Penguindrum is an anime with a lot of emotional punch to it. Two brothers who lose their little sister to an incurable disease, but are then tempted by some magical entity with a way to permanently resurrect her if they go on a bizarre mission for it. It didn’t hit me too hard personally, but it got me thinking about all the times when anime did get me all teary-eyed and sad.
Because this is obviously going to be spoiler-tastic, I will be keeping headlines and pictures somewhat vague. Consider skipping ahead a portion if you spot a show you were still planning to watch.
The Dreaded Result – I Can’t Understand What My Husband is Saying
The romance between Kaoru and Hajime is not exactly the kind of idealized love that we see a lot of in anime. In fact, the two of them don’t seem to match at all and make for a strange and troubled couple, even after their wedding. Throughout the romantic comedy I Can’t Understand What My Husband is Saying, the idea of pregnancy is frequently brought up and also frequently discarded. After all, these two adults can hardly take care of themselves, so what hope do they have of raising a little kid?
Well, they are left very little choice. At the end of the first season, Kaoru finally decides to take a pregnancy test after being encouraged by all of their friends. Hajime is particularly excited, but neither of them is too disappointed when the test initially returns a negative. However, with some delay, the result changes and shows that Kaoru is, in fact, pregnant.
And to see such a high-energy show suddenly slow down and have these characters quietly realize that their lives are about to drastically change is so beautiful to me. Kaoru’s expressions are spot on and Hajime is so overwhelmed that he can do nothing but embrace her. Use protection kids.
Reunion with a bonus – ERASED
ERASED is the go-to anime for turning big, burly men into crying, little girls. The stomach-churning depictions of child abuse are already more than some people can take, but I feel that the real moment where the floodgates are opened up comes in episode 11.
After tirelessly trying to prevent tragedy, Satoru has managed to save all of his friends from the claws of the would-be murderer stalking his city. He rescued Kayo and gave her a better life, and then also outwitted the unknown culprit by getting his other, potential targets out of danger. All that hard work, just to end up becoming a target himself. Years after the attempted murder, Satoru awakens from a coma in the hospital. He is now an adult and his memories of the past are vague, but his friends have not forgotten him.
I really like how episode 11 draws a clear parallel between the adult life of Satoru that we have seen and how much it has been changed after his time-traveling escapades. All his old school buddies come to visit him, people who he had lost contact with originally and nearly forgotten about. But the real reward for all of his hard work, for all those years spent in coma, comes when Kayo walks in holding a little baby boy. The future that was stolen from her has been restored.
Minagoroshi-hen – Higurashi: When They Cry
I often felt like “sad” anime wasn’t entirely up my alley, but it’s telling that my all-time favorite show wields tragic plot twists like a murderer wields a sledgehammer: you think you might get away from it, but it’s gonna break your legs and torture you as you try to crawl to safety.
Minagoroshi–hen was already destined for greatness. It’s the answer arc to the Curse Killing chapter, which explored Satoko’s home life where she is mentally and physically abused by her criminal uncle. Her friends are unable to muster help because Satoko is convinced she must bear this torment alone, which would eventually drive series protagonist Keiichi to drastic measures. However, Minagoroshi, the “Massacre” chapter, is very different. It’s the single-last arc of Higurashi‘s main story and the village is beginning to change. This time around, Satoko may be helped after all.
Over the course of a lengthy 8 episodes, Keiichi and the villagers of Hinamizawa band together. The grudges held against Satoko’s family are forgiven as everybody makes a joint effort to force the authorities to act, while Keiichi and his friends make one more desperate attempt to persuade Satoko to accept their help. It’s a beautiful storyline, but note that it’s the single-last arc of the story.
While it’s a massive change of fate and marks the first time that all-out tragedy was averted, it did not solve the underlying mystery of who would benefit from chaos in Hinamizawa. And while Rika would attempt to rally her friends to her defense and explain what is going on, they would be powerless against the overwhelming resources and planning of the story’s ultimate villain. Hinamizawa is once again doomed to fall as the main cast dies one by one, killed off in increasingly cruel ways. The most wonderful achievement of the series is undone, just like that.
Burying Sayla’s Cat – Gundam: The Origin
Sayla Mass has the most horrifying childhood imaginable. Her father is assassinated and she becomes a plaything in a game of intergalactic politics that she never asked for. She has to go into hiding and move from place to place, clinging to her mother’s promise to be reunited with her in the near future.
Then, all remnants of Sayla’s old life are wiped out in one clean swoop. Her mother passes away suddenly, shattering Sayla’s lifelong wish to see her again. Her brother, chasing his own ambitions, leaves Sayla to join the Zeon army and is seemingly killed in a freak accident soon after. And her cat, the one pleasant memory of her childhood and a reliable source of levity throughout the weighty story of Gundam: The Origin, is found dead in her room.
It marks the end of a phase in Sayla’s life. There was always that hope that things might get better, that their family could be whole again and the siblings could pursue happy, peaceful lives. But putting the poor, old cat to rest as everything else crumbles around her reveals that Sayla’s life is a tragedy and things are going to get a whole lot worse before they’ll get any better.
Episode 10 – Violet Evergarden
Violet Evergarden is filled with touching moments, but I think it really picks up steam once Violet’s character arc gets properly started. The show then peaks at episode 10, a standalone story wherein Violet is helping a sickly mother write some letters while bonding with her client’s daughter.
The little girl, Anne, does not take an immediate liking to Violet. She wants to play with her mother and spend time with her now that she has fallen ill, but this bizarre stranger is keeping them apart and hogging her mother’s attention. Anne and Violet do eventually befriend each other, but she continues to have outbursts about feeling neglected.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact scene where it happens, but I and quite a number of people struggled to keep it together when the realization comes that Anne’s mother is employing Violet to write letters for her daughter. Letters that are to be delivered as Anne ages, so she can feel like her mother is watching over her, even after she passes away. That hit a little too close to home for me personally and while I respect the episode itself, I don’t think I can ever rewatch it a second time.
Returning Home – Diebuster/Gunbuster
This is a special entry because it happens twice across two anime 15 years apart from each other.
After several years of waging war and countless battles against the Space Monsters, Noriko is called into battle one last time to protect the earth. With a new generation of mobile suits available and a massive fucking bomb that will suck the entire enemy army into a black hole, Noriko and Amano once again take to the battlefields of space. However, as they prepare the bomb, they learn that it has been damaged and requires some of their mech’s engines to trigger the required effect.
They decide to go with this plan, knowing that they’ll either never escape or do so whilst suffering severe time dilation. The bomb goes off, the battle is won, and humanity is saved. However, as they drift around in space, Noriko and Amano are uncertain of how much time has past. When the earth comes into view, it seems abandoned and desolate. They sacrificed everything, only for humanity to be seemingly wiped out anyway. Then, as if to surprise them, lights turn on across the planet, creating a misspelled message of welcome for the two saviors of mankind.
Years later, we would get to experience this event from the other perspective. Set 12,000 years later, Diebuster would see its cast of characters again battle with the Space Monsters in an apocalyptic war of epic proportions. With the day once again won, we get to see Lal’C witness the “Welcome Home” scene from Earth’s surface, now realizing that the “Nonoriri” that her friend Nono worshiped was actually Noriko, who has drifted through space for millennia.
Endless Requiem – Legend of the Galactic Heroes
Like with some entries on this list, it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment where this particular episode finally hits your emotional snares. All of episode 98 of Legend of the Galactic Heroes is miserable to watch and you’re free to let the tears flow at any part of it.
Oskar von Reuenthal has waged a short-lived rebellion against his emperor and long-time friend Reinhard. A rebellion that he didn’t truly want to begin with, but felt forced into due to being constantly suspected of such and outplotted by nefarious forces working behind the scenes. During the one major encounter of this war, Reuenthal is pierced by a piece of debris and suffers a mortal, gaping wound. He retreats and gives up on winning the war, content with just getting his people home safely.
Back on Heinessen, he retreats to his office and takes a seat that he’ll never again leave. The entirety of episode 98 chronicles his last remaining moments, his reminiscing of bygone days, and settling his last remaining affairs. He is light-headed and faints away multiple times, growing notably paler as the day progresses. And in the final moments, he asks his aide to fetch two glasses and pour some whiskey as he awaits the arrival of his best friend Mittermeyer. Sadly, the decorated war hero of The Empire and last-remaining rival worthy of Reinhard would not get to see his best friend, as he passes away in his chair, with the whiskey left unconsumed.
Home Invasion – Devilman Crybaby
Devilman Crybaby was not my first tango with the Devilman series, but I am a stupid man and held some hope that the fate of Miki would be altered in this rendition of the story. A bit of naivety that series author Ichio Okouchi was perhaps anticipating on, as he made sure to make Miki’s scene all the more devastating and drawn out.
What is but a short scene in the manga and an even quicker one in the OVA has been turned into a lengthy, tortuous ordeal by the inclusion of more characters. As the cat officially leaves the bag and Akira’s status as a Devilman is revealed to the world, Miki accepts him for what he is and this convinces a group of young thugs to put their trust in Akira as well.
However, a series of betrayals soon follows. Koda turns on the Devilmen, slaughtering civilians just as they have come to accept Akira as well. Then, some of the thugs lead the famous mob to the Makimura residence, where the rest of Akira’s allies are all killed. Miko and Miki flee the scene, but are hunted down relentlessly. Even a heroic attempt by Miko to sacrifice herself to buy Miki more time is ultimately pointless, as the track & field star can’t outspeed a car.
History is doomed to repeat itself. No matter how often the story is adapted, Akira is always going to return home one day, only to find his beloved dismembered and impaled on pikes, paraded around by a deranged mob.
Kuroino leaves – Chi’s Sweet Home
I have owned cats for almost my entire life and this has made me painfully aware of how little we understand these creatures and how little they understand us. As a pet owner, I have endured many painful situations where I knew I had to force my cat(s) through something they didn’t truly comprehend.
That might sound like a painful subject matter for a show about a goofy cat and his loving family, but Chi’s Sweet Home loves to come out of the left field with appropriate, yet devastating episodes that advance character arcs. One of these comes in the first season, wherein Chi lives in an apartment complex that doesn’t permit cats. Throughout the season, Chi has many encounters with the enormous Kuroino, who teaches her the ropes of cat life and awakens her interest in the outside world.
Chi getting interested in going outside complicates the family’s life a lot, which she doesn’t understand at all. Then comes the moment where she and Kuroino push their luck too far and are found out. While Chi can stay hidden, Kuroino is traced back to its owner and they are forced to move elsewhere or have Kuroino relocated. Chi then has to watch from the window as Kuroino is loaded in the back of a car, at first thinking she might be able to go play with him, before coming to realize he is going away and never returning.
The Fairy’s Secret Tea Party – Humanity Has Declined
For the final arc of Humanity Has Declined, the story journeys all the way back to The Mediator’s childhood and shows us how she came to receive an education at one of mankind’s last schools. Its revealed that she was alienated and bullied, as she was unused to social interaction and not good at making friends. At least, not with humans.
One day, The Mediator rescues a little fairy and confesses to it that her aloof nature is a defense mechanism because she is lonely and has no idea how to fix that. From thereon, her school life begins to change. She joins a society that is looking for the truth behind a school mystery, the “Fairy’s Secret Tea Party”, and this leads her to repair her relationship with classmates and develop actual friendships. Over the course of her academic career, The Mediator learns terrifying secrets, has battle of wits with other members, researches the history of her school, and sees her old bullies reform themselves as they reach adulthood. In the end, they never find the Tea Party, as the school is closed down upon their graduation.
Years later, Silver visits The Mediator at her house to drop off an old yearbook and other junk from their days at the school. This includes a now broken Ryobo model, which once patrolled the halls of their dorm. From its broken shell hops that fairy from so long ago, sending The Mediator into a dream where she drinks tea with the fairy in a secret, little tea garden, and gets to thank him for his help in making her childhood days at school a lot more fun.