Top 20 Anime Rating Comment
Air (TV) Masterpiece #10 For an emotional junkie like me, few shows are able to compress more drama, sadness, and compassion for characters than Air. First off, the animation/production values are excellent, some of the best I've ever seen, even if the character design for the girls owes a bit too much to Air's game origins. Second, the slow pace, unconventional timeline and storytelling, and light summery mood set Air apart from most other shows and creates a different sort of viewing experience. Air suffers from a few flaws of dating-sim-based anime, like dedicating a few episodes to girls who don't have too much bearing on the main plot, but even those stories stir pathos, starting mainly with episode 6. The main story, though, stays strong--Misuzu has a strong moe factor that makes it easy to care for her, and though I won't say anything specific, whenever I watch from about 12:12 of episode 12, I wind up crying just as much as I did when I first saw it. Maybe I'm a sentimental sap, but I think that really says something about the quality of the show.
Angelic Layer (TV) Excellent #9 Ah, CLAMP cuteness. Angelic Layer is supposedly a shounen-oriented tournament fighting show, but just as Evangelion isn't really about giant robots, AL isn't really about the Angels and the fighting; it's about the characters and their relationships, expressed and mirrored through the fights on the Layer. Even at its saddest points, Angelic Layer will still leave a cute and warm feeling in your heart after almost every episode. Misaki is no Sakura, but she's quite cute in her own right, and the surrounding cast have their stories to tell or comedic roles to fulfill. Add to that an all-star voice cast (in both languages; the dub held up just as well at the critical moments), great background art, well-animated and increasingly inventive fights, and you have my #9 show.
Chrono Crusade (TV) Very good #19: Gets into the list mainly on the strength of its ending. Manga purists will criticize Chrno Crusade for deviating from the storyline, but the ending earns points in my book for being unconventional and unhappy. First off, the series itself has pretty good animation, mood-appropriate music (OP and ED are good as well) and for awhile, a generally fun "nuns with guns" atmosphere. That, along with the 1920s America setting, are things you don't see every day. Lots of action and a more serious tone after the filler "Christmas" episode (17 or so) to bring us to the end, which in my book is appropriate and tragic for the series. I've mentioned the "sunset scene" of episode 24 in the past, and that scene's visuals, music, and dialogue create a very moving experience--because of that, Chrno Crusade's ending will be unpopular to some, but to emotional junkies like me, it's golden.
Cowboy Bebop (TV) Masterpiece #5 A show with great mainstream success, and the third show I ever bought. Does Bebop live up to the hype? The problem is story vs. plot. Cowboy Bebop has maybe 8 episodes of plot, but still manages to have 26 episodes of story. Is the story good? Well, I found it to be an entertaining picture of an eclectic mix of people+dog who eke out a living in less than ideal future world. Some episodes are a bit pointless, but even many of the non-plot eps have good dramatic stories, especially the ones about Faye's past. All this might make for a good show, but add space action, gunfights, swordfights (sort of), comedy, fluid/quality animation, the main plot about Spike's past catching up to him, AND a soundtrack that rarely lets you down from the first note in episode 1 to the end of "Blue" in episode 26, and you have a great show. On top of all of that, the movie also adds the the overall experience that is Cowboy Bebop.
Elfen Lied (TV) Excellent #7 I avoided Elfen Lied for a long time because I don't care for excessive violence, but after happening to watch the first few episodes at anime club, I just had to continue. Some might call Elfen Lied a mishmash of clichés, and I'll admit it does combine the violence of Fist of the North Star, the innocence of Chobits, the harem living arrangements of Love Hina, and the kissing cousins of Sakura Diaries, but I don't see EL as worse because of it. What makes EL work is that it goes beyond excess violence (and sometimes loli nudity) to make a psychological study of human cruelty, innocence, split personalities, exploited youth (the diclonius girls + Mayu as well), and repressed trauma and memories. Possibly, there is an overkill of flashback, but the way the story is woven together toward the horrifying recollection of a certain incident in episode 12 earns my praise--it's a hallmark of a good story when you know that something is coming, even far in advance, and the event is presented in such a way that it is still emotionally powerful.
Excel Saga (TV) Excellent #15: Ah, Excel Saga. With one of my favorite Japanese VAs, the versatile and talented Mitsuishi Kotono, in the lead role, Excel Saga was a wild and hilarious trip through anime culture and Japanese entertainment culture in general. ADV's AD-Vid Notes provide a great learning experience, and you won't have trouble keeping up with subtitles in any show if you can get through Excel Saga. Whether it's action, horror, date-sims, bishoujo anime, animal antics, lolicons, sports, sentai (battle teams like Power Rangers), or sci-fi, nothing escapes Excel Saga's merciless knife of parody, even hentai (episode 26). The plot itself isn't too important, but one can find some hidden gems and touching moments in several places, most notably the end of episode 23 and episode 24. If you consider yourself a hardcore otaku who knows a lot and can keep up with anything, Excel Saga is required viewing.
Fruits Basket (TV) Masterpiece #2 Yes, I may as well admit it: I'm a 24-year-old straight male who enjoys many shoujo anime, and Fruits Basket is at the top of that list for me. With sometimes rough, but earnest animation, and a fantasy story with some "reverse fanservice" transformation, FB quickly draws you in to Tohru's life and the world of the Sohma. Aside from "people transforming into animals," I didn't really know what to expect at first, but several episodes proved that Fruits Basket is really about human relationships, with the added dimension of the supernatural elements. We see regret (Tohru, episode 1), the pain of familial/parental rejection (Momiji, episode 15, the sting of redicule (Hatsuharu, episode 10, the advantages of a true "family" over a family merely related by blood (referring to Tohru's relatives, episode 5), the tragedy of having to hurt the ones we love (Hatori, episode 8), the unbearability of teasing and ignorance from one's peers (Kisa, episode 17), and finally, the quest (on Kyo's part, episodes 24-26) for the kind unconditional acceptance that our internal "ugliness" and self-doubts make us think that we don't deserve. The transforming aspect takes these internal dilemmae and externalizes them into physical forms; taking Kisa, for example, her experiences cause her to close herself off, run away, and lash out at others. This takes the form of transforming into her animal form and lashing out at others, even those who try to help her. Sure, some episodes, mainly the ones with the Prince Yuki Fanclub and the one with Sohma Ritsu, are somewhat pointless, and they did leave out "the hat" from the manga, but the rest of Fruits Basket is a powerfully sad / sadly powerful story. Episode 8 was where things really picked up for me, and episodes 15,17,24-26 provided the other most intense moments. But then again, I am a junkie for this stuff...and thus Fruits Basket gets the so-so silver.
Full Metal Panic! (TV) Very good 17 (tie) (okay, I'm cheating here--I like all three equally, but they would have unbalanced the list if I had included all of them) // Full Metal Panic! was one of my earlier animes, and I was a bit hesitant to watch it, since I normally don't like mecha anime. However, if a mecha anime has other things going on, like the philosophy/psychology of NGE and RahXephon, I can get into it. On that note, the first season of FMP is an excellent combination of military/mecha action and high school comedy/romance You can't help but enjoy seeing typical anime violent girl Chidori Kaname bash and punish the hardcore mercenary, Sagara Sousuke, for all his crimes and misunderstandings. Yet still, she harbors a certain soft spot for that clueless guy, forming a "will they or won't they" relationship that will span various series. The military setup and action are also well-done, as we have an alternate future with the USSR still existing, and the do-gooder organization Mithril trying to stymie oppression and conflict. Lots of mecha action, some comical, some gritty, but all well-animated and "realistic enough." FMP 1st season maintains an excellent balance between 2 very different genres, and that's what got me into the FMP world and earned the spots on this list. (By the way, the English dubbing on FMP! and FMP? Fumoffu is very good--ADV knows what they're doing when it comes to giant robots and comedy, and Fumoffu has both of these.)
Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid (TV) Very good 17 (tie) After getting the RDA of comedy in Fumoffu, FMP! moves on to the gravely serious in TSR. TSR returns to the global/military scene, with conflicts in a divided China pulling Mithril into conflict with the shadowy organization "Amalgam," including the insanely great / greatly insane villain, Gates. Gates is crazy enough that he makes Gauron of FMP! 1 look like one of the cuddly kittens that are, uh, "featured" in TSR episode 6. From the outset, TSR shows off its budget with elaborate mecha battles and explosions, including the Lambda Driver, whose nature and usage become a key plot point in TSR. FMP! TSR also delves into Sousuke's personality, and the inner conflict he has between being a mercenary soldier and a 16 year-old student. Comedy lovers may come up a bit short, but mecha and drama lovers will be pretty satisfied--TSR deals with Sousuke's "fish out of water" scenario in a very different way, rather than playing it for laughs like in the previous series.
Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu (TV) Very good 17 (tie) Well, it seems they had more comedic manga material, but they couldn't fit it all into the first season of FMP, and Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu is the result. In terms of chronology, I tend to think of Fumoffu as occurring during/slightly after the first season. While there is some pseudo-mecha and gunplay in several episodes, Fumoffu is all about the comedy, and it goes beyond simply "zany" to flat-out "wrong" in several places, particularly the hot springs episode. Much of the comedy focuses on Sousuke's ongoing maladaptation to a peaceful lifestyle, so for him everything is a bomb threat, a hostage situation, a (girl) hunt, or a life-and-death battle--naturally, Kaname is there to right his wrongs with paper fan in hand. The final episode, in particular, sees Sousuke causing some serious problems that force characters to reflect on their lives, makinf for a nice semi-emotional finale, until...you know. We also see new characters, like the supremely cool Student Council President Hayashimizu and the very pretty Ohara Ren, plus cameos by Kurz, Melissa, Tessa, and others from Mithril. Some of the laws of physical reality take a back seat in Fumoffu, but hey, it's anime. Though Fumoffu can be skipped if one just wants the action from the first season and TSR, Fumoffu does help develop the relationship between Kaname and Sousuke, which to a romance fan like me is one of the most important parts of the FMP universe.
Fullmetal Alchemist (TV) Masterpiece #4 Yet another popular series that lives up to expectations. FMA uses few of the standard anime clichés (aside from dead parents, of course) in setting up an entire fantasy world á la Tolkien or Lewis. Right from the start, the alchemy/fantasy elements will amaze, and once the backstory begins, you can't help but feel for the Elric brothers and their selfless quest of repentence for their crimes and to regain what the other had lost. I'm normally wary of long series, but even the sidestory/filler episodes were important and entertaining, and beyond Ed and Al themselves, you get a cast of characters to like, dislike, or feel sad over. It's kind of telling that on virtually every "sad anime" post on every forum, people will mention incidents from episodes 4 and 25 of Fullmetal Alchemist, and perhaps from others as the Adult Swim run continues. The cast of villains, based on the Seven Deadly Sins from Catholicism (if you didn't know that already) is quite original and menacing, though you do come to feel some sympathy for a few of the Homunculi, like Lust and Sloth, maybe Wrath as well. Your milage may vary. Oddly enough, I think the only villain who has a comparative "sympathy factor" was Nakago in Fushigi Yuugi, at least for me. So, the final verdict: Come for the cool alchemy/stuff blowing up, stay for the philosophy and the drama.
Haibane Renmei (TV) Masterpiece #8 Another special series that is like few others, Haibane Renmei helped build my appreciation for short, slow-paced, introspective series. Some charge HR with being a boring show where nothing ever happens, and they're welcome to watch Bleach or Naruto--Haibane Renmei is more of an immersive experience, where you discover the world bit by bit along with Rakka, and feel her doubts, curiosities, and pain. Wonderful subdued artwork makes up a strange and surreal world, and character design has a certain natural appeal without resorting to fanservice. Much like Serial Experiments: Lain, an earlier series with Yoshitoshi ABe et al, Haibane Renmei has open-ended messages about life and human existence, this time focusing on death, the afterlife, sin, grace, forgiveness, and redemption, and while more would have been welcome, 13 episodes is sufficient for HR's story.
Koi Kaze (TV) Excellent 20 Makes the list for being considerably outside the norm in content and presentation. If you didn't already know, Koi Kaze contains an incestuous romance between siblings (27 year-old brother, 15 year-old sister), but it's not presented in an exploitative or fetishized way. Koi Kaze is serious, slow-paced, and reflective, showing how characters deal with forbidden thoughts, which are realistic for the show's situation due to the phenomenon of "genetic attraction" (see the Encyclopedia Trivia entry). Though Nanoka is cute, artwork isn't the best, but if you like washed-out, watercolor backgrounds, and thoughtful, controversial anime, Koi Kaze is a great choice. Props to Geneon for co-producing this one and having the guts to release it on DVD over here.
Love Hina (TV) Very good #6 A guilty pleasure that supposedly "shouldn't" be ranked ahead of some of these other shows, Love Hina was the second anime I ever bought (assuming that 4 seasons of Sailor Moon count as the first) and holds a place in my heart. The comedy is slightly repetitive, but the non-Keitarou-based comedy makes up for it, and we have great Akamatsu Ken trademark action fantasy to accompany the romance and comedy. Many parodies abound, including idols/mecha/video games/Mothra/magical girls/DBZ/Japanese teen movies and more. And, violent as it may be, there is a fairly cute romance flowing through it all, and I must admit I'm letting the manga shade my view of the series in a positive direction, since I know that it is all resolved eventually. Speaking of the manga, I actually enjoyed some of the anime additions, like the video game episode, the detective episode, and the inclusion of Kentarou, a great "anti-Keitarou" who provides great entertainment with his unabashedly anti-romantic views. And of course, I must mention episode 20 with Moé the doll (coincidental name?)--the episode condenses a fair amount of manga material by adding a new character; the combination of the music and the flashbacks is a very bittersweet and tender part of the series that helps cancel out some of the sillier harem moments.
Martian Successor Nadesico (TV) Masterpiece 12 Perhaps Nadesico isn't exactly the deepest, most serious anime out there, but for what it intends to be and accomplish, Nadesico is uniformly successful, and thus it gets the Masterpiece rating. Combining the genres of comedy, sci-fi/mecha, and romance, MSN presents a vast and creative world containing many cute and loveable (or hateable) characters. The technology never fails to surprise, especially the communication "windows" that open up all over the place. If you're a moderate to serious otaku, you'll surely understand the many jokes and parodies of anime, the fandom, model builders, and particularly the "Super Combining Robots" shows like Voltron from the 70s and 80s, found in the "Gekigangar" anime that characters watch throughout Nadesico. (Gekigangar also is significant to the plot, and even makes a recap funny when the GG crew watches Nadesido.) Amidst the parody of these shows, there is also serious criticism of the simplistic black-and-white, good-vs.-evil worldview espoused by that genre. MSN also deals with issues of war, death, and sacrifice, to give contrast to the cutesy childhood friend/harem-esque situation on the ship, which features the same Japanese VA who played Love Hina's Keitarou as the voice of Akito. What dormcat would call the "Culture Barrier" is fairly high on this show; for example, there's one joke about the game "Kanchou" that I only understood because I knew some Japanese and had read some stories online about a guy's experiences in Japanese schools with JET. So overall, Nadesico is highly recommended, but do yourself a favor, and skip the movie. Don't ask about Kanchou, either.
My-HiME (TV) Very good #13 A show that has achieved mainstream popularity, with a concept and execution that work. A shounen show with a strong, competent,female lead, and a Magical-Girl-esque plot structure. The materialization and fighting have great graphics/CGI, but the plot is at base about the characters and how they deal with this power and each other, not "ZOMG another monster kill it!" Plus, the twist at episode 17 sends things on a raw, visceral direction. Some may feel that the ending was a letdown, but I didn't mind it; to those who have seen it, wouldn't it have been (literally) overkill otherwise?
Neon Genesis Evangelion (TV) Excellent #11 I can't really call NGE my own "greatest anime series of all time" because there are other shows that meet my preferences better. However, for what it is and what it promises, NGE delivers. One could say that Eva contains all the anime archetypes and cliches rolled into one show, but it could also be said that it re-invents and redefines them to bring in the late-90s anime era that drove the medium's worldwide popularity. While Eva is defined as the epitome of the mecha genre, it escapes the mecha conventions--these are not super-robots, and their pilots are not "super" either. Shinji, in particular, is a flawed and real teenager, who is understandably upset about having this strange destiny thrust upon him. Again, NGE is more about the people than the robots, including humanity on a grand scale and the group of characters. Because of this, TV episodes 25-26, hated by so many, provide a conclusion to the relationship/psychological side of the series and in my opinion constitute a perfectly good ending. Add to all this a vast array of intricate religious symbolism, a bit of comedy and romance, and visuals that were groundbreaking for their time (1995), and the result is a product deserving of the "Masterpiece" rating. (On the romance side, the "kisu shiyou ka?" scene in episode 15 still holds its ground against my other favorite romantic anime, even if the "romance" wasn't really there.) Even if you wind up hating Neon Genesis: Evangelion, you simply can't be a hardcore fan without having seen it.
Rumbling Hearts (TV) Masterpiece #3 Some will call Kimi ga Nozomu Eien overrated and melodramatic, but to them I say, "These are my ratings, and I get to choose what gets the shameful bronze." It's unfortunate that I had to track down the still-unlicensed KgNE on a torrent site that distributes licensed anime, as it had been removed from ethical fansub distribution sites. But, I'm lucky I did, as KgNE lived up to its reputation as a sad, tearjerker romance. Even though I knew that much, I was still unable to predict what would happen at the end of episode 2, and after 2 episodes of cute romance/comedy with cute girls (especially Haruka, whose short braided hair and shy/innocent personality captured my "heart" and deepened my emotional investment in the series later on), KgNE explored "Where (almost) No Anime [had] Gone Before," AKA the world after High School. The time skip in episode 3 was a real shock, as it completely defied my expectations on what would come next--the lack of true "next episode" previews work in KgNE's advantage here--and later, the story went back to analyze and show us some of the key developments after the events of episode 2. Unconventional storytelling is good, but what really made KgNE great for me was that it felt like real life, real romance. Okay, maybe a bit melodramatic/exaggerated, and maybe Takayuki was "too" flawed of a character, but these were all characters dealing with unpleasant memories and a tragedy that has derailed their lives, and it's understandable that they didn't always do so in the most logical, rational way. Akane is an interesting study, as her character drastically changes between episodes 2-3, and is very conflicted in her dealings with other characters. KgNE also stays away from the "1-2 episodes per girl" structure seen in other dating-sim anime, and focuses on the main love triangle. The obligatory other girls from the game, AyuAyu and MayuMayu :), come in the form of much-needed comic relief, and they do their job well. The soundtrack has some good sad piano pieces, and the ED, "Hoshizora no Waltz," sung by Haruka's VA, is an excellent closer that fits the mood and enhances the bittersweetness in every episode that it's in, which coincidentally are episodes 3-13. So in the end, KgNE may elate or depress people (depending on which girl they're rooting for); I myself was saddened, but the result fit the lessons of the show (don't want to give too much away), and still left me with a certain happy feeling amidst the sadness, and that kind of emotional power was what rocketed Kimi ga Nozomu Eien up to the upper parts of my anime list very quickly after finishing it. Very hard to believe it was based on an H-game, until you see the scans, that is :(
SaiKano (TV) Masterpiece 14 Required viewing for war/romance fans, maybe more so for romance fans. And of course, no aspiring emotional junkie should miss it. SaiKano (AKA "Saishuuheiki Kanojo"="Ultimate Weapon Girlfriend") is a treatise on war from a civillian perspective, and the challenges of keeping love alive in the face of diminishing humanity. Though it's classified as a war anime, there's no particular emphasis on who's going to win what battle; rather, it shows the degradation of the lives of the characters, as well as the fears and trials of Chise as she devolves into a weapon. More details could be spoilers, so I'll just say that SaiKano will make you sad, pile tragedy on tragedy, and bring out new surprises just when you think they can't take things any further. Make sure to watch this one alone, isolated from the types of people who believe that understanding/sympathizing with the emotions of others (real or fictional) makes you "weak."
Scrapped Princess (TV) Excellent (dub), Masterpiece (sub) #1 In a list filled with cuteness and angsty/sad shoujo or dating-sim based anime, who would've guessed that the top spot goes to a straightforward fantasy? Nonetheless, Scrapped Princess retains the glorious gold. SP was the first fansub I ever picked up, and I even got a PayPal account just so I could pay the now-defunct Filia Fansubs for VHS tape costs and shipping back in December 2003. (Downloading it would have killed half the space on the HD I had at the time, and I didn't know about torrents back then anyway) So why Scrapped Princess? It's very inventive fantasy, with tried-and-true swords and sorcery with a little bit of technology/sci-fi, but without the slapstick and fanservice of Slayers or Rune Soldier. I enjoy shows that mix dramas, and SP does it better than anything else, combining fantasy, sci-fi, romance, drama, comedy, action, philosophy, and even a bit of mecha--I still haven't seen any mecha fight in RahXephon, Evangelion, Full Metal Panic, or any other series, that rivals the fight in episode 21. The music isn't the greatest, but is effective, and the animation is high-quality CGI blends for backgrounds, characters, and special effects. (There is some over-reliance on "hair in the wind" animation loops, I will admit.) Character designs are crisp and mostly original, though there are some minor clothing vs. breast issues. Pacifica, in particular, is so cute and endearing (though not in a particularly moe way) that she drove my decision to track down and acquire the show, even though I only happened to see a random 5 minutes of episode 2 before getting the whole series. She's cute, with her "spring-enhanced"(tm) blonde hair and all, but has a bratty/depressive side to make her more 3-dimensional, and eventually, you become her "cheerleader," desperately wanting her to survive even knowing that the odds are against her. That was my experience, anyway. Though the plot may be reminiscient of a certain recent American sci-fi movie trilogy, it's a nice setup with Pacifica's ominous destiny and everyone else trying to kill her before time runs out. Also included with the plot is some standard philosophy about the nature of humanity and its role in the world, a world which is not as it seems. I won't give details, but the ending is far more satisfying and complete than about 75% of the anime out there. However, the thing that I liked the most, when all was said and done, was that there are no villains, in the traditional sense. Sure, there are bad guys, and the Peacemakers are pretty bad-ass, but what I mean is that everyone in the series is acting according to what they believe to be right and just. The general population believes that Pacifica is a "poison," and see no logical reason not to sacrifice her, Shannon/Raquel/their friends believe that Pacifica is worth protecting at all costs, and even the military actions of Leinwan are more about nationalism/opportunism than about being evil and opposing the main characters. Many series have a black-and-white setup with the heroes fighting against some shadowy "evil incarnate" enemy whose main goal is to destroy/dominate/control everything, without any real motivation or cause. This is Scrapped Princess's finest point, and combined with everything else, it earns my honors as favorite anime. With all the good series that I've seen since then, I don't see a change in this status any time soon.
(The) Vision of Escaflowne (TV) Excellent 16 Another multi-genre addition to the top 20, Escaflowne offers a mix of mecha, fantasy, and shoujo romance. Epic music, good animation for its era, and a relatively challenging, complex plot from the days when you needed to pay attention to 90% of the episodes in a series to understand the storyline. The characters aren't the world's greatest, but there are love triangles and other drama with them to balance the mecha/battle action. Since I generally don't like mecha anime, this romance element, along with the over-arching plot about freewill and destiny, elevates the status of Escaflowne in my rankings. Beyond that, the fantasy is very creative in its mixture of magic, swordplay, and technology, and who can't appreciate a true worldwide war/fate of the planet at stake scenario?
Wolf's Rain (TV) Excellent 18 Although Wolf's Rain is a bit slow at times, the visuals are so stunning and the arrangement of the world is so innovative that I can't help but like it immensely. It's rare to see animals used as heroes, and Wolf's Rain manages the human/wolf transitions and wolf graphics very well. Unlike other apocalyptic series that show constant violence and warfare, WR shows a world slowly sliding to oblivion, with a resigned general population under an oppressive powerful minority group. WR does have great action scenes that leave the wolves looking nothing but "cool" in the aftermath, plus a mishmash of magic and technology to make a good excuse for more special effects. Lots of philosophy about life and humanity (+their relation with animals and the world) for those kinds of fans, and "just enough" romance...if you're looking for a "quest" show to fill the void after FMA is done, Wolf's Rain may be it. Episodes 15-18, for whatever reasons, are flashbacks, but episodes 27-30 make up for it and bring the content quantity up to 26 episodes, and while some may not like the ending, episodes 27-29 at least are some of the finest drama I've ever seen. Listen for the great English-lyric OP an ED songs, too.