So watching Attack on Titan heralded in an era of trying to catch up on some of the best anime Japan had to offer. I tried and tried very hard in filling the void of incredible storytelling, beautiful animation, and compelling characters Attack on Titan held. My journey has led me high and low with a lot of time invested. I’ve recently finished three more anime, all recommended from close friends (Hybrid Zone) and some of my favorite websites like Kotaku. Here’s more coverage on what I watched, what I liked, and what I didn’t like. I’m also opening the floor for even more recommendations.
Recommendation reminders to keep in mind: I like to keep things short, with whole series ending after 24 or 40 episodes. I like recent stuff, because animation has really progressed since then. I’m looking for some good drama. Everything I’ve watched lately has mechas and fantasy. Maybe toning that genre back would be good. Unless you’ve got something I REALLY need to see.
I got the recommendation to check out Code Geass (thanks HybridZone). Code Geass is an anime released in 2006 and ran until 2009. Only two seasons, each 25 episodes, were released. It was critically well received and is often mentioned in several best anime series lists. That being all said, I had no presumptions about this series. I was even a little put off given its age, but still willing to give it a shot.
And I’ve been shot. A lot. In the feels.
Code Geass spins a tale of political strife, moral conviction, high school romance, intellectual warfare, fan service and of course, mechas. Lelouch is the brilliant main character who is given the ability to bend anyone to his will through direct eye contact. Using this power, he overturns an oppressive government he has a personal vendetta against. Lelouch becomes caught up in using his close friends and family as pawn pieces and must deal with moral consequences that come with it.
- Beautiful animation for 2006 – I can’t believe this show is almost 10 years old. It looked incredible.
- Fantastic universe building – From the three primary countries to Japan’s national pride, this series really built the universe from the ground up. I felt the repercussions of the actions from the latest episode, whether they be personal, political, or military based. Each decision made was followed through and held consistent with character motivation.
- The 50 episode story arc finishes beautifully – The ambiguous climax at the end of the first season on episode 25 was absolutely ridiculous. The way the second season started and finished was absolutely incredible. All of this led to one of the greatest endings I could’ve hoped for. Those three sentences are stupidly vague, but I could spend an entire post (and almost did) writing about how much fun this series was in total
- Power creep – every following episode had a faster pilot, better mecha, or last second trump card. It makes the better mecha/pilot/trump from 3 episodes ago completely irrelevant. This got fairly ridiculous towards the end, where I waited at the end of every episode for a ‘gotcha’ moment. These kinds of things broke me from the immersion of what was going on. “Really, another guy saying, ‘this is the best pilot I’ve seen'” knowing that that person’s gonna get their ass kicked later.
- The religious deeper meaning stuff – maybe this just isn’t my cup of tea. The series goes into some ‘larger-than-life’ stuff regarding human actions, God, etc. I didn’t buy into it so much and found it kinda dragging.
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann
Now I enjoyed Kill la Kill. Kill la Kill’s older spiritual brother is Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. I decided to catch up on this anime from 2007 with the intention of seeing where this ‘my drill will pierce the heavens’ meme comes from and where Kill la Kill gets its roots.
I found in hard evidence that Kill la Kill is truly the spiritual successor to Gurren Lagann. It has a similar visual style, crazy amount of ridiculousness, and is all around a whole lot of fun.
Simon the digger has lived underground his whole life. When he gets a chance to be above ground, he learns of an ongoing war between beastman and humans that has raged on the surface. His noble cowardice is backed by his two friends, an over enthusiastic older brother, Kamina, and a scantily clad sniper, Yoko. Together they unravel the mysteries of the war while punching the snot out of beastman and other foes in giant mechanical suits.
- Fun animation – I can see where Kill la Kill got its inspiration for ridiculous imagery and visuals. Though not as rampant and open as Kill la Kill, Gurren Lagann set a good precedent for mixing much more detailed visuals and blinding lights with the anime’s more simplistic art style.
- Kamina – The internet loves Kamina and for good reason. He’s honestly the show’s most likable and fun character. His sheer conviction and unorthodox methods are characteristics that difficult to not fall for.
- Good series climax that changes the game…
- But story power creep gets the better of it – The shows starts off fairly methodical. Good mecha fights bad mecha and initially loses until Good mecha pulls out a trump card. Rinse and repeat for the first couple of episodes. The bigger pictures starts getting put into place and it’s really enjoyable to see what ‘it all really meant’. However it slowly starts to lose track of that in the final third of the series where it becomes back to being very methodical and rudimentary.
- Mecha Power creep – Like I stated above, the good guys are always being told that they’re not strong enough by the bad guys. Well turns out they are strong enough, again and again and again and again. It gets pretty ridiculous and maybe that’s the point. But when the show tries to make itself smart with adding in phrases about Shrodinger and probability references, it only comes off as pedantically hollow. (And I understood those references, I took physical and quantum chemistry).
- And even if absolute ridiculousness was the key goal here, it’s still not as fun as Kill la Kill, and maybe that’s partially why Kill la Kill (for me, personally) was a better anime. Maybe this isn’t even a ‘bad’ thing and doesn’t deserve to be put in this section, but it had to be said. Gurren Lagann has great visuals, characters, and ridiculousness. They took the fun and vibrant visuals, colorful characters, and ridiculousness and rebalanced it for Kill la Kill to make a better show and I salute them for it.
Akame Ga Kill!
Well let’s catch up to this year. I had to find something that was popular. I went to Kotaku’s chosen best anime’s of 2014 for spring and summer to see which one piqued my interest. Akame Ga Kill! was not on that list. The community kinda flamed Kotaku for not including it and that conflict was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I had to see what the controversy was. I’m now 18/24 episodes in and I’ve had a lot of fun. While catching up on old greats is fun, watching the latest stuff really shows you how far the industry has gone since then.
- Being relatively new, Akame Ga Kill! has beautiful animation. The drawings are very clear cut and this age of HD streaming really brings out the quality these days. Blood splatter is ridiculously juicy and sword fights can be breathtakingly thrilling.
- One of the series primary villains, Esdeath, is deliciously fun. She’s likely the most absolutely ridiculous character in this show and that makes every scene she’s in magnetic.
- Something great that Akame Ga Kill! does is that they also characterize their bad guys. Team Jaeger the team that opposes our protagonists and they are just as much fun as Esdeath. Team Jaeger’s roster of bad guys have a lot of personality and you can sympathize well with over half of them (which is rare for villains.) Bols is the best.
- The main team, Night Raid, is fun...but not as much fun as Team Jaeger. Our protagonist is pretty derivative. He’s starts out a ‘weakling’ and pretty much has a mini speech every episode about how he’s going to get justice for the people. And just about every episode someone on his team says, ‘he’s getting stronger’. On the fun side, everyone else on the team has quite the enjoyable dynamic, which kinda shakes you during an emotionally heavy scene that occurred just five minutes ago. But the problem with the main team lies in the next point.
- Everyone has one-dimensional/one-note quirks. This is kinda common in a lot of anime. And even other genres of TV shows. One guy’s whole quirk is that he’s a neat freak. Every time he’s given a chance to speak, it’s always something pertaining to that. Which is fun for a while, but you kinda question, ‘why was that necessary? Character development? I get it, he’s a neat freak‘. Some dimensions are added to the main team, but callbacks to how one girl loves meat only goes so far, no matter how KAWAI she is.
- Ultimately the story that’s been set has a fairly bland universe. Country in strife with oppressed people means we have to kill the head honchos to make the world a better place. That’s the charter for our protagonist’s organization. Eighteen episodes in and I haven’t seen how killing a drug lord has made the streets cleaner or killing a corrupt captain has affected the military morale. As far as I can tell most of these missions have no real impact or the show doesn’t find it important to relay that to us and would rather tell us that the peeping tom of the group indeed likes to peep on woman…for the 100th time. I have zero attachment for the success of the group other than killing that piece of shit leader we’re constantly reminded to hate.
Maybe I Should Stop Taking Anime So Seriously
There are some pretty ridiculous moments and I kinda went off on some parts. Ultimately I enjoyed all three of these series that I’ve watched, no matter how scathing some of the ‘Bads’ were. If I keep getting annoyed with all the tropes that come with the genres I keep watching, maybe I think I’ve had enough Mecas and Fantasy for a while. How about some people recommend some slice of life or darker animes?
Or maybe I’m missing out on a really good fish. I’ll go out on a limb and say Attack on Titan is still up there on the throne for best anime I’ve seen in a while. I still adored the sense of dread, crisp and thrilling animation, and fascinating universe. Code Geass came very close, but its dated (but still gorgeous) animation was the only aspect holding it back. Maybe I’m not looking in the right places. Which leads me to the following: