One month ago, I focused on the full-length films of Makoto Shinkai, but now I’m casting my net a little wider to bring forward five shows that should be watched and enjoyed. Naturally, the more obvious choices were excluded. Cowboy Bebop is fantastic, but it’s also inevitably one of the first titles tossed out when someone asks for recommendation. My intention is to breeze past the shows that everyone already knows.
Only for Mature Audiences — Baccano! features a considerable amount of blood and violence, including limbs being destroyed. Strong language.
Set during early 1930s America, Baccano! is composed of three distinct stories involving to some degree a group of immortals and two idiotic thieves. November 1930 focuses on Szilard trying to reacquire a formula for immortality that he recently perfected being passed around crime families ignorant of the valuable item in their possession. The second story, set towards the end of 1931, involves the takeover of transcontinental train the Flying Pussyfoot by a handful of violent gangs and an assassin of questionable sanity. Finally, in 1932, Eve Genoard searches for her missing brother as other characters wrestle with the fresh memory of their chaotic train ride.
Baccano!’s contrivance is that each of the three stories is told alongside the others as opposed to sequentially, creating instances where the audience lacks the context to understand certain scenes until later. For example, the disappearance of Dallas Genoard drives the 1932 story, but he might appear a few minutes later when the anime returns to the 1930 story. It’s unconventional storytelling born from four volumes of Ryogo Narita’s Baccano! series of novels (which started being released in English last year).
So it’s Narita we thanks for these memorable individuals. From the eccentric thieves Isaac and Miria to the bloodthirsty mafia hitman Ladd Russo, the considerable ensemble cast is full of quirky and often mentally unbalanced characters to latch onto. Narita seems to enjoy juggling large casts of colorful people, judging by how many separate plotlines exists in Durarara!!, his second series of novels. (Durarara!! was later adapted into a two-season anime that I also recommend, available on Netflix.) Still, my recommendation goes to Baccano! for its unique storytelling, memorable characters, and being set during Prohibition-era America.
Where to Watch? — Finding Baccano! on physical media for a decent price is difficult, and it’s unavailable on Netflix and Hulu. Check those anime streaming sites of questionable legality.
Viewer Discretion is Advised — Instances of suggestive material. For instance, a female character staring at a bra promising a bigger bust for the wearer. Occasional strong language.
The name doesn’t inspire confidence, and truth be told, this recommendation isn’t because of SNAFU’s first season. It’s a decent mix of comedy with a side order of drama, but nothing spectacular. It’s the second season that gets the nod. We follow Hachiman, a high school boy who intentionally distances himself from his peers due to his belief that they’re faking their happiness, who’s forced into the Service Club with the equally unfriendly Yukino, joined shortly after by the cheerful Yui. The three-person club aims to assist classmates with problems, making for a first season of light humor and lighter drama. Hachiman is a difficult protagonist to root for at times, and a handful of supporting characters are obnoxious.
The second season builds off those relationships and scales back on the humor. (Switching to a better art style didn’t hurt, either.) Hachiman, having realized that playing the bad guy is a legitimate strategy to solving problems brought to the Service Club, deals with the consequences of falling on his sword, along with his friendship with the disapproving Yukino and Yui. There is greater dramatic weight to the second season, and further explores the three lead characters, making for a stronger story and the reason why SNAFU is getting my recommendation. Run through the first season, as unremarkable as it was, as it forms the foundation for season two.
It’s worth noting that, sadly, SNAFU is without a true ending. The anime is adapted from a series of light novels that, as of this writing, aren’t finished, and it’s unknown if a third season will ever happen.
Where to Watch? — Only available with English subtitles. Both seasons are streaming at Crunchyroll, while they’re available on physical media at RightStuf and Amazon.
Mostly Wholesome — Ouran Host Club includes the occasional strong language and questionable references, but is largely appropriate for all audiences.
Ouran High School Host Club follows the seven members of the titular host club – most notably the commoner Haruhi and the club’s leader Tamaki – through their misadventures in and around Ouran Academy. Although it satirizes the shojo genre in Japanese fiction, I found that knowledge of such media isn’t a prerequisite to enjoying this anime (thankfully for me), although being a fan of slackstick and absurdist comedy might be. Regardless, Ouran High School is a well-written 26-episode series whose principle characters exceed their self-prescribed stereotypes.
Despite the humor, Ouran Host Club features plenty of heart. Haruhi, the girl playing the part of a boy, and Tamaki are wonderful leads. He’s energetic and eccentric, a goofball full of compassion, where Haruhi plays the honest (often to a fault) and no-nonsense part. He comes up with the ideas, and she’s forced along with the five other hosts. It’s a deceptively wonderful comedy that regularly stretches the limits of reality without sacrificing emotion.
The only downside is that the anime ended years before the manga, so it doesn’t wrap up as nicely. At least it doesn’t finish on a cliffhanger.
Where to Watch? — Available with English dub and subtitles. Ouran High School Host Club can be streamed on Hulu and Netflix, while physical media is found at RightStuf and Amazon.
Only for Mature Audiences — Occasional strong language, vague sexual innuendo, and instances of intense violence; however, Steins;Gate earned the Mature rating because of brief female partial nudity and a short scene where a young woman is groped by someone believing her male.
A self-described mad scientist and his cohorts at the Future Gadget Lab accidentally create a time machine from an old microwave oven, and from their experiments arrive advantageous changes and heartbreaking repercussions. The first half of Steins;Gate is light and playful as the cast toys with the timeline for their betterment, but everything from the midpoint to the conclusion descends into darker and more dramatic territory as everything Rintaro built before is torn apart. It’s said that good fiction comes from the protagonists being tortured, and as if taking that advice to heart, Rintaro and his friends goes through hell and back before the final episode concludes.
Two years later, Steins;Gate received an original sequel titled Steins;Gate: The Movie – Load Region of Déjà Vu, which follows heroine Kurisu’s efforts to save Rintaro from more time-related mishaps. Load Region serves as an excellent continuation of the anime, but more than anything it’s a pleasure to see these characters again. Being a movie is a tad detrimental to the story because the plot doesn’t have the same weight, but that’s only compared to the dire events of the anime, and is overall an excellent film.
Although it won’t be for the last time. An anime adaptation of Steins;Gate 0, the sequel to the original Steins;Gate visual novel, is planned, although whether it’ll get the English dub treatment is currently unknown.
Where to Watch? — Only available on Hulu and Funimation with English subtitles. Physical media with English dub and subtitles is found at RightStuf and Amazon.
Mostly Wholesome — Occasional language and blood (sometimes played for humor). Suggestive content, such as a skirt blown upward by a breeze, although the audience sees nothing. Of note, death is a major theme.
Last, but definitely not least, is the anime that reduces me into an emotional mess. That’s a good recommendation, right? Kosei was a piano prodigy until his mother’s death erased his ability to hear the sounds of the keys as he played, and now, three years later, he views the world without color. Until he’s introduced to a spirited violinist named Kaori who drags Kosei back to the piano. The 22 episodes that follow focus on the themes of creativity and accepting death, with Kosei and Kaori put through the ringer multiple times, right into the final heartbreaking episode. It’s quite the journey reaching there.
Piano is important to Your Lie, naturally allowing plenty of opportunities to enjoy the wonderful instrument. Classical music is repeatedly performed, featuring compositions by Frédéric Chopin, Fritz Kreisler, and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Story continues through these performances, so anyone not a fan of classical music shouldn’t be fast-forwarding through.
This isn’t the first time that I wrote about Your Lie in April, although I strongly suggest that anyone interested in this anime avoid that post (titled “Story Structure with Your Lie in April”) because I spoiled major story beats. Still, I wrote over two-thousand words because I love this anime. It’s a wonderfully tragic story with a few good messages about creativity and ambition (“Guess you’re not Chopin, after all. You’re you”). The voice acting is great in both Japanese and English, and the music is mostly outstanding (I did import the soundtrack). For all this and more, Your Lie in April gets my highest recommendation.
Where to Watch? — Available with English dub and subtitles. Can be viewed on Crunchyroll (English dub and subtitles), Hulu (subtitles), and Netflix (dub), while physical media is found at RightStuf (stupidly expensive, though).
May 25, 2017: Corrected the number of years ago that Kosei’s mother passed in Your Lie in April. Removed a sentence left in by mistake. Switched the last video with a different song by the same pianist. Altered where to watch Baccano!