When you’ve seen enough anime, like this veteran has, you not only become familiar with the types of genres but you start recognize the formulas that make the genres fall into that category. Each genre, does have its pretty standard stereotypes that you just cant get around–its what defines the genre. For example: a pretty transformation sequence, adorable mascot guide, underlining theme of love conquers all? You’re watching magical girl shoujo. Even though you have your favorite type of genre, sometimes the formula starts to get stale.You want something NEW to mix it up but still stay in that genre parameters. I got you covered; here’s a list of animes that break their genre formulas to bits but still stay true to genre roots
One Punch Man: This show has received a lot–like A LOT– of hype, and the hype train isn’t what’s driving this decision to put this anime on our list. One Punch Man makes this list because it’s a brilliant piece of shounen satire. Usually, when you watch a shounen genre anime, the biggest underlining theme is that your main character wants to be the “best” or the “strongest” (ninja, basketball player, martial artist, pirate king, whatever, take your pick) One Punch Man flips this shounen formula on its head. Saitama, the main character, very blatantly tells all the shounen typical characteristics to bugger off. Saitama isn’t a valiant man, like most shounen protagonist, he doesn’t fight bad guys because it’s the right thing to do….He fights bad guys because he’s bored. The show doesn’t document Saitama’s struggle to become the strongest super hero—instead it documents his struggle trying to FIND an opponent who can survive at least one punch from him- hence the series name. One Punch Man does wonderous job of jabbing fun at some of the biggest shounen series (try to spot them all!), giving them small cameo appearances, or Easter eggs throughout it’s course. As a viewer, you’ll find yourself laughing at the ridiculous motions of some of the episodes because you’ve seen this kind of thing before, but told in such a serious manner. Laser beam of doom that can explode the entire universe? No problem let me just smack that to the side with ease and not worry about the consequences! For all its satire, One Punch Man does pay respectable homage to shounen roots while pushing the boundaries; you still get great fight sequences (even if the opponent last one punch) and there is some character development. Even though you’re not watching Saitama become the strongest, you’re watching him figure out how to play the super hero game…with putting minimal effort into it, of course.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica: I will admit, Puella Magi Madoka Magica sat on my back log of anime, without any urgency to watch it, for a very long time. Just LOOKING at the series, you automatically get the magical girl shoujo vibe—it looked and felt VERY magical girl cookie cutter status. Nothing looked particularly special about it. Here’s a bunch of school girls in adorable looking outfits banishing witches! It’s a standard concept that seemed to lack any extra oomph. Hot damn, I was wrong.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica takes all the things that make magical girl shoujo typical and gives it a dark twist. Its standard practice that magical girls are born from wishes of their heart, or having a higher power calling to them in order to defend the world. The series heroine will gladly accept the weight of the world with a lofty, “I will protect everyone with the power of love!” declaration; doesn’t give the kind of decision a second though. PMMM actually forced our heroines to REALLY think about this kind of decision, not just make it on a whim, because protecting the world is nothing light the fluffy. Protectors get hurt, protectors die. Puella says, “You want your wish granted? Be prepared to die for it in the long run.” Puella further delves into the magical girl shoujo by giving the formula standards a sinister, but sometimes realistic, outlook. Sometimes, even when you try your very best, with the most honest of intentions, you cant predict people and how they will repay/respond to you. Sometimes, you’re going to get burned and it’s going to be awful. No heart, magical girl’s or not, ever stays entirely pure. It’s a matter of how you put yourself back together after a rough patch. Will you be bitter, or will you grow and continue to prosper with your new found knowledge?
Puella plays the magical girl formula to its strengths, you get all the things a typical show will give you, but you get it with a grain of salt which many shows in this genre avoid entirely; and that makes Puella Magi Madoka Magica refreshing and a winner series.
Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles and xxxHolic: You really can’t separate these two series as they’re interlinked. Tsubasa and xxxHolic made this list because of the simple fact that it not only encompasses many different anime genres, but it’s really the first of its kind. It’s a series that only CLAMP can pull off. If you’ve been watching, or reading, enough anime and manga in the past two or three decades you know CLAMP is a power house in this industry. They have an archive that is not only accomplished and well received, but its large…very, very large. Tsubasa and xxxHolic main story lines may have intertwined together, but the parallel universe travelling was a love letter to dedicated CLAMP fans. Each world visited in Tsubasa, each item gathered and stored in the xxxHolic ware house, were all pieces of pervious CLAMP works. Thus making Tsubasa and xxxHolic the king series of cross overs.
Usually whenever you hear the term “crossover” most viewers will associate it as being a special of some sort, cross overs were never meant to be part of the main story line. That is until Tsubasa. Tsubasa’s entire plot line was about travelling to parallel universes; traversing time to acquire Sakura’s missing memories. During those travels, CLAMP was able to pull off successful crossover series because of their large work archive, bringing back beloved past characters and putting them into a new, fresh plot line. I don’t know about you guys, but a lot of CLAMPS earlier work didn’t have a rainbow happy endings, so being able to see characters from Clover, X/1999, etc in a new setting, escaping their depressing cannon endings was amazing. I mean, Arashi and Sora as a married couple, running an inn? Be still my fangirl heart, your favorite X/1999 couple isn’t DEAD with unspoken feelings! Tsubasa was able to break the “special feature, “stereotype for crossovers and proved it could be a successful genre on it’s own.
Log Horizon: There are several anime series (some staples)that made it’s mark with the concept of video game catastrophes. What makes Log Horizon so different from its predecessors and contenders is that Log Horizon’s story doesn’t primarily focus on getting the hell out of the video game world. dotHack has always been about building personal relationship online, and that friendship transcending into real life, but it’s overarching plot was to get your protagonist OUT of the game; to get them to log out. Sword Art Online was interesting for the first half of the series because it dealt with the scenario if you died in the game, what would happen to you in the physical plane? But Log Horizon tackles something entirely different, setting it apart from it’s peers. The game itself, it’s coding, is coming to life with the presence of our real life gamers stuck in the game. Log Horizon very briefly dabbled in the “how and why” they’re stuck, but it was never the driving force behind the story. What really drives the plot along is the Adventurer’s and how their long term stay is affecting the game. Discovering new magic, bringing a new depth to the NCPs—referred to as The People of the Land—and interesting concept of in game deaths. The plot further thickens when we learn that a looming war between the People of the Lane and Adventurers. The arc will open up intriguing concepts that we haven’t seen before. What is considered, “alive” in the game? Will the Adventurers be able to take the lives of NPCs when push comes to shove?
And what wraps up our list of formula breaking anime?
Psycho Pass: If you’re watching an anime that’s based on an advanced technology society, more often than not you’re dealing with mechas or cyborgs. Psycho Pass takes a pass on this stereotype and delivers an amazing story line where technology isn’t in the lime light, but rather pulling the strings from the shadows. Most technological futures have cyborgs as a threat because their lack of human empathy. Or, if it’s a good cyborg, they are in place to make decisions for society because they are better “equipped” to view the bigger picture and not let emotion get in their way when deciding what is best for their human charges. Psycho Pass goes left field with how they use technology in this dystopian society. Instead of placing cyborgs in charge, Japan has become under the rule of a computer system-the citizen’s just don’t know it– that determines the best possible outcome for a person’s future. It will determine a person’s strengths and weaknesses and match them with a position in society that they are best suited for but it really doesn’t take into account a person’s happiness. The main plot device in Psycho Pass is the concept of a clear aura. Not only does the computer system determine where a person would be most useful in society, but it preemptively acts by deciding who is a potential threat to the peace of society and locks them away before they commit a crime. Have you been thinking about murdering you co-worker a little too often? Well, your aura will be clouded and the police will come lock you away because you have a high probability of doing harm. With this new interpretation of what a futuristic society looks like, it makes for appealing story lines, where the people are trying their hardest to stay happy or at least “clear” so they do not end up a potential threat and locked away. Psycho Pass provides much needed depth and new interpretation of what happens in the future when you let a program take over entirely.
It’s always refreshing to see series that aren’t afraid of wandering off the beaten path. What series have you watched that challenged the stereotypes of its genre? Feel free to let me know in the comments!