Top 10 Favourite Anime

(As of March 2016)

10. Tamayura

Director: Junichi Sato

Animation Production: Hal Film Maker

Music: Nobuyuki Nakajima

Genres: Slice of Life, Iyashikei, Photography

Season: Summer 2010 (OVA debut)

Episodes: 4

After spending some time authoring a short thesis on my artistic appreciation of the Tamayura OVA, I reflected upon just how resonant it was to my own identity, as someone who bathes in the love for photography.

In less than 80 minutes of runtime, this short OVA has managed to encapsulate the essence of photography as an art form that is human in its core, surreal in its practice, and beautiful in its wealth of subjects and showcase mediums. The inter-dimensional connections made between the documenter and the documented, through the lenses of the camera, are priceless flickers of intimacy that only great photos will be capable of capturing.

Another beauty of my relationship with Tamayura? I still have two more TV seasons and four films worth of endearing storytelling to indulge upon, and I sorely look forward to it.

9. Honey and Clover | Hachimitsu to Clover

Director: Kenichi Kasai

Animation Production: J.C.Staff

Music: Yuzo Hayashi

Genres: Romance, Slice of Life, Josei, Fine Arts, Comedy

Seasons: Spring 2005 (Season 1 debut), Summer 2006 (Season 2)

Episodes: 38

Self-determination, one’s perception of their own artistic identities and their lives’ purposes are universal themes and cinematic goldmines that can; when utilised with finesse; be strongly lasting in its effects on the viewer.

Honey and Clover’s Art & Design university setting and its main character’s situation very soundly struck a chord with me, in some ways even with my own current situations: a normal guy, surrounded by geniuses and seniors who all seemed to have mastered their art and lives, while he was still stalling for time, looking for the right moment to shine, the right direction to run towards, and the right time to express his love for a close friend.

With the seemingly oil-and-water combination of hyperactive humour and slow-burning philosophical musing, Honey and Clover works wonderfully as a character and societal study. It takes the viewer on a multi-perspective roll-coaster ride of melancholy, and paint splashes of inspiration that dives deep into the intimate but individualistic camaraderie that exists between the main cast: an on-screen relationship that simply relishes in its effortlessness, lovable goofiness and warmth, whilst also being honest enough to explore the self-doubt that plagues every character, which prevents them from advancing further in life.

Needless to say, I consider this to be one of the best anime friendships to ever grace the fandom.

And with the above assumptions…as a rare josei masterpiece, Honey and Clover is a marvel.

8. Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door

Director: Shinichiro Watanabe

Animation Production: Bones

Music: Yoko Kanno

Genres: Film noir, Sci-fi, Action, Terrorism

Year: 2001 (Film debut)

As a legendary franchise, where one of the most definitive thematic explorations involved the nature of self-determined loneliness, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door was a gesture of gratitude, that took the form of granting its fans one last encore jam with the Bebop crew. Kinda ironic on a meta level, huh?

I’ve debated with myself on whether the show or the film has earned a place on this list…I chose the latter in the end as part of my honest confession to myself, that I haven’t given the TV show and the Bebop universe enough insight, analysis and time to fully appreciate its beauty and unnerving density (I actually believe that no amount of rewatching will be enough for Cowboy Bebop). In other words, I salute the entire franchise with the film as its ambassador; a film that reminded me of the world’s constant invitations to me…imploring me to return to it for another full jam session.

Until that day, I will keep waiting for the right moment to see the real world, re-engage with this old friend of mine, and test my wings again in space. Until then, see you, space cowboy.

7. Pet Girl of Sakurasou | Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo

Director: Atsuko Ishizuka

Animation Production: J.C.Staff

Music: Yuzo Hayashi

Genres: Romance, Drama, Slice of Life

Season: Autumn 2012 (Debut)

Episodes: 24

In many ways, Sakurasou’s entire construct revolves around the asshole entity that is real life, and we get to witness how it beats up each and every member of the show’s cast. And the awful truths that come with it? Life always wins. We live with regrets, failures and missed opportunities, and we eventually die with them.

The conflict between natural talent and sheer perseverance against societal systems and born handicaps has always been a very interesting mental scenario setter for me, when it comes to thinking about the moral constructs of contemporary society: wouldn’t it be universally beneficial and efficient to assign jobs and life dedications to individuals, depending on their organic and mental fit and compatibility, instead of allowing them to fly wild and choose their own paths? Wouldn’t it be morally unjust to deny expressive freedom under the pretence of societal harmony?

Surprising, how a romance comedy series like this, can be so brutal in its frankness in discussing such themes. Ignoring the pretentiously suggestive title, Pet Girl of Sakurasou is quality stuff, being perfectly capable of subtle drama and compassionate outcries that echoed the same pains that many individuals have experienced sometime during their lives.

6. Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya | Suzumiya Haruhi no Shoshitsu

Directors: Yasuhiro Takemoto, Tatsuya Ishihara

Animation Production: Kyoto Animation

Music: Satoru Kousaki

Genres: Drama, High School, Mystery, Sci-fi, Time Travel

Year: 2010 (Film debut)

Considering how the Haruhi Suzumiya franchise’s enduring popularity has somehow blown over my head, without me catching a bit of that breeze, the Disappearance film’s drastic tone shifts has expanded the storytelling potential of the world(s) to a more propelling narrative progression format.

In short, and without spoiling the timeline intricacies, this film captured a sense of slow-burning atmosphere and dimension-altering thriller storytelling that sits incredibly well with yours truly, helped a lot by the expressively complex character animation and wonderfully immersive background art stylings and cinematic renderings. If anything, this is one of the most beautifully produced anime films of the last two decades, worthy of its studio’s name.

5. Clannad: After Story

Director: Tatsuya Ishihara

Animation Production: Kyoto Animation

Music: Jun Maeda

Genres: Romance, Comedy, Supernatural, Drama, Tragedy, Coming of Age, Adulthood

Seasons: Fall 2008 (After Story debut), Fall 2007 (Season 1 debut)

Episodes: 25 (49 in total)

“So, is Clannad a sad series?” O.o

“Yes. Very. Depressingly so.” But how so?

Clannad is an emotional hurricane that mercilessly suck every plausible sense of consciousness from its viewers into a chaotic dimension of helplessness and heartache, before dumping you inside the eye of the storm, where you can finally feel relief as you foolishly believe that you have survived the worst of it. Then came the void of nothingness. You feel empty, as the final epilogue rolled along, with a musical melody that has followed you through this entire 50 episode journey. Yet the tears still rolled along, as the boy and his father walked away from your frame of view, further into the golden fields of sunflowers and vibrant bliss.

Clannad is a realistically told love story’ can be considered a double-edged statement that’s akin to describing an epic, emotionally resonate space opera or high fantasy story as ‘realistic’: what intrigued you about fictional worlds are BOTH its surreal injections of narrative and fictional colours AND the human anchors that are characters, whose embodiment of the human values and ideologies are cherished, questioned and sought out by audiences as a source of empathy. The show’s progressively revealed supernatural elements served as paint brushes that splashed the canvas with all its passion, over an interconnected web of narratives, ultimately preaching to the audience the power, value and the transcendent universality of family.

With all its downfalls and gigantic successes, to truly understand the nature of Clannad’s legendary status will be a publication for another time, as I believe the series’ more overlooked elements hides the most treasured messages that embody the meaning of the ‘clan’ in Clannad.

4. Steins;Gate

Directors: Hiroshi Hamasaki, Takuya Sato

Animation Production: White Fox

Music: Jun Murakami, Takeshi Abo

Genres: Sci-fi, Time Travel, Thriller, Psychological, Comedy, Slice of Life

Season: Spring 2011 (Debut)

Episodes: 25

Like Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, one of my shameless reasons for liking Steins;Gate was because of the rare opportunity that it has provided to indulge upon my half-decent collection of knowledge in physics. But beyond that, what eventually unravelled, was a dimension-defying thriller that (eventually) propelled breakneck pace into a gamble to save the world, with a tingle of romance that was…actually rather brilliantly conceived.

If I was being completely honest, the scientific elements of the series weren’t the most intriguing aspects at all: while interesting and explained with clarity, the theories and equations used were not overly complex and rather basic in their forms. What ultimately intrigued me were the series of character studies that explore the familiar undertones of hubris, through the lens of a threat that may bring about a dystopic future. Beyond that, the raw human centre of the story that revolved around our dear mad scientist and the assistant duo has given us characters that we are willing to follow, no matter the timeline.

Steins;Gate has somehow managed to strike a near-perfect balance between the organic character interactions of slice of life, and an exciting bombardment of suspense and excitement, all the while building up to a rather tragic narrative that explores the need of human warmth in all forms of progress.

3. Yona of the Dawn | Akatsuki no Yona

Director: Kazuhiro Yoneda

Animation Production: Pierrot

Music: Kunihiko Ryo

Genres: Historical, Adventure, Fantasy, Romance

Season: Autumn 2014 (Debut)

Episodes: 25

Unsurprisingly, after growing up with Jet Lee and Jackie Chan wuxia flicks, Asian historical, martial arts and warfare epics have occupied a very particular spot in my heart. Yona of the Dawn’s admirable execution of tragedies, characters’ inner motivations that are hidden behind unassuming faces and the impossible odds that stand against our heroine and her gang, has made it one of the best character-driven adventure tales I’ve seen in years.

Not only that. After completing the show and analysing it in retrospect, I slowly peeled apart the show’s various intricate stylings that has not only given us a peek into a lush world of myths and warring kingdoms, but also a female lead, whose boundless charisma and unnerving determination, has finally served justice to a princess character that we can truly rally behind, knowing that she’s perhaps one of the best developed and humanly badass female characters in decades.

If anything, Yona of the Dawn shines as a definitive example of storytelling through its characters, not through circumstantial events, or hiding the lack the storytelling with circumstance.

2. Hyouka

Director: Yasuhiro Takemoto

Animation Production: Kyoto Animation

Music: Kouhei Tanaka

Genres: Slice of Life, Mystery, Romance, Literature

Season: Spring 2012

Episodes: 23

As we slowly arrive at the business end of my top 10 favourites, I hope you have sensed where my heart lies: visually extravagant and thematically passionate storytelling, where the expressive outlet of characters leads me towards and through the unknown. Hyouka’s brand of visual poetry is perhaps the single most extreme example of what I want out of anime. Here, they are served to me on a platter that’s overly indulgent, subtly endearing and effortlessly beautiful.

The instruments of character drama and on frame exploration are countless and infinitely diverse, needless to say. Hyouka opting for seemingly mundane high school settings, grounded mystery solving and meta-critique has sufficiently established the atmosphere and performance base, from which we observe the human bonds that ultimately connects all of us: through the land in which we dwell, through passions of which we all indulge upon, and simple human empathy and mutual understanding.

Exploring the mundane world through this excessively dense and beautifully rendered frame of atmosphere and character animation, meaningful cinematography and background art styling have essentially delivered what Hyouka has promised from the beginning: reminding its audience and narrating about the beauty within the mundane, the interesting gems among the anonymous rocks and stones, and the wonderful within all of the world’s blandness.

Obviously, it would take A LOT for something to beat a series of this calibre (ESPECIALLY if a company with sense actually licenses this damn thing for western release…Grrrrrr). Which brings me to…

1. Sound! Euphonium

Director: Tatsuya Ishihara

Animation Production: Kyoto Animation

Music: Akito Matsuda

Genres: Musicianship, Slice of Life, Drama, Ensemble

Season: Spring 2015

Episodes: 14

The tonal and basic foundational differences and similarities between Hyouka and Sound! Euphonium is what makes this spot placement rather difficult to justify: in many ways, the character drama and the struggles that plagued the latter shows’ characters were much more resonant to me, having been part of a large high school ensemble myself. Much of the praises I dealt Hyouka with are pretty much repeated here, in terms of expressive character models and ludicrously gorgeous background and setting design.

With the concert band portrayed as a single entity, operated by multiple individuals as one harmonious ensemble, it also brings with it emotional dissonance and ideology clashes between musicians and their differing beliefs and musicianship practices. Essentially, as a subtle commentary on this societal construct, Sound! Euphonium not only explores the different manifestations of passion and purpose but also encapsulates the indecisiveness of the adolescence and the emotional outbursts that come with it. In every way, this series was a near-perfect portrayal of band, orchestra, or choir life in high school, in addition to just being a perfect portrayal of being…human.

I think I’ve rambled on enough. That’s my favourite anime of all time, due to change after an uncertain amount of time (and this is why I don’t do lists often).

Any need to express goodwill or needless threats of violence, please dump them below.

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