Back at the end of 2009, I had a week off in November and I remember spending part of it being engrossed in several anime series. I watched a lot over my break — I’m a bit of a hermit like that. After all was said and done, that is, watched, I wanted to know, just how much did I watch and what did I watch? So I wrote it all down in a text file and did some of the math. The result: I watched a lot of anime. In fact here’s the break down from that November 2008 text file I still have in my possession:
- Densha Otoko (3 ep) 2.25 hours
- Sasameki Toko (7 ep) – 2.3 hours
- Death Note (37 ep 12.3 hours)
- Kimi ni Todoke (8 ep) – 2.67 hours
- Doctor Who (special) 1 hour
- Gunslinger Girl season 1 (13 ep) – 4.3 hours
- Nana (3 ep) 1 hour
- Maria-sama ge Miteru (4 hours)
Afterwards, as I watched things, I began to write them down. Mainly because I’m forgetful and if I’m watching a TV show I don’t want to second guess what episode I’m watching next. After doing this for close to three years now, I’ve got a lot of “statistical data” on what I watched. Yes, it’s mostly all anime. You won’t find many American movies or television shows. It’s also all what I call “directed” watching. I used to flip channels a lot when I had cable — talk about a real time waster. I didn’t need to watch random infomercials at 3 am or view Lindsey Lohan’s Most Shocking Moments Caught on Tape for the fourth time, but I love train wrecks and that’s why I had to cancel cable. At least this way I could justify that these shows were ones I wanted to watch/waste my precious time on.
I figure I’d share these lists. It’s a great way for me to introduce to you (and to myself when I’m reading this again decades down the road) the shows that I find interesting. The anime that compelled me to watch all the way to the end. If you don’t watch a lot of anime or if you only know of anime via its stereotypes, I hope my choices will give you some different flavor of anime that exists out there. It’s not all about mecha, harems, or softcore porn. Some shows actually have substance and those are the ones that I generally gravitate towards. Alright, except for maybe K-ON, but it’s a guilty pleasure. Also there are elements of anime that you can’t get away from because it flows in the very veins in that industry.
Since I don’t want to go through a backlog of two years, let’s just begin with August 2011:
- Natsume Yujincho (ep. 5-8, next is 9) — Crunchyroll
- Black Butler (ep. 1-7, next is 8) (half watched this) — Hulu
- Steins;Gate (ep. 17-22, next is 23) — Crunchyroll
- Hanasaku Iroha (ep. 19-22, next is 23) — Crunchyroll
- No. 6 (ep. 6-8, next is 9) — Crunchyroll
- Usagi Drop (ep. 5-8, next is 9) — Crunchyroll
- Gosick (1-24) – done – really good series — Crunchyroll
- Hanamaru Kindergarten (ep. 3-12) – done — Crunchyroll
- Monster ep. 43-74 – done — Hulu
- Game of Thrones (1-10) — At a friend’s house
- Exit Through the Gift Shop — Amazon
- Begin Japanology: Fugu
- Begin Japanology: Unagi Eel
- Begin Japanology: Japanophile Dorothy Feibleman
- Space Battleship Yamato
If you don’t have TV where do you go about watching these shows? I pay for Netflix Instant Watch and Crunchyroll. I was torrenting a great deal of shows from the Spring anime season, but then I learned they were all on Crunchyroll. So I got a subscription. Why not support something I love? It’s the least I could do and maybe in return Crunchyroll will bring more anime this direction. Both those sites have a back catalog of shows that’ll keep you watching for months if not years to come. Don’t want to pay? Hulu actually has a ton of shows. Not Hulu Plus. Hulu. Their anime selection is pretty big and if you dont have Netflix, Hulu seems to be doing a good job of cloning most of the selection you find on Netflix in their library. Also, some of the anime shows like Cross Game are subtitled and other shows like Monster and Spice and Wolf give you the option of selecting dubbed or subtitled episodes. Yes you have to watch the commercial about sea turtles at every mid-point during the show, but it’s a small, small 30 second price to pay. Just go take a pee or get a snack.
Of the shows I watched in August, I highly recommend Usagi Drop and Monster. They couldn’t be more different from each other. Usagi Drop is a splice of life anime about a 30 year old guy named Daikichi who ends up taking custody of a six-year old girl named Rin. Daikichi, as you can imagine, is a bachelor and salaryman. He works overtime in the sales department and goes out drinking with his buddies after hours, but all of that changes when he becomes Rin’s guardian. The show creates a great hypothetical situation and a lot of interesting questions come up. What if you got custody of a young child? How does that change your life? What sacrifices do you make? Would you have made the same decision Daikichi did? Those heady questions aside, the show is cute and sentimental — which is right up my alley. Don’t expect heavy plotting or lots of story progression. It’s the daily life, the little moments and some big ones that drive this show forward, but if you have a soft spot its worth watching.
Monster is all suspense and plot and the show does a damn good job of it. The series is 74 episodes long so get ready for a long haul. Kenzo Tenma, a brilliant neurosurgeon, saves Johan, a 10 year old boy, after he’s shot in the head by his twin sister Anna. There was good reason why Anna did it: Johan is one evil, sadistic, sunnuvabitch. He kills for the “lulz” because there’s a monster inside of him and it’s ready to explode. He’s the perfect sociopath: mild mannered, eloquent, well versed in all things, and kind. Tenma and Johan cross paths a decade after he pulled the bullet from Johan’s brain and at that point Tenma realizes he must kill the boy and he goes off on a quest to bring justice to the world. Along the way, we rarely get to meet Johan face to face, but his presence is everywhere: the serial murders he commits, the lingering psychopathic tendencies he leaves in people he meets, and messages scrawled on walls and in missives for Tenma. There’s a deep and forbidding backstory to Johan and Anna’s life that’s revealed through the events of Monster, and just when you think Naoki Urasawa’s run out of story, and that things can’t get much more suspenseful than they are, he changes it up. He introduces new characters and a new perspective on Johan and he makes those people in their places just as compelling as Tenma. It’s a story that doesn’t need to center around Tenma alone. It’s much bigger than he is and makes it all the more richer and there was never a point where the events felt contrived. The narrative just works. It’s storytelling at it’s best. Watching the show, I really thought I was getting a great education in how to keep a story suspenseful and to keep it progressing along. BUT, sometimes Monster overdoes it. Sometimes Monster drags things out, but more often than not it’s an engaging and colorful story to watch. I highly recommend it. I blitzed through the show in July and August (that’s just how I am), but if you have time and want a weekly thriller you can’t go wrong with Monster.
There was a time when I would without a doubt recommend Hanasaku Iroha. There’s plenty to love about it. The artwork and animation is drop-dead gorgeous. The problem I have is from episode 14 and on, the show hasn’t been as strong as the first 13 episodes. There were some really great stories in the first half of Hanasaku Iroha including one of my favorite anime episodes, period — I’ll get to that in a moment. The show is primarily about Ohana, a sixteen year old girl moved from the city to the country to work in her grandmother’s Inn, the Kissuiso. She’s bratty and self-centered and you can imagine full of angst. Nako, another young waitress, and Minko, a kitchen hand, don’t quite get along with Ohana and that’s the source of much conflict that drives these characters. The show could easily be consumed entirely by the teenage angst factor and high school dramatics, but it doesn’t. It’s about their lives running the hot spring resort and the tribulations they face episode to episode and in general all of that storytelling is fantastic and you shouldn’t miss it. Because the locale is different than a school or random city street in Tokyo, I feel like I don’t know what will happen next, and that’s the best part about Hanasaku. It’s too bad then that after episode 14 I feel that it fell back on it teen angst love stories and the long arch about Enishi and Takako’s wedding wasn’t so fun. The only outstanding episode was one about Nako’s home life.
My favorite episode is #7. It focuses entirely on the head waitress, Tomoe Wajima. I suppose that’s just her little piece of pie that she’ll get in the 26 episode series, but I enjoyed that episode more than any of the other ones. She was meant to be some bit player — a gossipy, 30 year old, unwed, woman only seeking a rich man for a husband. That episode gave her more dimension, and maybe in a way I feel for her too, since I’m also in my 30s and unwed. Tomoe decides to throw her career at Kissuiso away so she can go home and get an arranged marriage by her family’s wishes, but all of her best laid plans backfire and she realizes she’s where she ought to be.
Gosick I watched in a weekend. If you like Sherlock Holmes and the Japanese Lolita sub-culture, you’ll probably want to check out Gosick. I originally watched a few episodes and was unimpressed with it. The solution to mysteries seemed trite. Victorique, the moe Lolita Sherlock Holmes, just felt like a mish-mash of tropes crafted for Otaku appeal. And maybe she is, but upon watching it again, I ended up really liking the relationship between her and her Watson, a foreign student named Kujo. Their back and forth bickering and the moments where we get insight beneath Victorique’s hubris make it work for me. The ghost stories and fairytales told throughout the story meld together with the mysteries they solve and the history of the made-up European nation they reside in. At one point towards the end, I found myself smiling, the synthesis between the ghost stories, the characters, setting, and political turmoil that was occurring in the show brought it all together to a nice boil and I thought, “I could watch more of this.” It sadly ends two episodes later and in a rather rushed manner.
Natsume Yuujincho or Natsume’s Book of Friends was a show I started watching a while back. It’s on season three now and this season so far isn’t as good as I remember it. The episodes haven’t been as strong. I suppose the reason why I like Natsume so much is because I like how they handle ghost stories. They’re not just shock and awe type of stories to make you jump. The stories are quiet, sentimental and touching. Natsume can see ghosts, a trait he inherited from his grandmother Reiko. Reiko beat spirits into submission and stole their names to form a Book of Friends, a book that she or anybody could use to call spirits to do their bidding. Natsume inherits the book from his deceased grandmother and he decides to return the names, and season 3 continues much along the same lines as the previous two. I don’t think anything particularly stands out episode-wise, but I like the overall laid-back feeling of it. The OPs and EDs are also pretty good. I still listen to them on my iPhone.
I’ll toss Game of Thrones a few words. I never read the book, but the show was great and couldn’t have ended with a more dramatic and epic event. Still though, I felt much of the show was a cocktease. There’s the constant “winter is coming…” mantra thrown about and also some horrific event that is coming. Season 2, I hope, will illuminate all. I could read the books, but I think it’ll just spoil the show. So I can wait. Tyrion and Ayra are by far my favorite characters. I look forward to great things from those two.
Space Battleship Yamato. I never watched Starblazers or the original Yamato. I know of its fame because I love Leiji Matsumoto’s Galaxy Express 999 in all it’s various incarnations so I’m at least aware of Yamato. The live action movie isn’t great. I wasn’t expecting great. It was like watching a Japanese version of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek right down to the lens flares in some scenes. Also, the show seemed to pinch a great deal of props and scene ideas from the rebooted Battlestar Galactica — I’m 100% sure they beat up and stole those helmets from Galactica’s Viper pilot squadron. But, in the end, I have no problem that they borrow from Galactica as heavily as they did.
Exit Through the Gift Shop I saw on a recommendation. I don’t want to write anything about it. Go see it and answer me this: is it a brilliant hoax or real? Either way it’s awesome satire about the art world.
If you’ve never seen Begin Japanology they’re 22 minute documentaries on aspects of Japanese culture. It’s a great way to learn more about the country if you’re an Otaku like me.
Redline is fun. Awesome animation and art. Ridiculous story. Worth watching once.
Those are all the things that I find worth mentioning from this month’s viewing. I hope it entices you to go and try out some of these shows mentioned and at the end of September I’ll have a whole new list of things that I’ve watched to discuss.