I’ve written a lot about anime in the past, as well as other geeky media, and in terms of subject matter I tend to stick to the darker side of things. In everything from games to movies, anime and manga, to comic books and even when it comes to history, I am drawn to the darkness. Sad, horrible, utterly gruesome – those are typically my wheelhouse.
While the fact that I seem to reveal in the shocking violence and depressing bleakness may make me seem like some sort of psychopath, I find darker anime and other media therapeutic. It makes me feel better about my own life. I may have gotten dumped, but at least I didn’t have to watch demons kill all my friends then violate my loved one right in front of me as I watch on helplessly ala Berserk-style, right? It puts things in perspective, but sometimes you just need a little cheering up.
For as wonderful weird, violent, and depressing as a lot of anime is, there are some gems out there that just make you feel great about the world. They can inspire you to look at people in a different way, and have faith in the general goodness that might be out there, somewhere. Unfortunately, they are hard to find. Often the best anime moments that give you hope in humanity are buried underneath a harem-sized pile of panties or overshadowed by an overwhelming feeling of “what is going on?”, but some great, straight-forward, happy anime still do exist.
Have you ever seen a grown man burst into tears while watching an anime? I have, and Clannad is the weapon to wield against pent-up feels. Clannad packs the emotional range that is humanity into two very draining seasons. It makes you laugh, it makes you angry, it makes you happy, it makes you sad – it makes you experience emotions you didn’t realize you had.
Essentially the story follows Tomoya, a man on the cusp of adulthood who is bored with school, has virtually no relationship with his father and only living parent, and all-around has a very apathetic outlook on life. However, one day he meets Nagisa, a sickly girl who is doing her best to start up a drama club and create good high school memories. From there, we are introduced to a large cast of characters, each with their own particular life problems that hit home.
Tomoya is started down a road by meeting Nagisa that leads him to help those around them. Whether it is something as simple as helping a girl hand out handmade wood carvings as invitations to her sister’s wedding to completely redoing a girl’s backyard garden where she spent her fondest memories with her dead parents, Tomoya does his best to help repair the broken people around him. Yet, it is ultimately his relationship with these people that inspires him to repair his own broken life.
Essentially, Clannad has characters with issues that resonate with a lot of people. The tenuous relationship Tomoya has with his father echoed my own, and while it hurt me to watch it play out, it ultimately helped me see my father’s perspective in a different light. Yet, everyone can find something to connect to in tales of lost battles for love, yearning to be with someone that you can’t, confliction between your happiness and the happiness of others, or dealing with sheer loneliness.
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(price as of Jul 20, 2016)
Contrary to the belief, happy families aren’t born, they’re made. Often, happy families come in every shape and size, too. As is the case with Usagi Drop, a story about a man raising an unwanted child that is technically his aunt.
When 30-year-old bachelor Daikichi returns home for his grandfather’s funeral, he discovers that ol’ grandpa recently had an illegitimate daughter whose mother has disappeared. Naturally, all of his other relatives are too busy or too embarrassed to take in an illegitimate young girl that, at a glance, appears very shy. So Daikichi ultimately steps up and begins his life as a single father.
That being said, you don’t find a lot of anime about being a single parent. I mean, there are some single mothers present in slice of life anime, but they are never the focus. Usagi Drop depicts how hard it is, especially at first. Single parents typically have around nine months to prepare, and even then it is not enough, but Daikichi’s life changes over night. What makes Usagi Drop so heart-warming is that things are hard, and it is a new situation for everyone, but he finds the time to give Rin the attention that kids require as well as help her deal with the complicated topic of explaining death to a young kid. What really makes it special is Daikichi doesn’t go through that expected awkward phase where he has to learn the hard way that he can’t just think of himself anymore. It is sweet, simple, and makes you very happy to watch.
Usagi Drop is a good anime to watch if you are, or will someday be, a parent. I recommend not getting into the manga, though. Things get weird, and you can imagine exactly how they get weird. (Not “Kodomo no Jikan” weird, though. At least there is a time skip.) Just let the anime and its nice ending be enough.
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(price as of Jul 20, 2016)
Kimi ni Todoke
If there is one anime that I wish had been around way back when I was a teenage girl, and one anime I would recommend to teenage girls today, it would be Kimi ni Todoke. Although technically billed as a romance, the relationship between the two main characters is so realistically slow that the secondary coming-of-age story becomes more prevalent.
Kimi ni Todoke has a pretty standard romance story, following a girl named Sawako that is shy and looks similar to the girl from “The Ring” horror movie. Due to her looks and her personality, her classmates often avoid her, causing Sawako to have problems making friends. However, that all changes when she begins to admire the social and popular boy in school, Shouta. By talking with him and allowing some of her classmates to get to know her, Sawako begins to experience a whole new type of life, although not without typical youthful hiccups.
Most anime fans know the innate social awkwardness of school days, and therefore know that there is more to it than the typical anime depictions will tell show. Kimi ni Todoke, while slow, shows how complicated coming out of your shell can be. Sometimes you win, sometimes you fail, but mostly you learn from your mistakes and do a little better each time.
Non Non Biyori
A lot of anime fans, including specifically slice of life genre interested fans, passed on Non Non Biyori initially due to the description of the plot. It is one of those shows, like Lucky Star, where nothing really happens. There no real overarching plot, just the stories or four girls in a very rural landscape without much to do. Due to the sheer rural-ness of the area, the sole schoolhouse teachers the five students of different ages at the same time. After school, they girls are forced to make their own entertainment. It sounds really boring, right?
Non Non Biyori is actually one of the most soothing anime series I have ever had the pleasure of watching. This is, in no small part, due to the amalgamation of anime movie quality animation, music, and unique characters. You follow the short stories of these girls that are told in a very real and relatable way, and somehow the stress of your own life seems to just melt off. It is a simple anime, but it has its ways of making you laugh, warming your heart, and very effectively evoking emotions when it wants to. In its essence, this is one anime that can make you treasure those simple moments in life.
Love, Chunibyo, and Other Delusions
Some people go their whole life trying to be normal when all they have to do is embrace their own weirdness to be truly happy. That is what the truly humorous Chunibyo is about. According to this anime, when many children hit their junior high years, they suddenly get the feeling that they are somehow special. In this anime, it reflects in the male protagonist thinking he was the Dark Flame Master and the female protagonist believing a god was trapped in her eye. If you think back to your own junior high days, this belief rings strikingly true. Probably not a lot of people took it as far as the characters in this anime, but what are goth cloths, emo hair, and pants with those ridiculous chains if not a way to set yourself apart from the pack?
Like in real life, the male protagonist grows out of it by high school, yet the weird girl that moves into the apartment above his is mysteriously drawn to him. In his quest to be normal, he is constantly embarrassed by her behavior, and as the audience, it is equally as cringe-worthy. However, the thing to take away from all the comedy of Chunibyo is that it is okay to be yourself, even if yourself is, on occasion, really weird.
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(price as of Jul 20, 2016)
Technically, Orange should not be counted on this list … yet. The anime doesn’t come out until July 2016, but the manga just blew me away so much with its message that I just couldn’t leave it out. The premise of Orange is relatively simple: what would you change if you could go back in time? We all have those really embarrassing moments that we wish we could change, but for Naho Takamiya and her friends, all they want is to stop their friend Kakeru from committing suicide. One day, before she even meets the would-be transfer student that would become her friend, she receives a letter from herself 10 years in the future, detailing all the things she would do differently to hopefully not push Kakeru down that path.
Of course, suicide is not always simple and the storyline in Orange reflect it as such. Ultimately, it was nothing that his friends did to him to make Kakeru consider it like they thought. Regardless, Orange is all about regrets. You can’t take them back, and, in this story’s case, changing them may not be best for everyone. Changing the future does not always change it for the better for everyone. It’s really quite a touching tale and makes you really think about the small moments in your life and how you will feel about them years later. Although the story seems somewhat complicated, it is actually presented in a fairly simple way that gives me hope that it will transfer from manga to anime really well.