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Author Topic: You Should Be Watching (Capone's Guide to Anime for Fans and Non-Fans Alike)  (Read 1272 times)

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Offline CaponeTopic starter

Skip to a Review
Little Witch Academia

"So I'm thinking about giving anime a try," I hear someone say. "What should I start with?" Suddenly there's an explosion of recommendations spilling forth from the mouths of fans. Most of them are simply the most popular right now. Some of them are simply what the enthusiast fell in love with as a kid or teenager. None of them seem to take the tastes and preferences of the person asking into account. The majority of them are filled with tropes and traits that can seem strange at best and outright offensive at worst.

This blog's mission is to take a step back from the assumptions and misconceptions that both enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts may have, and how this "where should I start?" question should be approached. I love anime, but not all anime. So hopefully I can clarify some things and reach a more broad audience here at Elliquiy, cultivating a list of things to enjoy and to avoid.

Before that, however, I must make a few points.

ANIME IS NOT A GENRE. The first thing to understand -- and it amazes me that so many anime enthusiasts still can't seem to differentiate this themselves -- is that Japanese animation is not a genre. It is simply animation that comes from another country. This means the very question of "where do I start?" is a bit silly. No one approaches regular television, film, or literature this way because they're a collection of genres. Before recommendations are made, you ask what someone likes, perhaps in other media. You don't want to recommend The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones to someone that dislikes blood and violence in their entertainment. The same should be true for anime, which is largely more diverse than Western animation. That, perhaps, is the largest hurdle. In America, animation is almost always comedy and shows or films targeted towards adults are uncommon compared to everything else. In Japan, animations is cheaper to produce than live-action, particularly in regards to the scope of some of these shows. As such, anime tends to be more diverse in its audience and subject matter than American animation. But this does not make it a genre.

A DIFFERENT CULTURE IS DIFFERENT. I don't know nearly as much about Japanese culture as I'd like, but I know enough to understand why certain tropes or cliches in anime are executed the way they are. From the manner in which people relate to each other in public, to the Japanese Justice system, to different attitudes and approaches towards sex, and even to how Japan's current economy has influenced the country's entire entertainment industry. But the thing about understanding the why is that it does not automatically mean I condone. Those differences in culture are part of what make anime so great and fresh to me, but at the same time it can be what makes certain shows frustrating. As such, you must have an open mind when it comes to absorbing another culture's media. Some of what you see as a problem could be nothing more than you being American (or European, for that matter, considering our global population here). Some of what you perceive as problematic is also currently being fought by Japanese citizens as being problematic. For the most part, I'll be trying to recommend shows based on how minimal these differences are and giving warnings to things that may be an issue. However, all I ask is that any new viewers be willing to give some forgiveness before condemning.

ANIME FANS ARE KIND OF TERRIBLE. This may sound odd seeing as I'm obviously an anime fan, but rarely do I participate in anime-based communities or absorb anime-based podcasts, YouTube channels, articles, etc. I find I cannot relate to most fans because they seem to be more obsessed with making fandom the culture rather than approaching the shows on a case-by-case basis. There's also some of the rather problematic tastes of the Japanese Otaku, who, in the current economic climate of Japan, is the only reliable customer-base for things such as anime, comics, and video games. Some of these negative traits are shared with International fans as well, and as such the approach to viewing and discussing anime feels critically and intellectually dishonest.

YOU CAN ENJOY ANIME WITHOUT BEING AN ENTHUSIAST. You don't have to be a bookworm to enjoy reading books. You don't have to be obsessed with television to Netflix and chill. You don't need to be a cinephile to enjoy films. For some reason there's this notion that you have to be a fan to enjoy anime. When listing television shows, people may separate contemporary Western television from anime. But being able to enjoy something is not binary, and that's some of what I'd like to get across with this blog series.

I'm not here to make an "Anime fan" out of anyone. I just want to share some real good shows that people may be missing out on for the wrong reasons.

Each review will follow the same general format. I'll begin with a single question: "Would a Non-Enthusiast Like It?" The response will then be "I think so", "I don't think so", or "Maybe". I don't like listing an absolute "yes" or "no" or traditional ratings simply because you can never know what factors may apply. Each review will then give a basic description of the show and its content, my feelings on its quality, and what elements I think would make it enjoyable or not for non-enthusiasts.

I will then conclude with services the show can be viewed on. I'll try to stick with streaming services, but there may be occasion I want to dip into an old series or film that isn't available any longer. I will try to mention if multiple languages are available, but honestly, I tend to default to native language with subtitles in all of my foreign media. As such, it may not occur to me to even bring the matter up.

Feel free to comment in this thread, but for more in-depth discussion please be sure to check Koto0005's Nerds of Japan thread in On-Topic. If you disagree with my evaluation, I am certainly willing to discuss it, but please come at me with a civil and amicable attitude rather than hostility, aggression, or outright saying I am wrong. Not everyone will see eye-to-eye, but you're more likely to change my mind through polite discourse than dismissal and disrespect of my own opinion. If you have requests for certain series, feel free to drop them in the comments, but I cannot promise I will be able to get to them or enjoy them. I will not be doing reviews of Hentai (Japanese porn).

I'll try to update every Sunday. One of the nice things about anime is that, with each episode only being half-an-hour and many being limited to a single season, it's easier to binge on a show and write about it. However, there are some shows I watch that I may give up on partway through. I don't want to just write about what I enjoy. I want to write about what I dislike as well, particularly since a lot of stuff I dislike gets recommended awfully quick.
« Last Edit: May 07, 2017, 07:55:57 AM by Capone »

Offline CaponeTopic starter

You Should Be Watching: Little Witch Academia
« Reply #1 on: April 30, 2017, 01:57:36 PM »
Little Witch Academia

Would a Non-Enthusiast Like It?: I think so

Little Witch Academia is a rare gem that hits that Pixar level of family-friendly accessibility while also being that damn good for adults, too. The premise will no doubt sound familiar to Harry Potter fans, as the story takes place in a magic institute located in the United Kingdom starring a young witch still learning the basics of magic. There's even what seems to be a gender-bent Draco Malfoy, a wealthy blonde student from a magical family that seems to stand as the anti-thesis of our plucky protagonist.

That's about as far as the similarities go, however. Aside from the basic difference of the institute being an all-girls academy with not a male magician in sight, the scope of the story and nature of the world takes on a very different tone and atmosphere than J. K. Rowling's influential franchise. There is no big looming Voldemort threat and our heroine is not pre-destined to save the world. She's just a normal girl driven by her passionate chase to imitate her role-model.

I should make note that, currently, Little Witch Academia is a single half-hour short-film as well as an hour-long sequel film entitled The Enchanted Parade. There is a series airing currently in Japan, but it will not be released in the states until later this year. I will likely cover the series as a whole later on, but I wanted to get that little detail out of the way to better explain the cast of characters. In the original short film, it's largely limited to protagonist Akko, her bookish friend Lotte, creepy compatriot Sucy, rival Diana and her entourage, and Professor Ursula, acting as a sort of behind-the-scenes mentor. Enchanted Parade then expands this cast to include mischievous Amanda, technomancer Constanze, and...

...okay, let's talk briefly about Jazminka. See, when it comes to the main cast of characters, I feel that Little Witch Academia represents a very diverse group of personality types, allowing each to stand out as individuals while speaking to the different members of the audience. Everyone will have a favorite, and women in particular may find a character that speaks to their personal experiences personally. But Jazminka is the one troublesome aspect of the series. What we consider thick or perhaps even "chubby" is, over there, fat and obese. So while the character of Jazminka isn't really fat, her character in Enchanted Parade is pretty much little more than a fat joke. It makes her the least interesting character, as well as a hurtful one given the vast age-range of the show.

That is the only real flaw, and unfortunately one that could be disheartening. Otherwise, Little Witch Academia provides a wonderful, colorful, and magical world filled with typical pre-teen friendship drama, while also crafting a sort of empowerment for every sort of character type. Every girl gets their opportunity to shine. Each one is strong in their own right. They all feel real, and they each carry with them their own sense of agency.

Studio Trigger's skilled animators do a phenomenal job of bringing the characters and beasts to life, but that is partially a result of the vast influences behind the project. While Harry Potter is no doubt the most obvious, and Tolkien fans may snicker at a reference to a Sylmaril Ring, perhaps the most telling influence is in comedic timing and slapstick style. Akko's first attempt to fly on a broom is perhaps the most obvious, filled with gags and pacing right out of a Looney Tunes skit. Of course, each film comes with an action-based set-piece or two, and while none of them achieve the over-the-top grand scale of previous Studio Trigger projects, the same sense of choreography and thrilling tension is present. If anything, it might be even better due to being scaled-down in comparison.

Obviously I'm over-the-moon with my love of Little Witch Academia. It is one of the best creations to have come from the anime industry in the past decade, perhaps decade-and-a-half. If you have kids, nieces, or nephews -- but particularly daughters or nieces -- around the age of 10-12, then they are right in the age bracket of the protagonists. It's still good content for kids a bit younger, but due to the occasional use of the word "damn" or a particular minotaur's fate, I'd leave it up to parent's discression. However, just like a Pixar film, you don't need to be a child to enjoy this. The first film is only about half-an-hour, so there's minimal time investment to see for yourself.

Recommended for: Parents, fans of Harry Potter, middle school kids

Available on: Little Witch Academia is exclusive to Netflix, as is sequel film The Enchanted Parade

Multi-Lingual?: Netflix offers multiple language options, including English and Japanese.

Offline CaponeTopic starter

Is It Wrong to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? Was a Mistake
« Reply #2 on: May 07, 2017, 08:14:09 AM »
Is It Wrong to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?

These are not the main characters

Would a Non-Enthusiast Like It?: I don't think so

Is It Wrong to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? embodies everything wrong with modern anime entertainment. It is a pandering parade of titilation and boring characters whose few merits are more than over-shadowed by how absolutely worthless it all is. If Little Witch Academia is an exceptional piece of anime entertainment, Is It Wrong to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? -- from here on referred to as DanMachi because reasons -- is what you recommend to someone if you want to ensure they'll never watch a single minute of anime again.

The concept of the show is not unsalvageable. The general gist is, in this world of fantasy, the Gods and Goddesses have been cast back down to... "Earth". It's never properly explained why, but the Gods and Goddesses rely on adventurers joining their Familia -- something of a guild -- to go diving into a dungeon to slaughter monsters, collect precious magical gemstones dropped by the beasts, and trade them for money or more powerful items and gear. In other words, it's a setting designed around video game logic, but unlike the various other "trapped in a video game" anime (which I'll be getting to later), no one in DanMachi is actually trapped. That's simply how the world works. After dungeon diving and spelunking, one's God or Goddess can use their blessing to increase that character's abilities. Or in more simple terms, "level them up", right down to having character sheets listing statistics and skills.

It's a silly conceit that is never offered any explanation, but there's one aspect of the setting and its characters that could lend to some proper depth. In fact, for those less informed of certain anime tropes, it is possible that these elements are what draws them to the story. Our protagonist, Bell, is the only adventurer to be a part of his Goddess Hestia's Familia. Throughout the series, there's very much a focus of togetherness and family. Bell and Hestia are underdogs. They're not as powerful as the others, not as wealthy... the world seems against them. And as such, their sincere efforts to fight for each other and the friends they make lend a deep sense of heart to the narrative.

Also not the main character

The problem is this narrative comes tertiary to the escapist fantasy that the story truly exists for. Bell is the pluckiest little pluckster that ever plucked. He's so sweet and kind and innocent and well-meaning. Is only flaw is his kind and well-meaning obliviousness to how much the surrounding women love him! Oh, sure, they tell him at times, but they have to just be joking with him. Thoughts that aren't a result of depressed self-deprecation, but precocious innocence as he's filled with the most genuine can-do attitude!

He's flawless and he's boring. He has a special skill that may as well be called "God's Magic Win Button". He's too weak to handle a situation until it must be resolved, at which point the writer comes up with a way for him to develop the strength to just achieve victory. All tension is lost because you know the protagonist cannot fail. If any of the protagonist's friends are in danger, it is very few and their deaths are going to be saved for a later season to feign some kind of development. This is a middle-school child's concept of an awesome protagonist.

Which is, in part, why the titilation is so frustrating. On the one hand, I wish they'd have just went all the way and made this a hentai. All the women are attractive, the majority of them have bountiful bosoms which they show off whenever possible, and the majority of them want Bell. But that leads to the problematic other hand. It should be noted that age of consent laws in Japan are very different than America, but regardless, Bell is too young by Western standards. One of the women inappropriately interested in him is a Goddess that looks to at least be in her mid-to-late twenties, by comparison.

This is an incredibly tame sampling of the fan-service you can expect fifty times per episode.

Even if the boy were of a more appropriate age (by Western laws and standards, at least), the absolute obsession all the women have with him is infuriating. There's no particular reason for any of these women to love and admire him other than being the protagonist. He's just... well, as I said earlier, the pluckiest pluckster that ever plucked. As a result, it doesn't matter whether he has a suitable personality for that specific woman's own. All that matters is he have a variety of personalities to choose from.

Which is really what it's about. DanMachi is a show featuring a bland protagonist magically good at everything so its male audience can self-insert and dream of getting slobbered all over by any woman of their choosing. There's certainly room for women to self-insert as well -- there's certainly enough personality archetypes to appeal in that regard -- but at the end of the day it's empty calories.

One of two things would improve DanMachi. The first is dropping all the fan-service pre-text and trying to tell a real and raw story about a bunch of outcasts making their way in the world, but together. Stand By Me, but with dungeon crawling and elves and shit. Or, make Bell an appropriate and legal age and just take the conceit all the way into its inevitable conclusion.

Or just turn it into a story request on E. With age appropriate characters. That would most certainly be more fulfilling than watching this damn show.

Recommended for: Writers seeking inspiration for smutty stories. Otherwise, no one

Available on: Hulu, Crunchyroll

Multi-Lingual?: No. Only Japanese with subtitles

Offline Skynet

Re: Is It Wrong to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? Was a Mistake
« Reply #3 on: May 07, 2017, 01:48:21 PM »
Is It Wrong to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?

Which is, in part, why the titilation is so frustrating. On the one hand, I wish they'd have just went all the way and made this a hentai. All the women are attractive, the majority of them have bountiful bosoms which they show off whenever possible, and the majority of them want Bell. But that leads to the problematic other hand. It should be noted that age of consent laws in Japan are very different than America, but regardless, Bell is too young by Western standards. One of the women inappropriately interested in him is a Goddess that looks to at least be in her mid-to-late twenties, by comparison.
Minor nitpick. IANAL but this is not exactly the case in Japan. The national age of consent is 13, but local prefecture laws trump national law. Virtually every prefecture in Japan has an age of consent quite close, if not identical, to the US which is 16 to 18. Even then, ages lower than that it's mostly legal for teenagers with other teenagers. A 40 year old man with a 13 year old girl will still be seen as highly squicky and be illegal in some places such as Tokyo (which has a Youth Protection Law to prevent just this thing).

May be an odd thing for me to focus on, but I guess one too many hours on Reddit made me realize that a non-negligible number of folk go around parroting this, sometimes out of innocence and sometimes out of ill intent (to normalize said squickiness as mentioned above).

Offline CaponeTopic starter

Perhaps I should have said they're a bit complicated. I didn't want to spend a lot of time on it, because as you say, it will vary based on prefecture, and even if certain ages are "permitted", it may come with caveats such as parental consent. Also, regardless of law, members of society have their own say on the matter.

Regardless, thank you for reading and commenting.

Offline Hunter

I absolutely agree with your point about anime not being it's own genre.   I would add that American animation, outside of Disney, has more or less of questionable quality for as long as I've been least until Rooster Tooth got involved.     Many people are surprised to find out that material such as Speed Racer and Astro Boy originate in Japan and not America (Transformers does also if memory serves, though I'm less sure about that one).   I'm not going to dig into your reviews to either criticize or critique them but I'd recommend Gate (if you haven't seen it) as a reasonable good Modern/Fantasy crossover.  Like you, I can probably recommend more than a few.   :-)

Offline CaponeTopic starter

I'll add it to the list. A few people have recommended Gate so I'll give it a go at some point.

Transformers is actually American, though based off of a separate Japanese toyline. It might have had Japanese animators, but in the way that Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra had Korean animators. I'd also disagree regarding Japanese vs. American animation, though it depends on where you're looking. America has an incredible history of animation that largely began with the very origins of the medium. It's just that, in America, animation started to become more of a children's thing and, now, has gone more towards 3D, leaving it to televised cartoons. Many of these cartoons have to be produced cheaply or are of a style that might seem less detailed or skilled. Instead, I'd say both American and Japanese animation in their current stages have their strengths and weaknesses, but neither is superior to the other. It's a shame because, on the whole, I feel like the quality animation we used to get with people like Don Bluth and Ralph Bakshi, or that you'd expect from anime films like Akira or Ghost in the Shell, is a lot less common.

Offline CaponeTopic starter

You Should Be Watching: Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash
« Reply #7 on: May 15, 2017, 08:43:24 AM »
Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash

Would a Non-Enthusiast Like It?: I think so

I almost quit Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash halfway through the first episode. Another sample of the "trapped in a game world" concept that has become a genre of its own, I rolled my eyes as the pervert character made note of the size of the shy female character's bosom. From there, it was questionable camera angles, talk of flat and heavy chests, and the peppy girl getting rather comfortable with the shy one. Was I in for yet another DanMachi?

Episode two says "no". Actually, it didn't merely say it. It said nothing at all. The actions spoke for the show. Not a single member of the main cast in Grimgar is over-powered, and in the second episode they barely manage to succeed in killing a single goblin. There is desperation in the air and no such thing as a one-hit kill. Death does not come easy, no matter what side of the blade you're on.

Each creature has a real personality. These are living things, not just fodder.

While over time the characters get better at fighting and combat, there are still plenty of scenes throughout where seemingly fatal stabs fail to bring an opponent down. They don't shrug it off in the same way someone in DragonBall Z (or for an American comparison, Superman) would keep going. There's adrenaline and the desperate need to survive involved. Those wounds hurt, but the survival instinct drives them forward.

Grimgar portrays combat as a risk. It wants you to always believe its protagonists could die at any moment. It is a lesson that the characters themselves are forced to learn and overcome. What it means for a friend to pass on. Who is responsible for their death. How you learn from your mistakes and protect those closest to you.

Despite the camera taking opportunistic angles of its characters, the fan-service in Grimgar is what's tertiary. Whereas DanMachi generated a simple protagonist of absolute optimism and energy with few real flaws, Haruhiro in Grimgar speaks and behaves like a real Japanese teenager might. While not socially inept, he's not quite adept either. He's a quiet fellow that is much more comfortable staying out of the spotlight, even if he doesn't know it himself. The show will occasionally follow his male gaze, but the thoughts and instinct of it feels natural as opposed to gratuitous.

Barbara is the most gratuitous of fan-service characters, but only appears twice in the season. By time she reappears in the latter half, the nature of her outfit feels incredibly out of place with the tone of the rest of the show.

There is very real fear that the show may dip into some tired old tropes. It's possible all the main female cast will, in some way, develop feelings for him. It's too early to tell in this first season of Grimgar, and there is currently no evidence that a follow-up season will ever exist. Even so, while I'm left yearning for more, Grimgar manages to weave a complete enough tale. It is how this party learned to become a family, to truly trust and rely on each other, and grow beyond their past failures. It's a complete arc, one that could sufficiently end with "and their days of journeying together continued on and on".

In truth, this is a show lacking in interest in why these folks are trapped in a game world. These characters are unaware of it themselves, their minds wiped of all knowledge of the real one. It's more an excuse to tell a specific type of fantasy story, stripping away the majority of game logic to portray the common dungeon-diving adventuring party in a more down-to-earth, realistic lens.

If I have any cautionary note, it is in the character of Brittany. This is Brittany.

Still not the most offensive representation I've seen of... flamboyance? Male femininity? There's an awful lot I still don't know about the character, but there's certainly enough to offend or induce an eyeroll of any homosexual Lord or any Liege watching. They are a minor character with little presence, but still something that I feel any viewer should be alerted to.

Otherwise, Grimgar is a solid recommend. Everything DanMachi fails at, it succeeds. The conceit of a game world is used to tell a story of how these adventurers grow closer together as family, swapping fan-service from the primary focus to the back seat. It is very human, and even the obnoxious and off-putting Ranta is forced to grow and develop. It's definitely one worth checking out.

Recommended for: Fans of fantasy; tabletop and video gamers

Available on: Hulu, Crunchyroll, Funimation

Multi-Lingual?: Japanese w/English subtitles on Hulu and Crunchyroll. I think English dub is on Funimation, but I lack a subscription to their service and so cannot test and see for myself
« Last Edit: May 15, 2017, 08:47:04 AM by Capone »

Offline CaponeTopic starter

Sword Art Online Was a Mistake
« Reply #8 on: May 21, 2017, 10:21:40 AM »
Sword Art Online

Would a Non-Enthusiast Like It?: I don't think so

Sword Art Online will inevitably be recommended to anyone as a starting point for anime. I know, because I've heard it recommended carelessly to folks whose normal TV watching habits are along the likes of, say, Mad Men or Game of Thrones or some such. Now, the funny thing about Sword Art Online is that it can be a "good" beginner anime in terms of being a litmus test. It is so filled with common anime tropes that, if you can enjoy SAO, you can enjoy pretty much any anime.

But that's the problem. Most of those tropes represent some of the worst anime has to offer.

Recall my review of Is It Wrong to Try and Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, where I criticized the plucky and bland protagonist. What I will at least give DanMachi is that Bell has a very clear drive and goal. He is awfully hard on himself, but because of his positive attitude he takes his failures and uses them as motivation to become stronger. You can actually describe Bell as a character, even if it is purely an escapist wish-fulfillment protagonist.

I cannot share a single image of the actual characters because they're all in middle-school. So enjoy these screencaps that don't at all represent the series.

Kirito, the hero of Sword Art Online, doesn't really have this sort of personality. Because he was in the Beta for the Sword Art game -- before everyone got sucked into it (I told you this is a very common trope at this point) -- he is given an excuse for magically being better than everyone. He's a lone wolf because of reasons. For a moment you think he might learn a lesson about being close to others and the consequences of keeping others at a distance, but that all vanishes. Everything vanishes because the show keeps getting bored with itself. Instead, it needs to invent a new girl to have a crush on Kirito every few episodes, and each half-season needs to be a brand new story in a largely brand new game.

There are good ideas in Sword Art Online, but any time it begins to ask an interesting question it dismisses it completely. There's no time for that. Kirito has to impress everyone with how wonderful a gamer he is. He needs to give all the girls the vapors even though he's got himself a girlfriend already.

In fact, let's talk about his girlfriend Asuna. Sword Art Online is at its best when she has the most agency. Despite her and Kirito's relationship being some youthful romance fantasy, it is her goals and attitude that makes those episodes work. Similarly, the final half of season two is entirely a story about her, and is probably the best Sword Art Online ever managed to be.

At least this guy is a key element to a narrative arc featuring Asuna.

When Kirito has to be the protagonist, however, the story feels it necessary to basically kick Asuna to the curb. For whatever reason her agency must be removed. This is how the first major story arc ends -- pushing Asuna to the sideline so Kirito can have his deus ex machina victory (that also cuts the story short without providing a satisfying narrative payoff). The second major story arc completely incapacitates her. The third removes her from the picture altogether.

Sword Art Online is, at best, entertainment for pre-teens. It is wish-fulfillment fantasy that believes it is creating interesting settings and worlds that doesn't have the imagination or the patience to do something interesting within them. Contrast to last week's Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash, which had a purpose in the story they wished to tell.

Or, wait until next week, where I will review an anime that takes the same basic concepts of Sword Art Online and builds it into one of my favorite shows to watch over and over. Just save yourself the time and headache and do not watch Sword Art Online.

Recommended for: Middle schoolers? I really couldn't tell ya. I'd honestly rather watch DanMachi again.

Available on: Netflix, Crunchyroll, and Hulu

Multi-Lingual?: Yes. English available on Netflix and Hulu.

Offline Skynet

I intentionally stopped watching SAO after the first season because I heard of how horrible it got. I wanted my memories of the show to be positive and not a slog, but even in Season 1 there were problems.

Offline CaponeTopic starter

That's enough to watch the second half of season two, though. After all the Gun Gale Online stuff. That story arc with Asuna as the focus is basically as good as the show gets.

Offline Hunter

Just a note on recommended age, it's my opinion that the target age is typically the same as the main characters.