Great Original Anime

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One of the more common complaints about the anime industry is that, what with so many titles being adaptations of manga, light novels, and video games, precious little in the way of new material is being produced on a regular basis. It’s of course no surprise that manga tends to make up the bulk of the above chart; despite decreasing revenue, tens of thousands of manga are still published on a yearly basis, with an enormous variety of themes and genres to cater to all demographics. Nonetheless, newly created anime isn’t quite as much of a rarity as some might think, and today, I thought I’d take the time to celebrate a few original titles that have really stood out to me in recent years.

I’ve tried to keep things relatively current (and also this post manageable) by sticking to shows released this side of 2010 – which unfortunately means saying goodbye to such titles as Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, Kamichu!, Code Geass, Le Chevalier D’Eon, Michiko to Hatchin, Eve no Jikan, and Eden of the East. I also won’t be including Psycho-Pass, Kill la Kill, or AnoHana – the first title because it has already been reviewed in full here on Otaku Lounge, and the latter two because they were both discussed at length last year as part of the Watson Watches article series (though I don’t necessarily agree with all of the opinions expressed therein). Even then, I find I’m still left with a respectably varied shortlist – feel free to point the next person you see bemoaning the lack of original anime towards it.

Angel Beats! (2010)

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Angel Beats! is a series that’s frequently accused of otaku pandering and being emotionally manipulative, and I agree and also disagree with these statements. That is, I think both are true on some level, but I fail to see these as negative points. It’s true that I often don’t enjoy shows that come across as overly obvious or that try too hard to please, but since Angel Beats! does in fact work extremely well in getting me emotionally invested – even after several re-watches – I can’t view it as anything other than a raging success. I love Angel Beats! from the bottom of my fangirl soul, because it’s one of the only anime in existence to make me howl with laughter as well as sob in heartbreak – sometimes both in the same episode. The series also looks and sounds fantastic (best fictional band evar!), and while I do wish it had gotten its intended full run, I can’t really fault the creators for that. I don’t care if it’s now cool to hate on Angel Beats! – I’m proud to say I’m a fan of such a funny, heart-wrenching, and ultimately outstanding title.

Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica/ Magical Girl Madoka Magica (2011)

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No, this is not the be-all and end-all of anime shows, and no doubt some people are tired of all the press, but I can’t not give Madoka Magica a mention. Love or hate magical-girl shows, there can be no doubt that this title has some amazing writing going on, and like Tiger & Bunny it works within the confines of its genre while simultaneously giving it a good shake-up. Bitter-sweet and wonderfully dark at times, Madoka Magica is surreal, subversive, and ambitious – hardly surprising that it’s one of the most widely-discussed anime since Evangelion. It also looks and sounds absolutely divine; the character designs are distinctive, the animation is gorgeously fluid, the backdrops are flat-out gorgeous, and I’m saying all this as someone who doesn’t even tend to like Shaft productions all that much. The hauntingly lovely soundtrack by veteran composer Kajiura Yuki is the finishing touch on what is arguably the landmark anime of the decade. If you’ve put off watching this just because you’re a ‘rebel’ who automatically hates anything that exceeds a certain popularity level, then get off your high horse already and go watch this – it really is that good.

Tiger & Bunny (2011)

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This strikes me as an excellent series to point at newcomers to the anime medium, particularly those who’re into Western comic books and the superhero genre. Tiger & Bunny has the sleek, action-orientated feel of a Western superhero piece but combines this with some fantastic new ideas and characters that still come across as being uniquely Japanese. This isn’t just an anime about superheroes – it’s an anime about ordinary people who are basically shoehorned into being ‘reality show’ TV stars thanks to a very creative (yet for my money, entirely realistic) setting. That setting is what really sets Tiger & Bunny apart from any other superhero-themed story, but the cast brings a lot of fun and often thoughtfulness to the show as well; Kotetsu “Wild Tiger” Kaburagi and Barnaby “Bunny” Brooks have some of the best chemistry I’ve seen from a main duo in a long time, and the other members of the team are by no means forgettable either. For an almost satirical twist on the genre that’s equal parts action, comedy, and drama, Tiger & Bunny is the way to go.

Suisei no Garugantia/Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet (2013)

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I know a lot of people aren’t overly fond of this series. The chararacterisation in particular is commonly criticised – particularly with respect to Amy’s role in the story – and many viewers find fault with the heavy amounts of fanservice in a few of the episodes. While I’m not about to argue with these points, I firmly believe that the story and its other two lead characters, Ledo and Chamber, more than make up for Suisei no Garugantia’s weaker aspects. The plot, although not necessarily unique in and of itself, has a lot going for it thanks to the details of the universe in which it’s set, and Ledo makes for a very compelling and highly believable main character; someone cut off from his home and who is struggling to understand even the most basic of concepts that nearly every other cast member – and by extension, the viewer – takes for granted. In terms of production quality, the show is likewise a joy to watch; smoothly animated, brightly coloured, and generally impressive overall. It may not be perfect, but Suisei no Garugantia is still easily one of the best science-fiction anime series to have come out in recent years.

Zankyou no Terror/Terror in Resonance (2014)

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No show can please everyone, and I’ve seen a fair number of people seemingly take great pleasure in hating on this one simply because of the names behind it, but I for one think Watanabe Shinichirou does a very fine job. It may not be the anime that defines the century, but the largely tight pacing, credible characterisation, and evocative themes all come together to create an exceptional series nonetheless. It’s also fairly obvious that a lot of time and effort went into the look and sound of the piece, because the visuals are absolutely stunning (surely even those intent on disliking Zankyou no Terror can’t fail to be impressed by those, particularly in episode 9), while the soundtrack (once more put together by Kanno Yoko) is unique and used thoughtfully. I’m not saying the show doesn’t have its faults – Five’s character strikes me as one of its weaker aspects, and not all of the writing is as solid as it could be – but Zankyou no Terror remains a fascinating and very poignant series, and one that I’m not afraid to say I wholeheartedly enjoyed.

Question of the post: What’s been your favourite original anime series you’ve seen to date? How are you enjoying the original shows that are currently airing – e.g. Death Parade, Rolling Girls, Yuri Kuma Arashi, Binan Koukou Chikyuu Bouei-bu LOVE!, etc.?

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30 thoughts on “Great Original Anime

  1. From this season, I quite enjoyed Death Parade. Rolling Girls and that magical boy parody, not so much. I have no idea what to think of Yuri kuma.

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    • Yeah, I’m quite liking Death Parade – other than the second season of Durarara, it’s my favourite new anime of the winter season. And like you, I’m a bit confused abut/conflicted over Yuri Kuma Arashi – I might have to watch it all the way to the end just to try and figure out how I feel about it.

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  2. Nice list, thank you for making it! Tiger & Bunny I’ve never heard of but am very interested in now!

    As to this season, I’m obsessed with Death Parade right now and Club LOVE! has me in stitches each week, so I’m loving it too. I enjoyed the first two episodes of Rolling Girls, but was a tad confused by the third one. It’s still a pretty enjoyable show though. 🙂

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    • Thank you, and you’re welcome. 🙂

      Tiger & Bunny has been fairly successful, both here in Japan as well as with overseas anime fans, and I definitely recommend checking the series out at some point. The later movies, not so much, but that’s of course up to you.

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  3. Well, I can only mention The Greatest Anime so many times, and you’ve covered Tiger & Bunny (I’d defend The Rising as a worthwhile watch on the merits of Nathan alone, too), so I’ll go with Princess Tutu – probably the closest spiritual successor to Utena, and an apex in ‘make the dumb summary awesome and moving.’ And I’ve a fondness for Gundam 00, though the back third of the series is an unfathomable trainwreck and even the mostly solid first season has its issues…okay, I mostly just thought Tieria, Neil, and Soma were madly interesting characters.

    Speaking of Tutu, I’ve been enjoying Boueibu quite a bit (it shares a chunk of Tutu’s writing staff, it would seem). It’s just clever and charming enough one episode at a time to get me to stick around for the larger game I suspect they might be playing, even if I’ve remembered maybe three character names.

    (As an aside, Yuri Kuma’s not technically an original anime, though Ikuhara’s stated he’ll be usign the manga more as inspiration than direct adaptation).

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    • I’m not much of a Gundam fan, though as it happens I did end up watching all of Gundam 00, so clearly I didn’t dislike that one. Maybe not so much the second season, but I agree that despite its flaws, the first is solid enough.

      I could be wrong, but I was under the impression that Yuri Kuma Arashi was conceived and mostly created as an anime before the manga? I know the manga was physically released first, but I thought it was mostly to drum up attention for the anime, as a kind of side-promo thing.

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      • It could be – all I know for certain is that Ikuhara was inspired by meeting the manga author Akiko Morishima, and that the manga’s been running for about a year now (Wikipedia credits Ikuhara as the manga’s writer, but that doesn’t seem to gel with the other interviews I’ve read, where he stated that he was going in a different direction specifically because the manga was Morishima’s vision).

        I like to pretend that 00 stopped with the dark but distantly hopeful ‘everybody dies’ end of s1, before it made Ribbons a laughable villain, tossed logic and moral ambiguity to the wind with any writing credibility it had, and got round to fully implying that all its female pilots were in some way mentally/emotionally damaged (and it’s the only Gundam I’ve seen in full as well, so that probably says something).

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        • Yeah, I think the only other Gundam I’ve seen in full is Wing. Which is very… erm, 90s. To be honest, it’s probably now worth the watch just for that particular experience – I guarantee, you’ll laugh.

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  4. This is off-topic but: I totally agree that Gldemo is the best fictional band ever!!! >.< Though K-ON!!'s HTT has my fair share of love, I prefer the punk rock feel of Gldemo's music. I wish marina (or Iwasawa, in-universe) stayed longer as the vocalist, but Gldemo songs were LiSA's (Yui) best rock performances to date, in my opinion.

    Also, I'm happy to see Tiger & Bunny in this list (but don't worry, I don't have a problem with the other series listed here as well). It's rare to see it being mentioned in aniblogs.

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    • I agree with you there – while I actually personally like marina/Iwasawa more than LiSA/Yui as far as Girls Dead Monster goes, I do think LiSA pulls off the stronger performance in terms of vocals. I’m really hoping that we’ll get to see a full studio album from marina sometime soon! Her recent songs outside of the Angel Beats! universe have been pretty good, and I’m deeply curious to hear what else she has up her sleeve.

      Including Tiger & Bunny was certainly no hardship. I guess it’s mostly considered old news now as far as many fans are concerned, but I count it as still recent enough to be included on this list – and of course, a good series will always be good regardless of its age or how relevant it’s perceived to be at any given time.

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  5. I used to think it was odd when an anime wasn’t based on a manga. XD “The manga was better” was applied to almost everything I was in to back then, and I think the frequency of that comment is part of what got me into manga, which I’m slightly more obsessed with than anime now. However, anime and manga have different strengths and weaknesses, and sometimes I think those strengths make the anime rendition far more enjoyable than the original manga (in which case I must always dodge flying objects).

    However, when it comes to solid storytelling, original anime have a distinct advantage. For me, a good series must usually have a good ending. And, as you’ve often pointed out, pacing is important. An anime that tries to follow a manga, especially an ongoing one, is hindered in both ways. That’s why something original and conceived for an anime format has stunning advantages, as clearly is the case in something like Princess Tutu (and since it’s already been mentioned, my love and appreciation for this series has crowded out my ability to think of many other examples). Correct me if I’m wrong, but was Baccano! original as well? I was also very impressed with Baccano!’s storytelling, though some complain that it was confusing, but I loved it. It felt complete to me–everything the story needed and nothing it didn’t, presented with the right timing.

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    • As you probably know, I read very few manga at all regardless of how good they’re purported to be or even how much I might love their anime counterparts. I don’t know why that is – I love reading (mostly novels), but anime has just always been my thing. Still, I can definitely appreciate the common strengths that manga has which anime does not, though as you point out, the reverse can certainly be true as well.

      I’m not as big a fan as you (would that even be possible?), but I do really like and highly respect Princess Tutu. I liked Baccano! as well, although I still much prefer its spiritual successor, Durarara!!. Both anime are based on light novels though, so unfortunately I can’t number them among the great original anime titles.

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  6. I liked Death Parade; its discussions on human nature are fairly interesting and make you think for a while. There was also Star Driver (from 2010). Quite a convoluted story, but flashy and well-animated enough.
    I also enjoyed Gargantia for the development and plot, although I started watching for entirely different reasons. They being:
    1) The composer did the music for some of John Woo’s historical epics, Red Cliff (2008) and the recent The Crossing (Part 1). Amazing shows, although I’d suggest brushing up on some Chinese history to know the background.
    2) There was a pixiv-sponsored art contest during Gargantia’s airing asking for original designs for other crew members. The winning designs were used in the finale episode around the ending scenes. 3 foreign entries from the USA, China and Italy won.
    http://www.pixiv.net/info.php?id=1703

    Have you seen the sequel OVAs yet?

    Of course, an anime adaptation can also benefit from good source material. I hear a mangaka’s story can sometimes be even better than something originally produced. For example, Maria the Virgin Witch (based on a manga) is an odd combination of discussions on religious theology and human nature, trivia on medieval history and the 100-Yrs War, and dirty jokes. There’s been a lot of praise for it, so I’m wondering if you’re seen it yet.

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    • I’m likewise very much enjoying Death Parade. Both visually and in terms of the main ideas, it’s definitely an interesting and entertaining watch.

      I did watch some of Star Driver back when it was airing, but I ended up dropping it about halfway through after finding that it got too repetitive and overly predictable for my tastes – though I did quite like it up to a certain point.

      I have indeed seen the Gargantia OVAs, though I still prefer the regular series by quite a lot.

      And yes, I also caught some of Maria the Virgin Witch, and promptly dropped it after the first episode. I think it has some good ideas but it’s altogether too much fanservice for my tastes, among other issues. To each their own though.

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      • True. One thing I like about the anime/manga industry is that there’s nearly something for everyone, unlike the superhero-saturated Western comic market.

        But amongst Japanese locals, what anime adaptations are usually considered mainstream over there? A Japanese friend of mine said she was completely unfamiliar with anime like Durarara and Free!, but knew Doraemon, Chibi Maruko-chan, & Yokai Watch.

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        • I definitely agree with that.

          I think it depends on the demographic. Most really young kids and some adults might not be familiar with the likes of Durarara and Free, but teens into anime definitely are – a lot of my own students love those shows, for example. The likes of Doraemon and Youkai Watch are even more mainstream though, because they’re marketed on a much larger scale and reach both the kids and their parents who buy the merchandise for them.

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  7. I peronally enjoyed K a lot. It has good animation, good plot and a very good storytelling, even if some parts of it are just anticlimatic.

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    • To each their own, and I won’t say there’s nothing good about K (the artwork looks fantastic and the animation is equally great), but I’m afraid have to say that I think the story is pretty awful, as is the pacing. For all I know it got better in later episodes, but I had to stop watching after the first handful – it was just too dull and way too fanservice-heavy for me to find much of value there at all.

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  8. I have the biggest love/hate relationship with Gargantia. I loved it’s premise and pretty much than entire series, but there wasn’t enough of it. It deserved a second season just off the fact that 2-3 episodes are wasted on stupid fanservice.

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    • I’d normally be the first person to call an anime out for its fanservice, but I really didn’t mind the fanservice in Gargantia too much. Sometimes it went too far (i.e. the swimsuit episode), but there were one or two points where I felt it was less actual fanservice and more honest reactions from Ledo, who for the most part acted as the stand-in for the audience POV. I’m also not convinced there was enough material there to warrant a whole second season, though to be sure, I could have done with at least another couple of episodes. The pacing felt a little off during the last few – I much preferred the slower pacing of the show’s first half.

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      • True, the middle to ending portions of the show for seem to speed up more than I would’ve liked. Honestly the swimsuit episode wasn’t all that bad to me either. What bothered me was the sight of drunk, horny middle aged men being riled up by scantily clad teens belly dancing.

        I mean come on!

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        • Weirdly enough, that was one of the parts I didn’t mind. It would have been different if the girls hadn’t wanted to dance or had looked like they weren’t enjoying themselves, but everyone seemed pretty into it, the girls included. And I noticed that all the shots there definitely seemed to be coming from Ledo’s POV, which makes a lot of sense to me given his background and complete lack of anything approaching familiarity with women or sex prior to Earth.

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