Growing up, I was the only boy in my house. In a house with my mother and two sisters, what we watched was always decided through democracy. So, the TV was on the Lifetime Network more than it was on Cartoon Network. To find the time to watch what I wanted to watch, I would often stay up late nights. It was around this time that I first truly encountered anime.
Initially, I found anime interesting because there was something about it that was different from the cartoons I'd gotten accustomed to watching. Cardcaptor Sakura and Yu-Gi-Oh! were vastly different from Batman Beyond and The Animaniacs; I just couldn't pinpoint why. After learning that they were anime, or "Japanime" as they were referred to back then, I did my best to get as much anime as I could. I would watch anime on-demand, on Anime Unleashed on G4TV (back when it was TechTV), on late-night TV, and Toonami. Lots of the anime were targeted to a more mature demographic, but there was so much more for me to learn from them than my Saturday morning cartoons.
Anime quickly became a crucial part of my life and identity. It has taught me valuable lessons, not only about life but about art, beauty, storytelling. It has helped shaped who I am as a person, and my appreciation of the world around me.
Some of my best memories of anime are, of course, the time spent watching and enjoying with my friends. I have a multitude of anime that are marked by my memories of watching with them: Ouran High School Host Club, watching Baccano! and High School of the Dead at Otakon and immediately buying the DVD set and marathoning them.
There are some anime that have special meaning to me, personally. Shows that I can watch with no reservations and am quick to recommend to my friends. Here are my top 5 anime.
5. Welcome to the NHK (NHK ni Youkoso!)
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: July 2006 – December 2006
Welcome to the NHK makes its way onto my top 5 list (for now) because of what it represents to me. Growing up my mother constantly frowned upon or questioned my love of anime; it was either not something I should be watching at my age or there was something better for me to be doing than "watching cartoons." With Welcome to the NHK, however, it was different. My mother somehow became interested in the character and his struggles. It was then that I realized and appreciated that anime was able of creating characters and stories truly worth caring about.
Welcome to the NHK is about Tatsuhiro Satou, a hikikomori, and N.E.E.T. who believes that the broadcasting company NHK is the cause of his hikikomori status. Despite his shut-in status, he befriends Misaki Nakahara and slowly starts to conquer his condition. Welcome to the NHK is the perfect drama comedy, featuring the right amount of uncomfortable moments, laughs, concern for the characters and romance.
Welcome to the NHK Trailer:
4. The Animatrix
- Episodes: 9
- Aired: June 2003
The Animatrix was a collection of anime and CGI shorts that added to the lore of The Matrix series. It came out right around the time that I was truly getting into anime. As a result, I got my hands on the DVD as soon as I could. I watched it at least three times in a row the first night, a few more times the next day, and more the day after.
Every story in The Animatrix has a different feel and vibe to it. My personal favorites are "The Second Renaissance Parts I & II," "World Record," and "Beyond." Each story is completely different from each other in tone, art style, and story.
The Animatrix Trailer:
3. Paranoia Agent (Mousou Dairinin)
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: February 2004 - May 2004
I still remember the first time I saw Paranoia Agent: it was a late summer night. I was flipping channels and found myself watching Episode 3, from about halfway through. I was thoroughly creeped out, and did the only thing that made sense at the time: I stayed up, scared to sleep, and watched the episode again, hoping it made sense. It didn’t.
Paranoia Agent takes place in Musashino City. One day, a famous artist, Tsukiko Sagi, is attacked by a boy with golden skates and a matching bat. Although they Initially doubted Tsukiko, after Lil' Slugger, as the boy is called, claims more victims, two detectives track him down hoping to put an end to his attacks. But as Lil' Slugger's reign of terror spreads across the city it becomes harder and harder to know what's real and what's fiction.
From the OP, you know that you're in for a wild ride! The characters found throughout the show are shown in various locales laughing and smiling, without a care in the world. It's all very surreal and unsettling, and as you watch the show and meet the characters it becomes that more so, as you learn that they don't have a reason to be smiling.
Paranoia Agent is really an anthology of sorts, as it tells the story of these many characters who are connected by their victimization (and salvation) at the hands of Lil' Slugger. Director Satoshi Kon had lots of ideas leftover from his previous films, and so he decided to put those ideas together into a TV series. I'm glad he didn't scrap the ideas, because they gave birth to a great psychological thriller, and one of my definite favorites.
If anyone knows where to get a Maromi plush, hook a brother up!
Paranoia Agent Trailer:
2. Tekkon Kinkreet
- Episodes: 1
- Aired: December 2006
Anime is art. And art must be beautiful, traditionally or uniquely. Tekkon Kinkreet is easily beautiful in both regards. One look at the backgrounds in the movie, and it's easy to understand how Tekkon Kinkreet is 'traditionally beautiful'. The amount of detail given to every scene is mesmerizing. It really gives a sense of depth and life to the city. On the other hand, the characters all match Taiyou Matsumoto's very unique character design, but is also very reminiscent of Studio 4c's Mind Game: 'uniquely beautiful'.
Tekkon Kinkreet is about two young orphans, Black and White, who rule over their city, Treasure Town. Their dominance is, however, threatened when powerful Yakuza moves into town hoping to tear it down and build an amusement park in its place. Black and White find themselves fighting new enemies way out of their league as they attempt to save their city. Throughout their battle for Treasure Town, they come face to face with the evil within themselves and the city.
Tekkon Kinkreet is a simple tale, but it contains a lot of substance. Admittedly there are slow parts towards the start of the film, but as the story gets going, it builds up traction to its trippy finale. The third act captures all that is Tekkon Kinkreet: extremely dark, emotional, and trippy. If you enjoy Tekkon Kinkreet, be sure to check out Coin Locker Babies by Ryu Murakami. It tells a similarly dark tale of two orphans and their conquest of the darkness within themselves, and of their city.
Tekkon Kinkreet Trailer:
1. Beck (Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad)
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: October 2004 – March 2005
I may be wrong, but I feel as if Beck is a completely hidden, forgotten and overlooked gem. Even for me. Whenever asked about my favorite anime Tekkon Kinkreet and Paranoia Agent are my immediate answers. Despite the beauty that is Beck, I always forget about it. But as soon as I am reminded of it, I remember how much I truly love every moment of this series, and find myself wanting to watch it again, and very often doing so.
Beck is the tale of Koyuki, a shy and unconfident kid, who through several chance encounters, becomes friends with Ryusuke, a street smart musician with dreams of creating the ultimate rock band. Inspired by Ryusuke, Koyuki learns to play the guitar and becomes a key part of Ryusuke's ultimate band.
Beck is a great coming-of-age story. As Koyuki becomes more comfortable in his own skin he learns more about himself, love and relationships. Beck, of course, doesn't only focus on Koyuki. He's the main character but every major character has their own form of growth that they go through. They have disagreements and falling outs, throughout the entire series, up to the show's finale. Beck feels like a real-life story made into an anime. It's easy to develop an attachment to all the characters.
The music in Beck is wonderful, also! I still find myself singing songs from the show from time to time. Many songs are originally in English, and for that reason, I feel great care was put into choosing voice actors for the dub. As a result, I love watching the dubbed version and would say that it's just as good, if not better than the original Japanese version.
Beck is a wonderful show with great characters, art, music, character development, and an uplifting story.
Picking a Top 10 is easy. Picking a Top 3 is just as easy. For some reason, a Top 5 list is the hardest to make. There are so many shows that could replace Welcome to the NHK and the Animatrix on my list: Parasyte, Kill la Kill, Saiyuki... the list goes on. There's one thing that remains constant, however, I enjoy shows that have great art, are fun, feature interesting characters with good development, and I definitely don't mind a dark psychological story either.
The shows that made my Top 5 list today are there because they manage to contain everything that I love about anime, but they also aided my growth as a person and appreciation of anime as an art form. If you've never seen any of these shows, I hope you'll check them out. If you have, please let me know where they rank on your list!
For some reason, I want to go rewatch all my favorite shows now... Cya!