2017/04/06 What's On
The Best Anime You’ve Never Seen (Part 1)
by Jordan Mounteer
Perhaps other than sushi, one of the most pervasive cultural elements to come out of Japan has been their media – in particular, anime. The animated genre has close ties to its written counterpart, manga, which often come in serialized graphic novels, and are routinely the template for televised off-shoots. We’re all familiar with iconic anime like Fairytail, One Piece, Naruto, and the works of Hayao Miyazaki. But there are literally thousands of anime series both new and old that stretch across a variety of their own sub-genres, from school dramas and slice of life sagas to high fantasy. We take a look at a few of the lesser known but nevertheless fascinating anime that have fallen under the radar.
This unusual series had a hard time getting a broad following simply because it was stretched across so many different mediums – it started out as a Play Station game and found its way into manga and eventually a television series. Set in a simulated environment called ‘The World, it was about a Virtual World Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (yes, this was the precursor to Sword Art Online) and the different characters in it. It’s somewhat non-linear narrative and in medias res format made it a fascinating watch for those who hadn’t been inducted into its other incarnations as a video game or comic, and there was something profoundly mysterious and unsettling about it that made you want to keep watching. Since the original televised version there have been a huge number of additional series – they even made an actual MMO, and even though it received good praise, it didn’t last long.
Nevertheless, .Hack// and its progeny is a great precursor to some of the more popular virtual-reality anime series that we’ve seen crop up in the last few years, and on top of its enigmatic characters and interesting plotlines it also had some gorgeous stylistic artwork reminiscent of works out of Studio 4°C.
If you want another strange anime series that will leave you scratching your head while at the same time slackjawed at the beauty and artwork, then Bakemonogatari is the series for you. Following on the heels of its light novel series, the initial season rebooted its literary descendant with the character Koyomi Araragi who has been turned into a vampire and whose ‘vampire’ host is a small child that comes out of his shadow. The entire story is episodic and follows a number of other characters in the universe who all have different supernatural ailments that he has to figure out – one has lost all of her ‘weight’ and isn’t subject to gravity, one is a ghost, another is possessed by a fox spirit, etc. Aside from the supernatural elements, which tended to affix an ‘animality’ to each character, there was also a lot of clever wordplay and puns interjected – which, of course, you’ll only really get if you speak Japanese, but the subtitles do a good job of adding annotations.
Overall though the appeal of this anime is definitely the visuals. Strange silhouette shots, unusual framing, and stylistic choices that borrow from other mediums and genres gives the audience eye-candy on top of a developing plot that takes the idea of magic realism to whole new levels. It may take a few episodes to get hooked, but once it gets lodged in your consciousness it doesn’t let go.
Another take on our perception of reality and the convergence of technology, this children’s television series took a somewhat lighter approach to the subject matter. Instead of virtual reality, the series focused on augmented reality – the idea of one reality superimposed over another – and followed a group of children who used AR headsets to wander around their town. The town itself was a huge producer of AR tech, so there was always this interplay of exploring a hidden ‘virtual’ city within the confines of the actual city, and laid the basis for the show’s themes as well as its interconnected stories. Initially Yuko Okonogi is a young girl who moves to the fictional town where he eventually runs into other children and they start an impromptu detective service – eventually they uncover a conspiracy involving a shady organization and the disappearance of other children to an ‘other world’.
While the show had all the cutesy interactions of kids and the innocuous adventures you’d expect from the genre, what set Dennō Coil apart was the fact that it also tackled some rather advanced philosophical ideas such as the concept of self and consciousness, and at the same time drew parallels between the profane and sacred in Japanese spirituality; in almost every episode there was a torii gate, a Shinto object that marked the boundaries between our world and the world of spirits. If you want a fun and well-structured story that prophesied augmented reality nearly a decade before Pokemon GO hit the market, then Dennō Coil is a good pick.
Romeo x Juliet
As many incarnations as there have been of Shakespeare’s famous love story, admittedly one of my favorite has to be the anime adaptation. And maybe that’s because of the creative liberties that the studio took – Neo Verona is a huge floating island, people ride around on flying horses, and there’s a giant mystical tree called Escalus at the center of the city. Oh, and Juliet is an acrobatic masked vigilante from the Capulets who are loyalists trying to overthrow the Montagues. The story follows both Juliet and Romeo, idealistic as their archetypes, as they fall in together and have several adventures that eventually allow them to fall in love and uncover the mysteries of the Escalus tree.
It was a really fun and interesting take on the well-known story, and rather than relying on stereotypes had no problem introducing plenty of surprises, which is perhaps what appealed to me most. You won’t actually be able to guess the ending until the last episode, and by then (26 episodes in) you’ll have fallen in love with both characters, in no small part because unlike Shakespeare’s original version, they are far more mature and the conflicts that occur are often outside of their control. Highly recommended.
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