10. Rumic Theater
While I’m not normally a fan of Rumiko Takahashi’s long-running franchises like Inuyasha and Maison Ikkoku, this anthology of short works from the well-known mangaka offered up some decent quality stuff for me. The shorts are prominently focused on everyday situations with some bizarre element tossed into the mix, offering a nice mix of comedy and drama. From a housewife trying to hide a penguin from her animal-loathing apartment building manager in The Tragedy of P to a teenage girl antsy about the reasons for her family’s heavy spending despite their debts in Aberrant Family F, Rumic Theater offers up some enjoyable watches for those interested in episodic short stories.
9. Full Metal Panic: Fumoffu
The more comedy-driven season of the Full Metal Panic franchise, Fumoffu expands on what I found to be the best element of the series: Sousuke letting his military training lead to crazy predicaments due to his lack of common sense in living life as a civilian and Kaname having to reprimand him for his antics. This season offered up quite a number of memorable laugh-out loud moments for me compliments of Sousuke’s antics such as being a drill sergeant to a team of timid school rugby players Full Metal Jacket style, thrashing criminals under the guise of a Bonta-kun costume and setting up traps to deal with Kurz’s perverted intentions during a hot springs resort trip. This is a definite watch for anyone who is a fan of comedy anime titles.
8. Twelve Kingdoms
With the series pushing on into 2003, there are three more arcs that Twelve Kingdoms dived into with two expanding upon elements to the world of the series and another focusing more on Yoko as she becomes the ruler of the kingdom of Kei. Your mileage could vary on how well you enjoy the two expansive arcs as they don’t add on much to the main story of Yoko and one of them concludes without a proper ending. The second arc with Yoko makes for more of the better stuff you can expect out of the series as she tried to adjust to her duties as Kei’s ruler and better understand the living conditions of the commoners within her country’s provinces. Yoko’s developments crosses paths with two young women around her age facing dilemmas of their own such as a former princess exiled because of her father’s corrupt rule and a girl from Yoko’s world whisked into the world of the 12 Kingdoms. This arc separately explores the developments of Yoko and the two women as their fates become entwined in dealing with corrupt activity from some of Yoko’s subordinates governing Kei’s provinces trying to manipulate political affairs to obtain more power with no regard for whoever is in the way of their goals. The content for this arc is noticeably more violent than Yoko’s first arc featuring some nasty death and torture scenes, as well as bringing up some interesting themes relevant to the world of Twelve Kingdoms such as questioning the divine workings in which a ruler is chosen and how a person responds to the great amount of power they receive as a ruler. Despite the minor setbacks of the mentioned two arcs, Yoko’s second arc more than makes up for their shortcomings by offering up some of the title’s best developments and dramatic material.
7. Rumbling Hearts
There aren’t too many dating sim adaptations of anime I’d be willing to admit I enjoyed watching with how clichéd the plot and characters can be in them. Yet in the case of this adaptation to Kimi ga Nozomu Eien, Rumbling Hearts offered up some powerful romantic drama coming from the complicated love triangle involving male lead Takayuki Narumi and two possible love interests Haruka Suzumiya and Mitsuki Hayase. While the series does start off as your typical dating sim knockoff, some shocking events that develop with Haruka by the end of the show’s second episode serve to drive much of the drama you come to see throughout the series as she develops amnesia from the circumstances that lead her to being hospitalized and in a coma for over three years. The situations regarding romantic developments are quite shaky throughout the show and the characters are shown to make stupid decisions as a result of the emotional trauma they faced from Haruka’s situation. It believably explores the ramifications of the character’s actions where relationships become strained and even end as a result of their decisions showing how life doesn’t always go the way you would imagine. This helps keep the series fairly unpredictable as you keep wondering what will develop with the characters as events press on in Rumbling Hearts and it is a definite watch if you like romantic dramas in your anime viewing.
6. Gunslinger Girl
This worthwhile and character-driven action-drama focuses on a secret Italy counter-terrorist organization called the Social Welfare Agency which makes use of young girls as cyborg assassins. The show’s prominent focus is on exploring the backgrounds of many of the girls within the Agency and the unique chemistry they have with both each other and their handler. Each of the girls we come to connect with come from tragic backgrounds and have differing relationships with the older men who are their handler where they can be anywhere from surrogate siblings to tools of the trade depending on the mentality and personal beliefs of the handler. The series is notable for its great looking artwork and animation sporting realistic details of firearms and various Italian settings, as well as fluid movement coming from characters as they move about and engage in battle scenes. While the show does have its shortcomings with offering an actual plot and fleshing out backgrounds on the various handlers and cyborg Triela, the series is still worth a look if you are into character-driven dramas.
5. Kino’s Journey
This interesting little gem focused on the journey of young traveler Kino through various exotic and sometimes hostile countries as he experiences the lifestyle of said country and leaves after three days of being within each country. The series is philosophically driven with the series exposing some pretty dark elements to the seemingly peaceful countries Kino visits such as oppression, censorship, tyranny and self-preservation; which make for great debates for one to question whether the choices of culture and government in said countries are justifiably right. What makes this series notable is that Kino takes on the role of a neutral observer where she doesn’t meddle in the affairs of each country unless the people drag her into it or her life becomes threatened. It is an episodic series featuring different points of Kino’s journey where she is either helping other travelers, pondering over her observations of a country she visits, dealing with those who threaten her life or conversing with her talking motorcycle Hermes. There is even an episode which explores the heroine’s past before she became a traveler offering the same dark elements to its seemingly innocent setting. Those who enjoy deep-thinking anime titles like Serial Experiments Lain should give this series a look.
4. Fullmetal Alchemist
The first FMA series was off to a solid start in its Fall 2003 debut when the manga source material was adopted and the anime is notable for its different style of pacing, plotting and mood. While the manga was fairly conventional in exploring the different adventures of the Elrics with fast pacing and black and white morality with the convictions of its characters, the first FMA series took on a more mature and slow-paced storytelling style where the Elrics often find their personal beliefs challenged by those they encounter and took its time for one to connect with its characters thus making dramatic developments with them more effective. For instance, compare the Elrics’ failed transmutation of their mother and the Nina incident in pacing and mood to see how effectively the drama of the scenes are conveyed between this series and the manga/ Brotherhood remake. The series also knew when to properly time its comedy, a major problem with earlier chapters/ episodes of the manga and Brotherhood as comedic gags happened quite frequently and killed the mood of more serious scenes. With these major differences in the feel for this first animated adaptation of FMA, it stands as my preferred adaptation of the series which I enjoy.
Appearances can be deceiving when you come across this anime adaptation of the subpar Playstation 2 video game. While the first episode seemingly comes across as your typical revenge-obsessed story with Brandon Heat and Harry MacDowell, the story transitions into the past the next episode and you get to see perhaps one of the best anime adaptations of a video game you can come across. Gungrave’s anime adaptation expands upon its video game material by exploring the past bond between Harry and Brandon, how they became involved with the Millenion crime syndicate and eventually drift apart due to their differing personal beliefs on how to work within Millenion. The various characters that the series introduces are fleshed out enough where you can connect with them and everybody has their redeemable traits and not portrayed to be completely evil as when one witnessed them in Gungrave’s first episode. The first half is mostly down-to-earth in exploring the crime-infested affairs that Harry, Brandon and others within Millenion get involved with thus one shouldn’t expect the undead armies created by Harry to pop up at all throughout Gungrave’s first half. Still if you don’t mind crime action-dramas mixed with elements of the supernatural, then Gungrave should be a title worth your time to look into.
2. Tokyo Godfathers
As I covered in my top 25 video, this third Satoshi Kon film offers enough exploration on the backgrounds of the likeable homeless trio of Gin, Hana and Miyuki as they try locating the parents of an abandoned baby throughout the streets of Tokyo during the holidays. The movie features Kon’s typical animation style of realistic details for characters and the city environments of Tokyo. This is a definite look if you are a fan of Satoshi Kon’s work.
Another anime I discussed in my top 25 video, Planetes features a near-future look into man’s colonization of space and the potential issues that could develop from it such as space pollution, diseases, monopolization of space resources and terrorism. It also explores the inner conflicts and developments faced by a space sanitation worker named Hachirota “Hachimaki” Hoshino as he ponders over whether or not he can follow his dream of being an astronaut despite his low-paying job and the potential rift it would have in his relationships with people close to him. I found it to be one of the best sci-fi titles I have had a chance of seeing from the world of anime and believe it is worth a look if you have an interest in looking into a believable “what if” scenario of the challenges that develop from space colonization.