I thought I’d refine how I presented my guideline criteria from the last post. I think it’s very important to say that while I love characters, drama, crowning moments, etc. It is perhaps even more important to say that character design, mechanical design, and how these are animated are critical to my appreciation of anime. After all, I’m not talking about my favorite things in all of media – albeit my passion for anime exceeds that of the rest of film and television. I don’t consider the very best of anime to be as good let alone superior to the best of television and cinema (let alone printed literature).
Thus, you can have superb characterization, an interesting plot, great scale, superlative music and all, but if the illustrations in your anime aren’t good, and are not in motion in a way that makes love to my eyes then I will have difficulty favoring your show. Some of you may think this is a superficial means of appreciating anime. I say to you that you are wrong. Anime is nothing without moving illustrations and for me to favor a show I demand to be satisfied at some level regarding this element.
For this same reason, I welcome remakes, retellings, and rebuilds of past anime. Many of the shows I love suffer in some way from budgetary and/or time constraints during production and the results speak for themselves: characters go off-model, previously shown footage gets reused, characters conversing with each other are shown as dots on an escalator viewed from a hundred meters away, characters conversing with only their mouths moving, and so on.
The most spectacular things to animate are battles, showing the dynamism of the human form in the most exciting of ways. Expand this to the proportion of giant robots and you’re looking into the core of what gets me hot-blooded about anime. Older shows are often limited by budgets and the technology of the time. When such shows are remade, retold, rebuilt, we never lose the shows we’ve seen. We get a net of two works, and get to remember a whole lot of love with all the power and effort of new blood, new eyes.
Back to the list!
How could I rank a show that’s barely halfway done (as of this writing)? There’s two ways to think about this:
- I’m so starved for Gundam that I’d take any new show set in the Universal Century and make babies with it; or
- Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn satisfies the very possibilities that attracted me to Gundam as a mecha anime franchise in the first place.
I mean, I did write all of 7 blog posts corresponding to a whopping total of three episodes right? I really must be crazy about this show, and I am. While not an ideal introduction to the franchise, and even less for the Universal Century, it brings with it everything I’ve wanted to see in the franchise as the standard bearer of real robot anime. This is a show for the big boys, and doesn’t apologize for it.
What do I mean? A romantic context further explored for the conflict that swept the Universal Century; an incredible exploration of the Newtype concept — once an albatross around Gundam’s neck as far as I was concerned; and perhaps most importantly incredibly choreographed and animated mobile suit battles. The stuff here is the best in the franchise, and I can’t be happier.
For the love of God Gundam make the next episode come sooner!
“I’m not alone anymore, now that you are with me” the dissonance of these lyrics, with what the song is doing to countless giant aliens, and the context from which the song came and is performed with… It’s an unmatched brilliance. Yes, there’s an 8 minute stretch of this film that constitutes for many, one of the finest moments of animation history.
It certainly captured my imagination, and its influence is something I’ll forever feel even in a matrix of meaninglessness that I wade through in my appreciation of this work – related to how this film is the prime example of how a continuity fan like me cannot approach my favorite franchise the way I want to, the way that feels natural to me. Whatever. I can look upon this movie as a pseudo-free and independent work that tries to get away with being unencumbered by continuity and at the same time remembering love for it. And Minmay, I can keep looking at Minmay.
18. Macross 7
I never tire of dealing with the hate Macross fans have for this show, the sequel in the franchise that I favor above all others. It’s interesting how casual anime viewers will never hate this. They will drop and dismiss it, but the activity of hating Macross 7 is a pastime of the passionate Macross fan. I don’t blame them, because they are ignorant and lack spirit. They seem to think of Macross as some beacon of excellence and purity at some level… perfect in some ineffable way of being both taken seriously and not taking itself seriously.
But they’re not prepared at what not taking itself seriously looks like in Macross 7. Granted, for its time the production values suck monkey butts after a banana buffet and the whole exercise is that of getting a show out every week in a 4-cour TV series. But those who really let Macross into their hearts experience something truly incredible at some point. Just like how enemies turn into allies by the power of song, we are all in awe of the Power to the Dream that is Macross itself, and Fire Bomber sings it out to us across the stars.
This show remains one of the most exhilarating anime experiences I’ve had, or can imagine. Everything about it is devoted to a presentation that is as awesome as possible. The integration of the OST with the action scenes is incredible, but not only that… the bombastic and dramatic score punctuates every dramatic moment giving it a gravity that feels far impressively heavier than the actual story is. I once sat through an 11-hour queue with the complete OSTs as my only company. It gave my pathos a dramatic dignity that entertains me when I look back upon the ordeal.
But the music is great too because it is more than matched by the stunning animation filled with extreme POVs which make everything bigger, deeper; move faster, with more power, and generally just be more awesome that if you’re not moved by the excellence of all this, then you have no emotion.
16. Sekai no Senki II
Banner of the Stars is a great space opera franchise, notable for its unique fleet battle dynamics. The use of inter-dimensional (fantasy) physics is a brilliant coup in creating believable, and incredibly exciting space battles. It is also notable for making the “bad guys” be the protagonists. The human lead, can also be easily read as a collaborator, a turncoat that serves the interests of the conquering “space elves” of the Humankind Empire Abh.
But this isn’t why I truly love this show. I love it because of the love story between Jinto and Lafiel. It had its beginning in Crest of the Stars, pushed along in Banner of the Stars I, but it’s in this OVA that it’s demonstrated in full. Jinto gets to be awesome without changing his character. Lafiel gets to be vulnerable despite being the one who saves the day. And Beneej Spoor steals the show in her usual spectacular fashion (and how!). So many little scenes that burned in my mind: Lafiel asking Samson for advice on how to face Jinto… Soobash taking over negotiations for a seething Lafiel and talking about Abh Hell… these are my most favorite moments in this franchise.
15. Summer Wars
A film like Redline will amaze and astound me, in incredible ways even. However, it takes something like Summer Wars to go beyond pumping me up like crazy and truly move me. This film has both crowning moments of awesome and crowning moments of heartwarming. Maybe it helps that I too come from a big ‘ol’ family with colorful gatherings, albeit we are neither landed nor have samurai histories that figure in notable battles in the Sengoku period (nor Japanese for that matter).
Also, I really enjoy how it’s almost present-day in its futurism. That sounds incredibly illogical but bear with me here. The interconnected world of OZ isn’t that big a leap for me to imagine, as it’s kind of like making payments and generally running your day-to-day lives using social media like Twitter and Facebook. Of all these I like Google+ the most, and it’s not terribly difficult for me to imagine how such a big bully of the internet can put all the pieces together at some point — albeit its current stance on avatars and real names. I suppose one must use real names on OZ.
Google goes Koi Koi! in my face.
14. I Can Hear The Sea/Ocean Waves
This film is unique to my list because there is no spectacle here in any way. Even its most dramatic moments are executed with a lot of restraint, which is wholly not in keeping with the stories of how this production went over schedule and over budget as a showcase of what would’ve been the “future” of Studio Ghibli. What it is, is a high school love story in the countryside — complete with the appropriate slow pace and fine attention to detail.
It is in these details, that you’d find in a show like K-On!! but not with the same level of restraint and (somehow, gravitas) that this show truly shines. It’s a mundane story about young love, but even if we could not relate to it (my high school and university experience is certainly quite unlike it) it gives me a sense of the universal. It’s a movie to fall in love with.
13. Whisper of the Heart
This film is even sillier and more child-like than any of the previous films, but I watched it relatively recently and I was spellbound by its charms. Certainly the ending would have gone down rather startlingly rough had I not been enchanted by Ghibli magic. It’s a funny place to look, here in these quiet urban story of a little girl discovering love in a rather unusual way for a high school romance.
Perhaps what got me about this story is the simple, heartfelt music. The dissonance of a city girl singing “Country Road” in re-interpreted Japanese verse is strangely affecting for me. There is a longing for an existence she knows little about, having grown up in the city… but she writes about a “Concrete Road” that will take her home… but she has never left! This leads to two different kinds of journeys, buy I don’t want to give too much away. Talk to me when you’ve seen it.
12. Aria the Origination
One thing that never fails to strike me about this installment is how it doesn’t lose the slow, pondering way that allowed us to take in the air of Neo Venezia over the previous 39 episodes and yet make us feel the weight of a ton of bricks on our chests for how we are seeing it for the last time, as if rushing to this end being set up so carefully and for so long. The passing of things is to me so bitter — not so much the career turns of the vaunted trio primas, but with the ascension of the friends means the passing of their days spent together.
But was it not for this end? It always was. But the show made us forget it as is the work of the undine themselves: they’re not there to be the attractions, they’re there to show us Neo Venezia. But of course they would be the attractions too, as if they could help it. They’re the humans that humanize the place, and Aika who is the most human of all, steals this show is its dramatic best.
11. Honey & Clover Second Season
I did not expect anime to come up with such a remarkably heart wrenching and relatable show. I too, was in university once, and was frustrated by love in an even more bitterly fought triangle caught up with heady notions of all the art I’ll do in life.
The first season was damned good, but it’s the finality and resolution that this installment brings that sends the show home for me. The bigger questions were all asked here, and while some time was spent with characters I care less about, it’s how it all points towards the big compromise at the end that makes the show unforgettable for me. I mean, how can I ever be satisfied with anything that happened in the end? But it is exactly this, how Honey & Clover went out of its way seemingly to frustrate me, to deny me the wholesome feeling I craved that I appreciate so much.
It makes me be at peace at how the character I like the least gets to narrate the show, as if this was his own story. I don’t accept him even if he gets to eat those sandwiches. I just console myself that whatever sweetness is there between those slices of bread is turn to ashes in his mouth by the burning tears falling like a firestorm from his eyes. Wait, why am I crying too?!
My ghost is glowing with an awesome power and its loud roar is telling me to seize victory, and put up a table summary:
*Shows that are still ongoing as of this writing, but I’ve convinced myself they could tank the rest of the way and I’ll still love them (at least until I watch more anime).
As you’ve probably begun to notice, the friends that I’ve brought over to comment on the different shows are stars of their own respective shows on the list. I needed to rely on their being to articulate things I have trouble saying myself, despite my variable abilities of appreciating anime. It’s also strange to me how the animated films kind of bunched together at 15-13 excluding DYRL at 19; it kind of just worked out that way. I do realize now, after a year of thinking through this list, that as amazing anime films can be, I can’t prefer them to the sustained excitement I get from quantity. I like long series because I get more goodness in more episodes. But does that mean Legend of the Galactic Heroes at 110 episodes will storm the highest of ranks? Let the opening paragraphs of this post also be your guide.