Hi all! It’s only just starting to feel like it but Autumn is almost over already. It also seems like COVID-19 restrictions are almost over too (in a slowly controlled, staged phase-out kind of way). In the meantime we need another seasonal anime fix.

Unfortunately, as we have been closed down, there are no awesome new anime purchases to boast about. So this update is going to be a bit different. According to me (and I should know!) it is going to be all about …

10 Anime Series You Should Have Seen by Now
(but probably didn’t)

Now, before we start. This is not going to be a “Top Ten of the most stupidly popular anime of all time that most of us know and have already seen” kind of list. There are thousands of those floating around the net and the top 10 or 20 are almost all the same. Boring!!!

No, this is going to be a selection of what I believe to be some of the most under-rated, under appreciated, unloved or just plain unknown anime going around.

Enough waffling, let’s get this show on the road!

#10

Fantastic Children
(2004-05)

Fantastic Children_dvd cover

A fitting first choice is this series about a group of mysterious, white-haired children which have been spotted at different times and places in Europe for over 500 years. Always with the appearance of 11-year-old children, they behave eerily more mature than they should, never growing old, and seeming to possess supernatural powers. They have been quietly seeking something.

Now, after all this time, there is movement in this centuries-long mystery.

Perhaps due to the lack of a local release and it’s retro character design (even for 2004) this title is virtually unknown to Australian audiences. A shame as this series is a compelling mixture of science fiction, fantasy, adventure, mystery and drama. Definitely worth a go.

#9

Kaze no Yojimbo
(2001-02)

Kaze No Yojimbo_dvd cover

This series is a re-imaging of Akira Kurosawa’s classic (black and white) samurai film “Yojimbo” – which itself was copied by (I mean heavily influenced) one of the most well known Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns, A Fistful of Dollars.

Set in contemporary times, a young man finds himself in a small town beset by local crime syndicate thugs and a dark, secret past. He is quickly made aware that he is not welcome and is warned to leave as soon as possible. However, the man has his own reasons for staying.

The animation is totally unremarkable and frankly, a bit cheap: it was clearly made on a small budget. Why is it worth a watch, then? The story and plotting; the way the mystery is slowly, tensely and expertly unfolded; the highlights of action; and the character development more than make up for this.

#8

Mushi-Shi
(2005-06)

Mushi-shi_dvd cover au

This is definitely a niche series. Mushi refers to the most basic forms of life in this world. They seem without goals or purpose and can exist in countless forms. Information on Mushi is scarce because the majority of humans are unaware of their very existence.

So what are Mushi and why do they exist? This is the question that a Mushishi, Ginko, ponders as he chases rumors of occurrences that could be tied to Mushi, for the sake of finding an answer. It could, after all, lead to the meaning of life itself.

A very different, dream-like, surreal and beautifully imagined world awaits you if you take the time to give this series a try. Although many viewers will probably find it ponderous, meandering and overly philosophical I have to say that that is exactly what I enjoyed about it.

#7

Natsume’s Book
of Friends
(2008)

Natsume's Book of Friends Seasons 1 & 2_dvd cover

A fifteen-year-old high school boy, Takashi Natsume, has a peculiar and terrifying secret: for as long as he can remember, he has been constantly chased by youkai – spirits. Natsume discovers that his deceased grandmother Reiko (whom he resembles) had passed on to him the Yuujinchou, or “Book of Friends,” which contains the names of the spirits she brought under her control.

This series is an interesting mixture of slice-of-life and the supernatural. It follows the shy, gentle and sympathetic Natsume as he endeavors, with his infamous protector Madara (a small, chubby feline spirit), to free the spirits bound by his grandmother’s contract. The emotional journey of these characters, both human and youkai, is the focus and what this series does so well.

#6

Kokkoku
(2018)

Kokkoku_dvd cover

A struggling family’s life takes a turn for the worse when two members are violently kidnapped by a mysterious organization and held for ransom. Faced with the impossible task of delivering five million yen to the criminals in only 30 minutes, teenager Juri’s grandfather reveals a dangerously powerful secret to her and her deadbeat dad.

I would really like to say more but adding anything at all might spoil the brilliant setup and execution of the intriguing concept this series is built upon. Given how well made this series is I’m surprised how little known it is. Having said that, I stumbled across it by total accident myself. Definitely check it out!

#5

Barakamon
(2014)

Barakamon_dvd/bluray cover

Seishuu Handa is the next big thing in the esteemed art of Japanese calligraphy. Unfortunately, when a veteran master calligrapher labels his award-winning piece as “unoriginal,” Seishuu quickly loses his cool … with severe repercussions. Exiled to the remote Goto Islands, for some much needed self-reflection, the temperamental artist finds himself out of his depth and out of reach of the comforts of Tokyo.

This could have been a totally generic fish-out-of-water series but for some distinctive elements that elevate it about that. Firstly, how the art of calligraphy seems to almost be a living character itself. And the way this arrogant and standoff-ish city slicker has to cope with his new predicament: a rustic, rural backwater and an overabundance of quirky, nosy locals who don’t have time for any pretentious airs and graces.

There is a lot of heart, humour and life lessons to be found in this series. Well worth a look.

#4

Ghost Hound
(2007-08)

Ghost Hound_dvd cover

Strange things are happening around the town of Suiten: the daughter of a shrine priest begins to see strange visions; spirits have started to roam the mountains; and Tarou Komori is having unsettling dreams. Due to the trauma of being kidnapped 11 years ago, he has repressed most of those memories but they return in his sleep, combined with strange encounters beyond the realm of dreams. The story revolves around three children as they struggle to face their demons and repair their damaged worlds.

With a distinctly weird, spaced out, surreal and dreamlike blend of the supernatural and the psychological, Ghost Hound is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s one of those titles that takes a while to get into (and figure out what the heck’s going on) so many viewers might give up early. This is a shame, as I found it was well worth the effort.

 

#3

Hinamatsuri
(2018)

Hinamatsuri_bluray cover

This series tells the beginnings of the dangerous and dynamic, offbeat and often hilarious, story of a vase collecting, nice-guy yakuza (Nitta) and a powerfully psychokinetic girl (Hina) from outer-space!

I guess you’d say it’s a comedy/drama but with a cast of quirky, misfit characters who often find themselves in extremely unlikely, and sublimely ridiculous, scenarios. It manages to (in my opinion) successfully blend offbeat humour and sci-fi silliness with simple, slice-of-life observations and some sincere, touching character moments.

It’s a bit of an odd duck and I can see how that would limit its mainstream appeal but, as one of the most unexpectedly enjoyable series I’ve watched in recent years, I think it’s definitely worth a look.

#2

Silver Spoon
(2013)

Silver Spoon_dvd cover

At the start of a new school year Yuugo Hachiken decides to enrol in Oezo Agricultural High School, a boarding school located in the Hokkaido countryside, as a means to run away from suffocating academic pressures in the city. However, it doesn’t take long for Yuugo to realize that life is not that simple. As he struggles to fit into a completely new environment, Yuugo is desperate to discover his own dreams, in the hopes he may lead a life on his own terms.

Silver Spoon is not your usual, run-of-the-mill high school comedy. Sure, there are funny moments and situational gags but even these are somewhat novel, given the unique farming backdrop. What got me into the series initially was this rather unique setup but what kept me watching was it’s mostly down to earth portrayal of this school and community environment, the students (their individual dreams and personalities) and the hard realities of a life on the land. It’s a bit of a gem.

#1

Dennou Coil
(2007)

Dennou Coil_dvd cover

Set in a fictional city, in a surprisingly plausible near future, a new augmented reality technology has become an integral part of daily life. By using special AR glasses, people are able to interact with this overlapping cyberspace, allowing them to carry on with their normal lives in addition to being permanently connected to the net. With the appearance of ‘glitches’, mysterious viruses and ‘corrupt’ spaces in this augmented reality, a thriving hacker culture soon emerges amongst the younger locals. And darker rumours begin to spread about children disappearing into a digital other side.

On the surface, Dennou Coil is a charming little children’s adventure packed with fun, action, mystery and mischief. Look a little deeper and it makes some subtle, but astute, observations about the effects and implications that increasingly integrated and intrusive technologies have on society and the individual.

Okay, so we’ve counted down my top ten … but I’ve got one left!

One of my personal favourites, at that. I already culled my list down from 25 and I just can’t cut anymore! So here’s our cherry on the top, our plus one:

#1+

Gankutsuou
(2004-05)

Gankutsuou_dvd cover au

Gankutsuou is a futuristic, sci-fi opera retelling of the French literary classic The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. The Count is a mysterious and charming, self-made nobleman who befriends a young and impressionable aristocrat, the Viscount Albert de Morcerf. The Count, however, has more on his mind than just friendship; he plots to finally unleash his vengeance on those who wronged him all those years ago.

Enjoying a new adaptation of this story is almost a given for me so I’ll mention one of the things I personally like most about this series: the striking and unusual visual style. I’ll admit it took a bit of getting used to, some might even say it’s a bit too bright and lurid, but they are philistines! It really is something you won’t have seen in anime art design before. And who wouldn’t enjoy watching the classic period revenge tale, reset in the year 5053 … in space!

So there we go, my ten (plus one) anime series you should have seen by now (but probably didn’t). FYI, this was an off-the-cuff list and is by no means comprehensive. Having been watching anime for 25 odd years now, there are going to be many worthy titles that didn’t come to mind and I’ve totally overlooked. And I know there are many more series out there I’ve still not seen.

That was kind of the aim of this post: shedding a little light on some of those well made but not so well known titles you might have missed out there. So, what did you think? Did you know or have you watched any of these series already? Know an unsung masterpiece I’ve not mentioned? Please leave a comment and a viewing suggestion if you’ve found a hidden gem you’d like to share.

‘Til next time, stay well and happy watching.