Why Japanese Anime?
I have been watching Japanese anime since I was little. In them, I have come to read a search for balance, equilibrium in the various imageries, actions, occurences and settings that those animations put in place. There seem to always be a perfect mixture of opposites and the secret to getting to me is that all sides of being human are explored.
- A mixture of the lack of human-topographic detail that separates anime drawings from other moving pictures and the attention to the expressive detail sometimes bordering caricature, that characterises characters at different times of their personal growth, of their relationship with others and of their familiarity and experience with their passion and/or skill.
- A mixture of the seriousness of life, the sobriety and focus in work and on the other side, the self-allowed craziness of finally letting go for the time it takes for a party or a creative setting.
- The incredible sense of balance in the mixture of the superficial visualisation of characters, the full spectrum of their emotions and their reactions with an exaggerated vibrance that can take you aback for its over-the-topness and at the same time the depth and dedication in which they treat the subjects that affect these people.
- The blend of the fantastic with the real seems to have reached a perfect balance of escapism and facing reality.
- The teaching of the importance of challenges in learning, the importance of learning in growth, and the importance of growth in becoming more than who we could ever imagine we could be, better than we could ever dream of, and a self-fulfilled master of our passion and thereby our lives.
The many, many anime that do not make it on this list do not lose out as they are enumerated as definite honourable mentions in a categorised post called types of anime. So having done that to appease the conscience of my love of anime, I can safely proceed with my top ten.
1. Kimi No Na Wa (Your Name)
This beautiful story is about a girl and a boy from different times and scenery. In some supernatural twist, these two get to dream and even live for a day as the other. From there, the quest to literally reach beyond a dream starts, as they embark on a journey not only to be closer to each other but also to undo any twists of fate that erect and that definitely wants to prevent their meeting. In spite of the supernatural premises, the real magic is the transcendence of love. Nothing can stop the power of love, not memories and their scientific boundaries, fate and its supernatural constraints, or the mind with its logical borders. Watch the Kimi No Na Wa trailer at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xU47nhruN-Q
2. Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai (We Still Don’t Know The Name Of The Flower We Saw That Day)
Anohana relates the story of five children as they grow up and cope with the death of their female childhood friend. They each feel guilt towards her passing and blame themselves or someone else for it. Her spirit, however, is not moving on, and as only one of them can see her, the struggle of acceptance becomes harder for everyone. Her not-quite departed spirit needs to fulfill a wish and motivate her friends to willingly help in spite of the previously stated barriers (e.g. most of them cannot see her) and their own selfish desires.
3. Piano no mori: The Perfect World of Kai
This Japanese anime has a reasonable length and is one of my favourite anime, not just because there is beautiful music and obvious Piano (from the title itself) but that it is the first anime or movie that has legalised, for me, the right of self-expression not as a replacement to disciplined teaching but as an opportunity to extend our human possibilities. Although it does explore only one learning style, it is so much at the opposite of the academically certified that it is worth focusing on alone. It comes to the conclusion that the world is not necessarily ready for it but that the true sensitive musician can see pass the decorum into the heart of music that is played with emotional integrity.
The unshy description of the torment of a child pressured to play not by passion but by duty is amazingly contrasted with a child who in spite of a wilder education has enough genius to have acquired beyond discipline the ability to share his genuine passion in his performance. I suspect the courage was not completely there as the quality of the playing of the latter musician was equal if not superior to that of the former. It would have been more interesting to have a certain defect that comes from a gap in educational direction, all the same compensated for the sensitive ear by the performance integrity. For that fact, it would have gone down on my list if it was not for my recognition that this chef d’oeuvre indeed belonged in these times when a lesser technical ability in the wild performer would have unfortunately given the film less credibility and so I accepted what I assumed to be a compromise for the sake of its birth.
4. Sword Art Online
This is a long one but it really is worth the watch. There is such depth and richness in what the anime offers to a generation that finds in the digital world an escape and an answer to what they sometimes can no longer feel exists in this world. I cannot but admire the brilliant and substantial attempt to decrypt and explain what the digital world and especially games might bring to people beyond the assumption that it is just another symptomatic and superficial case of escapism, loophole, distraction and divertissement. Imagining a structure within a seemingly entertaining medium is not the first idea that comes to mind; a structure that faces its users, not just with a world that enables the imagination to roam freely, but that provides boundaries that challenge these very people to work in teams, learn to survive, learn and grow, like an empowerment from another dimension, the very magic we find in superheroes. There is a ‘hero’, a main character around which a lot of the action (and female and other such interests) happens, as well as a growing ‘entourage’ of people who reveal themselves to be his ‘virtual’ family (litterally so for one of them) that such a life game allows you to collect. This happens as its events require the main user to get other people’s help, to share his victories and defeats, to help him learn more or just to be comfortable and less alone with. The teenagers get an opportunity to be heroes but not by setting out to become one, but in a circumstancial way that makes it both realistic and relatably empowering to the audience.
5. Grave of the Fireflies
Akiyuki Nosaka, writer of this story, is born in October around my birthday. However, this has nothing to do with his inclusion here. I am not tailcoatting. The guy is amazing, and I can rest my case with Grave of the Fireflies (pardon the pun). This dramatic story showcases the devastations of war without ever really showing the war or its immediate physical devastation. The two siblings whose stories are told are among the victims without ever fighting in the trenches and the animated film takes the audience slowly into that realisation on a realistic yet visually beautiful and theatrically poignant journey. The subject might be unappealing for entertainment but the writing has a uniquely artful way of hypnotising its audience in spite of the circumstances, to show us what we would otherwise want to hide from, helping us somehow to exhale with its conclusion.
This story looks simple and silly at first, but give it the time it requires to warm up and justify itself. It just starts as life caricatured in an anime, evolves as life when you give it time to be experienced, understood and deeply felt and ends just as you would expect your reward to be for the time and the faith you have put in: The characters reveal themselves to be realistic, relatable, interesting and worth the attention.
7. Shigatsu Wa Kimi No Uso (Your Lie in April)
The beauty of the musical take and the story weaved around it, is stunning. The cherry blossom tree once more shows itself at its best around the month of April that the title showcases. The colours are as vibrant in the autumn and so are the music, the performances, the emotions and the story that provides a thread around which the sound waves amplifies. It is magic at so many levels, as a boy wonder transcends his disciplined foundations to find self-fulfillment in letting go and expressing his own emotions. This opportunity comes thanks, in a small way, to each of his fans but mainly because of the new perspective of his art that is provided by a terminally-ill girl, arguably his biggest fan. It is the old learning to live when the deadline or our expiry date is closer but beyond that it is the respect of discipline as a solid foundation and the revelation of the richness, depth and gift, to oneself and to the audience, of the unique emotional expression of an individual. That reach in the last scenes finds its visual expression in colours that complement the atmosphere, the feeling, the music and gives the ending a conclusion as down to earth as it is out of this world.
8. The girl who leaped through time
This film made time travel a less cliche, more interesting perspective of the sience-fiction favourite. It is surrprisingly easy to follow and is better experienced than told as the facts barely scratch the surface of the well-constructed, craftily engineered, visually stunning anime. The inventiveness makes the zest of science-fiction feel real, reality feels like magic and the whole story belongs in the time, season and place that has been built around it. The whole thing is highly believable, which says something when you think it is science-fiction anime.
9. Spirited Away
This anime no longer needs to be introduced to anime fans. As the most popular anime ever (highest grossing at least), and one that introduced many to the art, it sits among the most influential in terms of popularising the movie genre. It takes over the reign even in Japan, replacing another Hayao Miyazaki, Princess Mononoke, which here too does not unfortunately make the cut.
10. Re:Zero Kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu
Re:zero Kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu, or Re:Zero starting life in another world, as this anime translates, is the really psychological story of an unlikely hero. The setting is all at the same time really emotional and quite scary. It centres around a teenage boy unwillingly pulled into another world. He is burdened with weak magic and a curse on his life cycle. The subject is one that is much appealing to the young adults of this generation that feel trapped in the institutionalised web.