As a somewhat older anime fan who’s been watching anime for a while, I sometimes reflect on who is anime aimed at, such as in this post about demographics. I confess to finding myself cranky and cynical, when shows aimed at “adult men” most often depict high school girls being “cute”, and the more thought-provoking anime often end up relying on sound-bytes of philosophy and gore to show us just how “mature” they are and are even ostensibly marketed towards teenagers.
Moreover, while anime is a medium, it often feels as if proper dramas are sorely missing. We have comedies, romantic comedies, action – both of the physical and of the thriller varieties, and we have mysteries. But dramas, of the kind where we get to know characters, and in more than just the tear-jerking capacity are sorely missing. As such, there’d been a few shows I was pleased with in particular with a few shows I’ve watched this year:
- Welcome to the NHK, which discusses the fears and hardships of becoming an adult in a (perhaps even too) relatable manner. And here is my editorial on the show, which also takes time to discuss how realistic this whole thing is.
- Uchouten Kazoku (The Eccentric Family) which is a bona fide family drama, revolving around a painful event in the past, which every event in the present, every character in the now must relate to. This story has some sad moments, but it never overstates them. It often feels like a modern fairy tale, as well. The cast is composed of very well-characterized characters, a family. You can read Bobduh’s editoreview of the show here, he’s a huge fan, or my episodic notes here.
- Shin Sekai Yori (From The New World) – While not exactly a drama, it was an actual science-fiction story. I don’t know how I’d have reacted to this had this been a book, but for an anime? It blew me away. It dealt with hard topics with aplomb, tackling issues of sexuality and raising up children in an artificially constructed society where every member could potentially destroy it single-handedly, as well as show us what it means to be human – which some would argue is what all good stories try to do, and doubly so for science-fiction stories. You can read my review of the show here.
- Kyousougiga (Capital Craze) – This show still has one episode remaining, but I feel pretty comfortable putting it here. This show is similar in many ways to Uchouten Kazoku – both shows are family dramas revolving around the disappearance of a parent, both tell you much of the past as characters interact in the present, and tell you much of the present as we see events that have occurred in the past. The show also makes a rich use of various mythologies and visual metaphors, but unlike Bakemonogatari and Mawaru Penguindrum, it never feels like these overtake the story. You can check my episodic notes on the show here, I think they’re quite helpful from episode 5 onward to have a better understanding of the show.
I’ve often noted how I feel the growing reliance on light novel adaptations is a leading cause in the lack of “mature” or “drama” anime, so it shouldn’t be surprising that of the above shows three are based on actual novels, while the fourth is an anime-original project.
And now, here are thoughts shared by others, related either to these shows, or giving anime another chance:
cptn_garlock: Waking up on Sunday mornings to Uchouten Kazoku:
I don’t want to say I’m disillusioned with the anime industry, because I’m not, but waking up every Sunday morning over the summer to a new episode ofUchouten Kazoku, a cup of Twinings in hand, was a real highlight of my week. That show restored my faith that, for all the shlocky tits & camel-toe and edgy nonsense we get, we can still get something that I wouldn’t be embarrassed to show my friends and family, and that we can still get thoughtful shows. It’s good to see Kyousougiga continue the tradition this season.
aesdaishar: Kyousougiga and Being Mentally Ill:
Yeah, this show is a thing. Two weeks ago I was diagnosed with a slew of mental illnesses that I’m not going to burden anyone with details. Needless to say after I was diagnosed I decided to fuck everything and finally pick up this show that I’ve been hearing so much about and I just fell in love. The random insanity intertwined with the moments of just sheer brilliance feel a lot like the emotional roller coaster I’ve been going through. And even though life can be like that it’s ok, just enjoy the ride. It’s easily my new favorite show. (sorry Penguindrum)
Redcrimson: Shin Sekai Yori: Worldbuilding is Boring
Another show to file under “I respect, but don’t enjoy”. On paper, and according to most reviewers I follow, this should have been an easy 10/10 for me. I’m currently stalled on episode 9 with little desire to return to it. It’s a beautiful show, with rich themes, interesting ideas, and a complex fleshed out universe. It turns out I don’t really care about any of that. I learned something about myself this year. I like characters, and I like stories about characters. Looking at my favorite anime, it’s glaringly obvious. Shows like Madoka Magica, NGE and Bakemonogatari are all about their characters. To look even closer, they’re stories whose settings are largely just a framework for the characters to exist in. I don’t need the complete history of your fictional country, or an encyclopedia on your magic system. I just want fun, interesting characters to watch and spend some time with. SSY is the kind of show that is rare in anime, and of even rarer caliber. Unfortunately, it’s just not presented in a way that appeals to me. I may finish it someday, I really wanted to like it. But I just couldn’t. And that makes this one of the lowest points of my anime year.
xenefenex: White Album 2:
Wow. I’ve never actually found an anime I’d wait minutes to pass for it to release. I would literally sit on my computer refreshing the page hoping for White Album 2 to have an update out. I watched White Album 1 in anticipation of White Album 2 releasing and I was very disappointed. It had a good premise, but it just wasn’t very well executed or enjoyable. It just felt all over the place when I watched it. So, my expectations were extremely low for White Album 2. And if there’s one thing I can’t stand about most anime with male protagonists, it’s the fact that most male protagonists are just plain stupid. So when Haruki is introduced as an actual decent human being who can think, I was shocked. Even more so by the response he first gave to Setsuna when they’re talking. Episode by episode I could feel the drama building and happily wait for the week to go by so I could watch the next episode. Without a doubt, is my favourite anime series of 2013 and one of the most memorable anime I’ve watched to date.
UnorthodoxByNature: Another look at Higurashi no Naku koro ni:
Last year, I watched Higurashi. Not only that, I also decided to watch the dub. Boy was that a mistake because I ended up HATING IT! The series felt so damn slow and boring. Everything just seemed so bad and I wondered why people liked it so much.
So, this year, I decided to give it a second chance. Why? Because I found out there was a second season and I figured it might redeem itself. However, this time I decided to watch everything subbed, and holy crap what a difference that made. The show was actually interesting and it kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time. I ended up loving the series and made me glad that I gave it a second chance.
Ch4zu: Finding my niche:
I love a work that is well put-together. Some people may just like to watch moe, boobs or robots fighting robots, but I just want a show that has as little flaws as possible without scratching out great ideas. Characters that fit in the setting the author is trying to create, interact in a realistic way and develop over time according to the situations happening around them. A storyline that has little to no flaws and that answers every question you could have. Psychological shows seem to be often fitting that description very often.
Vintagecoats: “Those” scenes from Aku no Hana / Flowers of Evil
I’ll cover this up for anyone who still wants to watch it, but I’m specifically referring to the classroom destruction sequence and the eight minute long silent walk home in the immediate next episode.
I happened to get really into the show, and if others did not that is fine and I’m actually always rather interested in their opinions, because if everyone liked the same thing life would be boring. But I found the incredibly measured build that led to those, and then the catharsis of them, to be a really invigorating media experience. I’d consider them downright iconic, and I’ve rewatched them a few times since to view them outside of the week to week edge of my seat rigamarole.
You’d think the show literally killed the childhood puppy of some folks though, given the raw rage and seething vitriol something like the rotoscoping decision was able to generate from a certain collection of hearts, so that was a real shame than many people never ever made it that far into the show to see those moments.
It somehow sold a few dozen copies more than C3-bu though, which seems to be the collective benchmark for commercial disasters this year, so… there’s that?
So, dear readers, do you have a moment from the past year where anime had shown you it could be mature or re-affirmed your faith in what it can do, the form of stories it could tell?
One of the things I often hear from anime fans (which is sort of related to what you point out yourself in the first paragraph of this post) is that all the dark and mature anime have been taken over by sickly-sweet moe shows and vapid harem romances. To some extent I share this frustration, because in very general terms, I find that I usually do tend to enjoy more serious and gritty anime than I do titles which revolve around comedy or cute girls doing cute things. That said, I think there are still a number of shows being released that can and do showcase some of the best of what ‘dark’ anime has to offer. 2013 has been no exception – there was Psycho-Pass and as you’ve already pointed out, Shin Sekai Yori, which both began last year but were still airing up until March. Like you, I’d also happily put Kyousougiga on the list, as well as Aku no Hana. I suppose I should also at least give mention to Shingeki no Kyojin too, since while there were plenty of things I found to dislike about that one, it also did a lot of things right and of course ended up being insanely successful.
I hope to begin and finish both Psycho-Pass and Aku no Hana before January 10th or so, which is the final date I’m giving myself for the “Top shows ending in 2013” list that must come.
See, here’s the thing, you mention “gritty and dark”, and while I’m a big fan of gritty and dark, they’re actually most often not really “mature shows”. I find the more mature shows, the truly “seinen/josei” shows to be ones that are somewhat “slice of life”, which focus on “real stories”, and thus often have less of an “exciting plot” – Uchouten Kazoku and Kyousougiga are family dramas, Welcome to the NHK is the story of someone growing up. I’d definitely consider Usagi Drop as a “mature show”. The calm assuredness of making a show about everyday life as it is is a good thing – “cute girls doing cute things” is actually the opposite, it’s an idealized form of life, it’s nostalgia, as I make the point in my K-On! post.
As often as not, shows which proclaim themselves as “dark and gritty”, and Shingeki no Kyojin definitely counts here, as well as Death Note, and Code Geass, and other shows I appreciate, are actually aimed at “young adults” or “older teenagers” who are drawn to the edgy, to the neat ideas, to the cool stuff. It’s just mature enough to attract them, but not mature enough to have already settled down into what truly is reflective of life.
That’s an excellent point – dark and gritty isn’t necessarily the same as mature (although I think they can be, given certain circumstances).