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.

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Joker Game

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It’s a quiet night in 1937 and a group of young men are sat around a table playing poker. When they reach the end of their game, one of the men realises the others have been cheating. Appalled, he stands up and demands to know why. The men reveal that the game they’ve really been playing is the “joker game”, in which they use subtle gestures to signal to each other and attempt to get men onside to help them win. No one can tell who is deceiving who, or who they can really trust.

Yep, this is all one handy metaphor for the eponymous opening of this anime. These are not just any men, they are spies, working covertly for “D-Agency”, a secret Japanese organisation that places them all over the world to gather intel which will help Japan gain the upper hand politically. With a world on the brink of war, this information is becoming more crucial than ever.

Don't you just love a well timed metaphor?
Don’t you just love a well timed metaphor?

Each episode of Joker Game follows the men working individually on cases. They must use their rigorous training and their wits to master tense, even life-or-death situations, gathering intel whilst ensuring no civilians come to harm or uncover their mission and true identity.

In keeping with the historical, political and spy thriller genre, the anime adopts a noir style, with a muted colour palette and angular drawn characters. Joker Game is always serious in tone, and character’s personalities are much more subtle and pared back in light of the plot. There are often no over the top facial expressions, and when there are they are of horror or maniacal evil, and used to powerful dramatic effect. Whilst the spies’ emotions would have to be relatively controlled in keeping with their training, some facial hints such as a closeup of a sweating forehead or a twitching mouth might have helped to create some added tension and invest the audience in them further.

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Joker Game produces some unhinged leers with the best of them

Unfortunately, where Joker Game often delivers in action, tension and mystery, it lets itself down with a lack of character development. Episodes focus on individual spies, and never tie them together by creating relationships to each other, or any kind of relationship to an overarching story. This means you could easily pick any episode at random to watch as they pretty much work as stand alone stories. This is fun in its own way but does limit the emotional investment and opportunity for narrative build-up.

Spying is serious business
Spying is serious business

Joker Game is definitely a plot and not character driven anime, with clever twists, turns and deductions that will have you trying to absorb every little detail in an attempt to figure out what’s going on. I really enjoyed waiting to see what shock twist or reveal would happen next, and the aspects of the early twentieth century are beautifully animated, with wonderful attention to detail. Alongside the darker colour palette and ominous musical backing this really helps to cement the spy theme. My main issue with this show is that the majority of the characters are young, dark haired men, and the simplicity of the animation style combined with the subtlety of the plot can make it more confusing to remember who is who. Joker Game plays every scene straight, but some character development alongside a larger story would have really taken this anime from decent to excellent. Nonetheless if you’re looking for a 1930s spy story, this is a sophisticated and intelligent watch.

Two feature length Joker Game animations are also due for release in July and September this year, so if you enjoyed this series you should keep a lookout for those.

 

 

 

 

 

Eden of the East

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Saki doesn’t know what to think when she sees a naked man outside the White House while on a tour of America. Neither does he, for he doesn’t remember what he’s doing there…or anything else about his life.

So begins Eden of the East, a mystery thriller that doesn’t waste any time getting to the heart of the action. Akira Takizawa had woken up with only two objects to his name, a gun and a phone. Through the phone he learns that he is one of twelve chosen people with 8 billion yen to his name that he can spend by making requests through the phone to a female voice named Juiz. The condition? The twelve people gifted with this phone have been tasked with “saving” Japan from the political corruption that has taken place. They can use the phone however they want, but any expenses deemed unnecessarily selfish will result in their elimination. Whoever is considered the winner will be spared, whilst the other eleven will be eliminated, so the pressure is on. Every phonecall ends with the phrase “Noblesse Oblige, I pray that you will continue to be a saviour”. As noblesse oblige comes from the French phrase “nobility obliges”, the unrelenting reminder that Takizawa can only escape his situation through victory emphasises the stakes at every turn.

Saki's been warned about stranger danger...but she never expected this
Saki’s been warned about stranger danger…but she never expected this

Although Eden of the East won’t win any awards for original ideas, it offers a strong, fast paced narrative, with likeable characters. The basic formula reminded me of Doctor Who, with a young, innocent woman thrown into the frenetic life of a mysterious and charismatic lead. Whilst Takizawa’s appeal extends beyond his intriguing life (you don’t give 10 billion yen to just anybody) as he ponders the weight of what to do with his remaining 8 billion yen, Saki’s purpose seems merely to be to represent the kind of goodness and innocence that Takizawa needs to protect and preserve if he is to save Japan.

Saki’s friends similarly seem to represent an exasperation with the current state of Japan – most self employed or unemployed such as “Underpants”, a hikikomori who has lived indoors for years and earned his nickname from refusing to wear any trousers. Underpants helps to hammer home the message of Eden of the East, he is a talented and intelligent hacker whose skillset was never appreciated by Japan, resulting in his recluse status.

Eden of the East shows how valuable NEETS can be
Eden of the East shows how valuable NEETS can be

Eden of the East gets off to an exciting start and offers some great social commentary to chew on along the way about the treatment of people by public and private corporations, but lets itself down with a disappointing pay-off and not enough time spent fleshing out characters. Saki in particular had the potential to be developed into something interesting and her innocence explored further – one scene early on in which she is invited to a second job interview after missing the first but is treated appallingly by everyone there pulls at the heart strings, especially in light of the show’s coverage of NEETS as overlooked and mistreated by products of society’s corruption, but her character is largely forgotten as Takizawa’s storyline takes over.

With an intricately and beautifully animated city expanse and a fast paced storyline, Eden of the East promises big things. It doesn’t quite deliver, but the ride is so fun and crazy that you might not mind.

Code Geass

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Are you looking for an anime with giant mecha robots fighting each other? Are you looking for an anime with mysterious powers and green haired witches? Are you looking for an anime with high school romance and political rivalries and morally grey areas? Look no more! Code Geass has them all.

In the year 2010, the nations of Britannia have conquered Japan, renaming it “Area 11” and subjecting its inhabitants to a life as second class citizens. Lelouch Lamperouge, a Britannian prince is caught in an attack which kills his beloved mother and forces him to flee to Japan with his sister Nunnally, who has been rendered blind and paralysed. Although they are able to live as privileged Britannian citizens, concealing their royal status, Lelouch swears to his childhood friend Suzaku he will one day have revenge on the injustices Britannia has created.

Lelouch’s wish is granted several years later when he meets a mysterious woman named C2 (C.C. in the manga) who makes a contract with him which grants him the power of Geass. Geass allows Lelouch to command anyone to do whatever he wants, though he can only command a person once and he must have direct eye contact with them. Lelouch vows he will use Geass to create a better world for his beloved sister to live in, and begins to assemble a resistance movement called the Black Knights, led by himself under the alter ego Zero.

Lelouch and Suzaku are childhood friends...and political rivals
Lelouch and Suzaku are childhood friends…and political rivals

Code Geass is an interesting anime from the get go. It’s impossible not to support Lelouch’s cause when the effects of Britannia’s tyrannical rule are shown, but his methods and sacrifices keep him from being considered a pure hero. Lelouch believes the end justifies the means, and there isn’t much he won’t do to reach a better world for the Japanese. Suzaku is the white knight to Lelouch’s black knight, and wants to change the system from within, even joining the Britannian forces and battling Lelouch’s group. They represent two binary opposed approaches to social injustice.

Code Geass is a riveting political fantasy drama, with a set of interesting characters. Lelouch melds hero and anti-hero in an engrossing way. The budding romances add a human touch to the backdrop of war and political manoeuvring, and provide some painfully tragic moments which keep the audience asking that core question – is the end worth the means and the lives lost or destroyed along the way?

My only real complaint would be the occasional over the top fanservice moment here and there which felt unnecessary, although the men are as pretty as the women are large breasted which is down to CLAMP being responsible for the character designs. It can also be hard to keep up with the politics later on when other factions are introduced, but this only adds to the realism Code Geass aims to convey in portraying the ripple effect one warring nation can have on those around it.

Whether you’re new to anime or a seasoned watcher I would highly recommend watching Code Geass if you haven’t already. It effortlessly combines multiple genres, really makes you think about how injustice should be dealt with and demonstrates the real impact of war and tyranny on the innocent. The mecha battles are pretty cool too.