Joe's Favorite 20 Anime (Pt.2)

Part two of Joe's favorite anime list is finally here!

Read part one here if you haven't!

10. Serial Experiments Lain

It's the early 2000s. Saturday Morning Anime had left the Sci-Fi Channel for quite some time. I hadn't abandoned anime (I went to Princess Mononoke twice with my college film group and saw Spirited Away three times in theaters), yet there wasn't a series to reignite the fire. Then I discovered a comic shop that had been three blocks from where I lived in college for years that rented all sorts of anime titles. My good friend suggested Neon Genesis Evangelion many many times, but there was this one show that caught my eye. The box art was intriguing with anime style meshed with very realistic detail work. The story suggested a deep mystery involving the world of technology. It was like a Mass Effect choice. I went with Serial Experiments Lain, and then pulled out a gun and shot Shinji. Not really. I eventually watched NGE and liked it well enough, but nothing to the level I like this.

It helped that I was in college. Working through films like Mulholland Dr. definitely put me in the right mindset for this crack baby of David Lynch and David Cronenberg. Lain is a quiet, somewhat innocuous schoolgirl (With bear pajamas!) until her classmate commits suicide and sends her a posthumous e-mail about how God is in the Wired, this universe's version of the Internet. She eventually dives head first into the Wired and becomes a computer genius in an amazingly short time. Meanwhile, a brash, rude, and commanding version of herself seems to be showing up at the local cyberpunk dance club, she's being watched by literal men in black, and strange events like virtual maze hunting games getting wires crossed to tragic results start to pile up.

This is another one of those titles people called the GREATEST ANIME EVER for awhile and then disappears from the public consciousness (I got HIGH FIVES for my Lain messenger bag Otakon 2005. Nobody even knows what it is when I go to cons now). For this one, the amazing technological advances of one decade overshadowed the series' predictions for THE FUTURE (Here, nightmarish vision of the Internet folding into reality, meet Facebook!). Still, writer Chiaki J. Kanaka makes a brilliant whirl of pseudo-science, conspiracy theories, whacked-out predictions, and some astute observations about people's behavior on the Internet. The part where some people are only ears, eyes, or mouths on the Wired and rarely a complete or honest iteration of themselves is actually pretty smart without calling attention to itself.

Kanaka has a problem with uploading everything in his brain onto the script, sometimes missing the pathos of the story (The ending of Big O II is especially egregious), but thankfully, he occasionally has a great group of collaborators, like illustrator and character designer Yoshitoshi ABe giving life to quiet Lain and filling in the dark corners of the ominous, technological world that surrounds everyone. Director Ryutaro Nakamura, a talent who passed away far too soon because cancer is a gigantic asshole, was able to help hook all of these crazed ideas into a unifying force along the way. Its soul sometimes gets buried in the layers of obtuse plotlines, but it finds itself in places like Lain's one true friendship with classmate Alice and how it progresses as Lain becomes something Alice doesn't recognize anymore. I wouldn't call this the strongest work for most involved (And we'll see just about everyone mentioned later down the list), but this show has a certain kind of symbolic and iconic importance as a gateway drug.  The opening is also still one of the best with one of the greatest songs in OP history. I know I've found someone to talk to when I get a smile out of softly singing, "And you don't seem to understand...."

9. Last Exile

It's not a show that generates a lot of passion, I'll throw that out there. Yet this amazing all around project has great aspects on about every facet of production. Gonzo's problematic blending of 3-D and 2-D elements aside, the animation looks fantastic with the best skies I've seen in anime outside of The Sky Crawlers. The characters don't break the mold, but they are some of the better versions of the models they represent. Alex Rowe is neo Captain Harlock and he does it well, not to mention Maestro Delphine is one of the most hateful villains who delights in activities like basking in the vaporized molecules of someone we were just starting to appreciate. The world is well thought out, the music is top notch (Though did they ever reveal who Dolce Triade is?), and I'm much softer of the problematic ending than most people are. The series usually dances just outside the top ten, but this month, it falls just within the top ten. Eh, it happens.

Claus and Lavi are vanship pilots, aerial vehicles that resemble cars with antigravity capabilities. They do odd jobs across the world of Prester to bulk up their vanship for racing purposes, but eventually, their job gets them thrust smack dab in the middle of the war between countries Anatoray and Disith which seems to be secretly manipulated by the Guild, a group of nobles with heavily advanced and devastating technology. Crashing into a vanship with a dying pilot gets them custody of Alvis, a young girl who may hold the key to ending the Guild's control of everyone. That's the basic thrust of the story, but it sprawls around all aspects of the world, from cannon fodder soldier Mullen to Guild teenager Dio avoiding his coming-of-age ceremony as much as possible to the crew of the Silvana, the only battleship free of Guild puppetry.

The appeal of Last Exile for me is how much thought is put into this world. I remember reading an interview with designer Range Murata about how he even had to fumble around with some details because Lavi's final hairstyle could only be possible with a razor, which had not been invented in his universe as of yet. It's a tried-and-true adventure with the typical hero's journey of Claus trying to figure what happened with his father's final mission and completing it, but the world is so unique and the characters individuals enough to rise above their archetypes. I'm not going to spend great lengths defending the little story stumbles like when it turns into a weird harem for a bit (Though I think what they were going for was that there was so much confusion within the characters that it physically manifested with the least likely romantic pairing kissing). What I can say is this is a sturdy, beautiful adventure that has endured for way longer than I expected it to.

8. Cowboy Bebop

The Dark Side of the Moon of the list. It's a boring, predictable pick, but I'd be incredibly dishonest if I didn't put it here. Of Shinichiro Watanabe's "two guys and a girl" setup, this is the one with the best chemistry between the leads (It also has the extra advantage of an eccentric hacker and a corgi tagging along). It's a blast of Western culture funneled through Far Eastern perspective, and then unleashed as the slick, cool, and entertaining adventures of tough-luck bounty hunters. It's heavily built on stand alone episodes with just enough main story and backstory episodes to provide a firm axis to everything. Yoko Kanno's music is also nothing less than fabulous with an outstanding breadth of volume and variety. But I'm not telling you anything you didn't already know if you're even a tiny bit into anime. If you haven't watched it yet, do so.

7. Monster

How this hasn't found a decent Western market shocks me. I've heard horror stories of the first (And only) American box set's sales numbers, but parts of my mind simply cannot comprehend how it failed so much that its Western rollout including Sci-Fi channel slot crashed and burned enough to simply stop making box sets. If you strapped someone down and got them to view the first six episodes, you wouldn't need to strap them down after that. Theoretically, of course. Do not do that. This adaptation of Naoki Urusawa's manga is a serial psychological thriller that's one of the most addicting drugs anime has to offer. I remember when the final episodes first came down on the less-than-legal channels and I was stricken with a particularly nasty strain of the flu. I had a fever and could barely move, but NOTHING, not even potential death was going to keep me from watching the series finale.

It starts out pedestrian enough. Dr. Tenma (Not to be mistaken for a certain Osamu Tezuka character) is a brilliant Asian brain surgeon living in 1980's West Germany with a beautiful fiancée and a bright future. When he refuses to operate on a famous figure because a child with an extremely serious gunshot wound came in first, his future is shut down by office politics. That's the least of his worries when years later after the Berlin Wall comes down, the child he saves turns out to be a genius psychopath with his own way of thanking the people most responsible for helping him. This seems like a cut-and-dry suspense story, but it becomes enhanced by having a narrative that floats around a complex web of characters. Some people are seemingly unrelated to the events, but as the threads tighten, almost everyone is shown as an essential piece to an enthralling puzzle of what happened behind the iron curtain during Germany's divided days. It definitely helps that the cast is so well rounded and intriguing that large swaths of story go by without Dr. Tenma even being involved (And that may be part of the reason it's so good. Dr. Tenma kind of has the same problem as Urusawa's Master Keaton in that he's a genius and everybody likes him and his only flaw is that he's too nice). My favorite character, Mr. Grimmer, doesn't even show up until over half the series is over.

At first blush, Madhouse's work is a simple adaptation of fantastic source material. That's correct in a sense, but it seriously underrates the work done to make this the best it could be. It mimics and is edited like a live-action series to create human tension, and it's so effective at it that the simple fact that it's animated is almost an afterthought. My favorite episode in which a psychiatrist has a long conversation where he slowly realizes he's talking to the wrong man is classic slow burn suspense which could be one of best episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents with a few tweaks.  It's that kind of skill that makes it a brilliant, nail-biting drama. The only reason it isn't higher is because the second half tilts towards the soap operatic at times. There is a moment when a character who should be absolutely, 100% dead shows up in a twist I'm surprised didn't come with its own DUN DUN DUN on the soundtrack.

6. Now and Then, Here and There

It's hard to pin down my brand of sad. I like things that have a certain kind of melancholy because I have more empathy for them than I do bright-eyed explosions of pleasantness that almost assault you with their desire to make you happy. On the other hand, when works become too depressing, they become their own spoiler. Gee, after the tenth terrible, horrible thing happens, I wonder if they're going to get a happy ending or if more terrible, horrible things are going to happen. The balance is something along the lines of Now and Then, Here and There. Oh, it's soul crushing at times. It features the torture of children who are psychologically manipulated into becoming unflinching soldiers. That's not to mention rape, genocide, brutal dictatorship, and more gasping sobs than all other series I've seen combined. Yet despite the deep horror presented, its ultimate message is hopeful. No matter how dark and deep the well these characters have been tossed in, there is the potential to dig out of it.

Shu Matsutani is normally an anime protagonist that would grate my nerves. Exceptionally optimistic and prone to greatly over-estimate his abilities (The series starts with Shu losing a kendo match where he's convinced he can win by only attacking), but he  is a vital piece of sunshine in a show that does not mess around with its dark side. Shu sees blue-haired Lala-Ru watching the sunset on an abandoned smokestack, and tries develop a friendly conversation with her when an attack vehicle appears out of nowhere and transports them to Lala-Ru's home world. Unfortunately, her home world has been all but taken over by Hellywood (Yes, this series has awful names, unfortunately), a massive battleship commanded by terrible leader Hamdo. A megalomaniac in the most horrific sense, he executes his dream of a unified world with a nightmarish assault on every populated place on the planet, stealing their children and forcing them to kill in his name on the empty promise to return to their homes when the rest of the world surrenders. His only problem is his fortress runs on hydroelectricity and all of his water resources are gone, forcing him to try to enslave Lala-Ru's ability to summon water at will with her pendant, which was lost in the chase to capture her. Shu is caught in the crossfire and is heavily tortured and eventually sent to become a child soldier himself and find Lala-Ru's pendant. Ever defiant, Shu never loses hope that he can escape with Lala-Ru and end Hamdo's reign.

If this seems overwhelmingly sad, it is. We haven't even gotten to Arbelia, Hamdo's second-in-command who faces the brunt of his abusive personality, or Sara, a poor girl from Earth who is captured and given the worst treatment imaginable just because she looked like Lala-Ru. It's especially unflinching because even with its fantasy trimmings, the portrayals have more than enough shards of truth to them. We've all seen too many Hamdos in real life history to simply toss aside him as too overwrought. All of this is expertly handled by Akitarou Daichi (Fruits Basket), normally known for having a lighter touch, and given the greatest musical score of Taku Iwasaki's career, which is not faint praise. Yet what holds it together is that this isn't about how terrible everything is. It's about how even after hundreds of years of torment, happiness can be found and evil can be conquered. Not everyone survives, and certain wounds may be irreversible, yet it is the same wiseness of the terrible things humans do to each other that it can also say convincingly the morning sun will eventually shine through.

5. Eden of the East

Sometimes, a series simply feels like it was made for you. Oasis was the band of my adolescence and the opening song here one of their final great works, with Noel Gallagher shredding everything in his last three half-assed albums using apocalyptic, thundering lyrics like, "I tried to talk to God to no avail/sayin' if you won't save me, please don't waste my time." The story is a romantic comedy within a gigantic conspiracy theory within a weird reference to sports, and is my kind of crazed blend as long as all parts fit, which they do. The main character is an amnesiac who couldn't remember anyone if their information was tattoo'd on their foreheads, yet can make a dozen movie references a minute. Now, what were the main character names of my fifth favorite anime? Cripes, I'm worse than Leonard Shelby in Memento at this stuff....

On a trip to Washington D.C., Saki Morimi runs into Akira Takizawa in the most awkward circumstances imaginable: Akira is naked and wielding a gun in front of the White House. Oh, and Akira erased his memory just before this happened, so he's as clueless about what's going on as everyone else. Saki manages to help him escape the proper authorities, and she gets into even more than she bargained for (Which was already at a high level considering the previous two sentences) when she's put in the middle of a "game" of sorts where 12 citizens are given an absurd amount of money and a concierge who can make just about anything happen. The goal is to save Japan in whatever way possible, and Akira's methods before he wipes his memory seem ominous with a stockpile of arms plus ownership of an empty mall that has many cell phones of missing people in its courtyard.

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex was an impressive piece of work that often operated at a technobabble level above most viewers. SAC director Kenji Kamiyama came back with this series and put an equally fascinating world of conspiracy, politics, and technology at street level banter. It takes all of its ideas and make it personable rather than people just throwing philosophical jargon around (I especially like when Akira shows his power off to a baseball fan by immediately getting players traded to his team). And despite having serious ramifications, the series is just really damn FUN for a political thriller. Akira and Saki along with the supporting cast are a blast, and it manages to co-exist a comedy with elements that usually hate comedy. It is a rare combination of entertaining and smart with an ending that is pure magic with a modern twist. Shame about the movies, though.

4. Wolf’s Rain

About the perfect show for the end of autumn. I wasn't so hot on this one during its initial run on Adult Swim, but I was expecting an entirely different series than the one I got. Instead of a more straightforward action-adventure, it was a more ponderous, atmospheric piece that had punctuations of excitement, but also had quiet reflection and dealt with heavier themes. Coming off Cowboy Bebop and expecting something like it with the similar character designs and the Yoko Kanno music was only natural, and boy, was I surprised! Not to worry, it's high on the list for a reason. I approached it on its own terms later on and was much more satisfied, as I was on my third viewing and my fourth....

Forgive me if I muddle through the story a bit. For some reason, this is the hardest series to remember details. If you were a big Adult Swim viewer in the early 2000s, you probably already know this tale of seemingly extinct wolves who can disguise themselves as humans in a dying, futuristic world. The main wolf Kiba feels like he's being called to paradise, a world only wolves can open, and he's eventually followed by fellow wolves, a hunter, humans who want paradise for themselves, an artificial girl made of flowers who may be the key to opening the door, and other characters who want to see this journey through to the end.

Poetic yet accessible, Wolf's Rain allows the viewer to soak in and ponder the world at large, but maintains a decent movement to its ultimate goal. It's strangely gorgeous for how much of it is washed out and barren. Intricate, cracked structures occasionally fill in the world mostly bleached of color with the stark look of a modern western. The animation is often elaborately sleek such as an extended confrontation with a reactivated war machine that comes off as more ballet than an action sequence. If you had to put a gun to my head and demand I tell you what my favorite Yoko Kanno score is, it'd probably be this one. Absolutely stunning, it's also her best score at infusing itself into the series it's for. Sometimes, her work is so good, it distracts from everything else going on. This one feels like a piece of the storytelling instead of decoration.

The journey is one filled with my kind of melancholy as I've described it in other entries here. Wolves and people trying to salvage what they can out of their broken world and trying to capture what they've lost, for better or worse. It at times deals severe heartbreak with unfathomable warmth, and that's the exact right fit for a series that is obviously leading to an apocalyptic ending. Still doesn't make it hurt any less. Much has been said about the ending and I'm surprised with how much I don't have to add. It's the natural ending of things given what happens, and while it's not really my favorite of such endings, it's not, say, Big O II. Seriously, Chiaki Konaka screwed up big time on that one. Oh yeah, Wolf's Rain. It's pretty great. Next.

3. Kino’s Journey

This is something I can recommend to anyone. You, otaku who watches every show you can. You, kind of new person to the whole thing who doesn't know where to start. You, person on my Facebook friends list who finds all of this exceptionally weird but clicks on it to help my numbers (Thank you, by the way). Kino's Journey has something for you. Yes, the motorcycle talks, but you get used to it.

The Twilight Zone takes a road trip in this series based on the light novels by Keiichi Sigsawa. Kino is a teenage girl who is visiting every country she can via motorcycle (This fantasy world mostly inspired by rural Europe with a dash of science fiction) and staying only three days maximum in each of them. Some are wastelands, some are wonderlands, and all have something new for Kino to chew on. One episode portrays a country where democracy is taken to a logical extreme. One centers around a country that gave all of its population the ability to read each other's minds. The stories are mostly wonderful examples of short fiction with simple ideas that create complex responses. Hell, the first DVD alone contains at least three fantastic episodes by itself. The one that often gets rolled out is the story where Kino helps three travelers stuck in the snow and eventually learns their unexpected way of life to a climax of extremely mixed emotions.

Kino's Journey is the powerhouse of episodic anime. The way it turns the world upside down and rethinks everything about concepts with such ease is a marvel. The episode surrounding the Book of Prophecy should be required viewing for anyone who wants to argue religion. Kino isn't just the connective tissue, but an active part with one hell of an origin story. She learns, makes mistakes, and has to make difficult decisions that take her far from the role of simple observer. Oh, and her banter with her talking motorcycle an be really funny, too.

Director Ryutaro Nakamura tops everything off with a style that has a ethereal layer over the watercolor-like surroundings. Thoughts slide in and out of them, perhaps existing as Kino's inner monologue as she processes the events of her travels. It's a small touch, but one that gives the anime a greater resonance than laying everything out in a completely normal fashion. These and hundreds of other bits and pieces give a sense of real thoughtfulness. It truly is Nakamura's finest work and I'm sorry he'll never get the opportunity to top it.

2. Texhnolyze

I like to call my final two series on the list opposing Go players.  Here we have the darkest black imaginable. Like Mamoru Oshii's Angel's Egg funded during Japan's bubble economy, this is the kind of arthouse project with an extravagant treatment people make when they have a certain excess of money, and even then, they only make them ONCE because it eats up a hefty amount of it. The sci-fi Texhnolyze was made at the height of the 2000's anime boom and it does not give a damn about entertaining you, giving you a safe place of comfort, or making sure they've packed enough exposition to make sure you know what's going on. Its first episode spends most of its runtime without dialogue, slowly and quietly getting a grasp on the dangerous underground city of Lukuss similar to the orientation of its visitor from the surface world, Yoshii. If you weren't scared off by a first episode that acted like a 22-minute teaser trailer, then welcome to club. Your reward is an incredibly violent, extremely thoughtful, and at times strangely beautiful take on the last of humanity that imagines the end of the world not as a bang or a whimper, but the dying cries of a body that has been divided up too much to live.

Ichise is a boxer who lives in squalor, and his livelihood is destroyed when he crosses a promoter who promptly hires a crew to remove an arm and a leg. He's literally on his last leg when he across a doctor (Who is only named Doc) who specializes in Texhnolyze, an advancement where cybernetic limbs can be grafted onto living flesh. Ichise becomes her unwitting test subject in exchange for the latest and greatest limb replacements. Ichise's fate intertwines with Ran, a girl who can tell the future, gang leader Onishi, and tourist from the surface world Yoshii whose intentions are completely clouded by a trusting face. Lukuss is the last bastion of humanity, and its inhabitants spend their time destroying each other in an effort to muster control of the city where Texhnolyzing your limbs and removing the limbs of others is the main show of power and status. Onishi has managed a fragile truce as the leader of the Yakuza-like Organo, but peace is a fleeting dream in Lukuss.

Texhnolyze is the kind of cocktail of complex ideas that people write papers about. Delivered by future Stein's;Gate director Hiroshi Hamasaki and writer Chiaki Konaka, the layers, visual metaphors, and general rumination about spirituality, politics, and the chaos of living keep the mind in constant engagement. But it's not just a show that hangs its hat on cerebral ideas. Madhouse was given enough resources to recreate the Yoshitoshi ABe's insanely detailed illustrations and character designs, making it easily one of the illustrious company's three best animated TV series they've ever made. Even the amount of depth captured in a single headlight is incredible. Two composers, multiple "sound architects," and a multitude of performers from around the world were brought in to provide the perfect soundscape of loneliness, desperation, pain, and rage. You will rarely find such a difficult piece so ornately made.

It is bold and uncompromising. One episode, "Heavenward," starts with Jean Cocteau's vision of the underworld in the film Orpheus (ironically portraying the surface world here), adds in some Dadaist performance art with the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, the paintings of Edward Hopper, and mixes its own ideas to portray a world of the living dead I've never seen before. It's probably my favorite episode of... anything. And it's not just how much it appeals to the academic and the artsy. It's a true characters tragedy on top of everything else. Even though the broader picture is how the ideologies of the world fail because eventually they deny the one thing that can save them, it is built on individuals who are trying to rise above the destructive force of their world and can't find their way. Ichise is a ball of living rage who tries finding a purpose through the goals of others and only finds his own purpose when it's too late. Onishi tries to bring order to a world that refuses it from his mentally ill wife to his organization made up of greedy and selfish individuals. And so on.

I realize this is not everybody's cup of tea, and it will anger quite a few who would throw around the word pretentious. That's fine. There's are tens, maybe hundreds of series out there for you. There is only one Texhnolyze, and it's magnificent.

For the sake of stalling for no particular reason, the last of the honorable mentions:

Fullmetal Alchemist

Oh, when the second season reaches the peak of its exceptionally potent drama, it's fantastic. That's after about a thousand short jokes. That's nine hundred and ninety-five too many short jokes. Yes, that's enough of a reason to keep it off the list.

Major (Season 3)

Generally, Major is a very good sports anime. For one season, it went insane. Main character Goro had his shoulder destroyed by pitching too much and learns how to pitch with his opposite hand in one year. He then proves he's good enough to make the roster of one of the premier baseball schools in Japan only to turn them down and try to prove he can beat them with a school that doesn't even HAVE a baseball team until he attends. It's kind of amazing.


I remember when this came out and fans of its spiritual predecessor Noir hated it. What, you don't like shows that spend precious minutes actually trying to tell a decent story? Yeah, building likable characters instead of simply having two generic women running around and dangling, "Oh ho ho, look at these assassins who are likely in lesbians with each other! Isn't that neat?" is a waste of time. Choreographed action sequences that arise from the story? Who needs them when you have static pictures of guys in black getting shot over and over!  In all seriousness, the only reasons this doesn't make the list are the ending does suck and Friday Monday isn't the great villain he probably needs to be. Still an unfairly maligned title because of the awful company it keeps in Bee Train's girls with guns trilogy.


I relate this series to finding a science fiction novel you've never heard of at a used book store, expecting to read some ho-hum boilerplate with trashy trimmings, and discovering it's actually thoughtful, entertaining, and its occasional desire to flirt with sexy doesn't detract from the work. I have trouble remembering the character names, Studio Deen's animation work isn't particularly good (Is it ever?), and the music feels like it's watching an entirely different series altogether (The main musical theme is oddly similar to the Blue Oyster bar music from Police Academy). But as a series that's kind of junk yuri at points, it's also an intriguing and unique drama about the point in our lives where we're forced to grow up in a world we don't understand and the rules change completely when we think we do.

Honey and Clover (Season 2)

Most people like season one of Honey and Clover over its follow-up. I don't know if people relate to being college students or have nostalgia of it or what, but I find season one has some good melodrama interrupted by too much comedy that involves, "WE'RE DRUNK! ISN'T IT THE GREATEST THING IN THE WORLD THAT WE'RE DRUNK?!" The second season is all killer, no filler romantic melodrama that deals with more complicated ideas of love than most series would deal with. How does love fit in with a life that you're just starting to craft? When you do you let love in after tragedy? When do you realize that a relationship is just not going to work and let go?  It's probably closest to #21 on my list and would probably make the list if I'd watched it recently.

1. Haibane-Renmei

The white Go player. I spent a good part of 2004 trying to get anybody who would listen to watch this with little results. Eventually I came to the realization that it doesn't so much find an audience as choose it. The people who love this series are generally the ones who needed it at one point. About every person I know who considers it something special has a story that goes with it. I'm not going to pretend mine's anything special, but your personal pain and suffering can hurt on magnitudes completely unrelated to the scale of the emotional wounds. I was on the verge of severely burning out of college thanks to a sleeping disorder, forced to run a student organization because I was the only who would could, everyone I had been good friends with was gone, and I was dealing with hitting figurative roadblocks in every vital class of my major. I'm sure there are a great many people who have it much worse, but I was falling and I didn't know how far I would go before I hit the bottom. Then Haibane-Renmei came along.

The story involves a girl who dreams of falling from the sky and waking up in a cocoon where she's born in adolescent form at Old Home, an abandoned schoolhouse that is now a "nest" for haibane. Haibane don't remember their past, have wings that sprout in painful fashion and halos that are given to them, but other than that, are just as human as the people they co-exist within the walled town that seems to exist in the afterlife called Guri. They are given names based on the dreams they have, and our main character is given the name Rakka, for falling. Taking charge of being her caretaker is chain-smoking artist Reki, but she is also shown the ropes by constantly sleepy Nemu, boyish Kana, and young Kuu. The haibane cannot have money and live off the second-hand clothing and items humans no longer need.

Random note that doesn't flow with the rest of my thoughts: This is a story which features all women as major characters, doesn't sexualize them, doesn't make their main focus boys, and allows them to simply exist. Whatever test you have for such things, it passes it.

Made by relatively unknown studio Radix, its great qualities aren't apparent besides a very nice color palette and excellent music by Shadow of the Colossus composer Ko Otani (Whose name has about five romanizations, so I'll go with the least complicated). The early digital animation has some quirks and the first few episode are rather deliberately paced. Yet it doesn't really matter for the people who get sucked in. I've gone through this series at least a dozen times and never has the cheapness or what it lacks bothered me. What matters is how the character animation, the voice acting, and everything else come the closest to capturing complete human complexity I've seen. My favorite character in anime is Reki because beyond being an incredibly sympathetic, brave, and complicated person, everything she's going through is constantly working on a surface level and a level below that where her secrets and pain lie. You could spend an entire series watching Reki interact and react and be feel completely rewarded.

Most who shrug off this series after they watch it express disappointment about how it doesn't address many of the many questions left unanswered and how ambiguous certain elements are. Yoshitoshi ABe specifically designed the show for the audience to fill in their own life experiences and bring their own perspective to what isn't explicitly filled out. It's very clearly spelled out why characters do what they do, but the more peripheral details have just enough evidence to make your own conclusions, but aren't acknowledged as the absolute truth. Normally a sign of laziness, it's instead a way for the viewer who uses it as a type of therapy to be able to wind their own thoughts around it and create a better empathy between the person and the work. Haibane-Renmei is rather ingenious in this matter. It's special for many because they were able to make it THEIR series. I don't think haibane are all suicides, but people who were simply "incomplete" people in their previous lives and whose lives were cut short for various reasons. You could argue the exact opposite and since there's no accepted "canon" and no gateway of fans to tell you how wrong you are (I find the fandom of this show to be inverse of hardcore Silent Hill fans who INSIST their view is the right one even if the evidence is incredibly ambiguous). It's here to help you through your hard times, and being able to personalize the interpretation so much plays a huge part in it.

Ultimately, the message may not seem so profound, but it's a necessary thing to absorb. "It's okay that you're here." Like the scene where Robin Williams' character constantly repeats, "It's not your fault" in Good Will Hunting, it seems like a no-brainer, yet so many people don't believe it and suffer as a result. The idea that if you need help, ask for it also falls along those same lines. Because of Haibane-Renmei, I dragged myself to a doctor to give me something to help me sleep, I pulled all the classes I was failing horribly up to at least a passing grade, and I built myself enough of a road I could walk on. For these reasons and many more that actually exist within the series, Haibane-Renmei is my favorite anime of all time and will probably stay that way until I find myself in Guri. 


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