Our Two Cents: Forgotten Gems

What do you do when you want to write a top ten list, but you’re too lazy to come up with ten whole entries? Just ask your friends to chip in! Our Two Cents is a new feature, in which the writers of The Glorio Blog take turns to throw in their proverbial two cents on the topic of the month. That’s one far-fetched question, with up to ten entirely unsolicited answers! This week, we’re discussing those anime we love that have been forgotten by pretty much everyone else.

No fandom with a higher turnover rate than anime, and with good reason. Shows that are all the rage usually at one point end up consigned to oblivion a few years later, if they even get a chance to be remembered at all. With the sheer smorgasbord of anime cranked out on a seasonal basis, remembering is usually nowhere near the top of the anime fan’s to-do list. Another reason why so few anime stand the test of time is the fact that most of them are unfinished by nature. Because they are usually produced as glorified commercials for their source material, few anime leave viewers with the same sense of closure that makes other media stick for a longer time.

Nevertheless, sometimes a show manages to find a place in our hearts even when it’s been denied access to the collective consciousness. That’s why this month’s question is: Which all-but forgotten anime do you still hold dear? Which is that one show in the list of your all-time favourites no one else has heard of? Zigg, Iro, Aqua, Gee, Euri, and Artemis are here to throw in their two cents.

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Only Yesterday

It may seem odd that a Studio Ghibli work can count as ‘under appreciated’, but in a sense this is a nomination of Isao Takahata’s entire oeuvre. Despite being the co-founder and elder statesman of Ghibli, his films have never drawn the worldwide acclaim and love that his partner Hayao Miyazaki has garnered, saving perhaps the grim, tragic WWII story Grave of the Fireflies. In fact Only Yesterday was so unnoticed by the world at large that it was never officially released in the USA until last year. That’s a shame, because it’s an astonishing masterpiece of storytelling, and unquestionably one of the best animated movies ever made.

Takahata eschews Ghibli’s usual whimsy and fantasy for a grounded, adult story of memory, identity and nostalgia that focuses on late-20’s office lady Taeko. Leaving the bright lights of Tokyo behind her for a trip back to her childhood home in rural Yamagata, the story focuses on both her flashbacks to her childhood memories and her attempt to find purpose and a future in her current life. Deftly stringing together the magic of childhood, the joys and agonies of puberty, and the confusion and conflicting duties of adulthood, Takahata’s story is both a paean to the simpler days of japan in the 60s and a moving adult story of finding your place in a changed world. Beautifully drawn and animated, and written and acted with the lightest of touches, it’s a grown up story for grown ups that remembers a simpler time but doesn’t idealise it, and reminds us that it’s never too late to start again.

Only Yesterday is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Universal

Honorable mention(s): Mobile Police Patlabor

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Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi

Sandwiched between seasons of Gainax’s Mahoromatic lies one of the studio’s oft-overlooked works, a goofy kids show with all of the hallmarks of the Big G in the mid-00s: pop-culture parodies, childish toilet humor, bouncing boobs, and some genuine heart underneath it all. Directed by Masayuki Kojima (Monster, Made in Abyss), Abenobashi follows a couple of hick kids from the eponymous shopping district as they’re magically transported to various alternate versions of their beloved home, each following its own absurd theme. RPG World? Check. Kung-Fu tournament? Yep. Giant robots? You got it, and they’ve got faces on their chests too. Each successive world conjured by the kids brings up the same question, however: why is it that Sasshi and Arumi don’t want to go home to the real Abenobashi Shopping Arcade? While not as deft of a coming-of-age as FLCL, Abenobashi has similar themes of growing up, facing reality, and doing what you can. The humor can get pretty iffy at times, but on the whole this one’s a fun romp through fantasy land that I look back upon fondly.

Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi is available on DVD from Section23 Films.

Honorable mention(s): Haibane Renmei

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Sound of the Sky

What if Japan was Switzerland, except it looked like Spain? Sound of the Sky (So-Ra-No-Wo-To) was a 2010 anime that looked and often sounded like one of the approximately gazillion high school slice-of-life shows that were all the rage back then – as long as you ignored the fact that it took place in a country so devastated by centuries of perpetual war military service has seemingly replaced secondary education wholesale and the entire population between the ages of 12 and 65 is wasting away their days stuck in a border fortress waiting for an enemy who’ll never show. Such is also the fate of Kanata, a chipper young cadet who joins the army because it’s the only place left that will teach her how to play a musical instrument. Stationed with the four other girls of the 1121st squadron (plus a swell tank) in a sleepy village with some peculiar customs and legends of its own, Kanata spends most of her days playing “Amazing Grace” on her bugle and manic-pixie-dream-girling her squadmates as main characters are wont to do, while forces completely beyond her control are putting pieces in place to escalate the war, or end it permanently.

The result is a show that initially feels like it’s focussing on the least interesting aspect of a rich and mysterious world. Sound of the Sky‘s shifts between standard-issue cute girl comedy, introspective war drama and post-apocalyptic sci-fi can be sudden and at times jarring, but on the rare occasion when it dares to drop the mask of tired moe tropes entirely and focuses on its true intent, it shines. While a more conventional exploration of the conflict between Helvetia and Roma would’ve landed yet another pseudo-historical train wreck on writer Hiroyuki Yoshino’s (Izetta: The Last Witch, Guilty Crown) conto, the decision to focus on a squad of rookies entirely out of their depth allowed Sound of the Sky to come across as a heck of a lot fresher than it actually is; let alone inject some much-needed human touch into the often cheesy, poe-faced world of science fiction anime. With solid character writing, atmospheric visuals, gorgeous music and worldbuilding that delves far deeper than such an apparent hodgepodge has any right to be, this hidden gem is one worth digging up.

Let’s all just forget about that one episode where Kanata has to go pee.

Sound of the Sky is available on Crunchyroll or on Blu-Ray from Nozomi Entertainment.

Honorable mention(s): Minami-ke

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Dai-Guard

In the wake of an attack by a mysterious otherworldly alien, mankind builds a machine capable of standing up to it in the form of the titular Dai-Guard. But for 12 years, no other aliens have shown up. Relegated to a glorified PR piece and its three pilots to white collar drudgery, they are called back into action when the aliens return in a string of devastating attacks. Between managing PR, dealing with the military, avoiding collateral damage, and navigating bureaucratic red tape, our heroes must defend the world as best they can when piloting a corporate-sponsored giant robot.

Classifying Dai-Guard is tough because on one hand, it’s constantly poking fun at mecha tropes. The absurdity of a rocket punch, the expenses of all the collateral damage giant robots cause, the political implications of giving an independent corporation unilateral responsibility for fighting the alien menace, and more. But at the same time, Dai-Guard is unwaveringly sincere in its love for giant robots and what they represent. Dai-Guard the robot might be a finicky piece of shit that’s a nightmare to transport and maintain, but it’s also the symbol of hope and mankind’s shining bulwark against its enemies. Its pilots might be white collar office workers with all the baggage that comes with that, but they’re also the heroes who never fail to step up to the plate when it really matters. Their mission control might be the most Japanese corporate middle management imaginable, but they also diligently do the work behind the scenes that nobody else will do.

Perhaps in reaction to something like Evangelion which harshly deconstructs the genre, Dai-Guard pushes with a gentler hand and reminds us that yes, giant robots are kind of silly, but that there’s nothing wrong with that. Dai-Guard is a story about flawed people doing the right thing thing when pushed to the limit. It relentlessly mocks mecha tropes like a loving older brother, who knows how goofy it all sounds, but can’t help but respect its sincerity. It’s proof you can deconstruct mecha while recognising that giant robots are still pretty cool. 

Dai-Guard is available on DVD from Discotek Media

Honorable mention(s): Kino’s Journey

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One Outs

Released in 2008, One Outs released in a busy year for Madhouse, airing in close proximity to awful shows like Kamen no Maid Guy and Chaos;Head. It wasn’t a particular great year for the studio, and they were riding a wave created by Black Lagoon two years prior, and Death Note the year before. With this being a psychological sports anime, it’s not particularly surprising that it was glossed over by many.

The hook in One Outs is that the protagonist, Tōa Tokuchi, has been making a living off of gambling. He challenges unsuspecting batters to just hit one of his pitches to win, but Tokuchi’s talent for manipulation, mind games and trickery allows him to win every time. He’s eventually recruited by a professional baseball team, who instead of giving him a proper contract, offer him 5 million yen for each player he pitches out. On the flip side, he loses 50 million for every player that runs home.

This is a fascinating show because it involves psychological battles on many different levels. There’s the owner of the club who very much doesn’t want to lose a lot of money, who constantly tries to influence baseball games to win money from Tokuchi. There’s also the opposing teams themselves, as many of them have their own tricks up their sleeves to try and snatch victory away.

It’s also unfortunate that One Outs is overshadowed by Liar Game, another series by the same manga author but far more successful. They’re very similar in that they’re both about mind games and gambling large sums of money, but Liar Game went on to see two television dramas, two movies and even a Korean drama. One Outs doesn’t deserve to be glossed over, however, and I encourage you to give it a shot… if you can find it.

One Outs is currently unlicensed.

Honorable mention(s): Kobato., Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, Cross Game

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Chiko, Heiress of the Phantom Thief (Nijuu Mensou no Musume)

This is quite possibly the single most underrated series ever to be released by Bones studio – and it’s easy to see why. 2008’s Chiko, also known as Daughter of Twenty Faces, doesn’t have the classic feel of Wolf’s Rain, the epic nature of Fullmetal Alchemist or Eureka Seven, the distinctive visual panache of Soul Eater, or the fan-pleasing antics of Ouran High School Host Club. What it does have is a solid cast, some wonderful character development, and one of the most compelling, albeit unconventional father-daughter type relationships I’ve seen from any anime title to date. Paired alongside the still relatively uncommon setting of 1950s Japan, plus a distinct lack of either romance or melodrama, and I’d say Twenty Faces more than deserves a look.

Granted, it’s not a perfect show. There’s a sudden (and completely gut-wrenching) change in tone after the first handful of episodes, taking the genre from fairly light-hearted and episodic crime/adventure to episodic adolescent mystery. Unfortunately, Chiko doesn’t really work as a mystery, and the single promising story of the bunch is left totally unresolved. Thankfully, the show’s final third is far more serious and a major step up in terms of storytelling, delivering a satisfying overall conclusion. Just make sure to keep watching right until after the credits, for an extra moment of footage which not only allows the series to come full circle but also brings with it some much-needed emotional closure.

Chiko, Heiress of the Phantom Thief is currently unlicensed.

Honorable mention(s): Stellvia of the Universe (Uchuu no Stellvia), Erin (Kemono no Souja Erin), Le Chevalier D’Eon

What’s your answer to this month’s question? Which question would you like us to answer? Make sure to let us know in the comments!

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