Top 5 + Guest: Best "Morally Gray" Anime

I’m often asked to give recommendations for anime I think people should watch.  While that’s a simple request, the answer is maybe a little more complicated for myself and...
hanamonogatari

I’m often asked to give recommendations for anime I think people should watch.  While that’s a simple request, the answer is maybe a little more complicated for myself and our writers at Beneath the Tangles.  We have series that we think are beneficial for our readers to watch; those that are both beneficial and entertaining; and series that are fun, but not necessarily ones we’d recommend because we’d consider them “morally gray.”  This final group of anime are comprised of shows you generally wouldn’t see us discuss here and that many of writers might avoid because of excessive fanservice, nihilistic themes, graphic violence, themes that don’t jive with our beliefs, etc.  Still, there’s still value in many of these shows, and they might be worth the watch, which is why we’ll be giving our top five lists of morally gray anime today.  But, of course, viewer beware.

We’re blessed to have iblessall joining us as our guest today.  You know him from Mage in the Barrel, a wonderful and very active anime blog.  I highly encourage you check it out – and perhaps very germane to our discussion today, click over and see iblessall’s critique of Maria the Virgin Witch.

iblessall’s Picks

  1. Nisemonogatari
  2. Seitokai Yakuindomo
  3. White Album 2
  4. Junketsu no Maria
  5. Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere

For me, making a decision on whether or not to recommend a show to someone usually comes down to one particular question: do the good things about this show outweigh the bad to make it worth watching? In truth, I’m not sure any of the shows on this list are conclusively among those whose troubling elements override the good pieces (most shows like that I never even bothered to finish), but all of them certainly exist much closer to the line than my favorites do. Anyone familiar with the first two titles on my list should understand why they’re there, but the final three merit a bit more explanation. White Album 2’s ending troubles me a great deal because, although the story as a whole functions a cautionary tale, the lack of offered alternatives or even the faintest hint of possible reconciliation makes the show feel incredibly nihilistic and hopeless to me. Junketsu no Maria (on which I’ve written elsewhere and will write again) worries me with both its portrayal of Catholicism and its dangerously simplistic morality, traits that sadly compromise the quality of its likable cast. Finally, Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere boasts mostly boilerplate ecchi, but it’s so copious and so egregious that I always have to pause before recommending.

Kaze’s Picks

  1. Oretachi Tsubasa wa Nai
  2. Monogatari Series
  3. Baccano
  4. Perfect Blue
  5. Shokugeki no Souma

OreTsuba is one anime I will always praise and never recommend. It’s less grey and more black, with an obscene amount of fan service, especially the uncensored version. But the storyboarding? Top notch. This is an amazing example of a really well adapted VN. The Monogatari series is perhaps plenty infamous already, but between fan service, toothbrushes, and the like, it’s tough to rec this to others. Morally grey aside, it is also extremely conversation based, and relies heavily on Japanese culture and language puns, making it even harder to rec. Baccano has a different kind of problem, with it being overall a very violent show, which some Christians may have problems with, but I rate the show very highly. Perfect Blue, like many works by Satoshi Kon, is wonderfully directed, but the content is most definitely mature and has a couple disturbing scenes. The last one you might notice only just started airing, so I might be jumping the gun, but I thoroughly enjoy the Shokugeki no Souma manga and consider to be a surprisingly well done shounen. But that fan service is really extreme.

stardf29’s Picks

  1. Sister Princess
  2. Monogatari Series
  3. Listen To Me Girls. I Am Your Father! (Papa no Iu Koto o Kikinasai!)
  4. Dog Days
  5. Aoi Hana (Sweet Blue Flowers)

If you are open to checking out a show that looks at the relationship trials of genuine lesbians, Aoi Hana is an excellent show, but it’s definitely something not all Christians will be okay with. I’ve praised Dog Days in the Winter 2015 anime reviews, but it’s got a fair amount of fanservice to watch out for. I’ve also talked about Papakiki on this blog, albeit in an old guest post; it’s a wonderful show, but the fanservice moments, especially with the ten-year-old girl, not to mention the pseudo-incestuous (but thankfully one-sided) attraction between the older step-niece and the main guy. And speaking of incest, Sister Princess never quite crosses that line, but it comes awfully close (and has some questionable tarot/reincarnation elements to boot); even if you can handle that, it’s admittedly not a high quality show. However, I found it a very sweet anime about family and learning to live for others.

Samuru’s Picks

  1. Chobits
  2. Attack On Titan
  3. Parasyte
  4. Gurren Lagann
  5. FLCL

Chobits and FLCL are pretty old anime’s, but also full of fanservice and strange. Around the same time there was another wacky anime called Excel Saga similar to FLCL, which is why at that time people thought anime was very strange that were not familiar with it. Attack on Titan is an amazing series and opening doors to anime in the USA, but the extreme horror, violence and spirit of hopelessness that is all over every episode is not one I could recommend to a Christian viewer new to the genre, as well as Parasyte with all it’s gore. Gurren Lagann is a popular one as well, but the fanservice, foul language and sexual jokes that are pretty common in most anime. Having said all this, I can say that Gurren Lagann and AoT have great plots and are very good series aside from their morally gray aspects.

TWWK’s Picks

  1. Phantom ~Requiem for the Phantom~
  2. Love Hina
  3. Monogatari
  4. Kara no Kyoukai
  5. Maison Ikkoku

My first pick is a strange one, because I actually did recommend it to Japes during last year’s Secret Santa, but I did so knowing that he could handle the series, which is so devastating and dark that I left most every episode feeling empty and even a bit nihilistic.  In that manner, it’s a bit like Attack on Titan on steroids, at least when it comes to feels.  Love Hina is a beloved series to me, but the fanservice is annoying (and far more prevalent in Akamatsu’s manga).  Kara no Kyoukai is an amazing show, but I hesitate to recommend it due to some of the violent material, while Monogatari has already been mentioned by a couple of others.  My last pick is another of my favorite shows, but man, we talk about fanservice now, but Akemi is literally topless throughout many of her scenes – talk about uncomfortable.

What about you all?  What are some series you enjoy, but hestitate to recommend?  Give us your top five!

Otaku. Dad. Occasionally Korean. Enjoys Star Wars, Game of Thrones, and Meg Ryan movies. Self-anointed sushi chef. Ghibli. Oregairuuuuu. Forever stuck in the 90’s. Thinks the 80’s was better than it was. Jesus is King.

17 Comments on this post.

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  • Jonny
    13 May 2015 at 5:00 pm

    Regarding Baccano: Caitlin Glass, a Christian, was in the show as Miria Harvent and didn’t seem to mind the violence in the DVD commentary. Then again, the her and Isaac’s scenes were very lighthearted.

    Lupin III is pretty tame besides the fanservice, and the anime is much, much less offensive than the original manga. The movie Mystery of Mamo is a pretty dark shade of gray however, but I can get past that because of its surreal plot and cartoony animation.

    Leave a Reply
    • TWWK
      13 May 2015 at 7:29 pm

      I haven’t seen Baccano, so I can’t comment on the content, but I do know Caitlin a bit, and I thought it would be worthwhile to mention her approach to anime. She approaches the series an actor would, playing a role, no matter (beyond certain limits I’m sure) what that role entails, as it’s her job to tell a story. I think of it as, say, doing a movie about the Book of Genesis – without the sinners and evil-doers, you wouldn’t be telling a full story, and someone would need to play their roles if we’re to see the whole story. She’s also mentioned that her taking roles that might seem “unchristian” could be a powerful way of witnessing to lots of folks.

      If you’re interested, she went into more detail in one of our interviews.

      Leave a Reply
    • iblessall
      13 May 2015 at 9:40 pm

      I found some of Baccano’s more violent scenes to be pretty tough to get through, personally and that’s definitely been something that stopped me from 1) buying it without a second thought, and 2) trying to use it as a gateway anime for friends.

      Leave a Reply
      • Jonny
        14 May 2015 at 6:35 am

        I like Caitlin’s view that violence in a work of fiction isn’t inherently bad, and that the negative stuff of the world can be used to show a message. Like Vic Mignogna said, it depends on the general tone of the show. Baccano! doesn’t take itself very seriously for the most part, and it’s worth noting that a lot of the characters are immortal which somewhat lessens the impact of the violence.

        And Charles – I’d like to hear your thoughts on illegal anime/manga streaming if that’s alright. I understand that as a Christian you prefer watching anime through legal means (and so do I), but I remember checking your MAL list and seeing Turn A Gundam in it, a show that hasn’t ever been officially available in the west legally as far as I know.

        Four great but morally ambiguous shows beside Lupin III: Kaiji, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Revolutionary Girl Utena, FLCL. I guess that’s my top five list.

        Leave a Reply
        • TWWK
          14 May 2015 at 10:15 am

          My stance on streaming is that we as Christians really need to be streaming legally – we should be following the law and, I think, there’s a deeper moral principle here we should be following. And so, I watch most series through Crunchyroll or Hulu Plus.

          That said, I understand this is not an easy issue. I’m in a place in my life where I can afford both these services (and Hulu was already something my wife subscribed, too – I was surprised to see some shows on there not showing elsewhere, like Death Parade). And I’ve watched series through extralegal means in the past – in fact, almost exclusively until the last few years. It’s taken a long time to resolve this hypocrisy in my life, and I’m still working on it – while I’ve been lucky to really only watch shows that are streaming on sites I subscribe to the last few years, when something comes along that isn’t on one of those sites and I really want to watch it, I may bend.

          This is also a prime issue for Christian anime fans in general – what are we to do? I think we all know the answer…the question is whether we can submit to Christ in this area, too, as we should every part of our lives.

          Leave a Reply
          • stardf29
            15 May 2015 at 4:45 am

            I’ve always been a champion of legal streaming, but even I find myself watching a show through other means because a legal stream is not available (such as with Dog Days” last season). In those cases, as long as I liked the show at least a little, I always make sure that if the show does get a DVD or Blu-ray release in the US later, that I buy it (a rule I have even applied to shows that I watched many years ago, before legal streaming was widespread).

            In some cases, a show is not available for streaming while it airs in Japan but becomes available for streaming later. In those cases, if you watched the show through other means at first, I’d recommend that when the show does get streamed, you watch it again via that stream. At the very least, start playing the stream while you do something else–that at least logs the view count and contributes the appropriate royalties to the creators, as well as provide important viewership data for both the Japanese and US licensors.

            There are other ways you can show your support for shows that do not get legal localizations in the US, such as importing OP/ED singles (or the Blu-ray volumes themselves, but those are really expensive–but that certainly supports the creators the most directly). In the end, I would think of all this as less “not doing something legal” and more “supporting the creators of things you love”.

          • Jonny
            15 May 2015 at 12:31 pm

            TWWK and stardf29 – thank you both for your thoughts.

  • Samuru
    13 May 2015 at 5:38 pm

    Ha, I forgot about Love Hina that’s one I wouldn’t recommend either. Though I personally enjoyed all of it, especially the Christmas episode and several others. It had a very heartfelt story.

    Leave a Reply
    • TWWK
      13 May 2015 at 7:30 pm

      The Christmas episode is perhaps my favorite single “episode” of any anime ever. So much so that I think I’ve done at least three or four posts about it (I do one pretty much every Christmastime)!

      Leave a Reply
      • Samuru
        13 May 2015 at 8:25 pm

        Yeah I have read them! It touches your heart in that Christmas feeling way. The song of the episode is great too, I have it on my playlist haha. It was a classic show I watched when I was younger, though I didn’t notice the fanservice as much then than now for some odd reason…

        Leave a Reply
  • Tommy Phillips (@CrazyPackersFan)
    13 May 2015 at 9:26 pm

    When I saw this post, I actually expected a list of anime that deal with moral issues but don’t take a stand on which side is right. Rather the list surprised me, as it’s more about anime that are morally “wrong.” Either way, it’s a good post! In any case, I don’t think I’ve seen enough series to make a list on this.

    Leave a Reply
    • TWWK
      14 May 2015 at 10:08 am

      Yeah, there are a few ways to interpret the topic. And that’s an interesting idea as well, and one that would take more thought…

      Leave a Reply
  • Takuto’s Anime Cafe
    13 May 2015 at 10:42 pm

    What an interesting topic! My Morally Gray anime include Neon Genesis Evangelion, Higurashi, and Yosuga no Sora for psychological distress, mad gore/insanity, and bro x sis that shouldn’t be happening, respectively. The first two are amazing tho!

    Leave a Reply
    • TWWK
      14 May 2015 at 10:10 am

      Oh, those are very good picks. When I was younger in my faith, Evangelion really bothered me in ways it doesn’t anymore. And certainly, Higurashi would fit here as well – I never finished the manga, but I remember it well – the shock of the violence (even if it isn’t as graphic as it could be) remains with me. And Yosuga no Sora…yeah…I didn’t even make it through the first episode. -_-‘

      Leave a Reply
  • Sam
    14 May 2015 at 1:23 pm

    Hm. I’m surprised that Berserk isn’t on this list, with the violence of the show and the spiritual aspect. I’ve seen two episodes so far, and it seems really good, despite the aforementioned elements. I wouldn’t use it as a gateway anime (I use stuff like SAO, AoT, Barakamon, and Silver Spoon for newbies), but it does have some interesting themes and values that I’m enjoying seeing the series explore fully as it goes on.

    I think though, the question that comes to the forefront is “Are the messages that I *can* glean from this show worth exposing myself to the parts that won’t help me at all?” Personally, as a guy, I don’t feel very comfortable with watching Kill la Kill, because even though the fanservice is used in a satirical manner to expose stereotypes (and the heroine doesn’t even like how revealing her “battle armor” is), it’s still there and over-the-top. I don’t fault others for watching it, and I think it’s great if you can watch it and grow from it. Personally, I like Black Rock Shooter, but I know some anime fans who won’t touch it, either because of fanservice or the plot. It all comes down to the viewer’s personal convictions.

    Thanks for the article! I love topics like this; I always find something new to check out and more ideas to think about. 🙂

    Leave a Reply
    • TWWK
      27 May 2015 at 10:15 am

      Berserk almost certainly would have made the list, I think, if Medieval Otaku had joined in – most of the rest of us haven’t seen the series, though it’s well loved by many. We also all had to cut some favorites off the list, and may have forgotten some (I’m suddenly remember Claymore, as long as we’re talking about medieval-looking shows).

      And yes, that question you bring up is important. I think that’s a lot of what we try to do here – take away the good we can find. At an slighter level, we take away values significant to our faith from shows where they were never intended, and at a heavier level, we might do the same for shows that might otherwise cause us to sin, at which point we have to think about whether it’s worth it. Kill la Kill is a good example! One recent one for me was Yuri Kuma Arashi, a show that may not have been that great, but which I thought was chock full of symbolism and themes that were worth writing about – ultimately, largely because of the fanservice, I stopped watching, even though I’m a Ikuhara fan.

      Thanks for the comments!

      Leave a Reply
  • Kae-Leah
    20 February 2016 at 9:11 pm

    Utena’s definitely the best morally gray anime, IMHO.

    Leave a Reply
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