It takes a view of the whole list to characterize myself as a fan of anime. An observant reader pointed out that ranks 27-17 is an uninterrupted streak of robot anime. The relative absence of which up higher in the list shouldn’t be indicative that I am less of a robot anime fan, only that I have a lot more in common with other fans who love good anime in general.
In the end I really think that the more anime we watch, the more diverse and varied our taste becomes and we will tend to favor the shows that while incredible for their subgenre, are transcendent of them so much so that we enjoy them despite our lack of affinity with such subgenres. How else would I explain how high Revolutionary Girl Utena is on this list, or K-On!! for that matter?
It’s for the same reasons I know people who adore Turn A Gundam without liking the Gundam franchise as a whole, or mecha anime for that matter. I know you Neon Genesis Evangelion fans can be like this as well. Ditto for Eureka SeveN, or even Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. All of these shows I love precisely because they are mecha anime, but other people love them too, albeit they do so despite the mecha element no matter how significant it’s featured.
Does this make the exercise of anime appreciation any less arbitrary or subjective? No, not really. It only goes to show that there are ways of appreciation that apply for different kinds of shows for different kinds of people, with different kinds of purposes all under the larger circle of hobby in this universal Venn diagram of entertainment.
10. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig
While the plotting is less intricate than the previous installment, it is no less perfect in my eyes. It delivers everything I could ask for in a show that invites me to take it seriously: superb production values, contemplative and introspective moments taking on very interesting themes; expertly planned, choreographed, and directed action scenes (with robots too!), crowning moments of both awesome and heartwarming (at times the same moment!); and ultimately a very human story.
It’s that parallel between The Major’s anxiety that with her full prosthesis she is losing whatever there is left that makes her human, and the growing complexity of the AI of the Tachikoma that provide me the most meat to chew on in this show. It’s particularly great how this all plays out in a spectacular battle in the end. I love anime.
09. Legend of the Galactic Heroes
This show is one of those things, and perhaps the best example of what I consider better than perfect. There’s so much in it that I’d fault a lesser series for: from the off-model character designs, the annoying close-range rifle battles where battleaxes beat rifles every time, Reuenthal doing back flips, and the general lack of female characters whose roles aren’t auxiliary to the males. These things don’t really matter because this show is so incredible. It is epic in the old-school sense of the world.
What I feel is different from enjoying the show despite these faults, or even forgiving the show for having or lacking these things. I just think that the awesomeness it does provide over such an expansive amount of material for such a long time goes beyond these things that would otherwise be complaints. I actually feel petty for writing them as if they matter so much. So here is where you get galactic scale, a phenomenal set of characters great and minor, scored by chamber and symphonic music by masters (Mahler, Beethoven, Mozart, and a whole lot more), and a superb level of strategy (political and military), tactics, and scale of space battles portrayed by moving illustrations.
08. Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann
One thing I remember about the first time I watched this show is how it became part of a wave of incredibly enjoyable experiences that got me so excited about anime I had to go to the internet to look for people talking about it. This led to Mechafetish and me starting our own anime blog which thanks to luck, hard work, and guts, still exists to this day as the site you’re browsing now. This show is Epic in the internet sense of the word.
It has a level of frenetic energy that existed in shows long, long gone but was never presented at this level of consistent volume and playfulness. It was also the love song to robot anime as a whole, as the major arcs of the show corresponded to styles and movements within the robot anime tradition beginning somewhere between Mazinger Z and Getter Robo, passing through the darker days of mass-produced mecha in shows like Mobile Suit Gundam, and culminating somewhere between The End of Evangelion and Diebuster (and Getter Robo again).
It committed to a theme of ‘going beyond the impossible,’ and went for it with the force of galaxies spiraling through time and space… and drills, very big drills. It is EPIC.
This shouldn’t be here. I didn’t want it to be here. Let me tell you though, when the show finished (and yes I am talking about the second season) I wanted to put this show as high as number two on this list. That’s how much it got to me. There is something about the mundane that can capture the imagination – so much of creative writing class time is spent working with the mundane memories of childhood, of family, of school into something akin to literature. The remarkable thing in this show is that in its treatment of the most mundane of things it created for itself a fantasy world where there’s nothing to get hung about.
John Lennon wrote about such Strawberry Fields where nothing seems real. This is that same world, almost completely devoid of anything that reminds you of your physical self. There are only these girls who spend their time preoccupied with cake and tea and somewhere in between create moments of absurd emotional power. It’s because perhaps, of the bubble surrounding this fantasy world that I can be free to feel all those things I felt during the show’s run. That’s the real joke perhaps, how I could feel so much for characters whose best quality is their exceeding excellence at being with each other.
06: Mobile Suit Z Gundam
I believe in the sign of Z and let it into my heart. This show isn’t like Unicorn in that it represents everything awesome I would like to see in Gundam. In fact I actually see in here something of a betrayal of what made Mobile Suit Gundam the apotheosis of real robot anime. I started seeing the rise of the individual pilot making more of a difference in the theater of war. I started seeing the variable and arbitrary damage of beam weapons hitting plot armor. I started seeing the rise of the annoying young side character fated to fuck things up for the main cast. I saw really, really, really ugly mobile suits (some of which even transform!). I saw a legit trainwreck of a plot line that would’ve derailed the whole thing so close to the end if not for the end itself that was just oh-wow-did-this-show-just-do-that-oh-damn-me-to-hell-it-sure-did kind of awesome.
Then again, we get the most entertaining angry emo kid ever in Kamille Bidan. Future copies of this template will fail miserably (Judau, Shinn) but Kamille’s perpetual intense rage (often powered by Karate) is nothing short of amazing. The Titans as enemies are less impressive as menacing threats but rather as incredible assholes — truly remarkable jerks. Quattro Bajeena and Haman Karn deserve their own shows (and both got them seperately, to varying degrees of disappointment), but while they were in Z Gundam, they were perfection. And I will never ever forget Jerid Messa, for being the ultimate in unrelenting, never-give-up, obsessive rivalry and for his indestructible space hair. I will shed the Tears of Time.
05. Eureka SeveN
“When you think of music or movies, instead of remembering what they are about you’re more likely to be reminded of the memories you have of that time and the people you knew then.” Stoner
I almost perfectly agree, until I force myself to remember so much more because I want to write posts like this one and generally am in the hobby of remembering love. Thus I remember so many things about this show that dares not only be thrilling with its aerial exploits and intense fights, but also charming not only with its adolescent love stories but with the general free-spirited feeling that rises above the world-ending threats and the cruelty of war and the people who foment it.
The love I felt for this show was not immediate. I dropped it the first time I tried watching it. But eventually I got it, and got into it. It rewarded my willingness to take all it had to offer because I took it on its own terms: I didn’t ask for it; I went and won it on my own. That’s why I succeeded, and why I remember so much love for this show and its incredible cast.
04. Cowboy Bebop
I am currently ticking off an item on my bucket list by blogging this show the way I’m doing it. The very idea that doing something anime related exists on my personal bucket list should indicate my love and regard for this show. I watch this show over and over because I want to feel the blues. I want to carry that weight. Life is hard enough, so why look for such misery or melancholy in entertainment? I don’t know for sure, but I’m a very happy guy; I have the emotional hit points to take in Cowboy Bebop. Besides, it’s not like it’s heavy all throughout. For the most part it is quite lighthearted and humorous (then it hits you).
And it’s also important to remember that it’s all executed exceedingly well. Each episode is filled with so many tricks from visual presentation to storytelling that’s derived from such diverse sources of film and television. It’s subject matter is filled with secular joys that re-present so many elements or even traditions of popular culture that it’s a treasure trove for viewers who are willing to observe closely. Also, it will be very, very rewarding to listen.
03. Neon Genesis Evangelion
When I first discovered Japanese cartoons as a child, it had always meant giant robots. In high school this had changed since the Philippines did not show any anime from the 1980s during the 1980s and 1990s. Thus I discovered shounen battle anime, shounen sports anime, shounen cooking anime, Ranma 1/2, etc. When anime started showing up on cable, and started getting called anime in the early 2000s, I hadn’t seen a single robot show since Robotech and Macross Plus. Vandread came and was kind of fun, but it wasn’t until I finally got to watch Neon Genesis Evangelion in 2003 (after watching the first few episodes on VHS in the 1990s) that all was right in the world.
I want you to imagine how mind-blowing this was for me. I started out knowing little else but robot shows, then the supply of these shows ran out; Then I kind of faffed about watching all these shounen shows that while being entertaining enough, didn’t quite ignite my burning passion. I started watching Eva (dubbed LOL) and suddenly I was this kid again, only that the robots looked weird and slick and moved like humans; then the monsters weren’t quite robots and were all weird. But it was all good because it was how robot anime was for me as a kid, only different.
Then it started getting very, very weird… until its stunning end. At this point I had not seen anything like this. Sure I had seen “intelligent” anime like Akira, and Ghost in the Shell, but again nothing on the TV anime level — which is my preferred format. Needless to say, I was profoundly impressed by what this show tried to pull off, and many rewatches later including the one I did a year ago, I think it is a glorious venture overall. This is the show that got me interested in anime beyond being just a viewer who wants to watch more. I needed to know about things now. I started going to the internet to read about anime around 2004 and it was really because I finally got to watch Evangelion.
02. Revolutionary Girl Utena
I loved it the first time I watched it. Out of a whim I rewatched all of it over the course of a week and it is pretty much the reason why I am doing this ranking exercise. It was the very reason (along with K-On!!) why I listed a top 30 last year, becoming my fifth most favorite show instantly. It has an abstraction to it that feels appropriate for anime, that it uses to turn a fairy tale on its head and tell a story with startling misery and wretchedness for its characters that it makes fun of almost as much as it sympathizes with.
The simplicity and lucidity of its abstractions is an achievement in itself. I’ve seen what could arguably be a more mature and complex anime in Tatami Galaxy but its abstractions in both illustrations, storytelling, and content do not impress me the same way as Utena’s. It takes something like Evangelion to take on themes of identity, relating with other people, and keeping integrity and give it the same gravity and breadth as Utena. This Utena does without leaving what would be a confining setting. I’ve seen shows likeBakemonogatari confine its story in its very local environments and the effect is quite different. Somehow, Utena made me believe that the most important thing in the world was transpiring within a junior high school.
It’s a world I’d never want to belong to. I have no wish to be any of the characters nor would I find them good company. However I could look at them all day and would see their stories play out over and over again. It’s not that hard, because the Be Papas alumni keep remembering love for it in the shows they made after and are still making.
01. Super Dimension Fortress Macross
I am very glad to have rewatched this show recent enough to make me feel confident that Revolutionary Girl Utena is not my favorite show. The recent rewatch also gave me an opportunity to blog this show in a way I never thought I’d ever get done. So that’s another one off the bucket list. The fact that the exercise isn’t on the same level of effort and intensity as my current Cowboy Bebop project is indicative of how I feel about the show. The experience of making those posts however, is tied with the core purpose of this blog, as I got to rewatch the show with fans both old and new — and I fancy myself contributing to their appreciation of my favorite show all my life and for all time.
So what have I learned from this rewatch with all these new eyes I shared it with? The show is as awesome as I remembered it. Furthermore, it is a whole lot more grim than I gave it credit for. Sure it’s rightfully remembered as a sillier, takes-itself-less-seriously show that remembers love for Space Battleship Yamato and Mobile Suit Gundam. But for those willing to look closely, it’s hella grim, though not as dark as the robot anime shows that took hold of the 1980s. To explain further is to spoil, so I’ll leave it at that, and reinforce that any grimness or darkness is either secondary or entwined with how the show is a love story set against the backdrop of great battles, warping my silly 8-year old mind with a taste for fictional love triangles for life.
I never will. Good things come in threes, and end with a table. So here it is:
*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).
Endnotes (I had to shoot bullets because I want to keep the line spacing under control).
- Introduction: Michael, Low on Hitpoints suggests that understanding fans leads to better understanding of how or why shows are appreciated. I suggest the same.
- GitS: Sac 2nd Gig: I explore the idea of sapience and the Tachikoma here.
- Legend of the Galactic Heroes: A blog-readers’ companion to watching the episodes.
- Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann: It’s the Hero’s Journey. No, it’s not.
- K-On!!: The Plot.
- K-On!!: A Plot!?!! It’s that Michael again. There’s too many of them blogging about anime.
- K-On!!: Moments that are made available because the plot arranged them so.
- Mobile Suit Z Gundam: Spoilers, because this show is a celebration of death.
- Cowboy Bebop: Bucket list posts start here. We Remember Love starts here.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion: The rebuild of my viewing experience.
- Revolutionary Girl Utena: I want to believe that this show got the very best out of me.
- SDF Macross: I changed my mind. I used to think when I wrote about the show that it was dark but not grim. I was wrong. It was not dark, but quite grim. After all, —— lost!