I had finished my sweet and was the sole remaining passenger in the restaurant carriage, when he passed me the package. It was a relatively bulky plain brown envelope. Intrigued, I glanced up at the waiter who was now placing a cup of coffee before me. Noticing his lapel pin, I quickly realised the nature of his business.
Thanking my acting waiter, I opened the envelope. As expected, it contained a single dossier bearing upon its cover both my assumed name and, to my surprise, the words ‘Top Secret’. Opening the dossier revealed a number of documents. First was the expected several hundred page transcript of recent messages between members. Second was a somewhat intimidating document that went all the way to Appendix J. Third was a number of annotated snippets from the aforementioned transcripts, and finally, a one page summary.
Taking up the one page summary, the urgency and classification of the dossier became clearer to me. They were orders from the Lord and Lady Caquix.
The summary spoke of an end of year project with the aim of having each member highlight five anime of sufficient worth. A list, if you will, of five anime that the writer considers the best of the best, the crème de la crème of anime. These would then be released on the days approaching year’s end.
Returning to the lounge carriage, I proceeded to read the other documents in detail. Once finished, I ordered another sherry, and read them once more.
Resolving to start immediately, I retrieved my notepad from its hidden compartment in the false bottom of my locked suitcase and returned to my place in the now deserted lounge carriage. Calling in another sherry, I took up my fountain pen and wrote the name of the first series I thought of.
Cardcaptor Sakura, I thought, was a natural place to start.
For each series we were to produce a paragraph or two in explanation of how they earned their place.
With that purpose in mind, and continuing in my slightly off copperplate hand, I noted that Cardcaptor Sakura was the first anime I watched on that not-so-terribly fateful, not-so-terribly summery summer’s afternoon. The series’ characters, relationships, and themes have stuck with me ever since. I noted this also. Quickly realising I could wax lyrical on the series and still not be finished by the time we arrive in Paris, I jotted down a memo to myself in the margins, instructing myself to do so at a later time.
Drawing a line underneath the entry I sat back to think. The first series was easy, but no other series sprang forth with the same fervour.
Idly watching the darkening Austrian countryside beyond the window, I thought of CLAMP, whose works I swept through following my finishing Cardcaptor Sakura. I considered their other numerous adaptations, quickly realising I remembered only Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle and xxxHolic vividly. Whilst the former’s adaptation should be stricken from the history books and the latter’s was cruelly lacking in budget, the OVAs of each series were notable.
The first to manipulate my underused heartstrings was Tsubasa’s Tokyo Revelations. The turning point in a previously light-hearted adventure series, and the start of a chain of increasingly confusing plot twists. Yet the events of the OVA, and the way they were handled by the mostly dependable Production IG, are rather compelling. Clones, heartbreak, and characters consuming other characters’ eyes; it is very CLAMP in a way, but I like it all the same.
Drawing another line, I resolved to charge onwards. Only to find myself hitting a wall. Following my early obsession with all things CLAMP, I recalled that most embarrassing time when one, who has only just been introduced to anime, will watch almost anything. Calling in a stiff drink, I pushed thoughts of Shakugan no Shana aside and resolved to change track.
I asked myself why I continue to suffer my own enjoyment of anime, of what it is that draws me back each time Season’s bell tolls. I answered with visual flair. Animation can do all manner of things that proper films, television, and theatre cannot. Anime itself is known for its distinctive style and visual cues, yet whilst many anime are relatively similar in style, Katanagatari is noticeably different.
Objectively speaking, Katanagatari is a flawed series. It has enough verbiage to bore the oceans dry, and a plot that starts awkwardly and ends with its feet firmly planted in madness. It does, however, have some interesting characters and some wonderful episodes that focus upon them. The gradual softening of Shichika aside, we are treated to the fascinating Tsuruga Mesai, the tragic and terrifying Nanami Yasuri, and the deliciously venomous Hitei-hime. I also note the magnificent fourth episode, and its buildup, as a particular highlight of the series. Indeed, I swiftly added to my notes, the structure of the series—twelve fifty minute episodes, with one aired in each month of the year—marks it as an interesting oddity.
Deciding this my third, I neatly ruled a line beneath the entry. Summoning the steward for another drink with a flourish, I considered my next entry. A film. Multiple titles rushed through my mind; from The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, through The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, to Paprika. None, thought I, were quite suitable. Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away is, however, eminently suitable.
Spirited Away’s story is subdued. Its scenery is stunning and, at times, surreal. Its characters vivid and memorable. It is a twisted Alice in Wonderland, and a coming of age tale that turns Chihiro from whiny brat to sufferable ten year old. The film is also reasonably respectable.
Sufficient excuse, I thought as I finished the final full stop, to consider it suitable. Ruling a line, I looked at the window only to find my own reflection staring back.
With a heavy hand I wrote the name of an unfinished OVA that I have only seen twice, and that cannot be considered objectively brilliant; barring, perhaps, its voice acting. Its character designs are not stellar, and whilst it has flashes of fluidity in its animation, one cannot state it of a quality akin to Kyoto Animation’s. It has a plot, but it is neither complex nor subtle.
Instead, I listed under its title that I would include it because of its fascinating fan following. I include it because it was born amongst a vast wealth of other fan-made content, and I include it because it is representative of the pleasant surprises that one occasionally finds amongst the vast seas of dross that populates this interest. It is also, dare I admit, reasonably fun.
Certain I would come to regret the decision later, I glanced at the title, Touhou Musou Kakyou ~A Summer Day’s Dream~, once again before drawing the final line.
Sitting back in my chair, I flipped through my compiled notes, looking at each of the series in turn: Cardcaptor Sakura, Tsubasa Tokyo Revelations, Katanagatari, Spirited Away, and Touhou Musou Kakyou. Sighing, I asked of the empty room, ‘now how in the world am I supposed to write this blasted thing?’