10. Rozen Maiden
Don’t let the seemingly cute appearance of the dolls fool you into thinking this will be bait for the otaku crowd. Rozen Maiden is a series that mixes comedy and drama, which is focused around a middle schooler named Jun dealing not only with his life being complicated with the antics of the living magical dolls known as Rozen Maidens, but also coming to grips with a traumatic experience that has driven him to isolate himself from the outside world. The series tends to get a bit dark and serious at points in dealing with the emotional baggage that some prominent characters, both human and dolls, carry with them from past tragedies or conflicts over their very existence. In some instances, you even get to literally see the inner worlds of these characters which are shaped from their innermost thoughts and emotions as a result of the powers of the dolls. This is a beautiful looking series with plenty of vivid color and detail coming from the scenery and characters, especially with the designs for the Rozen Maiden dolls and the inner worlds of the characters. The series does have some plot elements left lingering which appear to be addressed in the later TV season of the series. But the series offers up something quite original and fun with its very premise and is worth checking out if you don’t mind the cute appearances of the show’s doll characters.
9. School Rumble
This fun little comedy romp takes the typical clichés of high school romantic comedies to new heights with the romantic misunderstandings between the various characters leading to enough over-the-top antics from all involved. The show was quite unpredictable with its humor as you never knew what to expect with its cast, especially with male lead Kenji Harima as he kept getting himself into one nutty predicament after another because of his misunderstood interactions with several of School Rumble’s female cast members. The cast members are likeable and have good chemistry with one another, both comically and naturally as friends or classmates. The show often parodies anime and elements of popular culture, as well as subverting some of the typical plot formulas you would find in romantic comedy anime. This is a definite watch if you are looking for something different from the typical high school romantic comedy mold.
8. Le Portrait de Petite Cossette
This visually impressive and disturbing anime OAV explores the deteriorating physical and mental condition of young artist Eiri as he interacts with the spirit of dead 18 century girl Cossette. The series is quite notable for its hauntingly beautiful visuals which have vivid, bright colors and plenty of details for its scenery and character designs. This detail in animation clashes with the violent and dark world that Eiri enters as he connects more with Cossette and submits to some nasty torture scenes within her world inside the old mirror that contains her spirit and more light is shed on the young man’s connection to the vengeful spirit which reveals some tragic irony in their twisted relationship. This is a wonderful twisted watch for those that get delight out of its horrific and gothic lolita themes.
7. Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad
This was quite an original premise for a shounen series as Beck focused around the titular band members of the series forming and going through their struggles to become a successful rock band. The series prominently focuses on everyday teen Koyuki as develops more confident and assertive in himself thanks to his interactions with lead guitarist Ryuusuke and the other young men who come to form the band, as well as dealing with possible love interest and Ryuusuke’s younger sister Maho. The series believably explores the challenges faced by Beck as they try to synch together as a band, struggle to get contracted to a record label and get confronted by some problems from Ryuusuke’s past. Beck also makes mention of musical genres and influential musicians for the rock genre at points throughout the show coming from either Ryuusuke’s influences for rock music or lessons that Koyuki takes on guitar playing. Anyone looking for an original premise for an anime title should give Beck a shot.
6. Fullmetal Alchemist
FMA continued its solid quality into 2004 with the Elric brothers continuing to delve deeper into the origins surrounding the Philosopher’s Stone and the connection that the Homunculus have to it. The remainder of the series is where the plot starts picking up steam when secrets concerning how deep the military is connected to both mysteries and notable characters find themselves either coming into conflict with their personal beliefs as they realize their own flaws and even having to put their lives on the line to accomplish what they want. This take on FMA does offer up additional positives over the manga and later Brotherhood adaptations where the Homunculi are portrayed to be tragic, sympathetic villains and the show takes on a mature mood as it explores how characters like the Elrics and Roy Mustang come to terms with their moral conflicts. However, the series does suffer some flaws with this original take on the source material where the ending does come across as a bit sloppy with how things get resolved (and a cheap excuse for the subpar Conquerer of Shambala movie the following year) and some characters could have been given bigger roles. Still though, I still found this alternative take on Fullmetal Alchemist to be of better quality than I did for the manga and Brotherhood versions, even if there are those that prefer them for being the original source material for the franchise and more faithful to the manga respectively.
5. Kurau: Phantom Memory
A sleeper hit for 2004, Kurau was overshadowed by the many popular titles that aired throughout the year. However, this hidden gem of a title is definitely worth a look. Balancing action and drama, the series focuses on a freelance mercenary named Kurau whose exposure to the energy of an alien force called Rynax caused her to be fused with the Rynax giving her superhuman abilities and creating a “pair” for her in the form of a young girl she names Christmas. The two come to bond with one another as they try to reunite with Kurau’s father following a years-long separation from one another while trying to avoid the forces of the GPO, an organization setting out to capture and eliminate Rynax-human fused beings like Kurau and Christmas. The show’s prominent focus is on the emotional bonds that connect people together and this is prominently shown with the Rynax pairs who rely on one another for companionship with the emotional connection believably shown throughout the series with Kurau and Christmas. The animation for the series is also notable as it features a solid visual presentation and fluid action scenes coming from Kurau and Christmas’ confrontations with GPO forces and other Rynax. Definitely give this series a look if you haven’t watched it yet.
4. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2 GIG
Perhaps my favorite part of the Ghost in the Shell franchise, 2 GIG crosses into political thriller territory when Motoko Kusanagi and the other members of Section 9 become entangled in thwarting terrorist attack which eventually becomes something much worst as more details on the terrorists and their connections are revealed. The complicated conflict slowly unveils more elements to the conspiracy with the terrorists which eventually leads to multiple factions, counting Section 9, clashing over the stability of order and government in Japan. The situation believably challenges the teamwork and skills of the members of Section 9 as they come to clash with some influential figures among the terrorists, refugees and government while tasked with preventing all hell from breaking loose in the tensions between these factions. 2 GIG retains the impressive presentation of Stand Alone Complex’s first season featuring highly detailed and vivid settings, great use of CG-rendered animation shown with robot units like the Tachikoma that blend in almost naturally with the regular animation and fluid and intense battle scenes coming from a variety of situations such as hand-to-hand, gunfights with multiple characters and the occasional clashes with heavily armored mechs. Definitely worth the time to watch if you crave sci-fi/ action titles with a smidge of political thriller tossed into the mix.
3. Paranoia Agent
The only Satoshi Kon work for a TV anime, this mystery/ suspense title does enough to keep you guessing over the nature of the mysterious kid known as Shounen Bat as he attacks random victims facing different crises of sorts. The earlier episodes of the series are focused on exploring the differing problems faced by each of Shounen Bat’s victims before he struck them down from a popular kid ostracized by his classmates for being suspected to be Shounen Bat to a teacher dealing with her split personality. The later episodes slowly unveil the true nature of the seemingly young assailant and all isn’t what it seems with him and what one comes to learn of Shounen Bat can be quite the surprising shocker as two of Kon’s earlier films (Perfect Blue and Millennium Actress) were effective at messing with the viewer’s perceptions of reality thanks to their effective use of narrative transitions and Paranoia Agent does just that. The series features Satoshi Kon’s trademark animation style of realistic landscapes and character designs. If you’re a fan of Satoshi Kon’s films, this is a definite watch.
2. Koi Kaze
As covered in my top 25 anime video, Koi Kaze offers up a believable, honest and tasteful look at how siblings Koshiro Saeki and Nanoka Kohinata handle their incestuous attraction to one another. The series allows one to take the role of observer in the pair’s developments and neither condones nor objects to their relationship as it leaves the audience to judge for themselves whether or not they would approve of such a relationship. Because of Koi Kaze’s controversial subject matter, it won’t be for everyone. But it is perhaps the best incest-themed title you can come across for an anime as it doesn’t dabble into melodrama and perversion when anime makes use of the taboo for a plot element.
Another of my top 25 anime, Monster is an elaborate mystery/ suspense title dabbling into the limitations of human morality as Dr. Kenzo Tenma hunts down serial killer Johan Liebert, a young man whose life Tenma saved and whose murders that he is being blamed for. The series introduces a wide cast of characters connected to elements of Johan’s past and slowly reveals elements to the titular monster’s past that keep you wondering if he is a tragic villain born from government corruption or an unredeemable monster. Johan also makes for one of anime’s most memorable villains for his manipulations on the vulnerabilities of his victims which drive them to the brink of insanity and usually suicide. A definite watch if you crave mature stories for your anime viewing.