action

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.

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.

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.

Gunsmith Cats

Gunsmith Cats

Gunsmith Cats

  • Trailer: Compilation of original trailers
  • What it’s about: There’s a wide grey space between legal and illegal, and that’s where Rally Vincent and Minnie May Hopkins have chosen to set up shop, supplying guns and other arms to a diverse crowd of customers. Of course, it also leaves them open to blackmail – which is exactly what happens when ATF Agent Bill Collins strongarms the pair into assisting with the investigation of a gunrunning ring he’s been assigned to look into.
  • Why you should watch it: It’s a classic “girls with guns” show, from before fan-service became more important than action in the genre. There are only three OVAs in the series, but they use the time wisely to flesh out the overall plot. The characters are fun and charismatic, and comfortable firing off both bullets and one-liners. Rally and May in particular play off each other fantastically, though Bill is no slouch in his scenes either. The show also manages to capture the feel of a gritty American action-drama from the 80s or 90s in a way that has you forgetting that it’s actually a Japanese cartoon.  Overall, Gunsmith Cats does a really good job of blending the fight-sequences together with a certain amount of light comedy without becoming a self-parody.
  • Caveats: Since the OVAs are just a single arc, there’s not a lot of time to spare for character development. The plot itself is “classic” enough to be predictable to those familiar with the archetypes.
  • Similar works: Riding Bean, Black Lagoon, Gangsta.

Junketsu no Maria

Junketsu no Maria

junketsunomaria

  • Trailer: Fan-made AMV
  • What it’s about: The Hundred Years War is in full swing, and France and England are at each other’s throats. When peasants from a nearby village are levied for the latest battle, the witch Maria steps in, using her magic to bring the fighting to a standstill. But as her use of magic becomes too obvious to ignore, the archangel Michael intervenes, putting a watcher in place to ensure that her sorcery remains secret, under pain of death.
  • Why you should watch it: Sex jokes and large-scale medieval battles. Junketsu no Maria offers a surprisingly accurate portrayal of the Middle Ages, with some obvious fantastical elements thrown in for good measure. There are no simple villains or heroes to the story – Maria’s interventions in the war are alternately praised by the survivors and cursed for prolonging the conflict and causing greater casualties. I particularly liked the character of the priest Bernard, who is forced to question his faith as the “heathen” witch is saving lives while the Lord’s angels are noticeably silent. The animation is bright, clean, and colourful, and the character designs for the protagonists are great. The plot moves along at a nice clip, and the series manages to wrap up the story completely in 12 episodes (which is a nice bonus in anime).
  • Caveats: While “Maria the Virgin Witch” sounds a lot like the title of a hentai, and the show does have a certain level of fanservice, there’s nothing distractingly raunchy after the first episode or two. The BD version is likely to provide better battle scenes and tidy up some of the niggling animation issues, so get those for the full experience.
  • Themes: The morality of interventionism – when should you step in, and when should you just stand aside and let the parties involved settle things for themselves. There’s a humanist/theist argument going on in the background, and a few nods to the conflict between living in the past and for the future. In all, it’s a show about striking a balance between competing priorities.
  • Similar works: Where Junketsu no Maria is about someone trying to stop war at the ground level, Maoyuu Maou Yuusha follows someone trying to stop war through more abstract means, mostly economic and political.

Zipang

Zipang

Zipang

  • Trailer: Opening animation
  • What it’s about: The Japanese AEGIS Cruiser Mirai is on its way to a routine joint training exercise with the U.S. Navy at Pearl Harbor when it is caught in a strange storm. When the rains and wind pass, they find that there’s no satellite signal and no sign of their escort ships. They soon discover that they’ve left the 21st Century behind – the date is June 4, 1942, and the Battle of Midway is about to begin.
  • Why you should watch it: It’s a fantastic war drama, posing an interesting question: should the crew of the Mirai support their homeland, or maintain neutrality in the hopes of bringing their own future to pass? There’s no right answer, and each of the characters wrestles with the issues that arise from holding information and military power that could turn the tide of the greatest war in modern history. Refreshingly for a show about war, neither side (nor any of the characters, in fact) are made into simple bad guys. Everyone has their own ideals, their own ideas about what to make of the situation that they’ve now found themselves in.
  • Caveats: This is a drama with action scenes, not an action show with dramatic scenes. Don’t go in expecting explosions and battles in every episode. Also, the show was produced for the purpose of drawing people into reading the manga, and the ending is an obvious invitation to do just that. Finally, the CGI scenes are pretty basic. Thankfully, they’re not the focus of the show, usually being simple transition and establishing shots of the fleets and aircraft.
  • Themes: Do you sacrifice a known and prosperous future for the lives being lost in the present? Where does ones duty lie – to country? captain? friends or strangers? Can a people brought up in peace truly judge the actions of soldiers fighting to defend their homeland?
  • Similar works: John Birmingham’s Axis of Time novels have a very similar premise (though it’s an American fleet transported back, rather than a single Japanese cruiser). Within anime, Flag and, to a lesser extent, Legend of the Galactic Heroes.

Garo: Honoo no Kokuin

Garo: Honoo no Kokuin

Garo

  • Trailer: PV Trailer
  • What it’s about: The border between the world of demons and the human world is paper-thin. Strong negative emotions invite Horrors across the gap – monsters who possess those in despair to wreak havoc. Until recently, the threat of these Horrors was kept in check by the order of Makai Knights. All of that changed when the Makai Knights were accused of witchcraft, and the order has been hunted to all but extinction. Leon Lewis wants to live up to the ideals of the Makai, while wrestling with his own desire for revenge against those who burned his mother at the stake.
  • Why you should watch it: An adaptation of a long-running and hugely successful live-action series, Garo has a rich world and mythology to draw upon. The show spins a grand tale of heroism and vengeance. The real heart of the story, though, lies with the characters. They’re all well-written, and the voice actors (especially that of the scheming advisor Mendoza) put in some stellar performances. Leon’s character arc in particular is excellently realised – while he starts out looking to be your cookie-cutter brooding teenage angst-magnet, his struggles and failures throughout the show serve to temper and strengthen him into a genuine hero by the end.
  • Caveats: The show struggles a bit in some of the early episodes with balancing the need for impressive fight scenes against its animation budget. Garo is a show that gets steadily better as it settles into its pace, but there’s no real “wow” moment to hold out for. If the first few episodes don’t appeal to you, feel free to drop it.
  • Themes: Garo is at its core a story about not giving into negativity, of suffering and coming out stronger on the other side. The destructive outcome of doing that is shown physically in the creation of Horrors, and more personally in Leon’s ongoing struggle with his own rage and bloodthirst. Every character in the show suffers or has suffered losses, and they all deal with it differently.
  • Similar works: The live-action show is an obvious place to move onto if you enjoyed this. It has a completely different setting and set of characters, but the lore and the themes are much the same. Shingeki no Bahamut is another anime to look at, if you haven’t already seen it.

Parasyte

Parasyte

kiseijuu

  • Trailer: PV Trailer
  • What it’s about: Alien parasites have quietly begun to appear across the world. After seizing control of a host body, they blend in while discreetly murdering and consuming new victims. Shinichi was almost the victim of one such being, but some quick thinking trapped the parasite within his hand. Now the two of them must co-operate to survive, as other aliens see their situation as an unacceptable risk for exposure.
  • Why you should watch it: Adapted from a tremendously popular manga series from the early ‘90s, Parasyte is a thriller with a tinge of horror to it. The entire run of the source material is being adapted, which makes a nice change from partial translations meant to act more as advertisements than standalone works. Madhouse have also shown adroitness in adapting the story to a more modern world – nothing seems particularly dated or out of place. The soundtrack is fantastic – even if you don’t want to watch the series I’d advise picking up the OST. It’s also one of those rare works that are eminently approachable from a non-anime watcher’s point of view. There are no overused jokes, tropes, or other pandering. Just action, suspense, and a solid character arc for the protagonist.
  • Caveats: It’s fair to say that Shinichi and Migi carry the show, in that very little time is spent developing any of the secondary cast. The dubstep elements of the soundtrack were slightly controversial during the opening episodes, but I think they fit in just fine. While clever editing and composition limit the censorship, there’s still a little bit here and there.
  • Themes: Cold logic versus emotion. Prioritisation of one’s own survival versus the survival of the community, tied in to a general environmentalist theme. Humanity as a natural/”evil” force.
  • Similar works: Tokyo Ghoul‘s protagonist faces much the same sort of situation. Shiki offers the same kind of horror, but ramps it up significantly.

Gunbuster

Gunbuster

Gunbuster

  • Trailer: Italian subtitled trailer
  • What it’s about: For ten years, Humanity has been at war with an alien menace, a space-borne race with innumerable ships and whose only aim is the consumption of stars and the destruction of mankind. Noriko’s father was killed in one of the first fleet actions of the war, and now she trains in the hope of fighting back from the cockpit of a combat mech.
  • Why you should watch it: Gunbuster’s main claim to fame is being the directorial debut of Hideki Anno (creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion). This sells it a bit short, though – the show stands on its own two legs as a great example of 80s “giant robot” battlers. Noriko’s journey from her time as a trainee to her final battle is well mapped-out, and the audience gets to see her struggle and overcome her fears, feelings, and failings, as well as the various perils of space combat. One particularly impressive element is the show’s use of realistic time-dilation as a plot point. On top of the dangers they face in the fight itself, they know that every battle drags them farther away from home.
  • Caveats: The first episode is a deliberate parody of the tennis show Aim for the Ace!. If you haven’t seen it before going in, this is the reason for the absurd mecha gymnastics and sports-show storyline. Things do pick up in later episodes, but it exacerbates the problems of a short run-time – the emotional impact that events have on Noriko doesn’t match up with the audience’s experience because we’re not given enough time for things to soak in. Finally, Gunbuster is very much a product of its time; the soundtrack and the visual aesthetics are pure 1980s. Be prepared for cheese. And random nudity.
  • Themes: Mortality and the transience of life. Even in a worthwhile cause, time is spent faster than you might think. But the relationships people forge are truly eternal.
  • Similar works:* The follow-up Diebuster is a good place to start. Otherwise, Knights of Sidonia for another standard mecha vs alien show, or Neon Genesis Evangelion for more of Anno’s vision of how the genre should work. Outside of anime, Ender’s Game bears a lot of similarities.