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Whether it would be in business, war, games, or sports, the best way to win is by having the best strategy. Sometimes a mastermind can do all the work, but he or she needs people to make it happen. For some people on today’s list, they can come in the form of partners or friends. For others, they can be minions to manipulate. As for some anime that relates to these subjects, we are going to explore what best exploits strategy to the point it would make Sun Tzu, the author of the Art of War proud.
10. Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor (Gyakkyou Burai Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor)
- Episodes: 26
- Air Dates: Oct 3, 2007- Apr 2, 2008
Kaiji Ito is a victim of Japan’s Great Recession starting from the 1990s. He is educated, but he can’t find suitable employment and is circumstantially forced into debt. So he has the choice of either doing hard labor for nearly 10 years to pay it off or spend a night on a gambling cruise to clear it out. So what choice does he make? HE TAKES THE CRUISE!!
From there, that is where the mind games start to happen. Kaiji is about what some people would do when they are at their absolute lowest. In most cases, their survival instinct kicks in and they can go as far as stabbing one another in the back. While Kaiji has his own problems, he’s trying to help other people but they take advantage of his (developing) good nature. But the thing about Kaiji is that like all good gamblers, it is all not about luck but really about the right poker face. If he knows his opponent is bluffing, he’ll bluff back until they break.
9. One Outs
- Episodes: 25
- Air Dates: Oct 8, 2008 – Apr 1, 2009
The Saitama Lycaons are coming off a bad season. Hiromichi Kojima, their star hitter has been in the league for 21 years and has yet to win a championship. While in Okinawa, for a training camp they find Toa Tokuchi, a street gambling pitcher who plays with the local Americans. If they can’t hit his pitches, they pay him up. Kojima takes up the challenge and loses. Kojima challenges him to a rematch where if he loses, he will retire. If he wins, he takes Toa as the team’s new pitcher. Kojima emerges victorious and gets Toa on the team. Due to his background, he is given a unique contract for every out he pitches he gets five million yen. But for every run he gives up, he loses fifty million yen. Thanks to these clauses, he gets the job done and gets his paycheck.
This anime focuses on the strategy aspect both on the field and in business. Toa’s exclusive experience in pitching prior to his pro debut was just his games of One Outs but with the right guidance and motivation, he can not only become rich but a champion. Toa is a gambler first and a baseball player second so he sees his game nothing more as a game of cards. Toa’s strategy relies on cold reading and getting the opposing batter to react in a way he wants them to. Sometimes not for the sake of striking them out, but to get them emotionally riled up to consequently get them ejected. His tactics may seem a little dirty but if they’re within the rules, anything goes. In some instances, he uses his Okinawan background to his advantage on rainy days. If you want to see how he plays this tactic, you readers need to see to find out.
- Episodes: 22
- Air Dates: Oct 12, 2012 – Mar 22, 2013
If Minority Report were to have an anime adaption, it would certainly be Psycho-Pass. In the 22nd century, law enforcement is done through the Sybil System or Psycho-Pass. It allows real-time psychological evaluation citizens and what their threat level is through their surveillance system. Unfortunately, the officials that are sworn to protect the people are now abusing the system for their personal gain and it is up to Akane Tsunemori to bring back true law & order.
Its strategic qualities tend to center around conducting law enforcement. Do the ends justify the means? Will this person really do something bad? The fact that this anime is trying to bring shades of gray into a world that wants to be clearly black and white is the strategy itself. Akane and her partner are attempting to pursue a suspect who is difficult to catch because he commits his crimes through a proxy, and no evidence can be directly linked to him. So do they have to resort to drastic measures that would violate human rights? Or do they do it the old fashioned way with concepts such as warrants and Miranda warnings?
7. Joker Game
- Episodes: 12
- Air Dates: Apr 5, 2016 – Jun 21, 2016
Based on the novel series by Koji Yanagi, Joker Game takes place in World War II. Even before the Cold War made espionage cool with James Bond, the Empire of Japan experiments with the concept of an organization called the D Agency, composed of highly trained and talented young men. Unfortunately, the agency is looked down upon by other military officers believing that such tactics are dishonorable when Lt. Col. Yuuki, the head of the Agency, thinks that suicide for your country or when dishonored is ridiculous. However, he hopes with the Agency, he can prove his ideas are effective and more realistic.
The whole notion of Joker Game is to find information through spying. Sometimes information obtained could be inaccurate which is taken into account in this series. The concept of this anime is to show the value of intelligence gathering. It is about using manipulation and winning trust to get on the inside. Not only is the strategy based around fighting the enemy overseas, the agency has enemies within the government they serve thanks to bureaucracy. To make things more interesting, the spies within the unit have a competition of who can win, which is more of a reflection of Japanese culture in both academics and the real world. T
- Episodes: 74
- Air Dates: Apr 7, 2004 – Sept 28, 2005
Dr. Kenzo Tenma is a successful brain surgeon working at a prestigious hospital in Germany and is set to marry the daughter of his boss. However, one fateful night changes everything when he has to choose between operating on a little boy or the mayor. Though the administration orders him to make the mayor a priority, he decides to operate on the boy and the surgery is a success but at the cost of the mayor. Nine years later, Dr. Tenma’s sins come back to haunt him when Johan, the boy he saved is accused of numerous deaths. Feeling responsible, Dr. Tenma takes it upon himself to stop Johan.
In context to how this works as a strategy series, it heavily emphasizes on manipulation. Though the traditional villain cliché is if you want something done, you got to do it yourself, Johan tends to be the opposite. Johan comes across as unassuming and as a nice guy. However, he has the ability to read people and his charisma gives him the ability to persuade (or manipulate) people, and he knows how to get inside your head if he wants to. Though he is responsible for the death of numerous people throughout the series, he usually doesn’t do the deed directly. Try to think of him as the Jigsaw killer in the Saw series. He makes his victims suffer and drives them insane to the point of suicide. So sometimes, if you want to do something and not leave proof you’re responsible, be like Johan.
5. Death Note
- Episodes: 37
- Air Dates: Oct 4, 2006 – Jun 27, 2007
Academic overachiever Light Yagami is bored with everyday life. His life takes an unexpected turn when he finds the titular Death Note, a notebook that allows him to kill whoever he wants. After some experimenting, Light uses it to wipe the world of all criminals and is given the name Kira, a Japanese play for Killer. But L, the world’s greatest detective whose intellect rivals that of Light’s, is now on the case because he believes no one has the right to play God. Thanks to L’s research and deductive reasoning, he is able to suspect that Light is Kira and must find solid evidence to bring him to justice. Light knows that L is onto him and does everything he can to stay a few steps ahead.
Death Note is the ultimate game of cat and mouse. Thanks to Light’s intellect, resources, and connections, he knows what the authorities are up to. L and Light’s plans go as far as their contingencies having contingencies. Light can have his Death Note hidden in a drawer, but if in the event it is discovered, he has a bomb connected to it. Light does everything possible to know what he can and can’t do with the note. But when worse comes to worse, Light can devoid himself of suspicion by passing the Death Note to other people he deems worthy. L and Light’s relationship ultimately comes down to keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer. But in this instance, who uses this strategy the best? If you haven’t, please check out Death Note to find out!
4. No Game No Life
- Episodes: 12
- Air Dates: Apr 9, 2014 – Jun 25, 2014
The brother-sister duo of Sora and Shiro are famous on the Internet as Kuuhaku (meaning blank), a word play of the kanji symbols of their names. Though they are respected on the Internet for being unstoppable in the world of MMORPGs, Sora and Shiro are actually shut-ins who have trouble living on the outside world. After emerging victorious in an online game of chess against a mysterious opponent, they are transported to the gaming world of Disboard. After learning how their new home world works in conjunction with games, they sent out to conquer.
Though the rules state you cannot cheat in a game, as the old saying goes, it’s not cheating until you’re caught and there are those who are willing to exploit that. Not only do certain citizens resort to this, Sora and Shiro are willing to find ways to bend the rules when necessary (such as the good old counting cards tactic in blackjack). There are some things that Sora can only do (such as his cold readings in games like chess or any other gambling-like games), and there are things Shiro can only do in certain games (such as first-person shooters). When it comes to that, one leaves the other to do what they do best.
Shiro and Sora may be gamers at heart, but they demonstrate great intelligence and use that to their advantage when necessary such as when they play a game of shiritori, a Japanese word connecting game. And there are instances where drastic times call for drastic measures. When Sora plays chess against Kurami, he manipulates the cheat to his advantage in order to win. So in strategy, karma can come back to haunt you when you least expect it.
3. Legend of Galactic Heroes (Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu)
- Episodes: 110
- Air Dates: Jan 8, 1988 – Mar 17, 1997
In the far distant future, mankind has migrated to the deep reaches of space. The two governments in conflict are The Alliance of Free Planets and The Galactic Empire. Our two main leads are Yang Wen-Li (Free Planets) and Reinhard (The Galactic Empire). Though mortal enemies, both men have profound respect for each other. Can they use that respect to get together and bring peace across the galaxy? Unfortunately, other factors prevent that from coming into play.
A lot of the strategic qualities are strongly focused on Yang Wen-Li. If you could put some of the courage of Captain Kirk the diplomacy of Captain Picard into one character, it has to be Wen-Li. In a majority of the battles he fights, he tends to be at a disadvantage. However, wherever there’s a will there’s a way and Wen-Li personifies that. However, his problems don’t end with the Empire. In many instances, he must face internal problems throughout the series such as how the government resents him for his popularity and his criticism of the government.
In terms of government strategy, a lot of this is focused through Reinhard, who eventually becomes the Emperor or Kaiser. At a young age, he couldn’t handle the corruption going on within the administration and attempted to report it to the proper authorities but was brushed off by being told it was a necessary evil. But thanks to a dedicated team, he manages to become supreme leader. Through both these main characters, strategy requires that sacrifices are going to be made and that they should not be in vain.
2. Code Geass Lelouch of the Revolution (Code Geass Hangyaku no Lelouch)
- Episodes: 25
- Air Dates: Oct 6, 2006 – Jul 29, 2007
In Code Geass, what could arguably be the most ruthless superpower is the Britannian Empire. A little over 10 years after conquering Japan and re-classifying it as Area 11, Lelouch, the exiled Prince of Britannia, stages his comeback to de-throne his father as Zero, a masked freedom fighter. Thanks to his newly found Geass power, where he can command anyone to do almost anything, he is on his way to accomplishing his goals and liberating Japan.
Even without the Geass, Lelouch is already a master tactician. Upon receiving his powers, he doesn’t abuse it like crazy, he actually experiments what he can and can’t do within simple daily conversations and works his way up. Lelouch can devoid any suspicion thanks to his less than stellar academic record and that he is physically weak. But by appealing to the ideals of the people with his amazing charisma as Zero, he can rally the right army to his cause. Initially, his guerrilla tactics would resort to some collateral damage and he felt it was both an unfortunate and natural part of his war.
After learning that one of his classmate’s father was among the dead, he changes his tactics for the better. Even without his Geass powers, he can use his natural charisma to be manipulative such as when he won Rolo, his false brother, to his side. As opposed to using his Geass, he appealed to his emotions of the time they spent together and became his most loyal minion. Even with powers given, sometimes one must use their natural gifts in order to win.
1. The Heroic Legend of Arslan (Arslan Senki)
- Episodes: 25
- Air Dates: Apr 5, 2015 – Sept 27, 2015
In the year Pars Era 320, the kingdom of Pars has ruled the lands with an iron fist. However, they suffer their first defeat to the neighboring Lusitania Empire and the king has fallen into their hands. Arslan, the prince, manages to escape with his life thanks to the help of one of his kingdom’s greatest and most loyal warriors, Daryun. Together, they must rebuild an army to reclaim the kingdom.
Like Legend of Galactic Heroes, Arslan Senki is based on a novel series by the same author, Yoshiki Tanaka. Both series have numerous qualities but their executions are different beyond their settings. While the conflict in Legend of Galactic Heroes tends to be at a stalemate between Reinhard and Yang Wen-Li, Arslan has to start from scratch and work his way up. In the beginning of Arslan Senki, we see that Arslan’s father favors brute strength over tactics because it is the manly thing to do. Unfortunately, his game plan works against him in the opening battle.
Thanks to the recruitment and council of Narsus, a former advisor to the Parsian Kingdom, Arslan learns that failure is not the end, it is only the beginning and that applies in real life, too. However, tactics aren't necessarily about how you rally your troops, political tactics at times are a necessity to gain the advantage. So if you want to know what it takes to be a king on both a military and political front, Arslan Senki is the anime to watch!
In addition to this list, we would like to make some very honorable mentions to JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Phoenix Wright, Yuu Yuu Hakusho, Naruto, and Legend of Koizumi. As shown on this list, sometimes the winner is not about who has the biggest muscles, the best firepower, or the largest military, but to who has the greatest mind based on their education and experienced. Of course, all success stories are not built solely on one person. In many instances, it is thanks to teamwork and unity where a strategy finds success. Whether in anime or real life, people may have failed and made some sacrifices on the way, but ultimately they succeeded. Sometimes, strategy is also about learning from failures and mistakes, and some of these animes demonstrate those qualities. So what do you think? Please leave a comment!