Hanayamata 

Naru is a self-labelled “average teen” who wants to shine but feels inadequate next to her gorgeous, popular, in-a-band friend, Yaya. A chance encounter with a mysterious blonde girl called Hana at a shrine leads her into the world of yosakoi, a traditional Japanese dance.

In spite of its cutesy graphics, Hanayamata adds some emotional depth from the first episode which I was pleasantly surprised by, and we see the main characters struggle with their insecurities and fears in an understated way. Naru, for example, agrees to join Hana’s Yosakoi group but only as an assistant at first, betraying her anxiety that she isn’t a good enough dancer to “dazzle” and be worthy of the group. Tami is a well-behaved daddy’s girl who chooses to break away expectations from of her to join the group, and Yaya in turn battles with her own jealousy as she sees Naru step out of her insecurities and start to believe in herself again.

Hana’s motto – life’s too short not to be happy!
Although I was impressed with Hanayamata’s commitment to clear-cut character motivation and insecurity from the beginning, it did then move back to comfortable and cutesy territory once this had been established. Some of the scenes are excessively sentimental – Naru gives more than one emotional speech about how much yosakoi means to her, and how much her friends mean to her, which might be more powerful if it was more than five episodes in, but luckily a lot of the more sugary emoting is usually balanced with some light comedy. Perhaps because of the solid character establishing at the beginning, even the simpler scenes in Hanayamata feel weighted enough to avoid slipping into pure fluff territory.

It’s tough being the only glass half full member of the group sometimes
For me, Hanayamata is a nice “middle of the road” sort of anime. It offers enough character depth and drama to avoid floating away on its own fluffiness, and Naru’s stage fright and insecurities will be easily understandable and relatable to many. But it is still a fairly lightweight cutesy anime about five girls embracing friendship and a new passion. If you’re looking for something with pretty shoujo style animation, silly comedy and engaging main characters it’s definitely one to put on your ‘to watch’ list.

My Top Five Best Anime Ever

I have spent the last fifteen or so years of my life watching anime, so it felt like a good time to put together a short list of what I feel are the best (of what I’ve seen so far). The five I am about to discuss are not rated in any particular order of what I feel are the best, mainly because they are all quite different in style and genre, and I love them in different ways. I also decided not to include any Studio Ghibli films as I feel it goes without saying that they make up some of the very finest of Japanese animation. Here we go!

Code Geass

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What it’s about: Prince Lelouch Lamperouge has had to sit and watch as his empire Britannia has brutally conquered most of the world, including Japan, where he has been exiled. Japan has been renamed “Area 11”, and its citizens treated as second class, subject to poverty and abuse under the new regime. Lelouch sets out to seek justice and freedom for Japan and his sister Nunnally, adopting a secret disguise as “Zero” and using a strange magical power bestowed on him by a green haired witch to command anyone to do whatever he wants once. Unfortunately he has to do battle with his childhood friend Suzaku who is also seeking justice for Japan, but through legitimate means as he tries to rise through the ranks as a Britannian Knight to change the system from within.

Why it’s one of the best: Code Geass serves up a healthy portion of every core anime genre going – mecha robots, supernatural powers, politics, high school drama and romance – and most of the time it balances them all excellently. The ethics are compelling as Lelouch treads a morally grey area with his consequential approach against Suzaku’s deontology, the action is gritty and the politics are convoluted. The romances and lighter high school moments provide a nice offset to the emotional weight of the rebellion being staged as the stakes get higher and higher.

 

Ouran High School Host Club

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What it’s about: Haruhi is an honest, hardworking girl who has managed to get a scholarship to a wealthy, elite school. Her plans to keep her head down and away from the shallow, rich types are derailed when she accidentally breaks a priceless vase. The vase belongs to a host club, a group of pretty boys of all types who spend their extracurricular hours charming and entertaining the female students. They agree to let Haruhi work off her debt as a host, dressing as a boy. Of course their crazy hijinks often interfere with her studious sensibilities…

Why it’s one of the best: Ouran High School Host Club really pulls off ridiculous humour, often as a segueway into the serious, heart tugging moments. Tamaki’s brash, vain superficial charm and Haruhi’s blunt, serious nature both disguise heart-rending back stories and together they help each other learn and grow in a touching way. The show also parodies the shoujo genre as often as it embraces it which prevents things from sinking too deeply into fluffiness, and it has a lot of fun playing with gender roles and stereotypes.

 

Parasyte the Maxim

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What it’s about: Shinichi is a quiet boy living a normal life until a parasite burrows into his hand, gaining sentience and naming itself Migi. With no way out of his new situation, Shinichi finds himself agreeing to work with Migi and do battle when other parasites begin possessing humans and brutally murdering those around him.

Why it’s one of the best: Although a slow starter, Parasyte the Maxim becomes a gripping anime as Shinichi slowly physically and emotionally transforms following his fusion with Migi. Alongside compelling battle scenes in which Shinichi has to outwit monstrosities much stronger than himself, the show offers up some fascinating commentary on evolution, self preservation, and whether parasite-infected humans living peacefully in society should still be considered a threat. If you’re looking for an anime that’ll keep you on the edge of your seat and make you think as well, this is an excellent choice.

 

Space Brothers

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What it’s about: Brothers Mutta and Hibito Nanba dreamed about becoming astronauts as kids. When younger brother Hibito is about to achieve his ultimate goal of being the first Japanese astronaut on the moon, Mutta is reminded of how much he still wants to go to space and begins the long journey towards becoming an astronaut himself.

Why it’s one of the best: Currently standing at 99 episodes, Space Brothers takes its time to take the viewer on an emotional journey, with Mutta and Hibito as wonderfully nuanced central characters that feel more like real people than any other anime characters I’ve seen. The space details are accurate and true to life of what a real astronaut application and training process would be like (with NASA and JAXA both referenced), the soundtrack is wonderful, and it will probably always stand in my top five list.

 

Your Lie in April 

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What it’s about: Arima Kousei was a child prodigy on the piano until his mother died. Tormented by her death and abusive teaching strategies, Kousei became unable to hear his own playing and gave up the piano. He lived quietly in his grief, until in his teens he meets the vibrant and beautiful violinist Kaori. Kaori’s zest for life and unorthodox playing style slowly bring Kousei back into the joy of music.

Why it’s one of the best: With big shining eyes and picturesque cherry blossoms floating on the breeze, Your Lie in April is as visually as it is emotionally beautiful. The scenes in which Kousei, Kaori, and other peers compete feature the likes of Chopin, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky (although the standout for me is Kaori and Kousei’s performance of Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso which I’ll leave a link to below) and each performance is beautifully animated, really capturing the urgency, anxiety and pure in-the-moment joy of live performance. Your Lie in April wonderfully parallels the feelings Kaori and Kousei have for music to their own anxieties, hopes and dreams for life and love, and their deepening intimacy as they grow ever closer.

Five Great Anime Tunes!

One of the things that has often helped make an anime memorable is its music. Anime theme tunes have really become popular in their own right, with opening sequences often featuring amusing dance routines or other quirky gimicks. Having watched a lot of anime over the years, I wanted to share my favourite anime music. If listening to these great songs and backing soundtracks doesn’t inspire you to give these anime a go, I don’t know what will!

Goose House – Hikaru Nara

The above song was used as the first opening sequence for Your Lie in April (Shigatsu Wa Kimi no Uso). Your Lie in April was an anime I reviewed earlier this year, which revolves around the lives and loves of a group of friends – two of whom are budding musicians. It is fitting then that this should be such a great musical number in its own right! The contagious energy is a perfect match for such a vibrant anime.

 

A Lull in the Sea – Cry for the Moon

Although I have fallen in love with a few anime this year, A Lull in the Sea (Nagi No Asukara) has really stolen my heart. The graphics are stunning, and the love stories are emotive – which are helped very much by a truly stunning soundtrack. It was hard to choose just one piece but this simple piano piece really captures the raw, honest emotions of the characters.

 

Sakura Trick – Won’t Chu Kiss Me

I find it impossible not to bop to this theme tune for the shoujo ai anime Sakura Trick. If you can sit through this ten hour loop of it….well, I applaud you.

 

Space Brothers – Feel So Moon

I am currently working my way through the epic 99 long anime that is Space Brothers – revolving around two brothers and their quest to make it into space, a dream they have shared since childhood. This theme tune is light hearted but passionate, just like the show. Feel so mooooon!

 

Paprika – Parade

Paprika is easily in my top five anime for an outstanding, inventive story (that supposedly inspired the movie Inception), and this piece is as wacky and joyful as the dream sequences it depicts.

 

There’s so much more great anime music out there but I hope you enjoyed my selection! I tried to cover a variety of music from the boisterous, to the beautiful, to the downright goofy!