thriller

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.
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Paranoia Agent

Paranoia Agent

paranoia

  • Trailer: Fan-made English dubbed trailer
  • What it’s about: Tsukiko Sagi, creator of the beloved cartoon character Maromi, is on her way home from work when she’s attacked from behind. The description she gives of her assailant – a young boy with a bent golden baseball bat and inline skates – leads the media to dub him “Shonen Bat” (‘Lil Slugger in the English dub). But while Tsukiko was the first victim, she’s far from the last. The police are put under increasing pressure as more and more people are attacked, with seemingly no connection between the incidents or the people involved.
  • Why you should watch it: Paranoia Agent is the sole foray by the acclaimed director Satoshi Kon into TV anime. It’s a psychological mystery show aimed at an exclusively adult audience, and it isn’t afraid to swim in deeper waters in its content and themes. While loosely episodic, every character’s story ties into the central plot in some fashion, providing different insights into the mystery of Shonen Bat, little snippets of this giant world that you are trying to piece together. In the end, the multiple pieces come together to form something pretty amazing, that may or may not leave a good mark depending on how you enjoyed the rest of the show. The animation and character designs really stand out from the crowd, and Kon’s use of dreamlike sequences, magical realism and blurring the lines between fantasy and reality makes this a surprising and fun watch, especially as the plot comes to a head in the final few episodes. It also has one of the weirdest and most subtly disturbing intros of all time.
  • Caveats: This is a weird show. It doesn’t so much play with your expectations as throw them out and invite you to keep up. Disregarding convention can work really well for some people, but for a general crowd it’s just off-putting, and opinions are split on how well the show treads the line. It can also at times seem like it’s not really going anywhere, particularly with the trio of almost standalone stories in episodes 8-10.
  • Themes: The lies people tell themselves, and the false fronts they put up for others. The way that people tend to seize upon easy solutions and escapes rather than actually solve problems, and the way this comes back to hurt themselves and others. The power that fear, stress, paranoia, gossip and imagination hold over human society, and the way that mass media only heightens the effects. People more familiar than I with Japanese society read it as a condemnation of post-war Japan itself, particularly “kawaii culture” and otaku-ism. There’s a lot of different ways to read the show.
  • Similar works: The works of Haruki Murakami. Wind-up Bird Chronicle and maybe 1Q84 in particular. David Lynch too, now that I think about it. Within anime, look to Kon’s film work, such as Paprika and Perfect Blue, or to psychological shows like Serial Experiments Lain.

Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne

Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne

mnemosyne

  • Trailer: English dubbed trailer
  • What it’s about: The fruits of Yggdrasil float unseen on the winds across Tokyo. Most have no effect, but on rare occasions a person can unknowingly absorb one, becoming immortal. Rin was one such person, and in the years since, she has set up a private detective agency looking to help people with unusual problems. But many seek the immortality that she has gained by accident, and are willing to use any means – technological, biological or otherwise – to achieve their goal.
  • Why you should watch it: Mnemosyne is a thoroughly mature thriller series. Comprising six 45-minute episodes, it’s packed with levels of violence, sex, and gore that would make even HBO proud. The show has a rich and vibrant mythology and its storytelling style is ambitious, refreshingly different. I also quite enjoyed the way that the story spanned over sixty years. It was a nice touch to have the characters age, move on, and die, giving room for the next generation. All except for Rin herself, of course. The English dubbing for the show isn’t half-bad either.
  • Caveats: The soundtrack and fight choreography don’t really do the show much justice. They honestly seem kind of phoned in. The show is unabashedly erotic at parts – don’t watch it with anyone you’d be uncomfortable watching, say, Game of Thrones’ more raunchy scenes by your side. Finally, the violence is used well for shock value to begin with, but it starts edging uncomfortably into “torture porn” at some points.
  • Themes: The search for immortality, contrasted against people wasting their lives or dying early.
  • Similar works: Speed Grapher, Canaan, Kara no Kyoukai

Ghost in the Shell

Ghost in the Shell

gits

  • Trailer: DVD trailer
  • What it’s about: The year is 2029 and the world has been fundamentally changed by the ongoing digital revolution. Cybernetics and mind uploading has become common-place, and those with the ability to hack into such systems are regarded as national assets. The story follows a group of police officers trying to track down one such hacker, a person known only as “The Puppetmaster”.
  • Why you should watch it: Ghost in the Shell is one of the true classics of the entire medium. It’s a must-see if you want to understand how anime got to the way it is today. The animation stands up surprisingly well for a series that’s almost twenty years old, and the plot masterfully combines action and philosophy without a single stumble. The soundtrack, aesthetic, and plot ideas have inspired dozens if not hundreds of copycat attempts.
  • Caveats: The animation does hold up well, but it’s nonetheless obvious that this is an older work, particularly with regards to sound design.
  • Themes: Mind/Body duality. The nature of consciousness and the soul
  • Similar works: Akira, Psycho-Pass, Bubblegum Crisis. Outside of anime, Blade Runner and Neuromancer.

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo

gankutsuou

  • Trailer: DVD trailer (poor quality)
  • What it’s about: An anime re-telling of the Andre Dumas “blockbuster” The Count of Monte Cristo, with a few twists. Most prominently, the setting has been changed from Enlightenment-era Europe to a space-faring sci-fi civilisation. Secondly, the point of view character is no longer the Count himself but Albert Morcerf, the young man embroiled in the Count’s schemes for revenge. The shift in perspective and “in media res” setup makes the Count appear far more sinister and otherworldly than the original tale.
  •  Why you should watch it: The Count of Monte Cristo is a classic, classic tale of revenge. Gankutsuou reworks it slightly, but the core of the story remains – a brilliant, scheming mastermind who is all too happy to manipulate pawns and characters to achieve his ends. It weaves mystery and action into its plot from start to finish, and it’s never boring to watch.
  • Caveats: The artstyle. It’s weird, there’s no other word for it. But it was a deliberate choice by the creators, and it does grow on you after a few episodes. Here are some screencaps as a demonstration of what to expect: [1] [2].
  • Themes: Revenge, ennui.
  • Similar works: Code Geass, Monster. Outside of anime, the original Count of Monte Cristo is an obvious choice, along with other modern derivatives such as V for Vendetta or The Stars’ Tennis Balls.

Kara no Kyoukai

Kara no Kyoukai

knk

  • Trailer: DVD trailer
  • What it’s about: An urban fantasy set in the TYPE-MOON universe, Kara no Kyoukai is a series of “films” (more like extended episodes). The story focuses on a…specialist detective agency of sorts, made up of a cynical magus named Toko Aozaki and two younger characters. The first, Mikiya Kokuto, is an everyman – a harmless, friendly guy who contributes much of the brains and heart of the show. The second and arguably primary protagonist is Shiki Ryogi, a beautiful but unsociable girl with an incredibly powerful gift. The first film is set some years after their introduction, though the storyline bounces around from episode to episode.
  • Why you should watch it: Kara no Kyoukai is something of a cross between a mystery series, an action series, and a romance series. The animation is first-rate (as expected of ufotable), and the directorial choices are generally spot on. Add onto that a phenomenal soundtrack and you’ve got a strong contender right out of the gate. The story itself is something like a puzzle, made up of self-contained episodes shown out of chronological order (if you’re familiar with The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, it’s a lot like that). There’s enough going on in each episode to keep you interested but the series requires you to take a holistic view, seeing each episode as part of a greater whole.
  • Caveats: This was one of Nasu’s earlier writing projects, and it shows. The first episode or two are quite slow, with much of the necessary context left unexplained until “flashback” episodes later on. Episodes 5 and 7 are by far the strongest and to some degree carry the entire series.
  • Themes: Dualism, identity.
  • Similar works: Canaan, Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne

Paprika

Paprika

paprika

  • Trailer: DVD trailer
  • What it’s about: What it’s about: A computer system has been developed to aid in psychotherapy, allowing trained therapists to accompany patients into their dreams and explore their subconscious issues. But there’s a problem. It seems one of the units has gone missing – an unsecured system that allows anyone to hack into the dreams of anyone else. The story follows a scientist and her dream-avatar Paprika as they try to track down and contain whoever has the rogue system.
  • Why you should watch it: The visuals on Paprika are stunning – there’s no other word for it. Satoshi Kon is one of the true masters of video editing and blending one scene into the next for a dreamlike experience – Western directors like Christopher Nolan have been cribbing from his work for years. The plot of Paprika is relatively simple but maintains its momentum throughout. All in all, it’s a psychedelic experience, a good trip in every sense of the phrase.
  • Caveats: As mentioned, it’s a fairly simple story, but certain elements can be confusing.
  • Themes: Dreams and the nature of reality.
  • Similar works: Anything by Philip K Dick. The movie adaptation of A Scanner Darkly is particularly apropos.  Within anime, any of the other works by Satoshi Kon such as  Paranoia Agent or Perfect Blue. The guy has a very distinctive style of editing and storytelling.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Madoka Magica

madoka

This show is one of the hardest to discuss without spoiling in advance, simply because from the description it sounds utterly unlike anything the average anime fan might be looking for, unless they’re into “magical girl” series. That is, until it changes. That said:

  • What it’s about: Madoka Magica begins with the standard “Magical Girl anime” set-up – the moral and upstanding Madoka is approached by two strangers. The first is an adorable-looking alien named Kyubey, who offers to fulfill any wish a teenage girl might have, provided that she’s willing to sign on the dotted line and risk her life fighting against strange and dangerous beings known as “witches”. The second is a mysterious girl her own age named Homura, who strenuously warns Madoka against taking up the offer.
  • Why you should watch it: Madoka Magica is one of the most highly-rated anime series of all time, and for good reason. It’s often called a deconstruction of the magical girl genre, though there’s some argument as to how accurate that description is. Whether it is or not, after the show gets going, the brakes come off the train as the plot careens towards an action-packed conclusion, with a massive amount of character development stuffed in along the way. The package is completed with a gorgeous soundtrack and a unique approach to animating action sequences that makes this an incredibly memorable series.
  • Caveats: This show is the reason for the standard recommendation that people try out several episodes of a show before deciding whether or not to finish it. Also, once you strip away the thematic elements that define the show, it is at its heart a Magical Girl series. If you’re utterly unwilling to countenance watching it based on that, then, well, fair enough.
  • Themes: Utilitarianism. Faustian bargains. Hope, despair, and sacrifice. Some see Buddhist or Christian overtones.
  • Similar works: Anything by Gen Urobuchi (Psycho-pass, Fate/Zero). Steins;Gate. Selector Infected WIXOSS tries to do for the “card game anime” what Madoka did for the Magical Girl genre. If Madoka *does* get you interested in seeing other decent Magical Girl shows, give Revolutionary Girl Utena or Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru a go.

Death Note

Death Note

deathnote

  • Trailer: English dubbed version
  •  What it’s about: One day, a hyperintelligent but bored teenager finds a notebook with a set of instructions attached: write someone’s name in the book while thinking of their face, and they will die. He immediately sets about trying to use this new power to “purify” the world of all criminals and set up a new social order with himself at the head. In the process, he ends up pitting his wits against an equally brilliant detective trying to put a stop to the ongoing murders.
  • Why you should watch it: Death Note is a cornerstone of modern anime; it’s one of the few shows almost universally regarded as a decent entry-point into the medium. The story is gripping, fast-paced, and full of twists and turns. Light Yagami is one of the most expert renderings of a descent into sociopathy that I’ve seen in modern fiction, and his conflict with L is endlessly fascinating. The show is the closest anime has come to “Breaking Bad”.
  •  Caveats: The first thing people talk about when it comes to Death Note is the endless “PLOT TWIST”s – a certain level of suspension of disbelief is required with regards to some of what goes on. The second thing everybody will talk about is that the latter half is noticeably weaker than the early material. It’s true that there’s a sudden lurch in the pacing after a particularly critical event, and plot holes begin to build up in the race to the finish-line. But if you’re willing to roll with it, Death Note remains solidly entertaining from start to end.
  • Themes: Corruption of power. Ennui and hubris.
  • Similar works: Plotwise, Code GeassZankyou no Terror has a similar dynamic to it.

Zankyou no Terror

Zankyou no Terror

zankyou

  • Trailer: PV Trailer
  • What it’s about: Two teenagers with a mysterious past, who go by the codenames Nine and Twelve, engage in a battle of wits with the Tokyo police. While setting up terrorist attacks with an aim towards minimal casualties and maximum property damage, they run into the lonely Lisa Mishima, a schoolgirl desperate to find somewhere to belong.
  • Why you should watch it: Zankyou no Terror does for the terrorist what Dexter did for the serial killer. It provides a human face without trivialising the horror of what they’re actually doing. The characters are complex and the premise is very interesting. It’s an intellectual thriller with a wealth of symbolism to be found with even a surface reading, from the legend of Oedipus to the use of light and dark to other, less obvious allusions. The soundtrack is thoroughly modern and the show contains one or two pieces of animation that are going to go down as a new high watermark. If I had to sum up the show so far in one word, it would be “Intelligent”.
  • Caveats: The second act is not quite as strong as the first, failing to capitalise on much of what made the opening episodes so interesting and introducing a rather cartoonish villain. For no apparent reason, really. Things pick back up towards the end, but a lot of time is wasted that could have been better spent on developing the characters and themes. Also beware of horrible, horrible Engrish.
  • Themes: The power of symbols, which ties directly back into the theme of terrorism. A new generation’s rejection of (and by) society. Antipathy towards the sins of the past and the shadows cast into the present. Youthful disaffection leading to rebellion leading to…revolution? Lots of playing around with this general motif.
  • Similar works: Death Note. Eden of the East is kind of similar, but it’s a lot more lighthearted.