This half of the list will probably leave more then a few scratching their heads. So let me say again, this is a list of anime that influenced me as an anime watcher and not a list of favorite shows. There where many wonderful shows like Ghost in the Shell or Azumanga Daioh that for reasons like ‘I was already a fan of intelligent SF’ or ‘I saw similar shows before it so it wasn’t a new experience’ where not influential to me.
I divide my time as an anime fan into 3 parts. The first span was the time that Rurouni Kenshin and Yu Yu Hakusho where the only anime that I knew. This phase lasted awhile and of this phase, only one show made the list. The second phase started when I purchased the first Witch Hunter Robin DVD and committed to becoming an anime fan and lasted till roughly the fall of 2005. Because of the price of buying DVDs, I tended to stick to shows that were like other shows I liked and where well-reviewed – mainly shounen or action titles. Of course, I still got series that ended up not being worth the purchase and slowly I shifted to buying manga. I could look over what I was buying before buying it, it was cheaper to follow a series in manga form and I’ve enjoyed books since I was little. Even then though, I pretty much stuck with the same types of titles and it didn’t help that was the lion-share of the market. Numbers 2 – 6 fit into this phase.
The third and current phase started when I stumbled upon fansubs while trying to find out information about the anime version of Bleach because I was loving the manga and couldn’t figure out why the anime wasn’t here as well. Once I learned about fansubs, I became curious as to what other shows where being shown over there and not being brought over here. So with the twin desires of seeing different types of anime and using fansubs to decide if a show was worthy of purchase when it eventually came out over here, I dove in to see what else I liked. The final four series have come from this phase and at this point I think there’s little chance of encountering another series that belongs to this list. Maybe in a few years when I become a bitter anime fan and complain about everything was better back in the day, I can add titles that influenced me to dislike anime. 😉
6. Paranoia Agent
The sixth, and final series from my second phase, is Satoshi Kon’s masterpiece Paranoia Agent. Paranoia Agent, if you haven’t seen it yet, tells the story of the creator of Miromi (a plush doll sensation, set to become the next huge anime series) and how a city is turned upside-down when Lil’ Slugger, always on roller-blades, begins to attack people with a golden bat.
This was one of the titles that I knew belonged on this list even before I started because it influenced me in a few different ways. The first was that it showed me that anime had the ability to seriously mess with my mind and still remain entertaining. Also, this was the first anime that I watched that had significant amounts of realistic-feeling and often disturbing violence. And it wasn’t just because it showed that anime could be violent but, in addition, that violence could be vital to the story and not gratuitous.
7. Melancholy of Haruhi
Having grown comfortable with fansubs and reading anime blogs at the end of 2005 and the beginning of 2006, I was looking forward to the spring season 2006. I diligently used the preview guides to find what seemed to be the popular series and planned on which I was going to watch. A strange thing happened that first week; a show that didn’t even make most preview guides, and had absolutely no hype, suddenly was being talked about by everyone. I had to investigate for myself.
When I watched it, I was blown away. Then I went to the blogs and reading different analysis’s, I particularly remember a couple done by film students that pointed out all film errors that Haruhi’s amateur movie committed, and ended up rewatching that first episode at least a dozen more times. The sheer audacity shown by KyoAni with this first episode, the attention to the very small details that were needed for such a brilliant and purposely mediocre movie, the little hints that something more then just being a school comedy, the very original characters we meet and the promise of more next week all contributed to almost melting my brain that first week. This episode seemed to exist on a totally different plane then every other anime I’ve ever seen.
It would have been disappointing if the rest of the show failed to live up to the promise shown in the first episode but it turned out that the show was more than a one-trick pony. The non-linear storytelling was different and also allowed us to see Haruhi develop into a real character that we could sympathize with. Kyon’s sarcastic nature and non-suckiness was a breathe of fresh air from the prevalence of Shinji-clone male anime protagonists. There was also the show’s ability to incorporate many different types of shows into itself and still work as a show.
For shattering my perceptions of what an anime series could be and being the Tiger Woods of anime – permanently raising the bar – the Melancholy of Haruhi easily earns a spot on this list.
As I worked on this list, I started thinking about certain shows I’ve watched recently and started thinking back to the first examples of them. This show, Kasimasi, was one show that I was surprised when it came up. The more I thought about the more I realized it did belong.
Kasimasi focused on three characters: a boy, the boy’s female childhood friend who is secretly in love with him, a female classmate of the boy who the boy likes but has rejected his confession of love. The boy gets hit by an alien spaceship but instead of dying, the aliens save him by reconstructing the body but also change the body into a completely female body. The show explores, in a mixture of seriousness and humor, how the boy’s transformation affects the relationships amongst the three.
This was my introduction to not only “gender-bending” anime but, more generally, absurdly premised anime shows that use the premise to tell a story that’s impossible to tell in another way. Having never seen anything that could be considered gender-bending in mainstream American entertainment, I initially didn’t quite know what to do with this show. I realized during the course of the show that it wasn’t dissimilar from other anime in that it had a story to tell and it was going to tell it, and I came to like the show. So for introducing me to gender-bending anime and absurdly-premised anime as well as making me comfortable with gender-ambiguous characters (traps and reverse traps, for example); this show earns a place on this list.
I was somewhat reluctant to put a second show by any one studio on this list but neither Haruhi or Air could have been left off this list. From my recent review, I wrote how the story dealt with one man’s search to find the girl connected to a 1000 year curse and what happens when he meets a girl who dreams of her other self beyond the clouds. And how I was drawn into this story and shed many tears over the course of the show. If you read that, you might think that Air is listed because I cried. That’s only partly true, the reason why I cried and why it’s getting listed here is because the show – through it’s story, visuals, music, and voice work – made me care far deeper about a character then I have ever before. Because of this series, now anytime that I watch a show and it creates real characters with depth; I end up caring about them more.
The last show to make the list, Kamichu, first came to my attention when I saw a picture of the show. Something about it drew me in and made me want to see it but I had no clue what show it was. By happenstance, I was reading through old posts from Anime on my Mind (now Derailed by Darry) one day and came across the anime that the picture was from – Kamichu. If I remember correctly, the show had received the author’s “Best anime no one watched” award. I decided it was worth a watch.
I mentioned that Kino’s Journey has a slice-of-life structure to it but Kamichu was a slice-of-life show, through-and-through. It, like other great slice-of-shows, can find magic in the mundane and reveal secrets from the simple stuff of everyday life. So for making me a slice-of-life fan and learning that anime can be relaxing, Kamichu earns the last spot on this list.
And with that last show, I’ve became the anime watcher I am now. This probably helps to explain why I enjoy so many different types of anime. To close,I’d like to thank everyone that read and commented on the first part of this list. I didn’t intend to write as much as I did about each one but hopefully, I made your time worthwhile. I’m happy for any comments – positive or negative – that you might feel like writing. I’m also thinking about doing my 5 most personal influential non-anime animated shows at some point in the future, so be ready for more personal ramblings about shows. 🙂