[Description]: While not a conventional genre, I think there are many shows which can best be understood and recognized by how they explore their characters and worlds in a thoughtful, provocative way. These kinds of stories are usually about a character or group of characters that travel around and explore their world in search of meaning or understanding. These shows are about ideas, messages, and themes and ultimately intend to leave the viewer thinking – about themselves, the cast, and the human condition. Links to spoiler-free reviews of all of the shows that have them are included
6. Kino no Tabi: The Beautiful World
Alternative Title: Kino’s Journey
Episode Count: 13 Episodes (24-minutes each)
Studio and Year: A.C.G.T.; 2003
Details: Kino no Tabi follows the journey of the titular character Kino, a young, gunslinging girl, and her talking motorcycle Hermes. The two travel through countries and towns and learn about the people that live there as well as their customs and cultures. It’s an atmospheric show about self-discovery and human nature presented through an episodic series of encounters. Kino is a wonderfully endearing character with a lot of minor quirks that makes her both memorable and interesting to watch and the dialogue of the show is very thoughtful. The show likely won’t discuss anything you haven’t heard of before and in greater depth but its topics are charming none the less. The more of these kinds of shows you’ve seen, the less you will take away from Kino no Tabi and vice versa.
Alternative Title: Fooly Cooly
Episode Count: 6 Episodes (25-minutes each)
Studio and Year: Gainax, Production I.G; 2000 – 2001
Details: While most of the shows in this category are slow, atmospheric, and thoughtful, FLCL is chaotic, boisterous, and bizarre. It’s a coming-of-age story centered around a young boy named Naota, his family, and strange, guitar-wielding, Vespa-riding, girl named Haruko who one day crashes into him. Naota’s normal life is completely upended by their encounter and between the involvement of the Bureau of Interstellar Immigration and giant robots intermittently bursting out of his head, things only get crazier. FLCL is a fast-paced action comedy that despite the craziness and lunacy of its presentation, is an unexpectedly provocative exploration of what it means to grow up.
4. Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei
Alternative Title: The Tatami Galaxy
Episode Count: 11 Episodes (23-minutes each)
Studio and Year: Madhouse; 2010
Details: Tatami Galaxy follows an unnamed protagonist as he relives his college experience and across different episodes of the show, experiences multiple iterations of where his choices could have led him. There is also a particular focus on both Akashi, a composed college freshman, and Ozu, the protagonist’s only friend and sometimes worst enemy who he sees as someone that attempts to make his life as miserable as he can. The story follows the protagonists’ various exploits in joining different school clubs and pursuing different kinds of romance which typically end in some kind of failure. The show is very heavily thematic – it’s about opportunities, mistakes, and self-perception. With Tatami Galaxy, be prepared for a wild, surreal ride delivered in rapid, breakneck dialogue.
3. Casshern Sins
Episode Count: 24 Episodes (24-minutes each)
Studio and Year: Madhouse, Tatsunoko Production; 2008 – 2009
Details: Casshern Sins is an episodic journey through an apocalyptic world where almost all of humanity has died off and the countless robots that inhabit the planet rust and disintegrate with each passing day. Bereft of his memories and blessed with an invincible body, Casshern awakens to this bleak world gripped by a cataclysm referred to as ‘The Ruin’ and is shocked to learn that everyone believes he is responsible for what has happened. Tormented and pursued by innumerable robots that want him dead, Casshern begins his journey in the hopes that he can come to understand himself, his past deeds and perhaps even halt the devastation racking the world. Casshern Sins is all about confronting death and the implications of immortality. You can read a spoiler-free review: here.
2. Cowboy Bebop
Episode Count: 26 Episodes (24-minutes each)
Studio and Year: Sunrise; 1998 – 1999
Details: One of the most renowned anime of all time, Cowboy Bebop takes place in a universe where humanity has left earth behind and spread out across the stars. The show follows former-gangster Spike Spiegel and ex-policeman Jet Black who make their living as bounty hunters, capturing criminals aboard their spaceship Bebop. In their journeys they are joined by Faye Valentine, a con-artist on the run from considerable dept, Edward , a young girl and genius hacker, and a genetically-altered Corgi named Ein. Cowboy Bebop details the unlikely crew’s adventures and mishaps as they pursue various bounties and struggle to come to terms with their respective pasts. It’s an adventure for the ages and the show is told with such style, introspection, and finesse that it’s clear to see why it has become such an enduring classic. You can read a spoiler-free review: here.
Episode Count: 48 Episodes (24-minutes each)
Studio and Year: Artland; 2005 – 2014
Details: Mushishi is an absolutely gorgeous show about a man named Ginko who has the ability to see otherwise invisible lifeforms called Mushi which, in essence, are the purest form of life in the world. As a Mushishi, Ginko specializes in dealing with these Mushi and their various attributes as he journeys from place to place across lush and vivid countrysides in order to help people who suffer from the adverse affects of living near Mushi. These lifeforms aren’t necessarily malicious or evil, and Ginko helps people and Mushi understand each other. Mushishi is an episodic show full of touching and dramatic vignettes about people living in this imaginative world and all the different kinds of Mushi that surround them. The visuals are utterly beautiful and the soundtrack is as breathtaking as it is haunting. As one of the best anime ever made, it is well worth checking out.
10 thoughts on “Recommendations: Contemplative (6)”
Contemplative, huh? That’s not one you see everyday. And by your description of it alone, I knew immediately what #1 would be.
It’s been a loooooong time since I’ve seen FLCL, but does it necessarily belong on this list? I remember some social satire with the show, but for the most part I thought it was just a goofball anime with a lot of energy, much like Imaishi is known for.
It’s hard to really criticize a list like this because the genre itself is almost guaranteed to produce a lot of good anime, which all on your list seem to check out on. The only thing I’d comment on is Casshern Sins being above Tatami Galaxy. I haven’t seen Sins yet—but I read your review—but Tatami Galaxy is Tatami Galaxy. Is this a case of Sins being better suited towards the genre than being an overall better show?
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Yeah, I think that FLCL is the most contentious pick for this category given its screwball nature but I figured that because it was so thematically driven and symbolically provocative it kind of fit in. I guess I feel that it’s a show that focuses on its presentation and messages more than its action and comedy.
Casshern Sins being above Tatami Galaxy is definitely a toss up and as far as subject matter goes I like the latter more. In all seriousness I really need to rewatch Tatami Galaxy to get a better opinion of it but from what I remember – it was the kind of show that would really blow you away if you hadn’t ever thought about those things before. It kind of hit me like Kino no Tabi, something with great messages and a cool presentation that didn’t ‘wow’ me because it wasn’t anything I hadn’t considered before. I think one’s reactions to these kinds of shows depends more than ever on what the viewer brings to them individually. Probably being unfair to Tatami here.
Also you know it’s gotta be Mushishi to finish off my lists for now haha.
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Ooooooooooh. Excellent post & list of recommendations. Not one that we see everyday. Well done. Have watched most of the titles on this list. I especially agree with #1 Mushishi. Excellent storytelling in that one. Still gives me goosebumps whenever I remember the episodes.
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Thank you and can’t agree more with Mushishi. What an unbelievable world and presentation. My itch to re-watch the whole show grows by the day haha.
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Same here. It’s certainly a memorable series. Great choice.
Contemplative is an odd classification but I guess it is a good description for some stories. Tatami Galaxy didn’t do much for me as an show but definitely enjoyed thinking about it and so made it through to the end. Thanks for sharing.
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Kino’s Journey sounds great! I don’t know how I haven’t come across this series before.
I agree with Karandi that contemplative is a bit fo an odd classification, given that art is as contemplative as the observer is willing to be, but reading the list the term is an apt one. And I’m not goign to argue with any list that includes Cowboy Bebop.
Ergo Proxy would also make an interesting edition.
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Yeah, it’s definitely an odd classification but there were a few shows (Mushishi) in particular, that I just didn’t feel I could service properly by including them in other genres. Adventure doesn’t quite illustrate what the show is about despite the fact that it’s so core to the show’s content.
I agree, Ergo Proxy would definitely feel at home here and it really gave me a lot of food for thought when I watched it. For the time being, the reason I have it listed over in sci-fi is because of how rooted it is in that genre. I feel like Ergo Proxy is a show where – the more you put in – the more you get out. It requires a bit more agency out of its viewer whereas I thought maybe these shows spoke more immediately to the contemplative tone of the ‘genre’.
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Absolutely in agreement re Ergo Proxy.
I have enjoyed reading your previous lists, but this is by far the most interesting of them all. As a few of the others have said, this was an interesting choice of topic.
The only show on this list that I haven’t seen is Casshern Sins, so I can’t really say much about that one. But, I love Mushishi! I think I rewatch the series at least once a year and it never gets old! Cowboy Bebop is one of my all time favorite anime series, there is just so much to love about the series, it no wonder it has such mass appeal!