Watching anime with the missus...
However, most commercially made anime have to align a bit with "customer expectations" to be financially successful, and this is what has caused several genre tropes which you sometimes need to wade through. Fanservice of the "nude girl" variety sounds fun on paper but can be quite detrimental to the quality of a series if it gets too annoyingly obvious or disjointed from the narrative. I tend to filter these things out while watching them, happily delegating them to the adolescent part of my brain (or even the "lizard" part, if necessary) while keeping track of things like storytelling and characterization with the eh... remaining quarter.
Some people do not have such a filtering function though or are unwilling to use it. Case in point: my wife.
I love being able to watch an anime series with my wife but it's always a gamble if something will stick or not. And it's not just the "ecchi" or "lolicon" side of things which causes problems, but also her general disinterest in technical fetishism. Forget about mecha if a series is tailor-made for mecha-lovers. My wife recognizes and respects the effort that went into "Akira" and "Ghost in the Shell" but does not get any enjoyment out of watching them. When we started on "Neon Genesis Evangelion" she dropped out after episode 5. Interestingly she didn't mind the ample fanservice, either of the ecchi or mecha variety, but asked me how I could enjoy something that was so goddamn cold and bleak.
But there are series which hit paydirt with the both of us. Series we loved watching together, and even got addicted to. Currently we're watching "Dennou Coil" and enjoying it immensely (see the picture above, and a review will be coming soon). Here is a list of several other such series...
7: Kino's Journey
Kino and her talking motorcycle Hermes travel from country to country, staying everywhere for three days before moving on. Whenever they encounter problems they try to help, and in case of violent trouble Kino turns out to be an unrivalled marksman with any firearm. They travel for travel's sake, sharing stories with other people and exploring each new country for new insights.
"Kino's Journey" has a lot in common with "Gulliver's Travels" in that every country she visits is dominated by one clear distinction. People have been consumed by telepathy, or are addicted to helping strangers, or have been replaced by robots, or are forbidden to read books... There is a lot of variation in the stories and while the episodes do not exactly rock, they do not pull punches either when needed. Both Kino and the people she meets can be quite ruthless despite seeming meek. This is a remarkably philosophical series and each segment is good for a nice discussion afterwards.
6: Eden of the East
A young guy wakes up naked in front of the White House in Washington with amnesia, holding a phone which declares him to be a "Savior of Japan". The phone also grants him access to 10 billion Yen and limitless ways of spending it. Trying to discover his lost identity, he travels back to a crisis-stricken Japan only to discover there are 11 other "Saviors" at work there, many of which want to see him dead...
"Eden of the East" works like a Ludlum novel, especially the "Jason Bourne" ones, but instead of a skilled assassin the protagonist here is a very smart student who starts pulling people's strings using a variety of the social networks available these days. The threats are very real though: there is a missile attack to prevent and a serial killer to avoid.
Exciting, intelligent, with likeable if not entirely trustworthy leads, this is a damn fine series with a kick ass ending. And the two cinema films which follow up on it don't seem to fulfill all the promises but neither do they squander all opportunities.
5: Haibane Renmei
Rakka is reborn into a sort-of afterlife as an angelic creature complete with useless little wings and a halo, without any recollection of her past life as a human. Cared for by friendly fellow angels surrounding her, Rakka quickly feels at home. But then she discovers that the angels each are expected to disappear after a while and that she needs to solve the puzzle of what brought her here before she can similarly move on.
What starts as a mysterious but gentle series ups the ante considerably during the last few episodes, and does not skirt away from some very dark issues. When someone's self-loathing and depression create their own downward spiral, how can you force that person out of there? It is surprisingly strong stuff, beautifully worked into the storyline.
Also of note is that the series features an exceptionally strong score by Otani Koh, several pieces of which will haunt you for days after watching each episode. The soundtrack-CD has probably gotten even more playtime in my household than the DVDs did.
4: Ouran High School Host Club
Grant student Haruhi accidentally gets mistaken for being a boy and forced to become part of a Host Club at a high School for extremely rich people. When the Club discovers she is a girl they keep that a secret, afraid of losing face to their customers, also because Haruhi turns out to be a damn good host!
This series I bought on a whim, based on a few reviews by people I trusted. Most of these started with "Normally I wouldn't bother with a series like this, but..." and ended with "...laughed my ass off!" . And indeed, "Ouran High School Host Club" is often hilarious, each episode good for at least a few belly-laughs. The series is an absolutely brilliant riff on typical "guy" behavior, be it "guy - girl" or "guy - guy", and spoofs exactly everything I hate about typical shonen or shoja anime. The homosexual angle is exploited mercilessly throughout the series by all of the main characters as an occasional marketing gimmick to get even MORE girls attracted to them. By all means this should have made this a cynical and obnoxious series, but somehow it isn't. It's wicked funny too, and far more clever than I expected. There is a pair of twin brothers in this who play-act a forbidden(!) homosexual(!!) incestuous(!!!) relationship whenever their swooning female fans are nearby, and it's a running gag that never gets old. Coupled with some beautifully exaggerated consumer fetishism and snobbery that is displayed by the ultra-rich it makes for a pretty unique series, and me and my wife were sorry when the last episode had passed.
In 1931 USA, a massacre happens aboard a long-distance train involving several maffia families and some shady cults. Bizarrely, many of the victims keep coming back to life no matter how gruesomely they keep getting killed...
In 1930 New York, two bumbling thieves accidentally come into possession of a VERY weird bottle of wine in the middle of a maffia turf war...
In 1932, Eve Genoard searches for her missing mobster brother Dallas...
How are these stories connected? Through much jumping back-and-forth!
"Baccano!" is what me and my wife turned to after finishing and me reviewing "Durarara!!", because someone in the comments advised it. Made by many members of the team which also produced "Durarara!!", there is little to choose between them. Both series are absolutely excellent, and each series juggles a large cast with a convoluted story. "Baccano!" features a unique setting for an anime (the United States during the Nineteen-Thirties) and a damn fine jazzy soundtrack. It gets quite gory but never off-puttingly so, and it keeps both the tension and the hilarity high from beginning till end.
Mikado, Anri and Masaomi are youngsters at a school in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo who become friends. But when an unknown influence intentionally starts disrupting the peace to turn Ikebukuro into a warzone, the kids try to prevent this from happening. Also, there are people disappearing and there is a headless motorcyclist racing around...
"Durarara!!" is very much like "Baccano!" in flavor, but it gets the benefit from me and my wife because of its fascinating depiction of day-to-day life in a Tokyo district and the fact that it has a likable lead character whom it is easy to identify with. Well, that and Celty Sturlusun who has to be one of the absolute best supporting characters anywhere, ever. An Irish dark fairy on a mission in Japan, Celty is both rooted in mythology and stuck in the mundane chores of modern life. It's one of the examples of how "Durarara!!" manages to somehow include fantastical elements in its storyline without losing its credibility in the more down-to-Earth thriller aspects.
1: Paranoia Agent
A woman is whacked on the head by a boy with a baseball bat and taken to hospital. What starts as a simple assault case for the police turns more complex when evidence implies that the woman may have faked the attack. But at the same time people all over japan suffer similar assaults, a phenomenon which turns into a massive epidemic and turns the perp into a legendary cult figure.
Whenever one of us hates the upcoming working day enough to hope something will happen to prevent it (flu, or a mild accident) we start yelling "Shonen Bat! Shonen Bat!".
The late and lamented Satoshi Kon's excellent, EXCELLENT series about living in a modern stressful society may be our joint favorite ever. No matter that the first half is the best, that the finale could use a bit more exposition or that the story fails to move forward for several episodes just after the halfway point, these are just minor niggles on a series which oozes quality. Kon and his regular composer Hirasama Susumu created a masterpiece that anyone who has been on the brink of a burnout can identify with, yet is still wonderful, entertaining and even damn funny at times.
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