With a relatively unique decade in anime at its close, everyone is bound to place their own superlative on it. And of course, many people will be quick to label it as the worst. Only truly getting into anime mid 2004, it would be highly presumptuous of me to put such a label on it. By all means the obscure works of the ‘90s and ‘80s could be just as dreadful as the garbage of today. The only difference is that today is an era where computer graphics have lead to a saturated market of cheap anime amplified by global trolling from the Internet. But this doesn’t make the good works of the decade any less so. There is nothing to say that new animation techniques and global communication haven’t contributed to a successful decade. After all, the following 20 examples are products of the past 10 years. Granted this does not include masterpieces such as Monster and Gankutuou, both of which I am yet to see. But for all the anime I’ve missed this decade, I feel blessed that I had the opportunity have seen these ones.
20. Casshern SINS
If you go into Casshern SINS expecting a new Tekkaman Blade or Kotetsushin Jeeg, prepare to be disappointed. If you can drop all preconceived notions about what a remake should be, then prepare to be blown away. A deconstruction of its ‘70s progenitor, SINS is nothing sort of an adventure in the surreal, furthering the ambiguity of life and death while continuously redefining what it means to live. It’s an experience very much like viewing The Fall of Icarus. You may not find what you are looking for. But what you gain turns out to be so much greater.
How can one anime be so stock, yet so refreshing? How Kannagi manages to impress despite being all too familiar overall is nothing short of a miracle. The differences between this and any other genre piece are subtle. But while all the elements for a “loser meets divine tsundere” story are present, Kannagi is not around to please the audience, please in the least flattering way that is. Entertainment takes precedence here. And that transcends any genre.
18. Eve no Jikan
Slowly and quietly, iyashikei anime have become a staple of the medium. With enough examples to be a known entity, one can only wonder how long before it becomes utterly passé. But in little over 100 minutes, Eve no Jikan shows why such a fate awaits only in the distant future. As with similar works, this ONA makes use of its own unique animation style and serene atmosphere that blurs the barrier between man and machine. Chobits should be ashamed.
17. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
(Season 1 of course.) Imagine for a moment that there is a god. And what if such a god were as genuinely human and flawed as anyone else? Well that’s the titular character in a nutshell. She’s immature, demanding, and even if powerless, you just can’t say no to her. As both a concept and a character, Haruhi acts as the perfect nexus for one of the most self aware anime ever made, all while never breaking the fourth wall.
16. Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea
There is no getting out of this without at least one Miyazaki Hayao film. It’s certainly one of his simplest works, and probably one his sweetest as a result. It is impossible not to fall apart at Ponyo’s innocence, and I dare you to try not being touched by her quest to become human. Absolutely charming, Ponyo gave the feeling of being in touch with my inner child. There is no shame in it. Everyone needs something to feel warm every once in a while after all, and this is a more than worthy choice.
15. Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu
Based on its premise alone, Full Metal Panic is a brilliant idea story wise. But for comedy purposes, it’s gold. More so than watching him take down terrorists, its Sousuke Sagara’s criminal ineptitude in society that made him such a joy to be around. Much like an American comedy, it is the incompetence on the part of the lead that makes the show so endearing. There is something particularly familiar about Sagara’s antics. And that, in and of itself makes Fumoffu something special in the world of anime comedy.
Why limit yourself to linear storytelling? Why force yourself to a single point of view? Is there anything wrong with being gratuitously gratuitous? The answer to all this? Let loose as paths collide in a sea of blood and booze. Advice like this must have been taken to heart when Brain’s Base had the idea to do something like Baccano!. At a glance, this all seems so unnecessary in the grand scheme of things. If you have a good story, why not tell it conventionally? But like setting off fireworks with fireworks for an audience buried waist deep in fire ants, Baccano! turns excess into an art form.
13. Banner of the Stars
Aside from Spirited Away, this was my first unadulterated anime that spawned from this decade. And looking back on it, it’s even better than I remember. It may not be the most bombastic or profound anime out there, and even less so when it comes to space operas. In fact, it’s very much small scale. But it is on this small scale that even more fascinating drama ensues. This is where romances form, where friendships come together, and where rivalries come into play. These are the moments at the core of Banner of the Stars, and it’s hard not to fall in love with them.
12. Sayounara Zetsubou Sensei
If you watch Sayounara Zetsubou Sensei and find yourself laughing at even half the jokes, chances are you are watching too much anime. Yes, this anime laughs back at you, and everything/everyone else with it. I wish I could be more specific, but there is only so much one can say about meta-humor in any single blurb.
11. Turn A Gundam
Oh boy, a Gundam series. Who didn’t see that one coming? Well then think again. In essence, this series is everything that makes Gundam work, without any of the things Gundam is infamous for. Free from its usual gimmicky bells and whistles, Turn A proves to craft a familiar yet unique setting and atmosphere perfect for Gundam’s one true assertion for peace. And don’t worry, it’s practically giant robot free.
To watch a Takahashi Ryousuke anime featuring ancient cults, surprisingly real robots, and morally ambiguous themes is anything but new. To have one transcend being a political thriller to an actual work of art is more or less unique to Flag in this case. This is a series that epitomizes the power of the camera, how even a single shot can draw innumerable emotions. Hardly a war story as much as one about the importance of media on the road to peace, Flag may be a short moment, but no doubt one that will leave a lasting impact.
9. Fullmetal Alchemist
Compared to most people, I came to this anime relatively jaded. Leaving was just like falling in love with the medium once again. In spite of its shounen roots, Fullmetal Alchemist projects some of the most mature writing in anime, made only more impressive due to its 51-episode count. After all, it is the stigma the Elric brothers share (not the power they possess) that makes them so compelling. Issues dealing with the essence of life and the taboos of science (never the quest for a higher power level) are what brought me back after each credit roll.
Romance is easy. Portraying friendship, now that’s difficult. There are so many traps writers often fall into when portraying the bonds between men. And the one between Brandon Heat and Harry McDowell manages to avoid all of them. Through the language of subtlety, this anime exemplifies such strong devotion in a way that proves to be genuine rather than awkward. The bond between these two proves to be stronger than the Coat of Iron itself, which only makes one not want to believe the first episode even more. I’m not sure if it’s fair to put this one on considering I am yet to finish it. But unless the last six episodes are absolute garbage (and I have serious doubts about that) then there is nothing keeping Gungrave from the number eight spot, especially as friendship is only a single piece of what makes this series come together.
7. Millenium Actress
Ever since the end of the ‘90s surrealism and anime seem to go hand in hand. Anything that’s not moé is (apparently) postmodern. It’s the crux of Kon Satoshi’s career, which only makes it better that he is a master of the art. His ‘90s work Perfect Blue exemplified the melding of reality and fantasy, and Millennium Actress left me awestruck as it took things a thousand steps further. This isn’t just the life of a famous actress, but a tale that knows no genre, a love story that transcends time, and a stream of memories where perception changes reality. This movie doesn’t follow any stream of thought for so long. But after all, the way we see things doesn’t make it any less relevant.
While still on the subject of postmodernism, there is no summing up the decade without mentioning FLCL. Don’t think when watching this anime. Don’t ask questions. Don’t do anything to interfere. The logic it runs on doesn’t get any clearer with careful consideration. Just sit back, enjoy, and let it dissect your brain until you reach a state of enlightenment. It only lasts a few seconds before insanity sets in. But you’ll thank yourself in the long run.
5. Infinite Ryvius
When Taniguchi Goro made his directional debut, he set the bar unbelievably high for himself. While technically it is a very safe anime, Infinite Ryvius managed to go above and beyond all expectations with its outstandingly authentic portrayal of children in dire situations. While not quite as visceral as NTHT, Ryvius takes full advantage of its environment to bring forth emotions of love, hate, pity, and envy, all towards one character, and sometimes in the same episode. Never coming off as exploitative of its cast, Infinite Ryvius attains a certain level of authenticity that Taniguchi himself has never managed to outdo… well, excluding one upstanding example…
4. Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo
This anime is something else. It’s hard to even write about. Time manipulation is a subject of endless possibilities. But what makes The Girl Who Leapt Through Time stand out lies entirely at its core. Its hardly speculative fiction, and no one would probably accuse it of being profound. Then again it doesn’t really need to be. Anyone who has ever had the slightest of regrets will no doubt identify with this story. It is not the selfish overindulgence of her newfound power that one sees from Konno Makoto. She is nothing if not human, and even less if not genuine. At the heart of her journey is something we all must accept. And I guarantee that her realization in the end will leave you shedding tears of joy.
3. Tengen Toppa Gurren-Laggan
You can’t blame anyone for getting passionate at something so silly as Gurren Laggan. How can you blame anyone for being so humbled by something that so perfectly embodies what it means to live? In the purest way possible, Gurren Laggan is an epic. Without shame, it deifies its cast, exaggerates the story, and “kicks reason to the curb” all for the sake of leaving us in awe. Gilgamesh, Odysseus, Simon, all share their place as kings among men.
Much like the Mushi themselves, there is no simple way to describe Mushishi. The only way to truly understand Mushishi is to experience Mushishi, and there in lies its genius. This is an anime that goes beyond merely sight and sound , but acts upon taste, smell, touch, and every other facet of the mind. The world of Mushishi feels so close, yet so unfamiliar. It’s a journey to the heart of nature, perhaps even a religious experience. But however one sees it, it is certainly something I look forward to again in the future.
Who are the most interesting people to be around in anime? Don’t let Haruhi fool you on this one for the answer is not aliens, time travelers, or espers, but rather its garbage men. Even in the most fantastic of situations, this is one group that you can expect to look towards the Earth with the same humble eye while we look towards them, only beginning to fathom the meaning of such a moment. There are innumerable things that make Planetes work, but they all come down to its humanity and its relevance. Director Taniguchi Goro’s most famous work will probably go down as being Code Geass, and for good reason too. But untimely it is Planetes that best defines this decade at its finest.
Make sure to check back tomorrow as Shadowmage brings the Best of the Decade full circle.