Belle

The magical realism of anime meets the enchanting wonder of Disney in Academy Award nominated director Mamoru Hosoda’s (The Girl Who Leapt through Time, Mirai) mesmerizing virtual world fantasy that echoes Beauty and the Beast. The tagline of this fantasy thriller states, “You can’t start over in reality, but you can start over in U,” prepping viewers to delve into this alternate reality where the inhabitants adopt identities that mask their true personas, yet draws out their hidden strengths.

Suzu, a reclusive and socially awkward lone wolf of a schoolgirl, leads a melancholy life. At a young age, she lost her mother to a drowning accident, and since then, has been holding onto a fractured relationship with her father. With the aid of her savvy social media classmate Hiro, they enter “U,” an immersive virtual world populated by avatars of every imaginable size, style, and variation. Before long, she rises to stardom as a sensational global pop star, captivating fans with uplifting songs that inspire and heal. In this world, however, lurks a brooding figure known as the Dragon, a monstrous beast who hides in the shadows, isolated and sheltered away from everyone else. Who is this mysterious beast? What secrets does he harbor? In her persona as Belle, Suzu seeks to penetrate the depths of the Dragon in hopes of uncovering his identity to redeem him.

A brilliantly executed rendition of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, Hosoda’s fantasy, supported by the creative character designs of Jin Kim (Frozen, Moana, Encanto), orchestrates a story that intersects elements of mystery, romance, and fantasy while touching upon issues of self-identity, trust, loneliness, courage, and hope. Vibrant CGI set designs along with exquisitely hand-drawn scenic backgrounds complement a surrealistic world reminiscent of the dazzling dreamlike sequences in Satoshi Kon’s Paprika. In addition to the vibrant fluency and synergy of colors, strategic camera angles capture majestic and iconic shots in homage to Disney’s original animated film. The songs enrich the film’s charming enchantment, transforming it into a semi-musical piece that resonates with warmth and heart.

While not initially apparent, each character plays a significant role that culminates in a riveting climax that propels Suzu to embrace her true identity and purpose, empowering her to uncover the mystery behind the beast’s predicament. Bonus extras include character and set design galleries, insightful interviews with Hosoda, scene breakdowns, and more.

A fine achievement to the ever-expanding films of GKIDS (a division of Studio Ghibli) for family and adult audiences, Belle radiates with heartwarming passion and makes a welcome addition to anime collections .

Belle
By Mamoru Hosoda
Art by Jin Kim
GKIDS/Shout! Factory, 2022

Publisher Age Rating: PG

NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation:  Japanese
Character Representation: Japanese

Weathering with You

He left home to search for a life of meaning in Tokyo. She wanders the streets of Tokyo bringing warmth and sunshine wherever she goes. Amidst the backdrop of climate change, this unlikely duo of Hodaka and Hina somehow altered the course of history that resulted in a flooded, present-day Tokyo. Makoto Shinkai, writer-director of the phenomenal romantic hit Your Name, conjures up a story infused with kindling love, relentless rainstorms, and miraculous magic in Weathering with You.

Summer time has arrived, but a gloom-filled Tokyo remains drenched in rain for the past two months. This tale of cataclysmic proportions begins when Hodaka Morishima, a 16-year-old runaway gets swept into a vicious storm aboard a ferry headed to Tokyo. Rescued by Suga Keisuke, a scruffy editor of a magazine of bizarre stories, Hodaka hooks up with him to write articles and gets his big break one day. He encounters a teen orphan named Hina Amano who has the magical ability to stop rainstorms with a single prayer. He later learns that she is a “sunshine girl,” a figure from Japanese myth and legend possessing the extraordinary gift to quell storms, clear the skies, and summon forth sunshine, if only for a short while. However, with this gift comes a great price, for repeated use of these powers will weaken her and send her back to the heavens.

Makoto Shinkai plays around with the destructive forces of nature in Weathering with You. It’s another mystical piece worthy of Miyazaki’s brilliance. Shinkai captures scenic landscapes of Tokyo with panning aerial shots of cascading rainstorms that range from torrential downpours and rippling puddles to floating iridescent fish-shaped droplets. Hina works her magic to summon forth rays of sunlight that beam down with elegance, ushering in breathtaking ocean blue skies that resonate with exhilaration. The plot revolves around themes of belonging, sacrifice and loss, and embracing youthful yearning in a hostile world of grown-ups. The story shifts to a darker tone when the star-crossed lovers become separated, turning into fugitives from the law: Hodaka has run away from home, and Hina lives with her younger brother Nagi without parental support, thereby prompting the cops to track them down.

While the characters’ backstories remain shrouded in mystery, their mutual passion crescendos into an intense climax played out to the tearful yet uplifting tunes of the Japanese rock band Radwimps. Shinkai orchestrates an elaborate fusion of revolving arc shots rendered against a beautifully wrought background played to an upbeat theme song. Despite the environmental catastrophe closing in on Tokyo, Hodaka and Hina rise above the impending turmoil, buoyed by the power of their love and heartfelt longing to unite with each other. An expressionistic coming-of-age film forging the union of two distant souls and search for meaning mixed with magical realism, this animated romantic fantasy makes a fine addition to any library anime collection.


Weathering With You
GKids/Shout! Factory, 2020
Directed by Makoto Shinkai
112 minutes
Company Age Rating: PG-13

NFNT Title Details
NFNT Age Rating: Teen (13-16)

Ride Your Wave

In Ride Your Wave, a surfer girl in a seaside town falls in love with a young firefighter. Having chosen to attend college near the ocean to indulge in her favorite pastime, Hinako is a carefree soul. She meets Minato when he rescues her from a fire in her apartment building. Minato is less carefree. He chose his career because of his strong convictions about helping others.

Sparks fly between these two different personalities and Hinako convinces a very reluctant Minato (who nearly drowned as a child) to try surfing. While attempting to surf a strong winter storm, Minato ends up trying to save a drowning jet skier and loses his own life.

Distraught over her guilt and loss, Hinako moves away from the ocean and falls into a depression until one day, while singing the couple’s favorite song, Minato appears in her water glass. From then on, she discovers that she can conjure Minato in any amount of water by singing that song.

The poignancy of the romance—the pair can longer physically touch, and nobody else can see him, has consequences for the other people Minato left behind; especially his coworker and friend, Wasabi and his little sister, Yoko.

The film’s themes of loss, grief, and moving on are told in a polished, beautifully detailed anime style by experienced and award-winning director, Makaaski Yuasa (Night is Short, Walk on Girl, Keep Your Hands of Eizuouken!, Devilman Crybaby). Although the themes are sad, and the emotional effect of this story is high, it is broken up by some sweetly written comedic scenes which lighten the mood.

Animation studio Science SARU deftly handles the gorgeous setting and characters. Movement is fluid and natural with extraordinary detail. The musical score matches the mood, including the theme song, “Brand New Story.”

Ride Your Wave is on a shortlist of possible Oscar nominations for 2021, along with two other high quality theatrical anime releases, A Whisker Away and Demon Slayer Mugen Train. Ride Your Wave was another theatrical victim of COVID-19 and has only been released on DVD in the US.

This film is for fans of Your Name and Fireworks and definitely belongs in any teen anime collection. It has wide appeal for adult anime fans as well. The DVD is unrated, but I would give it a solid PG rating, mostly for some kissing, mild profanity and alcohol use.

The film is getting a light novel and manga adaptation from Seven Seas Entertainment later this year.


Ride Your Wave
By Masaaki Yuasa
GKID Films, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: Not Rated
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Character Traits: Japanese
Creator Highlights: Japanese

Mirai: Magical Journeys through Time

If the imaginative worlds of master anime storyteller Hiyao Miyazaki are surprisingly magical, then the creative imagination of Mamoru Hosoda is aesthetically enchanting. From the mind-bending creativity of the acclaimed creator of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006) and gamified intrigue of Summer Wars (2009) comes an adorable tale of sibling rivalry and family drama played out in Mirai.

Mirai tells the story of a four-year old named Kun who, during his wonder years, has enjoyed the center of attention until he gets a baby sister named Mirai, whose name translates into “future.” From there, the story detours into a Dickens A Christmas Carol-like tale where magical elements materialize, time journeys are undertaken, and life lessons are learned.

The story starts with young Kun indulging in his daily antics until his mom brings home a baby girl. When the spotlight shifts to his little sister Mirai, jealousy erupts, with Kun yowling in a tantrum of titanic proportions amidst Mirai’s frantic cries. Upset at his parents for showering their attention on her instead of him, he defiantly runs off into the backyard, and there he finds a so-called “prince” of the house where he lives, which turns out to be his pet dog in human form. Later on, he meets a young girl who is actually Mirai as a teenager. This turn of events enables him to learn from and interact more closely with various members of his family.

The subplots launch like springboards for each magical journey as Kun meets members of his family at different stages of their lives. Magical surprises weave in and out of the story during his emotional outbursts, the fantastical elements kick in, and he witnesses alternate versions of his great grandfather and mother. With each encounter, Kun gains insight into the pivotal decisions that led them to their present-day selves, demonstrating how decisions of the past connect with the circumstances of the present, while shaping their identities in the process. Imbuing Kun with a vibrant curiosity, Hosoda skillfully captures the integrity and youthful persona of a toddler with heartfelt compassion and delight.

The cinematic animation of Mirai is a distinguishing hallmark of this film. The story revolves around Kun (Mirai being somewhat of a misleading misnomer), the camera focusing on his point of view. Close-up shots highlight his charming, wide-eyed facial expressions, animating exuberant emotions that range from joy and sadness to anger and fear. This film captures the passion of one of anime’s youngest characters, dramatizing a most intimate experience through the lens of a child. Furthermore, the set design features a captivating spectacle as the camera pans between the kitchen, play area, and backyard. This quasi-realistic feel combined with adorable characters inhabiting a world where magic sneaks in at unexpected moments engenders a compelling story that entertains and mesmerizes.

As an auteur, Hosoda commands full artistic control over the spectrum of emotions portrayed by his characters, conjuring forth a story that depicts life through the nostalgic worlds of childhood filled with magical wonder and curiosity. At the heart of Mirai lies a story of conflicting family dynamics, where emotional tensions run high, secrets are revealed, and insightful truths illuminated. This feature film delivers a mixture of comedy and drama peppered with magic, fueled by a child’s adventurous persona. Fantastical elements integrate naturally into the plot, appealing to viewers both young and old, thus making this a fine addition to any library collection.

Mirai: Magical Journeys through Time
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment/GKIDS, 2019
directed by Mamoru Hosoda
98 minutes, Number of Discs: 1, Single disc/DVD
Company Age Rating: PG

Dragon Ball Super: Broly

By the time Dragon Ball Super finished its televised seasons in 2018, it had set up some enormous dangling plot threads, among them the existence of green-haired “berserker Saiyans” whose power levels rivaled that of Goku and Vegeta at the height of their rainbow-haired transformations. Fans of the Dragon Ball franchise immediately recognized this easter egg as an open teaser for the appearance of the green-haired Broly. Formerly a villain contained to three non-canon movies, Broly was set to arrive in his own movie overseen by series creator Akira Toriyama. Does it live up to the standard set by previous Dragon Ball Super movies Battle of Gods and Resurrection F?

Let me put it this way: if you surveyed a crowd of Dragon Ball fans to make a wishlist for a new movie, you would probably end up with most of the features of this movie. It adds new continuity to the Dragon Ball canon, features fluid and impactful animation, and uses its music and voice actors to full effect. The story revolves around galactic despot Frieza’s continued exploitation of the Saiyan warrior race and how it drives different Saiyan parents to place their hopes in their children to find the strength to fight back someday. Between the lighthearted Goku, elitist Vegeta, and naive but brutish Broly, there are three variations of the Superman myth at play. Over the course of the Dragon Ball anime, Goku and Vegeta have gone from mortal enemies to mutually admirable rivals, and now they get to test their mettle against Broly, who has been recruited by Frieza (via Broly’s father) to take them out.

Broly had a sad upbringing, the Saiyans struggled under Frieza’s thumb, got it, but action is what fans want from this movie, and I’m happy to report it is some of the best hyper-speed fisticuffs this side of Toei Animation. The showdown doesn’t properly begin until midway into the 100-minute runtime, but the plot smartly plays with expectations on the way there, establishing a mixture of drama and humor, even in the darker corners of each character’s history. In particular, the parallel between Frieza and Bulma’s wishes for the eternal dragon is nothing short of brilliant—brilliantly modest yet still driven by ego.

When they finally fight, hoo boy is it glorious: no more “zwip” fighting full of blurs, nor reliance on repeated animation frames to pad out a sequence. Fans will delight at the clear differences in fighting style and attitude on display. Vegeta is a cold and precise fighter, always looking down on his opponent. Goku is more playful and sporting, exuding power without a malicious bone in his body. Broly hits like a dump truck, punching Vegeta through ice walls and swinging Goku by his leg like the Hulk thrashing Loki. We get to actually see all the unique blows and reversals these super-beings perform in mid-air and as they’re plowing through mountains. The voice acting matches these sequences well, especially Goku’s panicked screaming when overpowered by Broly. The dub and sub versions of the dialog are well done.

The soundtrack deserves several nods, as well. A soaring rendition of Dragon Ball’s signature opening theme, Cha La Head Cha La, acts as a bridging song when the story turns to Earth. Unique songs in which deep voices shout KAKAROTT, BROLY, or GOGETTA lend more power to the blows than visuals could alone. Dramatic tones, chanting, electric guitar, and pounding piano only scale higher as the fights escalate, like the most serious video game boss battle you’ve ever sweated through. The damage escalation, from craters to mushroom clouds to reality-shattering blasts, is an exceptionally satisfying spectacle.

Dragon Ball Super: Broly made $116 million in box office from a production budget of $8.5 million, an incredible profit for an anime film. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it: stock this in your anime collection! The nostalgic and recent fans alike will find plenty to enjoy here. Special features include a series of trivia questions answered by the voice cast, as well as general Q&A with them. This movie is rated PG, and I would wager showing this to your local anime club would be a real crowd-pleaser regardless of age.

Dragon Ball Super: Broly
ASIN: B07MLB1DBG
Funimation, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: PG

Your Name

Ever wake up and dreamed that you were someone else? That’s the journey two teens named Mitsuha and Taki take in the anime Your Name, directed by Mikoto Shinkai. This unexplained phenomenon begins after a comet shoots across the sky; the pair themselves switch bodies every couple days. At first, there is a lot of confusion as they both struggle to comprehend what is happening to them. Then, Taki leaves questions in Mitsuha’s school notebook. After that, they begin leaving messages on each other’s cell phones, each filling the other in on what occurred during the body switch.

Of the two lead characters, Mitsuha is the better developed. She lives in a rural town called Itomori, but dreams of living in a big city like Tokyo. Her father is running for mayor and likes to embarrass her in front of others. As a miko, or shrine maiden at the local Shinto shrine, Mitsuha participates in a tradition called kuchikamizake. Kuchikamizake is the process of using human saliva in the fermentation of the shrine’s sacred sake. In one scene, she is shown in traditional dress during a ceremonial dance. Her eyes contain sadness and you can see how restrained she feels by tradition.

Taki has what Mitsuha dreams of: he lives in Tokyo. He also has a part-time job in an Italian restaurant. Knowing very few details about Taki made it harder for me to connect with his character. I would have almost preferred the story to be from Mitsuha’s perspective alone.

This anime reminded me a lot of the movie Lake House that starred Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves. That film was about people who were stuck in different times who leave letters for each other in mailboxes. In the end, they hope that the past and present can connect them in the future. In Your Name, the characters leave notes in notebooks and text messages as a way to communicate. At one point, Mitsuha sets up Taki on a date with his co-worker that he has a crush on. While on the date, Taki realizes he has developed feelings for Mitsuha. Shortly thereafter, the body switching ends and both are left wondering how they can bridge the gap between them. It’s Taki that starts the search to find Mitsuha based on the fragments of knowledge he was able to glean from being in her body.

As a big fan of Makoto Shinkai’s work, I can see a common theme that runs throughout his anime. He seems to be interested in ideas of communication. How do people communicate? How do they reconnect when obstacles are put in their way?

There are frequent scenes of train doors opening and closing, signifying that life is a game of chance and that timing matters. All it takes is a shutting door to prevent someone from making that connection. This reminds me of a scene in 5 Centimeters Per Second, Shinkai’s second anime, where the lead characters Takaki and Atari keep missing each other.

I highly recommend the anime Your Name for any library collection. Teens will find the body switching hilarious, but will also be drawn into the love story that develops between Mitsuha and Taki. This is one of the rare anime that after the last frame, I just wanted to rewind and watch again.

Your Name
Directed by Mikoto Shinkai
AISN: B074QVZJFZ
Funimation, 2017
Rating: PG

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun, Complete Collection

Nozaki-Kun-Cover

Happy-go-lucky Chiyo Sakura has been in love with tall, intense Umetarou Nozaki since the first day of the school year. Halfway through the year, Sakura screws up her courage and tells Nozaki that she’s his biggest fan, only to receive an autograph in return for her heartfelt confession. Nozaki lives a double life as Sakiko Yumeno, a famous shoujo manga artist that everyone thinks is female, and he’s so oblivious to Sakura’s feelings that he believes she’s a fan of his work instead of a fan of him.

It turns out that Nozaki has had his eye on Sakura for a while. Unfortunately, it’s her artistic talent he admires, so he hires her as an assistant to do the “beta” (spot-filling with black ink) for his manga, Let’s Fall in Love. However, Sakura proves to be useful in one other vital area. Though Nozaki’s Yumeno persona is renowned for capturing the true spirit of a young girl’s heart, Nozaki himself is stoic and clueless when it comes to feelings of any kind. Sakura, who wears her heart on her sleeve, proves to be an invaluable helpmate when it comes to understanding matters of the heart.

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun is presented vignette-style with two stories per episode. This format is reminiscent of the original four-panel manga and of Saturday morning cartoons, and the madcap antics of the characters had me laughing out loud at least once an episode. However, the romance is the highlight of the show, and any fan looking for a series brimming with romantic tension will not be disappointed. Sakura is resilient and unflappably positive, and anyone who watches this anime will be hard-pressed not to root for Nozaki to finally understand her confession and reciprocate her feelings.

The anime also focuses on two other “couples” who parody common shoujo manga tropes, and they and the minor characters are equally as charming as our protagonists. The standout side characters for me were Yuu Kashima, the (female) “prince” of the school and star of the drama club and Masayuki Hori, the drama club president, who is a talented actor but is too short for leading roles. Kashima is handsome and oozes charm, and though she is popular with girls she has a fraught relationship with Hori, who is hot-tempered and often furious that Kashima frequently blows off drama club. As the anime goes on, we discover that charming Kashima is desperate to impress Hori, and she longs to “rescue” him and make his “dream” come true. Of course, since Nozaki-Kun is primarily a comedy of errors, the ways that she interprets these actions are hilariously misguided.

Both the Japanese and English voice actors are superb, especially Yuuichi Nakamura and Ari Ozawa, who play Nozaki and Sakura respectively and have both enjoyed prolific careers in anime. Ozawa’s performance as Sakura is emotional without being over-the-top, and Nakamura’s flawless deadpan is essential to the comedic timing of many of the jokes. The art is also wonderful, and the animation is flawlessly crisp on Blu-ray. There were little to no scenes with still-frames or reused footage, which can often stand out unpleasantly from an otherwise quality production.

Unfortunately, even though this series is presented as a “complete collection,” the ending provided little resolution for any of the three main couples. There is also room for each character to grow significantly, as their flaws still dominated even through the last episode. Still, when the biggest problem with a series is that it leaves the viewer begging for more, it’s clearly done almost everything right. I, for one, will be crossing my fingers and holding my breath for a second season and will hope that this collection is nowhere as “complete” as it claims to be.

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun, Complete Collection
Sentai Filmworks, 2016
directed by Mitsue Yamazaki, Ryouhei Takeshita
300 minutes, Number of Discs: 2, DVD/Blu-ray Combo Set
Company Age Rating: TV 14
Related to: Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun by Izumi Tsubaki

Anime Club Picks: Crunchyroll

UPDATED AUGUST 2016 – Librarians across the country run Japanese manga and anime clubs of all types, most frequently appealing to middle school and high school age fans.  In recent years it’s been trickier to navigate getting the appropriate licenses to show anime, but now the streaming site Crunchyroll has stepped up and offered access to their many streaming series to libraries.

Any club, library, or convention can sign up via Crunchyroll’s outreach service to gain a free subscription to their streaming service.  To sign up, you must agree to have at least two anime screenings during each quarter, or 90-day period, and fill out a feedback form after each screening.  As you sign up, Crunchyroll will ask a few questions — age range of viewers, shows you’re keen to screen, and whether you’re a member of YALSA, the library’s mailing address — and then you’re set to go.

The best thing about Crunchyroll is that they have a wide range of shows, both brand new and older, and if you sign up through their library service, there are no ads.

A few pointers for using Crunchyroll with your club:

  1. There are no age ratings on Crunchyroll, so think through which shows you’ll screen ahead of time.  If possible, pre-screen titles to be sure they fit with your club and community standards.  Teen members may not have quite the same radar as librarians for what’s appropriate, so initially it’s a good idea to take a look at series yourself.
  2. The videos are all streaming, so be sure you have either a solid wireless connection or a wired connection that will allow the videos to stream without interruption.  It’s incredibly convenient to have streaming choices, but it’s also terribly frustrating if your connection delays or disrupts play.
  3. The majority of videos on Crunchyroll are subtitled, not dubbed.  In my library’s club at the Public Library of Brookline, watching the titles with Japanese dialog and English subtitles is part of the point of the club experience.  However, if you have any members in your club who devotees of dubbed anime, they will be out of luck.

To help all of you librarians and clubs out there get to know the options offered, we’ve curated a list of the best Crunchyroll titles available for club screenings.  With this 2016 update, we’ve also included a number of older teen/adult titles for those of you running adult anime clubs or clubs at universities, so make sure you check those age recommendations.

Read on and enjoy!

This list of over fifty recommended titles was originally compiled and updated this year by our anime enthusiasts on staff: Jenny, Jessikah, Marissa, Megan, Michelle, Thomas, and Allen.  If you have any questions, ask ’em in the comments!

The Best of Crunchyroll

5CentimetersPerSecond5 Centimeters per Second

Distributor/Producer: CoMixWave Films
Release Year: 2007
Elevator Pitch: Two people who’ve gradually lost touch with one another look back at their once-close childhood relationship and wonder about what might have been.  This early Makoto Shinkai film is as quiet, beautiful, and melancholic as we’ve come to expect from anything he creates.  His fascination with animating the play of light is almost reason enough to watch his films.
Suggested Age Range: Older Teen
Appeals to: Fans of bittersweet romance and of films more focused on emotion and atmosphere than plot.  The slower pacing and adult-looking-back perspective will probably appeal most to older teen and adult viewers.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: There’s not much of concern to note.
Direct link: 5 Centimeters Per Second


AnoNatsudeMatteruAno Natsu de Matteru

Distributor/Producer: Showgate (Sentai)
Release Year: 2012
Elevator Pitch: This series centers on a small-town teen witness to a strange explosion he later remembers nothing about.  He gets together with his friends over the summer in order to make a movie about aliens, not immediately realizing that the cute new upperclassman who has conveniently moved in with him for the interim may actually be an alien herself.  Pretty animation, unique characters, and surprising twists on a seemingly familiar premise make this funny, romantic, sometimes dramatic series worth a watch.
Suggested Age Range: Older Teen
Appeals to: Fans of other teen-boy-meets-alien?-girl stories, only with a little more emotional drama and a little less action (although there’s plenty of the latter bookending the show).
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: Potential alien Takatsuki is clearly drawn with fan service in mind and doesn’t always go around the house in full attire.
Direct link: Ano Natsu de Matteru (Waiting in the Summer)


ArakawaUndertheBridgeArakawa Under the Bridge

Distributor/Producer: NIS America
Release Year: 2010 / 2010
Elevator Pitch: When debt-averse corporate heir Ko loses his pants and falls off a bridge, he’s rescued by Nino, a beautiful but spacey young woman who lives beneath the bridge, claims to be from Venus, and asks him to pay her back by “experiencing love” with her.  Drawn into her community of riverside eccentrics–including a kappa-costumed chief, a star-masked guitarist, a well-armed nun in drag, and many, many others–Ko doesn’t realize just how well he fits in with the variously odd, ill, and wounded individuals who’ve found a home and acceptance on the riverbank.  Unpredictable, hysterical, and heart-squeezing.
Suggested Age Range: Older Teen
Appeals to: Fans of stories about quasi families, flawed point-of-view characters, and all around nuttiness.  The off-the-wall humor and personalities have a lot in common with Gintama, though perhaps a little more refined.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: The humor can be a little adult in nature and there are occasionally-bared bottoms, but nothing graphic or gratuitous and no sex (despite what you might think from the premise).  Some of the characters may have more colorful vocabularies than others and there’s a good deal of humor-based violence with characters beating or shooting the tar out of one another with no lasting damage.
Direct link: Arakawa Under the Bridge


BeyondtheBoundaryBeyond the Boundary

Distributor/Producer: TBS (Sentai)
Release Year: 2013
Elevator Pitch: Akihito, an easygoing boy of mixed human and youmu (a type of dangerous supernatural being) parentage, finds his immortality being tested daily by shy new student Kuriyama.  Having someone try to kill you every day gets tiresome. He eventually persuades her to practice her youmu hunting skills on actual threats, but personal and communal secrets and corruption could undermine their fragile friendship and put everyone around them in danger.  This series has some engaging drama and humor, but the attractive visuals and especially the fluidly animated action scenes are the clear highlight and make the less carefully tended narrative nevertheless worth your time.
Suggested Age Range: Older Teen
Appeals to: Fans of moe heroines, half-monster heroes, and emotional fantasy action.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: Akihito’s friend’s year-older brother has an openly acknowledged sister complex played for laughs.
Direct link: Beyond the Boundary


BlueExorcistBlue Exorcist

Distributor/Producer: Aniplex
Release Year: 2011
Elevator Pitch: Learning that he’s literally the son of Satan understandably throws teenage Rin for a loop. Still, the love and support of family and friends and his faith in his own better nature help him to accept himself, build lasting bonds, and fight the forces of darkness that threaten their world.  To do that, he enrolls in a mysterious school for exorcists where he learns how to deal with other people as well as how to control his powers so he can someday take on his old man.  Rin’s a fun, surprisingly angst-free lead in this supernatural action series.
Suggested Age Range: Older Teen
Appeals to: Fans of teamwork stories, supernatural battles, and cheerful half-demon heroes who aren’t into brooding.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: A female teacher looks like a Gurren Lagann‘s Yoko wanna-be, only with less class and more ill-fitting attire and for no discernible reason other than to be tacky eye-candy.  Milder fan service crops up with a few other female characters. With all the demon fighting / exorcising, there’s a fair amount of fantasy violence.  Though it’s not gratuitous, it can be bloody, particularly with the emotionally intense yet narrative-essential death of a loved one early on in the series.
Direct link: Blue Exorcist


ChihayafuruChihayafuru

Distributor/Producer: NTV
Release Year: 2011 / 2013
Elevator Pitch: When shy boy Arata introduces kind tomboy Chihaya to the sport of karuta (a Memory-like card game in which opponents race to retrieve the card representing the second half of a recited classical poem), a fire is lit inside the middle-schooler and her life changes forever.  Even after Arata moves away, Chihaya lives and breathes karuta, forming a high school team along with her best friend and unnoticed admirer Taichi.  Together they take on the most powerful players in the country, including the reigning Queen.  Watching karuta-obsessed Chihaya strive for her team and herself, and watching those who love her try to slowly work their way into her clueless heart while doing the same, is a joy.
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeals to: Fans of sports series, poetry, classical literature, karuta (obviously), romance, and friendship tales.  If you enjoyed Hikaru no Go but want more giggles, emotion, and character development (and more action, as karuta combines both intellectual and physical prowess), this is for you.
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: No content issues to speak of.
Direct link: Chihayafuru


ChisSweetHome2Chi’s Sweet Home: Chi’s New Address

Distributor/Producer: TV Tokyo
Release Year: 2009
Elevator Pitch: In this sequel series to Chi’s Sweet Home, kitten Chi’s human family moves to a new home and she has to adjust.  Short episodes follow her as she gets to know her new environment and neighbors and settles in.
Suggested Age Range: Kids
Appeals to: Cat lovers and those with a weakness for all things cute, fuzzy, and adorable.
Suitable for middle school? Yes
Content notes: There’s not much to worry about with this one beyond the potential for cuteness overload, although that may change as Chi grows up.
Direct link: Chi’s Sweet Home: Chi’s New Address

 

 


DurararaDurarara!!

Distributor/Producer: Aniplex
Release Year: 2010
Elevator Pitch: Mikado moves from the quiet suburbs to Tokyo’s frenetic Ikebukuro neighborhood to attend high school with his childhood friend, Kida.  One by one, Kida introduces Mikado to the colorful locals but warns him away from the more dangerous elements.  Unfortunately–or fortunately?–he can’t seem to avoid running into the latter, and soon the whole neighborhood is caught up in a complicated web of personal and supernatural secrets, underworld schemes, and corporate conspiracies.
Suggested Age Range: Older Teen
Appeals to: Fans of Baccano!‘s jumbled chronology, large and kooky cast, and smart, edgy, gleeful writing.  Urban legend and folklore fans, social media addicts, and otaku will get a kick out of this, as well.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: Though this series isn’t nearly as darkly violent as Baccano!, gang warfare can get pretty rough, as can a mysterious slasher roaming the alleys.  Vending machines and lamp posts are used as weapons with surprising frequency (hee!).  A pair of issue-ridden siblings have a disturbingly codependent relationship.  A creepy teacher has his eye on a busty student.  And a prominent female character has a non-graphic shower scene.
Direct link: Durarara!!


EccentricFamilyThe Eccentric Family

Distributor/Producer: Yomiuri Telecasting Corporation (YTV) (NIS America)
Release Year: 2013
Elevator Pitch: Modern-day Kyoto finds humans, tengu, and tanuki sharing the same streets, but tensions are on the rise since the tragic death of the tanuki patriarch several years ago.  Now his widow and four sons struggle to look after one another as politics, a bitter feud, and the dreaded Friday Fellows hotpot threaten far more than just the stability of their community.  Shape-shifting, phantom trains, and sake-fueled flying teahouses are just a few of the selling points for this funny, dramatic, and surprisingly moving series about the bonds of family.
Suggested Age Range: Older Teen
Appeals to: Fans of folklore, tanuki tales, family stories, and edgy, unpredictable weirdness and wonder.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes:  Yasaburo happily shape-shifts as a human girl for kicks while his mother regularly poses as a flamboyant human prince.  Also, an aging tengu flirts with his human protégé, who is the focus of most of the series’ fan service–she’s attractive, knows it, and uses it–but it fits her and isn’t gratuitous.  The fate of the boys’ father–and third son Yasaburo’s conflicted emotions regarding some of those responsible–takes the series into what might be uncomfortable territory for some viewers while simultaneously defining the show’s life-embracing themes.
Direct link: The Eccentric Family


Eyeshield21Eyeshield 21

Distributor/Producer: Sentai Filmworks
Release Year: 2005-2008
Elevator Pitch: A lowly gopher for school bullies turns out to have the agility and dodging skills needed to elevate his school’s football team into a competitive force. Now, to get the rest of the team up to speed…
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeals to: Fans of team sports, slapstick, shonen-style progression of skills
Suitable for middle school? Yes
Content notes: There is a running gag of one of the tougher players on the team whipping out an uzi and opening fire to motivate everyone else into action or agreeing with him. In the context of the show’s tone and humor it’s just a gag, but in the moment it’s undeniably controversial.

Direct link: Eyeshield 21

 


FolktalesFromJapanFolktales from Japan

Distributor/Producer: TV Tokyo
Release Year: 2012
Elevator Pitch: Three short tales per episode relate common Japanese stories from folklore, mythology, and history.  Some are cultural foundations, many are lessons on how to behave, and some are just plain fun.  Japan-ophiles will happily recognize the originals of many popularly referenced figures like Momotaro (the Peach Boy), Princess Kaguya (she of the bamboo stalk), the Crane Wife, and many, many others.  The animation style switches around from tale to tale–cartoony for some, delicately artsy for others–and all the voices are skillfully performed by the same two mature actors.
Suggested Age Range: Younger Teen
Appeals to: Fans of folklore and Japanese culture or anyone who wants to understand more jokes and allusions in their manga and anime without having to rely on an editor remembering to include translation notes.
Suitable for middle school? Yes
Content notes: This is marketed to younger kids in Japan.  A few of the stories can be pretty somber and there’s occasional simplistic violence.  But there’s also the likes of a tale revolving around a young wife who passes extremely forcible gas, so there ya go.
Direct link: Folktales from Japan


Free!Free! Iwatobi Swim Club

Distributor/Producer: ABC Asahi
Release Year: 2013
Elevator Pitch: An all-boys swim team grows up and loses a founding member. The rest try to train up a new recruit and compete in a championship despite the return of their former friend as an opponent.
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeals to: Gentle sense of humor, tales of friendship
Suitable for middle school? Yes
Content notes: This series is often billed as “fan service for girls” due to the cast of fit young men in swimming speedos. The camera’s gaze does not get pervy, but be aware the boys on this show will be in various stages of undress.
Direct link: Free! Iwatobi Swim Club

 

 


GankutsuouGankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo

Distributor/Producer: GONZO (FUNimation, Geneon)
Release Year: 2004
Elevator Pitch: Years after being betrayed by a friend and falsely imprisoned in an isolated space prison, Edmond Dantes returns to his former Parisian home in the guise of a fabulously wealthy and charming count from orbiting Luna in order to wreak terrible revenge on those responsible for his miseries.  But what will he do when innocents threaten to become collateral damage in his initially righteous vendetta?  Dumas’s classic gets a visually stunning, futuristic update, but the darkly fascinating conflict at its core remains the same.
Suggested Age Range: Adult
Appeals to: Lovers of the source material, slowly building psychological plots, complex revenge stories, science fiction, and groundbreaking visuals.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: The psychological drama can be intense, with sex and violence more than mere suggestion.
Direct link: Gankutsuou


GargantiaGargantia on the Verduous Planet

Distributor/Producer: Production I.G.
Release Year: 2013
Elevator Pitch: Endless intergalactic war is all Ledo knows until he finds himself cast away on a strange planet covered in water.  Now, Chamber the A.I. in his mecha suit is the only link to Ledo’s old life, and his only method of communicating with the strange inhabitants of a floating city known as Gargantia.  Can Ledo adapt to a quiet life on the high seas or will the echos of the war he left behind threaten his new found peace?
Suggested Age Range: Teen.

Appeals to: Fans of the Gundam series, Martian Successor Nadesico, Full Metal Panic, and even Last Exile should enjoy this.
Suitable for middle school? Yes.
Content notes: There is a bit of fan service in the way of busty female characters and an obligatory swimsuit episode.  The series also takes a rather dark turn in later episodes.
Direct link: Gargantia on the Verduous Planet


GintamaGintama

Distributor/Producer: TV Tokyo (Sentai for Gintama)
Release Year: 2006-2010 / 2012
Elevator Pitch: Instead of Admiral Perry and his “Black Ships,” aliens have forced 19th-century Japan to open its doors to the outside world(s).  A few years later, former rebel samurai and diabetic sugar-fiend Gintoki partners up with Shinpachi (a serious young swordsman and pop idol fan club member)

and Kagura (an alien girl with crazy strength and an appetite to match Gin’s) to run an odd-jobs business.  As they take on everything from lost cats to terrorist plots, the trio bicker amongst themselves, fail to pay the rent, get into trouble with / aid the Shinsengumi (Kyoto’s historical police force).  On top of that, they battle gang bosses, adopt giant alien dogs, befriend the unemployed, and generally laze around, save the day, and leave almost as many messes as they clean up.
Suggested Age Range: Older Teen
Appeals to: Fans of Shonen Jump (the magazine’s other series are often fodder for jokes), alternate histories, sci-fi, the Shinsengumi, samurai action, quasi-family stories, and utter ridiculousness that doesn’t forget that viewers have hearts as well as funny bones.  Viewers who enjoyed Samurai Champloo‘s mix of Edo era and Hip Hop culture and who appreciated the wackiness of its sillier episodes, might enjoy the goofiness and mash-up elements here, too.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: The often-juvenile, fourth-wall-breaking humor can be pretty crass and there’s a lot of focus on bodily functions (though thankfully pixelation saves the viewer’s eyes from anything too scarring).  Swords and guns and other weapons get put to good use, with much of the violence fueling the humor and some the drama.  The sub translators do a great job of explaining as many of the non-obvious Japanese pop cultural references as they can (and there are oodles of fun references!), so there can be a lot of text flashing by on the screen.
Direct link: Gintama


GirlsundPanzerGirls und Panzer

Distributor/Producer: Sentai Filmworks
Release Year: 2012
Elevator Pitch: An all-girls high school tank team, located on a massive battleship, competes against other schools’ tank teams for personal fulfillment and school glory.
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeals to: High school comedy+drama fans, military hardware aficionados
Suitable for middle school? Yes
Content notes: The tanks used by the schools enact a war-games level of violence (rubber bullets, no blood) that nonetheless requires a fair amount of suspension of disbelief while accepting that the characters are kind of in danger no matter what.

Direct link: Girls und Panzer

 


GurrenLagann

Gurren Lagann

Distributor/Producer: Aniplex
Release Year: 2007
Elevator Pitch: Simon lives in a subterranean society, drilling holes whenever he can. He unearths the drill-shaped key to a giant robot, setting off a course of events that will lead to discovering the truth about the surface world and beyond.
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeals to: Mecha/Action fanatics, big team efforts, strength gained from one’s burning passion for life
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: Jiggle-related fan service and leering male gaze.
Direct link: Gurren Lagann

 

 


HaikyuHaikyu

Distributor/Producer: Production I.G.
Release Year: 2014/2015
Elevator Pitch: Haikyu follows volleyball newcomer Shoyo Hinata and his team Karasano’s quest to make it to the high school championships.  They have a long way to go though, and clashing teammates and their powerful opponents are not going to make it easy!  Full of action, great, character dynamics, and comedy, Haikyu moves along at a steady pace that leaves viewers wanting more; one particular strength of Haikyu is that the show’s tension revolves primarily around a positive spirit of competition and characters’ drive to improve.
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeals to: Sports story fans and athletes; anyone who enjoys positive, light-hearted shows
Suitable for middle school?  Yes
Content notes:  Some of the adult characters are seen drinking, and one adult character smokes.  One of the female characters is regularly put on a pedestal, although images of her do not quite cross the line into fan service.

Direct link: Haikyu


HanasanaIroha

Hanasaku Iroha

Distributor/Producer: Yomiuri Telecasting Corporation (YTV) (NIS America)
Release Year: 2011
Elevator Pitch: Teen Ohana gets shipped off by her single mom to live with her strict grandmother who runs a popular inn in a resort town.  As she struggles to fit in and get to know her prickly guardian, Ohana learns the value or hard work, comes to better understand her flighty mother and other family members, and starts to think about what she wants for her own future.
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeals to: Fans of coming-of-age stories and family dramas.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: The fan service is mostly mild, although one of the guests is a writer of steamy novels and tries to use the young female staff as models for his work.
Direct link: Hanasaku Iroha


HorrorNewsHorror News

Distributor/Producer: Next Media Animation
Release Year: 2014
Elevator Pitch: First-year middle schooler Rei encounters an odd newspaper from tomorrow that tells of his teacher dying in a car accident. The next day, he witnesses that very accident, and dreads ever seeing that newspaper again. That midnight, and every midnight following, he is forced to bear witness to new editions of Horror News.
Suggested Age Range: Younger Teen, Teen
Appeals to: Fans of Death Note or the stylings of Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories
Suitable for middle school? Maybe!
Content notes: While the series is rooted in horror and death, the episodes are short and the premise is undeniably silly.

Direct link: Horror News


HouseofFiveLeaves

House of Five Leaves

Distributor/Producer: NIS America
Release Year: 2010
Elevator Pitch: Awkward ronin Masa hires himself out as a bodyguard only to learn that the man he’s protecting is actually part of a kidnapping ring called The Five Leaves.  The more Masa gets to know enigmatic Yaichi and his atypical cohorts, the more he’s drawn into their tightly knit group and the more he sympathizes with their complicated motives.  As the past catches up with them, Masa’s selfless heart may be just as important as his skillful blade in protecting his new comrades from their own demons.
Suggested Age Range: Older Teen
Appeals to: Fans of samurai stories, slowly unraveled mysteries, quasi family stories, and Natsume Ono’s haunted-eyed character art.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: Yaichi’s past is not a happy one and a late flashback leaves little doubt as to the sad and bloody violence off-screen.
Direct link: House of Five Leaves


KidsontheSlopeKids On The Slope

Distributor/Producer: Sentai Filmworks
Release Year: 2012
Elevator Pitch: In 1966, an honor roll student new to town and a “bad boy” classmate become friends who bond over music. Yoko Kanno’s soundtrack uses classic jazz standards, and the series builds to a fusion of songs in a masterful performance.
Suggested Age Range: Older Teen
Appeals to: Musicians, romantics
Suitable for middle school? Yes
Content notes: We recommend this for “Older Teen” not because of anything inappropriate, but because the mood and pace of the show reward a mature viewing, is all. We predict librarians who watch along with their teens will get just as sucked into this period drama.

Direct link: Kids on the Slope


KurokosBasketballKuroko’s Basketball

Distributor/Producer: ADK (Bandai)
Release Year: 2012 / 2013
Elevator Pitch: Kuroko—indispensable yet invisible member of The Generation of Miracles, the core players of Japan’s greatest middle school basketball team—decides to keep playing, and growing, in high school despite the fact that his former teammates have all scattered to different schools.  Now his goal is to bond with his new teammates and show the old ones what can be accomplished when they don’t just focus on individual gain.  Fast, over-the-top basketball action, friendship, and teamwork take center stage.
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeals to: Fans of other fun and involving sports series like Eyeshield 21 and Slam Dunk!.  As with Free! Iwatobi Swim Club, due to the friends-and-rivals themes and the cast of attractive young fellows, yaoi fans seem to get as much (non-canon) fun out of the show as the sports lovers do the basketball.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: The sub translators occasionally go with the mildly stronger four-letter alternatives when the boys are under pressure, but not often enough to ruffle too many feathers.  The doting father of the boys’ coach, a female classmate, is somewhat creepily obsessed with his daughter, but thankfully his role is minimal.  The requisite hot springs episode has veiled nudity from both sexes, but everything’s played for laughs and there’s no sexual content.
Direct link: Kuroko’s Basketball


LittleWitchAcademiaLittle Witch Academia

Distributor/Producer:  Trigger
Release Year:  2013
Elevator Pitch: Hoping to become just like her idol, a witch named Shiny Chariot, Akko enrolls in Luna Nova Academy.  Sadly, Akko has little magical talent, and her love for Chariot (who is considered to be hokey by “real” witches) makes her a bit of an outcast.  When Diana Cavendish, the most popular girl in school accidentally unleashes a dangerous magic on Luna Nova, only Akko can save the academy, by using Shiny Chariot’s magic.
Suggested Age Range: Younger Teen
Appeals to: Fans of Kiki’s Delivery Service could find much to like in this short.  A sequel is currently in production.
Suitable for middle school? Yes
Content notes: There is little to worry about when it comes to content.
Direct link: Little Witch Academia


LovelyMuuuuucoLovely Muuuuuuuco!

Distributor/Producer: Doga Kobo
Release Year: 2015-Present
Elevator Pitch: Look at this Akita! Ahhhh! He and his owner live in the mountains, where Akita meets all sorts of people and has cute reactions to everything.
Suggested Age Range: Younger Teen
Appeals to: Comedy, Slice of life, Dog people who feel cheated by Chi’s Sweet Home
Suitable for middle school? Yes
Content notes: Too cute, proceed with caution

Direct link: Lovely Muuuuuuuco!

 

 


MonthlyNozakikunMonthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun

Distributor/Producer:  Media Factory
Release Year:  2014
Elevator Pitch:  Chiyo Sakura finally gets the guts to speak to her crush, Umetaro Nozaki.  However, he mistakes her attempt to talk as a request for his autograph (he is a manga-ka of a shojo manga).  He has his eye on Chiyo for her art skills to assist him with his manga, so she decides to work with him and attempts to let him know her feelings.  Hilarity ensues as the series progresses and we truly see how oblivious the hardworking Nozaki-kun is.
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeals to: Those who enjoy romance in a slice-of-life setting.
Suitable for middle school? Yes
Content notes: There is some mild language and verbal innuendo.

MrOsomatsuMr. Osomatsu

Distributor/Producer: Pierrot (studio)
Release Year: 2015-present
Elevator Pitch: Sextuplet brothers, formerly featured in a 1960s anime, try to get along in the modern world. Themed episodes and gags abound, mixing styles of humor new and old. The only predictable thing about this show is its unpredictability.
Suggested Age Range: Older Teen, Adult
Appeals to: People in need of a South Park fix
Suitable for middle school? NO
Content notes: This series has a way of swerving from a silly pun or visual gag to blurred nudity and outright dirty jokes. You’d better review each episode in advance… but the stuff you do show will be hilarious.
Direct link: Mr. Osomatsu

 


MushishiMushi-Shi

Distributor/Producer: Aniplex
Release Year: 2014 / 2014
Elevator Pitch: Invisible to most, mushi are elemental life forms of seemingly infinite variety that occasionally cross paths with humans.  When these interactions lead to problems, Ginko remedies them.  Folklore, natural beauty, and deftly created atmosphere make this show the perfect antidote to life’s often frenetic pace. Please note: Crunchyroll has the license for the OVA (original video animation) release and the sequel series, not the original Mushi-shi.  The first series is available on DVD through Funimation and streaming at their site.
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeals to: Fans of folklore and quietly absorbing supernatural tales.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: The usually quiet tenor of the show (action scenes are rare but very effective) won’t suit all viewers.  Some of the results of human-mushi interaction can be quite dark and somber, but not in the way of graphic horror.
Direct link: Mushi-shi


MyLoveStoryMy Love Story!!

Distributor/Producer: Sentai Filmworks
Release Year: 2015
Elevator Pitch: Takeo, a hulking beast of a teenager with a heart of gold, saves a girl on a train, Rinko, from a pervert. He is used to being overlooked by girls in favor of his pretty-boy pal Makoto, but Rinko only has eyes for Takeo. Watching Takeo’s exagerrated reactions to the simple joys of young love is at turns hilarious and heartwarming.
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeals to: Romantics, people with strong opinions about the term “nice guy,” people who enjoy seeing a sweethearted romance turn out well
Suitable for middle school? Yes

Direct link: My Love Story!!

 


JokerMysterious Joker

Distribution/Producer: Shin-Ei Animation
Year: 2014
Elevator Pitch: Phantom thieves can make miracles happen, and Joker is the ultimate thief. Unlike burglars, phantom thieves use cool gadgets and always give advance notice for what treasures they plan to steal.
Suggested Age Range: Children
Appeals to: Recommend to children and tweens who like silly humor, colorful artwork, and plot-driven adventure stories.
Suitable for Middle School?: Yes
Content Notes: Suitable for all ages
Direct Link: Mysterious Joker

 

 


MyLittleMonsterMy Little Monster

Distributor/Producer: ADK (Aniplex, TV Tokyo)
Release Year: 2012
Elevator Pitch: A friendless, serious girl focused on her studies unintentionally acquires an unpredictable, high-energy, semi-delinquent boyfriend with no social skills, significant emotional baggage, and a big heart.  Will sensible Mitty be able to calm Haru’s wild nature?  Will sweet Haru be able to soften Mitty’s cold one?
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeals to: Fans of silly romantic school comedies plus emotional conflict.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: Haru throws rape out as a casual verbal threat early on, and while it’s likely he has little idea what he’s saying, it’s still disturbing.  He also isn’t very careful when he gets excited or angry and accidentally bloodies Mitty’s nose on more than one occasion, though this is more clearly part of his character development and one hopes a second season will see him be more conscious and thoughtful of those around him.
Direct link: My Little Monster


NagiAsaNagi no Asukara

Distributor/Producer: Showgate (NIS America)
Release Year: 2013
Elevator Pitch: Four middle-schoolers from an underwater village attend school on the surface and struggle to fit in without losing their heritage or their hearts.  Soon, however, the culture clash and the complicated emotional webs tying the kids from both worlds to one another take a back seat to larger concerns that could affect all life above and below the surface.  The atmosphere in this beautifully animated and carefully sound-edited show is almost a character unto itself including a sunlit seaside village of peeling aquamarine paint, rusting boats, and abandoned bridge supports leading nowhere.  The impressively depicted emotional development of the characters is just that much more reason to watch it.
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeals to: Fans of love polygons, “the feels,” and subtle fantasy world-building that leaves viewers increasingly goosebump-y and wondering what’s really happening in the bigger picture.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: One supernatural adult character is known to appreciate porn.  There are a few instances of very mild fan service, as with obscured nudity in relevant non-sexual situations or when one of the girls is accidentally walked-in on while changing, but nothing offensive.
Direct link: Nagi no Asukara (Nagi-Asu: A Lull in the Sea)


NatsumeNatsume Yujin-cho

Distributor/Producer: TV Tokyo / ADK (NIS America)
Release Year: 2008-2011 / 2012
Elevator Pitch: Natsume has always been able to see yokai (supernatural beings that share the world with humans), but his misunderstood behavior has only gotten him shuffled from one family to another.  Now in high school and finally settled with kind relatives, he discovers his deceased grandmother’s secret book filled with the names of yokai she bested.  Since the potentially powerful book makes him vulnerable to greedy yokai, Natsume strikes a bargain with a strong yokai named Madara (who often takes the form of a tubby calico-ish cat, earning him the nickname Nyanko-sensei.) Madara protects him–and crankily complains–as Natsume returns names to their owners, makes friends, and learns to trust others and himself.
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeals to: Fans of folklore, quiet supernatural tales with a little action and a lot of emotion, and kitty lovers.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: There’s no fan service, but some of the less pleasant yokai (and a few humans) Natsume encounters can be pretty unsettling and violent, though not usually graphically so.  Also, Nyanko-sensei is a hard-drinking yokai kitty.
Direct link: Natsume Yujin-cho (Natsume’s Book of Friends)


ParasyteParasyte -the maxim-

Distributor/Producer: Sentai Filmworks
Release Year: 2014-2015
Elevator Pitch: Earth is being invaded by tiny beings that bore into the skin and control their hosts. Collectively, these parasites have agreed to covertly breach humanity’s halls of power and feast on the creatures of Earth. Some people were able to stop their parasites partway up their bodies and formed symbiotic relationships instead, gaining powers of shapeshifting and advanced phsyique. With civilization in the crosshairs of a devoted alien species, can the symbiotes broker a peace?

Suggested Age Range: Older Teen, Adult
Appeals to: Horror fans who like a little philosophy with their gore
Suitable for middle school? NO
Content notes: Lots of violence and blood, plus swearing. Explores mature themes of dominant species on Earth, the morality of taking a life, and profound grief at the death of one’s family.
Direct link: Parasyte


PuellaMagiMadokaMajicaPuella Magi Madoka Magica

Distributor/Producer: Aniplex; Madman Entertainment

Release Year: 2011

Elevator Pitch: When middle-schooler Madoka Kaname rescues a mysterious creature Kyubey, he asks her to make a contract with him and become a magical girl to fight witches, spirits who channel negative emotions and make things worse.  Magical girl Homura tries to keep Madoka and her friends from becoming magical girls, but things quickly unravel; unfolding events reveal just what it means to be a magical girl. Cute artwork contrasts with a dark, twisted storyline and creates a compelling series that viewers won’t want to miss.

Suggested Age Range: Older Teen

Appeals to: fans of dark fantasy; fans of stories that play with familiar concepts

Suitable for middle school?  No

Content notes:  As the series progresses, many of the characters’ struggles will be too nuanced for younger audiences.

Direct link: Puella Magi Madoka Magica


RinNeRin-Ne

Distributor/Producer: Sentai Filmworks
Release Year: 2015
Elevator Pitch: Sakura once snuck into the spirit world as a child, and upon her return gained hte ability to see ghosts. Rin-Ne is half-human, half-shinigami who offers to solve people’s ghost problems for a fee via prayer box. Together, these two get to the bottom of a lot of paranormal shenanigans.
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeals to: Fans of action-comedy afterlife adventures such as Noragami or Bleach, or Rumiko Takahashi’s other madcap series Ranma 1/2 and Inu-Yasha
Suitable for middle school? Yes

Direct link: Rin-Ne


RokkaRokka – Braves of the Six Flowers

Distributor/Producer: Ponycan USA
Release Year: 2015
Elevator Pitch: Six heroes bearing marks of destiny embark on an adventure to defeat a great evil sweeping the land. However, they soon discover seven members among their party and must deduce which of them is a traitor sent to sabotage the group. Their different abilities and backgrounds set them against each other as subtle clues guide the viewer through the mystery.
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeals to: Swords & sorcery fans, whodunnit hounds
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: Some of the ladies’ costumes are particularly revealing

Direct link: Rokka


rwbyRWBY

Distributor/Producer: Rooster Teeth
Release Year: 2013
Elevator Pitch: The evil Creatures of Grimm are back. Hunters and Huntsmen, humans who can utilize the magical properties of “Dust” to create weapons, are Earth’s only hope. RWBY follows a group of teens in battle school as they train to become successful warriors. Can these new students set aside their differences and complete their training?
Suggested Age Range: Official DVD rating is 13+
Appeals to: This anime-style CGI series is fast-paced (each episode is between 6 and 11 minutes) and chock full of action. The music and graphics are amazing. The series is familiar yet unique, giving it wide appeal.
Suitable for Middle School? Yes
Content Notes: Mild violence during fight scenes
Direct link: RWBY


SamuraiFlamencoSamurai Flamenco

Distributor/Producer: Aniplex
Release Year: 2013-2014
Elevator Pitch: A male model who grew up on sentai superhero shows decides to become a crimefighter by night, Samurai Flamenco, employing common office supplies and a heart full of gumption. He is assisted by a police officer and a trio of copycats dubbed the Flamenco Girls… but what if their hijinks poke the hornet’s nest of true supervillains they never knew were real?
Suggested Age Range: Older Teen, Adult
Appeals to: Fans of Kick-Ass, Power Rangers, and Sailor Moon, and especially combinations in-between
Suitable for middle school? NO
Content notes: The series seems to be a lighthearted take on ordinary people playing superhero, but elevates the stakes and violence in a mid-series pivot that takes the story down some dark roads. Also, the Sailor Moon analogs, the Flamenco Girls, have a fixation on defeating men by crushing their balls.
Direct link: Samurai Flamenco


SchoolLiveSchool Live!

Distribution/Producer: Madman Entertainment
Year: 2015
Elevator Pitch: A group of high school girls create the School Living Club after a zombie attack that originates in their school destroys everything.
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeal to: Recommend to those who like slice-of-life stories with more of a focus on characterization. The twists and turns, as well as the psychological aspect of dealing with trauma set against the backdrop of a generally humorous series with a cute animation style is reminiscent of Madoka Magica.
Suitable for Middle School?: No
Content Notes: There is a scene where they are trying on bikinis at the mall, as well as a scene where one of the girls is in the shower (nothing explicit is shown, however) . There’s occasional violence against the zombies, but it’s not gratuitous and the zombies are only shown as black shadows. An important part of the story is the way the main character deals with the zombie attack which is by blocking out that it ever happens. As the series progresses, it’s revealed that people she talks to and many of the things she sees are not really there but are part of her delusion.
Direct Link: School Live

SpaceBrothersSpace Brothers

Distributor/Producer: Yomiuri Telecasting Corporation (YTV) (Sentai)
Release Year: 2012
Elevator Pitch: Brothers Mutta and Hibito have wanted to be astronauts since they were children, but somewhere along the way Mutta got sidetracked.  After headbutting his boss (and subsequently losing his job) at an auto engineering firm, awkward Mutta has the chance to rediscover his love of space and to catch up to his free-spirited little brother–who’s scheduled to be the first Japanese person on the moon.  The path won’t be easy for either of these wicked-smart goofballs, but their bonds of family and friendship, as well as the dedication and sacrifice of their colleagues and those who’ve come before, will support them through good times and bad as they strive for their dream.
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeals to: Anyone who thought it would be awesome to be an astronaut when they were kids, who casually follows the doings of NASA or JAXA (Japan’s space agency), who can’t help but click on articles about Mars rovers or newly discovered dwarf planets beyond the Kuiper Belt, or who has grinned like a 10-year old while searching Youtube for Chris Hadfield videos.  If you enjoy stories that focus on character and plot development over wall-to-wall action, this show’s patient pace as it follows the daily ins and outs of training, team building, and near-future space science will be an inspiring, uplifting addition to your day.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: There’s little fan service to speak of here, though the characters are adults in the main story and a joke here and there may be more directed at that audience (such as Mutta’s conversation with the doctor during his physical).  Similarly, adult characters drink and a few smoke.  Some international astronauts are depicted with unfortunate stereotypes, yet they are all portrayed as sympathetic characters whom the leads eventually get to know and respect as individuals.  The latter doesn’t make the former ok, but it softens any unintentional offense.
Direct link: Space Brothers


SwordArtOnlineSword Art Online (SAO)

Distributor/Producer: Madman Entertainment/Aniplex of America
Release Year: 2012
Elevator Pitch: Everyone is excited for the official release of SAO, an advanced Virtual Reality MMORPG, but the excitement quickly dwindles when players realize they are the subject of a horrific human experiment. Players are stuck in the game, with any death resulting in death in real life, until someone can beat the game.
Suggested Age Range: T+
Appeals to: One of the hottest shows of summer 2013, SAO effectively portrays every aspect of an MMORPG world as well as the realistic implications of being stuck inside the game, fighting for your life. Fans of virtual reality anime like .Hack//Sign, Summer Wars, and Accel World will love this; however, the series goes far beyond the virtual reality component, which is why it has been so broadly popular.
Suitable for Middle School? No
Content Notes: Lots of psychological warfare going on here in addition to game violence. Part two has more of that going on than part one.
Direct link: Sword Art Online


TegamiBachiTegami Bachi: Letter Bee

Distributor/Producer: TV Tokyo (Sentai)
Release Year: 2009 / 2010
Elevator Pitch: After his mother is taken away by strange men from the Capital, little Lag Sing follows in his idol Gauche’s footsteps to become a Letter Bee who delivers mail (and therefore heart) to individuals across their artificially lit world.  But once he arrives at Bee HQ, he learns Gauche has mysteriously vanished.  Never losing faith in his friend, Lag is determined to find and help both Gauche and his own missing mother while fulfilling his Bee calling and uncovering the truth behind their world’s artificial sun.
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeals to: Fans of fantasy, friendship tales, government conspiracy stories, sweet crybaby leads, and the color blue.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: To deliver letters, Bees have to use special heart-firing weapons (mostly guns) to dispatch giant armored insects that can leave human victims as nothing but empty shells.  One of the older female Bees is clearly uniformed for fan service reasons (though everything’s covered, it’s low-slung and plenty tight). Lag’s magical assistant, Niche, is a strange, stubborn little girl-being who doesn’t always agree to wear underpants (though as she and Lag are both such innocents, this is only played for humor).  Another magical being pretty much only bothers with “clothes” (e.g., her prehensile hair wrapped around her important bits like armor) for the sake of others’ sensibilities.
Direct link: Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee


TimeofEveTime of Eve

Distributor/Producer: DIRECTIONS, Inc.
Release Year: 2008
Elevator Pitch: In the near future, androids are the walking appliance servants of convenience. At the Time of Eve cafe, the cardinal rule is that nobody may discriminate between humans and androids. Androids frequent the cafe without any identifying features to distinguish them from humans. Each episode examines a different customer.
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeals to: Thinkers, thought experiments, examinations of artificial intelligence
Suitable for middle school? Yes
Content notes: This series was originally released as six 15-minute episodes, but watching them all in one sitting like a movie works well.
Direct link: Time of Eve

 


TonarinoSekiKunTonari No Seki-kun: The Master of Wasting Time

Distributor/Producer: Sentai Filmworks
Release Year: 2015
Elevator Pitch: You have never seen someone go to the lengths Seki does to entertain himself during class, and neither has his desk neighbor, Rumi. As she watches his inventive games unfold, she can’t help but get absorbed and guess at the rules he invents for himself. Each episode only lasts a few minutes and comes with an extremely catchy ending theme.
Suggested Age Range: Kids, Younger Teen, Teen
Appeals to: Anyone who’s ever been bored in class, fans of Calvinball or Rube Goldberg devices
Suitable for middle school? Yes

Direct link: Tonari No Seki-kun: The Master of Wasting Time


TsuritamaTsuritama

Distributor/Producer: Aniplex
Release Year: 2012
Elevator Pitch: Yuki moves constantly and has trouble making friends. The friends he makes on the island of Enoshima go fishing together, and together with a duck named Tapioca, they must stop an alien invasion. A breezy summer comedy that slowly builds toward world-at-stake adventure.
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeals to: Breezy summer comedy
Suitable for middle school? Yes
Content notes: There is a girl who wears a bikini for the whole series, but her appearance is not subject to leering
Direct link: Tsuritama

 

 


UtakoiUtakoi

Distributor/Producer: ADK (Aniplex, TV Tokyo)
Release Year: 2012
Elevator Pitch: A handful of Japan’s celebrated 100 Poems, familiar to US viewers as those used in the competitive card game of karuta, are loosely adapted into prettily-animated, interconnected stories depicting their poets and the often bittersweet experiences that may have shaped and inspired their art.  Presenting the tales is witty Teiko, one of the authors and the man responsible for the poems’ compilation in the first place.  To balance the melancholy of many of the backstories, amusingly anachronistic framing devices have Teiko chatting up the viewer, appearing on a talk show gossiping about the poets as if they’re reality TV personalities, and taking on a fellow compilation editor in a YuGiOh-style poetry card battle.
Suggested Age Range: Older Teen
Appeals to: Fans of romance, historical fiction, historical literature, anachronism, and especially lovers of Chihayafuru who want to learn more about the poems and poets at its heart.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: As many of the poems revolve around romantic love, sex comes up both as a topic and as plot, though it’s treated with the same courtly decorum as period manners call for, so there’s nothing much on-screen beyond dramatic kisses, pillow talk, and winking wordplay.
Direct link: Utakoi


WitchCraftWorksWitch Craft Works

Distributor/Producer: Kodansha
Release Year:  2014
Elevator Pitch:  Honoka Takemiya is always crossing paths with the school “princess”, Ayaka Kagari.  What Takamiya is about to find out is that none of this is a mistake.  Kagari is a “Workshop Witch”, who is sworn to protect Takamiya from the “Tower Witches” who would misuse a power hidden inside his body.
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeals to: Fans of harem anime.
Suitable for middle school?  No.
Content notes: There is some suggestive dialogue, and several busty female characters vying for a piece of Takamiya.  However, the switched gender roles of Takamiya and Kagari set this series apart from other harem series.  Also, note that various historical methods of torture used to expose “witches” are referenced in a comedic sense.  It’s all very silly, but slightly disturbing.
Direct link: Witch Craft Works


YamishibaiYamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories

Distributor/Producer: TV Tokyo
Release Year: 2013
Elevator Pitch: Before manga or anime, there were picture storytellers who’d use paper cutouts and lanterns to draw in and entertain their outdoor audiences.  Here the creators put that style to creepy use in this series of five-minute chillers featuring things like broken seals, haunted hospitals, and department store elevators that only go all the way to the “basement.”  Each starts out quietly enough but builds to a shock that can make you jump even when you know it’s coming.
Suggested Age Range: Older Teen
Appeals to: Fans of dark folklore, horror stories, and bite-sized scares that give you the heebie-jeebies (I don’t recommend watching the reverse “banzai!” story right before bedtime–unless, of course, that’s your thing).  The back lit cut-out style animation may appeal to those looking to see something a little different.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: There’s no fan service, overly-strong language, or on-screen violence here, but the sudden reveals may disturb younger viewers.
Direct link: Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories


YonaoftheDawnYona of the Dawn

Distributor/Producer:  Pierrot Co., Ltd.
Release Year:  2014
Elevator Pitch: Yona is the sole heir and pampered daughter of King Il, ruler of the land of Kouka which is said to have been founded by four magical dragons.  Yona is in love with her cousin, Soo-won, but her father does not approve of the match.  During her birthday celebration, her life is turned upside down when Soo-won murders her father and assumes the throne. Yona escapes with her bodyguard and childhood friend Hak with plans to grow stronger to reclaim the throne one day.
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeals to: Fantasy fans and those who enjoy coming of age stories with a bit of romance.
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: There are depictions of combat and several battles sequences.  The violence is not gratuitous, but appropriate for the context of the battles.

Direct link: Yona of the Dawn


YouandMeYou and Me (Kimi to Boku)

Distributor/Producer: TV Tokyo
Release Year: 2011 / 2012
Elevator Pitch: Four childhood friends (an uptight scholar, a gentle nurturer, and a pair of sardonic identical twins) enter high school and go about their days talking and arguing about games, girls, homework, interest clubs, and whatever else comes up as they hang out at home and at school.  They soon befriend an outgoing transfer student and the five boys pick on and rely on each other as they grow up a little, wrestle with first loves, and watch nervously as graduation and change loom ever closer.  Silliness and warmth make this show about adolescence and friendship a happy mix of stress-relieving giggles and thoughtfulness.
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeals to: Fans of quiet, slice-of-life stories where not much happens but that’s perfectly ok.  If you enjoyed The Daily Lives of High School Boys and would like to try a similarly-themed show with a little less fan service, a little longer attention span, and more emotional investment, this is for you.  Also, there are random symbolic cats—so, yay!
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: Studious Kaname’s mom is overly attached to him, which amuses his friends to no end but makes the viewer a little uncomfortable.
Direct link: You and Me


YoungBlackjackYoung Black Jack

Distributor/Producer: Sentai Filmworks
Release Year: 2015
Elevator Pitch: Before Hazama was the two-fisted surgeon with the hands of God known as Black Jack, he was a med school student eager to prove himself. From the jungles of the Vietnam War to black-market organ markets, Hazama must use his prodigal surgical skills and knowledge, as well as honed sense of the sanctity of life, to save himself and others.
Suggested Age Range: Teen, Older Teen
Appeals to: Fans of medical dramas and Osamu Tezuka series
Suitable for middle school? No
Content notes: There will be lots of surgeries and bloody messes by the end of this series, but any violence is always used in service of the story. Here and in his classic series, Black Jack often comes across Twilight Zone-esque quandaries where his moral clarity often conquers the short-term emergency but fails to cure the evil in people’s hearts.

Direct link: Young Black Jack


YourLieinAprilYour Lie in April

Distribution/Producer: Madman Entertainment

Year: 2014
Elevator Pitch: As a child, Kousei was a prodigy pianist, but after his terminally ill mother passed away, he was unable to hear the music or see the notes. When he meets Kaori, a brilliant violinist with a vibrant personality, he slowly learns to love music again.
Suggested Age Range: Teen
Appeal to: This is a beautifully animated slice-of-life series about a boy overcoming loss and navigating through the struggles of being known as a protege musician. It will appeal to those who like character-driven coming-of age stories as well as those who love anime with a music theme.
Suitable for Middle School?: No
Content Notes: One of the images in the Opening has Kousei and Kaori twirling around to music without clothes on. In the first episode, Kousei is recording Kaori playing her violin. A big gust of wind blows her skirt and she thinks he’s videotaping her so she hits him while accusing him of ruining her for marriage. There are a few scenes Kousei remembers from his childhood when his mother, knowing she would die soon and never play piano again, physically and mentally abuses Kousei.
Direct link: Your Lie in April

Michiko & Hatchin

michiko-to-hatchin-2151

Hana Morenos is a jaded nine-year-old living with her sanctimonious and abusive foster family until one day, freedom comes crashing through the roof on a presumably stolen scooter. The wild and reckless Michiko Malandro takes Hana on a crazy road trip to find Hiroshi Morenos, Hana’s biological father and the love of Michiko’s life; the three of them share a mysterious tattoo of two crossed feathers and the letters L.B.D.D. As Michiko and Hana—now dubbed Hatchin—bicker their way across a brilliant Latin American landscape in search of the ever-elusive Hiroshi, they forge a relationship and also grow as human beings… possibly.

Michiko & Hatchin is beautiful and brilliant. In other reviews, it has been compared to Samurai Champloo and Cowboy Bebop as it was produced by Manglobe with Shinichiro Watanabe as the music producer. Consider that it was also the directorial debut of Sayo Yamamoto, the director of Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, and you’ll get a sense of the look, sound, and texture of this work: lovely animation, stylish cinematography, great acting, excellent music, and memorable characters delivered in a well-paced episodic format wherein the main story unfolds without much explicit explanation. It is an exciting series to watch, with a satisfying ending.

So far, Michiko & Hatchin is the only anime I can think of with a realistic Latin American setting—realistic in the sense that the setting is “real life” as opposed to, say, fantasy or science fiction—that feels vibrant and well-researched. The setting is almost a character in its own right: you can feel the heat and practically smell the food. As the work takes place in a fictional country, authenticity might be a moot point here, but the basis for the visuals is obviously Latin American and some of the language used is Portuguese. Characters, whether the main actors in an episode or just the folks walking across the street in the background, are multicultural in a non-stereotypical way; their names are an intriguing mix of Japanese first names with other-language last names that do not correlate to their physical features. Never have I seen so many people casually depicted in varied shades of brown, both dark and light. In addition, I haven’t seen a brown female protagonist whose skin color is never mentioned during the whole plot since Larry/Rally Vincent of Gun Smith Cats. I emphasize this because in anime, the default is usually pale-skinned characters in a medieval or urban European-ish setting; if their facial features or skin color are different, it’s usually a plot point and usually something to do with race. Being somewhere else and seeing other folks is refreshing.

Characters are also unique and well-written. The brash, vulgar, yet trusting Michiko and the wary, principled, but cynical Hatchin make an explosive buddy pair that is just right for keeping the classic road trip from becoming predictable. I like how Michiko can be more immature than Hatchin, and Hatchin is neither a whiny child nor a wholesome, sweet kid. Atsuko is a particularly interesting supporting actor, and Hiroshi is depicted perfectly for who he is. Altogether, they make for idiotic scenes; cruel scenes; funny scenes; and poignant scenes without ever seeming fake.

This title would be a good selection for anime clubs for adults, especially if the adults also like road trip and buddy movies, i.e. “Thelma and Louise, except more colorful and with no cliff ending!” There are lots of extra features included in this DVD/Blu-Ray combo set: commentaries for each episode, a press conference, interviews with both the Japanese and English voice actors, and promo videos, as well as the usual textless songs and trailers. Notes for child abuse, violence, crime, guns, and alcohol.

Michiko & Hatchin
Funimation, 2013
Directed by Sayo Yamamoto
320 minutes, Number of Discs: 8, DVD/Blu-ray Combo Set
Company Age Rating: TV-MA