romance

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.
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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.

Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun

Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun

Gekkan

  • Trailer: PV Trailer
  • What it’s about: Nozaki has a passion for manga. For writing girls’ manga, to be specific. And he’s successful at it, too, even if nobody at school believes him. Of course, they’d be more likely to do so if his personality wasn’t so stoic and oblivious – to the point where he mistakes a girl’s confession as a request for an autograph.
  • Why you should watch it: It’s less of a romantic comedy than a comedy about romance. As a writer, Nozaki draws inspiration from all of the people he meets, and the shows cast are suitably bizarre and hilarious, from his best friend and ladykiller Mikoto who embarrasses himself with the cheesy lines he spouts, to the obliviously offensive Yuzuki. The show takes a sketch format, with each episode being broken up into several smaller stories about particular incidents or characters.
  • Caveats: There’s no real on-going plot, if that’s important to you. Though the characters are fun enough to riff off of for the whole length of the show.
  • Similar works: Daily Lives of Highschool Boys, The Comic Artist and his Assistants.

Toradora!

Toradora!

toradora

  • Trailer: English dubbed trailer
  • What it’s about: It’s a new year of high school, and once again Ryuji has to convince a new batch of classmates that he’s not as much of a thug as his appearance implies. At the same time, he’s hopelessly trying to work up the nerve to do something about his crush on the lively Minori. To that end, he strikes a deal with Minori’s best friend Taiga – he’ll help her with her own crush on his friend Yusaku, if Taiga lends a hand getting Minori’s attention.
  • Why you should watch it: Toradora! is not an innovative show. What it does do, though, is polish the tried and tested anime romcom formula to a perfect shine. There’s no flab in the story – even the standard beach episode, cultural festival episode and Christmas episode all work to progress the plot and to provide actual character development rather than empty fan-service. The characters themselves are fantastic. They’re all multilayered people and not just the bland stereotypes the first appear to be. All of them are lying to each other, to the audience, and in many cases to themselves about who they are and what they want, and the show does a fantastic job of slowly teasing out who these characters are underneath it all.
  • Caveats: While there are depths to the characters, many of them fit archetypes pretty closely at first glance. Taiga in particular seems to be your standard hyper-violent “tsundere” for the first couple of episodes. Stick with it.
  • Themes: Fumbling through adolescence and your first real relationships. Trying to “help” people by lying to yourself about what you actually want, and how it ends up just causing more problems down the road.
  • Similar works: Toradora! is a great poster-child for the entire genre of anime rom-coms, so you’ll find similarities with a lot of them. Try out Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo.

The Tale of Genji

The Tale of Genji

Genji

  • Trailer: Fan-made AMV (ITA subtitles)
  • What it’s about: Despite being the second son of the Japanese Emperor, Prince Genji was removed from the line of succession due to his mother’s status as a concubine. As a young man, Genji is listless and without an outlet for his ambition. He spends his days seeking pleasure and leisure, seducing the beauties of the court and building a reputation for himself as a serial womaniser and romantic. But in his heart, he pines for the woman who helped raise him, the Emperor’s new wife Lady Fujitsubo.
  • Why you should watch it: The Tale of Genji is one of the oldest known novels, and a true classic of Japanese literature. The anime adaptation is a mature romantic drama, exploring the character of a young man who wants for nothing – except perhaps for love. The show condenses the story admirably, moving through the highlights of Genji’s story – his conquests and his failures – without lingering or rushing. The visuals are bright and aesthetically quite pleasing. At the start, the character designs seem a bit odd. But they evoke the classic origins of the story quite nicely. All in all, it’s a melodrama with its own very distinctive style. Try it if you want something different in the romance department.
  • Caveats: The show is first and foremost a soap opera. It’s written to appeal primarily to the demographic of older women, and this is reflected in every aspect from the characters to the dialogue to the overall feel of the show. As a fairly faithful translation of a classic work, it suffers a bit from outdated ideas about romance – Genji himself is given a bit more sympathy than I’d be personally willing to extend over his own actions.
  • Themes: Ennui. The power of love, including its power to destroy through jealousy, lack of reciprocation or pining for a forbidden romance.
  • Similar works: School Days, oddly enough.

Psychic School Wars

Psychic School Wars

psychicschoolwars

  • Trailer: English subtitled version
  • What it’s about: Seki’s worries are small in scale. There’s a girl in his high school that he’s trying to work up the nerve to confess to, his childhood friend won’t stop teasing him, and he can’t seem to make it into class on time. But things begin to change when a handsome, enigmatic transfer student arrives in his class. People begin to act strangely, or stop coming into school altogether. And why was it that the first words he heard from the new guy were “So this is Earth”?
  • Why you should watch it:* This is an utterly gorgeous movie. The animation, backgrounds, and especially the lighting are simply stunning in every scene. Despite the film’s title, it’s is not an action movie about psychic battles. Rather, it’s a gently meandering drama with a romantic bent to it. The plot is almost a sideline to the character interactions and simply presenting a visual feast for viewers to indulge in. Everything about the movie is calming, delicate and completely beautiful to watch.
  • Caveats: As mentioned above, don’t go into this expecting psychic battles, despite the name. I think the runtime could have been condensed a little; an hour and a half would have been enough to cover everything that needed to be said. Make sure to watch the after-credits scene.
  • Themes: Lack of communication as the root of most problems.
  • Similar works: 5 cm per second, Harmonie

Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance

Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance

bladedance

  • Trailer: Anime opening/intro
  • What it’s about: Areisha Academy has long been the place to go to train in handling elemental spirits, for those with the talent and the social rank to qualify. Of course, only women are capable of forming a contract with these spirits in the first place. At least until word comes down that a new student will be arriving shortly, a male student named Kamito. Why is he here, and does it have something to do with the upcoming inter-school Blade Dance tournament?
  • Why you should watch it: It’s a harem romcom with a heavy action focus, similar to Infinite Stratos or Familiar of Zero. The protagonist is refreshingly competent and willing to flirt with the many girls he ends up running into, on and off of the battlefield. He’s neither dense, nor a pervert, nor incompetent, unlike so many harem male leads. The whole story is leavened by a strong dose of slapstick humour and ecchi fanservice – oh so much fanservice. The action scenes are brightly animated and have some nice choreography to them, and the show does well at spinning out the mystery of Kamito’s past. It’s a fun, lighthearted romp.
  • Caveats: The show doesn’t really venture very far out of the established tropes of the genre. Which is perfectly fine if you’re a fan of shows like this and want to see more of the same. But it is just that – more of the same.
  • Similar works: Infinite Stratos, Familiar of Zero.

Sakura Trick

Sakura Trick

sakuratrick

  • Trailer: PV Trailer
  • What it’s about: Haruka and Yuu have been best friends for most of their lives. After transferring into the final intake of a high school due to be closed, Haruka is worried that their friendship won’t survive the transition. As a sign of how serious the two are about each other, they make a dare to kiss one another in an abandoned classroom. From there, their relationship only gets deeper, but they have to keep it a secret from their classmates and families.
  • Why you should watch it: Sakura Trick is one of the most adorable romcoms that I’ve seen in a long time. The key ingredient to the whole mixture is the innocence of the relationship, though having two or more extended kissing scenes in every episode certainly makes a nice counterpoint to the “show no progress” mentality of most such shows. The animation is simple but bright, and the comedy of the show is endearing. If you want a case of the warm fuzzies, pick up the show at your convenience.
  • Caveats: Each episode is broken into five-minute “sketches” with only a loose overarching continuity. There’s no real long-running storyline here, though certain elements continue to develop as the show goes on.
  • Themes: Blurring the line between friendship and romance.
  • Similar works: Candy Boy, Inugami-san to Nekoyama-san

Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo

Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo

sakurasou

  • Trailer: PV Trailer
  • What it’s about: The Sakurasou dorm has a reputation at Suimei University – it’s where the administration houses its most troubled, desperate, or just plain weird students to keep them out of the way. Sorata has been living in the house for the better part of a year, after refusing to abandon an adopted cat. Now word has come in that a new resident is arriving; a transfer student from England named Mashiro. While extremely artistically talented, it turns out that she’s completely unable to look after herself, and Sorata is left in charge of handling her everyday life.
  • Why you should watch it: Sakurasou has a lot going for it. It’s a slice of life romcom, but those words don’t really do it justice. The heart of the series is in how it plays every member of the core cast off against one another. There’s enough space in the 24-episode run to explore each of the relationships in depth, to build the characters up from their initial impressions into fully-fledged personalities. You really get a sense that these people are friends, rather than actors. And if that’s not enough, the plot of the show is deeper than it appears at first glance, and it addresses its central themes with adroitness. The artwork is warm and bright, and I was quite impressed with the detail that the animators put into the manga, paintings and other artwork within the show itself.
  • Caveats: The romance aspect of the show is a little weaker than the rest, playing off of the typical anime-protagonist indecisiveness and denseness to delay resolution. The show has a moderate amount of fanservice, mostly frontloaded into the first few episodes. Finally, avoid the Coalgirls-subtitled version. The changes they make to the script aren’t really an improvement. Go with the Crunchyroll or Rori subs.
  • Themes: Talent and hard work, in combination and competition. The show deviates slightly from the standard “you can do anything if you try hard enough” anime storytelling approach. It’s remarkably realistic in showing interactions between those with natural talent and those without. At the same time, it’s careful to show that it’s not the be-all and end-all when it comes to living happily.
  • Similar works: Toradora!