That period between Christmas and New Year’s always leaves me in a sort of limbo, where the future is just about there, but not quite, and the past still needs to be nudged on a bit further until it can finally be called the past. Because of that, there’s never really a whole lot to do, making it an excellent time to simply sit back and reflect. The imminent arrival of a new decade means that we look back a bit further than we normally would. After all, 10 years is a long section of road upon which one travels through life, and provided that you didn’t get carsick for most of the journey, there should be some rich memories that you’ll probably want to look back upon and cherish.
Hence, this series of “decade’s” posts by The Nihon Review Staff. If there’s one commonality that links us, it’s that this past decade saw our interest in the medium surge as we began viewing not only the classics of old, but following the shows currently airing in Japan. And despite the deluge of anime we’ve seen, there are those that have made such a deep impression upon us that we cannot forget them.
So in following the footsteps blazed by gaguri, and wishing to join those who have put their thoughts forward, I present you my list of twenty titles that made an impact upon me in this past decade. TV shows tend to leave a stronger image in my mind, so I opted to focus on those. So with that, here’s my list. Dramatic execution demands that I start from the bottom and build up towards the top to create suspense. I’ve always hated that, and so, I’ll start from the top and work my way down. It’s always seemed more natural that way.
Even now, I cannot watch Monster without having some strong emotional reaction to it because of how beautifully it is executed. Every step of the way, the narration sculpts each character beautifully, bringing out their beliefs which inevitably get tested through Johan’s machinations. The manner in which it depicts its villain creates that sense of terror that is absolutely riveting. There is never a slow moment, which, for a series that goes for as long as Monster does, puts it heads and shoulders above anything else I have ever seen.
2. Gunslinger Girl
While Monster may be my objective favorite, Gunslinger Girl is my subjective favorite. Its tale involving girls who have been turned into obedient cyborgs has an air of tragedy about it. Each episode constantly reminds us that though the girls are ruthless killers, they have a human side to them as well, and it is the manifestation of both the killer and the girly traits that makes this so unsettling. The smooth, crisp action scenes top it off nicely, but the ethical questions it raises are what keep me coming back to this show time and time again.
3. ARIA The Origination
The journey that began with Animation and continued on with Natural finally comes to a stunningly beautiful conclusion in Origination. Anime as a medium has always had difficulty wrapping things up, but Origination bucks the trend by delivering episode after episode that keep on getting better and better. The final moments are executed to near perfection, giving us a sendoff infused with all the wonderful, heartwarming feelings that made this series so special to begin with. I’ll be treasuring Origination‘s moments for a long time to come.
4. Fullmetal Alchemist
It takes awhile to figure out the scope of the series, but once you do, it’s hard to turn away from Full Metal Alchemist. The defining aspect of this show is its ambition, taking the classic Pandora’s Box story and adding political intrigue, a good dose of drama, and a cast of characters with multi-faceted personalities who grow on you as you understand the motivations underlying their actions. Its execution sets a really high bar for shounen anime, and I’ve yet to see any that contain the level of depth that FMA explores.
5. Nodame Cantabile
This series could have just focused on classical music, and I would have been satisfied with it even if it would have bored everyone else. But thankfully, it throws in two excellent leads whose back and forth exchanges succeed at entertaining for those who enjoy their dose of slapstick comedy. The side cast brings with it some interesting personalities with enjoyable quirks to add to it all. At its heart, the story is concerned with rediscovering one’s love for a certain activity and the persistence and tenacity with which the characters go about pursuing their dreams resonate strongly with me.
6. Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo
The Count has this mysterious persona that works in drawing you in. Gazing upon his face, there’s a sense of danger and corruption that is barely concealed underneath his charming mannerisms, and sure enough, once the revenge plot is set in motion, lives are completely shattered, done in by a ruthlessness that is awe-inspiring. The artwork adds to this series, making the series a thing of beauty amidst the chaos that the Count, nee Edmond Dantes, wreaks upon those who had ruined his promising life.
Try as I might, I can never really get a full handle on what makes this series so positively entrancing. Everything about this series is absolutely subdued, from the gray tones to the sagely protagonist Ginko whose dispassionate demeanor is more a mask to hide the pains and sorrows that he has witnessed and experienced. Whether these traits are what draw me in or not, there is no doubt that each episode grabs my attention, taking me along a mystical journey into a world few humans have ever glimpsed at and few others understand.
8. Honey and Clover
I’m not sure whether the feeling of hopelessness that creeps upon you at some point during your college years is a universal one, but it’s one that I can identify with. After all, college is that last sanctuary before stepping out into the intimidating nature of the “real world” and it is in the collegiate environment that we must come to terms with not only ourselves but also those around us. Honey and Clover addresses these themes superbly and as you watch the series, you too will come to identify with their struggle to find work, love, and happiness.
9. Kino’s Journey
Kino’s Journey is one long, surreal travelogue where we experience the little cultural oddities and absurdities that only an outsider could truly pick out and identify based on the range of their experiences. Watching this show makes you realize the limits of cultural relativism and reinforces the need for you to experience other cultures so that you can always stay detached and look at things with a fresh perspective rather than buy into some crazy dogma spewed forth by some demagogue.
10. Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei
Stretch things far enough and sure enough, they’ll snap! That’s the basic lesson that Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei teaches us through Itoshiki Nozomu’s misadventures. Backing him up is a two-dimensional cast that provides all the perspectives you could possibly need to weigh in on the societal issues that this despairing teacher comes across, to hilarious results. Black comedies are a rare sight in the world of anime and I’m just glad that this one saw the light of day since its irreverent treatment of its subject matter is what makes this show’s brand of comedy so enjoyable.
11. The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi
Overrated? Perhaps. But at the time it came out, Haruhi felt like a breath of fresh air. Its crisp art and animation combined with its eclectic cast of characters made us believe that our childhood fantasies were possible, even if it was just for one small moment. Even though the second season has tarnished much of the goodwill that this series has built up, there’s no mistaking its influence has been far-ranging and that the sheer experience of watching this series will stick in your mind, for good or for ill.
This series makes voyeurs of us all as the writer pulls us in ever closer towards the brink of insanity. The essence of many of the “competitions” depicted in this series can best be described as insane! And through it, you bear witness to what might happen when humanity is pushed to the very limits of what it can tolerate. Even though we cheer the moments of heroism, deep inside, we sense an uneasiness similar to what we get from reading Lord of the Flies. It’s enough to shake your trust in humanity.
School comedies and dramas are a dime a dozen, but this one does better than most, perhaps because its focus on the core theme of family is one that we can all identify with. Through Tomoya and Nagisa’s interactions and experiences, we come to realize just how important family is in influencing our decisions and propping us up when we are down. I suspect that deep inside, we have always known this, but Clannad‘s heartwarming, and sometimes heartbreaking moments, such as Akio’s tearful delivery in the last episode, serve as an excellent reminder to us all about what being a family really means.
Baccano! is one of the shows that one doesn’t watch so much as one simply experiences, at first anyway, since the presentation is so chaotic in that the show never settles down, even for an instant. And yet, that is where it derives its primary strength: it’s never boring. The cast is interesting, yes, and there is a story, yes, but this series proves to be the rare instance in which one is better off surrendering to this show’s eccentricities than to try to make sense of its madness.
15. Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou
The first season starts out with its depiction of the life of a loner whose shell is chipped away ever so slowly that we hardly notice it. By the time the second season rolled around, the transformation becomes readily apparent as Natsume makes his peace with his special gift, giving him more confidence in opening up to both humans and spirits alike. Because of this, the atmosphere about the second season is much more cheery that you cannot help but feel hopeful that there is a brighter future in store for him as he selflessly and compassionately comes to the aid of those who need it most.
16. Kanon (2006)
Key‘s penchant for turning up the waterworks is strongest in this title, and that’s a result of its characters, all of whom have some easily identifiable quirk that allows us to grow familiar and fond with at least one of them. The happy, comedic moments are always fun to sit through, but Kanon receives much of its strength in the tragic moments which seemingly occur more frequently towards the end to deliver the emotional impacts that have become the hallmark of Key/Kyoto Animation collaborations.
17. Spice and Wolf
Speaking as a dismal scientist, I can’t help but find a sense of pleasure when listening in on normally unappealing matters like currency debasement schemes, bartering strategy, and supply shocks. But Spice and Wolf manages to rise above the humdrum of economics through its two excellent lead characters who display a great deal of chemistry, entrancing us with their witty dialogue and their budding romance. To think that an economics-oriented show would succeed is laughable, but Spice and Wolf is able to silence its critics through its excellent execution.
18. 5 Centimeters Per Second
Should this movie be regarded as a warning about the dangers of idealism and obsession? The ending is never very clear about this, but even though we are left hanging, we can still marvel at Shinkai Makoto‘s gorgeous artwork and use that along with Tenmon‘s excellent score to allow ourselves to be drawn into this work. Bittersweet, yet beautiful, the story of love across distances might be a tad overdone, but it is one that will always find an audience that can identify with its sentiments.
19. Azumanga Daioh
Kiyohiko Azuma has seemingly cemented his fame in bringing us a charming comedy filled with an eclectic cast of characters, each with their own little quirks that endear them to the audience. The slapstick humor, combined with a healthy dose of wit and a fair share of unforgettable moments is what makes this title stick out as the most successful schoolgirl comedy to date.
In watching the titular character go about his mahjong playing, one can’t help but feel a sense of awe and fear. Awe because his demeanor is practically unreadable, even in the situations where the stoutest heart would recoil in the face of the maddening situations that Akagi puts himself into. And fear because in playing against him, he somehow worms himself into your mind in such a way that you might as well be playing with an open hand. This series isn’t so much a competitive anime as one that showcases a genius’s talents, and that’s where the joy in watching this show lies.
The beat goes ever on, and AC will be the one to take up the reins in the next post with his list.