When someone says that an anime series is “underrated,” it is a term that has two very distinctly different meanings. It can be something that not enough people have watched, or it can be something that people don’t appreciate for how amazing it actually is. Despite the difference in meaning, no one side is wrong when it comes to defining underrated anime. Sometimes you watch something that subverts all the known tropes of its genre, and it is pretty good, but people don’t appreciate it for what it is. Other times, people don’t watch a series at all. This can be due to a number of factors like fan service content, animation style, or just a synopsis that sounds like trash. All of those classify as underrated series, but what do we feel falls under this realm?
Yamishibai has a lot that could potentially work against it. The first is that it is a short-episode series where the stories only last a few minutes. Some believe it is not enough time to tell a good tale to get invested in, especially being highly episodic. The second is that it is a horror series, which innately is a genre that can literally frighten people away from it. Finally, it has a uniquely “paper dolls” style of animation due to the overall premise of a strange guy coming at dusk to tell horror tales to kids.
Despite all of that, it is one of the finest examples of horror anime in the genre. It doesn’t always rely on blood and guts, but rather goes the traditional style of Japanese horror of just being super creepy. The stories it tells, while short and sometimes not particular terrifying, are cohesive and complete within the time limit while the animation works really well for displaying horrified or nightmare-inducing faces.
Since almost all new anime series are, in some way, moe-fied now, the backlash has died down a touch. However, I still remember the days of the great Moe Schism of the anime community and how it kept a lot of people from watching a lot of surprisingly decent shows. School Live came out on the ass-end of that schism, but I feel a lot of people didn’t even look twice at it. The first episode can put you off, especially if you didn’t watch it to the end to discover what this series really is – it’s a zombie apocalypse series. Moreover, it is a zombie apocalypse series based in our modern world and without all the tits and ass of the only other alternative, High School of the Dead.
This series may feature a cast of all exclusively cute moe girls and one vastly more adorable dog, but it is a series about survival and the effect it can have on fragile moe minds. It may be bright and happy and times, but that just makes those dark, violent moments all the more delicious.
When you are on a Warring States era anime kick, it is all samurais, all the time. They loyally serve or betray their masters, they fight admirably, and then when the fighting’s done, they train for more fighting. Yet, a samurai’s life was not just all fighting and preparing for more. Historically, samurai’s also had a number of more artistic pursuits that they followed in their spare time, yet you never see a series about that.
Hyouge Mono is a series about that. It is about a vassal of Oda Nobunaga who, instead of just endlessly fighting, strongly pursues the art of tea ceremony. That alone turned a lot of people off. It sounds so boring, but the way it is done successfully conveys the essence of everything that is tea ceremony in a way that is actually enjoyable and engaging to watch. It is not some stuffy educational series with heavy artistic influences, it is silly, beautiful, but still deep.
Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei
This series is what I might classify as a “cult classic.” Those who have watched it are really, really into it, but many more don’t give it a shot because it seems vaguely harem-esque, looks bland, or is impossible to find on legal streaming sites. It also suffers from the issue that it has several seasons, but they all have different names such as Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is the second season while Goku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is the third. Though it could be argued if you can’t be assed to look up which season to watch next, you might not deserve it.
All of that aside, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is an adventure of the finest kind. It is an adventure into the minds and personalities of people. As a satire comedy about the absurdness of society and its problems, you can expect a little lofty philosophy hidden among its jokes. However, as you go on, you discover a distinct sense of darkness to the whole series, and a black satire comedy? Well, that is just the best kind of comedy.
Polar Bear Café
You know how sometimes people want something innovative in the anime industry and then the anime industry does that and people just kind of ignore it? I feel like a lot of underrated series fall into that category. Maybe Polar Bear Café isn’t that innovative, it is just a slice of life series where all the characters are animals, but… You know, it tried.
This series is basically Working!! if all the people were just animals, and yet, despite Working’s popularity, Polar Bear Café remains very obscure. While it is understandable that slice of life comedy series aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, everything about this series is meant to brighten your day. Its characters, comedy, tone, and even its color palate is meant to cheer you up and relax you down.
There are times for stylish, high-minded anime series, and while for some people that might be all the time, for everyone else, not so much. Kaiba is the sort of anime series that you might think wanted people not to watch it. As typical with Yuasa Masaaki’s other series (Genius Party, Tatami Galaxy), the art of Kaiba is so unique in such as way that it borders on unapproachable for animation snobs.
Yet, the reason to watch Kaiba is not for one singular aspect of it, but how that all comes together. The ambient music (and occasional lack thereof), the flat hues, and the animation all work to blend and enhance the story of heartache and despair. It isn’t the happiest of stories, but the story it serves up is something everyone can feel deeply.
Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team
Any fan of Gundam will scoff of this mention as it is pretty beloved. However, more casual Gundam fans or non-fans might have missed it. Never watched the original Gundam? No problem. Only watched Gundam Wing? Not even applicable! That’s part of the joy of the Gundam series sometimes, you don’t always need to know the bigger picture to enjoy the series in front of you, and that is the real reason to watch The 08th MS Team.
Forget the giant robots for a moment. They are there, but not focus the main series, nor is the space opera-level drama typical of Gundam. This series is about a war that is ravaging a planet. Unlike other Gundam series where characters often feel flat or pushed to the wayside, every character on both sides feels fleshed out. They all have their own ambitions outside of the war, and they all get to shine in their own way. If you have watched even one series, you will note that Gundam can and should be about the characters, and this is one of the most character-driven shows around.
Anime fans may know Infinite Ryvius by what should be its official subtitle at this point, “Lord of the Flies in Space.” However, despite having that knowledge, very few fans have actually watched it. It’s not because it is bad, but rather because it is older and difficult to find. With so many other things to watch, Infinite Ryvius probably just slides further down the ol’ plan to watch list.
However, it has all the things that many fans like. Even if they aren’t fans of the space setting, who doesn’t love a classic story where young people start all happy and trying their best before it descends into violent mob-rule and abuse. This is a survival story, and many fans love survival stories because it brings out one’s true colors. Will they be heroic? Will they go crazy and start slaughtering people? There are no monsters to blame, only people.
I am hoping that after the great success that was this summer season’s Tsurezure Children that Honobono Log’s stock may rise a bit. They are incredibly similar, after all. Honobono Log is a short episode series about relationships. However, rather than being about high school puppy love, they focus on more adult relationships. Despite this, you are still bombarded by a diabetes-inducing sweet moment after sweet moment. The only real downfall of Honobono Log is that the episodes are only two minutes long and there are only ten of them.
These are just opinions, and in general, underrated anime series are unpopular opinions. So keep that in mind when you go on down to that comments section to argue these (you can still do it, though). However, if you also have your own firmly held beliefs on your own underrated series, why not share those too?