Quarantine has brought with it an unprecedented amount of free time. And with all those extra hours in the day, people have turned to making exorbitant amounts of bread and turning up their thermostats to get the most out of their online hot yoga classes. What have I been doing instead of learning a hobby or terraforming my Animal Crossing island you ask? Well, binge-watching anime of course.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Japanese animation genre, it is cool now I guess? Everyone from Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, Michael B. Jordan, and more have expressed their love for anime at one point or another. Luxury fashion brand Coach even has a collection inspired by the world of Naruto and the aforementioned Jordan.
With Hollywood making live adaptations of cult anime to Hulu and Netflix realizing the potential of investing in original anime and simulcasts, it has never been a better time to be an anime fan. Especially an anime fan who also loves music. So, whether you're a seasoned binge-watching fansub veteran or a newcomer to the genre, these are the best to anime to watch if you love music.
In all honest disclosure, FLCL may have been the very first anime I ever watched. And yet, the soundtrack is still one I find myself coming back to all these years later. Containing one of the best soundtracks of any anime to date - thanks to the pillows - the surreal six-episode sci-fi coming-of-age story is a shining example of anime’s inherent ability to tell out-of-this-world stories, while still finding the space to explore the humdrum realities associated with growing up.
Regularly aired as a marathon on Adult Swim's Toonami in the early 2000s, FLCL revolves around 12-year-old Naota Nandaba, who is suddenly hit in the head by a vintage blue Rickenbacker 4001 bass guitar. Thus, kicks off our story of robots, aliens, shady corporations plotting to destroy the world from a small countryside town, and growing up. The entire ludicrous affair is scored by Japanese indie rock band the pillows, who deliver a performance you will not be forgetting any time soon.
Carole & Tuesday
Carole & Tuesday may not just be the best music-related anime I've ever seen, but the best music-related show I've ever seen, period. Directed by the legendary Shinichirō Watanabe, the man responsible for Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo (more on that in a moment) Carole & Tuesday tells the story of the titular duo striving to make music in a near-future where nearly all music is created by artificial intelligence.
The breathtaking beauty of Carole & Tuesday lies in how much care and attention was taken to both the world of the show itself and the music that brings it all to life. From nods to Pitchfork, SXSW, and Vogue's 73 Questions series to fully-produced tracks that span genres ranging from French pop, EDM, neo soul, trap opera, and everywhere in between, never before has a show so expertly captured the vast spectrum that is music appreciation.
Arguably, no anime has been more influential on today's music landscape than the lofi hip-hop musings of Samurai Champloo. Another Watanabe classic, it almost pains me not to mention the blues and jazz stylings that scored his space western epic Cowboy Bebop. However, the soundtrack done by Tsutchie, Fat Jon, Force of Nature, and the late Nujabes informed a generation of kids that stayed up watching Adult Swim and would later go on to host and frequent 24/7 lofi hip-hop YouTube live streams.
The story itself tells the story of a young girl named Fuu and two samurai, Mugen and Jin, who set across feudal Japan in an attempt to find the "samurai who smells of sunflowers." The critically-acclaimed series revels in mixing genres, from the occasional Western sports drama to horror, all set to an anachronistic hip-hop backdrop that never falters.
Kids on the Slope
If Watanabe is a name you are not readily familiar with by now, well, friend, you are missing out. Directed by none other than Watanabe, Kids on the Slope tells a coming-of-age story wrapped up in drama, self-discovery, and most notably, jazz.
Set in 1966 Japan, Kids on the Slope follows Kaoru Nishimi, who, due to his father's job situation, moves to the small seaside town of Sasebo. A typical honor student, it is not until he sparks up a connection with notorious delinquent Sentarō Kawabuchi that he finds an escape in the free-form and rebellious nature of jazz. Featuring renditions of Chet Baker, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Bill Evans, John Coltrane, and more, Kids on the Slope is a crash course in the empathic power of jazz.
Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad
Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad is the story of up-and-coming rock band Beck. While not the Beck of "Odelay" fame, the 2005 cult anime is an engaging look at the trials and tribulations of an indie band trying to make it big stateside.
Built around a pronounced interest in Western rock music, the series sees our main character, "Koyuki," going from learning complex chords, playing small festival stages, to carve out his own path while touring across the United States. As much a story about finding your place in the world through music as it a story of the harsh realities it often takes to fulfills your dreams, Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad is a bittersweet ode to those small moments where all your hard work falls into place.
Your Lie in April
If classical music is more you fare, Your Lie in April is the show for you. The romantic coming-of-age drama revolves around piano prodigy Kōsei Arima, violinist Kaori Miyazono, and their group of friends. The story of Arima, a once award-winning child prodigy, rediscovering the love and pain of the creative passion he abandoned strikes an emotional chord, whether or not you're a particularly huge fan of classical music.
Told through eye-catching pastels and breathtaking violin-accompanied piano feats, Your Lie in April is a tried-and-true teen drama. One that is poised to leave you teary-eyed, even if the only classical composers you know are Beethoven and Mozart.
K-On captures the thrill of wanting to form a band with your friends in such straightforward fashion that it is little surprise the show was an instant breakout hit in Japan. The lighthearted slice-of-life show follows four high school girls who join their light music club in the hopes of saving it from disbanding.
The series captures every middle and high school dream of forming your first rock band with friends, from picking out your first guitar, spending countless hours learning how to play, to performing live for the first time at the school talent show. Well in this case, the cultural festival. K-On! is the perfect bit of bite-sized of escapism and nostalgia scored by some genuinely great J-rock and J-pop.