When I began this blog, I didn’t think it was going to last. A month or two, three at the most. I have a tendency of creating big, ambitious plans that I fail to follow through on. Making a blog where I organize all my weird thoughts about anime and games was a neat idea, but surely short-lived.
Still, I didn’t let my habitual flakiness discourage me, and here we are, a year later. Believe it or not, the Otaku Exhibition has done pretty well in that time. I don’t know if it’s something about my style, if I just manage to say the right things, or it’s pure dumb luck, but a surprising number of people have found their way here and decided to stick around. For that support, I am grateful.
However, I’m not the type to reinvent the wheel. The Otaku Exhibition might be special as far as essays waxing poetic on anime go, but if it is, I’m unaware of it. So, when deciding how to cap off a successful year, I figured the only way to do it was the same as every other anime blogger and Youtuber; make a 3×3.
If you’re unfamiliar, a 3×3 is literally just placing nine of your favorite anime, manga, or whatever, on a grid in a three by three pattern. These aren’t necessarily your favorite, though they often are, they’re usually indicative of your taste. If you watched something at a formative time and it really struck a chord with you, it goes on the 3×3. Every anime here is either a culmination of my taste in a particular genre, or was important in molding my taste.
This is only talking about anime, and when making both my anime and manga 3x3s, I made sure there was no overlap. If I prefer it as a manga, it went there, and I unfortunately ignored it in the anime category. So, if you want to see that, maybe stick around for another year. With that said, let’s get into it.
But a 3×3 is pretty boring if you don’t know why I picked each of these titles, so I’ll dig a little deeper. Most of these aren’t going to be surprising if you’ve kept up with the blog, but I’m counting on the high probability that you may have missed my posts called Re: Zero or Beastars a masterpiece. First though, Gurren Lagann holds a special place in my heart for being one half of the greatest shot-chaser combo in anime.
You might have seen me ruthlessly criticize Evangelion, go a little softer on End of Eva, or fall madly in love with the Rebuild films, but I think anyone trying to get a grasp of what mecha is capable of should watch NGE and Gurren Lagann back to back. The two are demonstrative of the genre’s extremes, and their merits compensate for the other’s flaws.
But this is me talking about why I love Gurren Lagann, and it’s for the simple fact that it stands atop the mountain of “anime where the hero screams until he wins”. It’s the simple chemistry that makes something as basic as a BLT work: Saturday morning cartoon campiness, impeccable fight animation, and lovable characters persevering through sheer grit and corny catchphrases.
It’s not perfect, but Gurren Lagann embodies the anime fan in me who never grew up. Throw out your complex plots and nuanced characters, I want to watch two robots fistfight.
Danmachi follows very closely to why I like Gurren Lagann. It’s a plain fantasy anime with an overpowered protagonist and a lot of waifus. There’s not a lot of depth to it, though if you’re interested in that depth, I wrote a whole essay about it. The fact is that Danmachi is my fun fantasy cotton candy.
I could be oversimplifying, downplaying its many redeeming features to make a point, as its character writing and aesthetic are phenomenal. However, I love Danmachi because I don’t need to wrack my brain for why I like it. There’s anime on this list that forces me to think, and there’s a space for those shows, but Danmachi isn’t that demanding.
Er, I promise we’ll get deep and reflective real soon, but this is a slow buildup, so sit back and I’ll get more elaborate with each entry.
Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family is an easy watch, the same as its two predecessors on this list, but don’t dismiss it for a second as not being a substantial viewing experience. I’ve already raved about it at length, but Emiya Gohan is the rare spin-off anime that builds on its source material, even as it shatters the canon beyond repair.
Fate stay/night is a beautiful, tragic story where you are bound to hurt people you care about and make mistakes. Across all three routes, none is considered perfect, and people have to be left behind in order to save others; it is a monument of storytelling. But guess what? I love every character, except Shinji, and want them all to be happy, except Shinji, so I’m going to adore the anime where they get together and cook nice wholesome meals together. I will grit my teeth and tolerate the parts where Shinji is there.
We’re not done with the light-hearted content yet, but I think diving a bit into shonen will help pick up the viewers we lost in the therapeutic anime segment.
Haikyu is one of those shows you might be able to watch for therapeutic reasons; its characters are lovable and goofy, and their interactions are equally so. That’s not why I watch it though. I watch Haikyu because I never gave a damn about sports in my life, and this dumb volleyball anime got me jumping out of my seat and somehow cheering.
Listen, I’ve already written about pretty much every series here, so I have to be careful not to repeat myself, but Haikyu is just so good at tricking you into caring about the outcome of a high school volleyball game. I’ve tried so many sports, but I’ve never been able to grasp why people enjoy watching them until Haikyu.
I don’t watch Haikyu because it’s light-hearted and fun, I love it because it is deadly serious. Every single major character takes volleyball seriously and watching their desperate struggle to overcome opponents is every bit as compelling as your usual shonen magic battles. If you’ve never understood sports, one watch of Haikyu is all you need to get it.
We have another Shonen Jump title here, the most recent rising star in anime, Jujutsu Kaisen. I have talked quite a bit about it in my review and when I analyzed a few shonen power systems, but I haven’t gotten into why I love it specifically. I could have put it in my manga 3×3, but the anime is just that much better, and edges it out.
Sunghoo Park is a master of fight choreography, and Jujutsu Kaisen is the best opportunity to praise him, thanks to The God of High School going off the rails. Mangaka Gege Akutami has a brilliant mind for coming up with unique powers and cursed techniques, but Park’s direction is what makes them come to life. Each fight is visceral, clean, and easy to follow, and MAPPA’s animators outdid themselves across the board.
I’ll avoid mentioning the story because JJK is nowhere near the heights it will soon reach when we get a season two, but right now, the fights and the characters are all the reason you need to watch it.
Now, this is the part of the 3×3 where I’m able to get pretentious, because Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai is just that well-written. Take it from someone who has watched their fair share of high school anime and just got sick of it, sick of the same tropes and characters. I’m not saying Bunny Girl Senpai will manage to shake you out of that funk, but if it doesn’t, nothing will.
I hate the idea that every piece of fiction needs to subvert your expectations. If something isn’t groundbreaking and unpredictable, it’s somehow less than. Every story needs to unnecessarily defy genre conventions, is that right? Well, Bunny Girl Senpai actually manages to do that organically.
Not because it’s edgy or trashing all the high school romcoms and anime about loner high school guys, but because it makes for a genuinely interesting story. Bunny Girl Senpai is interested in its tropey characters and the psychology that goes into making them as people, and it treats its teenage characters as actual people with complex personalities and lives. It’s a level of respect you don’t often get in fiction written by adults, and it’s surprisingly rare. As someone who was once a teenager, I can appreciate that.
Your Lie in April might be a little surprising to have made it here, because I wrote a two-parter about both it and Anohana. Between the two, I would say Anohana is a lot more emotionally moving than Your Lie in April. In a vacuum, Anohana would probably take this spot. It’s just that I’m not a person who lived their life in an empty room before being shown these two anime.
I’m a writer; get your gasps out of the way. I’m also stuck-up and pretentious, as writers so often are. That means when I see stories that talk about artistry, it hits me just a little bit harder than other stories do. Kosei and Kaori’s struggles to find themselves as artists and prove themselves are a lot more personal to me than Anohana’s broader approach to how we grieve.
It’s also why Your Lie in April narrowly beat Those Snow White Notes for this spot, but that one lost for two reasons: I wasn’t sure if my decision-making was compromised by recency bias, and Your Lie in April is a complete series, while Those Snow White Notes is just getting started. It could be that this 3×3 will shift drastically over time because I’m always watching new anime and my opinions on ones I’ve already watched are constantly evolving.
I wasn’t sure if this would make it here, or if Beastars would have to slip onto the manga 3×3. The problem is that I’m reading the manga as I have time to pick up the tankoban, so it’s a little slower than some of the stuff I read digitally. The solution to that problem was that the second season finally released in the US in July, and Beastars’ claws haven’t dulled since its first outing.
It’s weird, creative, and I’m never able to predict where the story is going. I might have just ragged on serious that do that unnecessarily, but Beastars pulls off being a tender coming-of-age story and a tense psychological thriller. It does that while having some amazing world building; seriously, Beastars’ setting is one of the most intricate I’ve ever seen in anime.
I’ve already tried to break down the extended metaphor of Beastars’ world, and honestly, I’m not closer than when I started, so no point in continuing here. Either way, it’s one of my favorite anime, and I’m eagerly awaiting what’s next.
Unlike Beastars, I have long since given up on being unpredictable. Re: Zero is my favorite anime, and I’m not going to pretend that it isn’t. Would I say it’s the best anime of all time? No, because we only have a measly two seasons. When season eight rolls around, thought, I will fully take credit for knowing it was a masterpiece from the beginning.
But it isn’t my favorite anime because of its brilliantly layered story and densely written characters. I love Re: Zero because, for a painfully long time, I saw too much of myself in Subaru, its “hero”. Every cringe-inducing line and embarassing action in season one, all I could think of was how a younger me would have and did say the same things.
Like Subaru, I was painfully socially incompetent, and just unaware of it enough to not let it stop me from making a fool of myself. It hurts thinking about the way he simultaneously puts the girl he likes on a pedestal while also refusing to offer the barest minimum of respect, or the way he lashed out at her when she couldn’t respond the way he wanted to because of his own poor communication skills. Re: Zero is harder to rewatch the further I get from being that same sort of person, but I wouldn’t trade the experience of watching Subaru grow out of that for anything.
Maybe it’s an exclusively personal pick, but Re: Zero is my favorite anime. There’s a lot of reasons for that, but chief among them is because it says that you aren’t bound to the person you were yesterday, and you have an obligation to be better than them tomorrow.
So that’s it, my 3×3 and a whole year of the Otaku Exhibition. I certainly hope to get the chance to share something like this again in a year’s time. I think I’ve already spilled my guts enough for now, though, so I’ll refrain from saying anything profound here.
If you started reading in October 2020, or you won’t find any of my essays until months or years after I hit publish on this 3×3, you still have made a contribution to the Otaku Exhibition. Sure, I’m the one putting my dumb thoughts on anime out onto the internet, but it wouldn’t be possible if nobody took the time to read them. So thank you, and I hope to see you next year. Until next time, thanks for reading.