I put together the most involved ranking of my favorite anime a year ago. I won’t link you to that post until I’m finished with this series of three posts. Why a revision? I watch a lot of new anime, a lot of old anime, and rewatch my favorites from time to time. Thoughts of ranking them occur naturally for me, and I think a yearly revisit is just about right.
Why is it important to rank and publish my favorites? I think it’s part of the clothes I wear as an anime fan and how I represent myself to other fans. It serves to provide a sense of consistency and purpose given the role I play as an advocate of anime (and manga). Here are some criteria that guide me (in no particular order):
- Compelling stories
- Charismatic characters
- Drama (something important is at stake for the characters)
- Well-animated action
- Crowning moments of awesome
- Crowning moments of heartwarming
And, a secondary tier:
- I’m not hung up on plot, but an intricate plot can astound me.
- I’m not hung up on scale, but I in awe of grand scale over small.
- I’m not hung up on music, but a great soundtrack will delight me.
- Rewatching the show increases my affinity for it.
Okay, here’s the first part of the list, from 30 to 21:
30. FullMetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
I watched this show in 2010 because I felt I was missing out on something truly great. I was right. It is truly great. I feel it is a perfect exercise of long story-telling, building a fantastic setting, and delivering it with such consistent high quality animation. It now serves not so much as a benchmark, but as a shining beacon of the possibility of anime for TV.
At 64 episodes it’s one of the longer shows I’ve seen but I honestly feel that it could have gone longer. I find the story very tight and well-paced. The characters are very distinct and endearing in their own ways, and are given the space to be fully drawn, as well as having spectacular moments, usually delivered as great action scenes.
What’s telling though, is how I choose to write about it here: anyone who’s followed this blog closely can tell by what I wrote that I am not a fan of the show. It’s on this list, because it is very good and I feel remiss if I don’t acknowledge how its excellence moves me.
29. Hanasaku Iroha
I suffer from recency bias. So be it. As I write this, the show isn’t even finished. But given how much I like both Aria: the Origination, and K-On!! I wouldn’t be honest with myself if I don’t find a place for this show on this list. I find that while it’s less focused than either of the shows I mentioned: Aria for its narrative of change taking place in a stunning atmosphere, and K-On!! for its excellence in delivering moé, leading to a heightened feel of drama in such mundane circumstances…
Hanasaku Iroha is more scattered, or capricious as a show, with a more frank and straightforward approach to sexual fanservice. This to me, actually liberated it to pursue anything it wanted and not worry about trying to appear as a serious dramatic work, which includes what occurs to me as insightful telling of the working of family-run businesses, the rural economy, and a delicate understanding of finances in general. It also portrays a very interesting dynamic of strong women across three generations. I ate all of this stuff up.
There’s also of course, the exquisite cruelty of adolescence to one of its characters that I’ve found I had quite the taste for. But perhaps what attracts me too to this show is how it reflects We Remember Love quite well. The show, this blog, isn’t quite for everyone… but it tries to give you EVERYTHING. Hehehe.
28: Lucky Star
This is the show that introduced me to contemporary otaku culuture, the one that revolves around moé, as I now know it. I was familiar with the phenomenon, but the character of Konata updated it for me in a strikingly educational way. This was an interesting view – perhaps a cautionary tale of what I found myself could possibly become. I never ended up being an galge-playing moé fanboy, but I appreciated the introduction, along with what I genuinely found as funny sketches that I rewatch over and over.
I have this show, along with K-On!! and now Hanasaku Iroha as my random episode rewatch set. I could now just start from almost anywhere and just enjoy myself for 20 minutes. Among the three shows, however, Lucky Star plays the role best. You see I don’t regularly rewatch mecha shows randomly… the plot-emphasis fills the time with moments I can’t or don’t want to care about in any given afternoon. What I’m left with is watching clip shows of action scenes which lose their impact when I do get around to rewatching the shows in full. I don’t want that. I want something disposable, and I can’t make my mecha battles disposable. Thus, Lucky Star.
27. Toppu o Nerae! Gunbuster
Watching this show was love at first sight for me. Not even knowing about Ace o Nerae! — the show it remembers love for, I found the goofy school drama involving Noriko, her bullies, and the onee-sama she idolized riveting stuff. This world is something so new to me, having known pretty much zero shoujo up until robot anime introduced me to it via Gunbuster. The best part was that it departs somewhat from the shoujo story and becomes a full-fledged robot anime, combining real-robot sensibilities but portrayed with super robot awesomeness. Incredible stuff. The time dilation science fiction touches — which would be revisited by acclaimed film Voices From a Distant Star is a great bonus.
And still, the heart of the show is the power of love and friendship, a theme I will never, ever, ever tire of. It’s funny how, as an adult male (I was at least 28 when I saw this OVA) I found no awkwardness watching two girls validate their friendship across unbelievable expanses of space and time. It prepared me to enjoy similar shoujo works that would truly affect my enjoyment of anime in profound ways.
26. Turn A Gundam
It took me two tries but I finished this show. The second time couldn’t be more different from the first because when I previously saw random, confusing, ugliness, I suddenly saw whimsical, pastoral, beauty. It was Gundam as I never could have imagined it. When the image of Kihel Heim making this little leap in her garden and the show just pauses as if time stood still, to let us take in the beauty of that moment… I realize how this show is just capable of anything.
Indeed it accomplished much, not least how it remembered love not only for the franchise it celebrates two decades for (as it was the 20th Anniversary show for the Gundam franchise), but for robot anime in general with its strange Itano Circus and DIY Rocket Punch. Unlike amazing downers like Mobile Suit Gundam, and the downer of downers Mobile Suit Z Gundam, and the ugliest of downers Mobile Suit Victory Gundam, a happy Tomino Yoshiyuki can be quite inspiring and make anime magic.
25. Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket
I have never met a meme so cruel, but so inoffensively apt as that of a Hamburger and this show. There are shows within the Gundam franchise that excel at being Gundam shows, at presenting the core themes using larger than life characters as befits a space opera. This show does something different. It presents the core theme: war is hell. It does so in the context of a boy coming-not-quite-of-age, but never as a puffed up pilot, but instead a figure of a generation of Gundam viewers who may have yet to cross that threshold into the reality of war 10 years into the franchise (yes, this show is the 10th Anniversary offering of Gundam).
It does so magnificently, in a subdued, poignant, but heart wrenching way. For me it is a work that transcends not only Gundam, but the animated medium as well. As viewers we are denied the fulfillment of what seems so wonderful for the characters, but instead we are treated to acts of dignity. I love other Gundam shows more because they service my needs and desires as a fan, just as how this show imagines its viewers to be… but far be it for me to fail to acknowledge how this little OVA stands out as a lord among the many works in the storied Gundam franchise.
As if to prove a point, here’s a show I favor over the thematically superior War in the Pocket due to well, mecha battle pr0n. This is a show filled with annoying characters, the most careless security in the Federation, a love triangle out of nowhere forced with a thousand shoehorns, but it doesn’t matter. Before the Gundam franchise will embrace digital animation, this show gave me the very best kind of action anime could offer: giant robots fighting each other in large numbers.
It had truly long, desperate fights, incredible scale, and leveraged the history of the Universal Continuity superbly. One incredible thing about the fights is the speed at which its shown. It also gave what I strongly feel is a fair accounting for a combat ace with superior weaponry does in a fantasy battlefield. I wouldn’t appeal to realism at all, but what this show does feels right, feels good, and is a great credit to the Gundam franchise.
23. Macross Frontier
Whatever I could want, need, from anime this show has it. It doesn’t do any one thing on a God-tier level (except the musical battles, not that there are any other shows that try to do this) but it tries to give EVERYTHING. It’s kind of like how I appreciate Hanasaku Iroha as I’ve mentioned earlier. High school hijinks, space opera, idol rivalries, shoujo-esque love triangles cum cooperative/dependent female rivalries, slick dogfights, sexy transforming robots, romance, LISTEN TO MY SONG… TO THE ENDS OF THE GALAXY, science fiction, big ol’ space battles, and allusive Easter Eggs by the shipload. This show! I could blog every episode and not run out of things to say. Oh wait!
If it does anything well, it serves as a comprehensive introduction for new viewers into the Macross franchise. It won’t give overblown expectations as Macross: Do You Remember Love? and Macross Plus have been known to do.Macross Frontier is enough of a nutty, scattered, and cavalier towards logic kind of show that even Macross 7 can be accounted for.
22. Macross Plus
A treat: an adult story in the Macross universe. I use adult very specifically: it takes a certain level of maturity to truly have regrets in life. If you make a story about regret using too young characters you get awkward and lame bawlfests like Ano Hana. It’s really cool how these troubled, not really strong nor upstanding adults who are clearly held back from growing into responsible and functional human beings find themselves in a Macross love triangle that serves as the narrative excuse to pit two rival mecha manufacturers and their splendid prototypes against each other.
The result is not only the most glorious dogfight in mecha anime, but also one of the most touching scenes about manly love and friendship. So yes, an interesting irony: it takes a mature show with adults to portray authentic puerile immaturity. It’s a great bonus to go with the awesome variable fighter pr0n.
21. Toppu o Nerae 2! Diebuster
It took everything that was awesome from the first one, and then liberally added elements from Revolutionary Girl Utena thanks to Enokido Yoji plus some really wild animation and direction from Tsurumaki Kazuya with adorable Sadamoto Yoshiyuki character designs and you have something that not only exceeds the “beyond the impossible” nature of the first OVA, it also provides one of the most awesomely satisfying and BAAWWWW-worthy endings to anything ever.
The show embodied the positive, uplifiting spirit that characterized robot anime as exemplified by Gunbuster that GAINAX themselves sucked out of the sub genre by making the seminal Neon Genesis Evangelion. The moment I finished watching this sequel, I wondered how the hell can GAINAX or robot anime itself ever top the crazy stunts pulled off here. [SPOILER: GAINAX DID WITH TTGL (oh god)].
I’ve only begun ‘festing’ it up myself. The rest of the list will come very soon~
Meanwhile, a table summary:
*Hanasaku Iroha is still ongoing, but as I mentioned, it doesn’t matter how it’ll end to me. I’ve already made up my mind about it. I give myself the space to be completely wrong about this.
As you can see, the level of excellence I subjectively feel about the shows doesn’t correspond to how much I favor them. It has to do with how I feel about advocating the show; it has to feel like it fits somehow in the overall list in its own particular way. I’m sure you have your own ways of picking favorites and I never tire about hearing from you about these things, or about the shows listed above.