11 Great Anime Series Found Off the Beaten Path
You’re a long time anime watcher and think you’ve seen all the good series there are to see… perhaps just looking for something a bit different? Look no further! Read on and you may just find eleven new friends that you can add to your viewing collection, most of which you probably haven’t even heard about before.
Each of these series is top notch, though perhaps surprising in plot and characters when compared to your regular affair. Take a moment to check them out, and maybe you’ll find just the series you were looking for.
Michiko to Hatchin
The upbeat story of the rambunctious, rowdy, and all-round radical Michiko, an escaped felon who takes S%*! from no one. After her escape, she immediately goes about reuniting with a daughter she barely recognizes. Beginning with a motorcycle smashing straight through her dining room window during dinner, Hatchin is abruptly swept out of her abusive household circumstances to ride across a fictional Latin American landscape, joining Mitchiko in an erratic pursuit of her father.Constant whirlwind flight from the police push them from place to place amidst utter chaos, Mitchiko leading the way while neglecting any regard for safety or responsibility, but slowly learning to care for the strong but shaken Hatchin. Together, they balance each other out enough to escape from even the worst of circumstances, their bond imperceptibly growing stronger with every idiosyncratic circumstance survived through. By the end of twenty-six action packed episodes dripping with style, flavor and pizazz, my own ten year old sister and I were left in complete awe by an ending that couldn’t have been executed more exquisitely. If you’ve ever had a relationship you couldn’t quite place or understand, but knew was more important than the world, this series will bring you to both laughter and tears you didn’t know you had in you.
In a smoothly blended solution composed of playful early Disney-esque art and a dystopian science fiction setting, Kaiba almost dances us a story with themes and thoughts leaping wide across a stage lit with the viewer’s emotions. Kaiba, or so he’s called, is our protagonist whose memory is lost. Perhaps not a surprising occurrence, however, considering that bodies and minds are interchangeable on the planets the show takes place on. In an almost dream-like trance, we follow our protagonist on a fairly aimless journey across space, watching him love, play, explore, run away and chase the fleeting and impermanent people and objects around him. Serious themes of power, revolt, death and the solidity of the self are juxtaposed with more subtle and emotional jumps into tragic memories, broken families, fallen loves and shattered dreams. The combined feeling being nearly indescribable as the viewer floats along with the oddly quirky selection of characters, stories and art. For something unique, powerful and altogether different, a person can’t go wrong watching this brilliant yet subdued series.
Now and then, Here and There
From one dystopian future to another, our protagonist in Now and There, Here and There, Shuzo “Shu” Matsutani is warped to the future when he encounters the beautiful and mysterious Lalaru in his hometown. It turns out, she has been captured by the horrific leader Hamdo in a terrible future. There is no forgiveness in this series, no light at the end of the tunnel. Now and then, Here and There is the story of the absolute worst parts of humanity. Rape, genocide, kidnapping, child abuse, torture, and most other possible conceivable and unconceivable horrors are explored in situations too tragic not to continue to watch and try to understand. The cyclical nature of terror and abuse brought upon by fear cannot have been more vivid. Our hero manages to keep his integrity throughout all this while fighting against a world so corrupt it is almost unbelievable that he is able to do so. Lalaru centers the theme as she exemplifies the innocence still left in any society, even the most damaged of them. If we are headed for such a future is left up to the viewer.
Twelve girls are tasked as an elite squad of priestesses with the ability to pilot the de facto war machines of their nation. Powered by love and it’s many incarnations, the flying Simoun machines and the series both reflect on the differences of religious, friendly, family, and romantic loves. Each character’s multifaceted yet archetypical role exemplifies a certain aspect of compassion, love or care. The fact that all people in the Simoun world begin life as women and actually choose their adult gender after puberty brings questions of our gender identity to the forefront of the series. Stories in Simoun weave together each character’s personal thoughts and feelings with the overarching plot of war and the negotiations and battles thereof. Shocking moments are intermingled with sweet ones as each of the girls tries to grow, function, and do the right thing, though each have their own thoughts of how that is so.
Shion no Ou
When a little girl witnesses the murder of her parents, her life would never be the same. Becoming mute after the incident and living with her foster father, she masters Shogi (Japanese chess) under his tutelage. As the mystery of her parent’s death unravels, Shion fights through Shogi tournaments in the women’s league, quickly winding her way to its upper echelons. The other player’s lives and goals are slowly revealed, each game of shogi becoming an analogy for the players’ personal struggles in life, both morally and within the context of the game. By the end of the series, the heroine comes directly to terms with her past trauma, while the other main characters each face their own deepest troubles. A character study like no other, Shion no Ou’s actors are sure to entrance you like no other as you ponder the uncovering mystery.
Following the disturbing and disturbed doctor Ichiro Irabu, we watch with a mixture of terror and awe as he ‘cures’ his patients ills. With a animation style that mixes real life cut outs, blinding colors, and some psychedelic influences, we get a glimpse into the warped, estranged world seen through a lens somewhere between the patients, the doctors and some alien, objective reality (if there is such thing). Each patient’s problems are varied yet equally crazed, with the doctor solving their problems and teaching them almost profound life lessons along the way. A series that almost certainly won’t agree with the mainstream crowd, Trapeze leaves an impression of insight into the messed up inner world of human mentality.
The Count of Monte Cristo has been called one of the best novels of all time by some prestigious literary critics. This sci-fi adaptation of the novel is a brilliant new take on the classic. Taking the view of a young Viscount Albert, we see from the perspective of relative innocence a dire story of revenge. The art in Gankutsuou is simply breathtaking. With a style like no other, the glorious colors and patterns merge on a canvas of utmost elegance. The Count’s character packs quite an impact: Cruel but thoughtful, wise yet vengeful. One can feel they fully understand him at one point, and then be completely lost in his web of deception the next. As our naïve protagonist attempts to learn from and through the Count, attempting to reconcile the Count’s actions, perhaps with futility, or perhaps with insight. The series can sometimes be slow, though it could be argued it is purposefully methodical. Gankutsuou is a series that while outside the normal anime affair, its literary origin means it is recommendable to almost anyone.
Sometimes, there is nothing better than having that one perfect drink at the perfect time in the perfect place. Bartender follows the “Glass of the Gods” bartender Ryu as he talks through his customer’s problems and concerns over a good drink. Each episode features a cocktail tailored to the patron’s taste, uplifting them from their current rut through both taste and metaphor. As Ryu explains the origins of the drink, he allows the patron to think through their problem, eventually helping them to understand how to get out of it. As comforting as the drinks poured within it, Bartender has an atmosphere and feel of pure homeliness. A joy from beginning to end, there may be no better feeling than settling down to watch an episode with a cup of your own favorite drink.
When fifteen kids sign up for a game to pilot a giant robot together to defend the earth, their lives are changed forever. The simple game, as it turns out, is about to become a whole lot more real. As fifteen aliens invaders come down to earth one by one to battle and the earth’s preservation is on the line, the kids desperately fight back, all the while struggling with their own chaotic personal lives. As terrible revelations unfold, each character must deal with heavier and heavier emotional, psychological, and social burdens as the weight of the world lies on their shoulders. A series so unfortunate and depressing as to make anyone’s life seem favorable in comparison, each character grasps every bit of personal strength they have in order to do what needs to be done. With constant surprise around every corner, Bokurano shakes your heart as it pulls you close.
If there is one series you watch on this list, make it Kino’s Journey. The story of a traveler’s adventures from country to country in a unique fantasy/sci-fi world, it is not often a series comes around that so brilliantly unveils vibrant and poignant messages quite the way Kino’s Journey does. Kino as a character: observant yet powerful, curious yet distant, exemplifies the strength of a carefully constructed multi-dimensional lead. The dialogue between Kino and Hermes (a motorad/motorcycle) verges the cusp of sheer genius and insanity. Profound messages are deeply embedded within their conversations, which on the surface may seem mundane or trivial. Each visited country and each story lightly offers a point of view, a theory, or a criticism of the human life and societies. Kino, with every attempt to not interfere, nevertheless leaves an imprint on every place visited. Whether good or bad, a lesson is always learned, an idea always uncovered.
A reoccurring theme I stumbled across when I made this list is that the more obscure series that stuck with me in the long run each had a powerful message, something to be gleaned from watching them. I hope you too will find something worthwhile in some of these series. Then, years later when you make a list of the series that really stood out to you, I hope you’ll have gained some of your own wisdom from your series, and share them with your friends and fellow fans.