My Top 10 Favorite Anime Series

Last year, I did two back-to-back posts on my Top 10 Favorite Moments From The Star Wars Saga and SW Expanded Universe.  And since then, I’ve wanted to do more lists like that, and since I watch a lot of anime for the sake of this blog, I’ll do my (at-present) Top 10 Favorite Anime.

10. Noir

Copyright © 2001 by Bee Train.

What It’s About: Two female assassins in Paris attempt to unravel a centuries-old religious conspiracy and their ties to one of the assassins, a sixteen-year-old girl with instinctive fighting skills and no memory.

Why I Love It: Besides the intriguing and subtext-laden relationship between the two main characters, I love the beauty of the show itself.  It treats Europe with a lot of dignity, paints a beautiful picture of Paris, and has some pretty cool action scenes made better by the “Salva Nos” theme music.  The show isn’t afraid to slip in a few educated references either, so at least it respects the intelligence of its audience.  It’s both good for the mind and good for the eye.

9. Hellsing Ultimate

Copyright © 2006 by Kouta Hirano.

What It’s About: An OVA series remaking the original Hellsing anime, which details the three-way war between the vampire-hunting Hellsing Organization, the Catholic Church’s Iscariot brigade, and the Nazi revivalist Millennium group.  Also, the powerful Alucard turns young Seras Victoria into a vampire and helps her and the Hellsing Organization fight other vampires and slaughter minions.  A lot.  In lovingly rendered gore and brutality.

Why I Love It: For the most part, it’s the animation of this series matched with the raw charisma of its voice acting (at least as far as its English dub goes). You have the bloodthirsty Alucard voiced by Crispin Freeman, an equally good match in the Major (voiced by Gildart Jackson), and lots of epic scenes of Catholic priests quoting Scripture as they slaughter Nazi vampires (and with a sentence like that, who wouldn’t love it?).

8. Welcome to the NHK

Copyright © 2002 by Tatsuhiko Takimoto.

What It’s About: A college dropout and shut-in tries to come to terms with his bleak reality through the help of a seventeen-year-old girl, gets into some antics with his old friend from high school, and struggles in reconnecting with society and the outside world.  And occasionally hallucinates a conspiracy that’s holding him back.

Why I Love It: This is one of the first slice of life anime I ever watched, which took some getting used to, but was well worth it.  I really sympathized with Saito’s plight and liked how he slowly matured over the course of the series.  I like a lot of the atmosphere in this show, shifting from comical to tragic in less than a heartbeat.  And ultimately, even its ending is a bit strange but enjoyable all the same.  No big dramatic resolution, but a series of small and meaningful changes for everyone involved.

7. Samurai Champloo

Copyright © 2004 by Manglobe.

What It’s About: An ex-samurai, a part-time bandit, and a young girl travel across Edo-period Japan in search of destiny, trying to survive and succeed in a world where samurai and their prestigious way of life have all but died out.  The story is told is an anachronistic fashion, allowing for such modern things like rapping, graffiti art, and gangsta fashion to exist alongside the traditional scenery.

Why I Love It: Besides the fact that it was made by Shinichiro Watanabe (the same guy who made Cowboy Bebop), the show is well-animated, with vibrant colors, quick-paced action scenes, and some clever blending of historical and modern images and styles.  The show is also nicely blends some comical and tragic elements, with more emphasis on drama toward the end as we get into Fuu’s heritage and the power held by the Shogunate.  Also, the fact that Steven Blum was the English voice actor for Mugen sold me on the series right away.

6. Black Lagoon

Copyright © 2006 by Madhouse.

What It’s About: Both this show and its sequel (Black Lagoon: Second Barrage) detail the adventures of four thieves and gangsters in the fictional island of Roanapur.  An ex-salaryman lives among the criminal element of East Asia, trying to maintain his integrity and his sanity despite his surroundings and the very sinister people his crew encounters during their travels.

Why I Love It: The entire show is an affectionate homage to the crazed action films of directors like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, full of epic gun battles, comedic psychopaths, and non-stop swearing (Revy, as voiced by Maryke Hendrikse in the English dub, provides most of the above just by herself).  But beyond the devil-may-care attitude of the show, there is also a lot of serious thought given to the price people have to pay for power and success, especially when it means leaving behind the “light” and entering the darkness of corruption and war.

5. Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex

Copyright © 2002 by Production I.G.

What It’s About: In future Tokyo, a team of government security agents attempt to curb acts of terrorism and cyberbrain-hacking by an elusive figure known as the Laughing Man, while attempting to tie him to a conspiracy between government officials and medical corporations.

Why I Love It: I got into GITS: SAC because, at the time, I had finished reading Neuromancer by William Gibson and was really getting hooked on the whole cyberpunk genre (which has become a huge inspiration for my writing).  Essentially, what Neuromancer started for me, GITS delivered on.  It gave me a very complete world of the future, looking at so many issues regarding cybernetics, data security, and the evolution of the Internet and society.  It also delved into some fantastic philosophical issues about identity and social progress, which I like in anime when it’s done well.

4. Death Note

Artwork by Takeshi Obata. Copyright © 2003 by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata.

What It’s About: A young Japanese student receives a supernatural notebook that allows him to kill people by writing down their names in it.  He begins a campaign to cleanse the world of evil and become its benevolent god, which turns into a fierce duel with the world’s greatest detective, an enigmatic character named L.

Why I Love It: Death Note is very dark, very bloody, and very good.  It’s rich for its ethical questions about power and the nature of justice, its haunting score and Gothic visuals, and its brilliant struggle between Light and L for supremacy.  I also liked Brad Swaile‘s voice acting for Light Yagami and the entire character of L, although not as much toward the end.  This series both horrified and enchanted me, and still does to this day.

3. Fooly Cooly

Copyright © 2000 by Gainax and Production I.G.

What It’s About: A young kid in Mabuse thinks his life is boring and the adults in his life are morons.  Then he gets run over by a madwoman on a Vespa, hit in the head by her electric guitar, and now has to deal with both her and the giant robots that emerge from his forehead to terrorize the city.

Why I Love It: For six episodes, this show is packed to the brim with insanity.  From guitars that double as weapons to giant robots, from a J-pop soundtrack to epic baseball games and high school conversations, this show is all about coming of age in the most colorful, anarchistic, and melodramatic way possible.  It’s a coming of age story on steroids–coated with raw sugar.  Not to mention, the animation is fantastic and the characters are likable in their own quirky, somewhat pathetic way.

2. Cowboy Bebop

Copyright © 1998 by Sunrise.

What It’s About: In the future, a trio of bounty hunters, their resident kid genius, and a sentient dog explore the solar system in search of hot new bounties and easy money.  However, they all have to come to terms with their past sooner or later, and for some, the ending is bittersweet.

Why I Love It: Besides the fact that it’s another Shinichiro Watanabe product and features Steven Blum as the English voice actor for the lead character, this show was the very first anime series I ever watched (thanks to my college roommate and WordPress colleague, DJ McNaughty).  The show is a brilliant blend of science fiction, Westerns, and jazz, giving us slapstick comedy with some very dark storylines involving Spike’s past.  It’s a series I can watch over and over again and never once get tired because it’s just so damn cool.

1. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Copyright © 2009 by Hiromu Arakawa.

What It’s About: Two brothers study the science of alchemy in the hopes of restoring their original bodies after a failed attempt to resurrect their mother.  However, their journey brings them to the heart of a terrible conspiracy that puts the entire country of Amestris in peril, as the brothers and their friends must find new ways to fight an enemy older than their own civilization.

Why I Love It: This show is just brilliant.  The characters are not just fulfilling, but there’s also a large number of characters and they all  have something to contribute.  The use of alchemy–and science in general–is both clever and consistent, meaning there’s less chance of plot holes and random contrivances for the benefit of the heroes.  The story is epic in scale and delivers a monumental impact by the end.  The themes of redemption and atonement are powerful and handled very well over the course of the series, and by the end, you’ll feel proud to be a human being, no matter how small we might seem as individuals.  It’s a big story, a rich story, and a wonderful tale of hope in the face of adversity.

I originally wanted to split this list between my favorite anime and manga series, but in all honesty, I haven’t read a lot of manga (although Fruits Basket would totally be on that list).  Needless to say, as time goes on, I will hopefully one day be able to compile a “Top 10 Favorite Manga Series” list.  But I hope this list was satisfactory enough and I’d be more than happy to hear what kind of anime my readers enjoy, too.

Not All Angels Are Holy: “Panty & Stocking With Garterbelt”

Copyright © 2010 by Gainax.

Animation opens up a lot of possibilities for action, adventure, and comedy, considering how extreme or exaggerated things can get when you stop caring about how “realistic” things have to look.

And then there’s being deranged.  Anime has plenty of that, but then there’s this special little Gainax series called Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt.  And let me tell you… it’s weird.

The Story: Collect Coins, Save The World… Have Sex, Eat Sugar…

Panty and Stocking Anarchy are two angels who were forced out of Heaven to fight Ghosts from Hell and collect Heaven Coins that will let them go back.  However, they’re less concerned about doing their duty and more about having a good time in their own ways.  In Panty’s case, it’s having sex with every male in sight, and with Stocking, it’s devouring every sugary confection and tasty snack she can find.  Yet their priestly supervisor Garterbelt has to keep them in line and focused on every episode’s plot, which usually involves finding a malicious Ghost, killing it with underwear that transforms a mystical gun and sword, and then blowing it up in a sudden live-action scene.

I’m not kidding.  This is how every episode ends.

The Cast: Not All Angels Are Holy

Panty is a blonde bombshell whose need for sex and fame is insatiable and whose panties can turn into a gun that kills Ghosts.  Her sister Stocking is a goth girl who needs a constant supply of sugar and has a pair of stockings that turn into a pair of katanas.  They tend to fight with each other almost as often as they fight Ghosts, requiring the intervention and discipline of Garterbelt, an African-American priest whose default expression is pissed off.

Besides their green comic relief dog Chuck (who’s supposed to be an homage to GIR from Invader Zim), there’s also Brief, a social misfit high school student who’s obsessed with ghost hunting and Panty’s beauty.  He usually ends up on the receiving end of a lot of pranks and collateral damage in their fights, yet doggedly remains friends with the sisters.

The ghosts themselves are often based around a motif specific to each episode… like sperm, nose-picking, Little Red Riding Hood, or bees.  It’s bizarre and more often than not an excuse to have a series of crude jokes.  The most frequent recurring villains are a pair of demon sisters named Scanty and Kneesocks, who are an obvious foil for the Anarchy sisters.  They tend to be smarter and more seductive, although their plans suffer because they’re not foolproof (and the angelic sisters can be surprisingly determined fools).

The Style: Anarchy In Animation

This show? Obsessed with bathrooms. Seriously. Copyright © 2010 by Gainax.

The show is essentially Powerpuff Girls by way of South Park (and in one episode, the characters even get drawn in a South Park style).  It’s crude, it’s loud, it’s fast, and it’s larger-than-life.  To say anything more would be pointless.  You’d have to watch it to fully get it.

Final Verdict: A Crazy, Cool Cartoon, But Not My Favorite

The show is pretty entertaining, but it’s not something I would watch more than once.  I had some trouble just getting through the thirteen-episode series. The jokes and fights can get a little repetitive and I’m just not that invested into the characters themselves.  They’re good caricatures, but caricatures nonetheless.  I’m not saying people shouldn’t watch it or like it, but that I’m not as much a fan of it as I am of other shows like FLCL and Aqua Teen Hunger Force, which are some great animated comedies.

Bibliography: Panty & Stocking With Garterbelt.  Directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi.  Based on the manga written by Tagro.  Gainax (studio).  Funimation Entertainment.  October 1, 2010 –December 25, 2010.

Get Your Head Wired: “Serial Experiments Lain”

Copyright © 1998 by Triangle Staff.

The Internet is something that either a lot of shows and films either get completely right or completely wrong.  On one end of the scale, the Web is a global communications network that’s changing our personal and social consciousness; on the other end, it’s a mystical and alienating phenomenon like video games or rock bands that will corrupt our youth, isolate human beings, and bring out the worst in us.

But then there are shows like Serial Experiments Lain, where the Internet is both a complex communications outlet and a mystical phenomenon with some seriously twisted impacts on the real world.

The Story: Breaking Down Boundaries On Truth And Flesh

The story begins with a teenage girl’s suicide, after which several of her classmates start receiving e-mails supposedly written by her post mortem.  This prompts her friend Lain Iwakura to start learning more about computers and “The Wired” (i.e., the Internet by any other name).  Lain soon becomes involved in a quest to figure out her own identity, as she’s confronted with the possibility of there being multiple versions of her in the real world and of there being a God inside the Wired.

Over the course of the thirteen-episode show, as Lain learns more about her origins and the Wired, we see an increasing breakdown of the boundary between the Wired and the real world.  Lain’s quest is tied to the breakdown between the digital and material worlds; the resolution of one implies the resolution of the other.

The Cast: Boring Real Selves, Meet Your Hip Online Counterparts!

Lain is our protagonist, a quiet girl who’s suffering an identity crisis while trying to figure out just what the Wired is all about.  Her resolution of identity is the ultimate arc of this series.  Of all the other people in the real world, the most important person to Lain is her best friend Alice, whose relationship to Lain is strong enough that it almost seems like an unspoken romance between the two girls (of course, it’s also just as likely to be the kind of romantic friendship that is said to commonly  spring up among Japanese schoolgirls).

The other characters are less developed and more like people we need to see every so often to get new perspectives on the plot’s progress: Lain’s family and classmates, the kids and the DJ at the nightclub Cyberia, and the various people chatting on the Wired.  Of all those characters, though, the ones I liked the most were the two Men in Black.  I think it was their distinctive black suits and menacing red-laser visors that got me.  That, and the fact that they’re some of the most humanized “sinister government agent” characters I’ve ever seen.

The Style: Strong In Atmosphere, Sideways In Moving The Plot

Copyright © 1998 by Triangle Staff.

There are several moments in this series where people don’t say anything and all we get are slowly moving shots of landscapes, the interiors of buildings, or telephone wires.  And believe you me, you will never stop hearing the hum of telephone wires for days after watching this show.  But in a way, that’s good for this show.  It’s not a character story except where Lain is concerned, so the rest is about setting the right mood and atmosphere for her story.

I also have to give the show’s creators credit for being very detailed when it came to animating the circuitry and components of Lain’s computers.  It shows how much they understand modern computer technology and knew where their jumping-off point was (especially when the rest of the time, we’re getting stuff about human beings “ascending” to the Wired and rewriting reality).

Final Verdict: Informative, Intelligent, And Perhaps Insane

What got me to watch Serial Experiments Lain was all the buzz I’d heard about how the show really delved into a lot of cyberpunk themes.  And for the most part, I’d say that’s true.  It’s not the classic cyberpunk tale of Good Hackers vs. Evil Corporations, but rather a tale of Girl Seeks Identity, then Girl Meets God, then Girl Saves The World.  It’s a show as weird as Evangelion, as detail-crazy as FLCL, and as atmospheric as Akira.

Bibliography: Serial Experiments Lain (anime).  Directed by Ryutaro Nakamura.  Produced by Yasuyuki Ueda.  Screenplay by Chiaki J. Konaka.  Triangle Staff (studio).  Funimation Entertainment (US).  July 6, 1998 –September 28, 1998.

When The Ordinary Is Not Enough: The Fooly Cooly Anime Series

Copyright © 2000 by Gainax and Production I.G.

Fooly Cooly–also known as FLCL–is perhaps one of the strangest anime shows ever conceived.  And at six episodes, it’s also one of the shortest.

The Story The Plot What Happens In The Anime

Calling it “fantasy” or “magic realism” doesn’t even come close to capturing the flavor of the series.  The very basic plot is about a young kid named Naota Nandaba, who hangs out with Mamimi, a teenage girl who was his brother’s girlfriend before he left to play baseball in the US.  Their ordinary life is interrupted when a fast-talking girl named Haruko Haruhara shows up on a Vespa and whacks Naota in the head with her super-powered Rickenbacker 4001 bass guitar.  Since then, Naota has to deal with his gossiping classmates, the twisted affections of both Mamimi and Haruko, and the occasional strange bumps on his forehead that unleash giant robots to terrorize the city.

With a plot like that, I ask, how could this story not be cool?

Editing And Elements What You Can Expect To See

It’s a story that moves a mile a minute, assaulting the audience with fast-paced editing, fantastically bizarre imagery, and even the occasional shift in animation.  The English dub is loaded with so many pop culture references that you can’t stop paying attention lest you miss what’s going on.  The fourth wall’s broken repeatedly, and there’s hardly an important scene with some awesome rock music in the background.  And since there are only six episodes, it seems like this show is determined to feature every major anime trope ever made: giant robotsgenki girlscomplex relationshipsgiant eyebrowspanty shotsnosebleeds, and dark-skinned blondes.

The story does delve into some strange phenomenon related to aliens and giant robots, especially once the characters of Commander Amarao and Lieutenant Kitsurubami are introduced.  They realize the connection between Haruko’s powers and the vague menace of the space pirate Atomsk, and try to protect Naota from taking collateral damage.  Even so, Naota still has to deal with school, social pressures, family issues, and trying to figure out what to do with his life.

The Overall Theme What You Might Take Away From The Show

What really shows–in spite of all the crazy robots, alien superpowers, and over-the-top imagery–is that, deep down, FLCL is really a coming-of-age story for young Naota.  He’s just a kid trying to accept the extraordinary colliding with his ordinary world, forced to confront the life he’s been leading and stepping up to each challenge on his path to maturity.  It’s a little ironic in that he’s more of an adult than most of the city’s adults, so his maturation is really about accepting that he’s still a kid and can be grown up later.

Final Verdict How I Feel About This Series

FLCL is just awesome.  It’s the beauty of sheer chaos.  It’s rock-n’-roll passion in cartoon form.  Many have cited its similarity on other popular shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender and Neon Genesis Evangelion (which I’ll probably be reviewing at some later date). It is worth checking out, even if you’ve never gotten into anime before.  Just one word of advice: don’t try to analyze what’s happening as it happens.  Try to relax and ride this strange beast out as far as you can…

Copyright © 2000 by Gainax and Production I.G.

Bibliography: Fooly Cooly.  Directed by Kazuya Tsurumaki.  Produced by Hiroki Sato and Nishizawa Masatomo.  Written by Yoji Enokido.  Gainax, Production I.G.  Funimation Entertainment.  April 26, 2000 – March 16, 2001.