I’m going to do something a little different. I have been seeing a lot of gripes about how anime is getting repetitive lately, and to be honest, that is true on a basic, oversimplified level. While the industry does favor anime with similar stories and themes in terms of being “safe” choices for viewers, there are others that enjoy making fun of tired tropes in the form of parodies, or completely deconstruct their genres. These kinds of shows are the ones that fans and critics alike will talk about the most, whether they liked or disliked them.
However, I’m more interested in a handful of “middle tier” anime: shows that weren’t necessarily bad or good, but altered their themes slightly where they felt original to me, but also maintained important aspects of their respective genres. Some of these have become popular, but I thought that they were very creative in offering something different. For limitation’s sake, these are anime series that I have already reviewed on this blog. By the end of this post, I hope you’ll appreciate the idea that no two anime are alike.
These are in no particular order.
1. Encouragement of Climb
Breaking Molds: Sports, Animated Shorts
Oddly enough, Encouragement of Climb was one of the first anime features I watched that had episodes less than the standard 24 minutes long. So seeing how fun and visually stunning it was, it came to my dismay that virtually every other short is hastily drawn, rapid dialogues, with discontiguous stories that make no sense! However, this Encouragement of Climb had two successful seasons, and the second had an increased run-time as well.
Sure, you will get that same moe feeling from this all-girl cast (with a few exceptions), as they tackle a sport that is more recreational than competitive: hiking. It is a very technical series about its sport, and does cover some of the ethical concerns and dangers of it as well. Like other sports anime, Encouragement of Climb taught me that the joy of the sport is more than just reaching your goals, but the memories you make along the way. However, I felt that it was different such that hiking can be fun for everyone.
Breaking Molds: Military, Mecha
I suppose the biggest complaint I’ve seen about Argevollen is its lack of air combat. Taking place during an endless war, this military drama is more about the human personnel than unique mechas, in a land-based war that seems out of place given its modern ambience. Ironically, something like this would seem “too original” in that rather than imagining epic space battles or utilizing magical energy, this recent series scales back and criticizes modern warfare in our present day with limited but dehumanizing technology.
Whether you believe that this anime is pro or anti war, I think one criticism is certain: those who are behind the endless war in Argevollen are an extremely real threat!
3. School Live
Breaking Molds: Horror, Moe
I’m actually not a huge fan of horror. That’s probably why most of my reviews are cute slice of life things that feel light by comparison. So when a series decides to break not one, but two anime genres, of course there will be mixed opinions about it!
But given how School Live handles the central themes of a cute story about high school girls in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, I was genuinely surprised. Yeah, I still wasn’t a huge fan, but ironically it wasn’t the horror elements that alienated me. It was the moe ones! If a show ever forces me to rethink what I like about particular genres, I think it’s worth at least a watch. After all, our impressions of any given type of series isn’t cut and dry!
4. My Love Story
Breaking Molds: Romance, Shojo
I love a good romance anime as much as the next fan. However, the duration of a romance series usually lasts only as long as trying to get the guy or girl, and then comes to an end. My Love Story breaks that tradition by establishing Takeo and Rinko’s relationship early on, and the rest focuses on how they maintain that relationship! Seriously. What?
Not only that, but your typical shojo romance goes for slender cute boys like Takeo’s best friend Suna. But since this anime is told in the guy’s perspective, no one would ever suspect that the heroine falls in love with a brash giant! Maybe you like other anime guys out there, but after watching this series, you might find that you have made the wrong choice!
Breaking Molds: Sports, Josei
If I were to ask you to name every sport you possibly can, Karuta probably doesn’t even come close. Not only is it a card game, but it’s also a game that involves poetry that unless you bothered to memorize all of them in Japanese, you won’t be getting very far.
Chihayafuru beautifully combines the technical aspect of competitive Karuta with expressions and character development that relates directly to the poems of Hyakunin Isshu. And yeah, there’s a love triangle going on as well. However, this anime isn’t just about a young Chihaya who wants to fall in love. This is a series about a strong Chihaya that will take on physical exercise, super intense rivals, and herself to be the best in the world! I don’t know about you guys, but that sounds more like a shonen anime.
6. Nobunaga Concerto
Breaking Molds: Historic, Science Fiction
Time travel. Role reversal. Alternate reality. I agree that this one is a hard sell, considering it violates a lot of tropes that Japanese fans are tired of seeing in anime. What sold me on this series isn’t so obvious: its art style. Nobunaga Concerto‘s animation may be sharp and rather flat, but its texture fits the idea that we are in another time period. I found it most amusing that the cross between past and present cultural norms were seen as playful, but not super over-the-top.
The anime version of this plays like a shonen with emphasis on Saburo’s growth, but its live action drama feels more like a shojo or josei, giving Kicchou a more robust character.
7.Wish Upon the Pleiades
Breaking Molds: Magical Girls, Science Fiction
I’m going to be frank with you. This is by far my favorite magical girl anime to date. That’s saying a lot, considering this one breaks molds on two fronts: the cute fantasies for young audiences, and the ever-growing popular deconstruction models for mature audiences. Wish Upon the Pleiades still feels cute enough for children, but its inclusion of scientific theory and (surprisingly) lack of evil forces rethinks what it means to be a magical girl.
Subaru and her friends may still have magical adventures, but by the end of this series, I did feel like their personalities translated perfectly with reality. Anime can be innovative and imaginative, but I take special consideration when they can also take their audience seriously.
Breaking Molds: Idols
I won’t be the first person who will tell you that anime fans are different from idol fans, and I certainly won’t be the last to tell you either. Most idol anime projects focus around the industry itself, whether the girls or boys involved are trying to break through their major debuts, or raise money to save their school or something. But given its premise, Locodol takes a look at a different kind of idol: the civil servant!
While music and individuality are central themes of your typical idol series, Locodol emphasizes the growth of the girls in their community, and just how down to earth they are. Idols are unreachable given their celebrity status, but I guarantee you that I have met several Yukaris and “Nanyakos” in my boring everyday life.
Breaking Molds: Science Fiction, Slice of Life
I suppose orange is considered “speculative fiction,” given that it offers an alternate but familiar reality. However, given its close ties to scientific theories and telling the story of two competing timelines, I think it has plenty to say about our understanding of science fiction as well. The journey that Naho and friends take may not seem out of this world at first, but their worldviews most certainly did, in their efforts to save a precious friend.
I’m sure there are plenty of reasons why orange was snubbed by fans and critics alike last year, probably involving how similar it feels like to your typical shojo romance, or maybe it just confused a lot of people. I still think it had a creative outlook in combining two seemingly different genres to give us hope that we can, even in little ways, change the future.
Breaking Molds: Shonen, Supernatural
So given my short list here, you probably noticed that I don’t talk a lot about classic shonen anime. Yeah. I really don’t. And technically calling this anime a mold-breaking series is also probably not very fair, considering it is written by one of the industry’s most prolific manga artists, Rumiko Takahashi. But in the long-standing anime tradition of taking everything you might expect out of any genre and throwing them out the window, it is no wonder that Rin-ne is getting a third season this coming Spring!
I’ll tell you all about this “anti-anime” in my next review!