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

lelouchsuzaku

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

ouranHShostclub

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

parasytethemaxim

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

spacebrothers

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 

yourlieinapril

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.

Kids on the Slope

wpid-kidsontheslope_311212_205104Kaoru is constantly shifting from town to town to accommodate his father’s career working on ships, and a childhood spent with relatives indifferent to everything about him except his musical talent has left him with a reserved, standoffish personality, serious trust issues, and an anxiety problem.

Things look set to be different at his new school as he collides with the tall and tough Sentaro -a kid who has a reputation for being able to beat up anyone who crosses him. Kaoru soon discovers that Sentaro is actually a softy with a passion for drumming – jazz music in particular. Once Sentaro learns of Kaoru’s piano playing talents, the two begin to form a friendship. Kaoru challenges himself to step outside of his musical comfort zone so he can impress Sentaro and prove his worth, and gradually emerges from his introverted shell.

This anime features music, but the core of show is really about family, friendship and love. The anime opens with a classic unrequited love line. Sentaro has a childhood friend called Ritsuko who instantly captures Kaoru’s heart. But unfortunately Ritsuko only has eyes for Sentaro…who only has eyes for Yurika, and so it goes on. Yes, there’s plenty of love angsting going on, but melodrama is mostly avoided. This anime often serves up gentle humour alongside any angsting, such as one scene in which Sentaro starts venting all his frustration about his unrequited feelings on his drumming, and Kaoru doesn’t know what to do so he starts playing the piano noisily alongside him. The elements of friendship, music and family life help this anime feel like a much more balanced portrayal of adolescence, keeping it from slipping into romance melodrama territory (no glistening tears falling into the wind here).

Kaoru finds himself in a love triangle
Kaoru finds himself in a love triangle

Although the music doesn’t always take centre stage (pardon the pun), even when Kaoru and Sentaro aren’t playing, the anime often has a stylish jazzy piano soundtrack playing in the background. During the scenes in which Kaoru and Sentaro are practising or performing, their playing is often accurately animated right down to Sentaro’s speedy drumming and Kaoru’s hand and finger movements across the piano keys. This really adds realism to each musical scene and I felt like I could have been watching someone playing in real time because the replication was so accurate. This touch makes it feel as though the animators really cared about capturing the musical details, and the music doesn’t feel showy or gimmicky at any point, but an important part of each character’s lives.

This jamming session is sponsored by Yamaha...
This jamming session is sponsored by Yamaha…

The blossoming friendship and partnership between Kaoru and Sentaro is the real highlight of Kids on the Slope. Although both are quite different personalities, their love of music and difficult family backgrounds really bring them together and create a bond that can’t be broken. In one stand out scene, Kaoru plays a jazzy version of “My Favourite Things” from The Sound of Music, and when Sentaro begins to accompany him it turns into an all out jam session. Ritsuko observes emotionally that it is “like two princes arguing good-naturedly as they come back home”.

While Kaoru and Sentaro are engaging both individually and as a pair, Ritsuko seems to exist only to further the unrequited love line and create romantic tension, and is only brought in as a singer for a performance in the penultimate episode of the show. She’s likeable, but fits very much into the archetype of the homely and demure Japanese woman, with not a lot else to her character. This prevents a good anime from becoming a truly great one, as she gets a lot of screentime so some fleshing out of her character would have made the romantic moments more interesting too.

If you’re looking for a more realistically styled anime this is a good choice. I have mixed feelings about the static simplistic nature of the animation, on the one hand it matches the realistic setting and story of the show, but some of the more emotional moments don’t have quite as much power as they could and feel a little flatter than they could be. Your Lie in April was a music anime that really utilised visuals to evoke the emotional power of both music and love. Whilst this anime was clearly aiming for a more practical approach, it could have occasionally done to have used some similar visual pizzazz now and then for that extra “wow” factor. Even so, this is a brilliant anime, and Kaoru and Sentaro are up there with the most well realised anime characters, their dynamic really makes the show, right up to the perfect, poignant ending.

 

Your Lie In April

Your Lie in April
Kousei Arima is a musical prodigy who has lost that sparkle in his eye, according to his lifelong female friend Tsubaki. Everything begins to change when he meets a fellow musician named Kaori, who instantly recognises him as the well known pianist of his generation who used to effortlessly scoop first prize in countless competitions. When she learns he has abandoned the instrument she determines to bring him back to his passion of piano playing which had been tainted by painful memories.

Kousei and Kaori’s relationship to the complexities and beauty of classical music come to mirror the complexities and wonder of the feelings unfolding between them. As she watches them bond, Tsubaki’s jealousy and romantic confusion is convincing and heart rending to watch.

The music and visuals really underline the warmth of burgeoning feelings for the teenage characters with an array of soft sunsets, cherry blossom breezes and bittersweet piano melodies that continually provide a romantic backdrop that has you feeling like you’re falling in love right alongside each character.

Will Kousei fall for Kaori?
Will Kousei fall for Kaori?
Or will Kousei realise his feelings for childhood friend Tsubaki?

The real strength of this anime is its believability. The characters really feel like young teenagers, their maturity and adolescence just beginning to surface. Kousei and Tsubaki’s childhood friendship feels like a genuine bond that isn’t overstated, which is what makes the introduction of Kaori so heartfelt and convincing as we witness each character struggle with their own feelings. The addition of Kousei’s ongoing struggle to reclaim his passion and talent for the piano from a shadow of pain and suffering adds a mature depth to this anime.

Although Your Lie in April specialises in those scenic, romantic moments, it also provides  an excellent study of all universal human emotion – not feeling good enough, not wanting to let others down, not wanting to be consumed by fear.

Emotionally honest and visually captivating, Your Lie in April is not an anime to miss. If you like romance, emotion, and classical music – what are you waiting for?