10 Titles Which Need to be Licensed
Collecting anime DVD and Blu-ray discs is fun. It's really fun. It may be expensive...terribly, terribly expensive, but when you've got a shelf full of your favorite shows staring down at you, it's worth every penny. At least it seems that way to us, the physical media collectors. (Also know as paranoid hoarders.)
And what a good time it is to be a collector. Anime is generally getting more and more affordable (Aniplex notwithstanding), and the vast majority of worthwhile shows get picked up for a Western release. You don't have to work that hard to pick up a boxset of your favorite show, and there is a good variety of licensors, offering everything from bare-bones releases to the opulent NIS America collector's boxes. We've got it good, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
Still, there are always series that slip through the cracks, and never see a proper release in the West. Recently, I've been hit with good news after good news on the licensing front, with shows like Yuru Yuri, Shinigami no Ballad and Okamikakushi getting release dates for the American market. Some of these shows are getting up there in their age (relatively speaking, of course), and to finally be able to own a physical copy of them is fantastic.
So, time to be content and show appreciation for the bounty we've just been blessed with, right? Of course not. What it's time for is for some jerk on the internet to take advantage of this opportunity to ask for even more! Or, to frame it a little more positively, it is time to celebrate ten under-appreciated and hitherto unlicensed shows. What follows is a list of ten of the series without a Western release that I feel desperately need one. Whether one is likely, or even feasible, is not really taken into consideration. Time to pull out your pipes and start dreamin'!
The most recent, and perhaps the strangest show on my list. It was incredibly hard to narrow the list down to a mere ten, and the fact that this show ended up being the only comedy on the list speaks volumes about its hilarity. There's only so much you can say about a comedy. It's about as subjective of a genre as they come; what makes people laugh varies wildly. Except for Carnival Phantasm. This is objectively funny. I don't know how, but it pulls it off. There's probably a philosophy class on it somewhere.
While the show lovingly lampoons the characters from many of Type-Moon's works, including Tsukihime, Fate/Stay Night and Melty Blood, you don't have to be a hardcore Type-Moon fan to get most of the jokes. I'm not, and here I am recommending it and putting it on a top 10 list. You will get more out of it if you have experienced at least one of their works beforehand though, so that you have a frame of reference for at least some of the characters. The humor is cleverly written and has a great sense of timing throughout, the character designs are inviting and charming, and it has one of the cutest, most addictive opening themes ever conceived.
I don't have to tell most of you about Macross Frontier, I'm sure. Pop music saves the universe. Every bit as absurd as it sounds, but that somehow never keeps it from being a fabulous show on just about every level. It's visually splendid, has a rich setting, characters you can't help but root for, and (of course) awesome music. The show manages to draw you in with its unrelenting sense of adventure and fun, without being too silly, and without relying on the viewer to be a mecha aficionado, or even a fan of the earlier Macross installments. Add to that an impressive sense of grandness, and it's no surprise that this Macross reawakening managed to draw huge crowds from both old and new fans of the franchise alike.
Macross has had a spotty history as far as licenses go historically, so whether we'll actually get to see a full-fledged Western release of this one, I'm not too sure. But I can dream.
Rec is a marvel, and the fact that it's not more widely appreciated makes my blood boil. A genuinely heartwarming romance between adults, without contrived scenarios, convenient solutions or sugar-coating? Yes, please! The premise is pretty straightforward: a hard workin' salaryman and an aspiring voice actress get romantically entangled. We follow them, through thick and thin. While being positively adorable most of the way through, what makes Rec really hit home emotionally is the fact that it never portrays their relationship as perfect. They have to work for it. For one, they actually have sex.
That's not a spoiler either, it happens in the first episode, pretty much right after they're first introduced. And they have to deal with the consequences of that decision afterwards. It balances nuanced emotional storytelling with cute, simple humor and equally cute and simple visuals. Clocking in somewhere around 2 hours in total runtime, the show nevertheless accomplishes a great deal, and leaves you feeling emotionally satisfied. All praise aside, the hopes of this obscure little oddity being picked up are probably not great. But it is cute, and we are lucky enough to be part of a fandom where that often sells.
Shion no O
Now we're getting into the heavy stuff. I'm not surprised this one isn't licensed, but god do I still wish it would be. Shion, our female protagonist, is a devoted shogi player with a unique and morbid motivation. As a child, she witnessed the grisly murder of both of her parents. The trauma leaves her unable to speak, she is only able to communicate through messages written on a pad she carries around. The murderer also left a clue behind: the king piece on the shogi board, leading Shion to believe the murderer was a shogi player. Through mastering the game, she hopes to someday find a clue as to who murdered her parents. The story is thus an unusual combination of shogi tournaments and murder-mystery, as Shion delves deeper into both shogi, and the mystery surrounding her parents' demise.
The story is well paced, tense and has just the right amount of sinister elements to it too. The premise itself, and the scene where Shion, as a young child mind you, witnesses the bloody murder of her parents, is enough to send chills down my spine, and it makes for a protagonist you root for like no other. It's intriguingly dark and genuinely sad, but not depressingly so. It's not wallowing in despair, and it's never exploitative about the tragic events. Shion herself is a fantastic character: strong and intelligent, but also traumatized by her past and desperate for some sort of way to make sense of this seemingly meaningless act of cruelty. She's also adorable, but that's just icing at this point. The show has a few twist and turns, and most importantly, remains intelligently written throughout.
Hanbun no Tsuki ga Noboru Sora
Hanbun no Tsuki ga Noboru Sora (or Hantsuki, for short) is a brief, but not-always-so-sweet, six episode series. The story takes place in a hospital (I could stop right there...) and deals with the romance between two young teenagers, both of which are patients admitted there. It can be downright depressing, and expertly pulls at your heartstrings whenever it damn well pleases. In addition to the depressing setting, their relationship is anything but smooth, and you might want to prepare for a few scenes of outright frustration at the characters' actions. However, none of this is actually a slight against the show. It makes the sweet moments all the sweeter, and much more rewarding.
It's a simple formula; you want to see them beat the odds, succeed despite their adversity and conquer their very human flaws and ailments. The beauty is in the subtle execution. At the risk of sounding pedantic: great suffering, and the overcoming of it, has always made for great art, and Hantsuki is a fine example of just that. It can be depressing to watch at times, and even vexing, but it is ultimately a triumph of emotional storytelling.
Because just one of them simply wouldn't be enough, and this list was hard enough to make without both of them taking up a spot. If you're unfamiliar with either (or God forbid, both) of these series, they're all about gambling. Extreme, manly, gritty, life-on-the-line gambling. They're both based on manga written by Fukumoto Nobuyuki, and they were both adapted into anime series by the same studio; Madhouse. They share the same art style (which may take some getting used to, but is sublime once you do), tackle the same themes, and have the same deliberate pace. And they are both works of sheer genius. What separates them comes down to two things: the "games", and the protagonists.
Akagi is a mahjong series. They play mahjong. That's it. Sounds pretty tame? Not when you're literally betting your own blood. Not when you just swam to safety after crashing a car into the ocean, and now you're trying to cheat the Yakuza out of boatloads of cash in the middle of the night. At age thirteen. Akagi is the epitome of the cool, confident lead. Little fazes him, and he remains an utter mystery to the viewer. You don't really get to hear what he's thinking. No internal monologues. People react to him, and explain in elaborate detail what his brilliant thought process must have been. He's not here to explain shit to you: that's someone else's job.
Kaiji doesn't play mahjong. At least not in the anime. He's also not cool, and definitely not composed. He cries frequently, has the worst imaginable luck, and possesses no motivation to do anything to turn his miserable life around. This makes him the polar opposite of Akagi, and makes us root for the underdog, rather than be dazzled by the Ãœbermensch (superman). People even call Kaiji moé, because you want to protect him and help him out when he's sitting there in the corner crying. He does have one thing going for him though, and that's his wits. He is not a dumb guy. He just happens to make a lot of dumb decisions which get him into all kinds of trouble.
With his back up against the wall, Kaiji is forced to literally gamble for his life to erase his debt with the Yakuza. If you've not seen the show, I shan't dare spoil the games they force him to take part in, I'll just say that they're so ingeniously simple in concept and elaborate in execution that you can't help but be entertained. Kaiji also has the distinction of having one of, if not the, most amazing narrators ever. Get ready for extended metaphors, copious symbolism and plenty of manly tears. Get ready for the best damn show about gambling ever made.
I can see why licensors are apprehensive about picking up Akagi, a show centered entirely on a game most people (in the West) know and care little about, but as for Kaiji, there's simply no excuse. This should be licensed. Hell, I believe this could be a smash hit if it was advertised properly.
Oh, and the second season literally has about fifteen consecutive episodes of balls rolling around a hole. And it's nowhere near as dirty as it sounds.
Bokurano has one of the best opening themes ever. You might not think that's a huge selling point, but it is. You'd never think the word "uninstall" could be so beautiful and haunting. It sets the mood perfectly for the dark, thoroughly gloomy experience which follows.
Let it be known far and wide, Bokurano is relentlessly depressing and makes no effort to hide this fact. You might think you've seen this story before. It sounds pretty simple. A group of kids discover an enormous robotic being, and they have to pilot it, battling other giant mechs to fight for earth's survival. However, as the show quickly reveals, there's a sinister twist to the plot. Whoever pilots the robot forfeits their life at the battle's conclusion, regardless of the outcome. That means, if you win, you die, if you lose, you die and the earth is erased from existence. There's no hope for a happy ending, and the show is not about trying to save the life of each individual pilot. It's more about each individual pilot finding something to fight for. Something to die for. This is heartwrenching stuff, and the expertly told stories of each individual pilot and the hope they need to muster to come face to face with this cruel fate makes it hard not to be moved to tears. Not much else should be said about the show plot-wise, it needs to be experienced.
If you ever feel the yearning to be completely and utterly emotionally devastated, Bokurano is the show for you.
Aoi Bungaku is nothing less than a work of art. That's hardly surprising, since the stories contained within are based on classic, Japanese literature. If you're ever looking for something mature, thoughtful and subtle to show someone who's not quite been bitten by the anime bug yet, Aoi Bungaku is your perfect choice. It consists of six stories, ranging from one to four episodes in length. The stories run the emotional gamut, but they all deal with the deeper, darker sides of the human conditions in one way or another. It starts off with the most depressive, nigh-nihilistic piece "Ningen Shikkaku" (No Longer Human), which is also the longest, so viewers who don't quite feel like slipping into a deep depression should start with one of the shorter stories and see how they like those first. I suggest "Kumo no Ito" (The Spider's Thread). That being said, none of the stories are particularly uplifting. They all have elements of cruelty, despair or depression in them, and personally, I would not have it any other way. "Hashire, Melos!" (Run, Melos!) is likely the story with the simplest, most positive moral message, but even that's hardly a walk in the park, and I guarantee you someone with better credentials can, and has, read more into it than me.
Every story in the anthology is heavy on the atmosphere, both in terms of visuals and mood-setting. You can just sit, or wallow, in the moods the pieces bring forth. The show was animated by Madhouse, with different teams of writers and directors working on each segment. It's hard to pick a favorite, as every piece has its own charm, but I'd probably steer clear of "Sakura no Mori no Mankai no Shita" (In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom) as an introduction, as this piece is a bit of an oddity, with some baffling anachronisms and lapses in mood. Intentional though they may be, I can't help but feel that the bizarre humor hurts the quality of this one.
Overall, Aoi Bungaku is nothing short of a masterpiece. Spectacular visuals combined with sophisticated, mature and meaningful tales of human woes makes this a must-watch for anyone with a taste for classic literature or artistic storytelling. I don't expect that this will be licensed anytime soon, but I have my hopes up that someone, somewhere down the line will look back at this, recognize its quality, and release it as a prestige title. Market this to the right crowd and you could have a mini-hit on your hand. (Not to mention a foot in the door with a whole new group of potential anime devotees.) I'm sure I can't be the only one out there who wants more stuff like this.
Moryou no Hako
Madhouse, you sly bastards. Yes, yet another entry on the list which hails from their illustrious catalog. Moryou no Hako has their stamp all over it, and boy, aren't I glad. In many respects, it resembles the previous entry, Aoi Bungaku. Which is no coincidence, since Moryou no Hako has the same director as the "Hashire, Melos!" segment from that series.
Moryou no Hako is a horror mystery, so the less said about the plot, the better. I'll share the short story synopsis courtesy of ANN: "The story follows a series of bizarre murders of schoolgirls who have been dismembered and stuffed into boxes. The private investigator hired by a missing daughter's mother joins forces with an antique book seller and others to unravel the murder spree."
The show is incredibly rich on atmosphere, character building and dialogue. You get drawn in and immersed, waiting for the next piece of the puzzle to reveal itself. It's unsettling, it's darkly seductive, and majestically unique. It may not appeal to everyone, and it requires patience and mental commitment to get the most out of the experience. For instance, one of the episodes is literally nothing but four men sitting in a room full of books talking about various subjects related to the plot. I found it exhilarating, but it's understandably not everyone's idea of a good time, which may just answer the question of why this hasn't been licensed. In short, this show has almost everything I desire in a show. A dark tone, enchanting visuals, a slowly unraveling mystery, strong dialogue, a world you can absolutely immerse yourself in, and of course, a haunting opening theme performed by Nightmare.
It might seem weird to put a show like Umi Monogatari over a show like Aoi Bungaku. It might even seem silly. It's a very personal choice, which I may not be able to fully articulate in a convincing manner. But when it comes to pure, unadulterated desire, Umi Monogatari is what I most want to own. It's what I yearn for on an emotional level.
So, I've put a show which has a talking turtle with a bushy mustache over a brilliantly written murder mystery, and an adaptation of acclaimed works of classic literature. If you're still reading, I congratulate you on having an open mind. Let's start from the beginning, and discuss the director, Sato Junichi. The man has a slew of impressive credits, including the role of director of the original Sailor Moon, but in recent years, he's become most known for his sublime additions to the "healing anime" genre; peaceful, enchanting shows that are supposed to leave the viewer with a sense of emotional joy and wash their worries away, to give them a sense of something magical and serene. He directed the magnificent Aria trilogy (i.e. Animation, Natural and Origination), which just so happens to be one of my favorite creations of all time, and while different in many respects, Umi Monogatari has some of that same magic flowing through it. While Aria is a pure example of plotless, episodic joy, Umi Monogatari is more of a mixed bag. While positively uplifting overall, a plot starts brewing in its second half, and there's even some dark elements at play. Again, drawing comparisons to one of the director's earlier works, it turns into a very unconventional kind of magical girl show by the end.
But enough vague comparisons, what's the show actually about? Two sisters who live in the ocean among the fishes and coral reefs venture up on land. Much like Ariel, they wanted more. However, it's not romance with some doltish man they desire, they want to return a precious ring they found to its rightful owner, and also simply explore the dry land. There, the sisters meet the somewhat shy girl Kanon, who just can't seem to be honest with herself. Much of the beauty of the show comes from the character interactions. There's a genuine charm to it all that simply can't be manufactured. It's in the dialogue, the subtle facial expressions and cute humor. It's hard to nail down what makes this feel so real, so completely devoid of cynicism; but it simply does. There's a childlike innocence to it all, but without being childishly simple. The emotions are there, and the series simply succeeds at everything it attempts. The color palette and character designs are simply sublime, managing to be cute beyond measure for most characters, while adding a playful sexiness as well to the older sister, Marin.
The show shines the brightest when it focuses on the exploration of the characters in its first half. This is where the drama, the humor and the chemistry really works its magic, forging an ineffable sense of captivation that ranks up there with the best shows I've seen. The second half is no slouch either, focusing more on a looming plot, and giving some payoff to earlier established conflicts. However, when given the choice between watching the plot progress, and watching the characters play off of each other, I'd always pick the latter. That's where the show's main strength lies; making you emotionally invested in these wonderful characters.
Maybe I've managed to explain why this show I think this show is so great, and maybe I haven't. I'm leaning towards the latter. But that's part of the beauty of these slice-of-life-healing shows. Maybe they *do* sound boring when you try to explain them, especially to someone who's not inclined towards the genre. Once you experience them though, you might come to realize that the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.
Or perhaps that's just a bunch of hogwash I spun in a futile attempt to hide the fact that I'm a poor writer. Either way, this wordy post has come to an end.