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My Anime Philosophy:
My anime-watching habits are very similar to my novel-reading; I usually watch each series for the story or the characters, so the genre can vary greatly and still draw me in. It would perhaps be true to say that my one absolute criteria for a great anime is veristic storytelling; only in stories where life isn't censored or edited to "protect" the audience or "give them what they want" can the powerful highs and lows of real life reach fictional worlds.
When storytellers self-censor, they erase the personality of their story until eventually only generic, shallow shells of "entertainment" are left. Trash fiction stills sells well and earns money, which is often the only goal of trash fiction, but it can never carry any real weight for me.
So while veristic storytelling is a necessary element of any great anime, it only sets the stage for great stories and characters to shine. My slow honing of this philosophy is apparent in the comment history of all my 9s and 10s, but I believe it to be a central element of truly powerful fiction, regardless of medium.
It is important to recognize the difference between "veristic" and "realistic" in this context. A story may completely shatter the pretense of realism, but an honestly and openly told story can still reflect truly on the human spirit and the complex abstractions of life. The concrete accuracies of fiction are only secondary, serving mostly to create immersion and reduce confusion in the audience. That same goal can be accomplished without realism, but more of the audience may get lost or confused in the process.
So some may wonder why I judge certain fiction so harshly while praising others in spite of faults, and my answer now is clear: veristic fiction is powerful, while anything else is chaff for the masses. A veristic anime may still stuck, but at least it had more potential than the rest ever could.
New Scoring Standards:
1-3: Extinguished - I'd rather delete it from my list entirely.
4: Smoke - Horrible cop-out ending or other major issues.
5: Match - "Can you last to the end before giving up?"
6: Candle - Watchable, but has major story and implementation flaws
7: Hearth - Baseline for Average. Sufficiently entertaining, but lacks some key element, such as a real creative spark, or sufficient plot development.
8: Campfire - Fun to watch, has a creative spark or strong story. Worth sampling, but varies in quality and genre.
9: Bonfire - My "flagships" for anime, totally grabs my attention, sparks lots of thought and reaction, strongly stands out from other shows. Will actively recommend it to others.
10: Fireworks - My scale for judgement. Shattered my expectations to such a degree that it redefines how I view anime. Not perfect, but embodying some aspect of the ideal show. Characters seem natural and real, story is enthralling in an exciting or funny way, or in a personally investing or connecting way.
"Forms" of My Top Anime:
By the nature of storytelling, the form in which a story is told has a character of its own and imposes various influences on the story itself. The best storytellers choose and shape the form to support the story, but every form has limitations.
For that reason, stories from different forms cannot be compared on base principles. They can still be compared on the results in popularity or the emotions they evoke, but the difference in form prevents any holistic connection between them. Conversely, anime within the same form CAN be compared completely. So in examining this issue, I have separated many of the top anime on my list into Forms which I believe match them. I don't assume these are all the forms in anime, but these should at least represent many of the meta-genres out there.
One Piece, Spice and Wolf, Cowboy Bebop, Berserk, Mushishi, Trigun, etc.
- Tight group of companions "Nakama"
- Story arcs driven by geographic travels and the people encountered
- Inherently focuses on character relationships, both internally and externally
- Character relationships draw the central group into local troubles during journey
Spiral Into Chaos
FMA: Brotherhood, Gurren Lagann (not a pun), Eureka Seven*, Code Geass, Paprika, Toward the Terra, Umineko, Last Exile, Majutsu no Index, etc.
- Broad alliance of arrayed forces
- Story driven by unfolding of a central mystery
- Inherently focuses on group interactions, both internally and externally
- Requires a large stage to allow room for numerous characters and groups
Us Against The World
Clannad After Story, Elfen Lied, Eureka Seven*, Full Metal Panic, Kodomo no Jikan, Sora no Otoshimono Ga Rei Zero, etc.
- Very tight sets of core characters, primarily pairs or triads
- Story driven by the challenges of the world around them
- Inherently focuses on fruition of the growing internal bond of each set
- Dependent on some form of external threat to the relationships
* Eureka Seven layers two story forms by marking many discrete pairs within the arrayed groups and feeding the chaos of war into the trials for each pair bond
Trials of the Anointed
Angel Beats, Hajime no Ippo, Skip Beat, Genshiken, Yumeiro Patissiere, Kagaku no Railgun, Durarara, Clannad, Kenshin Tsuiokuhen, Shuffle, Giant Killing, etc.
- Single core group of characters as individuals
- Story driven by personal trials, usually with cheering on by allies
- Inherently focuses on characters growing to overcome their circumstances
- Requires proactive characters to sustain story momentum
Frozen in Time
Bleach, Naruto, Fairy Tail, Rurouni Kenshin, School Rumble, GT Onizuka, FMP Fumoffu, Hanamaru Youchien, Zetsubou Sensei, Moyashimon, etc.
- Central (but ever expanding) group of oddball static characters
- Story driven by external interactions with a brief nod to internal struggles
- Inherently focuses on a slow horizontal exploration of character relationships
- Development is sluggish to preserve the central character dynamic
- When it does happen, development is restricted to sudden spurts of change
- Permanent guest characters are added regularly to avoid stagnation
One Piece :: Truly an epically long story that may last to 1000 episodes before it ends, OP has occasional boring arcs, but the peak of the awesome arcs make up for it (and I didn't feel guilty skipping at least one stupid arc). My enthusiasm for OP has been building over the years, and after the CP9 fights it reached my top favorites. The energy and camaraderie when the whole crew is together is really fun, and although some of the characters (Usopp) were annoying at first, I think they've all matured really well during their adventures.
Clannad :: The relationship between Nagisa and Tomoya is the first and only time I've felt personally invested in a fictional romance. If the show had stopped after 26 episodes, I would have forgotten it easily, but when Afterstory continued so much farther I was deeply impressed and moved. That's when it became something "real" to me, and I really connected with Tomoya. AS became confusing in the last few episodes and ended with an anti-climax, but once I pieced together what had happened in the story, I forgave the poorly presented ending in favor of a very powerful early / middle story. This is one show where you must absolutely NOT go to online forums, though, as there are so many major spoilers possible.
Spice and Wolf :: The potential of S&W struck me almost immediately and I was totally hooked by the end of the first episode. I was a little put off by the short first season, but the story itself had a powerful ring and I knew it had a solid core. The belated second season has confirmed that feeling, though it, too, is very short. As soon as I'm up to the challenge, I plan to read the original Japanese light novels, but I still very much enjoy the vibrancy of the animated version.
Skip Beat! :: SB! bowled me over. Once I started, I marathoned it straight to the end. The serious acting parts just captured me completely - I couldn't help viewing Kyoko as a real person, and seeing her as a stellar actor. The peak of the Vengeful Angel arc in particular is still burned into my memory, and afterwards I started looking at real actors in a new - and less generous - light. I was a bit taken aback at the sudden ending mid-arc, enough that I immediately went in search of news on a second season. The sudden ending has left me a bit in the air about SB!, but I expect the second season (and any further) to drive SB! up to a full 10.
Angel Beats! :: AB came out of left field for me, I completely passed over it while it was airing . . . until I listened to the OP the first time. I knew then I had to watch this show. Initially it seems like a combat-centric show, but it's based off a Key visual novel (like Clannad). The ending is very deeply rooted in Japanese cultural context, and I've written a section in my comments to help explain that context after you've seen the ending since it can be confusing without that cultural background. This series is truly powerful for being strictly 13 episodes long.
Eureka Seven :: Both times watching through E7, my reaction has seemed surprisingly subdued compared to my effusive enthusiasm about my other favorites, but it just stands as a totally solid anchor among anime for me. I chose to watch it dubbed because I didn't care for the female Renton VA, but the English VAs did a great job for all of the characters. Especially as an original anime, E7 is one of my most used examples for "how anime is done right".
Gurren Lagann :: I'm surprised now how poor the fansub release for TTGL was when I watched it, and the first few episodes (#4) are actually pretty shaky. Nothing can match the way TTGL spiraled into an amazing story, though. I loved how it just kept expanding and growing, and if it had ended with Lord Genome, I would have given it a solid 9.2 score. The future leap threw me off a bit at first, but once they got into space combat my enthusiasm was totally renewed. I absolutely loved the flying / reality shattering teleport / spinning sucker punch by Simon, and the final battles were amazingly fun when I watched them on my own. The last 7 episodes or so should definitely be marathoned, though. I don't quite have the same personal connection with TTGL as I do with some other series, but it was an amazing ride for a show that defined its own genre through sheer awesome.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood :: Although the few episodes are a little shaky due to comic nonsense added to help ease the audience into the serious story of FMA, it quickly gets past that that utterly demolishes the first FMA anime. Brotherhood, unlike the first FMA, follows the entire manga (and finished at the same time), so it has a much deeper and more solid plot. The ending is utterly epic, and most of the action along the way is exciting and well-written. Somehow this hasn't quite made it into my full Favorites, but it's an awesome watch.
Terra e :: To me, this is a true Space Opera. It's one of my favorite sci-fi anime to recommend because it has such a classic feel to it, and it's really fun to watch. I wouldn't call it perfect by any stretch, but it's a show I think any sci-fi fan would enjoy. I don't think I've come across any other sci-fi anime since that doesn't have that kind of "New Age" mentality smell to it, so this show just sticks in my mind as the one to always suggest.
Hajime no Ippo :: This show is a classic for me, it's just so solid on every aspect. I had the luck to just barely miss the 7 year airing gap, but I still don't feel that the anime is far enough along yet. Interestingly, perhaps partly due to this show, boxing is the only sport I actually enjoy watching; or, possibly, I enjoyed this show so much because I enjoy boxing. I'm not sure which.
Umineko no Naku Koro ni :: As of the first arc, this show had me totally hooked. I love the OP and ED, and the Battler / Beatrice opposition makes this show so much more fun for me than Higurashi. The second arc has a "WTF?!" ending, but it pulls it together again in a thrilling way for the rest of the series. This is very much a Supernatural show mixed with Murder Mystery themes, so don't be surprised when magic shows up almost immediately.
Misaka Mikoto - Character :: This is a unique situation, a character so enjoyable that she decided the score for an otherwise weak show. After watching Railgun first, I then watched Index in preparation for Index 2. Railgun shows a much lighter side of Misaka than Index, but she fits my "Awesome Character" requirements so solidly that I'll keep watching any series she shows up in.
Ga-Rei Zero :: This prequel is so dark and awesome. Just sample the first episode, you'll be hooked. If the main series was made into an anime of this seriousness, it would blow almost everything else of out the water. As it is, Ga-Rei Zero is a wild ride for being a prequel and only 13 episodes.
Elfen Lied :: The spirit of this show echoes the ancient Greek tragedies to me, with a depiction so literal as to feel honest, and a despair so great as to feel solemn, yet still mixed with traces of life's happiness. The OP and music doing an amazing job of supporting this spirit, and so EF just struck me as powerful and epic, regardless of its brevity.
Shuffle! :: This one's a mixed bag for me. I watched Shuffle as one of the first series I actually downloaded and watched seriously, and initially it was nothing more than "a simple harem show" to me, just junk entertainment. However, when it took a serious twist midway through the series, it pulled me up short - I hadn't expected that at all. By time I actually finished the series, it had somehow worked its way under my skin. I wouldn't call it amazing, but I can't shake the feeling that it's a very important series. When I get around to rewatching the series, maybe I'll figure out why.
Kodomo no Jikan :: This show is controversial, to say the least, but the characters and personal situations really struck a cord for me. In some sense, I enjoyed this show in spite of the unusual humor, because the teasing factors into something meaningful, and remains as just that - teasing. I'm not happy with how the show has been aired so sporadically after the first season, but it still has a lot of room for development.
Chobits :: Oh boy did this show had a lot of complicating factors for me. Half the fun was who I watched it with, even though we watched it on Youtube clips and switched language halfway through. Chobits just had a. . . right kind of feel to it, though looking back I have a hard time trying to identify anything extraordinary about it. It's a great beginner anime, I think, and has just the right mix of a lot of ordinary elements to make it really engrossing for just about anyone.
Yumeiro no Patissiere :: I would normally consider Shoujo totally outside of my watchable genres, but Yumeiro has just enough maturity to catch my interest, and enough Food Fan Service to keep me hooked. Seriously, half their art budget must go into drawing cakes and pastries and chocolates and other sweet awesomeness. This show has literally given me ideas for foods I hunted down at local bakeries. MAL needs an Om Nom Nom score!
Blue Submarine No. 6 :: I originally saw parts of this show on the "good old days" of Toonami being awesome. Somehow, it just stuck with me so memorably that *years* later I finally had to hunt down what show it had been and I rewatched it fully. The design and story of this show were radical, and the graphics still seem top notch, so even now I was impressed with it. Such a short series (only 6 eps!) naturally limits how much it can develop, but this show is so memorable that almost anyone who watched the old Toonami remembers it. It also makes me miss the days when Toonami was seriously awesome, and I have to wonder how Cartoon Network as a whole went so downhill.
Comptetitive Archery (Recurve, 18m target shooting), Gaming (Strategy, FPS, MMO, Arcade Fighting, etc.), Reading Science Fiction / Fantasy Novels, Engineering, Philosophy / Intellectual Discussions
My passion for anime is closely related to my passion for reading novels, so I often connect between the two - and I even found a MAL-like site for my books.
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