There are a lot of important life lessons to be had from anime. Large breasts are immune to gravity. No matter how long you grow out your bangs, they will not impede your eyesight in the slightest. Never trust overly cute girls in wheelchairs. And perhaps most vital of all, the thin end of the chocolate cornet is the head.
In a slightly more serious vein, there are actually plenty of anime shows out there that have a big educational emphasis – and not just when it comes to titles aimed primarily at children. While anime has long been used as a vehicle for imparting wholesome moral codes to young audience members, there’s also been a fairly long history of anime that manage to educate older viewers on everything from politics to mahjong. In this article, I’ll be going over just a small handful of these (often weirdly) educational anime that, for better or for worse, made a lasting impression on me.
I suppose I’d better get this one out of the way first. Miracle Train is without a doubt one of the most unintentionally ridiculous anime shows I’ve seen to date, about a magical train that only ever appears to women in distress. Said train houses a bunch of bishounen who are actually manifestations of Tokyo’s Oedo Line subway stations – Shinjuku, Roppongi, Shiodome, Tsukushima, Ryogoku, and Tocho-mae. Yes, really. There’s no denying that Miracle Train is a hilariously bad series, but there’s also no getting around the fact that it’s a highly informative one, with each of the six stations constantly throwing around trivia regarding their statistics, general history, and culture of their surrounding areas. I’m unclear as to the exact target audience of this title (hardcore bishounen and/or reverse-harem fans who also happen to be train otaku?), but I’m sure they’re out there somewhere.
Another anime that’s heavy on the bishounen, Antique Bakery is thankfully a far, far better title than the one above – a heartfelt comedy/drama about four men (a former businessman, a world-class pâtissier, an ex-boxing champ and a house servant/bodyguard) who all end up working in a French-style bakery. As you can probably tell from the description, most of the plot of Antique Bakery isn’t a particularly complex one. The characters, however, have a surprising amount of depth to them, and their mostly lighthearted but genuine-feeling interactions are what make the show really work. Oh, and let’s not forget about the cakes. Lots and lots of cakes. If those elaborate and undoubtedly well-researched sales pitches aren’t enough to get you salivating, the equally as detailed artwork will be.
Gin no Saji
Gin no Saji is another anime about food. Or more specifically, it’s about farming and agriculture and often revolves around food. Set in Hokkaido, our main character enrolls in an agricultural high school in order to escape the pressures of his rigorous academic lifestyle and strained family relationships, and understandably learns not only a great deal about the physical realities of living and working in rural Japan, but also how these things impact the people and world around him. One of the stronger and more memorable anime shows to have aired in recent seasons, Gin no Saji has a lot to say but rarely gets overly preachy, and is paced pretty well to boot. From horse riding and dog training to cheese making and pig slaughtering, the series covers a lot of ground but never fails to lose its inherent charm. I can’t say that Gin no Saji encourages me to suddenly abandon my suburban lifestyle to make a living off the land, but it’s a fun and oddly compelling title nonetheless.
How about a drink to wash all that food down? Bartender is possibly exactly what you’d expect from the title; an anime about a young but extremely skilled bartender who uses his talents to either solve or at least soothe away his customers’ worldly problems. I’m not a big drinker myself and was wondering whether to expect something crass or obnoxious about a show revolving entirely around alcohol, but Bartender could probably be accurately described as a healing anime – albeit one with an episodic focus on cocktails. It’s more than a little cheesy, sure, and the uneventful slice-of-life nature may well bore some viewers, but it’s not a bad little series. Since every episode features a different cocktail, usually accompanied by some historical tidbits and each with instructions on how to make them, Bartender is something that anyone with an interest in mixology should definitely watch. After all, you just never know when you’ll have to make up a Grasshopper, Margarita, or Rusty Nail on the fly.
Want to learn all about bacteria? No? Well, you’re going to anyway – if you watch any of Moyashimon, that is. An educational comedy about a university student who can see and communicate with micro-organisms, Moyashimon admittedly isn’t my cup of tea but is undeniably informative, not to mention pretty darn cute in its own way. This is at least partially because to the main character, the microbes he sees with the naked eye aren’t at all similar in appearance (or behavior) to the microbes everyone else sees under a microscope; they’re actually adorable mascot-like characters that charm the pants off many a viewer with their oddly human-like antics. As with Miracle Train and Bartender, there’s very little in the way of overarching plot to be had here, but with a strong focus on the comical aspects and some interesting cast members, it’s no difficulty to see why Moyashimon has been so well-received by much of the anime fan community.
Hetalia: Axis Powers
Isn’t history just so much better when it comes with moe anthropomorphism and a sarcastic narrator? Hetalia definitely seems to think so, and it’s been a fan favourite for several years now. The stereotypes should perhaps come across as racist – e.g. America is a cheeseburger-obsessed idiot with a hero complex, Japan is ridiculously polite and formal with a hidden otaku side, and France is an irrepressible romantic who never seems to lack for an excuse to take his clothes off – but the beauty of Hetalia is that it never takes itself the least bit seriously. The completely over-the-top accents in the English dub version pulls everything together in a way that I can only fondly describe as absurd, but I also have it on good report that several viewers credit the anime for helping them pass their history exams. Besides, it’s difficult to pass by on an anime that so gleefully pokes as much fun of its viewers as it does of itself. Remember kids: Poland is a country. In Europe!
Question of the post: How do you feel about anime that have a purposefully educational bent? Which educational titles have surprised or stuck out to you, either in a great or terrible way?