After finishing up Durarara!, in the process of roughing out a proper review I had one of those moments where I found neat, oversimplified boxes into which to artificially categorize the world, which is a personal hobby of mine. In this case, my tidy categorization is one prefaced by “There are three kinds of awesome things in anime:”
Note here that I’m talking about the colloquial kind of awesome, as in “Dude, that was awesome.” Whether you talk like that or not, you probably know the feeling I’m talking about here.
This does not count, of course, many things I love because of their artistic vision or unbridled imagination and craftsmanship—most works of Miyazaki, for example, or films by Makoto Shinkai. Those are great artistic works that tickle a different part of my brain; I’m talking about the things that get my fanboy love of anime going, and make me want to buy cels or rant to friends about how much fun they are.
So, my three categories: Things that give me exactly what I want, things that give me what I didn’t know I wanted, and things that make me ask for the unlikely (or impossible), then give it to me.
The first group is obvious—anime that give me exactly what I’ve always wanted to see. For example, I’ve often mused that it would be awesome to have a story in which the mastermind villain was a good guy. Code Geass: Boom, awesome (leaving aside R2 sawing its own legs off). Or, being an avid paper-and-dice role player, I’ve long loved the idea of a character with the stats of a barbarian but trained as a mage (a friend of mine actually played one once). Rune Soldier Louie: Boom, awesome.
The second group is sort of the opposite of that—shows that give me something I didn’t think I would be interested in, but turns out to be awesome in execution. Spice and Wolf tops this list. Fantasy about a wayward wolf god and a merchant wandering around a mundane fantasy world? Might be interesting, but sounds boring and depressing at worst and melancholy at best. In reality? Awesome.
Daphne in the Brilliant Blue: Oh, great, yet another sci-fi show about a bunch of overarmed, over-violent, over-endowed women doing odd jobs and blowing stuff up. With an amnesiac protagonist for bonus generic anime points. Probably not even worth a shot. In practice, so mercilessly vicious it’s awesome.
And then there’s that third category, which I hadn’t put my finger on until Durarara! Specifically it’s when a show—good or bad—introduces some character or concept that causes you to muse “Wouldn’t it be awesome if that happened?” while in no way expecting the writer to actually go there, because that’s just too wacky or uncommercial or against-cliche or whatever. And then having that be exactly what happens.
Ultimate case in point: Celty. “Okay, there’s a headless harbinger of death riding around Tokyo on a possessed motorcycle doing odd jobs, and she’s a good guy? That’s pretty sweet, but wouldn’t it be awesome if she were a main character?” With the implied follow through”…but no show would actually do that.” Bam: The closest thing the show has to a main character through the whole first season. Awesome.
Other, less-extreme examples (these are pretty much all big spoilers, by the way):
Mission E. Code E was pretty entertaining, but somewhere in the back of my head was the musing “Wouldn’t it be awesome if Chinami went on to become a superhero?” I of course would have expected some sort of transition, but regardless, Mission E: Chinami, badass superspy. Whatever else the series did right or wrong, that’s pretty darn awesome.
Full Metal Panic, which had me saying, “Fun, sure, but it would be awesome if they just cut out the drama entirely.” Fumoffu—bingo, awesome. Ghost Hound—creepiest therapist ever, who seems strangely helpful. “Wouldn’t it be awesome if he turned out to be a good guy?” Answer: My favorite character in the show.
Of course, that last category overlaps a little with the other two, but whatever. There are also dozens of examples I can think of of things that have me thinking the same thing that don’t follow through on it, but I suppose that’s what makes it so satisfying those rare occasions when something does.