The Top 5 Gen Urobuchi Anime
by Jacki Jing & Zac Bertschy,
Compared to other artforms, anime has very few creative personalities you could reliably refer to as “household names” in America – mostly we have Hayao Miyazaki, Anno Hideaki, and Akira Toriyama probably represent maybe half of the creators your average animation fan would recognize. One of the most recent additions to that list – arguably – is writer Gen Urobuchi – or “The Booch” as we like to call him around here - rose to fame after a handful of popular visual novels and a much-beloved season of Kamen Rider called Kamen Rider Zero which, sadly, isn't available in English just yet. His career has been meteoric, absolutely exploding in 2011 with his famous smash hit global blockbuster Puella Magi Madoka Magica. You've... probably seen that one. His latest show, a YouTube series called OBSOLETE, is about halfway through its run – so we thought it would be a great time to count down his five best series.
Five: Expelled from Paradise
This 3DCG film from 2014 was an early example of how to do 3D anime right – while it still looks a little clunky, at the time it was about as close as you could get to something that still manages to look like anime, and yet was entirely CG. Technology certainly has evolved since then, but Gen's writing is what stands out in this one – it's the tale of an agent named Angela Balzac, whose personality and mind have been turned virtual, working from a remote space station that keeps its eyes on our planet. She finds herself hunting down a mysterious hacker on an postapocalyptic Earth where hardly any humanity remains at all. She teams up with the roguish, handsome Dingo – one of very few people left - and together they discover the real enemy is perhaps not what it might've seemed at first.
This one is a little rough around the edges at times, but it's really fascinating science fiction with memorable characters, a ton of very interesting concepts and some impressive CG anime, provided you're comfortable with it being over 5 years old. Seek it out if you haven't!
Arguably one of The Booch's most famous and popular works, Psycho-Pass – specifically the first season – we don't talk about season two – was enormously well-received back in 2012. A gritty, hard-edged sci-fi drama that fits right into what people call “Cyberpunk”, Psycho-Pass follows rookie cop Akane and her partner Kogami as they navigate a very Minority Report-esque future where an advanced AI system claims to be able to detect someone's “crime coefficient” - their potential to become criminals, basically. Gen's writing is always very direct, very emotionally solid and doesn't mince words, and this show doesn't either. I won't spoil anything here if you haven't seen it – but the ending is a doozy. The series is sprawling – there are now three seasons and several unreleased films, but only the ones Gen are involved with really turned out great. Gen also wrote the Psycho-Pass movie, which has plenty of fascinating moments in it, but the original series is basically a classic at this point – so that's why that's the one that makes our list.
Now, you might argue with this one, Fate fans, but Fate/Zero is still the best, most accessible, most well-written show in the entire, gigantic, sprawling, enormous, seemingly unstoppable Fate franchise. Officially a prequel to the beloved Fate/stay night, Fate/Zero introduces us to an absolutely fascinating cast of characters, each with a conflicting ideology that Gen's spectacularly concise, well-observed writing brings to life. The show is a lot to swallow – a huge cast battles eachother in what amounts to the fourth war for the Holy Grail. Emotionally complex, dense as hell, and packed with memorable moments and wonderful dialogue – including classic conversations between Saber and Alexander the Great - it's not only the best Fate story, it's also the most easily accessible, something you can start watching without ever seeing a single second of the rest of the franchise. Which, like I said, is huge.
Although the blurays for this one are a little expensive, you can catch the entire series streaming on Funimation. If you've ever been hesitant to jump into the Fate universe, start here – and, you know, feel free to stop here too. Haha.
Two: Madoka Magica
You knew it was coming! Easily Gen's most popular and famous work, Madoka Magica did for magical girl shows what Neon Genesis Evangelion did for giant robot shows – absolutely blew the genre to pieces and changed everything, inspiring a decade's worth of imitators and homages. Madoka is your average magical girl heroine – sweet and determined. She signs a contract – along with 4 other girls – with Kyubey. an adorable and sinister little mascot character that winds up being the embodiment of entropy. They fight “witches” to obtain “grief seeds” - but the price for being a magical girl is quite steep, the twists keep coming, and this show, thanks to Gen's classic snappy writing and the incredible production design by famous artists Gekidan Inu Curry, manages to absolutely blow your mind in only 12 episodes. There are movies and spinoffs galore – but the original show will always be #1 in our hearts.
OK, well, #2.
One: Thunderbolt Fantasy
I know this isn't technically anime. But if you've seen it – you know what I mean.
Spiritually, this is anime too.
Probably the most pure representation of what The Booch's writing philosophy is – and his strongest writing to date – is contained in the magical, hilarious, extremely violent and totally gripping puppet show Thunderbolt Fantasy, which comes from the Taiwanese legacy of puppet theater known as “Pili” (Pee-lee). The show follows our two heroes – one, the eternally-exhausted Shang, who's probably the most powerful swordsman in the land, trying to magically seal up a whole series of overpowered fantasy swords that, if they fall into the hands of an asshole, potentially make life worse for everyone. He's joined by the clever and devious Lin, who is also kind of an asshole, but he's the right kind of asshole – someone who, even in his worst moments, is generally trying to do the right thing. They have a strange friendship, but it's one that helps them stick it to the fascists and cops and fascist cops trying to get their hands on these magic swords. The show is – be warned – hellaciously violent and a little complex, but once again Gen's writing shines through. The characters are cut out of stone – perfectly written, with so many wonderful exchanges – and huge battles - that you'll remember long after the credits have rolled. There are two seasons and two movies out for this, and Gen shows no signs of stopping. If you're not onboard the puppet train – what are you waiting for?!
Here are the results from last week's poll, your favorite magical girl series:
1. Madoka Magica
2. Card Captor Sakura (all series)
3. Sailor Moon (all series)
4. Princess Tutu
5. Yuuki Yuna is a Hero
6. Flip Flappers
7. Symphogear (all series)
8. Little Witch Academia
9. Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha (all series)
10. Precure (all series)
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