Japanese animation is often known for its creative and sometimes morbid quality with lucid animation, complicated characters, and foreign yet familiar settings. They can focus on a minuscule and tight setting, bringing the audience face to face with the ugliness of characters or they can explore an entirely open world full of characters who are three dimensional. And while anime is rooted in the culture of its origin, it can have a unifying experience through its investigation of humanity. They often challenge our perspectives and morals in a way that no other genre can by confusing, amusing, and leaving us in awe. Some of these recommendations contain nudity and adult themes.
1. Paranoia Agent
Paranoia Agent follows several characters but revolves around Tsukiko Sagi, who designs an extremely popular pink dog mascot. After Tsukiko is attacked by a boy wearing golden skates and wielding a golden, but a bent baseball bat, more victims of this mysterious adolescent become stranger and stranger to the detectives who are assigned to the case.
While the plot is fairly simple, we can get lost in both the harsh angles and tight frames that help build tension between scenes. The opening of each episode is creepy enough, with each victim and character smiling in front of strange and transitioning backdrops. But the first few minutes of the first episode is what brings us closer to ourselves. Beginning with a familiar scene for city-dwellers with crowded trains, and constant cell phone use, either talking to a boss or to a client, this introductory episode zooms into the stress and bombardment of activity of city life. This by itself forces us to analyze our own lives in relation to social interaction and technology. If you’re into the supernatural, then you’ll enjoy this series.
If there is one thing that defines Japanese horror, it’s their style of gore and blood. Kurozuka is no different and takes it up a notch. The story follows the historical figure, Minamoto no Yoshitsune or in this anime, Kurou for short, who finds a mysterious woman on a mountaintop and falls in love with her, not knowing that she is a vampire. The twist is, he finds out that he is now immortal after their encounter. Because of her unusual obsession with him both as a sex object and as a play thing, he is forced to flee, often fighting supernatural beings or humans who are even more confused than we are. The fights are quick, bloody, and end in the most gruesome ways.
While the plot is set over a period of 1,000 years, it’s scattered with disorienting scenes that have us piecing them back together to make sense of things. But that is this anime’s strongest point. I mean, despite the horrifyingly great gore. The beautiful art and amazingly terrifying scores in “Kurozuka” work so well with the narrative that you feel emersed in this trippy world. Even the time transitions from twelve century Japan to a dystopian one is almost natural. The panning scenes showing us the lush mountains or dusty city rubble of either time period are quickly condensed into the next frame with a close up of rushing feet or an empty hallway which are nostalgic of scenes from “Princess Mononoke.” Kurozuka is must watch for gore-fanatics and occult lovers alike.
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3. Berserk (1997)
Kentaro Miura’s masterpiece is the kind of work that takes a lot of guts. And that’s the main character’s name: Guts. The 90s was a great decade of experimentation for anime and manga. And Berserk was a culmination of its predecessors. The gore is elegant, yet brutish. The story is engrossing. And the characters are well rounded and well loved. Berserk is set in a medieval European period and revolves around a young man named Guts who, in the first episode looks like he’s been through hell—we find out later that he has, literally. He is constantly plagued by supernatural forces. Yet after the first episode, we don’t return to this current version of Guts until much later in the series. We learn about his life as a war baby and his evolution into the now infamous monster killer.
The best feature of this anime is its narrative power to build and invest a relationship with each character. We care about what happens to them and cry pitifully when they die. The powerful art and fantastic battle scenes displace us into an authentically scary setting where anything can happen. While there is a 2016 remake, its mechanical CGI falls off the screen as a poor attempt at a remake and I would strongly suggest watching the 1997 version instead. “Berserk” is full of horror, honest characters, and layers of plot.
4. Puni Puni Poemi
Puni Puni Poemi is the kind of anime where subgenres mix into a giant what-the-hell-is-this-series. While the previous three animes are pretty dark, this one has a much lighter gag feel to it. A girl named Poemi is looking for the alien that killed her parents to exact revenge. The quirky setting and cheesy Japanese humor make this fast paced anime more hilarious than confusing. The animation switches from highly detailed to simple “chibi” style art which makes jokes that much more funny.
The character’s costume and changing sequence are a satire to the “shoujo” sub-genre, like Sailor Moon, geared to adolescent girls— they make fun of “Excel Saga” to be exact. They satirize the big eyes and the tacky story arc. And while the gag-comedy is king here, the sexual jokes and upfront violence have their merit as a counter statement to the always goodie-two-shoes characters and righteous themes that permeate Shoujo anime. If you’re easily annoyed, then I wouldn’t recommend this anime, but if you’re curious and have enough patience, there are only two episodes.
While a seemingly cute anime about pastry evolved cats in a dystopian world— you see where I’m going here— “Donyatsu” discusses the adult themes of death and destruction which ease their way into the story as we find out more about the world. Donyatsu is a cat doughnut thing? He’s cat with a doughnut body and slowly finds other cats merged with different baked goods like Bagel-san. What makes this anime so mind bending is the mystery surrounding the cats’ world. The destroyed and abandoned city they live in is populated by only them and mice made of marshmallow who are always trying to eat Donyastu and his friends.
In one episode, they meet with their giant robot friend who becomes one of many small hints to the past. In the opening sequence, the camera whizzes past a broken satellite that floats around in what looks like Earth’s orbit. What makes this anime great are the cute anthropomorphized animals and their inattention to anything but themselves. If you’ve got spare time, the manga version explores more of their doughnut box galaxy.
Hardcore deaths, a sense of hopeless mortality, and love? “Gantz” is a plethora of emotions, confusion, and exhilaration rolled up into thirteen episodes and 37 volumes of manga. Several people who have “died” are sent to a room where they are given odd looking suits that enhance their physical capabilities and overpowered weapons with unique functions. The story follows three high school students and probes the question of the human psyche in extreme distress. When everyone is geared up, they are set off in a version of reality that has peculiar monstrous creatures that try to kill them. They must survive by what’s given to them. Only when the creatures are killed are they returned to their reality. However, if they die in their alternate reality, they die IRL.
The creepy way the characters are materialized in the room is one thing, but the real golden star of “Gantz” is the story. Every subsequent “game” is more challenging than the last, slowly diminishing our hopes of the characters ever surviving. And later in the series, the anime questions our pride as humans and makes us feel insignificant. “Gantz” is scary, beautiful, full of death by dismemberment, and right for you if you can stomach it. Have fun.
7. Eve no Jikan
“Eve no Jikan” or Time of Eve is an anime that prompts the question of what makes a human. In a less violent and creepy way, this anime mimics Alex Garland’s “Ex Machina” in analyzing the line between humanity and artificial intelligence. Riko Sakisaka is a teenager who has been taught from birth to understand the three tenants dominating the hardware in androids which conclude to androids being treated like androids despite their human-like appearance. However, after finding abnormal data in his family’s maid system, Riko begins to follow his android to a cafe that allows androids to be indistinguishable from humans. The characters we meet there have a mysterious, but complicated pasts and we never really know who is an android and who is a human until much later. The philosophical gossip that echoes throughout the series continually gives us food for thought on our interactions with developing technology. The blending range of shadows gives depth to the tone and animation while setting the theme of loneliness and detachment. While the story is slow, the smooth and organic animation is jaw dropping along with the gentle score and tactical silence between scenes. “Eve no Jikan” is a great anime with a lot of thinking required, so if you like ethics and philosophy, this is the anime for you.
“Paprika” is a lucid and dreamy anime film about a night time dream detective who helps resolve people’s emotional and psychological problems by “jumping” into their dreams. With extremely detailed and natural animation, Paprika overloads the senses with surreal scenes that can be scary and interesting at the same time. It’s like the anime counterpart to Christopher Nolan’s “Inception.” “Paprika”‘s dark subject matter adds to the perplexity of the plot, while the grandness of the dream realities Atsuko explores is riddled with a spectrum of colors that help mediate the psychedelic tone. The characters are faced with their own realities and danger that come with their dreams. “Paprika” wanders through the idea of what dreams mean to us or what they say about us, our deepest desires or worst traumas. If you’re looking for a visually captivating anime, then this is the film.
With Halloween around the corner, some of these anime will get you in the mood, but if you’re genuinely interested in bizarre themes and a great story, to begin with, you’ll thoroughly enjoy these seven awesome anime series and film.