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.

Girls und Panzer

Girls und Panzer

Girlsundpanzer

  • Trailer: English dubbed trailer
  • What it’s about: Sensha-do. Tankery. The Way of the Tank. As explained in the show itself, it’s “A strong, but delicate art that aims to make women more polite, graceful, modest, and gallant, both on and off the battlefield. To learn tankery is to armor the heart of a maiden, the soul that embraces and burns with femininity.”
  • But despite such self-evident virtues and the generous package of benefits and perks that come with signing up to the school club, Miho Nishizumi is hesitant about getting involved in the sport again. With the international Sensha-do tournament coming up shortly, there isn’t much time to get Oarai’s first team assembled and ready, and Miho’s flair for tactics and strategy may well prove the decisive factor in reaching the finals.
  • Why you should watch it: It’s an utterly ridiculous premise, and a blatant excuse to combine cute girls and military hardware, but somehow it works. The show is charming, the girls are endearing, and the battles themselves are a heck of a lot of fun to watch. It’s not all “boom-boom”, there’s a lot time spent going over the tactics and plans the girls put together, too. For fans of military history, there are a host of nods and references to actual hardware and personalities, and for the rest of us there’s a sizeable cast of quirky competitors and an interesting military march-inspired soundtrack. Somehow, the show manages to blend the slice-of-life school antics with its bizarre military tournament almost seamlessly. It’s an easy series to binge through, and one that I’m glad I did!
  • Caveats: I said that the cast is huge for a twelve-episode show, and it is. What that means, though, is that the creators take some shortcuts and rely a lot on stereotypes and tropes to get us to fill in the blanks for everyone outside of Miho and her immediate friends. They’re no less fun to watch because of that, but don’t expect any of the competitors to get much development past being representatives of their particular nation or club.
  • Similar works: Sora no Woto, K-On!

Bartender

Bartender

 bartender

  • Trailer: Opening animation
  • What it’s about: Despite his youth, Ryuu Sasakura has gained a reputation as a master bartender among his peers and patrons alike. People seek out his bar in the hopes of receiving the perfect cocktail – a “Glass of the Gods” that not only suits their desires but guides them on the next step of their journey.
  • Why you should watch it: It’s a laid-back, meditative slice-of-life show. There’s nothing all that flashy about it, but every episode introduces new patrons with new problems and new stories to tell. There’s nothing outlandish or unbelievable about the stories (aside from Ryuu’s Sherlockian ability to read the minutia of behaviour), but they’re all interesting and well put-together. The show is unabashedly Western-focused, with cocktails, stories and trivia drawn from the UK and the U.S.. The show does a good job of introducing and settling each story in its own episode and, as a bonus, each episode ends with a recipe for the featured cocktails, if you want to try them yourself. Bartender isn’t in the running for “greatest show of all time”, but it’s a unique experience and well worth checking out if you want a bit of a breather from heavier or more action-packed series.
  • Caveats: With no overarching plot, it’s a show that’s best watched an episode at a time. Just sit back with a drink in hand, because you’ll definitely want one by the end of each show.
  • Themes: Well, on the surface, the show’s message might be read as “alcohol is the solution to every problem” but, really, it’s more about how the great stresses and tortured dilemmas that we all face really aren’t that bad – that all one needs is some distance and time to reflect, and the courage to see what needs to be done. And, of course, a receptive ear as we moan about our lot.
  • Similar works: The Time of EveA Piece of Phantasmagoria

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.

Denki-gai no Honya-san

Denki-gai no Honya-san

denkigai

  • Trailer: Japanese trailer
  • What it’s about: The Umanohone is one of the many bookstores in Japan selling manga, light novels, and doujins (even the dirty ones). More importantly, it’s home to a wide range of characters with their own particular appreciation for the industry, from an aspiring manga writer to a girl obsessed with zombie-media.
  • Why you should watch it: Denki-gai is a slice-of-life comedy show focusing on relationship humour and raunchy jokes at the expense of the more easily-embarrassed members of the cast. It’s pretty trope-heavy and shamelessly pokes fun at the manga/anime industry and its otaku fanbase, but never gets mean about it. There’s also a surprising amount of time set aside for romantic developments between the characters. In all, it’s a light, fluffy comedy to relax with between heavier fare.
  • Caveats: The brand of comedy is made pretty clear in the first episode and doesn’t move away from that. So you can pretty safely decide whether to continue just based on that.
  • Similar works: Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun, Working!!

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.

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.

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.

A Piece of Phantasmagoria

A Piece of Phantasmagoria

phantasmagoria

  • Trailer: None that I can find. The episodes are only three minutes each, though, so a trailer seems a bit redundant.
  • What it’s about: The world of Phantasmagoria exists only in dreams, populated by a bizarre set of groups and individuals. Each episode provides a small glimpse into a different section of the world, steadily assembling a picture of a strange world of interconnected and bizarre locations. From a town made of bread to a sea of glass, from a factory converting rainbows into paint to the movie projector that overlays the stars into the night sky, the inhabitants of Phantasmagoria interact in unusual and unpredictable ways with the place they call home.
  • Why you should watch it: It’s a sedate, dreamlike series of shorts. Bedtime stories, really. The calm narration, the surreal but peaceful people and events, even the simplistic visuals and sound design all seem to come together to present something truly unique. This is a pretty classic take on animation. It’s imaginative, it’s weird, and it’s wonderful. It’s not really a show to binge through, though. Just take an episode or two at a time before bed or when you feel the need to calm down a bit.
  • Caveats: The show has very, very crude animation even for its time, and it looks even worse in comparison to the slick presentation of the average show today. It’s also quite hard to find a legal subtitled copy of the series, though there are always certain places on the web that will have it available.
  • Similar works: Bartender has a very similar feel to this show. As does Mushishi, to a lesser extent. Outside of anime, take a look at Salvador Dali’s Destino.