Five Classic Animes Worth Watching
As somewhat of a counterpoint to last week’s article, Five Worst Anime Series of All Time, I’ll now highlight some of the classics no self-respecting fan should go without seeing at least once. These are the cream of the crop when it comes to anime, so if you’ve yet to see any of them, you need to sit down and take a long, hard look at your life. As always, if you disagree with any of the opinions contained within, please make your concerns known to my agent.
#5 – Trigun
Based on the space-western manga of the same name, Trigun follows the escapades of Valentinez Alkalinella Xifax Sicidabohertz Gumbigobilla Blue Stradivari Talentrent Pierre Andry Charton-Haymoss Ivanovici Baldeus George Doitzel Kaiser III (more commonly known as Vash the Stampede) as he travels across the planet Gunsmoke. Known to the planets inhabitants as “The Humanoid Typhoon”, Vash is a wanted man, having a ludicrous sixty billion dollar bounty on his head for the destruction of Gunsmoke’s capital city of July. His epithet proves to be quite literal as he seemingly invites disaster wherever he goes — though it’s mostly caused by the hordes of bounty hunters that are perpetually gunning for our hero.
Though it begins as a fairly light-hearted series, following a quite goofy Vash and his companions — a pair of insurance brokers seeking to minimize the damage caused by the infamous Humanoid Typhoon – on their wacky adventures, the series takes a rather drastic turn for more serious waters about midway through. It begins to delve into the psyche of the protagonist — a master gun-slinger who, contrary to his reputation is an adamant pacifist — a dangerous philosophy on the wild-west-like planet Gunsmoke where the prevailing attitude is kill or be killed.
It also explores the surprisingly sci-fi beginning of Vash and becomes incredibly dark as the series nears its conclusion as the protagonist must wrestle with the guilt over his past actions, all the while being physically and emotionally tormented by a mercenary group set on bringing the Humanoid Typhoon to his knees.
As a whole, the series dissects the notion of the sanctity of life, providing a gripping, powerful and though-provoking framework that really brings a sense of depth and tragedy to Trigun — made even more poignant when juxtapositioning the somewhat comedic and goofy first half of the series with the dark and sombre conclusion. All in all, Trigun is an anime with something to offer everyone, and is an absolute must see for any true fan.
#4 – Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion
Similar to the above entry, Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion focuses on a tragic anti-hero. Unlike the predecessor however, Code Geass starts heavy and stays that way until the very end. The plot of the series follows the marquee character, Lelouch Vi Britanina on his quest for revenge and eventually, the liberation of Japan from the rule of the “Britanian” empire. A disgraced prince of the aforementioned empire, Lelouch has been living in an occupied Japan under an assumed name and identity, wasting his days away in the guise of a normal high school student. This all changes when he comes into contact with a girl named C.C. who bestows upon him the power of “Geass”, which allows Lelouch to briefly control the minds of those he makes eye contact with.
Using this power, the fallen prince begins exacting his revenge against his former country and his father, the Emperor of Britannia whom he blames for the death of his mother years earlier. Eventually, he adopts the personality of “Zero” and begins leading Japanese resistance groups to rebel against their Britanian occupiers under the promise that he will return their country to them — all in order to enact his ultimate revenge upon his father and build a better future for his terminally ill sister. Meanwhile, his childhood friend Suzaku Kururugi, son of the former Japanese prime minister prior to the country’s occupation by Britannia, joins the Britanian military and begins working his way up the ranks with the ultimate goal of freeing Japan. Though their goals are similar, Suzaku plans to free his country through honourable means, while Lelouch is willing to manipulate, deceive and kill to achieve his ends. This puts Suzaku at odds with Lelouch’s “Zero” personae, leading to the pair becoming unwitting rivals as the series progresses.
The series is particularly well written, with Lelouch coming off as a tragic but determined villain — a veritable mastermind who will stop at nothing to see his plan come to fruition. Though his methods are questionable, his goal of overthrowing the oppressive Britainian Empire and creating a more peaceful world are certainly commendable. You can’t help but root for him, even if he’s evil. On the flip side of things, his childhood friend and Japanese citizen, Suzaku is portrayed as an honourable and steadfast soldier working to free his country without resorting to unsavoury means — the complete opposite of “Zero”. This obviously puts the two at odds, although for most of the series neither is aware that the other is their most hated adversary; Lelouch hiding under Zero’s mask, and Suzaku in the cockpit of his “Knightmare” mecha, The Lancelot.
As the series progresses the pair, though friends in their everyday lives, become increasingly entangled in the conflict between Japan and Britannia, eventually leading to a final, climactic confrontation between the two where their true identities are revealed. It is, at least in my opinion, one of the most powerful scenes in any anime I’ve seen.
At its core, Code Geass deals with the themes of loss, the value of individuality, human morality, free will and a myriad of others. The writing is top-notch and as a series, Code Geass is absolutely steeped in human drama. It’s plot is intricate, compelling and paced to keep you on the edge of your seat. Add to that the beautiful animation, brilliant theatrics and an excellent audio element, and you have a series that truly leaves a lasting impact on its audience.
#3 – Furi Kuri
There is, I believe, a special place in the universe for those who understand the plot of Furi Kuri. Like enlightenment, once one truly understands this series, they’re whisked away from our realm of existence and taken to a place where they can talk about Jungian archetypes and Japanese coming-of-age rituals until time itself ends. Don’t believe anyone who says they understand the plot of this anime, because they’re obviously lying through their teeth. Furi Kuri is quite simply, the most off-the-wall, random and, dare I say, entertaining series to come out of Gainax, bar none. This bizarre coming-of-age tale focuses on the character of Naota, a young resident of the town of Mabase who’s world is turned upside down after his, ahem, run in with Haruko Haruhara — a self-proclaimed investigator from an organization known as the Intergalactic Space Patrol who has come to earth in search of a legendary “space pirate” by the name of Atmosk.
Naota quickly becomes enthralled in an intergalactic rat-race between various groups to obtain Atmosk’s power and stop the evil organization known as Medical Mechanica (who has coincidentally just opened a factory in Mabase) from destroying the Earth. Naota, as it turns out, possesses an extremely powerful “NO Channel” — a sort of worm-hole in his head that allows those with the know-how to pull objects from anywhere in the universe to his location. These are including but not limited to, a robot with a TV for a head, a gigantic mechanical hand, a three-legged squid with a dislike for curry, several guitars, and eventually, the Pirate King Atmosk himself — all of which can be willed to Naota’s location by striking him very hard on the head.
All of this, however, is tertiary. Furi Kuri isn’t about the plot: it’s about the experience. While watching the series six episodes from start to finish might leave you scratching your head if you try to weed out any kind of coherent framing devices, it will also be the most entertaining three hours you’ll ever spend in front of a television. Furi Kuri is non-stop fun from start to finish. Steeped in pop-culture, accompanied by truly eye-popping animation and a killer soundtrack, Furi Kuri is, simply put, an anime everyone must see.
#2 – Durarara!!
A series equal parts slice-of-life, science fiction, thriller as well as a myriad of other genres, Durarara truly raises the bar in terms of plot and composition in anime. One of the many properties likely to have taken cues from our previous entry, the series is equally haphazard with a plot many times more coherent and involving. Framed within the seedy underworld of Tokyo’s Ikebukuro district, the series manages to incorporate a plot involving gang warfare, ancient mythology (both Irish and Norse), as well as forays into horror and murder-mystery territory while leaving room for humour, romance and most importantly, copious amounts of action. The series focuses on an ensemble-cast of characters including the naive newcomer to Ikebukuro, Ryugamine Mikado and his best friend (and former leader of the “color gang” known as the Yellow Scarfs) Masaomi Kida, the evil and manipulative information broker Izaya Orihara and his nemesis, the seemingly super-human bartender-come-bodyguard Shizuo Heiwajima, as well as the unscrupulous underground doctor Shinra Kishitani and his love-interest, Celty Sturluson — a creature from Celtic mythology known as a Dullahan who, having lost her head, works part-time as a transporter as a means to locate her absent cranium.
Though Mikado and Celty could be considered the series primary protagonists, everyone gets a decent amount of screen time, creating a very chaotic overarching story involving each of the characters personal plots — all of which are on a collision course. It’s one of the most involved and well-orchestrated series I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching, and its eventual conclusion is definitely one of the best endings to an anime you’ll ever experience.
#1 – Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann
Number one on my list of anime series worth watching is, unsurprisingly, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. It’s the quintessential shounen anime, and is absolutely teeming with style and testosterone. Unlike the other series on this list, there’s no one thing that really makes Gurren Lagann great. You could point to the excellent visuals, the vibrant characters, the well-written story or the top-notch action sequences and proclaim that they are what make the series stand out. I would argue that it’s these qualities together that make Gurren Lagann number one in my books. While there are other series that might pull off similar feats, Gurren Lagann does it all with gusto.
Though it could be defined as a mecha series (there’s certainly no shortage of giant robot battles), Gurren Lagann places even more emphasis on its cast. Bold, colourful and relentlessly dynamic, the characters of the series are what really bring Gurren Lagann’s truly outrageous plot to life.
Taking place in a fictional future where Earth is ruled by a race of genetically altered “beast-men” and humans are forced to live underground in subterranean villages, the series focuses mainly on the character of Simon, a meek, unassuming inhabitant of one such village, and his friend Kamina, an arrogant and strong-willed delinquent who longs to see the surface. Together, the pair escape from their village and begin fighting back against the tyranny of the beast-men and their leader, Lord Genome in order to free humanity from their doomed existence underground.
It seems formulaic, but the larger-than-life characters, pitched mecha battles, droves of action, humour and, dare I say, fan service brings the series to a whole new level. Combined with the crisp animation provided courtesy of Gainax (I guess I lied when I said Furi Kuri was their pièce de résistance), Gurren Lagann really stands out as one of the best series to be produced thus far. It’s a feel-good anime that epitomizes a kind of high-octane action you just can’t find anywhere else. Just watching it puts hair on your chest, seriously.