Your Lie in April
It appears that anime still largely has a bad reputation. Far too many reduce the media to a subfield associated with...well, let's just say tentacles. Others claim that it is merely escapism, reflective of a degenerate 21st century society. Still, more believe that anime as a medium is one-dimensional, childish, and lacking in meaning. I beg to differ. The Japanese medium, in contrast to popular belief, is one worthy of admiration for its inspiring stories, stunning animation, complex characters, and the sheer variety of genres it encompasses. Yes, there are anime like Boku no Pico that aren't worth watching and should be avoided at all costs, but this is an exception to the rule, as is the case with many forms of art.
There is no better way to appreciate the beauty of anime than to take a look at the last decade, which has provided us with some of the most breathtaking series of all time. This review will exclude some of the most popular anime in order to zero-in on the often less-recognized works instead.
Honorable mentions: Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day, Made in Abyss, Violet Evergarden, ERASED.
Terror in Resonance (2014) This psychological thriller centers around two teenagers who carry out a terrorist attack in Tokyo and a young woman who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, becoming involved in their plot. As the two terrorists concoct and carry out plans for attacks, a cat and mouse game commences as the lead detective on the case attempts to decipher their motives. In the plot’s progression, the terrorists' dark backstory is revealed, adding another layer to the already complex plot. It's no surprise that Shinchiro Watanabe, director of classics like Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo, is the mastermind behind this anime; but Terror in Resonance is radically different from his other work. While Cowboy Bebop stands out as a retro, sci-fi piece, this series in undoubtedly a product of the 21st century, especially through its exploration of terrorists' motives. Terror in Resonance forces viewers to enter the minds of these individuals and attempt to understand the reason behind their actions. The anime causes a great deal of cognitive dissonance on the part of the viewer who, by the end of this short eleven episode series, will likely feel a connection to its tragic characters. The beautiful soundtrack, composed by Yoko Kanno—combined with stunning animation—helps shape the heartbreaking drama's pensive atmosphere.
Your Lie in April (2014) No "best anime" list would be complete without A-1 Pictures' adaptation of Naoshi Arakawa's manga series. The drama follows young piano prodigé Arima Kousei, who, traumatized by his mother's death, is left unable to play the piano. Color is brought back into his monochromatic life when he meets the eccentric violinist Kaori Miyazono. Kaori inspires him to reconnect with music, and together they perform some of the most breathtaking classical pieces ever animated. Although the series appears to be a lighthearted romantic comedy at the surface, it soon becomes clear through the backstories of both Kaori and Kousei that it is anything but. Your Lie in April stands out for more than its heart-breaking story; the animation by A-1 Pictures is unparalleled, particularly with its incredibly detailed performance scenes in which most of the violin hand and bow movements were hand-drawn. And, of course, music is at the heart of the anime. The original compositions by Masaru Yokoyama perfectly capture a heart-wrenching, nostalgic atmosphere. Finally, there is also the classical music—including Rachmaninoff's "Love's Sorrow" and multiple Chopin pieces—which even a classical musician would undoubtedly be mesmerized by. Ultimately, the series leaves you with an overwhelming desire to drop everything that you're doing and learn to play the violin or piano as quickly as possible.
Death Parade (2015) Written and directed by Yuzuru Tachikawa, Death Parade is a deeply philosophical episodic anime which makes viewers question human nature and morality. Each episode introduces a new pair of characters who find themselves in a mysterious bar with no recollection of the past, where they are forced to play a life-staking game. The two players, however, are unaware of the fact that they have just died and are in purgatory; it is through their actions in this extreme game that players are judged and sent to either heaven or hell. By entering this Hobbesian state of nature, one in which survival is the primary goal, the characters lose sight of morality and their "true nature" is revealed. Every single episode of this series is a rollercoaster ride, forcing viewers to wonder how they would act if they were placed in a similar life or death situation. Moreover, the anime questions whether or not it is just for individuals to be judged based on their actions in such life-or-death circumstances. Indeed, Death Parade is a perfect example of the way in which anime can raise significant ethical questions.
Perhaps this list may convince those who are particularly averse to the Japanese medium to give it a chance. Anime delves deep into topics that a large percentage of popular contemporary media fails to explore, including significant ethical questions as seen with Terror in Resonance and Death Parade. Ultimately, these beautiful series—whether drama, action, thriller, sci-fi, or romance—allow viewers to experience limitless unique stories and worlds filled with profound, multifaceted characters.