Ahh, anime. It’s definitely… a thing.
See, I find myself in a precarious position when it comes to anime. I can easily tell you my five favorite games or TV shows or movies (and I will at some point), but when it comes to anime I’m always left hanging. Like a computer when it crashes, my mind goes blank when posed the question, “What are your five favorite anime?”
The thing is, I generally dislike anime. I haven’t seen much, but what I have seen has been so lackluster compared to the other media I consume it’s hard for me to express a rabid adoration for these shows. I like pretty visuals, and its generally visuals that draw me in to whatever anime I watch. But I can’t thrive on visuals or a premise alone; the entire anime has to deliver on some level, lest it be forgotten. And I have forgotten many anime I’ve seen in the past, which made finding five to list extremely difficult.
And even now as I write this, the five I chose might not even be a truthful five. I might end up remembering an anime tomorrow, or next week or next year and render this whole list moot. But for now, at this point in time, these are my top five. That I could remember. Shall we?
What exactly is Lucky Star? Some would call it a slice of life comedy. Others a memetic mutation in anime form. Something that could only have happened at that point in time.
To me, Lucky Star is a time capsule. A window into the world of anime and otaku subculture circa 2006-2007. A time before the prevalence of social media, when the Internet was still a bit more mysterious in its workings. When cellphones still had numerical input pads and weren’t the focal point of a person’s world.
But that’s not really saying much about the anime, is it?
Lucky Star– if I had to try and describe it to you– is about four high school girls and what they do on a semi-daily basis. And just like any group of four friends, they have funny moments, silly moments, heartfelt moments, and just enjoy life as it comes. Because that’s what this series is; it’s life as someone saw it in 2006. Whether it holds up today is up for debate; but like a photo album, it’s sure to invoke some kind of nostalgia. Especially if you were around the Internet in those years.
Harem anime have been a thing for a long time, I would imagine. It’s male wish fulfillment with the pretense of a plot, and either fap material or the faintest hope that the anime will show something tittilating enough to get you to fap.
Tenchi Universe, an anime from 1995, is technically an adventure fantasy harem. It features a guy surrounded by six girls of various ages, sizes and demeanors all vying for his affections to some degree. There are also swords, sorcery, space travel, extensive use of karaoke machines, cat-rabbit hybrids that turn into space ships with breathable atmospheres and a plot about stealing the crown to an interstellar kingdom.
But really, it all boils down to the harem aspect, and that’s where Tenchi Universe feels like it can get away with everything it throws into the show. Because the harem aspect is front and center, but isn’t afraid to share the spotlight with the adventure, or the fantasy, or the space opera that it adopts in its second half. But it never takes itself too serious, evidenced by completely random side plots that would almost count as filler despite the show lasting a mere 26 episodes.
Why is this one a favorite? Because of that jack-of-all-trades brand of silliness. Because the characters, while essentially nothing more than tropes or at worst anime stereotypes, never cease to be entertaining. Because they don’t exist solely to fill a check box on some showrunner’s notepad, and work well off each other.
But most importantly, because they aren’t defined by a single character trait. Oh and there are more males in the show that actually serve a purpose, something most harem anime cannot deal with lest they detract from the male lead.
Waiting in the Summer
If there’s one thing that stands out in my mind, it’s that this anime almost feels timeless.
Aside from one or two instances, it never dates itself by showing technology that would allow you the view to say with any certainty, “This anime took place in THIS year.”
And that’s a very important thing to me. Because no matter when I return to Waiting in the Summer, it will always feel the same.
Lasting only 12 episodes, the series follows a group of friends who dedicate a summer to making a student film. It’s about as generic as it sounds, and quite frankly it is. But there’s a level of sincerity to its execution, that this group of friends making a film could be any group of friends doing any activity during that blissful time in our lives when worries are fewer than they are as an adult. I watch the series and get melancholic because those days are far behind me, and I never appreciated them when I had them.
There is one thing that makes this slice of life stand out for me, and that’s the general absurdity in tone it takes by the end of the run. In a way it almost feels like it harms the overall product, but I like to think it works for the narrative. Because didn’t we all imagine the possibility of something fantastical or extraordinary happening to us?
When you put person in a strange situation, you observe their reaction. People take this reaction and weave a narrative from it. But when this is done, it’s very easy to say, “Well I would have done things differently.”
Log Horizon is similar to this, only it looks at a populace rather than a single individual. But a populace is hard to characterize, and therefore difficult for the audience to relate to. So Log Horizon tells this sweeping story of a people trapped in a situation by examining key figures from among them.
It’s a story about humans being human. It’s a story of one person trying to do the best he can to help his fellow man. But it’s also a fantasy, a romance, an adventure, a mystery, a comedy, and a minor discourse on economics.
But most of all, it’s good.
This anime is my favorite for one reason only: Kyon.
Not the titular character and all her outlandish eccentricities. Not the bookish, nearly-omnipotent alien. Not the adorable, klutz of a time traveler. Not the charming, laid-back esper.
This anime lives and dies by its leading man. The everyman. The deadpan snarker. The only character in this series who seems grounded in a reality we actually exist in. And because he graces us with his internal thoughts throughout the course of the narrative.
Because Haruhi Suzumiya isn’t really about the antics brought on when you mix supernatural and science fiction elements together. It’s about how you react to those antics. And Kyon reacts in a way most of us would: like a real person.
No anime on my list is perfect. Each one has issues that could potentially break a person’s enjoyment. This is no exception. It doesn’t end with a bang. It doesn’t feel like anything is really resolved. And there’s a million questions left unanswered.
But sometimes that’s okay. Because we had Kyon there to guide us through the melancholy, the sigh, the boredom, the rampage, the wavering, and the disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya.