Why I Watch Anime – Redux

So, this is something many of my friends ask. Why do you talk about anime? It’s only cartoons. Shouldn’t you be saying more about books? And, of course, they have a point. Anime is only a side interest for me, with writing and reading (and running) taking up most of my free time. So, this is an attempt to answer them, in a perhaps slightly more personal take on the genre.

Here we go:

Anime at its best is an art form that makes me think more, feel more, and provides an audio-visual feast for the senses.

Oh. You wanted more than that?

OK. First of all then, it’s about the story. In anime, I have experienced an incredibly rich vein of story-telling, including tales that just wouldn’t work so well in any other medium. Not just great stories, but with some fantastic twists in the plot and a rich array of characters to flesh out the tapestry.

Then it’s the artwork. Many anime have stunning visuals that just suck you in. Sometimes that’s the scenery, beautiful enough that you think “I’d like to visit there”. Or it could be the characters, captured in a particular pose or with an expression that moves the story on without using any words. Then there’s moments of action, so intricately choreographed you can’t but help admire the skill of the artists.

Not to mention the music. The best anime have some fantastic soundtracks, right up to full orchestra set pieces, with great synchronisation between what you hear and what you see on screen. And then there’s the opening and ending songs. Many of these are hits in their own right, from ballads and poppy tunes through to tracks which verge on grunge metal.

Somehow, when all this melds together, there’s a magical spell that draws you in. (If you’ve been paying attention, that is, not doodling on your tablet…) You no longer just feel that you are watching a cartoon, but – as with any story – you are engaged in the world the characters inhabit. And like with any art form. you will hopefully encounter some works that reach your soul.

As I said at the start, Anime makes me think more and feel more.

I watched open mouthed as the intricate plot unfolded in Stein’s Gate; cheered on the characters in SAO; howled with laughter at Miss Kobayashis’ Dragon Maid; then Your Lie in April broke my heart; and Violet Evergarden healed me.

My heart soared at Joe Hisaishi’s swooping orchestral pieces; it pounded faster at the tempo of Sawano Hiroyuki’s upbeat tracks; Radwimps anthems helped me to chill; and I still can’t stop smiling and humming the powerful, beautiful, ballads of Eir Aoi and LiSA.

Laid Back Camp made me want to get back into the outdoors; 86 Eighty Six made me take a closer look at the world around me; in the midst of the pandemic, Toradora gave me the courage to carry on; Iroduku taught me to believe in myself; and Barakamon got me to pick my pen up and get back to writing.

So, no, my time watching anime has not been wasted; it has helped me to live life.

Still not convinced?

Go watch at least the movies of Spirited Away, Grave of the Fireflies, Your Name, and Millennium Actress; then tell me there’s not something special about this art form. (Grittier recommendations are also available!)

This, then, is why I watch anime.

So thank you, Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli, Kyoto Animation, Makoto Shinkai, A-1 Pictures, Sunrise Studio, Bones, P A Works, J. C. Staff, and so many, many more, for bringing so much art into my life.

Posted 05/12/2022

86 Eighty Six – a recommendation


Whatever your preference in art and entertainment, every now and then you come across something that really has a ‘wow’ factor. Maybe it’s a book that keeps you turning every page; a movie that glues you to your seat ’til the last of the credits rolls; a painting you can’t tear your eyes away from. I recently finished reading ‘Clara and the Sun‘ by Kazuo Ishiguro… and that book will live with me for a long time.

Now, I also enjoy the art form called anime. (“Really, we hadn’t noticed,” I hear some of you say!) Still, it’s rare that I come across a series in the medium that is truly outstanding. But 2021’s production of 86 Eighty Six is just that. The writing, detail, music and symbolism are so good it deserves a blog of its own.

Walk through the streets
and you’ll see that the first modern republic in the world
is just an empty shell.”

Synopsis (no spoilers)

86 Eighty Six is set sometime and somewhere in the future, although it feels like it could be central Europe. The republic of San Magnolia is at war. Cheery newsreaders assure citizens there have been no casualties, for the battles are fought by unmanned drones. Except that isn’t quite true…

The drones are manned by members of the 86th District, who do not share the same physical characteristics as other citizens (white hair, grey eyes). Indeed, the ’86’ are looked down on by the San Magnolians, who see them as sub-human. Still, their task is simple: fight for their assigned number of days and they will have won their freedom. But of course, things aren’t quite that easy.

The story centres around the elite Spearhead squadron. These young veterans are led on the battlefield by Shinei Nouzen, who goes by the ominous callsign of ‘Undertaker‘. Meanwhile, a handler watches their battles remotely, back in San Magnolia. ‘Handler One‘ is the newly appointed Major Vladilena Mirize. Lena is mocked by her own people for showing concern for the 86, whilst in turn the 86 scorn her for being little more than a naïve do-gooder.

The news you see every morning isn’t true.
People are dying!

Why you should watch this show

If that synopsis made 86 Eighty Six sound like a battle-focussed show with a thin veneer of other stuff, you couldn’t be more wrong. Yes, there are battles – but they are part of the canvas, not what the story is about.

This isn’t a show just about racism either, but it does have a lot to say on it, and that feels very relevant. It also has a lot to say about the horrors of war – and that too feels very relevant. But 86 Eighty Six is more than all that, as you will discover if you watch it.

‘Show don’t tell’ is a familiar maxim in writing. This is something that 86 Eighty Six delivers by the bucket-load. For example, attitudes are shown through graffiti on city walls, and in the way the 86 react to their new handler. This show is packed with visual details which help flesh out the story and its characters.

The series opens with a large cast, but quickly hones in on just a few. Each is well thought out, with their own ‘backstory’ and – importantly – they grow and change as events affect them. Oh, and there is a ‘dog’ called Fido. Admittedly he goes “beep” rather than “woof“, and he looks nothing like a dog, but trust me: he is man’s best friend.

Most anime series don’t have the budget of an anime film (think £200k per episode rather than £25m). Despite this, much of the animation in 86 Eighty Six is extremely well done, whether in battle or the quieter moments. In one of my favourite scenes, Lena and Shin are each walking alone at night. ‘Handler One’ is in the open air, beneath a moonlit sky filled with scudding clouds. ‘Undertaker’ is in the corridors of a dusty building, but bathed by the same moonlight. As mentioned above, watch closely for all the details!

And if this has made 86 Eighty Six sound all doom and gloom, again you couldn’t be more wrong. There are times the emotions hit hard, but also times you will laugh!

Finally, 86 Eighty Six is peppered with a solid soundtrack. There’s some great opening / ending songs too, including the hauntingly beautiful Avid‘ by Sawano Hiroyuki.

Dreaming is a privilege afforded by youth,
Lieutenant Milizé.”


86 Eighty Six is a stunning anime, with a distinctive story and a cast of well-drawn characters. (Yep, pun fully intended.) ‘Masterpiece’ is a word over-used in any review, but so much thought has gone into this show at all levels that it truly is appropriate.

All told, 86 Eighty Six joins the ranks of those few anime series or films that I recommend without reserve. Even to those who don’t watch anime! If you can get over the fact that Yes, this is a cartoon you are watching, you will discover a deep and moving show with some of the very best storytelling.

If, one day, you make it to our final destination,
would you please leave flowers?


  • Rated 8.2/10 on IMDB
  • 23 episodes, each 24 minutes
  • Watch the trailer on Youtube.
  • Currently on Crunchyroll (free with repetitive ads, or without ads via subscription / free trial). Hopefully soon to be on other streaming services. No disrespect to Crunchyroll, but this show deserves wider exposure to a much larger audience.
  • Definitely not one for younger children. The violence is more often implied than graphic, but the series touches on some dark topics.
  • I recommend watching with subtitles, rather than dubbed. The Japanese voice actors put so much work into getting to know their characters, and it shows.

Article posted 30/12/22