I find it impressive that this is one of the darkest series I've ever seen while at the same time having a core optimistic theme. While the camera often mercifully cuts away from the worst of its violence and depravation, there's no question as to what is occurring.
Now I've certainly seen more graphic violence in some series and I'm sure Grave of the Fireflies, for example, which I haven't seen, is far more depressing and may even be darker. Even so, I'm quite impressed with the degree to which the series realistic showed much of the nastiness of war, what people do and what it does to people. I'd argued recently that movies focusing on soldiers fighting tend to glorify war to some degree, even if they critique to a greater degreer. Few different friends have pointed out exception to that rule including 'All Quiet on the Western Front', 'Full Metal Jacket', and the T.V. series 'Black Adder Goes Forth.' Regardless, NTHT certainly doesn't do so which is probably possible because of careful use of its protagonist, Shu.
I tend to have mixed feelings about kid heroes, but I really liked this him. He had an incredibly amount of integrity to a simple but reasonable system of values. I can accept him as a child, and all the annoying conceits of most child hero were series were absent.
I also appreciated the philosophy of the series. I'm not gonna whole sale endorse it, but it's a nice approach to the world and the series obviously has faith in this view. It doesn't cop out at any point that I saw and it does submit it's ideas to fairly nasty tests. Admittedly, Shu would die were he not the protagonist, but that's a fairly universal thing in heroic storytelling. In addition to Shu, I really liked the character of Lala-ru who is quite interesting and has a strikingly different outlook.
Animation isn't amazing, although the backgrounds are pretty. Ultimately though, it doesn't really matter, the art is more than sufficient to support the rest of the series.
Any ways, I've had fun talking to Coby about this one, If anyone else feels like discussing it lemme know.
On another note, recently saw Catch Me if You Can, great movie, it reminded me once again how much I love caper flicks and con-men movies.