As a professional designer for 15+ years I’ve had my share of creative roadblocks—days/weeks of struggling for some creative inspiration… to think outside the normal problem/solution route. My advice: Do some serious binge watching of anime for a few days. Why binge watch? An extra dosage of dopamine can be a nice pick-me up for the imagination. Why anime? (1) The aesthetic is just gorgeous, obviously, its power comes from its “ability to convey concepts, rather than objects” (to quote anime researcher Raz Greenberg). (2) Anime is overall bonkers and there seems to be no kind of emotional, cultural or logical barrier that stands in the way of these shows from being made and adored by millions. Here are top my ten binge worthy anime series for graphic designers to overcome creative roadblock. They exist in my life to tell me, “Yo! This is how you work the problem!”.
10. Cowboy Beebop
So jazzy. Is the corgi the best character? I think so. This show teaches, if you wanna be a good bounty hunter, you got to be creative, to be creative you have to have some messed up s**t in your life.
This one actually makes me more stressed. But it’s worth it. An anime about making anime, I mean that’s just messed up. The main character is a project manager and she lets everyone walk all over her. The biggest diva is the director, everyone has to cancel all their plans cause the director can’t decide on three mins of the show. So while they work, he goes out to eat. Lesson here: be the diva! And have a donut!
8. Death Note
Yo, I’m for-real perched up on my seat typing this, haha! When L logically concluded that death-gods do in-fact exists—gives new meaning to the Holmesian sayin, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” Conclusion: Best way to solve a super-hard problem, grab a snack!
7. Welcome to the NHK
Y’all know designers are one step away from total hikikomori. You don’t know what hikikomori is, okay, it’s this Japanese thing kids do when they completely give up and hold up in a messy room all day and horde for months. This show is straight-up depressing. (Spoiler alert: Even the stray cat, the only joy in that very sad girl’s life, doesn’t make it.) Why watch? It’s a cautionary tale—don’t fall into the design rabbit hole for too long. Or else the hikikomori will get yah!
If you want to lose your mind, this is the anime to get into. There’s like 50 characters to follow over a 2000 year timeline. The show doesn’t ever stop moving, literally, the main plot takes place on a runaway train. Watch this anime, your head will be spinning so fast, you wouldn’t even know you got a deadline. Note: I’d love to see this show turned into a live-action musical (I’m pitching it as Chicago meets Starlight Express).
I send d-mails all the time though! HAHA! This anime is a nice trifecta of really depressing, confusing, and endless technobabble. The manga writer clearly didn’t care to entertain anyone with this show. But my gawd it’s addictive. When I do get paralyzing creative block, this show reminds me to at least name my projects with some catchy title—that’ll get em. Props to the transgender rights social commentary. You know what scene I’m talking about. Why I love this show? It’s about alternative timelines, but unlike most sci-fi in this genre, there’s barely any difference in any alt-time. All life choices suck in the multi-verse. Sorry.
4. Attack On Titan
A lot of design problem solving is a lot like the Eren/Mikasa/Armin sub-plot: Mission Find-The-Key-In-The-Basement. By season 3 you know you ain’t getting anywhere close to the basement. This whole show is about making way more problems for yourself than you have to. Like that big wall to keep the Titians out, took a lot of effort build, still don’t work. In other words, if you can’t come up with any good ideas, just show your client that there’s a Titan stuck in the wall (aka deflection).
3. Samurai Champloo
When that Nujabes song hits, it’s so lit! The three main characters represent an archetype of design—hear me out. Jin is like the analytical designer, that’s me. The stoner one (Mugen) is like the ‘artist’ designer who doesn’t read the creative brief. And Fuu is the snacker.
2. The Devil is A Part Timer!
If the Devil can fall from grace to work in fast-food and still enjoys his yearly review—there’s hope for me after all. Omg I want pepper fries right now. (Right now you’re all like, “WTF! How this better than Samurai Shamploo?!”)
1. Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma
For a designer, every day is like a Shokugeki! If you didn’t know, a Shokugeki is a winner-take-all cook-off. And no, it isn’t as boring as it sounds. Food gets eaten, clothes come off, people lose their favorite kitchen utensils—we talkin high stakes here. There is this one 3-part episode where the main character Soma has to pick the perfect tuna… so intense! Totsuki Saryo Culinary Institute reminds me of my alma-mater design school. Not sure if any student actually learns anything, but the top students get the most praised as if anyone cared. Anyway, PG-13 warning, this show gets スパイス!