Everyone has that one show. It’s the anime that’s so good we can’t stop talking about it…but for some reason, everyone else is talking about other shows. Here are our editorial staff’s “hidden gems.” In most cases, you can find all of these series available via streaming or home video. There’s only one catch: if you watch it, you have to talk to us about it afterward. Please.
Hidden Gem: Re:CREATORS (2017)
Here’s the basic plot. A mysterious white-haired girl in an 1800s-style military uniform is summoning fictional characters from popular anime, manga, games, and light novels to our world. But is she really doing this to help them, as she claims—to assist them in forcing their creators to turn their worlds into ones filled with peace and love rather than the trials and tragedies they are typically forced to overcome? Or does she have some other, far more sinister, goal in mind? Soon the battle lines are drawn—between those who wish to exact vengeance upon this “world of the gods” and those who wish to protect it.
I often feel like Re:CREATORS was explicitly made to appeal to me and me alone. To start, it’s got an all-star creative team behind it. The story was penned by Rei Hiroe (Black Lagoon) and was directed by Ei Aoki (Fate/Zero, Aldnoah.Zero) while the score (including both openings) was composed by Hiroyuki Sawano (Kill la Kill, Attack on Titan, Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn). With a creative team like this, it’s no surprise that this anime has not only a philosophically and emotionally complex story but has the visuals and music to take things to the next level.
On the surface, Re:CREATORS is much like the Fate franchise—only with heroes and villains summoned from popular fiction rather than myth and legend. Each character in this anime is an obvious proxy for well-known characters. This means we get everything from a JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure villain (complete with Stand) fighting a hard-boiled cyberpunk detective to the unlikely friendship between a female version of Guts from Berserk and a Pretty Cure-style magical girl.
Yet, the show is more than just action and in-jokes aimed at hardcore anime fans. It plays its premise completely straight, with each “creation” having to come to terms with not only the world they now find themselves in but the fact that they and their entire worlds were created just for the entertainment of others. In an authentic way, this anime uses its setup to delve into the relationship between man and god—and that’s only one level of the story!
A large portion of Re:CREATORS is about exploring various authorial philosophies. Are stories supposed to be authorial wish fulfillment? Are they supposed to pander to their audience? Should the story naturally evolve around the characters, or should it be planned completely from the start?
Then there is the meta-commentary about the relationship between the author and the audience regarding the work—about how each is vital in creating art. It’s about the struggles of life and how creating art gives people both meaning and new sources of pain. If you are a writer, artist, or any other kind of creative type, this anime is about what you do and its impact on our world as much as it is about fictional characters fighting to save our world. Re:CREATORS is a must-watch—so head on over to Amazon Prime Video and do just that.
Hidden Gem: Samurai Flamenco (2013)
Time is a funny thing. Once upon a decade ago, Samurai Flamenco, henceforth known as SamFlam, was one of those shows that the anime community knew about, even if most had never watched it. A particular episode – which I won’t spoil here – went so viral that it exploded in the discussion, but sadly that never translated into tangible sales or views for this bizarre title. Now, with no U.S. home video release and only available on Funimation‘s original streaming service, I don’t imagine many new anime fans have heard “Samurai” and “Flamenco” in the same sentence.
That’s a real shame because SamFlam was not just a formative viewing experience in the early days of anime fandom on social media but a fantastic and unique creation that manages to be wildly funny and unpredictable through its entire 22-episode run. It begins as a down-to-earth take on the tokusatsu formula when protagonist Masayoshi decides to follow his dream of being a superhero, dons a homemade costume, and begins doing good deeds around the neighborhood – eventually assisted by local cop Gojo, who takes pity on the well-meaning young man after discovering his identity.
However, SamFlam quickly spirals out from there, morphing into a genre-hopping adventure that manages to homage to the greats of the toku genre while building up its sense of absurd humor. The result is a weird, wild montage through the history of tokusatsu stories that is great fun to longtime fans, but perhaps even more fun for total newbies. In 2013 I couldn’t have hoped to tell you the difference between a Kamen Rider or Ultraman reference, but I was tuned into SamFlam every week, ready to see what new insanity they could pull out. Every new episode felt like an event, threatening and promising to go off the rails in a way you’d never seen before.
What cemented it, though, was the charming and equally ridiculous characters, who each bring something unique to the table. Protagonist Masayoshi is practically a Golden Retriever in human form, the kind of bright-eyed young man who would dream of being a hero and the exact type of person you’d want to have that power. Gojo is a likable, remarkably patient straight man who looks out for his partner – while harboring some shocking secrets about his past. Mari is a bisexual idol with a uniform fetish and eventually becomes a vigilante magical girl who stomps on criminals’ balls to teach them a lesson. If that sounds wild, I promise it’s not even the 50th wildest thing in this show. That’s just how SamFlam rolls: out of pocket, all the time.
I don’t want to ruin any of the surprises here because part of the magic of this title is how impossible it is to predict. There are episodes where it feels like an entire season of television happens between the opening and ending credits, and there are twists big and small that stand as some of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen in anime. It’s a blast, start to finish, and the one good thing about it falling out of memory is that new viewers can go in totally fresh.
Hidden Gem: Dual! Parallel Trouble Adventure (1999)
Released in 1999, during arguably the best decade of sci-fi anime in the wake of titles like Neon Genesis Evangelion, Zoids, Gundam Wing, Cowboy Bebop, Martian Successor Nadesico, Bubblegum Crisis, and Digimon Adventure. It took work to become a breakout title when thrown into an anime battle royale. Even in 1999 alone, some titles would become the most recognizable anime, such as One Piece and Hunter X Hunter. It is hard to stand out when you are grouped up with them. It also doesn’t help that Dual!, on release, had to go toe-to-toe with Turn A Gundam, an outing from a franchise that had been running for two decades at that point—truly an uphill battle.
At the story’s center, we have Kazuki Yotsuga, a high school student that hallucinates about giant robots fighting, wrecking the town to the point he would involuntarily react to the visage of stray missiles or collapsing buildings. But you have to give this boy a thumbs-up since he is still optimistic and happy even though his schoolmates shun him. He turns his hallucinations into stories published on his website. It catches the attention of Mitsuki Sanada, the prettiest girl in the school, who proceeds to lure him to her house, seemingly scamming Kazuki into becoming her dad’s lab rat for parallel world research. Strapped to a Parallel World Transporter contraption, Kazuki is sent to a parallel world after Mitsuki accidentally activates the terrible device. Realizing the device turned off, Kazuki looked around for Mitsuki and her dad to no avail. When he is on his way home, the giant robots of his hallucination are fighting again, and they are real. A robot loses the fight and falls near Kazuki, so he climbs to the cockpit to save its pilot but is accidentally thrust into a battle. The battle is quite remarkable, and the hero robot design, although it looks inspired by Evangelion, is one of my favorite templates for drawing a mecha design.
I love how the characters were presented, the personalities, interactions, and the comedies surrounding them. Dual! was inspired by the popularity of Evangelion and is like a comedic version, but the similarity ends with the main characters’ dynamic. Instead, it focuses its story on multiverse concepts. It is handled in an easy-to-understand presentation through the eyes of Kazuki and Mitsuki while not degrading the idea into just a background prop to disappear without any consequence. The action sequences in Dual! were decently animated, snappy, and fast-paced without the baggage of philosophy, morality, humanity, etc. Kazuki’s motivation is simple and relatable, where saving the world is just a byproduct of his goals. Overall, It is light-hearted mecha entertainment that still holds up by today’s standard.
Hidden Gem: GeGeGe no Kitarō (2018)
If you’ve been around for at least the past three years, you may remember my unflinching love for the 2018 adaptation of Shigeru Mizuki‘s seminal GeGeGe no Kitarō manga. That love remains unchanged, and I regularly go back and watch my favorite episodes. The series faced a few high barriers to entry for Western audiences when it was airing, and those still keep the show off many viewers’ radars: it’s based on an older property that hasn’t been translated in its entirety, it’s rooted in Japanese folklore, and it’s ostensibly a children’s show. But none of those should keep you from giving it a chance because it’s more than just a catchy theme song that’s been around since the 1960s.
The franchise, in its entirety, follows the adventures of Kitaro, a young-looking yokai of the ghost tribe, as he mediates between the supernatural and human worlds. In the 2018 version, he befriends Mana, a human girl who can see and accept that the world is more than what most people assume. Although the plot does introduce a wide variety of yokai, including some from other countries, it isn’t overtly educational or preachy; each episode and overarching storyline focuses on the relationships between the two worlds while also tangling with history and new media. One of the most powerful plotlines discusses the effects of World War II on ordinary people, and we realize that Kitaro and his friends were alive to experience it. Nezumi Otoko’s memories, in particular, are haunting in a very accessible way. When the ghosts of the dead soldiers rise to tell their tales, the war becomes real for Mana, and the end takeaway of this episode is that war isn’t just frightening but also sad – and that if we forget that, we lose track of the reasons why it is a tragedy that shouldn’t be repeated. This is just one of many episodes that deal with man’s inhumanity to man and how it shapes lives; another covers human trafficking, specifically of refugees, while several cover bullying. Of these, the most memorable is the ghost train story, where a man who was a bully in life gets his comeuppance in a way that gets the point across without feeling like an after-school special and shows how boundary-pushing children’s horror can be.
The original run of the Kitaro manga was from 1960-1969, and while elements of that survive in Kitaro’s character design, the 2018-2020 series does an excellent job of updating the franchise. Neko Musume’s design is the most obviously tinkered with, but it goes beyond just making her look like a modern teenager. Forget just adding in smartphones; the writing here takes Mizuki’s original themes and molds them to fit the world as we know it (or knew it pre-Covid). The ghost train episode is so effective because it juxtaposes Showa-era trains with modern ones. Still, the plots also consider social media and its predatory and addictive nature, and many of Nezumi Otoko’s scams and schemes are firmly rooted in the modern world. It gives Kitaro and his companions a timeless feel, showing us why Mizuki’s characters are still important and valid, helping viewers to understand that the past is still with us. If we want to move into the future, we must look back over our shoulders.
Even in our world today, ghosts and yokai have a place. Sometimes they can help us make sense of things. Sometimes they remind us of what it means to be human. And sometimes we need an explanation for that click-clack we hear behind us at night – is it the sound of our footsteps echoing? Or is it the noise of a yokai’s geta on the pavement? GeGeGe no Kitarō asks us which we want it to be.
Hidden Gem: Garo -Vanishing Line- (2017)
It was surprisingly easy for me to pick out my anime hidden gem, as my choice was immediately cemented once I caught the badass new trailer for the upcoming Adult Swim show, Ninja Kamui. “Gee,” I found myself thinking, “It’s pretty wild how Sunghoo Park has come up so far after directing Jujutsu Kaisen‘s first season and movie that he has his own studio! Where did that guy get started, anyways…” Then, after a quick trip to our trusty Encyclopedia, I realized, “Oh, yeah! Sunghoo Park‘s first series as the chief director was Garo -Vanishing Line-! That show owns!”
I shudder to think that it has nearly been six entire years since the plucky young Sophie Hennes met the buff, boob-worshipping Sword and got wrapped up in the monster-slaying tokusatsu mayhem of the Garo franchise. That said, time has certainly made my heart grow fonder of this weird and raunchy road trip through a nightmare vision of the American landscape. We’ve spent the better part of the last decade drowning in a sea of shamelessly bland light-novel adaptations, chintzy mobile game tie-ins, and disappointing production disasters. Sure, Garo -Vanishing Line- never once aspire to anything even resembling “high art,” but when you’ve been stuck slurping down gruel for years on end, even the greasiest of diner cheeseburgers will feel like haute cuisine by comparison.
And you know what? I like the junk-food vibes that Garo has going for it. It’s the kind of horror-tinged popcorn entertainment that brings me back to the glory days of gratuitously violent and sexy OVAs, and while its action scenes don’t quite measure up to the heights that Park and Co. would meet with Jujutsu Kaisen‘s spectacle, Garo makes up for the rougher edges of its production with its unflinching commitment to being always dumb as hell. This is a good thing. While some tokusatsu shows and their animated spinoffs try to play their grimdark stories straight, –Vanishing Line– is the kind of series that benefits from realizing that it shouldn’t take this tale of a fast-food-munching titty-hound that transforms into a golden lion knight too seriously.
I don’t want to give folks the impression that there’s nothing but a dumb, flashy spectacle to –Vanishing Line–. The central story hook sees Sword and Sophie journeying together on the road to El Dorado, and uncovering exactly what El Dorado is and how Sophie’s story is connected to it makes for a solid throughline upon which to hang a bunch of sick monster battles. Even more significant is the blossoming brother-sister relationship that forms between Sword and Sophie as their adventures go on. This show has the heart to match its brawn, even if its arteries might be clogged with cholesterol and burger grease.
Between shows like this and the more recent Bastard!! revival, I am full of the opinion that, instead of all of these lame isekai anime, the industry needs a revival of the Trashy 90s OVA Aesthetic. Give me gore, nasty monsters, a whole mess of moving gears and pistons, and make damned sure all of it is smothered in a deliciously thick layer of VHS fuzz. If that’s too much to ask, can we at least get more Garo anime? Because –Vanishing Line– whips ass, and writing this little retrospective has convinced me that I need to rewatch it right now.
Hidden Gem: Star Blazers: Space Battleship Yamato 2199 (2013)
Space Battleship Yamato 2199‘s a hidden gem that I desperately wish were not so hidden.
Frankly, I was out of anime fandom for the better part of a decade. Somewhere in the mid-2000s, I simply felt like I was not clicking with anime anymore after decades of watching everything I could get my hands on. “Anime used to be all about [things I liked], but now there’s all this other stuff!” I opined, hanging up my anime hat for good (or so I thought). This was due to my ignorance, of course. In retrospect, it was simply that anime availability had changed for the better, but that meant there was a higher volume and wider variety than ever before. Keeping up with all of it was a project doomed to folly and bound to produce burnout.
Still burnt out, I relegated myself to watching the old things I had grown up on and seldom venturing outside my comforts. That was, until, I happened upon Space Battleship Yamato 2199 in the 2010s.
“My God, they were still making anime for people like me!” I thought uncritically and dove back in head first.
While thankfully, I’m glad to say I am cured of my far more limited palette, 2199 is a series that has appeal beyond pure nostalgia bait.
And the best part is that you don’t need any prior experience with the series to enjoy it.
Sure, it helps to be familiar with the original Space Battleship Yamato because that will deepen your appreciation for what is being done. But this is a masterful reimagining of the original series at roughly the same length, hitting all the major events and adding in new emotional beats, new characters, and a refreshed visual look that wows with its lavish production. This series is a celebration of what came before while also serving as the perfect entry point for newcomers. This is grand space opera of a kind that was once commonplace yet has largely fallen out of fashion these days: big spaceships and bigger personalities and drama that stretches across the stars. If you love science fiction and exciting naval action, give it a whirl – I think you’ll fall in love too.
Hidden Gem: Granbelm (2019)
One easily disproved fallacy that regularly arises in modern anime discourse is the idea that “Mecha is a dead genre.” Beyond the recurrent institution of Gundam, which just wrapped its freshly successful latest installation, we’ve gotten tremendous new entries in the genre like SSSS.DYNAZENON or certifiable critical cult hit Planet With. Just a couple of years ago, we saw the wild robot ride of Back Arrow, which would undoubtedly qualify as a highlightable hidden gem, but maybe a bit too recent still at this point to be discussed. So instead, I can go back a bit further to 2019’s Granbelm, an anime I have been on my hands and knees begging y’all to watch for years.
Granbelm certainly seemed like it had a shot, with an attention-getting first episode that at least got it voted in for streaming reviews on this site, written by yours truly! And it would eventually see an English Blu-ray release from Sentai, if in a bare-bones, sub-only form. But none of that seemed to move the needle for Granbelm‘s fame, which is a pity since this is the exact show I think so many anime fans are looking for. Ostensibly framed by the gimmick of being “Madoka-like, but with mecha,” Granbelmquickly blows way past being just the sum of those derivative parts. The show’s Armanox mecha and their distinctive chibi-fied designs might seem odd at first pass, but the hardcore mecha faithful familiar with the similar style employed in the Super Robot Wars games ought to feel right at home with them. And the way these things move? This is the loving 2D animated mecha action you’ve been pining for whenever you bemoan another anime opting for CGI robots.
Like many modern Madoka-likes, Granbelm‘s story is built on some dark, bleak revelations lurking below the surface. But also, like any proper follow-up to Madoka‘s mantle, the series knows to have a beating heart of the human capacity for hopefulness at its center. Some simply set-up shocking twists eventually become episodes-long explorations of our impact on others’ lives or the defined perception of personhood. It’s a story that illustrates much of the expected tragic fallout of a dark magical girl series, but even against that, the lead characters never stop trying to do the right thing.
It’s a lesson from the show I can take to heart regarding itself and hold onto the hope that Granbelm might still find an attentive audience one day. Its under-the-radar status wasn’t for lack of trying, as the show gassed up many of its Madoka-esque twists with aplomb, including one of the best-executed post-credits surprise stingers I’ve ever seen. It’d even be easy to recommend watching for the simpler spectacle of those rad robot fights or hearing Aoi Yuuki go absolutely ham on a villainous vocal performance. Fortunately, Granbelm is still out there, readily available on streaming and even physical media. It is just waiting for a wave of wanting mecha and magical girl fans to discover the mash-up they never realized they might have wanted.
Hidden Gem: Girlish Number (2016)
I think at least half the titles on my DVD/Blu-ray shelf could qualify as hidden gems. If the licensing companies would release home videos of all the series I’ve been desperately hoping for, it would probably be closer to three-quarters. What can I say? I have a distinctive taste. While my first thought was Samurai Flamenco, I decided against that because to recommend it, I’d have to describe the plot, and I firmly believe that the fewer audiences know about that one, the better. Instead, I’m going with Girlish Number, the unloved cousin of My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU from the author Wataru Watari. The protagonist, Chitose Karasuma, is a young wannabe voice actor who wants all the fame and attention without having to put in the work; she gets cast in an upcoming light novel adaptation because the producers thought she was cute.
Chitose is like the anti-anime girl: lazy, arrogant, and selfish. She doesn’t want to try hard and do her best; she wants adulation and fame. Her manager is her older brother, and the two of them snipe, squabble, and threaten to kill each other as often as they breathe. I support women’s wrongs, so of course, I loved Chitose from the get-go, and my affection for her only grew as she navigated the thorny realities of undeserved fame. She may not be a good girl, but she’s interesting, as her castmates point out, which goes a long way. Girlish Number is an exercise in messiness and disappointment as the in-series anime production, an adaptation of a popular light novel, falls apart around everyone’s ears. It’s also a reminder that these messy people – the failed voice actor turned manager, the profoundly obnoxious producer, the downtrodden light novel author, the vain wannabe – are all people with their own emotional depths and relationships, and even the ugliest anime series is the result of human effort and hard work. Not that I’m going to stop skewering bad series, of course.
Runner up: Shōwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjū (2016)
However, one series that is glaringly absent from my shelf is Shōwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjū, because it is yet to be released on home video, and I firmly believe that’s a crime. It might be stretching the definition of “hidden gem” since it’s received much critical acclaim, but it remains deeply underappreciated among the general anime fan community. I know the concept, a multi-generation-spanning, serious adult drama about rakugo, a distinctly Japanese art form, is a hard sell for many fans. I can holler all I want about the beauty of the rakugo performances, the nuanced storytelling around trauma and loss in an era of history defined by such pains writ large, and the character writing that would be just as home in a prestige drama as in animation, and much of the larger anime community will just yawn. I’ve been here long enough to recognize that fundamental truth. So here’s a different tactic:
Hey kids, do you like Kaguya-sama: Love is War? Are you tuning in to Undead Murder Farce this season? Why not try this series from the same director, Mamoru Hatakeyama, that’s just as visually rich. Do you want to hear the legendary Megumi Hayashibara in a performance so powerful the manga artist changed how she wrote the character based on how Hayashibara played her? Then check out Shōwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjū!!
Hidden Gem: The Lost Village (2016)
Let me paint a picture for you. You’re on a bus. It’s dark out. A spectacled man stands by the driver and speaks inspirational and vaguely cultish platitudes into a microphone. He invites the rest of the bus to introduce themselves. There are 30 people here, and as they all begin airing their online handles and grievances, you realize that each one possesses the precise malaise that cult leaders prey on. Then everyone sings a song about a hippopotamus. It’s going to be a long ride.
That is, without exaggeration, how The Lost Village introduces itself. Before the opening even kicks in, it dedicates five whole minutes to introducing the entirety of its overstuffed cast of anonymous forum commentators eager to restart their lives in a haunted village of dubitable existence. It’s utterly deranged, and I love it. While the series received appropriately positive reviews on this site from my fellow good anime appreciator Nick Creamer, I’m highlighting it as a “hidden gem” here because I don’t think it ever got its due from the larger anime community. It was too odd, stupid, and easy to make fun of. Those qualities, however, are also its brilliance. The Lost Village is a high-camp horror that transmutes its earnest adoration of B movies into an unforgettably dumb (yet occasionally poignant) romp through the human psyche and all its absurdities.
My elevator pitch for the series is predominantly staff-based. The show stands out as the sole collaboration between two anime luminaries, director Tsutomu Mizushima, and writer Mari Okada, and it succeeds due to how well their idiosyncrasies complement each other. Okada enters this space hot off Wixoss and Iron-Blooded Orphans, two stories that honed her specialty in melodramas about damaged people, so The Lost Village‘s cast is stuffed full of memorable freaks with knives out at the ready. Importantly, everyone has one personality-defining quirk, which becomes a savvy way of handling the ridiculous amount of characters. One guy raps. Another guy is a prepper. Naturally, there’s a girl who speaks like a cat. And the best character, Lovepon, constantly talks about execution to the point of it becoming her catchphrase. As the spooky happenings of Nanaki Village wear on, some of these bozos, against all odds, receive actual pathos, while others remain useless jerks through the end. It’s a dice roll. You can never predict where the story arc will go, but Okada manages to steer that anarchy in beautifully baffling directions.
Mizushima, meanwhile, is the perfect director for the job. Nobody else working in anime has as keen a nose for how horror and comedy intersect. One only needs to look at Another and Blood-C to see his maniacal machinations in action; both have laugh-out-loud death scenes that wield gore with punchline precision. The Lost Village is less graphic but shares that same degree of playfulness. I recall the big debate while the series aired was whether or not it was bad on purpose—was The Lost Village secretly a comedy? I don’t think it’s a secret at all, though. Mizushima’s direction dances hand-in-hand with the ridiculousness of the writing. He’ll lean into a dramatic scene and then unceremoniously cut away to a moment that perfectly undermines it. He’ll juxtapose tense action with unintelligible framing. And sometimes, he’ll let a scene go on so long that even the characters themselves lose interest. Look at the man’s resume. He knows how to direct. He just loves having fun with schlock, too.
Invariably, movies that try to be “bad on purpose” fail because they can never capture the genuine spark of an amateur entirely out of their depth. People can be surprisingly good at detecting irony behind the camera. The Lost Village, however, doesn’t have that problem because it does not distinguish sincerity, silliness, and scariness. They are all valid here. There’s no smarm. Nobody is nudging the audience’s ribs. Maybe people would have liked it more if the characters were more self-aware, but I’m much happier watching a busload of witless idiots stumble from one horror pratfall to the next. We watch a man get chased by a giant silicone breast. That’s The Lost Village. That’s cinema.
Hidden Gem: The Pet Girl of Sakurasou (2012)
What does it mean to be a genius? When I found The Pet Girl of Sakurasou, I originally watched it for entirely superficial reasons as it vaguely reminded me of Toradora!, one of my favorite romantic comedies of all time, and much like Toradora!, The Pet Girl of Sakurasou has a pretty typical setup. An everyman named Sorata is forced into a situation where he lives in a dorm surrounded by weirdos and gets strong-armed into looking after a new student. This new student named Mashiro happens to be an incredibly talented artist that people from all over have praised as a young prodigy. Unfortunately, art is one of the only things she knows how to do and must constantly be looked after. Typical romantic comedy hijinks ensue, but as time passes, much like Toradora!, the show becomes a study of who these characters are versus how everybody else perceives them. What I ended up watching was a rather gorgeous-looking and overly eccentric romantic comedy that delved into the idea of living with an inferiority complex alongside those that are labeled as “genius.” The life of both is incredibly difficult. How we relate our successes to other people’s accomplishments can end up making life much more complicated than it has any reason to be.
While Sorata becomes inspired to finally pursue his dreams as the series goes on, those little insecurities that are punctuated by the accomplishments of those around him make things very difficult. We’ve all had that feeling, right? It’s one thing to come in second or third place, but it’s another when you’re surrounded by people who might be so used to coming in first to the point where it just doesn’t phase them anymore. Naturally, this can lead to tension and misunderstandings, but it all comes from a genuine place of wanting to belong and wanting to feel good enough about accomplishing your dreams. This is a lesson that no other show is pushing to the extent that I think this one has. I still get emotional thinking back to how certain scenes were framed or how heartbreaking some revelations become, and honestly, as I further my career, many of the show’s lessons hit a lot harder. I enjoy being surrounded by many talented people online and in real life. Sometimes that makes my job feel more daunting, and my imposter syndrome can sneak up on me. But everybody is working hard at something, even if we don’t see it right away, and Sakurasou is both comforting and crazy in its portrayal of that.
Hidden Gem: The Great Passage (2016)
If someone asked me to define a “Hidden Gem,” one of the first titles that come to mind is The Great Passage. Originally titled Fune o Amu, The Great Passage is the story of a bookish and socially awkward young man’s recruitment to his company’s Dictionary Editorial Department. On the surface, watching a small group of people compile blocks of text may seem dry and uninteresting. In 2016, I wouldn’t have been surprised if most anime fans overlooked this title in favor of other series that marketed themselves with exciting action, romance, or comedy.
However, I was greatly interested in the potential drama that could be drawn from the simple work-life premise. Anime rarely focuses on adult characters, but there’s a cult following for anime that can handle mature subjects. As an adaptation of a novel and part of the noitaminA broadcast block, something about The Great Passage wafts of prestige, like fine ink. This is also why I found the unique circumstances surrounding this anime’s English-language distribution quite tragic. When I call The Great Passage a “hidden gem,” I’m not just referring to its obscurity; it was quite literally “hidden” from sight due to Amazon Prime’s exclusivity contract. Even before Amazon launched their (now defunct) Anime Strike service, they had obtained the rights to the series’ streaming distribution, meaning that, at the time, it couldn’t be simulcasted.
Those unfamiliar with our current streaming environment should know that weekly simulcasts greatly support a given anime’s discoverability; they foster detailed coverage like the hard work we do here at ANN, as well as traditional word of mouth from fans around the world. Unless an anime is otherwise heavily advertised and promoted (like, say, certain Netflix releases), it’s easy for anything non-simulcast to get buried between other offerings and, of course, our enormous backlogs. Simulcasts aren’t the ONLY factor contributing to an anime’s success, but in my estimate, they greatly diminish the chances of being seen by any following The Great Passage could’ve had. Even I didn’t get around to it after it had been held hostage for over a year, and I think I might’ve never if I hadn’t received word that it was disappearing from Amazon Prime as soon as it had appeared.
If it weren’t for the kindly souls at Discotek grabbing hold of the Blu-ray release, The Great Passage could have vanished. It remains unavailable for streaming, but I will attest that it’s worth the blind buy. I watched it all in one sitting before Prime cast an invisibility spell on it, and the page was deleted. The way The Great Passage shows people navigating life is sure to sink many people in. In search of filling pages, the characters find depth and meaning through their experiences and relationships with each other. Words become more than a medium we take for granted but the vessels that carry our feelings from one person to another.
Having read the English edition of Shion Miura‘s novel afterward, this anime is a lively and nuanced rendition of the novel’s original prose. The interactions between the characters harken to the careful and lifelike mannerisms found more commonly in Ghibli films than even a straight-up live-action adaptation could portray. Animation is also used in more abstract ways to show the creative approach toward words, and the overall drama is top-notch. Well-animated, well-directed, and well-told, The Great Passage may have drifted past most people’s radars, but it truly exists as a treasure with enough craftsmanship and beauty to leave viewers speechless. While briefly lost to the sea, its light shines deeply even amongst murky licensing waters, and I beacon to others to dive and grasp it lest it one day sinks completely.