Best Anime: My sensational 7

(NOTE: This post is spoiler-free)

I don’t do “greatest of all-time” lists as such as I never feel like I’ve been exposed to enough quantity of whatever that list is.  Also, I never really feel like an expert–I don’t see myself as a movie critique for example, I see myself as a fan.  As applied to Anime, even though I’ve watched quite a few, don’t read this as a “greatest of all-time” list but rather as recommendations of what the medium has to offer.

As a background I’m not new to this, or someone who thinks anime = pokemon.  On the other hand, I’m not (yet??) an ‘otaku‘  that knows names of japanese voice actors or anything like that.  Also, in sharing this list, I omitted movies and kept it to series only, so classics like Akira will not be on.  Lastly, I try to write my posts on this matter both for people new to it, but also for those that are in deep and have watched a lot more than me.  Anyway, moving on this is how I group animes:

– Bad: Animes in this category I don’t even bother to finish. I just drop them after a few episodes.  Stuff like Last Exile and Neon Evangelion (has got to be the most overrated anime of all-time), etc, I just don’t finish. Animes that are boring and literally consistently put me to sleep also fall into this category.

– Ok-to-good:  Anime’s here I’ll watch and be reasonably entertained.  Most anime, most entertainment for that matter, falls in this category. Stuff here I probably wouldn’t watch again though. This is a large grouping I know, it includes standard stuff that I’ll put on the TV with nothing else to do, but also some very good animes that still didn’t make the cut to the top level such as Ghost In Shell: SAC or Eden of the East that fit into this category.

– Amazing:  Here is stuff that has for me unlimited replayability. The kind of stuff that I would push hard to non-anime watchers.  See something like the aforementioned Eden of the East is good, but I don’t know that I’d promote it to a non-anime fan. However, the anime’s that make this category are just brilliant and I truly feel most people would enjoy them.  For me, 7 series have reached this, presented in no particular order:   Clannad, Darker than Black, Nana, Samurai Champloo, Gungrave, Saint Seiya, and Baccano.  I’ll explain a little more about who these would  this appeal to and why they’re so far the best.  All of these, again listed in no particular order, I could watch over and over and over….

I would not have watched this based on this poster, but don't let it fool you! (image source: myanimelist)

7. Clannad / Clannad: After Story

It’s kind of like:  Beats me, there’s nothing quite like it…..

By the way:  1. I don’t care who you are, You WILL tear up or get damn near close.  2. This is is especially good if you’d like to get your skeptical girlfriend/wife into watching Anime.

I almost skipped this series because first I heard it was a ‘romance’ anime, and second, the poster for clannad (see above) is just way too ‘cute’ for my tastes.   I thought it would be something about high school people skipping around and just being silly.  Boy was I mistaken.  Instead we get a wonderful tale of family, and also of overcoming  and coming to terms with one’s past.  In real life, shit happens. That’s bascially what this anime is about, it’s about “life happening” but also about how you move on beyond that.  Another thing that makes this a masterpiece is the blending of comedy, drama, and romance, with none of the three dominating the other.  The comedy is never over the top, and the romance never feels forced or contrived.

FIFTEEN "main" characters!

6. Baccano

It’s kind of like:  The movie Snatch , Oceans 11/12, Quentin Tarantino films.

By the way:  Watch this one in English, as the accents add so much more to it.

If you’ve seen Snatch, or if you enjoy the ‘randomness’ of films in with plots and characters run into each other such as in Pulp Fiction, then Baccano will resonate with you.  Its set in the prohbition eras, in the 1930s US.  Different gangs run into each other, and also there’s some characters that get into the mix as well. Russians, Italians, Irish, and the French, they’re all there.  Different types of ‘bad guys’ too from the cunning powerful villains pulling the strings, to hilarious common thiefs, and last but not least a sadistic, yet ridiculously entertaining villain that just has to be experienced to be believed.

5. Nana

It’s kind of like:  MTV, American Pie, Neil Strauss’s The Game, emo, angst, relationships, dating, sex.

By the way:  1. Another good one for girls, but where as Clannad is more “wholesome”, this one is more “adult”.   2. 47! episodes, and apparently the story is still ongoing in Manga form, so a second season is very likely.

You see that Nana poster? Heh.  This is on the list as after finishing Clannad I wanted something similar and this was what I picked from Netflix, so I run into it completely by accident.  This makes the list because I have never come across more realistic characters anywhere.  Like how the characters in here act are how people IN REAL LIFE act, you could be any of these people, and very likely know someone exactly like this people.  The main characters are namesakes–the two Nana’s. Both from the country, they meet on a train heading to Tokyo pursuing their dreams.  Nana 1 appears ditzy and she, well, “likes guys a lot”, let’s put it that way. She’s going to Tokyo to move in with her boyfriend, and also to hang out with her two college friends that are now a couple and have moved to Tokyo.  Nana 2 appears all grungy and rebellious, is going to Tokyo to pursue a music career as a rock star.  The two become best of friends almost right away.  The types of characters here are players, groupies, celebrities, etc. I also like how nuanced the characters are, they’re not as stereotypical as you’d imagine–note that I used italics when describing the Nana’s above. This is a great series about the complexity of relationships and physical attraction, dealing with themes such as–What is the difference between a guy and a girl that sleeps around a lot? Who says you have to be in love to have sex? etc.

4. Samurai Champloo

It’s kind of like:  Wu-Tang Clan, underground hip-hop, nu-Asian martial arts flicks (think Crouching Tiger: Hidden Dragon).

By the way:  1. Another one to watch in English, because sometimes the narration and characters ‘freestyle’.   2. Find an episode-by-episode, scene-by-scene guide of the music here:

In my opinion this has accomplished for Animation what the Wu-Tang Clan did in the 1990s–blending elements of oriental culture and fusing it with hip-hop.  Samurai Champloo is light-hearted, that has a lot of anectodes about actual real Japanese history.  The soundtrack is purely hip-hop, and it’s brilliantly done.  In fact, all four elements of hip-hop–beats, scratching, breaking and graffiti feature in Samurai Champloo. And all this is done without it coming off as contrived.  This is not exactly an expansive anime with a grand storyline, and it is not necessarily insightful, but damn, is it pure fun.  Watch this! The soundtrack alone makes it worth it, so have good headphones or adjust your surround system accordingly when you watch this.

Gungrave, one of the greatest mob stories ever--and this is not hyperbole.

3. Gungrave 

It’s kind of like: The Godfather, Gangster flicks, mob flicks, Sopranos.

By the way: If you decide to watch it, at least watch to the third episode.  Whatever you do, do not make your decision based off of the first episode, which is completely different in mood, setting, and style from the episodes that follow it.

This is basically a mob story. From the atmospherics, the music, the mentor ‘godfather’ figure, mobs, themes of “protecting the family”, hit-jobs, etc. And it’s a damned good mob story at that.  One of the better anime endings too.  One unusual thing about this one is that the source material is not a manga, but a videogame which is unusual for the genre.

2. Saint Seiya  

Kind of like: Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger and old school RPGs, Thundercats, Zelda, Lord of the Rings.

By the way:  Just watch ‘Lost Canvas’ if you have no background to this, and if you don’t have the time to get into the original 80s series, and the follow-ups of the mid-2000s.

For this one nostalgia plays a heavy role in its inclusion. I grew up in the 80s watching some anime and I thought this was the most bad-ass of them all.   It’s heavily steeped in Greek, roman, and Asgard mythology. If you take the entire volumes, from the beginning to  the end–that’s about 200+ episodes, and that’s excluding the recent Lost Canvas which is a prequel of sorts.  My advice is to just watch Lost Canvas, and skim the rest on Wikipedia, then only watch if you like what you see.   Me? I don’t like “old” anime other than what I grew up with, so I probably wouldn’t watch the old stuff if I saw it now.  Another thing is compared is the character development in the original series is not that great, but the fighting and mythology is where it’s at.  Basically, if you think of video games I’d say it is like a role-playing game in which you spend a lot of time fighting and levelling up, it might get tedious for some.  For that reason,  I say stick to Lost Canvas, a prequel which was released over 2010-11 as it’s modernized, and has a story that can stand-alone, and it has better character development (of the side characters).

1. Darker than Black

Kind of like: Batman, The Crow, Heroes (on NBC).

By the way:  There are three series. Watch in this order–original series, Gemini, THEN Gaiden. In other words, watch it in the order it was released, not in the chronological order of the events. It’ll be more enjoyable seeing Gemini without knowing how things got to be that way. Note that Gemini and Gaiden are not available in English yet, so Japanese with subtitles will have to do.

Action~! Lots of action in this anime.  This is a fun anime with great character development.  Also has an interesting twist on the use of superpowers with the idea of ‘remuneration’.  Hei, the main protagonist, is a very ‘cool’ character, basically I’d liken him to being the Batman of anime.  Another thing I like is how all three series are different, the original series, Gemini (the second season) is much darker, and in between there is Gaiden, which recounts the events immediately after the original series.  While Hei reminds me of Batman, the overall series is similar to something like Heroes of NBC, with faceless corporations overseeing/regulating Super heroes, so there’s political undertones to this as well.

Your thoughts? Is there anything I should watch based on what I like here? There is some good stuff that I have seen that missed the cut.  I’d say Ghost in Shell’s, Eden of East, Death Note and Angel Beats are the most notable, but I wouldn’t put them at elite level.  I’ve heard great things about some anime like Stein’s Gate, and Cowboy Bepop, neither of which I’ve watched yet.  Again want to reiterate that I’m not saying these are definitely the best animes, just that some combination of these anime’s are what I’d recommend to people already not into anime, and also they’re the series which for me have unlimited replay value.