A Reflection on a Decade

Near the beginning of this decade, I looked at the anime medium as a source of fresh ideas full of creativity and passion, completely unlike the everyday drivel that filled the American airwaves. For the first few years when I feasted on the cream of the crop my belief was seemingly reaffirmed. As my internet connection got faster so did my consumption. Soon, I wasn’t restricted to a small handful of titles filtered by popular demand; I could watch virtually any anime Japan had to offer days after its release… And I did.

I’ve long wondered why anime has had a rather weak reception even in Japan, but after sitting through hundreds of hours of crushing mediocrity, I began to understand. Good anime are like gems found in a mountain of rocks, and by watching primarily above par anime for so long skewed my expectations to unreasonable heights. Because of this realization, I cannot earnestly argue my gut feeling that the medium has gone downhill since the advent of moe…

As a matter of fact when I sit down and list all the shows I’ve enjoyed from end to end, I realize that 2000 to 2009 is the greatest decade of anime.

My Top 20 Television Shows
1. Now and Then, Here and There
2. Haibane Renmei
3. Honey and Clover (I and II)
4. Planetes
5. Infinite Ryvius
6. Gankutsuou
7. Fullmetal Alchemist
8. Monster
9. NANA
10. Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann
11. Gungrave
12. Fantastic Children
13. Baccano!
14. Mushi-Shi
15. Toward the Terra
16. Mononoke
17. Dennou Coil
18. Kaiji
19. Hikaru no Go
20. Fruits Basket

In the past, I’ve liked ambitious, intricate and morally confrontational storylines far more than I enjoyed the characters, the pacing or the atmosphere of an anime. Now and Then, Here and There, Infinite Rvyius, Gungrave and Fantastic Children more than provided in this aspect giving some of the most compelling stories I’ve seen. However, as time passed, I realized that most anime fell into something of a pattern with its stories, so I learned to appreciate the other, finer aspects of a series.

Planetes and Honey and Clover were two of many character driven shows that earned a special place in my heart simply because they had characters that felt like old friends who I can cheer for and and cry for. Monster and Mushi-Shi had such wonderful atmosphere that their rock solid narratives seemed almost like a surprise bonus. I had never been a fan of artsy anime since the only thing that made them exceptional was their visual gimmick, but I began to embrace even those kinds of anime.

Then came the spectacle anime like Baccano! and Code Geass which were shows that were not exceptional in any one sense but were a blast to watch nonetheless. There were also quite a few recreations like Toward the Terra and re-imaginations like Gurren Lagann. Though the latter told a story that had been rehashed a thousand times before, the infusion of incredible visuals made possible by current technology combined with sweeping music made for an incredible experience.

When I look back, I realize that I’ve enjoyed more television anime from this decade than all the television shows, OVAs and movies from the 70s, 80s, and 90s combined. Undoubtedly, two huge benefits are increased access to anime provided by the internet and an overall increase in the quantity of anime made, but something has to be said about the rather large quantity of good titles.

My Top 20 OVAs and Movies
1. FLCL
2. Voices of a Distant Star
3. Le Portrait de Petite Cossette
4. 5 Centimeters per Second
5. Millennium Actress
6. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
7. Cowboy Bebop: Knocking on Heaven’s Door
8. Tokyo Godfathers
9. Mind Game
10. Final Fantasy VII: Advent’s Children
11. Kara no Kyoukai
12. Evangelion 2.0
13. Read or Die
14. Tekkon Kinkreet
15. Spirited Away
16. Evangelion 1.0
17. The Place Promised in Our Early Days
18. Detroit Metal City
19. Gunbuster 2
20. Howl’s Moving Castle

Note: Last decade’s OVAs are now today’s television shows, and today’s OVAs are limited release movies. There are exceptions, but this is my logic behind combining movies and OVAs.

For me, this decade was defined in large part by Kon Satoshi, Shinkai Makoto and Anno Hideaki. Among them are eight of my favorite anime from the quirky yet beautiful Millennium Actress, the unexpected and heartfelt Voices of a Distant Star and the high budget reboot of Evangelion. Though it pains me not to have a Shinbo title in my top 20 television list, he certainly deserves a place here with Le Portrait de Petite Cossette. Another director worthy of mention is Hosoda Mamoru with The Girl who Leapt Through Time; back in the day, I recall seeing the American release of the Digimon Movie and thinking that the visual style was crap, but I’m thinking anything but that now.

If you are wondering why Final Fantasy VII: Advent’s Children is even on the list it’s because the OVA is visually one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen. Sure, action movies are a dime a dozen, but so long as the spectacle impresses me I’m not afraid to argue that the reason the genre has been so thoroughly tapped is because it has popular interest. To put my pretentious cap on, the primary reason achievements in unusual displays of reality like that of Mind Game are placed several pedestals higher than achievements in visual displays of action is because of rarity created by the lack of demand for the former; inundate the market with anime that uses strangeness as its hook and limit the number of action titles, and we’ll have the same argument in reverse (and speaking of Mind Game, what a beautifully neurotic piece that was).

Miyazaki Hayao gets the bottom portion of my list because his works while beautiful were not quite extraordinary. I’ve never been a huge fan of his works, but some of his movies are the among the best I’ve ever seen – live action, animation or otherwise. It’s a shame that Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle do not quite live up to these expectations.

In Conclusion
Some say anime is doomed due to lack of creativity and an increased gravitation towards derisive subculture tastes, but as the last decade has shown, there is still good titles to be found underneath all the junk. Innovation has always been slow for any medium, and now that most anime fans have burned through the best of past, they must learn a degree of patience they have not had to endure. Maybe now is a good time to look at what books, black and white films, and for those who aren’t already on the boat, modern live action cinema has to offer.

9 Responses to “A Reflection on a Decade”

  1. Did I see Gankutsuou in your list? Very good then. Best list I’ve seen so far.

  2. It’s interesting to read a split list like this.

    I think you’re onto something with the conclusion. Expectations play a big part in the anime experience (I think I’ve talked about that previously), and I kinda think that the key to not getting burn out is to continually keep those expectations to a minimum, so you’re surprised more often than you’re disappointed. But I don’t completely agree with all the implications of your conclusion, since there’s no such thing as a bad time to look into the classics and/or important titles in other media. I think it’s just sensible to regularly dabble in other media. In fact, watching nothing but anime all the time is probably an even quicker way to get burn out (unless you’re a freak).

  3. @Kairu

    Thanks!

    @Sorrow-kun

    My statement was targeted towards those who have a heavy anime bias in their media consumption as I was a while back. I must admit that access also plays a part in this since it’s easier to pirate anime than any other media except perhaps books due to high interest among people who are willing to upload content and low (no) legal enforcement. There is also the fact that there is an active community discussing anime – from old to new – because the medium is still fairly new on this side of the pond. There may be collective interest in classic movies, books, etc. but this interest is not concentrated enough (or the individuals not interested enough) to form a self-reinforcing community that constantly promotes its great works and also entertains/addicts the viewer enough to return (Note: I’m not saying that these communities do not exist).

    In my case, my transition from high school to college gave me an opportunity to beef up my physical collection of live action movies now that I’ve pretty much already tapped the outer limits of anime.

  4. I think because we are as much a product of the times as the anime was, there’s a natural favoritism to stuff this decade.

    But there’s also the industry reacting to the worldwide boom in popularity, and on the tails of the ground breaking titles in the late 90s (Eva, Utena, Bebop), experimentation and globalization became the theme of the early 00s. I loved it, of course, but what are we going to see when the global economy is down, foreign markets are shrinking, and anime curls up in its shell again? Food for thought.

  5. Nice lists, but I’ll be honest by saying that seeing Advent Children up there is quite unexpected. I never liked it, but I would commend the visual spectacle it undeniably is. I also find it quite refreshing that you split the lists up because your experiences with the two formats (TV series and OVA/movies) have been different, and therefore you can consider your thoughts separately.

    When I look at your TV series list, I don’t know if it’s true or not, I feel that it’s very objective. Perhaps the issue of listing your favourites according to subjectivity versus objectivity isn’t a significant issue to you, but I’m just saying this.

    When viewers see something they like, naturally they want more of it (in fact, according to Akira that’s what feeding the anime industry with the moe revolution albeit he feels that it’s changing). I know I do, and maybe that’s why I tend to feel more disappointed than surprised. I’m glad I’ve yet to experience any serious burn-outs.

  6. @kadian1364

    From what I’ve heard, the Western anime market blew up around 2007/2008, yet the industry still managed to pull out stuff like Kaiba, Casshern SINS, Kure-nai and Eden of the East in the time since. I admit that the reduced amount of money within the anime market may prevent the next Gankutsuou from being made, but I think the combination of the Japanese market and the severely weakened foreign market will still be able to bring out great titles.

    @AC

    Unlike OVAs and movies, I very rarely rewatch television shows since it takes a significant amount of time to do so. This is part of why shows with heavy hitting ideas and themes tend to float up on the list. Take Gungrave for instance. I haven’t rewatched this series since 2005, but I still have vivid recollections of some of the exchanges between Brandon and Harry.

  7. FFXII over kara no kyoukai? WHAT O:

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