Friday, July 28, 2017

Top 10 Favorite Anime

Anime is a special art-form, there’s no doubt about it. It’s loved, hated, and mostly given confused looks by fans and non-fans over the sheer amount of “what did I just watch?” that tends to happen in an anime. In honor of both the announcement of a new Fairy Tail anime, which will round out the series starting next year, as well as this past week of reflection on the series, I figured now would be a good time to unveil my favorite anime series!

Some might say that it’s unfair to put so many different styles of series under one giant umbrella of just “anime.” And it’s true. The “Gundam” shows are different in scope and style than something like Detective Conan, but we still call them both “anime.” And you wouldn’t use one to get someone interested in the other, much like how I wouldn’t use something like Jane the Virgin to get someone into The Walking Dead. It’s two separate genres, but has an overarching similarity.

Still, I think it’s fine to put all of them under one Top 10 list, acknowledging that all of these shows are very different in their own way. Some will be similar in terms of overall genre, and I know one will be a series that many people don’t really consider an anime.

Also keep in mind that this does not include movies or OVA series, like Towa no Quan or Ghost in the Shell: Arise. Those are different styles of storytelling, but I will concede and give one OVA series an honorable mention.

As such, on with the list!

10. Hunter x Hunter (2011)

This may not be technically fair to put on the list since I’ve only just completed the Phantom Troupe Arc (as the show airs on Toonami), but I have to put this somewhere on the list. It’s such an amazing series and really highlights the strengths of the Shonen anime genre. It has all the same tropes, but uses them in interesting ways. This is sort of a spoiler, but the Phantom Troupe arc exemplifies this best by only having ONE true fight. Everything else is one-sided matches that completely make sense. All of the main characters are likable or, at least, you enjoy watching. The animation is crisp and only gets better as the series moves along, allowing for excellent fights in the Heavens Arena arc (including a particular rematch). The series also excels in tension and ramping up the drama and stakes for the characters. Each new arc adds an element to put our heroes at a deficit and it seems that they only get by through luck, some variation of skill, or just their character traits. The show doesn’t make compromises and doesn’t use random power-ups in order to win the day. My favorite character of the show has to be Hisoka, as he sort of stands as the tentpole of power for the group to try and reach, and even he isn’t as strong as it gets. Unlike something like One Piece where you have to sit through a slog of episodes to get to the good stuff, Hunter x Hunter throws you straight into the adventure and gets you excited at each new turn.

9. One Punch Man

Oh yeah. This show is amazing. It’s high-speed action with amazing comedy and THE WORLD’S GREATEST HERO: MUMEN RIDER.



It’s an incredibly satire of the super-hero genre, and is a much needed relief in the current era of “dark and gritty” super hero television and film. Plus it’s a good satire of Shonen anime, as Saitama can do everything a Shonen hero does but with none of the passion. He only gets a little flicker of passion at the end of the first season, but it’s just the slightest flicker. Every arc seems to highlight a major flaw in the Shonen action genre while also keeping things fresh and unique. The animation is basically flawless and, like I said, really lets the fast-paced action go wild. The music is AMAZING and goes well with the series. Most of the comedy really stems from the hijinks from the side characters as they play off of Saitama and the incredulous idea that he can just one-shot anyone he comes across. If you’re a big super-hero fan, this is a show I 100% recommend you check out.

8. Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds

Yes, Duel Runners are a ridiculous concept. “Card games on motorcycles” blah blah blah but LISTEN. This show is cool…in fact, it’s super cool. It takes all the silly concepts of Yu-Gi-Oh! and lets them run wild, with over-the-top villains that have reasonable backstories, an epic scale, ancient demons and monsters (mixed with futuristic high-tech), incredible hair-dos for everyone, including the security guards, and some of the best Duels the series has to offer. There’s an entire arc based on how quick someone can activate their Duel disk and draw their hand—a Western style showdown! That’s fantastic. Plus the characters are all, for the most part, pretty cool, including the villains. Primo, one of the final villains, could get a little grating but the other two were a fun time. Jack Atlas was a solid anti-hero and a good little nod back to the days of Seto Kaiba, and Rex Goodwin was a fantastic, cartoony villain.

The Duels were all exciting and while at times they could get a bit wordy, when they were in the action it really got intense and fun. I enjoyed that several of the characters couldn’t care less about the backstories unless it mattered and it just allowed us to focus on the action. Plus, despite some of the darker moments, this series was really colorful, brought on by the riding Duels. They brought on good animation, mixed with CG, and allowed the artists to do their thing. It was a solid blend of technology, which goes with the theme of the show. And the mechanics brought on for fans who haven’t watched since the old days aren’t too confusing, as they explain the basics of Synchro Summoning pretty early on in the series. I’d definitely check it out if you’re on a nostalgia trip for Yu-Gi-Oh!

7. Assassination Classroom

Who would have ever thought that a show about a group of middle schoolers being tasked with killing their super-powered squid teacher would have brought on such an emotional reaction by the final episode? This show definitely focused more on the comedy aspects of things more than anything else but when it got dramatic it was solid, and often transitioned well. It wasn’t like some other series where the drama would be rudely interrupted by unnecessary fan-service or character-breaking jokes. The show is also incredibly colorful, which helped brighten the mood significantly in some of the darker situations. The character development, for several characters, is solid and comes naturally over the course of two seasons. And the pacing is surprisingly well drawn out for a series that takes place over the course of a year. It never feels like we’ve jumped over a significant amount of time without some sense of consequence. If we’ve gone by like a month between episodes, it’s shown by the kids being adept at their skills and showing signs of improvement in their education.

The trio of main characters, Nagisa, Karma, and Kayano really shine throughout the series, and not just because of their funny hair colors that signify their status as main characters. Kayano’s character really gets to shine in the second season while Nagisa and Karma’s friendship/ rivalry forges on across the series, all headed to a major climax that was amazing and showed how far they’d some. This is one of those series where, when it ended, I was completely satisfied. I got a great beginning, middle, and end to the series, and laughed a bunch along the way. Definitely not a show to miss if you’re feeling down and need a good pick-me-up.

6. Gurren Lagann

(remarkably forced joke over, and…)

Gurren Lagann is stupid. It’s ridiculous. It’s over-the-top in all the right ways. Yoko, Kamina, Simon are incredible. The mechs are awesome, the fights are great, the music is out of this world, and the animation backs all of it up. It’s another one of those “wait why am I suddenly crying NO I WANT MORE” type of shows. I loved watching it, and just ate all of it up. I’ll admit that after a certain point it does dip but picks back up and takes from a relative 10 to cranking it up to like 1,000,000. 


The show is so charming in its simplicity at the surface that you sort of miss out on some of the more complex issues going on throughout the series. You realize that Simon isn’t as big a hero as he’s touted and that he really “shouldn’t” be the one in charge of things. It’s the reality that never hits certain series, where the hero charges forward without a plan and then wins the day! This series asks “okay, then what?” and we get to see that in interesting ways. Plus several of the side characters are both a joy to watch and to see develop, like Viral, who is nothing more than some punk in a giant mech suit at the start of things. Still, the show is inspiring as all hell, with grand speeches and battles that literally involved throwing galaxies at one another. And no, I’m not even kidding, it goes there. Gurren Lagann is definitely a show you can’t just start and put down, you have to consume it chunks at a time. You basically have to get physically tired in order to stop watching, it’s great.

5. Attack on Titan

It’s not the best show ever. Not even close. It’s rife with problems and the narrative takes a major dip after a certain point, where things seem to matter less and less until the very end (at least as far as the first season goes). The second season starts slow and then manages to pick it up. So why is it #5 on the list?

Because I like to watch it. A lot. I like to listen to the music from the series a lot, too, and I’d be lying if there weren’t some moments in the series that are THAT good. I’d name some but they’d be spoilers. The second season in particular had a moment that, despite me seeing it coming, was out-of-this-world amazing. The music, the art, the animation, the voice-work, all of it came together perfectly. And I think that’s the crux of the series. It’s pretty solid throughout but has several peaks of amazement that you can’t help but stare in awe sometimes.

As redundant, at this point, as it is to mention the animation, I’ll still bring it up because at the time it was stupendous and even now it’s still fluid and so engaging to watch. I’ll never grow bored of watching characters zip cleanly across the screen toward Titans.

I think one of the series’ biggest flaws is in it’s main characters. Armin is the most interesting out of Eren and Mikasa; but, I think the side characters definitely pick up the slack. Reiner, Bertholt, Ymir, Annie, Sasha, Levi, and Erwin all add a level of intrigue (or in Sasha’s case, humor) to what’s going on. With several of those characters, it’s a matter of asking what insane idea they’ll go with next, while with others it’s a matter of wondering what drives them, but in a good way. It’s their character executing certain actions and leaving you wondering “but why?” and still being engaged in what they’re doing. Having read ahead in the manga I know what’s coming and I’m curious how they’ll pull it off, but I’m quite pleased with what we’ve gotten so far.

4. Black Lagoon

I feel like Black Lagoon doesn’t get the proper praise that it should. Yes it’s dark and incredibly visceral, and yes, it has a mean spirit but it’s also a rich story about finding yourself and trying to outsmart the world’s greatest criminal minds in the world’s most dangerous island-city. Roanpur, at times, feels like a character in and of itself, and houses some hilarious locations like the Rip-Off Church. Black Lagoon also isn’t short on incredible characters, from the Lagoon Company themselves to the dastardly Balaika and Roberta, the most dangerous assassin in the world turned into a…maid. Hmm.

Black Lagoon, despite all the gloom and doom that Revy brings to things sometimes, has a lot of bright, flashing colors as it lets the world explode around the characters and freshens things up to bring them to life. These environments feel like they’ve been around a long time, and will exist long after our characters die. What Black Lagoon is, based on the environment, is just a snapshot of one group’s misadventures. I feel like we could look in on another mercenary group and see things from a different point of view but have that same feeling.

Yet things would be different because the strength of the show is in the company. Revy, Roc, Dutch, and Bennie have an incredible dynamic and bring a new definition to “teamwork.” Physically speaking, only Revy and Dutch can hold their own in a fight and several times they meet their match. Bennie and Roc have to rely on their mental skills and even then, Roc is sort of an idiot. The best parts of the show are the crew barely managing their way out of a situation or absolutely dominating a situation as they show the true darkness within them. Revy rescuing Roc from the Vietnamese captors is one of the coolest images of the show.

Black Lagoon is also a very visual show, relying on character expression or imagery to tell the story of how our characters are developing. Revy and Roc’s interactions, while containing some dialogue, are mostly handled through their actions; and as the series progresses, it’s clear that Revy is softening up, but it’s hard to tell if that’s good for her or not, as she’s lived in the pits of hell or so long and that helps her with her work. If she loosens up, will that mean slipping up and getting herself killed in the field?

This show is not for everyone—in fact, I think this series is the very definition of that. It’s incredibly violent, dark, gloomy, full of adult language and situations (drug use, sex, alcohol, rock and roll) and can at time get pretty depressing. But there’s a journey going on here, an incredible one, that’s hard not to get engaged with once the first couple episodes are done. The moment Roc undoes his tie and orders Dutch to turn the torpedo boat around to face the plane, that’s when the show gets going and never stops. It’s a thrill-ride til the end.

3. Fairy Tail

In terms of quality I’ll concede that this show is easily the worst on the list. It’s good with great moments and some really, really bad ones. But it’s so high up here because it’s one of my favorite shows, simple as that. I love watching random arcs or episodes from the series just to get a little kick from it. I love the action, I love the characters, I love the music. It’s just a very fun show to watch, but still with some powerful dramatic moments.

It’s hard to recommend this show to anyone that’s already seen most Shonen anime series, especially with so many good new ones coming up like My Hero Academia. This series has the worst of those tropes mixed in with some nice new spins and good characters. There are some arcs that are a little hard to get through but some that are absolutely engaging. For me, Fairy Tail, right now, stands on four major narrative pillars: the Edolas Arc, the Tenrou Island Arc, the Grand Magic Games/ Dragon King Festival Arc, and Tartaros Arc. It’s not that everything else doesn’t matter, but those four arcs are legitimately great. The characters shine throughout those stories, and the Tartaros Arc in particular is, in my opinion, one of the best Shonen anime arcs. Period. It’s the shining achievement of the Fairy Tail anime; it’s the Cell Games, it’s the Chunin exams (not saying it’s the same quality as those two, I’m just saying it’s the same in relative terms).

And the show does have good themes, despite having them played to death. Friendship, family, standing up for what you believe in, sacrifice, loss, they’re all there and on display in one form or another. Some characters (Erza, Natsu) beat the friendship idea into the ground but the themes of loss and sacrifice (exemplified in Gray and Lucy) are so incredibly strong at times, and it really shows as their characters as the ones that grow throughout the series. It seems that every character arc on the show does have merit, even if someone of them don’t last long. Natsu, unfortunately, sees little development, much to the contrary to Wendy, Lucy, Gray, Erza, Cana, and most especially Laxus and Gajeel, two of the series’ strongest fighters and coolest dudes. Laxus probably has the best arc of all the good guys, seeing him go from an impulsive child to one of the guilds best leaders and examples of how strong they can be.

The fights in Fairy Tail are all often pretty solid, even if they occasionally involve someone getting one-punched or random power-ups. But even then, the best fights in the series really hold strong. Gray fighting Silver is awesome and has a natural resolution, Natsu fighting Future Rogue as they both stand atop dragons is epic, and all the fights between and involving Dragon Slayers feels like it’s on an equal playing ground. They’re not the best that the genre has to offer but they offer good spectacle thanks to a variety of abilities.

Fairy Tail also has good animation that gets much better with the 2014 season of the show, as colors become less the focus and it’s more on the design of the characters and the fights around them, allowing for battles to have that larger scale. The colors aren’t necessarily muted, but thematically they’re downplayed as the spirit of the show is suddenly silenced and things take turns for the worst at every corner.

In the end, Fairy Tail is fun and I never have a bad time watching it, even when it is just so bad. Because it can get unbearable, but I know that it will get better. It’s just another part of the show: trudging through the dark with hope that things will get better, and they often do.

2. Cowboy Bebop

Best. Ending. Ever?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Cowboy Bebop is the best. It’s the best show I have ever laid my eyes on.  It’s a series that has few rivals, it’s gripping, it’s powerful, it’s incredibly well acted, it has some of the most memorable music and sound choices ever in a television series. Cowboy Bebop is the nirvana of television series. While mostly episodic, it tells the story of a crew undergoing harsh times and finding a way to get through it while maintaining a realistic atmosphere. Spike, as a guy, just can’t get close to things, but he wants to. He desperately wants to. Faye Valentine is one of the best femme fatales ever and is one of the coolest female characters ever. She’s got a powerful heart and her motivation becomes clear as the series goes on, just adding to her depth.

The best parts of Cowboy Bebop are watching the evolution of the crew without the need for an overall narrative. We get to see so many different stories, and I mean it, they’re all different and carry different themes across the series, while we follow just these same guys around and get to learn much more about them as they go. And what makes all of this better?

They’re losers. Ed, Ein, Jet, Faye, Spike are all losers in the eyes of who they come across as well as the politics of the solar system as a whole. And they never win out. They always come so close, but in the end, nothing. What’s great about that is that this adds so much to their characters to always come so close and exemplifies how they are in life. They can never win, but they keep trying no matter what.

The themes in Cowboy Bebop are too many to count and some of the shows best moments are hard to explain out of context, or without major spoilers. So, let’s talk about music.

This is a Western with jazz/ blues music as the background. And it works! It works so well.  It adds to the mood, it adds to the ambience, it makes it difficult to think of the series without such a rich score. The moment Spike whips out his gun in the first episode it becomes clear that the score and the show will go hand-in-hand perfectly.

And let’s talk about the animation because oh my God. Just. Wow. It’s so clean, it’s so smooth. It looks like a movie at all times. Spike moves across the screen like a real person, and all of the fights are so well choreographed and drawn out. The ships move with a sense of real weight and physics to them, and all without some super insane science-fiction tech. Dogfights are fun and exciting, but aren’t too many, which is good. The grounded action is where the show works best.

If you’ve been holding off on Cowboy Bebop because you don’t think it’ll look great or it won’t hold up compared to modern anime then stop right there. You’re wrong, absolutely wrong. In fact, in many ways with the remastered Blu-Ray, this looks better than several modern anime. The characters are memorable and I’ll never forget what an impact that ending left. UGH.

What a show. See you, Space Cowboy, indeed.

Honrable Mentions!

Dragon Ball Z (Kai)

One of the only reasons that this didn’t land on the list is because these shows, different, cause conflict in my eye. Overall, I think Dragon Ball Z Kai is a better show, as there’s better animation, the Dub is far superior, and the music is solid. But man, the moments of power in Dragon Ball Z are just so good! Gohan’s transformation to Super Saiyan 2, Goku’s initial Super Saiyan Transformation, Vegito, it’s all so well done with the sound they had at the time! I wish there were a perfect mix of the two, because it would easily land a spot on my list.

Hellsing Ultimate

Ah, there’s that OVA series I mentioned. I don’t think this would make the list anyway, but I really enjoy watching this series, to whatever extent, every Halloween. It’s a gory, action-filled mess that’s just a blast to watch. Alucard is an awesome OP character, the Major is a great villain, and even Seras has a decent arc as the series progresses. The best parts of the series are the fight sequences and basically all of them are memorable. If you can stomach bucket-loads of blood and gore and want some crazy action, this is a series for you!

Attack on Titan Junior High/ Koro Sensei Quest
I’m grouping these together because they’re effectively the same thing: a brief series recapping the events of the show they’re parodying. And they’re hilarious! It’s a delight to watch little chibi versions of the characters play out a comedy of errors based on the events of the original series. They’re most effective if you’ve watched the previous shows already, as you get all of the jokes ahead of time, but can be good times if you’re cynical and want to hate on a couple of popular series.

And now, the conclusion.

1. Fate/ Zero

What a surprise! It’s not like I have, what, four different posts on this site about this anime? Yeah. I love this show. Sometimes, I don’t know why. It’s morose, depressing, dark, often mean-spirited, so, why would I like that over something colorful and fun?

Character. Character character character.

The characters are what make Fate/Zero. All of them are unique, all of them have great motivation, and all of them are INCREDIBLY interesting. One of the best episodes of the series involves Archer, Saber, and Rider just sitting around and drinking wine. The best interactions between Saber and Lancer are their talks about chivalry, knighthood, and their goal for the Holy Grail. Kiritsugu’s actions and Kirei’s intense studying of Kiritsugu heightens their rivalry to the point that you forget these two only ever meet ONCE in the entire series. Archer’s manipulations slowly infecting Kirei, only for you to question if Archer was the catalyst for something much larger at play?

The character play creates some fantastic drama that you cannot take your eyes off of. I recently decided to watch Fate/Zero, thinking I could just stop when I wanted (around the battle at the river) and found myself almost finishing the show later that day. What. How? I’ll tell you how:

These characters are so good and play off of each other so well that you have to know what happens next. And each of them create the themes of the show, and exemplify them so well. Saber represents the theme of redemption, Kiritsugu represents the theme of loss, Kirei is carries the theme of the true darkness of humanity, Rider carries the grand adventure of the war, and Lancer carries the theme of chivalry. They all clash and create various intricacies with the characters. What little interactions Kiritsugu and Saber have are filled with tension because the two are such polar opposites in their ideals and yet they basically want the same thing, they’re just too blinded by their own egos and mindsets to see it.

Plus, you get to see this huge, epic war from so many different perspectives. Waver is basically what any normal person would be in the face of all these incredible heroes from across time engaging in huge, grandiose battles. Irisveil shows us the innocence of the war, and the El-Milloi side of things is how corrupt and power-hungry one can get when given the chance to possibly have the power of God at their hand.

The second season, when bodies start dropping, is when things really pick up and as characters are killed, we really get to focus in one a select group and learn just what it is that drives them and how they plan on executing their final stage of the game. And let me tell you: Kiritsugu’s two episode origin story is the best. It’s simply fantastic, and tells you everything you need to know going forward toward the third act. Plus we get into the head of Saber as she continues to wonder what Rider’s words mean to her and then there’s Waver and Rider’s relationship and AGH. It’s amazing.

Have I mentioned the art and animation yet? Because oh my. Of all the shows I’ve talked about this is easily the best looking and I think it’s only ever been surpassed by Fate/Stay Night unlimited blade works, which came out in 2014/2015. Ufotable, the animation studio, does some amazing work and Fate/Zero might be the pinnacle, masterfully mixing CGI with hand-drawn animation. The fights here are stupendous and colorful, and you never lose track of what’s really going on. The characters have unique designs and basically all of the badasses look totally badass.

The score is one of the best out there, maybe the best. It’s got everything and always goes with the mood, carrying scenes forward and makes it impossible to imagine without that sound. Yuki Kajiura is one of the best out there, there’s no doubt about it. I love listening to the score and it often drives home the tears in an emotional scene, particularly near the end as everything is going straight to hell and you just can’t handle it anymore.

Fate/ Zero is another “not for everyone” shows because it goes to some pretty messed up places, but by the end, you realize that the show is about one thing: Hope. Hope for a better tomorrow and doing whatever you can to make that happen. It’s a hope for the future and a hope that, eventually, the world will come around and that you will have made a difference.

And that's it! My ten favorite anime. I'm sure this list will change (if my growing attraction toward My Hero Academia has anything to say about that, anyway). Each of these series, as you could probably tell, connected with me on a very emotional level, and if you find yourself interested at all, I highly recommend jumping right into one! Hopefully you have just as good a time as I did, and if not, maybe you'll find something you like a little better. 

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1 comment:

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