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Anime list continued from (Anime Recs Part 1)

My ratings, from best to worst:
—One of my favorites!
—Very good, almost a favorite.
—Very good.
—Enjoyable, but not one of my favorites.
—You might like it, but it’s not for me.

Nabari No Ou / King of Nabari—Very good, almost a favorite.
This one took me about three episodes to really get into, but once I was there, I was totally hooked. In this modern-day setting, ninjas still secretly exist throughout Japan in an underworld. Although he’d like nothing more than to help his grandmother run a family restaurant, our protagonist, Miharu, has a secret art within him (which manifests as words crawling creepily over his skin) that all the other clans are desperate to get their hands on. So, rather against his will, Miharu attracts a little band of three protectors who vow to not let the secret art fall into evil hands, and they travel around trying to solve the dilemma of getting the art out without killing the vessel in the process. Sounds kind of dumb, but it’s oddly fascinating, and the world-building is believable. I liked almost every character I encountered—especially the bad guys, one of whom, the ever-sickly Yoite, really steals the show with his partner Yukimi—which is rather unusual. Characters who at first seem one-dimensional are revealed to have hidden depths and secret pasts. The main obstacle to it being one of my favorites is that Miharu’s character kind of requires him to be uninvolved and apathetic in the beginning. Which, yeah, kind of sucks when the whole series is riding on the protagonist. But as the series goes on, you realize that Miharu’s characterization is a deliberate choice that ends up working very nicely.

One Outs—Very good, almost a favorite.
It’s almost a sin to call this a baseball anime, though I suppose that is technically true. But it’s really a battle of psychological warfare with one ultra-cool antihero. The Lycaons are a professional baseball team who won the championship in distant memory but have recently been ranked last. Tokuchi Toua is a pitcher whose skill is not so much in pitching as it is in gambling and analyzing his opponents’ weaknesses. Discovered in a gambling den, Tokuchi arranges a special contract with the team where he gets paid for each out he provides—and pays them for each point he allows. Tokuchi has what may be the coldest, most calculating eyes in anime. He’s a conceited nightmare: smoking and sleeping openly in the dugout, not bothering to practice, wearing his cap backwards, seemingly bored with everything—and yet he manages to unite his team behind him and be a true ace. I loved him instantly. It’s a delight to see everyone initially fail to take him seriously and then slowly come to realize what a grave mistake they’ve made in underestimating him. This is truly an anime of epic mind games: Tokuchi vs. everyone, and the enemies can come from anywhere, including within the team itself. I’d recommend giving this anime at least three episodes to get going, because once the street gambling ends and the actual baseball begins, it’s engrossing and kept me guessing what clever maneuver Tokuchi would come up with next to thwart rival teams and even the owner of Tokuchi’s own team. After a while, I even started to like that stupid overbearing infodump narration. The problem with this anime, though, is its lack of character development (partially because we never get into Tokuchi’s head and only see him from an outsider’s perspective). But maybe it’s more fun that way, watching Tokuchi psychologically manipulate his opponents. I found myself laughing aloud at his cleverness and sheer audacity. Needless to say, I’d love a second season.

One Punch Man—Very good.
In this absurd parody of superhero stories, our bald hero Saitama has a major problem: no matter how huge or grossly overpowered or disgustingly evolved or city-destroying his opponent is, Saitama can always defeat them with, of course, just one punch. Together with his cyborg protégé Genos, we follow Saitama and feel his growing frustration with the state of affairs: when he performs an amazing feat, he can get no satisfaction from it because the public and the Hero Association never give him credit for his achievements as a hero. Eventually you do feel really bad for the non-hero public who live in these cities (from “City A”-“City Z”) that are repeatedly invaded by monsters. Recommended to fans of anime like Hunter x Hunter, One Punch Man features a cast of colorful characters and a world that gradually grows more complex. There are also some fantastically funny moments when Saitama is thinking absentmindedly about food in the middle of what would otherwise be intensely serious battles. This anime was lots of fun and has great potential with its characters’ backstories (like Sonic, an ultrafast ninja criminal), so I hope it will be renewed for more than 12 episodes in the future!

Ookiku Furikabutte / Big WindupOne of my favorites!
So technically this series is about baseball (the title translates to “Big Windup”). But it’s actually a funny and sweet story about how a victim of abuse begins to gain his self-confidence and sense of self-worth back with the help of his friends. Mihashi is a ridiculously weak-willed high-school pitcher who has zero self-confidence and probably an anxiety disorder from past bullying and trauma; he’s constantly on the edge of a nervous breakdown/panic attack, bursting into tears at the slightest provocation. (I loved him instantly.) He has no strength in his pitches, but he can place them very well, which is a major skill. Abe, the catcher, likes him because he has superb control of his pitches and doesn’t assert himself on the mound, meaning Abe can just tell him what to do like a puppet. Obviously this leads to wonderful dom/sub moments between them as they develop their relationship, like when Abe grabs Mihashi’s hand and studies it, oh man, and the line “When the catcher devotes himself to the pitcher, the pitcher repays the catcher with trust.” Also some fantastic hurt/comfort elements with Abe repeatedly worrying about his pitcher’s health and becoming concerned (read: jealous and possessive) when other people stretch Mihashi out after a match. *fangirling* I really thought I didn’t care about baseball at all, but this anime made me become interested despite myself. What I loved best was the emphasis on how much of a team sport baseball is (our players are known as “the Nishiura [High School] nine”) and how much strategy is involved in the calls between the coach, the catcher, and the pitcher. (Longer review here.)

Ouran High School Host Club—One of my favorites!
The cutest, the funniest, the best. I keep coming back to this one over and over again; I've watched it fully at least four times, and it just gets better each time. A poor scholarship student named Haruhi, a girl who can pass off looking like a guy, unwittingly becomes indebted to the high school host club (guys only) and becomes a host herself to pay off her debt. I'm more than in love with Tamaki, the “king” of the host club, whose delightfully over the top antics go wonderfully with Haruhi's deadpan one-liners. But all the boys are joyful eye candy: Kyoya the shadow king, the twins (everyone's favorite hot psuedo-couple), and of course Mori (the strong silent type) and Honey (the cute kid who is inexplicably a martial arts genius). Haruhi is my favorite heroine ever, and all the characters are nicely well-developed. But the main thing that gets me with Ouran is how well the animation style goes with the humor. It's kind of hard to explain, but the little scene subtitles, Tamaki's Inner Mind Theater, foreshadowing blinking arrows, etc., all just add up to a really fun anime experience.

Prince of TennisEnjoyable, but not one of my favorites.
A bunch of junior high school kids play some tennis with supernatural powers. The main character is Ryoma Echizen, an aloof, unflappable, and rather sneakily cocky freshman tennis player with amazing skill and stamina. Echizen joins a team of eccentric players, and everybody has his own special finishing move, which grows more ludicrously overpowered as the anime progresses. I was rather disappointed with this anime. It’s…kind of ridiculous, but somehow missing the element of, you know, fun that usually accompanies outrageous things like tennis balls that rocket around breaking rackets or are on fire or whatever. It seems like it’s all serious business all the time. And it’s also intolerably slow—up to entire halves of episodes are spent recapping things that went on previously, and it wasn’t hard to understand in the first place. I was watching it mainly for the shipping elements, but even those are kind of rare for an anime where the majority of the cast is bishounen and the symbiotic relationship between two guys playing doubles should be more of a plot focus. My favorite character was Fuji, the soft-spoken, ever-smiling pretty boy with a surprisingly tough core. I wish he’d had more screentime. For all my complaining, though, I do feel rather fond of the anime and its characters. Almost everybody is developed to some degree, especially the opponents. And although it doesn’t feel especially rewarding, and I’m still not sure why I care about them since in some cases I’m actively rooting for the main Seigaku team to lose, the anime does leave me in a good mood. (Longer review here.)

Princess Princess—Enjoyable, but not one of my favorites.
This one reminds me more of Ouran than anything else, but it's slower and less humorous. However, it's still a cute little romp through an all-boys' high school where the good-looking guys are put into this special princess program. The guys in this program have fairly high status and dress up as girls to add beauty to the all-boys high school. Okay, so the premise is awkward, but the thing with this anime is that it recognizes how weird the premise is and basically deals with each character's feelings on the subject. Our blue-haired main character, Toru, will totally steal your heart, as will his best friends, Yuujiro and Mikoto, though I was shipping Toru/Akira. Anyway, not the best writing, but it's short and sweet.

Saiyuki, Reload, and Gunlock—Enjoyable, but not one of my favorites
This one is for those of you who really love lots of blood and violence. A badass, gun-toting priest (Sanzo) has to team up with two equally badass demons (Hakki and Gojyo) and a really freaking annoying monkey demon (Goku) to prevent the resurrection of a terrible super demon. Here's my breakdown of the characters: I'm in love with Hakki, I like Gojyo, I tolerate Sanzo, and I would strangle Goku if I could. Lots of violence on this boys-only road trip, everybody gets hurt, everybody kills somebody else. Character-building is something this series does really well, and it's more interesting than the fights.

Soul Eater—Very good.
This is a fun one. In order to graduate from Death God school, a 2- (or 3-) person team of a wielder and a weapon (scythe) must work together to collect 100 souls from horrifying monsters. I have to say that Death the Kid (Death's son) was my favorite character, with his skateboard and his hilarious OCD for symmetry (hence his need for two sythes), and when he wasn't onscreen the action kind of dragged for me. Also, the humor wasn't always on par in my opinion—I wanted to just skip the two Excalibur-centric episodes before I stabbed my eyes and ears out. But the animation is crisp and attractive, the plotlines are clever, and—oh, who am I kidding, just watch it for Death the Kid (who comes in for episode 3). Also of interest is how the wielders and the sythes work together, the weird and almost marital relationships they form.

Saraiya Goyou / House of Five Leaves—Very good.
Set in the Edo period in Japan (from 1603 to 1868), this languid but engrossing anime focuses on a mysterious yakuza gang called the Five Leaves, whose members hang out in brothels and bars, drink lots of sake, and kidnap people for a living. Yaichi, its cool and seemingly careless leader, hires an extremely mild-mannered and hesitant wandering samurai (ronin), Masanoskue, to be his bodyguard. Masa spends the anime learning about each of the four members (a former geisa, a bar owner, a former robber, and of course the enigmatic leader, Yaichi), and searching his own moral principles to determine whether or not he wants to become the “fifth leaf” of their gang. The unusual art style is probably what makes this anime stand out most: the characters are all animated with very pointy noses and this horrible blankness in their eyes, as if to suggest a kind of existential emptiness, but it’s somewhat misleading, as most of the characters are quite emotional under their own particular moral structures. The slow pace was almost too much for me at first, but I’m glad I stuck it out because I really loved Yaichi with his pale, constantly half-lidded eyes and mysterious backstory, and he has great chemistry with everyone.

Shingeki no Kyojin / Attack on Titan—Enjoyable, but not one of my favorites.
In a horrifying alternate universe, humanity is on the brink of extinction due to unexplained gigantic “titans”—huge, mindless, zombie-like humanoids whose only goal appears to be eating humans. Humanity has managed to hang on by building a series of high concentric circular walls to keep the giants out and by training a special military force that uses gas canisters and aerial techniques to get high enough to try to kill the giants before they are eaten. There are still huge amounts of casualties in each battle. If you enjoy dark and often depressing mecha-like anime with plenty of action, this one is worth seeing just for this impressive worldbuilding. The characters are interesting enough, though I would have appreciated more development. I was bored with the main character, Eren, but I was particularly fond of the many badass females, especially Eren’s adopted sister, Mikasa, and the morally ambiguous squadron leaders like Levi.

Sidonia no Kishi / Knights of Sidonia—Very good.
This is Netflix’s first licensed anime series, and it’s great! After Earth has been destroyed, the seed ship Sidonia makes its way through the galaxy, protecting itself from difficult-to-kill, creepily-morphing tentacle space monsters called Gauna. Enter Tanikaze, who has been living with his grandfather underground, and who becomes an ace pilot of the Gardes (fighting mecha). The show-don’t-tell world-building here is fascinating, from the genetically engineered human photosynthesis and third gender, gravity festivals, robot fights, and onboard “sea.” The episodes are so exciting that for me they just flew by—aided perhaps by Netflix’s penchant for releasing all episodes at once and then having evil cliffhangers that make it impossible to stop watching. I loved Tanikaze and found him adorable with his constant cluelessness and his penchant for getting seriously injured. However, unlike Attack on Titan (to which Knights of Sidonia is being justly compared), this universe feels much more sterile, with more technology and fewer colors, relationships, and characterizations. The character designs for the cadets in particular are extremely similar, almost clones of one another (11 are sisters who all look like twins), which makes it difficult to keep track of many of the cadets except poor Tanikaze and his rival, Kunato. A possible jealousy-laden love quadrangle between the four leads (Hoshijiro, Izana, and Midorikawa) feels a bit contrived. But the world-building and space battles are definitely gorgeous, fun, and meaningful, and I hope a third season is in the works!

Spiritpact—Very good.
This 10-episode shounen-ai anime is the Japanese edit and dub of the Chinese anime Ling Qi (Soul Contract). In it, a young You Keika is living in poverty as a fortune-teller when he is hit by a bus and killed. In death, he chooses to become contracted to the human demon-hunter Tanmoku Ki as his spirit shadow, a partner to protect Tanmoku and give him strength. Unbeknownst to both of them, they are connected more deeply than they realized. Along with Tanmoku’s ignored fiancée Shin Shiyou, the three team up to uncover the sinister plot going on at Tanmoku’s family home. The anime packs a lot into its 10 episodes with lots of supernatural hurt/comfort elements and a gentle shounen-ai between You and Tanmoku, with some very pretty art and character designs as well. Would love to see more!

Steins;Gate—Very good.
College student Okabe Rintaru (alias Hououin Kyouma and voiced by my favorite seiyuu Mamoru Miyano, whose brilliant performance carries the show) is a self-styled mad scientist running a lab out of his apartment. One day, he and his friends realize that they have accidentally created a time machine out of their microwave by turning bananas into green goop. While at first, this series is fun and silly, as it progresses and the butterfly-effect consequences start stacking up, it gets very dark indeed, with shady organizations and murder and PTSD. By the end, I loved all the characters, and each has surprising depth and talents: Okabe the increasingly conflicted protagonist, Mayuri (the innocent cosplaying heart of the series), Daru the super-hacker, Kurisu the girl genius, Ruka who wishes he were born a girl, Suzu the part-timer who works downstairs, Moeka who only talks through texts, Feyris the cat-lady, Mr. Braun the landlord, and Nae (his daughter). Somehow the folks working on the particle collider at SERN are the bad guys. But no matter how convoluted the plot gets when they mess with different timelines, the focus is always on the characters’ relationships, and it will eventually become clear that it feature one of the best love stories in anime ever. Don’t forget to check out the accompanying movie Steins;Gate: Fuka Ryouiki no Déjà Vu.

Togainu no Chi / Blood of the Reprimanded Dog—Enjoyable, but not one of my favorites.
This is a great anime for those who like hot guys angsting and fighting each other. In a dystopian future, the city of Toshima forms the setting of a bloody battle royale. Fighters are drawn by the prize money or just coerced into competing. You win by collecting a good poker hand of card dogtags each fighter wears, then fighting the ultimate boss. Meanwhile, there’s a massive conspiracy involving a mysterious street drug called Line. The anime is pretty heavy on innuendo between the male characters (let’s be honest, there’s only one female character in the cast). I’d call this basically badass versions of the guys from Gakuen Heaven if they were plopped into the dark, corrupt world of Deadman Wonderland. So that’s right up my alley, and it really worked for me. The chemistry between some of the characters is just off the charts; for example, I liked Shiki/Akira—or really any of the other characters with Akira. But there were also lots of problems with this anime, such as the lack of backstory or character depth (which does improve later on), the strange camera work during battle scenes, Nano’s stupid, falsely-dire opening voiceovers about color, and the fact that only the depraved antagonists seem to be actually out of the closet. Also, a warning to the squeamish, because there is a lot of blood in this one. Whenever any character gets so much as pricked by a needle, literally a rivulet of bright red blood spurts everywhere. And the “dog”/pet character is one of the most disturbing things ever. Still, those things didn’t hinder my overall enjoyment.

Vampire Knight and Vampire Knight Guilty—Very good, almost a favorite.
Imagine Twilight if it were actually well-written, if our heroine wasn't such a loser, if vampires were more open about themselves but just segregated, and if most of the romance was gone. Actually, yeah, Vampire Knight's not very much like Twilight at all, except for the vampires in school element. Vampire Knight handles light and shadows very well, giving normal, everyday scenes a gothic feel. But the main thing I love is of course Zero Kiryu, the Draco Malfoy character to offset the Harry-like Kaname. I love love love the interactions between Zero and his twin, Ichiru (voiced brilliantly by the same seiyu, Mamoru Miyano). There's also a super-interesting almost-love triangle between Zero, Kaname, and Yuki Cross, our heroine. Why is it not a favorite, then? The ending! Kind of deus ex machina and Yuki changes overnight into someone we don't really know, leaving us lost and really befuddled by her choices. I would have ended it much differently.

Wolf's Rain—Enjoyable, but not one of my favorites.
A dark, often creepy anime with a very melancholy tone, Wolf's Rain is somewhat low-budget but still good. Four humans who shapeshift into wolves are after the scent of the Lunar Flowers, which turns out to be a very interesting and otherworldly little girl. This one is character-driven and nicely voiced, with the four (very attractive) lead wolf characters reminding me very much of Remus Lupin with his sad but accepting philosophy on life. Some of the plotlines were not very well explained, which made the ending of this anime very confusing, but it's still worth watching.

Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge / The Wallflower—One of my favorites!
Sunako Nakahara is literally the scariest girl you will ever meet, taking being goth to a whole new level. No, seriously: her best friend is an anatomy model, she only watches horror movies so gruesome they were banned, she lives in a dungeon-like room, and she has nosebleeds when something is too bright or beautiful. Unfortunately for her, her four really hot house-mates have struck a deal with her aunt for free rent—if they can make her into a lady. Of course, nothing goes as planned. My love for this anime knows no bounds. After watching Ouran High School Host Club, I worried that I would never find another anime as attractive, sweet, and downright hilarious with such a special protagonist again. Well, I found it. Although I'm a sucker for the reverse-harem situation, what really makes this anime are the characters, especially the unlikely love interest, Kyouhei Takano, who falls for Sunako's...obsession with slasher flicks and corpses? Although the four boys here are very good-looking, this anime makes that into a plot device, showing that being attractive can be as much of a curse as a blessing. Kyouhei's constantly being kidnapped, stalked, mobbed, and sexually harassed, to the point where he needs a police escort and dreads Valentine's Day. But the best part is that this anime is that it's utterly hysterical, and if you can finish it without having "Goth Goth! Loli Loli!" stuck in your head, you're not enjoying yourself enough. Now, do beware that it's very strangely racist and...kind of ambiguous about being sexist or not. On one hand, the message is great, but on the other hand, girls do all the cooking and housework, and seem to enjoy it, because boys are hopeless at it. So I wasn't sure how to feel about that, though it only hindered my enjoyment a bit. To be fair, what anime isn't sexist or racist? Definitely check it out, especially if you're as enamored of Ouran as I was.
EDIT: Just saw the live-action version, as well, and I highly recommend it. It's not as good as the anime, but the acting is well done, especially Kyouhei, and it's different enough to keep your interest and to clear up some things the anime was vague about.

Yami No Matsuei / Descendants of Darkness—Very good.
In a kind of purgatory between heaven and hell, the Bureau of Hades solves supernatural crimes by sending agents to earth in human bodies. One nasty serial killer named Muraki is causing all sorts of headaches for head Guardian of Death Tsuzuki and his new partner, recently-deceased 16-year-old Kurosaki. Okay, first of all, Descendants of Darkness wins for funny world-building details. Death gods want to go to earth to eat dessert, use credit cards, and flirt with girls (in addition to doing their job of sorting out souls or something). This anime also covers a ton of psychological ground, dealing with death, rape, suicide, murder, illegal organ transplants, homosexuality in both a bad and a good way, and trying to move on after extreme trauma. My favorite character is Kurosaki, who has to decide whether to make his afterlife about revenge or about friendship, and his journey is very convincing, though the protagonist Tsuzuki also interested me. However, while it was definitely enjoyable, I can't say this one was one of my favorites because I wasn't a huge fan of the art and there were way too many unexplained instances. It was also very stereotypical in its dealings with gender, which always irritates me.

Yowamushi Pedal—One of my favorites!
Bicycling anime! Onoda is a nerdy otaku who plans on starting a school anime club until his natural talent for biking is discovered, and then he and his new friends Imaizumi and Naruko bond over a love of bike racing. I love the rivalry/friendship between Imaizumi and Naruko, how they’re determined not to lose to each other and yet are bound together by their mutual interest in taking care of Onoda. What an adorable trio: they work so well together. Onoda is completely loveable with his glasses and his “mommy bike” and his anime; I burst out laughing every time he sings his princess anime theme song (and the scene with Tadokoro in episode 33...oh my God, that was hysterical). There is so much to love about this silly and fun anime: the comically overly-serious characters (“Abs!”), the humor (I really enjoyed the scenes after the credits on each episode), the bright and colorful art, the cute songs, the importance of friendship and teamwork, the strange and weirdly terrifying antagonists (Midousuji). But most of all, to quote the coach, the anime’s charm is how its protagonist represents “the fundamental joy of cycling.”

<— (Anime Recs, Part 1)

May 2017

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