As the current season of anime continues to
whelm us with a slim selection of good but not great new shows and a smattering of solid
sequels, many of you – like me – may be left wanting for new anime content to sate
the all-consuming void inside your souls. Lest the killing begin anew.
There are a lot of promising series to look forward to this summer, like Berserk But it’s
Vikings, Detective Waver, Do you Even Lift Onii-san, and Hokuto no Bill Nye, but all
that’s still two months away. So instead of just looking forward and waiting for new
anime to come to us, now’s an excellent time to look back, and dig into some of the
great shows we might have missed out on amid the seasonal grind
Classic anime is a good choice for this purpose – and I just put out a whole video detailing
why I think you guys should all go back and watch Initial D. But there’s also a ton
of great anime that came out just last year and flew under the radar because of… well,
all the other great anime coming out at the same time. And before we move on to an absolutely
stacked summer – I’d like to take this chance to talk about five of those underappreciated
gems one more time before they fall into obscurity forever.
To get this list up and running, We’re gonna start by half-cheating. Run With The Wind
started in 2018, but it finished in winter 2019 – which meant that I didn’t feel
comfortable ranking it on my loose top 10 for the year (honestly the list was so packed
that leaving it out just made things easier). But this show is so good that I have no qualms
about exploiting a technicality to include it on this list and, in all likelihood, my
best of 2019 list as well. Run with the Wind is a sports anime about
competitive running that follows a ragtag group of college boys, united by their desire
to live in a dorm rent free, as they’re roped into their classmate Haiji’s ambitious
dream to run in the prestigious Hakone Ekiden Marathon. Though the boys are almost all novices
and none too keen about the prospect of spending every morning sweating and wheezing their
way to the river and back, Haiji’s contagious enthusiasm eventually brings them together
as a team. And slowly – in some cases very slowly – but
surely, they become determined to prove to the world, and themselves, exactly what they’re
capable of. Though it’s got its share of the intense
moments you’d expect from a sports show – and the staff at production IG animated
them with the same aplomb we saw in Haikyuu – Run With The Wind is driven forward more
by great character interactions and dramatic storytelling than it is by raw hype. The cast
of the show has a wide variety of extremely likeable personalities that clash in the most
entertaining ways, and watching them all bounce off each other is an absolute joy.
Each episode feels like you’re sitting down for dinner with a group of your best college
buddies as they drunkenly bicker and occasionally say “man, you can be a dick. But you know
what? I fuckin love you, man. You’re a treasure.” And because you come to love this group of
disfunctional idiots so much, when the dramatic, character-defining moments come, they hit
hard. This is a show that can make you laugh your ass off, cry your heart out, and cheer
til your lungs are sore. Run with the Wind does everything it can to
immerse you in its rowdy college atmosphere with detailed, lived-in environments and strong
cinematography and editing that really puts you in the headspace of its characters. It’s
a lavishly produced series with a strong heart, and if you give it a shot, I’m willing to
bet you’ll fall in love with it. What I’m saying is, Watch Run With the Wind,
You Cowards. Next up is an anime I wouldn’t blame anyone
for being wary of Last Period is a mid-tier mobile game that
follows a crew of adventurers as they repeatedly beat up cutesy monsters for cash and loot.
Its story is nothing to write home about, and its setting is a melange of generic fantasy
tropes stapled together with little regard for aesthetic or thematic consistency. So
you’d think any anime based on it would be little more than flavourless corporate
slop. And I expect most people passed it by without a second thought.
But if you did, you missed out on a surprisingly clever parody of mobile games and their terrible
anime adaptations from Love Hina director (and former Slayers Episode Director) Yoshiaki
Iwasaki. Like Slayers, Last Period is a zany, high-energy fantasy comedy that follows a
party of stupid heroes, called “periods” as they square off against maybe slightly
less stupid, team-rocket-esque villains. Who – as an aside – have some of my favourite
character designs in recent anime memory. I dunno, I’m a sucker for the whole “three
monkeys” theme and this is a really clever take on it.
If you like fantasy anime in general and have been craving something new in the vein of
Slayers or Mahoujin guruguru, you’ll probably get a kick out of this bonkers parody, but
the real meat of this anime lies in its biting satire of tired mobile game tropes… and
the cynical business mindset behind them. As a jab at lazy, obvious asset re-use, for
example, every town our heroes visit is run by a palette-swapped variation of the same
fat, balding mayor – each one of whom peppers their dialogue with different themed puns.
And, of course, the success of our heroes in battle versus the… evil? Wiseman comes
entirely down to the villains’ absurd luck in “calling” 5 star characters while the
periods only ever seem to roll ones. There’s even an episode where one of the
heroes pisses away his life’s savings on gacha pulls. It’s… dark. And… honestly,
kinda disconcerting. Since this is still one giant gacha commercial, that joke kinda feels
like the very people who design exploitative monetization systems are almost… laughing
at their victims… But this is like the only gacha anime that actually warns people not
to sink all their money into microtransactions, so morally speaking… I dunno what to make
of it. But speaking critically, it is a pretty goddamn
funny show regardless. Not every joke lands – and the number that land for you will
depend almost entirely on how familiar you are with Gacha Games and – to a lesser extent
– fantasy anime. As well as your tolerance for overt, self-indulgent forth wall breaks,
as delivering those is basically the sole job of the sociopathic Deadpan Loli character,
choco. But if its style of comedy gels with you, it will have you rolling.
A lot of last period’s best moments are off-the-wall surprises that I don’t want
to spoil, so it’s best that I don’t go on. I will say that my favourite episode was
their riff on illogical, immersion-shattering “collaboration events” with popular anime…
But I’ll leave you to discover what that entails for yourself
As a point of contrast, the next show on our list is an original anime. Though it was adapted
into a pretty good mobile game after the fact. Shoujo Kageki Revue Starlight offers a fascinating
hybrid of Moe Slice of Life comedy and tightly-polished anime action. It follows 9 girls in the 99th
class of Seisho Music Academy – a prestigious performing arts school in Tokyo – as they
compete in secret “auditions,” overseen by a talking giraffe in a massive auditorium
beneath their school, in order to be crowned the “top star.”
What’s really impressive about this anime is that it manages to shine as an exemplar
in both its genres. Each of the girls in the main cast is positively adorable, and they
all have their own motivations and internal struggles that give them depth. Nobody feels
like a flat side-character, and each girl is given their own time in the spotlight over
the course of the series. You come to care about and understand every last one – which
is what separates great moe like K-on and Euphonium from the rest of the pack.
Each fight in the show is framed as a musical number sung by the girls as they clash blades.
Which may seem odd, but actually makes a lot of sense. Songs in musicals and fights in
anime often serve similar purposes, externalizing the conflicts both between and within characters
in a manner that’s engaging and accessible for the audience. The “revues” in revue
starlight serve as vehicles for characters to resolve their issues with each other and
themselves. And they look sound great as they do it.
Props and stage elements fly around as the girls do battle, literalizing their perception
of each other, their self-image, and their thoughts as shifting parts of the terrain
on which they fight. The show will often cut away to the mechanisms driving these stage
transformations, helping to ground the fights even as they bend and break reality. And all
the while, we’re treated to a showcase of stunning sakuga.
The show’s first fight in particular is remarkably complex in its choreography and
camerawork. Unfortunately, due to behind the scenes issues, the animation quality of the
series isn’t 100% consistent throughout its run, but thankfully it never breaks down.
Smart framing and surrealist directing choices help to mask animation shortcomings when they
do crop up, and the show always delivers top-nootch animation when the situation calls for it
– be it a dramatic clash, or just an important plot beat.
Even in its slice of life segments, the character animation is a cut above most anime, and the
show carries itself with a persistent air of theatricality. The acting tends to be exaggerated
well beyond even what you’d expect to see in a typical anime. Characters deliver their
inner thoughts through soliloquy, and move about the show’s world as though it were
one giant stage, using background objects as props to accentuate their performances,
even when it doesn’t make strict logical sense.
Revue Starlight serves as a celebration of the art of stagecraft, and the individual
passions that drive it. As a high school theatre geek I’ve got a particular soft spot for
it, but if you enjoy good anime girls and good anime sword fights in general, I think
you’ll find it to be an absolute treat. Of course, not everyone WANTS their slice
of life comedies to be broken up by intense duels to the disrobement. These are shows
we watch to unwind, after all, and the tension of a pitched sword fight can get in the way
of all that. If you’re in the mood for something a bit more Laid Back, my next suggestion might
hit the spot. Hakumei and Mikochi follows two tiny fairy
girls, who are, coincidentally, named Hakumei and Mikochi, as they go about their daily
lives in an quaint world of talking animals, spirits, and other vaguely magical hooha.
Think the Borrowers (or The Secret World of Arrietty if you don’t, uh, read) with less
sneaking around in fear of the “Human Beans” and more sitting around, sipping tea.
As is appropriate for its tiny setting, Hakumei and Mikochi is largely about enjoying the
little things in life. Good company and good food. A quiet moment of relaxation after a
long day of hard work. The serene sight of the night sky out in the woods. It’s a very
cozy, Zen-feeling anime that invites you to sit back, relax, and enjoy some light laughs
and very mild conflicts in an enchanting setting. The show’s animation isn’t all that special,
but its presentation is VERY pleasing to the eye nonetheless, with bright, colourful character
designs that contrast nicely with the earthy, watercolour backgrounds. Filters and soft
shading give the show the look of a painting come to life, which the anime augments with
manga panel insert shots highlighting even smaller details of the world. All this is
backed with slow, calming English folk music that ties the series’ Pastoral atmosphere
together. Now, my endorsement of this show doesn’t
come without a bit of bias. I absolutely love the aesthetic of tiny characters in a big
world – there’s something immensely charming, to me, about say, a walnut shell being used
as a bowl – or coffee being brewed from a single bean that has to be cracked open
by hand. So there are some procedural parts of this show that instantly make *me* happy
but won’t necessarily work for all of you. That said, even if you’re not drawn in by
the world, I think you’ll quickly become enamoured with the show’s characters if
you give it a chance. The go-getting Hakumei and the more reserved Mikochi have a fantastic
odd-couple dynamic that makes every scene they share a lot of fun, and there’s this
underlying feeling of friendship and camaraderie that permeates the series, brightening even
its (relatively) darker moments. It’s very difficult to watch Hakumei and Mikochi without
a smile on your face. The same goes for our last show, though it
moves at a MUCH quicker pace. I’ve already talked… so much about Planet
With. I mentioned it literally two videos ago. and I have a whole other video solely
dedicated to explaining why it was my favourite anime of last year (in a very close tie with
Yorimoi). Normally I would cap this list off with something different, like, say, Hakumei
and Mikochi, just to round things out without repeating myself.
But it was my birthday on Thursday, so I’m feeling a bit self-indulgent. And Planet With
is SO GODDAMN GOOD that there’s really no better way you could be spending your anime-binging
time if you haven’t seen it already. If you missed my previous discussions of it,
a quick primer: Planet With is an original mecha anime created
by Manga-ka Satoshi Mizukami – who ranks alongside One, Hiromu Arakwa, and Naoki Uraswa
as one of the greatest writers to ever work in the medium. Period. The show follows an
amnesiac kid named souya who, in a world under threat from mysterious alien invaders, must
hop in a giant robot and fight to stop… the team of superheroes trying to save it.
Well, that’s the elevator pitch, but the show moves so quickly that no summary can
really cover it. For Planet With, Mizukami put his immeasurable
talent to work crafting one of the tightest, densest narratives that you will ever see
in anime. You know how Gurren Lagaan took all the twists and turns of a 50 episode mecha
anime, cranked the insanity up to eleven, and packed it all into just 27 episodes? Mizukami
looked at that and said “pfft, I can do it in 12.” And then he did it. and it’s
crazy, Every episode of planet with – except the
first, which is meant to ease you into things – delivers a full arc’s worth of character
and plot development and at least one kick-ass mecha battle, in a story that spans… well,
I’m not gonna spoil it, but suffice it to say it’s ambitious. Yet not a second of
it feels rushed or confusing, because mizukami has ensured that every line of dialogue is
used to the fullest, moving the plot forward, delivering exposition, and expanding on the
characters all at once. It is exciting, funny, profoundly emotional…
and it has something to say – throughout its 12 Episodes, Planet With dives deep into
the philosophy of pacifism, exploring how non-violent means can be used toward profoundly
violent ends, how even peaceful motivations can result in destruction, and what it means
to truly love your fellow man… among MANY other topics.
Planet With is the kind of story that anime was made to tell. And Norio Wakamoto Plays
a talking dog I cannot stress enough how important that is please watch it.
This has been my ted talk. This video was sponsored by HiDive, an anime
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today. But before you go, scroll down to the comments
and let me know what show from last year you think was the most underwatched or underappreciated.
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I’m Geoff Thew, Professional Shitbag, Signing off.