Anime is like chocolate: often, easily consumable with a machine-stamped taste and shape; less often, a rich, subtle experience you can’t quite understand after just one bite.
The former type of anime, sugar-sweet with fan service, is its own art form. But its obvious character tropes and riffs on past blockbusters can strike too hard, leaving little to the imagination. Watch it once and you get the point. Others boast personalities so subtle, plots so mysterious and animation styles so complex that one watch isn’t enough to get the picture. In fact, it’s arguable that, for select few titles, the second watch is when you experience the real anime.
Below is my list of the five most rewatchable anime. Take a look and post your own in the comments:
Fooly Cooly is a completely different anime depending on when you watch it. In early adolescence (likely, late night on Adult Swim), it’s the story of a 12-year-old boy, his alien housekeeper, his perverted father and a delinquent, sad girl who hangs under a bridge, all against a dope stoner alt soundtrack. Later in adolescence, Fooly Cooly is a raunchy allegory about puberty and the embarrassment of losing control of your body. Into adulthood, it’s a genius work of art, with unparalleled animation, still about puberty, but also about whether alienating yourself from the chaotic world around you is the best way to deal.
I haven’t found another shōjo anime quite like Nana. Its characters are morally fluid, realer than nearly any fictional people I’d ever read or watched. At one moment, protagonist Nana Komatsu is impulsive, needy and completely ignorant of the world around her; and at others, she views her decisions from birds-eye, a wise woman detached from the person who lives out her actions. Likewise, counter-protagonist Nana Osaki is both wretchedly cold and consumingly in need of others’ love. Nana’s cast defies stereotype. Each watch highlights another character motivation previously overlooked.
There isn’t really another option aside from watching Madoka twice. It’s a short series—only 12 episodes—that slowly unveils how horrific it is inside its sugary magical girl shell. Although the first few episodes are full of light-hearted magical-girl tropes, this is some dark shit. Sympathetic characters become nightmarish sociopaths while apparent the antagonist is, in fact, the truest hero. Madoka’s second run-through bears an entirely different anime, sadder and more complicated with time.
Where to begin. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is world-building genius. Ripe with religious zealots, homunculi, dreadful personal losses, incredible fighting and, obviously, alchemy, FMA:B is certainly one of my top anime; but that’s not what makes it so rewatchable. This is an anime comfortable with ethical ambiguity: Is it wrong to resurrect a person? Is it ever right to kill? When does a job become an occupation, and finally, a way of life? FMA:B never feeds you those answers. But, on a second watch, knowing where each character is coming from brings vivid color to each ethical question they encounter.
Based on The Count of Monte Cristo, Gankutsuou’s animation style is about layering psychedelic patterns that shift on top of each other to create a shimmering, multi-dimensional effect. In it, “The Count,” a mysterious, wealthy aristocrat, arrives in the far-future to take revenge on those who betrayed him. It’s a vicious story in which characters struggle against the stacked hand of the Count. Knowing who the Count is and why he’s returned makes every moment of innocence sweeter, and every loss greater. Its lavish animation style serves its bourgeoisie French designs well, but also delivers its sci-fi undertones.