Today, we’re taking a look at the highlights and lowlights of Netflix’s original anime collection.
Netflix has something of a spotty history with anime, but at least it now has a decent selection of shows to choose from, preventing the next generation of weebs from having to stay up till Otaku O’Clock to get their fix. One of the drawbacks of such a breadth of content, though, is that they can’t all be winners.
As well as hosting licensed heavy-hitters like One Punch Man, Demon Slayer and Sword Art Online, the streaming platform has been producing its own anime from as early as 2014 (though purists may not care to call certain American-produced shows, like Castlevania, a “true anime”, but that’s for another article). While there are certainly some stand-outs, I don’t think Netflix will be able to compete with the likes of Crunchyroll any time soon.
To further explore the”mixed legacy” of Netflix anime (as cbr.com puts it), we’re taking you on a whistle-stop tour of the platform’s most remarkable attempts to imitate the Japanese animation empire.
What I will say for Netflix original anime is this: they know how to make a good casual watch. By design, most Netflix anime are chosen or produced to be easy, accessible and beginner-friendly watches, and that’s completely fine by me. You won’t find any One Pieces or Narutos here (yet), but there are plenty of nice short-form series to spend a weekend with, as well as a good handful of shows with multiple seasons.
Some of our personal favourites include…
BNA: Brand New Animal
I’m a sucker for anything made by Studio Trigger, and BNA: Brand New Animal is no exception. In a world where humans co-exist with humanoid animals called Beastmen, protagonist Michiru Kagemori wakes up one day to find she’s transformed into a tanuki. She travels to Anima City to find a cure that can restore her human form, but quickly ends up at the centre of a genocidal conspiracy.
I’m not a furry, and you may quote me on that, but the animation of this show is just to die for, and paired with a sweet and earnest story to boot. Highly recommend!
OK, I get how it looks, but I swear I never prioritise anime with anthropomorphic animals – it’s just that a lot of really good anime happens to have them!
Aggretsuko is a master-class in the casual watch. Each episode runs for just ten minutes across seasons of ten episodes, but you’d be surprised at the amount of plot and characterisation the show manages to fit in without feeling rushed (let alone all the songs!) You’ll follow the adventures of office worker Retsuko as she navigates a frustrating adult life and blows off steam through heavy metal music. Both the dubbed and subbed version are absolute treats, and that’s coming from someone who usually avoids dubs like the plague.
What Kakegurui may lack in production value, it makes up for with a fascinating concept and intriguing characters. The show follows Yumeko Jabami, a compulsive gambler, as she joins an elite school occupied by equally gambling-obsessed students, where social status is determined by your poker face.
Kakegurui nails a plethora of beloved anime tropes, particularly those in the vein of Cute and Psycho, and the mandatory blatant fanservice is tempered by the show’s willingness to lean into the queerness of pretty much the entire main cast. This is some classic toxic yuri right here. If you’re interested, you can check out our Waifu Wednesday feature on Yumeko here!
I’m not gonna be a massive hater here, because a lot of Netflix’s poor-quality anime seem to be victims of circumstance; low budgets, poor planning and careless market research are likely reasons as to why these projects shook out the way they did. These anime aren’t the absolute worst – they just weren’t given a fighting chance.
Junji Ito Maniac: Japanese Tales of the Macabre
I’m no Junji Ito expert, but I’ve read enough of the seminal horror mangaka’s projects to know that his work must be difficult as balls to recreate in animation. Well, Japanese Tales of the Macabre proves that, because it kind of sucks.
The show focuses mainly on Ito’s short stories, many of which just work better in the manga format; not to mention that several stories have been lifted from Ito’s longform works. The most egregious example of this is Episode 9, which follows an early chapter from Ito’s Tomie without affording the viewer any context for the character or the larger story, indeed not even managing to cover the full extent of the chapter. I have no doubt that reading the manga chapter by itself would be a far more rewarding experience. Ah, well – at least the Uzumaki anime is on its way to Adult Swim!
The Way of the Househusband
I’m not going to rag on the anime itself, though it’s really more of an animated manga. That’s kind of the problem – to Westerners, at least, this series was promoted to appear like an actual anime. Apparently the mangaka didn’t want an anime adaption, opting for colourful animated comic panels and voiceover instead, and it’s a great project in its own right, but it’s a little underwhelming if you were expecting a full animated production. Netflix’s shoddy advertising is definitely to blame here.
I highly recommend the manga, which is an endearing slice-of-life following a retired yakuza who enjoys supporting his girlboss wife as a stay-at-home husband.
Ok, now I’m gonna be a hater. This particular show is so disjointed and nonsensical it feels like a dream you’d have after a full 12 hours of binge-watching better, more interesting anime. Sword Gai is full of confusing dialogue and bizarre character choices, which somehow doesn’t prevent it from being as boring and flat as it is.
Cliches are piled on top of each other to the point where they actively hinder the show and its progression, and leaves even the most hardcore anime fan wanting for something a bit more substantial.
We don’t like to judge books by their covers here at Rice Digital – if mangaka ONE has taught us anything, it’s that a good story will shine through any art style. But you have to draw a line in the sand somewhere, and this is that line.
Knights of the Zodiac: Saint Seiya
Woof. I’m all for 3D anime (the best example being Land of the Lustrous, which is a gorgeous and faithful adaptation of the manga), but this show looks like a 2004 commercial for carcinogen-laden plastic toys. Fans of the original anime and manga were not happy with the remake for this reason and many others beside, with many dismissing it as a poor Americanized imitation of a beloved anime.
It’s a shame that this show had to fumble such a fun story, but more than that, they fumbled the tone and feel of Saint Seiya, known for its extreme melodrama and innovative battle scenes. Do yourself a favour and check out the manga instead.
I may be an outlier for this particular take, as many of the reviews of this anime state that the visuals are a highlight of an otherwise mediocre production from creator Shoji Kawamori (the Macross guy). I love a mech, and it’s not the worst CGI-integrated animation I’ve ever seen, but I’ve just seen it done so much better, both in 2D and 3D.
Some have pointed out some fairly obvious parallels between Last Hope and Neon Genesis Evangelion. I have mixed feelings on the latter (we’ll circle back to that another time, though) but if you’re going to go for the king of anime, you need to bring your A-game.
I was tempted to label this one as “bad”, but I can’t quite bring myself to do it. No doubt Neo Yokio belongs in this section, as it looks like it’s doing a flappy-mouthed abridged parody of itself – the show outs itself as an obviously American production even before you realise that it was created by Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend, which explains a lot about why this show is the way it is.
I honestly couldn’t tell you what the plot is about. Wikipedia says it’s something to do with a bourgeoise made up of magicians, which sounds kinda cool, but when watching I was more focused on how often the plot revolved around Big Toblerones. A star-studded cast meets an outdated, flimsy art style and a flimsier-still narrative to create a fairly decent cringe watch. Drink before watching for best results.
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