Most people associated anime with shows like Dragon Ball Z, or some of the R-rated material that had a tendency to pop up in Western countries during the 80s and 90s. Contrary to most people’s expectations, anime can actually offer deep and complex narratives on a wide variety of subjects. Today I take a quick look at five shows, Dennou Coil, Mushishi, Trigun, Usagi Drop, and Wandering Son, which have a lot to offer audiences.
Dennou Coil: A Circle of Children
This show, as brilliant as it is, is so obscure there isn’t even a trailer on Youtube. I’ve posted the opening from the show instead.
The story of Dennou Coil is set in the fictional city of Daikoku and follows a group of children who are hackers/investigators. This group tries to solve the many strange occurrences that start to occur in one of the world’s first augmented reality cities.
You may have heard of this thing called Google Glass. Well, way back in 2007, a show called Dennou Coil imagined a world where people interacted with the Internet through their glasses, overlaying the virtual world onto the real one.
Dennou Coil completely blew my mind when I watched it. It presented a world which (at the time) seemed like pure science fiction. It took things even further and started to explore the possibility that virtual reality affected reality in ways that it shouldn’t. It also looked at ideas like life, death, and reality, and presented these things under the guise of a children’s show.
The anime’s climax also tied everything together brilliantly, while packing a huge emotional punch.
Mushishi is set in a fictional historical Japan where strange creatures called Mushi roam the world. Mushi are not spiritual beings, nor are they animals, but they exhibit supernatural abilities and animal-like behaviours. They can sometimes affect the people around them, so people rely on Mushishi, or Mushi Masters, to help them when things go wrong.
I’ll be the first to say that Mushishi will definitely not be everyone’s cup of tea. It can move at a glacial pace and is driven more by the setting, tone and ambience of the show than it is by the action or characters. However, it’s an incredibly interesting watch if you’re in the mood for something different that likes to stop and smell the flowers.
Apologies for the poor quality. This show is very old.
Trigun is a scifi/western/comedy set on a desert planet in a post-apocalyptic future. The story follows two insurance company employees, Meryl Stryfe and Milly Thompson, who are searching for a man called Vash the Stampede. Vash, who’s also known as The Humanoid Typhoon, has earned his name due to the catastrophic level of destruction that always seems to occur around him.
It always surprises me how few people have seen Trigun, especially considering how it’s the most “mainstream” anime on this list. Trigun starts off as a fun, light-hearted action comedy, but about half way through the tone of the show takes a fairly drastic shift. We start to discover more about Vash and the unusual and dangerous people he is connected to. It’s here that Trigun starts to explore some darker themes and ideas, ditching the comedy completely and becoming more of a pure action sci-fi.
Trigun also has one of the best villains I have seen in any kind of show, and the reveal behind his motivation is freaking fantastic.
Usagi Drop begins with Daikichi, a man in his thirties, arriving at his grandfather’s funeral. He meets a young girl there and soon discovers that the girl is his grandfather’s illegitimate child. After recovering from the shock that such a young girl is technically his aunt, he joins the family discussion on what is to be done with the girl. The rest of the family sees the girl, Rin, as a source of shame and want to get rid of her as soon as possible. Daikichi is shocked that his family can be so callous towards a child who has just lost her father and decides to take the girl in himself, much to the surprise and disapproval of the rest of his family.
Usagi Drop is a great slice-of-life show about the complexities of life, parenting, and being a child growing up under extremely complicated circumstances. Daikichi grows into a responsible father, and learns about the difficulties of being a single parent, while Rin slowly comes out of her shell as she grows to love and trust Daikichi and some of the other people around her.
Apologies for the lack of subtitles. Again, this show is very obscure and so there’s little content on Youtube.
Wandering Son is the story of Shuichi Nitori, a boy on the cusp of puberty, who struggles with the fact that he feels like a girl trapped in a boy’s body. He quickly befriends a young girl Yoshino Takatsuki, who he soon discovers wishes to be a boy.
I was initially drawn to Wandering Son by its amazing watercolour animation, with no idea what the actual story was about. Once I did find out the context for the story, I expected things to go south very quickly. The show surprised me with how tastefully and tactfully the very, very complicated gender issues are handled throughout the story, and the story is beautifully animated throughout. While Wandering Son will definitely resonate more with people who don’t fit into traditional gender roles, it is at its core a story about a child who feels like an outsider, and so should have much broader appeal than its subject matter would suggest.