You know old internet meme of anime series of various darkness levels being throw into cartoon sections? The classic case of “this art style looks cute, so it’s meant for kids” thing and then having kids actually watch these things and ending up being scarred for life? (To be honest, I think that kids should be scared but that’s a topic for later.) Adults and employees neglecting to look at the ratings of certain series aside, anime does have a history of using a younger art style of characters as a visual dissonance for all the hard themes that go in a series quite a bit. I’ve heard during the Retro Mecha Podcast about how Zambot 3 was a dark take on a super robot series centered around children. That aired in 1977 and it was Tomino, so maybe that was inevitable. So out of all the history anime centered around the death of childhood hopes and dreams, here are five-ish shows I consider interesting enough to watch. Maybe child haters like Irina will enjoy this post? (I’m kidding and sorry Irina, I had to. Love you to death.)
1) Made in Abyss
This seems like an obvious one because it’s the latest show in this list, but that doesn’t change the fact that it deserves a place here. Made in Abyss is an adventure series centered around two kids traveling down a literal circle of hell on Earth toward the bottom. The art style for these characters is cute, but that doesn’t make the drama any less real. Especially since there are hard reveals about how one of these characters wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for the terrors of the abyss itself. Not to mention some mad science experiments on kids and a creature actually getting one of these kids and causing unknown horrors as well. All of this sounds bad, but it’s just so powerful and well done. I can’t recommend this show enough. One of my favorite shows of 2017.
2) Madoka Magica (and other “dark” magical girl shows)
I bet you were expecting this one too, right? Yeah, I am nothing but predictable with this list and that’s ok I think. Yes, it’s a “dark” magical girl series that pushes the bounds of magical girl shows that most people know about from Cardcaptor Sakura and Sailor Moon. It pushes the bounds of all of that too existential horror through the darkness of people’s wishes. All of that crazy stuff. All that being said, Madoka isn’t original when it comes to this. I mean, Princess tutu, Magical Girl Site, and a few others that I have heard about do the same things as well. Still, Madoka does have a place here and it is worth talking about.
3) Bokurano: Ours
It would be easy to call Bokurano a mech show. It does have the set up for one. You know, the classic super robot opening of kids meeting at a beach, meeting some random guy, and then they control a giant robot somehow? Yeah, that’s the plot. The show much more traumatic then that. Every episode is a vignette of one our characters solving their problems in some way before they die. Yes, ever episode or sometimes a duo of episodes, a child dies horribly. All this to feed the existential threat or multiverse tournament of deciding which Earth should live. That isn’t anything that kids should deal with, but the weight of the world is put on this large group of kids. It’s such a powerful show, if you are interested in it.
4) A lot of things created by Hideako Anno
From Gunbuster to Nadia: Secret of Blue Water to Evangelion, Hideaki Anno has a history of pushing kid characters farther then they should be pushed. Nadia has an early episode where our young teenage protagonists pick up a young girl under the corpse of her dead mom. The girl in question’s parents were killed by a fascist regime which adds to the terrifying factor. Do I need to say anymore here? Do I need to mention the fact that Eva pushed younger characters to grow up faster then they should have (Asuka), one turned out to be a literal clone, and Shinji’s deal. What does Anno have against kids? A lot it seems.
5) Girl’s Last Tour
A unique one here, but I am going to push that it counts. This show is two young girls traveling around an apocalyptic world where barely anybody lives in it. They fend for themselves trying to find food and fuel to keep their journey going. This topic come into play more during Girl’s Last Tour’s last few episodes where how the would turned into it’s current state. It’s somehow displayed subtlety, despite the fact that giant robots with powerful laser canons are not subtle, but it’s a lot to take in for people their age. I couldn’t imagine the kind of things they had to live through. Existential horror is terrifying, no matter how you slice it.
I think that each one of these shows are interesting enough to look at from a lot of perspectives. Yes, I know I am leaving some out. Hunter x Hunter and Full Metal Alchemist deserve a place here as well and I’m sure I missed a whole bunch of series that I can’t think of on the top of my head. List your favorites in the comments.
Just don’t watch these around kids unless you want to ruin their lives. (Or give them a unique perspective to think about as they go about their lives.)