vergilius (Level 13)

Recently watched Natsume's Book of Friends and Samurai X: Trust & Betrayal. The latter is unmissable. Working my way through BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad.
followed by
My Top 10 Favorite Anime Series
1. Cowboy Bebop

Part of this is just the nostalgia factor. Part of it is the excellent writing. Most of it is Yoko Kanno and The Seatbelts.

2. Gurren Lagann

In three words, "refuge in audacity." In a genre where hotbloodedness is usually passe, the GAR-ness found here crosses the threshold from campy to endearing. Along the way it examines issues of gender, sexuality, ethical governance, and personal responsibility, through characters who defy the false dichotomies they are presented with and make a new path with their own hands. The dub is serviceable, with the exception that the dub's Kamina is mischarachterized--but the Japanese VAs are superb.

3. Puella Magi Madoka Magica

A staggering achievement in visual storytelling. Doesn't so much subvert the conventions of the magical girl genre as it embraces them in surprising new ways. Deeply moving without feeling emotionally manipulative (I'm looking at you, Elfen Lied). The animation is excellent, especially in the battles against witches that look sort of like South Park did an episode set in a Salvador Dali painting. Just about anything I could tell you about the story would be a spoiler--just watch it! If you need further convincing, JesuOtaku has an excellent, spoiler-free review on her channel. Not sure if this has been dubbed yet; the sub is fine in any case.

4. Death Note

Could be the best ever if the tension of the first half had been maintained throughout. Still a superbly written show that dances on the edge of suspense and melodrama. Wins points for having a villain protagonist, a refreshing move in a medium often defined by its reliance on stock characters in predictable roles. A show that dares us to take a potato chip...and eat it. I watched it subtitled, but Light's English VA does an *awesome* evil laugh which makes it worth watching the series' climactic scene in both English and the original Japanese.

5. Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood

The original TV show was very good, but Brotherhood surpasses it in almost every respect. More than any other show on this list, FMA Brotherhood displays complete mastery of traditional storytelling. There are no gimmicks here, just excellent writing and memorable characters. Most of the comedy here is physical, so the subtitles don't ruin the timing--no real reason to watch the dub.

6. Spice and Wolf

Entrepreneurship, adventure, fantasy, and romance collide in a setting that resembles what medieval Europe would have been like if you replaced European-style paganism/druidism with Shinto, just as Christianity was making substantial inroads. What makes the show work is the awesome chemistry between Craft Lawrence and Holo the Wise Wolf, a harvest goddess who hitchhikes on his merchant wagon. The fact that Craft's cart is always on the move to the next town keeps things fresh. Defies genre categorization. Brina Palencia's performance as Holo makes the dub unmissable.

7. Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion

Paired with Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Code Geass is a complete rebuttal to Evangelion's legacy in the mecha genre. The character development and plotting is moral ambiguity done right, and the show succeeds in managing complex philosophical themes of ethics, the self, and the human condition. Marred by a few boneheaded plot twists that break suspension of disbelief. Watch subtitled unless you simply must hear Johnny Yong Bosch as the melodramatic lead.

8. Higurashi no Naku Koro ni

Imagine every moe blob you've ever seen. Then imagine her trying to kill you with a steak knife. Higurashi's self-contained but connected storylines are excellent examples of how the proper structure can make good storytelling relatively easy. The seasons and OVAs that followed were just as good. Sets a new standard for visual novel adaptaions. Also, terrifying in all the right ways. I watched the sub, which was the basis for my good opinion; I had heard good things about the dub and decided to try it for my second watch-through. It was distractingly bad even after 10+ episodes for the actors to settle into their roles, and I switched back to the subtitles.

9. Monster

Start with the setup of Royal Pains, then combine Quantum Leap and The Fugitive to get a general idea of the plot, and then mix in lots of serial killers. Dr. Kenzo Tenma is serviceable as the main character, but an expertly managed supporting cast--which bears much of the narrative action--makes this a joy. Does an excellent job of being largely episodic while maintaining forward momentum and building tension. Probably a bit too long, but manages to stay creepy and suspenseful. I watched the sub, can't tell you anything about the dub.

10. Revolutionary Girl Utena

A young woman who wants to be a prince gets engulfed in a series of duels while attending an elite private school. The show does a good job of hiding its age and what I think must have been a low budget. A good "monster of the week" show that slowly but deliberately develops its deeper plot and themes; everything comes to a head in the last third of the show. The show masquerades as a high school dramedy, but beneath those trappings the heart of the show is a sort of feminist fairy-tale, driven by the psychology of the very interesting cast. I watched the subs, which were good enough. There Japanese voice cast did a solid job, but nothing unmissable. Haven't seen the dub, so no basis for comment.

vergiliuson Oct. 5, 2010 at 3:32 a.m.

Honorable Mentions (never made the list), in no particular order:

Darker than Black (season 1 only), ToraDora, InuYasha, Lucky Star, Lovely Complex, Mnemosyne, Azumanga Daioh, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Ouran High School Host Club, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Midori no Hibi, Trigun, Princess Tutu, Samurai Champloo, Baccano!, Paranoia Agent, Kino's Journey, Mushi-shi, Sgt. Frog, Natsume's Book of Friends.

vergiliuson Nov. 21, 2010 at 11:17 a.m.

Bumped from the list:

Mobile Fighter G Gundam: This hand of mine is burning red! A classic, and it's aged well. The designs of many of the peripheral robots are racially insensitive, and George's hair annoys me, but these don't detract much from the overall experience. Takes itself just seriously enough, and the central cast is overflowing with personality. Watch the dub--the voice actors knocked it out of the park.

Black Lagoon: Superficially similar to Cowboy Bebop, but aims to entertain with spectacle rather than story. Not that the story is lacking, but let's be honest--this is essentially the best parts of every guns-blazing explosions-everywhere action flick you've ever seen, packed into tight 23-minute doses and wrapped in a neo-noir crime drama. The way the ending theme always creeps into the end of the show is pretty cool. I watched the sub, which is mostly very good except for the occasional times the actors try to pronounce English phonetically.

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