For the many years, I’ve been doing this gauntlet challenge of watching anime, I’m gotten quite accustomed to calculating how many episodes a day I need to keep a steady and reliable pace. This year, that got chucked straight out the goddamn window when I decided to go visit my significant other for the first two weeks of the month. I of course spent most of my time not watching anime, and rather did couple activities together instead. By the halfway point of the month, I had only finished the first series and 23 episodes of content. The next two weeks would be a hellish slog of 85 episodes or so beating me into a level of exhaustion I haven’t felt in years during one of these. That being said, I somehow managed to finish it with two days to spare by going all out, and can certainly say I really ought to not double down with life plans when I make silly hobby time challenges in the future. Moments like discovering Key the Metal Idol had two movie-length episodes to finish off and Rin was 45 minutes per episode caused me to really plan out how I was going to complete them without dying from so much content at once. With that out of the way though, I hereby present the rules, past winners, and all my meaty thoughts on the shows below. If this is your first time, I urge you to read the next paragraph below as to understand what this is all about.
The way this mega-post will work is as follows: I will talk about the shows in order of when I watched them, there will be two splits of non-spoiler & spoiler, and you will get an idea of how I felt about them all through that. Afterward, I will present individual awards for several hand-picked categories. Then the final part comes. I will give the official order of how they all ranked this year, and deem the winner of the 2022 November Challenge! It should be fun, but it will be a lot to read. I will have a large spoiler picture above each section that talks about well…..the spoilers, for people to avoid if they wish.
Before I begin, I would inform the readers outside of Kitsu, what the rules of this tournament are generally when people sign up. Aside from a “first come first serve” to sign up unsaid rule, these are the following rules I use.
-The show’s length must be between 10-30 episodes. No less, no more.
-It must have full-length episodes.
-No shorts, OVAS, ONAS, films, or anything else aside from standard format shows(Exceptions can be made with a proper discussion!)
-No adult content like hentai
-You must have seen it to completion
-I must have not seen any of it.(Even a single episode seen by me disqualifies it)
-Season 1’s are allowed, but not multiple seasons at once unless it fits in the 30 episodes overall rule above
-You get to choose if I watch it dubbed or subbed if both languages are available
Other than that let’s get into talking about the challenge!
2014 Winner: Shinsekai Yori
Other Shows: No Game No Life, Shiki, Bokurano, & Kyoukai No Kanata
2015 Winner: Berserk(1997)
Other Shows: Donten Ni Warau, Princess Tutu, Mawaru Penguindrum, & Master Keaton
2016 Winner: Oh! Edo Rocket
Other Shows: Planetes, Katanagatari, Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, & Haibane Renmei
2017 Winner: Fune wo Amu
Other Shows: Kino’s Journey, Aishiteruze Baby, Cuticle Detective Inaba, Food Wars, & Hanada Shonen Shi
2018 Winner: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Season 1
Other Shows: Mob Psycho 100(S1), A Place Further than the Universe, Tamako Market, Emma: A Victorian Romance, Kyousougiga
2019 Winner: Future Boy Conan
Other Shows: Silver Spoon, Big Wind Up, Dennou Coil, Isekai Shokudou, Outlaw Star
2020 Winner: March Comes in Like a Lion
Other Shows: K-on!, F, Aria the Animation, Recovery of an MMO Junkie
2021 Winner: House of Five Leaves
Other Shows: Takarajima, Kobato, Bakuman S1, Banana Fish
2022 November Challenge!
Show: Run with the Wind
Year Aired: 2018-19
Studio: Production I.G.
Watched For: Dr. Broli
It’s rare I get the pleasure to be slightly hyped before starting an anime series these days. My fairly neutral personality alongside my vast log of researched information causes me to know a lot of things in a general sense before diving into a series. Yet, when I discovered Run with the Wind was written by the same author as Fune wo Amu, I was understandably eager to watch the show more than ever. A former winner in this competition, surely this had some basis for me to get excited by. Run with the Wind is a series about a concept equally mundane, and once again is given fresh life with a deeper approach to the topic. And just how do you bring more robust insight to something everyone in the world can do without thinking about it? Well, that is the secret right there isn’t it? If it is something almost every person can do, surely there must be a relatable foundation to spring off of for a richer narrative.
Run with the Wind is a character drama first, and a sports series second. While the topic of running most definitely dominates the entire series, it’s less about it from a competitive angle, and more centered on a philosophical approach. Why do we run, and what does it mean to run? Yes, there are factual sentiments you could express to answer them, but as the plot of the series unravels it is clear that like most things in our world, there is no single correct response for any given situation. Throughout the series, every main character is given a course to run through narratively that answers this posed question. Just like you would expect as well there is no right or wrong answer, just a different one depending on who you are, and where you are at in life. Roughly a dozen unique revelations are given to audiences, and you can assuredly believe that isn’t any close to the cap on what is possible as a rebuttal.
This anime, or story I suppose can easily be classified as inspirational media. If you are looking for high-stakes, greatest runner-in-the-world storylines, you won’t find it here. This is about the human condition and the relationship between us and running. Through this main cast of 10 distinct personalities, you will see that running holds all sorts of possibilities. Whether your roadblock is physical, mental, experience, or something different altogether, it doesn’t matter. Run with the Wind puts the proverbial ball in your court to decide what the subject could mean to yourself. Because in reality, it isn’t just the idea of running that this could be applied to but all sorts of engagements we partake in. The conclusion you draw is all your own, and most definitely could become the base of your own personal story of growth and perseverance.
Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck me that was enjoyable! This lady really knows how to invigorate a story that most people would pass over. It’s absolutely incredible to see how Run with the Wind uses the topic of running in such a fascinating and inspiring way. Finishing in 10th place has literally never felt so good before. Choosing to make the series not about winning, but rather finding a personal goal and achieving it, no matter how steep the hill to climb is truly motivational. You know, never mind the fact this show managed to balance a cast of 10 characters in only 23 episodes as deftly as it does. I would say no single character stands out from the rest, but I would be lying since Haiji is kind of the heart of the series. Not only does he drive forward almost everything, but his personality is also absolutely electric. Charisma like this does not go unnoticed by me. Probably because I really wish to try and inspire others in my own ways, so seeing a character actualize those desires really strike a chord with me. That, and I mean have you seen his doggy!?? These are the finer details we have to appreciate in life I say!
The journey from a rag-tag group of muppets who were roped into an agreement they didn’t realize from absolute camaraderie to the finish line was sweet and utter bliss. The series couldn’t stop itself from topping itself. First, you would get Prince yelling about winning this and that, and then you would see him literally achieve what seemed impossible despite his hatred of running. Or how about the Takashi being severely overcome with a terrible cold on the day of his run for the Hakone Ekiden? How does he respond to this? He decides to run the entire god damn marathon anyways to prove to himself and his friends something that can’t even be expressed in words alone as his family and teammates watch on in shock. And of course, we have Kakeru and Haiji’s evolutions. Kakeru finally gets past his demons to really find the joy he has always longed for within his passion. Haiji accomplishes the goal he set out for even if it risks lifelong injury. This series is an absolute marvel in character writing and payoffs, and I was completely moved on more than one occasion. It’s one of the only times in storytelling I can think of, that I would have been content no matter how they placed at the end of the Hakone Ekiden. The journey and struggle to just try itself would have been rewarding enough, yet I get to have my cake and eat it too this time.
Anything I didn’t like about it? Nope, I think this show is genuinely strong throughout. This pretty much defines why I do these challenges. I believe I thought this was just a running sports anime and would get around to it at some point but certainly was in no hurry. Look how foolish I was huh? I love when people give me a series, and I am just completely disproven in all of my silly preconceived notions of it. What I want from this challenge is to grow and broaden my horizons from it, and this is the type of series that does it best for me. A true high point of not only the start of the event but the entire 9 years I’ve been doing this. I mean sure, I could have asked for more doggy time, or to find out which twin she liked, but I can live with some things being a mystery to me. As much as I want every story in existence to give me Return of the King volume of epilogue, I know that isn’t going to be the case. I live with what they give me, and walking away from this series, I was happy with what they gave me.
Random Fact: The Hakone Ekiden began in 1920 and it recently crossed the century mark in existence. Most of the records for it are held by runners in the past few years, showing that running is as improved and exciting as ever for the people of Japan.
Show: Key the Metal Idol
Year Aired: 1994-1997
Studio: Studio Pierrot
Watched For: Feethebunny
Every year just about, one of my contestants decides to toss in an oldie to see how it fares against all this new blood in the anime world. I for one have always enjoyed that this happens due to my stance on quite enjoying media from all periods. This year I was given Key the Metal Idol, a relic from the 90s’ that most people probably don’t talk about all that often anymore. The story of a young girl, who happens to be a robot, who has been given the task to become human. She has a limited amount of time before this won’t be possible, and only one sure-fire plan for success exists to her knowledge. Thanks to info from her recently departed guardian, Key knows she must make 30,000 friends if she wishes to make this dream come to fruition. A seemingly odd way to go about things, but did you really think becoming a human would be so easy?!
Now, if you thought this series would be a straightforward line to make this end happen, you’d actually be dead wrong. When we first pick up on this story, the entire premise hinges on this specific goal with no way to obtain it, yet we know the title of the series refers to being an idol. And yes pretty soon into her adventure Key has the aspiration to be an idol, but it isn’t a plain set of hurdles to cross to make it happen. If you guessed this show was far more focused on the idol industry being controlled by a corrupt businessman with the desire to craft a remotely controlled robot army, then you would be right! Yep, this series takes a hard turn into being something more sinister and psychological as the main approach then would first appear to be the case, and this dominates the narrative throughout. It’s far more tied to a mystery of why and how Key is connected to this scheme and see how a series of events leads us to unfold the mystery. Well, that and two full-length movie-type episodes at the very end that take the time to open up every box that hadn’t yet been revealed.
This is the type of show that really leans into the 90s’ fascination with cybernetics and robot-centric stories. The idol aspect is minimal at best, and mostly functions to help facilitate important character motivations and key moments of the story. If you are going into this hoping for a weird hybrid between that music genre and something sci-fi you will walk away disappointed. This show is meant to be more of a mystery thriller than anything else with far darker content than one would naturally assume there to be. As with any mystery, it ends up being down to your own tendencies towards being satisfied with how the threads come loose as you reach the inevitable conclusion. Your mileage may vary here, and that is to be expected to some degree or another. If you are looking for your own needle in a haystack though, this might scratch that itch quite nicely for you.
Recently, I came to a realization and decided to share it with my girlfriend, and now with all of your reading this portion. While, I personally don’t care about rating scales, public opinion, and so forth when deciding what is worth my time to watch, I do pay attention to something else. Why is this series so under-watched and now talked about so seldom? I’ve come to the conclusion that while you may find some treasures out there when you look at all these shows with mixed feelings and low watch counts it all comes to one finality. There is a reason they are that way. To put it simply, this show was a complete dud for me. Everything from the main cast to the central story was a contrived mess. Key herself is a terrible lead who grows about 2% over the course of the series and has zero personality to boot. She doesn’t incite or carry her own story at all and is a literal bystander to almost everything that happens around her. The people who are there to support her are all insanely hot and cold, and will just treat her like a nuisance at the drop of hat, and then become her personal white knight the next. All of this with nothing actually driving the behavior to be as such, making it all the more baffling. The antagonists are one-dimensional evil people who we don’t even get a real inkling to their desires til episode 14, and they take up entirely too much screen time that could have been used for Key. Yet, even with all this that just doesn’t work, what really kills this series is just how dull it is to sit through.
I already found myself struggling not to check out on a regular basis while watching it, but my goodness these final two episodes take the fucking cake. Episode 14 alone might be the worst episode of anime I’ve seen in years. Seventy minutes….SEVENTY MINUTES, are spent between two people giving exhaustive exposition to try and cobble together some sense after the initial 13 episodes explain next to nothing. While it does clear up some stuff, it tonally shifts the series to being about a brand-new concept called Guist. A metaphysical concept that rips out any intrigue or interest the show could have possibly garnered. The mystery elements just aren’t exciting nor rewarding when the payoff comes in the form of an excruciating marathon of a conversation between two of the side cast. I understand they wanted to try and wrap up their story with no loose ends or ties to be seen, but this is possibly one of the worst ways they could have gone about it if you ask me. I mean I do think the general plan of using super hard-to-control remote robots for war purposes to become rich and testing it on idols abusively is a weirdly silly plot that already fails greatly, but the extra layers don’t mend those booboos either. Things just don’t flow together into a nice cohesive package like you would like. It overextends itself and instead pretty much stumbles all the way to the finish line.
I find this a shame too because I truly don’t think the series is awful all around. It looks pretty decent for the time, the music is solid, and they really attempted to do something unique as well with it. Unfortunately, these things can’t carry the series enough with all the misplaced choices littered pretty much everywhere. I can’t name a single character I liked in this series, and I found it so odd that Key was more of a plot device than an actual character. The whole mystical element is albeit interesting, yet it never makes full use of doing anything that causes a moment of eureka to audiences. With shaky plot progression, and an altogether unlikable crew running through it, this series makes pivotal moments like a death create zero emotion. It does make me wish though that series that enamored me were given the same treatment of super long episodes to be the send-off. Something about that seems cool in its own right. Maybe something is to be said about trying even if you don’t succeed in the end huh?
Random Fact: In 1962, Johnny Kitagawa founded Johnny & Associates and created the group Johnnys, which is retroactively considered the first idol group in Japan.
Year Aired: 2006
Source: Visual Novel
Watched For: Zangril
The rock road ice cream that is video games adapted into anime has been quite a historical story. And by that, I mean that most of them are either completely mediocre or just plain terrible in execution. Thankfully we have had some notable exceptions like Clannad and Steins;Gate, so I like to believe in the possibility that others exist out in the wild too. Enter Utawarerumono, a tactical RPG visual novel series set in a fantasy universe torn apart by war. Let me know if you have heard this premise before. A man wakes up in a village injured, and with zero memory of his past. He seems to have an item of great mystery, a mask stuck to his face in this case, and has no idea why it would be in his possession. The local people nurture him back to health and through this, he grows close to them like family. From that point he somehow gets caught up in altercation after altercation that eventually leads him to be in a position of greater power, unknowingly getting closer to the things tied to his mysterious past life. If that seems like a typical fantasy amnesia plot, it is because it most definitely is.
Utawarerumono definitely has evident cliches in the way the story is framed, and how most of the first half of the narrative plays out as well. There is a clear connection to the game’s medium with how episodes are presented with small scenes, a conflict battle, and a resolution that are highly reminiscent of chapters in a tactical RPG. You meet characters who are on the opposing side of the main character Hakuoro that don’t seem quite evil unlike their commanding officer or whoever else is pulling their strings. Through the results of the battles, these distinct personalities eventually join Hakuoro’s ranks and you start to see a pattern of who would either be future party members or waifu material. The personality types present are not foreign concepts to the genre and are made with the purpose to bounce off each other for a multifaceted cast dynamic. Many classic personalities that make up the video game and anime genre of character archetypes pop up because of this, allowing audiences to either latch on to all of them, or specific ones who appeal to their fancy.
What the series does that allows it to stand out despite the use of your opinion on cliches is the delineation of war and the effects it has on the everyday people. This show presents many tactics used in fights and clever usage of employing them to overcome odds that aren’t in your favor. Things such as burning supplies, flanking the rear, or using the terrain to your advantage are all put on full display as notable ways to defeat better-armed warriors. The focus on realistic and intelligent planning to succeed is rather interesting and brings a lot of diversity to the large number of skirmishes present throughout. There is some crazy stuff in the back end that ends up removing this aspect almost completely, but when it is employed I would say battle junkies will get a kick out of their favorite sword wielding wives busting in some heads whilst riding into battle on mounted dinosaurs. The attempt at warfare struggles mixed with the infectious personalities leading them are bound to truly strike a chord with those who love high fantasy worlds in turmoil. Also, you know, just saying this to put it out there. There might be a massive giant white tiger who absolutely wrecks everything that stands before it. So, you know, keep that in mind too!
How’d all that cliche stuff work out for me? Ehhh okay, I suppose. Utawarerumono is a series with a provocative world, colorful characters, and heaps of potential, but a lot of it gets undermined by sloppy handling. I think the first thing to address is Hakuoro as a protagonist. He is just so plain and stoic. It is ridiculously hard to grow attached or invested in a character like him because of how little charisma he has. He barely expresses much to care about, yet always has the perfect plan to win at the end of the day, leaving much of his victory trail to be rather mild in gratification. He just is a poorly suited personality type for this type of story, at least in the animation form. I can see why you would make his personality not overshadow others in a game when you want players to insert themselves into him to some extent, but when transitioning to the world of animation, it just flat-out is a mistake. I don’t even necessarily dislike him either, nor the rest of the cast, but the way they are implemented into key moments really lack oomph. Most of the cast have no room to grow because the story removes any chance for them to do so, and the plot constantly is throwing some new adversary or battle to waste that precious screen time for character building. For every small scene that works perfectly adequately, there would be at least double that amount of content stripped away with more combat and really boring combat at that. I guess this show didn’t have a lot of money tossed into hiring a deep team of artists because these fights take as many shortcuts as a veteran Mario Kart player.
Most of this though I was willing to look past to some extent because most times the payoff was pleasant enough, and I do find myself charmed by the overall cast. Despite them lacking as much depth as I would like, I am still a fairly weak-minded gamer who likes cool personalities more than they really deserve. What I can’t ignore however is the last third of this series that is just plain bad. The series suddenly tosses in a sci-fi element in the form of mechs, completely ruining the one stellar aspect of the show, the strategic war games. This group is led by a character we are given ample time to learn how they feel and try to grow attached to and in her moment of weakness is consoled by Hakuoro with solid advice they seem like they want to take. Cue them doing the complete opposite and listening to their clearly insane generals to make for a really stupid conflict that pushes on until we get more futuristic nonsense backing Hakuoro’s origin. It’s just all so out of left field and really doesn’t work well at all with what had been established before. Not to mention the characters acting out of their common sense to make for more trouble because we need it to happen. Of course, we find out Hakuoro is some all-powerful being and all along was the most important thing in this universe, creating as forced a cliche as possible for this ending.
I think that’s probably what kills this show the most honestly. I don’t mind cliche when it is done super well. I can think of plenty of stories that feed into that and delight me to no end. The sad truth of it is though, Utawarerumono kills itself by trying to mix two ideas together that don’t work without even using any kind of clever setup to make it defy expectations. I love it when a show can do stupid things and make it somehow a joyous moment of my existence, and this just is not that. Utawarerumono has these really cool fantasy designs, a solid yet overdone war story, and sharp character personalities to elevate it to something higher, but fails to make it all work as one complete piece. It’s a shame but all too common I find, and it once again falls into the trap of being gimped by the weaknesses or trying to adapt games into anime without considering how to bridge the mediums correctly. I suppose now it is time for me to go get disappointed by watching something like Valkyria Chronicles or the like so I can remind myself that this isn’t a rarity but the norm in this case.
Random Fact: Makoto Uezu the lead writer of Utawarerumono’s anime has also been the primary scripter behind other anime series such as Konosuba, Assassination Classroom, and Katanagatari.
Show: Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne
Year Aired: 2008
Episodes: 6(Double Length)
Watched For: Cwavs
It’s rare to see, but every now and then we see anime with peculiar reputations. Seeing the fact that Rin has double-length episodes you might think that would be the reason, especially considering how rare that is, but that is not the case. If you look at any casual conversation concerning this series to people who are curious about what they would be getting into, two identifiers are always brought up as being particularly noteworthy to look out for. Those being, the large amount of violence and nudity present throughout. Honestly, you would think this show was one of the most extreme anime products on the market with how it’s rattled off about. Now, I won’t lie to you, this series does indeed have a lot of gore, and far more nudity than most series by standard comparison. Regardless of that, I do think that eats up way too much of the general discourse of the series. Because while there are many action sequences that end in blood. and this series has some deep fascination with using sexual elements as plot devices, they actually only make up a pretty small slice of the show as a whole. This series is actually at its core more layered and complex than that, and if you can stomach a little violence, and aren’t completely anti-sex in your media you might be in for a surprise.
Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne is a mystery series through and through. The narrative spans a large period of time and everything eventually leads to where the ending is meant to go. Rin works at an agency with her close friend Mimi and they do odd jobs to help their clients who hire them. It could be doing work like Yato and locating a missing cat. Or it could be something like investigating why this company is suddenly behaving out of the norm. Every episode is centered on a single mystery story that resolves within the runtime. Thanks to the longer episodes the series has plenty to flesh out all the twists and turns for effective surprises when they are meant to happen. Usually, the thing the audience wouldn’t be privy to is rather interesting, and it slowly paints a picture of what kind of climate the world politics are at those times. All the while Rin herself is almost a mini action star akin to like James Bond with her large amount of connections to different people and her ability to be elegant yet dangerous as heck.
There is a large fantasy element at the backbone of this series that plays an integral part. If you read any synopsis it will spoil it for you, but I think if you don’t know about how these things play out, you might find yourself even more interested than normal in how the natural course of the story unfolds. I will say they are certainly unique takes on some old ideas and while I don’t love all of them equally, for the most part, it works pretty well. I would say the only real detriment to recommending this is the sexual nature of the series. The violence is a little higher than average, but for the most part, it doesn’t cross any lines of actual shock value. The sex on the other hand is a little more excessive than that with at least two sex scenes on average per episode. 90% of them could have been cut, but I guess when the show wants to show lesbians getting down to business you are gonna watch it and you are gonna like it! If you happen to find these not to be detractors but rather incentives to try it out, then you might just find your next little hidden gem for yourself.
When this show isn’t fucking constantly, it is actually genuinely captivating as a mystery series. The way they mix the secluded episode plots within the greater narrative is pretty cool and almost makes me wish this show was twice as long because of it. The one feature that is absolutely defining about Rin is how it tells a story that spans 70+ years and we the audience get to see so much change in the environments from it. Everything from technology evolving like beepers to remote body projection really allows a progressive evolution that feels real and super neat. I personally would have been down for a series twice the length that showed every decade in between and even tossed us more great character moments. It would have made things like Maeno’s demise early on all the more impactful, even though I thought it was still quite effective as it was. The usage of time in tandem with the immortal main cast really allowed this show to use new ideas freshly in each and every single episode. Our control group as we went through this was Rin, Mimi, and our antagonists, alongside the tree Yggdrasil itself. I think it worked quite well, and I was often surprised by how hooked I was by the events going on. They did a great job with set up and delivery for the mini-mysteries itself.
As I’ve said though, did this show need so much sex in it? As neat as it is from a lore standpoint, I really don’t need to see women having near orgasms every time angels are nearby nor the angels forcing themselves on the women while trying to devour them. It’s a little much and just felt excessive to me. I suppose it does harbor back to the days of mythology which especially in Greek stuff, was always super sex driven. Those stories are always some of my least favorites though when you compare them to the cool and fascinating stuff all around them. Look, I know we as humans love to fuck, but I don’t need this much in such a short span! I mean most of the sex scenes here are pointless for the screen time they use up because the important info comes right after usually. We could have had classic naked people with covers hiding their delicate bits and gotten the same result. They just wanted to show fucking so they did and it is too easy to critique because of that. I’m not a prude, but if you are gonna make them bang this much, do it with good reason you horny bastards.
I did find some of the torture stuff a little excessive as well, but mostly just the first episode and the girl impaled with like a dozen swords. Just another detail of stuff we didn’t need to see. There is probably almost 20 minutes of general content this series could cut in favor of deepening characterization or having one or two more really neat scenes per episode instead. That isn’t the case though, so we have this neat lore-driven mystery that is constantly broken up with random battles and sex, most of which is either too long or could be removed with little consequence. When this show is at its best though, it is daring and exhilarating to watch. I’d get the same type of hype as watching something like a Bourne movie. Wondering how Rin would solve her way out of this predicament and what the twist might be they would throw at me as well. Of course, her being immortal does remove tension in some scenarios, but I guess it is the equivalent of like a terminator against cops versus the opposing terminator. We know what is meant to be tenser, and that is the angels on the prowl. Rin doesn’t quite capture pure greatness, but it does have several dashes of it that are worth praising when you look past the faults. This show is better than people give it credit for, and I will definitely keep it in mind when looking at surprise shows to share with people in the future to see their own take on it.
Random Fact: Yggdrasil is the world tree in Norse mythology/cosmology. Everything in our universe and the surrounding realms are connected to it, and it is at the center of all life that exists.
Show: Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit
Year Aired: 2007
Studio: Production I.G.
Watched For: BYtheHORNs
My eagerness was palpable when this was chosen for the November Challenge this year. Moribito is from the same storyteller of one of my all-time favorite series Kemono no Souja Erin. The bar of entry to get me invested was already pretty low, and surprise, this series is of a similar quality when it comes to its ability to craft a complex world with multidimensional characters. Moribito follows the adventures of a bodyguard named Balsa who is tasked with protecting the endangered life of the second prince of the kingdom she is currently in. The anime only covers the first leg of her entire journey but completely wraps up everything revolving around the prince within the season. While it is left open for more content, this season-long arc that is established and finished within the 26 episodes. The story of a warrior safeguarding the vessel for something larger than her and everyone else around her, yet still she fights to protect the boy first and foremost.
Moribito is always praised for the dynamic action by any and all who see it, and I too found myself struggling to not agree with those sentiments. This series might be 15 years old now, but at this point, the lavishly produced world stands the test of time better than most anime have. I would toss money out there to say it looks better than most stuff we get today even. This sort of crisp animation and attention to detail truly allows many things to come to life that wouldn’t otherwise. Whilst I am not one for being overly swayed by animation quality, it is hard not to realize most people are, and that this series would certainly impress most who sit down to watch it on that front alone. It’s not just the tightwire performance spear fighting that gets this treatment either. Everything from the pop of a candle igniting to the proper shading based on the light within a room are all applied in careful deftness that sets scenes up gorgeously.
Although this show is one to greatly emphasize the smallest moments and the most complicated of fight sequences, it is not a thriller. This series is a very slow-paced adventure more concerned with the people in its world and the machinations that comprise all the moving parts. If you are looking for an adrenaline-filled type of experience you will not find it here. Instead, you will discover something more thoughtful about the topics of killing, survival, and status. These things are all crucial elements that make up the DNA of Moribito, and it steadily chooses to introduce more of their history as the climax draws near. Unlike a lot of anime, this series chooses to stick with a consistent pacing that rarely deviates in terms of how emotional the scene is trying to deliver. Most series try super hard to use music and scene setting to make our brains susceptible to being swept away by the emotion. Moribito barely goes this route and instead stays the course refusing to compromise to anything else but the story it wants to tell. It’s an interesting way to tell a story, but I must say it will be a little different than what you might expect. This series is best enjoyed by those who take it as it is rather than wondering what it does or doesn’t do. If you love world-building interwoven into every major event or action, this series will hit most of the right notes I would no doubt. On the other hand, if you need peaks and valleys of energy in your media, you may find yourself at odds with it. Either way, the character writing, and unbending choices it commits to our wholly respectable at the end of the day.
Yes, of course, I loved this show! The same god-tier craftsmanship of world-building Uehashi is known for + stupidly gorgeous anime = me a happy man. Everything just clicks right with this show. It all starts with Balsa being a notably strong female lead. And I don’t mean just figuratively either, the gal kicks major ass. What I like about this series though is how you can tell it was written as a novel first and adapted with care. This isn’t the adventures of Balsa and all those other people. Just like in Erin, the cast of Moribito are all given essential roles that determine the final outcome of many events. Without Tanda, Torogai, and Shuga, Balsa/Chagum would have both died prematurely before ever seeing the other side of all the crazy mess they got mixed up in. This is the mark of a truly talented writer. The world does not revolve around the main character solely, and everyone in the series has their own lives and effects on the world around them. In some cases, they are arguably even more important and I think that is a sign of confidence in your ability to craft a story as well. Interesting world, deep cast that supports the main lead, and a central plot that is consistently engaging the entire way through. These elements and all the other finer details are what make Moribito as excellent as it is. You can do a lot of heavy lifting with just one of these, but using them all and so expertly makes your work transcend most of its contemporaries.
My only minor complaints are the open-ended aspect of Balsa’s character arc, and how long it takes for her and Chagum to really bond properly on a deeper level. I guess it goes to show that I just want more of this world and characters, but still! These are more personal wants rather than true complaints. You can call them nitpicks if you will. Because I mean outside of that, what else is there to say but praise? From the detailed and superb animation to the respectfully creative world Uehashi creates, Moribito is just dripping from top to bottom in goodness. While some folks might be turned off by the slower pace the show takes, I actually rather appreciated that choice. The series easily could have taken advantage of the fact Balsa is a badass and tossed in like a half dozen more scruffles. They wouldn’t serve much purpose outside showcasing cool factor and trying to keep watchers enthralled by classic means similar to many action or battle shonen. That isn’t what this series leans on though, and I think with good cause. The cast act like highly experienced adults with more brains than that. Considering most of the cast who makes crucial decisions are at least 30 and up, I’d say that fits far more aptly as well. This constant consideration for the intelligence of the cast really makes them feel human and far more compounded in personality than they could have been. Hurray for writers avoiding classic derivatives just because it allows easier success!
The story itself not only skillfully uses the cast within it, but also just has a really nice progression as well. We get a rousing start, a long and chunky middle section filled with all sorts of logical detours, and a stirring climax. I think it is nice to create initial excitement to grab the hook of the reader/watcher so you can get them invested in all the meatier bits coming up. All of this is meant to build towards a peak that will eventually put everything we have learned into play, which is exactly what happens here. I definitely want to seek out the novels to see what else exists in terms of lore with the other side of their world, because it has more than bewitched my curiosity. Moribito applies hyper-realism to a fantastic world and when you can manage to pull this off without ruining the suspension of disbelief you are doing something right clearly. This is most likely why fantasy stories are one of my favorite genres when treated with the proper tender care from their author. Moribito is a tremendous success on all fronts for me, and I am so happy to have finally gotten to watch it. It’s a true shame the only other thing that exists of her works is the compressed Deer King film, but I will watch it with stupor either way. If Erin and Moribito have taught me anything, it is to have patience and you will be rewarded with glorious gifts when this woman delivers them. I guess I will be a heretic and go read some books to get my fill now that the anime world has no more to offer me with her written treasures. Off I go as Balsa does, for my journey is not quite over just yet!
Random Fact: Despite the anime being fairly underseen the franchise has surprising attempts at success in the west with the first novel being published under Scholastic and the anime airing on Adult Swim for a period of time.
Run with the Wind
Outside of Balsa this category was a runaway in many respects. However, as truly badass and cool as Balsa is, Haiji might be my favorite male character I’ve seen in anything in recent memory. His personality is something I highly identify with and I find him to be an incredible main lead of an already robust cast of characters.
Least Favorite Character
Key the Metal Idol
No surprise here right? Not only does this normally go to villain characters in anime, but this series has no shortage of dirtbags to pick from. That being said, they never give him any other qualities other than obsessive and abusive, so this is an easy pick.
Run with the Wind
Utawarerumono has a pretty decent ensemble, and Moribito nearly took this as well, but I mean come on! This show is able to balance a group of ten people so well that I can’t overlook how well it meshes together. They are also a literal team, so that goes a long way toward giving them the extra push.
Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit
Not. Even. Close. Bub. This show is ridiculously detailed and gorgeous and might even sweep this choice for best animation when I do my end-of-year round-up. It really is a special series in this regard.
Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit
I won’t lie, without proper time listening to the actual OST, this is always a category where I feel like a complete hack choosing a winner. Moribito has some really nice themes though that stuck out to me especially, and it probably helps I watched it last as well!
Favorite Drama Scene
Hakone Ekiden Section 5
Run with the Wind
A few scenes could have nabbed this spot, but my god did this part really just emotionally shake me up. The amount of effort this one lad puts in to carry on the dreams of all his friends is so truly moving. The true MVP of the Hakone Ekiden.
Favorite Comedy Scene
Run with the Wind
Would you like to join my dream for the Hakone Ekiden? Oh, why not? Let me convince you anyways with all sorts of hilarious tactics! Good stuff, good stuff indeed.
Balsa vs Quartet
Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit
From choreography to animation crispness, to just sheer excitement, Moribito had this category in the bag from episode 1. This is just the coolest fight you will see in the series with how dynamic and clever it is.
Rin Daughters of Mnemosyne Op
This year, we actually had a pretty decent batch of openings. That being said two of them really fought for the bottom spot, and as average as the Key the Metal Idol opening is, this one easily takes the cake. Visuals and song never find harmony together, and the song is something else altogether that I am not taken with!
Utawarerumono ED 1
Between Key, Rin, and Utawarerumono, this was a close match, but at the end of the day, Utawarerumono claims the dishonor. Never mind the edited version that removes the credits to make the ending even worse than normal, just think about how much black eats up the screen for a combination of…what is it? Like 3 stills for the entire thing. It’s the reason why so many of us forget endings like we do.
Moribito Op 1
The closest competition was Run with the Wind, but it can’t quite match up to Moribito. I mean is anyone else blown away every single time by the horse moment? I fucking love it let me tell you!
Run with the Wind Ed 1
This was a runaway honestly. HA LOVE MY PUNS ALL OF YOU! I enjoy both endings for this series and they easily toppled the rest of the bunch, but this one just has such a nice flow to it. And if you asking if the doggy plays a big part in my rating. Yes, yes it does.
And the winner is….
5. Key the Metal Idol
Key you don’t know, just how much you made me suffffffffer. Jesus Christ, it’s not like this show is a heaping pile of shit or anything, but this was not the best series to watch as I dived headfirst into needing to watch 80+ episodes in 2 weeks’ time. Its biggest sin is maybe one of the worst in fiction. It’s just plain boring most of the time. Certainly not helped by the completely static main character and the boatload of confusing choices characters make throughout the show. Not to mention the first 100-minute movie episode is literally almost exclusively exposition told within basically a single conversation for most of it. This is meant to clear things up, but it instead just sort of devalues the writer’s ability to unveal the last leg of the story, and at the end, when all is said and done, nothing really feels truly satisfying or resolute. This show had potential, that much is true, no matter how you slice it up. It however does not take hold of that, and spends most of the time mucking about on content that feels wasteful at best. The way we get from point A to point B just doesn’t flow well together, nor does it lay the proper groundwork for a grand finale. It’s a shame, but this series just falls completely flat for me in almost every respect.
You know, it’s really funny when you can tell a series is based on a game by the way events unfold. Far too often this series has the immense issue of having fodder moments because functionally, they would work in a game. So, instead of cutting that content or reworking it to be more interesting, they kept it in, causing the series to suffer greatly from it. The same approach happens with most of the cast as they are introduced as well. Rather interesting personalities that conflict with our main heroes, until they inevitably join forces. Once that happens they no longer have any reason to grow or develop and are instead relinquished to one-note side cast members. This all hurts the generally decent approach to looking at a story of war and loss that the main narrative covers, but nothing stabs it in the back quite like the last arc. They abandon the established world they built, introduce technology and concepts out of the blue, and do a terrible job not only including it in naturally but explaining it well. It all culminates in a less-than-stellar closing act to an otherwise by-the-numbers fantasy action series with a little flair on the side.
3. Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne
With how the internet talks about this series you would think this is a soft-hentai that loves torture more than anything else. And while yes this show does have a lot of violence, and possibly the most nudity I’ve seen in any anime series ever, it really is more than meets the eye. When you look past the excessive sex this show loves plastering all over the place, you actually have a fairly interesting mystery show that spans decades of content in a very thoughtful and creative way. I do think this show could have cut out 95% of the sex for better content that established even more lore or story, but it still manages to use most of the things introduced very smartly. Rin is a complex and likable main lead, and the history between her and other characters creates a great foundation for the overall narrative. I also liked the unique take on Yggdrasil and how it functioned within the world as a really neat plot device. If this show wasn’t so damn horny and spent a little extra time on other details, I would say it would be even better. That being said, it is still worth the time if you can stomach past the gruesome bits, and aren’t filled with aversion towards lots of naked women. This was definitely the big surprise of the event for me, and I’m happy to have seen it, as I probably would have never tried it otherwise. So cheers for someone giving me this chance.
2. Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit
Right now, I feel like a criminal. Not since the second year of the November Challenge when I chose Berserk over Princess Tutu have I felt so dirty picking a number spot in this competition. This series for all intents and purposes is bloody fantastic. It’s notably one of the most gorgeous series I’ve ever had the pleasure to see. The thoughtful worldbuilding similar to Uehashi’s other work Kemono no Souja is ever present, creating an engrossing tale of heroism and surrogacy. I was eager to see this series for a few years now ever since I finished Erin due to it being one of my all-time favorite pieces of fiction now. It didn’t disappoint either I must say. My only true complaint is Balsa clearly has more story to be told as indicated by the plot itself and the fact several novels still exist unadapted into animation. We get a very nice closing point to this bookend of her journey, and it feels rewarding and rightfully satisfying. This series mostly gets praise for the tremendously neat action sequences, and Balsa’s character, and while I think those definitely stand out, the best part for me is easily the world itself. Ever vibrant with information to be unloaded onto my brain, the fantastical and mystical world that is present in the world of Moribito is utterly captivating. I doubt more anime will be made for it, so I suppose the books await me in the future. For now, I will just sit back, and smile at this lavish production that did so much right. Many other years this could have possibly been the winner, and I want it acknowledged here that even if it didn’t win, it is just as deserving in my heart.
1. Run with the Wind
Damn, just damn. Let me say this before anything else. I really love when storytellers can take a plain subject and create something so thrilling from it. Why do we run? A wonderful question at the backbone of Run with the Wind. Just like Fune wo Amu, this series swept me off my feet and made a bride out of me. I’m not exactly sure what that means, but I can tell you that I loved it if that clears up anything! This series functions as a pure character drama, and the catharsis of seeing them shoot for the moon and attempt to accomplish their goals is beyond explanation. Very few anime series hit all the right notes with me like this, so when it happens it really is a special moment in my personal history. Really settles in the feeling of why this medium is so special to me and remains something I want to keep trying to explore as thoroughly as I can. I don’t want to stop here, and I won’t. Similar to how they went out there to try and participate in something the world told them wasn’t possible, I want to keep broadening my own horizons until I reach some sort of answer myself. What is it I love about anime and why do I watch it? A nice question for me to keep digging into as I watch more and grow older and hopefully a little wiser. Run with the Wind makes me ask these questions with a little smile as I ruminate. Who knows when I will find that answer. I’ll keep searching for now, and hope that I keep on finding anime to love and appreciate just like this series. Congrats Dr. Broli for once again winning the title and defending it with grace! I mean you didn’t do much, but imagine how graceful you are in my mind right now!
With that, we now can say goodbye to the 9th annual November Challenge. What a year it was too! What I expected to be a fairly simple session in comparison to previous years ended up being a lot more difficult thanks to my own bird-brain choices. Once again Dr. Broli has taken the victory and become part of elite company as one of only 3 people to be a two-time champion. No one has ever three-peated however, so can he do it next year!? Honestly, who knows, his chances are as good as anyone else I’d wager. I’ll be doing something special for the 10-year anniversary though. It will be a true mammoth and I can’t wait to share it with all of you next year here on WordPress. On Kitsu, I’ll be making the official announcement when I reveal these results, so you can find out early if you want to over there! Otherwise, I will see you all again soon when a huge mega-post on my Anime Year in Review 2022. I’m bringing it back larger and bigger than ever! Look forward to it, and as always thank you so much for reading my posts, and I can’t wait to share my future ideas with you again soon!
Until Next Time!
See ya, My little Wanderers!