Three Underrated Anime Series Worth Watching
Common Theme: Technology
I watch a lot of anime. It's a diverse genre with many different art forms, covering just about every kind of story that people have conceived, from comedy and slice of life, to psychological horror. Anime isn't just for children. Indeed, many anime, including some very interesting, though quite disturbing, horror shows, would probably leave a child scarred.
As diverse as anime is as a genre, it's still fairly niche, even if it has gained popularity in recent years. However, while anime is already a niche form of entertainment in and of itself, there are plenty of lesser known series out there which are absolutely phenomenal. The three series that I want to cover in this article are Outlaw Star, Gun x Sword, and Serial Experiments Lain. While they're all very different from one another, technology does play a significant element in each one.
A lot of people, whether they're fans of anime or not, have heard of Cowboy Bebop. The show is renowned, and for good reason. It was incredible. Lesser known, but still excellent, is Outlaw Star. This series has enough similarity to Cowboy Bebop that many people who like one will like the other, but they're certainly not the same.
Fans of Gurren Lagann will also probably like this series. And the main character, Gene Starwind, is a bit more like Kamina, in that both were looking for something more, as they never felt satisfied with their current situation. Luckily, Gene is kept in check, to an extent, by his business partner, Jim Hawking. While Jim is a lot younger than Gene, he's generally the voice of reason in the group.
As for tone, there're plenty of serious elements to Outlaw Star. It has space battles, pirates, and mysteries that need solving. It has tragic elements mixed into the story as well. And yet, the series as a whole feels a bit more lighthearted than Cowboy Bebop. Admittedly Gene is a lot less mature than Spike. He's younger, and rough around the edges. He also has more to prove. But that's a nice change of pace, and something that makes the series more unique. And the series focuses much more on looking forward than looking back.
Another aspect of this series that makes it fairly unique is that there's a significant amount of Chinese or Taoist religious elements thrown in. While technology is a key element, it's not just normal technology. It's heavily influenced by concepts like chi energy. In the series it's called "Tao magic." For this reason, I'd place the show in the category of science fantasy rather than science fiction.
Outlaw Star also feels a little bit nostalgic for me, as it was part of Cartoon Network's Toonami block in 2001. Indeed, I think I saw Outlaw Star, before I watched Cowboy Bebop. In fact, the former show aired before Cowboy Bebop originally aired.
Genre: Adventure, Science Fantasy
Where to Watch: Funimation (Sub|Dub) and Hulu (Dub Only)
Gun x Sword
Gun x Sword centers around Van, a peculiar character who's traveling the world trying to find someone. I won't even say why he's looking for the person, as to avoid too many spoilers. But it might have something to do with why he's always wearing a tuxedo. Along the way he connects with other people, all of whom have been touched in some way or another by the person he seeks. While Van is definitely the protagonist, I don't think I'd consider him the main character. Instead, the story is told more from the perspective of Wendy Garret, a young girl who joins Van on his journey.
This series is a mecha, a show that involves giant robots that are usually piloted by people. It's set on the Planet of Endless Illusion and the mecha in the series are called armor. The show has a lot going on, and it's an entertaining watch for viewers, whether they like mecha or not. The technology doesn't get in the way of study of human nature that's present throughout the series.
This series can get fairly heavy at times. There's a lot of interaction between the characters, and the series raises some interesting ethical questions. While some of the humor is childish, including Van's dietary habits, these antics help to smooth over the more painful elements of the story, making the series as a whole more balanced.
Where to Watch: Funimation
Serial Experiments Lain
I'm going to finish this list with one of the greatest "WTH did I just watch" series of all time. Many years after watching this anime, there are still things that I don't fully grasp. It's a mind-boggling anime, but in a good way. It's just one of those shows that leaves a viewer bewildered and confused, and wanting to go back for a second round.
Serial Experiments Lain is by far the most psychological of the three series that I've listed in this article, and more or less fits into either the cyberpunk or psychological fiction genres. However, I personally like to place it into "modern Gothic." Reality gets extremely warped in this series. And perhaps one of the best aspects of Serial Experiments Lain is that it leaves a lot to the person watching the series. We get to decide for ourselves what is real and what is not.
This series goes beyond having entertainment value. For those who are interested in the humanities, this series can be an interesting study in psychology and fear of technology. Serial Experiments Lain relied heavily on the novelty of the internet, much like Frankenstein relied heavily on the novelty of medical science. Just like watching or reading Frankenstein can give us a window into the psychology and fears leading up to the Victorian era, so too can Serial Experiments Lain offer a window into the psychology and fears of those growing up in the early days of the internet.
Genre: Psychological, Modern Gothic, Cyberpunk
Where to Watch: Funimation
Give Them a Shot
Outlaw Star, Gun x Sword, and Serial Experiments Lain are all favourites of mine. If you haven't seen these shows, I'd definitely suggest watching them. They're quite entertaining. And if you have seen them, maybe watch them again. It can be interesting to see how well we remember a series, and whether it has the same impact on us now as it had when we were younger.
I'd also recommend finding the soundtracks to Outlaw Star and Serial Experiments Lain. Outlaw Star's opening theme is catchy, and its closing theme is beautifully melancholy. Duvet, the opening for Serial Experiments Lain, is also fairly somber, but unforgettable.
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