosophy of aesthetics, and how our senses define us, from our morality – why is it alright to poison cockroaches but not puppies?  – all the way to our sense of identity. The question of which option is the *true end* of the story is left up to the audience, and it’s a tough one to solve.
  • Similar works: Within anime, I’m going to have to say Pupa, but it’s a terrible show and you shouldn’t watch it. Outside, try the works of H.P. Lovecraft.

DanMachi

Dungeon ni Deai wo Motomeru no wa Machigatteiru Darou ka?

Danmachi

  • Trailer: Preview trailer
  • What it’s about: Gods have come to the world, and have decided to have some fun by running it as an RPG. Through performing heroic tasks and killing monsters in the gigantic labyrinth known only as the Dungeon, their followers gain incredible power, wealth, and status. To date, the goddess Hestia has only managed to attract one person into her Familia – the idealistic young adventurer Bell Cranel. But after a chance dungeon encounter provides Bell with the more concrete goal of becoming as strong as possible as quickly as possible, things begin to change for both of them.
  • Why you should watch it: It’s a fun, fast-paced fantasy action show. DanMachi makes the conscious decision to just embrace the tropes of stories like this and run with them, and the result is a polished, charming coming of age story. It manages to balance comedy, action and plot pretty well, and throws in light romantic notes to keep things interesting. The creators have effectively managed to boil down the source material to exactly what’s needed to keep the show moving forward – there’s no wasted space and at least one big “spectacle” scene in every episode. Hestia herself has proven a very popular character, but it’s Bell who carries the show as the naïve but well-meaning (and increasingly bad-ass) protagonist. In short, it’s great light entertainment aimed at a primarily young male audience.
  • Caveats: Well, it’s inevitably going to draw comparisons to Sword Art Online, much of them deserved. I do wish that a show about adventure had been a bit more…adventurous with the story it wanted to tell. Still, there’s nothing wrong with sticking to the classic tropes if you can put a new shine on them, and DanMachi pulls that off quite nicely. The harem elements start to grind as Bell picks up an increasingly preposterous set of admirers without realising that a single one of them is interested in him romantically. Critics nit-pick the loss of the detailed stats and explanations; it’s a valid criticism, but I think it managed to strike a nice balance between exposition and leaving some stuff for the source material itself to expand on.
  • Themes: Nothing all that ground-breaking – it’s a pretty typical “power of heart” shonen action show, where not giving up is the key to both victory and the hearts of beautiful ladies alike.
  • Similar works: Sword Art Online is easily the closest comparison. They even share the same voice actor in the lead role.

150 and counting

And with Serial Experiments Lain, I’ve now written and uploaded 150 of these blurbs. A few months ago I’d put together an alphabetised list of the works and series recommended here. I’ve been keeping it updated, but it’s dropped way off of the front page and was too long to keep stickied.

So to celebrate, here is the list again, and I’ll keep this post up front where it can be easily found.

Serial Experiments Lain

Serial Experiments Lain

Slain

  • Trailer: English dubbed trailer
  • What it’s about: Lain is an isolated, troubled girl. At home, her parents and sister barely acknowledge her existence, and at school her only link to her classmates is her friend Alice. Hers isn’t a unique situation, of course – all across the world, people are becoming disconnected from their real lives, in favour of the digital experiences of the Internet. But increasingly strange events seem to point to a deeper connection between Lain and the world of the Wired.
  • Why you should watch it: Lain is a unique experience. It’s a moody, existential work that trusts the audience enough to let them draw their own conclusions about what is going on, about what is real and why things are playing out as they are. The sound design is fantastic, getting a lot of work out of extended silences, and the soundtrack suits the show. The director’s background in Japanese horror shines through in almost every aspect of the show – there are no (or few) “jump scares”, but Lain manages to evoke an intense feeling of isolation and unease. If you’re up for a slow-burning psychological show that presents you with puzzles and questions you’re going to have to spend some time (or a second viewing) unwrapping, give it a go.
  • Caveats: I think the above section should be enough to decide whether to watch the show or not. It is slow-burning, it is existential and philosophical, and there isn’t a lot of traditional anime “action” going on. Decide for yourself if that’s what you’re looking for, because the show makes no apologies.
  • Themes: The division of fantasy and reality is the heart of the show, with a lot of musing going on about the nature of the self – if everyone agrees on the nature of reality, or that you are a certain type of person, can you really dispute those perceptions? Can a person have more than one identity at a time, and deliberately craft those identities to display different aspects of themselves while still remaining whole?
  • Similar works: The works of Satoshi Kon, particularly Paranoia Agent. Texhnolyze, Ergo Proxy.