Friday, June 13, 2014

Top Ten - Favorite Anime

I've been asked a few times to post of list of the best anime I've seen. Well, there is that word again... best. I always feel a bit guilty posting a best of list, especially when I haven't seen, heard or experienced everything there is to offer in that category. 

My exposure to anime is actually pretty limited. I got into collecting in the late 1990s and continued into the early 00s. Then I took some time away, nearly a decade. Lately I've been trying some series when I read about one that sounds intriguing or is from creators of other series I enjoyed. I've missed out on some of the really big titles in the last decade - still haven't seen shows like One Piece or Bleach. I usually enjoy Rumiko Takahshi, but still haven't seen a single minute of Inu Yasha. Then there's all the older shows I haven't seen - especially those shows by Leiji Mastsumoto (and no, Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem, doesn't count). 

So that brings me back to the same tactic I used when I talked about film scores of the 1980s. I'm gonna give you a list of my 10 favorite anime series and movies. I've blogged about a few of these already, but expect to see some of these others get a post or two in the future. I'm trying a new technique here, a summary of the show followed by three points why this is on my top 10.

10. Trigun (1998)



One of the three space cowboy anime from the late 1990s. Trigun follows the adventures of Vash the Stampede, the most wanted man on a dusty and forgotten planet. He is known as the humanoid typhoon, and is accused with destroying an entire city, just for kicks. But when we meet him, he seems to be nothing but contradictions. Is he a pacifist who leveled an entire town? Is he the toughest desperado on the planet, that runs away and screams like a little girl at the first sign of danger? Is he a sociopathic killer that just stopped to help a little girl find her lost cat? As the plot unfolds you start to wonder what is Vash really after. Can he run from his destiny forever, or will the man named Knives bring it all back with blood?
  • Interesting world and production design. Literally the old west meets space adventure
  • The show keeps you guessing because...
  • Vash the Stampede, is one of the most conflicted and unusual protagonists in any anime I've seen. Once you get to know him, you just have to see how it all turns out.
9. Vision of Escaflowne (1996)

Hitomi is just a normal high school girl. She's fallen for an upperclassman, and tries to impress him during practice for a track meet. But in the middle of her sprint she is literally pulled into another world. There she meets two handsome men, one looks just like her crush back on Earth. The other is a rough and dangerous prince. Eventually she becomes entangled in a war raging across this world. Hitomi must face dragons, giant mecha that are used as knights, conniving catgirls and one of the most twisted villains ever put into an anime series. But there is a dark heart hiding in the middle of this world, and Hitomi starts to realize that she should have stayed home.
  • Amazing world and production design
  • Wonderful orchestral score by Yoko Kanno, maybe her best work ever
  • The story takes us from a romantic fantasy and into a dark twist that subverts many of the characters you thought you knew leading to an ending that is bittersweet
8. Gunsmith Cats (1995)

Rally Vincent and her partner Minnie May are gunsmiths by day, and bounty hunters at night. They search Chicago for the toughest criminals and always bring them in. Their pal, Becky is the information source in the city and knows who is who and where anything can be found - for a price. Rally and May pick up a gun runner on a routine hunt. But the next day they find out that the ATF was watching the guy and needed him free for a big sting they were planning. Agent Bill Collins ends up persuading (blackmailing) the girls to help him out on the case. And it all goes to hell. Before you know it, there are shoot outs, explosions, car chases, insane Russian assassins and a conspiracy. No one is safe! But Rally and May are tough gals and you can bet they won't go down without a fight.
  • Top notch action scenes
  • A very funny English dub that nails the 1980s action movie vibe
  • Nostalgic favorite: the series that got be into anime fandom
7. Revolutionary Girl Utena (1997)


All Utena wants to do is grow up to be a prince, no seriously. Utena lives in a strange world where high school is a baroque fantasy world, ruled by a student council that holds duels to determine who is the most powerful. We're talking full blown sword duels with rapiers and 1800s outfits. Utena makes friends with Anthy a sweet girl who happens to be the Rose Bride. This ticks off the student council something fierce, no one is allowed to hang out with the Rose Bride except for them. So Utena finds herself challenged to duels to be Anthy's friend. Along the way she faces a bitchy rival, a group of ghosts that want to take over the school and Anthy's brother who may be the most twisted of them all. Revolutionary Girl Utena is a disco fueled, rose covered, blade flashing blast of weird. You'll either become enchanted by it, or run screaming in the opposite direction
  • Amazing visual world created for the show, with white, pink and red being the key colors
  • A score that mixes rock opera style with disco and lush orchestral romance
  • Fill to bursting with symbolism, surreal moments and "revolutionary" imagery - but also plays as a sweet story of a tom boy trying to fit in.
6. Millenium Actress (2001)

Genya wants to make a documentary about his favorite actress Chiyoko. After tracking down the reclusive woman, she agrees to an interview. But things start getting a little strange as she tells her story. One minute Genya and his camera man are sitting in her living room, the next they are in war torn Japan! They watch her story unfold like a movie... and then realize that they are actually in one of her movies! Genya jumps right in, taking roles in her life and her films. Meanwhile a mystery begins to unfold around a lost love and a lost key. What Chiyoko doesn't know is that Genya holds the final clue to this mystery that has plagued her for decades. The last performance of this Millennium Actress is one you can't miss. 

  • Director Satoshi Kon's most heartfelt and approachable work
  • Toys with perspective and reality in a fun and interesting way
  • Chiyoko is an amazing character and her story really keeps you watching and returning to this film
5. El Hazard: The Magnificent World (1995)

Three high school students and their tipsy teacher are hurled into an amazing fantasy world by a strange woman who appears in some ruins found under the school. The journey seems to have granted the four travelers unique powers. Mr. Fujisawa has superhuman strength, as long as he stays sober. Jinnai can understand the language of monsters. His sister Nanami can see past illusions. But poor Mikoto just bears a striking resemblance to a lost princess. Before you can say cross dressing, Mikoto is forced to play princess during a debate. You see the country is at war, and everyone needs to pitch in. These powers will become vital as the four encounter giant bugs, spell casting priestess, super weapons and demon goddesses. Will our heros have a chance at returning home, or are they having too much fun in El Hazard: The Magnificent World?
  • Innovative world design combines futuristic technology with Arabian Knights style
  • A hilarious English dub with many quotable lines and fun performances
  • Packed with plenty of laughs, adventure and fun - but also has a lot of heart, with an ending that will get to all romantics out there.
4. Spirited Away (2001)

Young Chihiro doesn't want to move to a new home, so she sulks in the back seat as her parents drive to the new residence. Along the way they take a wrong turn and end up at an abandoned and forgotten amusement park. The family explores it, but Chihiro feels that something is just off about the whole place. She's proven right when her parents are transformed into giant pigs after eating forbidden food. Now Chihiro must pay for her parents sins, and is forced to work for the wicked witch Yubaba. If Chihiro has any hope of saving her parents, she must find a way to trick Yubaba, befriend a dragon spirit, and earn the respect of all the crazy spirits living in the haunted amusement park. 
  • Amazing animation by Studio Ghibli and directed by animation master Hayao Miyazaki.
  • A wonderful score by Joe Hisaishi, my personal favorite from of his work.
  • Chihiro is a wonderful character that grows up right before our eyes

3. Boogiepop Phantom (2000)


In an unnamed city in Japan, the angel of death is stalking teens. It calls itself Boogiepop and if you see her, then you'll disappear forever. But this city is teaming with dangers, including a creature called the Manticore. This horrible beast takes pleasure in ripping flesh apart. Searching for answers among these terrors and mysteries is local tough girl, Nagi Kirima. She wants to find the killer and put a stop to it, but the further she digs the more questions she finds. Boogiepop Phantom is told in a non-linear fashion, with each episode offering a single tale, but one that adds up to a larger story. Dark and disturbing the series balances atmospheric horrors with gore and blood. It makes this one of the best anime horror series I've ever seen.
  • The animation is atmospheric and dreamlike 
  • The non-linear storytelling is amazing, telling compelling tales with each episode and putting together the larger story right up to the final few minutes of the series
  • A steller English dub cast makes all the performances work.

2. Ghost in the Shell (1995)


Section 9 takes care of cyber terrorists in a very permanent fashion. The top agent is Major Kusanagi, a female cyborg who is as deadly as she is hot. Her latest case has her chasing a master hacker called the Puppetmaster. He hacks cyber brains of powerful and wealthy targets creating some serious security risks. The only problem is that each lead only turns out to be another puppet. Section 9 gets it's first break when a cyborg body goes haywire, and runs into a busy freeway. Examing the cyborg they discover that they are dealing with a program called 2501, a information gathering system that has gained sentience. Now, the creators of 2501 want it back or destroyed, whichever is easier. Kusanagi must decide if 2501 is a criminal and if not, can she protect something that doesn't have a body. One of my favorite science fiction films, and featuring one of my favorite science fiction heroines. 
  • Amazing visuals creating wonderful mood and tense action scenes
  • A well crafted story that offers plenty of food for thought
  • Major Kusanagi kicks all kinds of ass

1. Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995)


The world has suffered through the horrors of a cataclysm called Second Impact. This event caused the polar ice caps to melt and kill off millions of humans. It also announced the presence of terrifying creatures called Angels. In response humans have banded together to face the Angels, pooling resources to create a new kind of weapon. It is called Evangelion, a giant armored creature that must be piloted to battle an angel. These pilots must be able to synch with the Evangelions, and those that can are rare indeed. Shinji Ikari, a lonely and angst filled teenager, is one of those that can synch with an Evangelion. His father Gendou, demands that Shinji pilot the Eva. Shinji who has fallen out with his father, refuses at first, but after seeing the destruction an Angel can wreck first hand, he agrees. This single decision starts a chain of events that will lead to the end of the world as we all know it. Is this all a plan to push humanity to a new form? A form that none of us can even begin to conceive of. Or it could end with mind bending insanity. It all depends on who you talk to.
  • Shinji Ikari is one of the most interesting and conflicted characters in anime. He feels like a real kid trapped in a hopeless situation.
  • The series builds upon itself, with tension rising with each episode until it explodes in an visual orgy of chaos and fear (especially if you watch the original television series ending)
  • Filled with memorable characters, visuals, themes and music. 
  • Enjoyable on the surface, but holds a lot of meaning with each revisit.
So there you have it, my top ten favorite series. Lots of other shows and movies came close, but these are the ones I tend to return to the most frequently. 

6 comments:

  1. All top 10 lists are idiosyncratic. Even if our viewing experience is truly comprehensive (does anyone have time for that?), our personal predilections have the last say in the end. I remember the “Guilty Pleasures” lists that Siskel and Ebert sometimes gave; these were especially revealing, since the films didn’t have to be good in any broader sense. Ebert’s silly streak revealed itself in these lists (eg “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” and “Super-Inframan”) while Siskel was more apt to pick things moodily erotic (“Summer Lovers” and “Emanuelle”). This difference surely influenced their perception of “good” movies, too, and explains why their “Top Ten films of ____” lists were never identical – though they did always share at least a few movies in any particular year. That said, I could count on liking at least 70% (usually more) of the movies on either’s list, so they both were useful.

    All of the ones on your list look fun in their own ways. As for how revealing the choices may be…well, that’s a risk we all take when we post such things.

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    1. You make a great point. Top ten lists are a lot of fun to make and read, but in the end they can't be all inclusive. You have to make cuts and juggle things. That is half the fun of making them. But it is interesting how influenced they can be by what is going on in your life when you are writing them. Even a list I made last year seems a bit odd to me today. "Really, I'd put that in my top 10?"

      As for this list, well it did surprise me how many of these picks have female leads in them. Two of them (Escaflowne and Utena) are very much romance anime, but set in fantasy worlds. Escaflowne has a lot of action in it, and some really disturbing moments - but a lot of it does play with the love triangle and gets' a bit soapy.

      And Utena... well Utena is just plain weird, and I love it for all it's weirdness. The symbolism is so thick in this series, and the visuals are so potent. So what is essentially a series about two girls becoming friends and talking about boys could be viewed as so much more. Is Utena coming to grips with sexuality? Is Anthy her soulmate, or is this just true friendship? What does each member of the student council represent? The ghosts hiding in the school lead to themes about haunting pasts? It just keeps going and going. Really a fascinating show on so many levels. But I don't mention it too much, because, yeah it pretty much is targeted to pre-teen girls, has more pink on the screen then a bubblegum factory and lots of long loving shots of long haired boys wielding swords. Hard to live that down, even if i watch a gore/boob fest like "Ninja Scroll" right afterward. ;)

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  2. Well, I guess you could do a Current Top Ten list (subject to change). Time has a way of doing that. I created a Top 20 list of comics some time back, and although I've read some good ones since then that I might add, the comics I picked are still worth recommending.

    I've at least seen Ghost in the Shell, Spirited Away, and part of Neon Genesis, and they were worthwhile. I really dug Howl's Moving Castle.

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    1. Yeah I'll keep doing top 10 lists, because I have a lot of fun with them. But I think the disclaimer might happen each time. :)

      Good to see you get your toes wet with some anime and that you are enjoying it. I know it is not for everyone. But I think there are a lot of worthwhile stories being told through animation. And the Japanese have a really great handle on the medium. Miyazaki is one of the best, and "Howl's Moving Castle" is a gorgeous movie. If you don't mind the fantasy aspect of the story, then certainly check out "Princess Mononoke". That one plays like an animated myth of a time when men and nature were one and what happened to separate the two. It does get violent and brutal in places, but it really has wonderful feel to it. I also recommend his post apocalyptic myth "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind". It is one of his early efforts, so the animation isn't as smooth as his later stuff - but the world he creates is amazing, the mythic story is classic and the scope is impressive.

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  3. We have such different TOP 10s as far as anime goes, but we agree on GITS and Evangelion.

    I think Evangelion may be the single greatest series of all time in animation.

    And, I love it for many of the summary remarks you make regarding the series, particularly bullet points 1 and 2.

    Nice!

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    1. Yeah when I revisited EVA last year I was blown away all over again. It just has so much going on in it. Just a real piece of animated art. Easily the best anime series of the 1990s. That is for sure.

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