Like everybody else here at Altair & Vega, I’m amazing at playing favorites: that is to say, narrowing down a list is a nigh impossible task. Nonetheless, I’ve managed to hammer out a list; the following five shows are those that have stood the test of time. Here, listed in alphabetical order, are a few of my favorite things:

Aria

「わーひっ」 by yuh (click through for Pixiv)

「わーひっ」 by yuh (click through for Pixiv)

Aria is a show so amazing that it, to this day, remains the series that single-handedly defines iyashi-kei for much of the Western audience. Of course, its lethargic pacing is not for everybody. The first time I tried the series, I fell asleep halfway through and didn’t give the first season another chance for months.

But unlike a lot of shows branded as a “slice-of-life” (derisively or otherwise), Aria is a show with a startlingly clear vision of where it’s going. Even its “fluff” episodes (most of season two) are less filler and more meaningful detours. These serve to flesh out the characters as well as the world of Neo-Venezia, a presence just as powerful as any of Aria‘s characters.

Aria is a relaxing gondola ride, a perfect act of escapism that never feels constructed, but rather… organic, coming from the heart.

Kanamemo

Kanamemo, despite initial impressions, is not a series aimed at the To Love-Ru audience. Its pedigree as a Manga Time Kirara 4-koma makes it more akin to K-On! and Hidamari Sketch, but as a feel. production, there’s something undeniably skeevy about the anime.

Kanamemo‘s very first scene, before the title sequence, frames it as a show about coping with loss. The real joy in watching the anime comes not from the yuri fanservice (although there’s plenty of that), but from watching Kana slowly find her place in her surrogate family at the Fuhshin Shinbun, and indeed, the world.

Throw in a swimsuit musical episode for good measure, and you have a show that, after all these years, remains close to my heart.

Lucky☆Star

The first thing you should know is that Lucky☆Star was what I consider my first anime: the first I watched beyond Saturday mornings or Toonami, the first I watched as it aired in Japan.

Today, Lucky☆Star feels like little more than a cheap punchline for the joke that is anime fandom. But back then, Lucky☆Star, very much a show aimed at the anime otaku steeped in the culture of seiyuu, visual novels, Comiket―everything I was not at the time―somehow hit all the right notes. And if it had been any other show, one less centered around the entire subculture, who knows? I might not even be writing here today.

Often I wonder if I’m blinded by my nostalgia on my feelings about the show, so I make it a point to rewatch it every few months. It has never stopped being just as brilliant as it was that summer 5 years ago.

Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei

“A very small degree of hope is sufficient to cause the birth of love.” Stendhal (1783-1842)

“A very small degree of hope is sufficient to cause the birth of love.” Stendhal (1783-1842)

Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is brilliant: it’s original author Kumeta’s art and wit, both razor-sharp and clean, in perfect marriage with director Shinbo’s inimitable style, blooming from equal parts vision and deadline.

Most importantly, it’s a show that manages to get away with so much. It’ll replaces all the dialogue in a segment with gibberish for no reason. Or swap all the voice actors. Or shift art styles from shadow puppets to claymation to flipbooks. A lot of it works; some just falls flat on its face.

Many of the visual techniques seem familiar now―perhaps even quaint, from high-profile works like Madoka☆Magica or Bakemonogatari. So it’s easy to forget that the show never stopped pushing the envelope, making fun of everything it could in the process, most of all itself. And that’s nothing to despair at.

Yumeiro Pâtissière

Yumeiro Pâtissière is a show aimed at little girls about making sweets. Despite this, it manages to somehow be much better than many shows ostensibly aimed at grown adults.

The show eschews the week-by-week format so familiar to the show demographics and instead goes for an ambitious tournament story that lasts the entire first season, a full 50 episodes of steady development. The tournament itself is a bit predictable, but victories don’t come easily; Ichigo develops as a pâtissière and as a heroine through effort in overcoming her failures.

Yumeiro Pâtissière may look sugar-sweet on the outside, but it stops short of sugarcoating things for its viewers. Stick with it, and it’ll reward you with a satisfying narrative that’s sure to leave a good taste in your mouth!

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