What makes an anime memorable?

Last month, hoshiko wrote a post discussing certain qualities of anime she feels make them memorable. While I’m sure we can all think of things that make an anime “good,” I think the traits that make an anime “memorable” are different…

In this day and age where we have access to literally every anime series that’s available, whether it’s from years ago or a currently airing show, a lot of them end up being dispensable as a result; we enjoy them (or not) while we watch them and then soon forget them once we move on to the next show. But the ones that we do remember, the ones that we continue to cite in anime discussions and the ones that more easily come to mind when we think about anime, are the memorable ones. They don’t necessarily have to be our favorite series or even series we particularly like, but they’re series that had one or more traits that stuck out to us even long after we watched them. It’s easy to say an anime is memorable because it’s good, i.e., it has good characters and a good story, but I think it’s possible to separate “memorable” from “good” and see what certain traits make an anime come to our minds more often over the many others that we’ve watched and forgotten about even if they’re not ones we think are necessarily masterpieces. Below I’ve put together five such traits that I feel make an anime memorable:

Music

Music is one of the memorable traits for an anime hoshiko mentioned in her post and one I agree with. All anime series have music of course, but only a handful have music (besides opening and ending songs) that I’ll continue to remember even years after I watched the anime. For me, Macross Frontier is the biggest example. I haven’t watched it since 2008 but I could never forget its songs and continued to listen to and enjoy them since. And it’s not just because the songs are good but because I remember how they were also part of the story and the impact they had on certain parts. Another series I feel is memorable for its music is Noir (which just happens to be a favorite of mine too). I’ve watched Noir a lot of times, but even after my first watch, that eerie Yuki Kajiura music and the scenes that went with it never left my mind. I know a lot of people don’t like Noir but still agree that the music is unforgettable. So again, it’s not only that the music was good for these series, but that it was present in such a way in the shows that it immortalized certain scenes and events in my mind, and that’s what made it memorable.

Unique animation

Something that can definitely make an anime memorable to me even if it’s a series I didn’t really like is having an unusual animation style. For example, I’m not a big fan of Bake/Nisemonogatari, but I’ll certainly never forget the uniqueness of Shaft’s animation in terms of the show’s dream-like background settings and barrages of on-screen text. Likewise, even if you’re not a fan of Madoka Magica, the LSD-esque nightmares that are the witches’ labyrinths are not soon forgotten. Besides the Shaft model of being wildly stylish with their animation, an anime’s animation can also stand out to us if its overall quality is simply noticeably higher than the rest, as is the case with a lot of Kyoto Animation titles. I know one thing that made the original Haruhi series wow people was the quality of the animation (most people hadn’t even heard of KyoAni back then) and I’ve heard countless praise of Hyouka’s style of making a show with so much dialogue and little action gorgeous to watch. Like with music, because the animation of these series is so unique, it makes particular scenes more immortalized in our minds than if they were to just have your run-of-the-mill style.

Mind-numbing themes

What I mean by this is when the events, plot, messages, and overall narrative of an anime completely blows our mind for better or worse. For better would be if it really makes us think and makes us want to analyze it and see if we can understand its complex story. For worse would be if it leaves us with a major sense of WTF, over-the-top weirdness. Evangelion is a perfect example of this as I know people have experienced it in both of these lights. But even if they felt it leaned toward the negative of being too weird and WTF-ish, it’s still something they never forget and continue to use as points of anime discussion for years to come. Revolutionary Girl Utena is another example where it’s total mind-numbing strangeness ingrained itself in my mind. Despite it not being a huge favorite of mine and not having watched it for years, I’ll never forget some of that imagery it had such as an upside down castle in the sky and the “Utena-mobile” from the movie. And for one more example, the themes and storyline of Wolf’s Rain are things I continue to examine and think about to this day, and even though I’ve watched it many times, I feel like I get a new “piece of the puzzle” each time – the mark of a true thought-provoking anime ;)

Bringing out major emotion

This is probably the most personalized of the traits I’m listing as all it means is that one or more things in an anime made us experience such a high level of emotion that we won’t ever forget it. The emotion could be anything – sadness, humor, anger, endearment – but it was strong enough to make the series that caused it unforgettable. A popular series in terms of sadness is Clannad After Story. I’ll never forget the sheer tragedy I felt in the show’s latter episodes even though I haven’t watched it in years. For a negative example, I’ll always remember how utterly disappointed and frustrated I was with the second season of Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu. This show is memorable to me for how bad it was and I’m sure we all have anime like that (but hopefully not too many =P)

Fandom impact

Lastly, what makes an anime memorable isn’t necessarily the lasting impression it leaves on me, but on the fandom that I’m a part of. There’s no denying the timelessness Evangelion has in the anime medium, so even if you yourself didn’t think much of it, it’s hard to forget about it as long as we’re part of anime fandom and it continues to be such a prominent title in the medium. Madoka Magica is looking to be in a similar position though it’s still too new of an anime to tell. Other extremely popular titles such as KyoAni hits like Haruhi, Lucky Star, and K-ON which have arguably steered the anime medium in a new direction, could again be thought of as memorable because of the impact they had in the fandom in general whether they had the same impact for us personally or not. As long as we continue to be involved in anime fandom, there are certain everlasting popular series we can’t ever forget about whether we want to or not =P

19 Comments… read them or add your own.

  1. Frootytooty says:

    Memory relies heavily on repetition, so it’s not surprising that fandom impact probably most strongly affects whether you remember a series or not. Even if you were ambivalent towards Haruhi or K-ON!, you can’t possibly forget them when people are mentioning them left, right and centre. Unfortunately, the golden oldies have a disadvantage in that regard, though even a few of those are regularly brought up time and time again.

    Personally I think how well I remember a series depends largely on emotional impact. This could be from a scene in the anime that really struck a chord with me or was a massive mindf**k, or I could just be really obsessed with the series and hence will remember it for a long, long time. It’s probably the same for most people – memories associated with emotions tend to be the strongest ones.

    • Yumeka says:

      Yeah, the older a series is yet is still currently talked about, could be one indicator of how truly memorable it is among the general fandom. So series like Evangelion and Cowboy Bebop would fall into this category even though they came out before a lot of younger anime fans had started watching anime.

      Most anime have made me emotional at some point in their episodes, so it’s interesting to find out which ones are the strongest in terms of lingering in my memory long after I’ve watched them ;)

  2. I think for me it boils down to story over everything else. All the elements contribute but story overrides all other considerations. By that I mean the music, visuals, themes all contribute but I don’t experience the emotional impact moments unless the story brought me to that point: the story is the foundation on top of which all elements, including characterizations, rest.

    I don’t think fandom impact affects me too much. ;) I’m kind of cussed and stubborn in not paying attention to classic or “hyped” shows unless they appear to offer me something that I personally am interested in seeing, and then I’ll take a look. ;-D

    • Yumeka says:

      I can see that story is the most important factor to you, with things like music and visuals all stemming from that. For me, a good story is always great, but I could also easily get into an anime if a story isn’t really present, such as in episodic comedies or if the characters are just a lot of fun to “hang out with.” Things like the show being really funny or the animation being top notch could definitely embed an anime into my memory even if the story isn’t anything special…but that’s just me =P

      I’m also interested in watching most of the very hyped shows, though I rarely get to them among watching current shows XD

  3. hoshiko says:

    Some say music helps us in our memory. Maybe that’s why we tend to remember series with good music?

    You’re right about us can’t forget a series even if we wanted to because of fandom impact. It is one of the reasons why I watched a lot of series I did and recognize a lot of the series I never saw. It’s everywhere and a constant reminder!

    • Yumeka says:

      They say music is a universal language, so even if an anime’s dialogue doesn’t stick in our head well because it’s in a foreign language, music is something we can all easily remember =)

      If you’re active in anime online fandom, which most people are, then there are certain series that are always talked about and thus not easily forgotten. But there are also more “reclusive” or “loner” fans who enjoy their fandom on their own or among a very small group of friends and so don’t care to have the exposure to the series that “everyone talks about.” So for these fans, fandom impact would have little to do with an anime’s memorability.

  4. CoolCARTGuy says:

    This is certainly an interesting topic to examine.

    For me, the characters and animation are what have the biggest impact; while story certainly counts for something, if I cannot be motivated to follow the characters (even negatively so such as via the “so bad it’s good/badical” effect), I cannot invest myself in the larger context of the story and the world it builds. Animation leaves almost as big an impact on me since I am quite visual in my approach to many of my hobbies; this is one reason why, for example, despite not really being a fan of J-Pop music, I love the endings to the Precure All Stars movies with their elaborate, over-the-top 3D dance permormances featuring all the heroines who starred.

    Music can play a major role for me as well; ever since watching Madoka Magica and becoming a Type-Moon fan over the past two years, I have become interested in soundtracks that differ largely from the typical assortment of upbeat or energetic J-Pop and J-Rock. I would certainly say that, especially in the case of shows with a darker atmosphere, music matters more than anytime else since a lot of those shows tend to rely on how much the audience buys into the atmosphere of the world. A non-anime example of this would be any game made by Frictional Games such as Penumbra: Black Plague and Amnesia: The Dark Descent; both have brilliant scores that highlight the disturbing, yet mysterious nature of their respective worlds and I will never forget them because of that (among other things).

    In regards to emotion, this tends to be a factor that plays out negatively for me (i.e. remembering a show that evoked bitter disappointment in me); last year’s Sword Art Online is a good example, seeing as how I liked the first half, but so much that I enjoyed was stripped from the show by the halfway point that I didn’t really enjoy it beyond the first story arc. It has so far been one of my biggest disappointments since I began watching anime, though certainly not the largest one (for me, that would be the Tsukihime anime). A more positive example of emotion making a show memorable for me was the Idolmaster anime circa Episode 20; while the show was okay up to that point in my opinion, Episode 20 was truly a gamebreaker and lifted the show in my mind from an enjoyable show to a show that was both enjoyable and one I will remember for a good while.

    Fandom certainly has played into my memory of many shows; the fanbases of Naruto and Haruhi in particular have made me remember them…albeit not in such a positive way. Fandom is one reason I will remember anything done by Key in a similar vein, though I certainly did enjoy Angel Beats and Little Busters (especially the latter – Yuiko is so cool).

    Pardon me if this was long; as you can probably tell, I’ve been thinking about this for awhile.

    • Yumeka says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      I also tend to place more of an emphasis on liking the characters over the story, which is why I can love anime that don’t really have a story, such as Lucky Star, if I can get invested in being with the characters. Of course, having great characters makes a show memorable to me too.

      Yeah, emotional impact can make a series memorable in both positive and negative ways. Like you said with SAO, even though it disappointed you, you won’t soon forget that emotion and thus the show will be memorable to you even though you didn’t like it.

  5. Shikon says:

    All the points you listed are great. I agree that you don’t have to necessarily have to like an anime to remember it (just like anything really), but for me to remember an anime I usually have to like it to some degree.

    Music definitely plays a role in how memorable an anime is to me, generally if I really love the music I will download the soundtrack, like I have for Fate/Zero and Blood+ and yes I absolutely love Yuki Kaijura as well =P

    This post really made me wonder why I remember the anime that I do, because I often recall dialogue between characters or even catch phrases on a pretty regular basis. Though the anime that I remember may not be one of my favorites at all.

    • Yumeka says:

      There’s really only a few series where I took an interest in the BGM so much to listen to it outside the anime itself – and all are Yoko Kanno and Yuki Kajiura titles, LOL.

      My mind tends to view things on a holistic level, so I don’t remember details in anime well, such as dialogue between characters or events that happen, but I remember the overall story and my general feelings about things. So the more details of an anime I remember after watching it, whether it’s the music or the emotional impact, the more memorable I would say it is =)

  6. Nopy says:

    I tend to remember good anime music, but forget which anime they’re from, kinda weird. I think you hit the nail on the head with the other four though, especially mind-numbing themes. The series I most remember are always the ones that shock me at the time.

    • Yumeka says:

      Heh, I always remember what anime a piece of music is from – if I like it enough, I’ll have it saved on my computer or I’ll always be looking it up, so I’ll become familiar with the name of the song together with the anime it’s from =P But like I said to Shikon above, the thing I do have trouble remembering is details and specific events. Guess we’ve all got things that do and don’t stick in our memory XD

  7. Myna says:

    In addition to the reasons you already listed:

    Colossal disappointments (i.e. Guilty Crown)
    WTF/notorious/twist endings (i.e. School Days)

    • Yumeka says:

      Your first one would sort of go with “bringing out major emotion” (a negative emotion in this case) and the second could go with “mind-numbing themes.” But they’re both prominent enough to be reasons on their own, especially the latter. Actually, a couple of anime that I probably would have otherwise forgotten about, such as Sola and H20, stuck in my mind specifically because of their twist endings.

    • JonBob says:

      What’s interesting about Guilty Crown is that it had really memorable music but was hitched to a terribad anime that’s as memorable for that.

  8. Kal says:

    I agree with all of those. I’m terrible at remembering names, but names like Yuki Kajiura can quickly jump to mind due to the impact her music has. There is not much to add really, I can’t think of anything else in this case. Nicely written and thought out article.

    • Yumeka says:

      Yeah, I don’t pay much attention to anime staff members, such as directors and writers, but for the few industry names I do know, like Yuki Kajiura, I’m more likely to remember an anime if they worked on it ;)

  9. Chris says:

    You make a good point about how the elements that make an anime memorable doesn’t necessarily make it good. I find characters to be the most memorable aspects of anime. Sometimes I don’t remember a bit about the story, but I remember exactly who the characters are and their personalities. The characters of Eureka SeveN, Samurai Champloo, and others are what keeps me coming back for a watch.

    Negative memories are not necessarily good. High School of the Dead left me feeling disappointed because of all the gratuitous fan service. Even now I remember how it detracted from the atmosphere they tried to establish.

  10. Nuu says:

    When I think about it….almost nearly every anime I’ve liked has had a unique animation style or it was just incredibly good production-value-wise. Seems when people animate like that, it forces them to make the story good because people REALLY pay attention to things. And plus it’s like, “I’m spending all this money anyways.” mise’ well make it good

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