This is holiday time – for me the moment to catch up with my favourite anime/manga, discovering new ones and watching/ reading some of the beloved, old series. A discussion I had a few days ago with a friend was about the fact that many of them are dark and gritty – and probably not appropriate for children / YA, which are, after all, their first intended audience. I’m not talking (only) about mecha / military series, even though some of them are of a quality that can easily match GoT (in the sense: they end for lack of contenders, all died in a horrible / sad way).
Today’s question is: what is the darkest anime/manga you have come across? And why did you (dis)like it?
I’ll start with my own (short, only five items) list – with the ones that managed to impress me in a way or another [BTW: I have kept movies out, otherwise things like Ghost in the Shell and Perfect Blue would have certainly found a place. I’ll write about them in another post.]
- Psyco-Pass [ サイコパス]
This one is probably my favourite, and not only for the presence of Shougo Makashima, one of the best villains the anime world has ever known. The series is a great dystopian portrait of a sort of Minority Report society. Here the synopsis from Anime.net: “Justice, and the enforcement of it, has changed. In the 22nd century, Japan enforces the Sibyl System, an objective means of determining the threat level of each citizen by examining their mental state for signs of criminal intent, known as their Psycho-Pass. Inspectors uphold the law by subjugating, often with lethal force, anyone harbouring the slightest ill-will; alongside them are Enforcers, jaded Inspectors that have become latent criminals, granted relative freedom in exchange for carrying out the Inspectors’ dirty work.”
- Gundam [ ガンダムシリーズ ]
I have written so many posts about the Gundam multiverse that this complex mecha series needs no further introduction (you can read about it here). However, not all Gundam are of the same quality when it comes to dystopia and gloomy atmospheres, and some are pretty dark indeed, no matter if their audience is juvenile. There’s no agreement in the fandom about which one is the darkest – but about these three there’s a general consensus:
Mobil Suit Z Gundam
0080:War in the pocket
My own take? Nothing is darkest than Z Gundam, after which you might well be tempted to stop watching Gundam altogether (don’t do it – it gets better).
- Ergo Proxy [エルゴプラクシー]
“Within the domed city of Romdo lies one of the last human civilisations on Earth. Thousands of years ago, a global ecological catastrophe doomed the planet; now, life outside these domes is virtually impossible. To expedite mankind’s recovery, “AutoReivs,” humanoid-like robots, have been created to assist people in their day-to-day lives. However, AutoReivs have begun contracting an enigmatic disease called the “Cogito Virus” which grants them self-awareness. Re-l Mayer, granddaughter of Romdo’s ruler, is assigned to investigate this phenomenon alongside her AutoReiv partner Iggy. But what begins as a routine investigation quickly spirals into a conspiracy as Re-l is confronted by humanity’s darkest sins.” I believe the synopsys says it all; there are some many themes here covered, all dystopian in nature, in one of the gloomiest graphic styles I have found in an anime. Have a taste:
- Tokyo Ghoul [東京喰種トーキョーグール]
This anime is based on a best-selling manga (it ranked 12th in the 2015 Kono Manga ga Sugoi! magazine in the male readers category), and it has lost nothing in its media translation. “Lurking within the shadows of Tokyo are frightening beings known as “ghouls,” who satisfy their hunger by feeding on humans once night falls. An organisation known as the Commission of Counter Ghoul (CCG) has been established in response to the constant attacks on citizens and as a means of purging these creatures. However, the problem lies in identifying ghouls as they disguise themselves as humans, living amongst the masses so that hunting prey will be easier. Ken Kaneki, an unsuspecting university freshman, finds himself caught in a world between humans and ghouls when his date turns out to be a ghoul after his flesh.”
I have to say I know the manga better than the TV series, which I am catching up with right now…
- Beserk [ベルセルク]
Many anime fans consider Beserk the darkest and disturbing of all, and not just for the scenes. While I’m not completely convinced (I found Psyco-Pass more unsettling in terms of philosophical implications for a future society), I do agree that Beserk is only for people with high tolerance to gore and blood.
“Born from the corpse of his mother, a young mercenary known only as Guts, embraces the battlefield as his only means of survival. Day in and day out, putting his life on the line just to make enough to get by, he moves from one bloodshed to the next. Set in the medieval era, Berserk is a dark, gritty tale that follows one man’s struggle to find his own path, while supporting another’s lust for power, and the unimaginable tragedy that begins to turn the wheels of fate.” (More here).
Finally, an extra name in this list is Sanctuary [サンクチュアリ], which, as far as I know, has not been converted (yet) in an anime series (even though it got a OVA and a live-action movie), and therefore is less famous outside Japan. Personally, I found this one of the most complex and well-written political manga ever, compounding thriller, crime, and historical references, getting dark and grim without the need of supernatural gore or gut-spilling galore.
A few lines of synopsis: “Akira Hojo and Chiaki Asami live different lives in Tokyo, Japan: Hojo is the leader of a small but rising Yakuza clan, while Asami is a politician aiming to become the youngest member of the Japanese parliament. But while they both live different ways, Hojo and Asami share the same past; both of them were survivors of the Killing Fields of Cambodia. With the aggression and survival instincts they learned in the Cambodian jungles, Hojo and Asami strive in both the Yakuza and political world to reform Japan into their own sanctuary.”
A curiosity: Sanctuary was nominated for the 1995 Harvey Award for Best American Edition of Foreign Material.