I recently did a mini Twitter poll to gauge what content people wanted to see more of and to my surprise the overwhelming response was… reviews. Admittedly I rolled anime, film and book reviews all into one so I’m taking a bit of a guess here by assuming you meant anime reviews (based on my Twitter demographics)!
Unfortunately gone are the days where I marathoned an entire series in a week or watched a new release in a short space of time with the express purpose of reviewing it (my work-life balance has definitely skewed towards the work end), so inspired by a recent Trash Taste podcast episode I’ve boiled down my favourite all-time anime into a 3×3 grid.
Some of these I’ve reviewed or mentioned on the blog before and, chances are, if you’re an anime fan you’ll recognise all of them. Guess which series is my ‘trash taste’ option…
My criteria for a series making the grid was:
- I’ve either rewatched it for pleasure or plan to at some point
- It was ‘formative’ for me in some way (i.e. it sparked an interest or obsession I didn’t know I had)
- I can prattle on about it for ages and probably bore everyone to death about it
So, here is the grid:
Left to right/top to bottom we have (English titles): From the New World, Psycho-Pass, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 2: Battle Tendency, Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Sengoku Basara, Spirited Away, Kiss Him Not Me, Kids on the Slope, Maid Sama!
From the New World
What is anime without amazing story-telling and world-building? This is another series I previously reviewed on the blog (2014) and even then I called it ‘the best anime’, so at least I am consistent. From the New World is set 1,000 years in the future where people have developed telekenetic powers, rendering technology useless. Humans live in idyllic villages but tales of terrifying monsters roaming the land mean they are forbidden to leave. Despite this supposed utopia, no one seems to know how this new world came into being and what caused the ‘old’ one to disappear. Our story follows five children who are learning to develop their powers and questioning why their friends whose powers are lagging behind start to disappear.
The thing that makes From the New World stand out for me is how everything develops and falls into place. We see our children learn and grow into young adults; navigating relationships, discovering shocking truths about their society, and being forced to confront their beliefs. It’s that perfect blend of fantasy, sci-fi and drama and even just remembering the ending I start tearing up. Seriously, if you only watch one anime this year it should be this one.
I reviewed Psycho-Pass back in 2015 (wow, I’m getting old). This is a three part series (and a movie) set in a futuristic world where people’s threat to society is determined not by the crimes they commit but by their thoughts. If your Crime Co-efficient number goes up (all it takes is a negative thought) you may be identified as a latent criminal by the omnipotent Sybil System, and it’s the job of the Public Safety Bureau’s Criminal Investigation Division to either apprehend these people for rehabilitation or shoot them dead. They do so using Transformer-esque guns that will only activate for those identified as latent criminals.
For me the first season of Psycho-Pass was the best but the psychological and societal questions it poses and fantastic world-building means I am constantly recommending it as an action-packed, meaty series to get your teeth into. Fans of Blade Runner and Minority Report will be right at home. I’m also partial to some ‘pyoo pyoo’ shooty violence and Kogami Shinya is a beautiful anime man, and yes that is going to be a theme…
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 2: Battle Tendency
Was there any doubt there would be some JoJo here? There are currently five series to enjoy (over 100+ episodes now – I can’t remember the last time I ever committed to a series for so long) but Part 2 will remain my favourite. This was the point where I suddenly realised ‘damn, now I get what all the fuss is about!’ – the JoJo poses, the comedy, the ridiculous action that is simultaneously incredibly manly and flamboyant. Also, those opening credits! Put simply, it’s a fun romp and is absolutely ridiculous.
There’s a running joke that JoJo fans are the worst anime fandom because they won’t shut up about JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and try to make everything a JoJo reference. I completely accept it’s not for everyone but Battle Tendency was my JoJo gateway drug, so it will always have a special place in my nerdy heart.
Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood is the second Full Metal Alchemist anime series that more accurately follows the original manga series. The ‘original’ Full Metal Alchemist anime was one of my earliest forays into anime as a teenager, then Full Metal Alchemist; Brotherhood came out a few years later and blew me away. In summary, the story follows brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric who are seeking the Philosophers Stone to restore their damaged bodies, after a failed human transmutation attempt to bring back their mother saw Edward lose his limbs and Alphonse’s soul trapped in a suit of armour.
I’m not going to wax lyrical about this series because, come on, who hasn’t heard of it? It’s generally accepted as one of the best anime series of all time and for good reason. I’ve mentioned before I like my action anime but this is an action anime with alchemy, fantasy, drama, human emotion and suffering, redemption and an amazing soundtrack. Also, Roy Mustang was one of my earliest anime crushes (hmm, I’m sensing a type here). Let’s also not forget Maes Hughes as best dad.
Don’t judge me – you knew this was going to be on here! Sengoku Basara was incredibly formative to me as an anime fan, Japanophile and samurai nerd. I like to tell people ‘why yes, I became interested in samurai when I was studying history and randomly came across a book in the library because I’m such an intellectual’, but that’s just a lie to fool people into thinking I’m sophisticated… in reality our uni’s anime society played the first three episodes one evening and I became obsessed with Date Masamune and his eyepatch and stupid Engrish. I hate myself.
Historically-speaking, samurai are cool and interesting by all accounts and there’s no shortage of anime and video game series about them. Sengoku Basara stands out for its wackiness and ridiculousness, and the pride it takes in not being historically accurate. Look, it’s fun, alright? I’d argue this blog wouldn’t exist without Sengoku Basara (my internet name is SengokuSophie, I practically went on a Date Masamune-esque pilgrimage to Sendai in 2015, I ‘accidentally’ saw the movie three times in a week in Tokyo in 2011 etc)…
Perhaps surprisingly I only have one anime film on this grid, not because I don’t enjoy watching them (one look at my previous reviews will prove that) but because coincidentally I am more likely to recommend series than films. There were several contenders – Your Name, Howl’s Moving Castle, Laputa, Maquia… but I had to go with Spirited Away because this was my gateway anime film. I’ll always remember being in an almost-empty cinema with my dad and sister being bowled over by this absolutely stunning animated film. Prior to that my experience of anime had mainly been Pokemon and whatever was on Cartoon Network and Jetix at the time, so Spirited Away was on another level.
Spirited Away was of course the top-grossing anime film of all time until Demon Slayer: Mugen Train bumped it from the top spot after 19 years on the throne. For me it’s Studio Ghibli at its best: fantastic, magical, surreal, has dragons and an unforgettable soundtrack. It follows the story of 10-year-old Chihiro who stumbles into the world of kami (spirits) and, when her parents are turned into pigs by the witch Yubaba, she must forfeit her own name and work in her bathhouse to free herself and return to the human world.
Kiss Him Not Me
This is my ‘one to watch with the girls and plenty of wine’ anime and the first rom-com in the grid. I am partial to my rom-com parodies and daft takes on fangirl culture, and watching Kiss Him Not Me ticks all the boxes. It’s laugh out loud and silly and will leave you in stitches. I can’t stop injecting that sugary goodness into my veins – I watched it THREE TIMES in 2020 (lockdown might have had something to do with that).
Kiss Him Not Me (I’ll never not find that title funny) is about otaku highschooler Kae Serinuma. She’s well-liked but has a dark secret – she’s into BL (aka boy’s love/yaoi) and ships her male classmates with each other. When her favourite anime character dies she spirals into a depression and loses a dramatic load of weight (OK, questionable start) – then when she returns to school she’s absolutely beautiful and all the guys (and a girl – we are progressive) want to date her. Cue a love pentagon that will just have you dying on the floor. Having watched it with two other girls though, we all agreed that the only acceptable choice for Serinuma was Mutsumi-senpai. Just watch this if you’re feeling down – you’ll thank me for it.
Kids on the Slope
Another series I covered on the blog many years ago (2013)! Do I need to say anything else other than this is directed by Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop, Carole & Tuesday) and has a god-tier soundtrack by Yoko Kanno (Cowboy Bebop, Wolf’s Rain) to convince you that Kids on the Slope is an artistic masterpiece? Watching it is much more of a creative experience than a simple anime-watching session.
Set in a small seaside town in Kyushu in the 1960s, an unlikely friendship forms between the withdrawn newcomer Kaoru and notorious bad boy Sentaro who form a jazz band in a record store basement. This is another ‘growing up’ series in the same vein as From the New World (though not quite as ‘oh God, my heart’) – complicated relationships, friends falling out and making up, overcoming great personal challenges. And it’s all done against a stunning backdrop with intricately-animated musicians. If you haven’t watched it before, please rectify that asap.
Last in the grid is another ‘inject that feel-good rom com nonsense into my veins’ material. Maid-Sama! (or The Class President is a Maid) is so good because it does everything that works in its genre so well. The manga series ended in 2013 and the original anime aired in 2010 and even to this day there’s still plenty of ‘where’s season 2?’ blogs, so clearly I’m not the only one who enjoyed it and will happily watch it over and over again when I need cheering up. And of course I reviewed it back in 2016.
The premise isn’t exactly revolutionary – student council president Misaki Ayuzawa comes across as strict and intimidating but has an embarrassing secret – she works part-time in a maid cafe to help her family pay the bills. When the most popular boy in school, Takumi Usui, discovers her secret he could either destroy her reputation or use this blackmail opportunity to his advantage. What Maid-Sama! does so well is balance the comedy, genuine drama, sugary chibi character segues and gets you so invested in these characters. And of course everyone loves Usui – this is not up for debate.
Well, there we go, that’s nine mini anime reviews in one. Not bad after a year’s hiatus!
So what does this grid say about me?
- I require feels and hilarity in equal measure
- An excellent soundtrack completes an anime for me
- I have a weakness for dark-haired moody/deep-voiced guys in anime – doubly so if they have an eyepatch