My top 80 anime stories should resume shortly, but for now I can concentrate on the new series that came out this spring. The spring 2011 anime season has been wonderful, exceeding my expectations, and it's only just begun.
Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai, or "Ano Hana", is the best series of the spring season. The depth and subtlety of the characters is sublime. You find yourself instantly liking everyone, even though there are deep divisions and conflicts between all six characters. This is because you can tell that these people are earnest and caring individuals, despite their surface differences. It all feels so real. Life is full of paradoxes like this, people who can't be honest with themselves or others. Ano Hana is true to life, but also better than life, because the people in this story are so fundamentally good that you know they'll eventually overcome their differences. It's a hopeful story because of that.
The story is about six childhood friends who broke up because one of them died, and the bitter memory of that was so painful that none of the remainder wanted to be around each other anymore. Now, many years later, the dead girl returns as a ghost, with a quest to bring all of her friends back together, and to stop suffering on her account any longer. The story is so beautiful. This will definitely rank highly in my all time anime list. I just don't know where, having only watched the first two episodes.
This anime is accompanied by a few other hopefuls to break into the top 80: Hanasaku Iroha, a story about a city girl moving to the country to live with her grandmother and having to adjust to a new life surrounded by new people and new work. The story has everything, drama, humor, romance, and most importantly, likable characters getting along. Iroha also happens to be the most beautifully drawn anime, perhaps, of all time. It's a delight just to watch the series, nevermind what is going on, because the production values are so high. Watching Ohana run down the stairs is enough to take your breath away, much like watching the Death Star explode, simply because it's drawn so well it may as well be a million dollar special effects bonanza. P.A. Works has always drawn things well, like with Angel Beats and True Tears, but this time they really outdid themselves.
Hoshizora e Kakaru Hashi, a story about a guy moving from the city to the country for the sake of his little brother's health, whereupon he meets oodles of cute girls who all enjoy his company. Yes, yes, unrealistic, but not too unrealistic, really. Some guys are more attractive to girls than others, and can surround themselves with pretty girls at will. Since anime is too innocent to turn this into a sexual bonanza (except in School Days, which showed just how bad such a lifestyle was), 'harem' anime series are just really good ways to explore multiple romantic relationships with the same main character and setting. Other good harem shows include Clannad, Kanon, Air, Amagami SS, Akaneiro ni Somaru Saka, The World God Only Knows, Ranma 1/2, Negima!, Sora no Otoshimono, Bakemonogatari, and Saber Marionette. The ability to form quasi-romantic bonds with tons of different girls, and letting the watcher decide which girl he likes most and enjoy all the various bonds vicariously, is not at all a bad model. So long as they don't go too far, promise too much, and thus hurt the girls who don't end up with the protagonist, there's no harm in it, and there's a lot of good fun by getting to interact differently with distinctly different types of girls.
Hoshizora isn't unique in its appeal, but it has great art and great humor to go alongside its serving of romance. Basically, there's nothing Wrong with the series, it hits on all cylinders, which is why it should easily reach the top 80.
Deadman Wonderland is a story about a mysterious mass murder incident that puts our main character into jail for the crime, the sole surviving middle schooler of the crime. There he is to participate in gladiatorial macabre events until he dies, (he has the death penalty so the jail is just finding a way to profit from it by combining punishment with entertainment, Roman style). The boy has had to grow up extremely fast in the first two episodes to stay alive, and there's still a lot more to come, but a mysterious girl is protecting him, and her attitude is so refreshingly sweet that he finds it hard to get depressed around her either. This story has been so good just out of the gate, I just hope it somehow keeps up this momentum. Multiple times an episode someone will make an amazing speech that applies to more than just the story's own circumstances, that is just a good lesson for life. The art is effective at transmitting this gory, surreal world, but this is really a plot driven story. It's up to the writer to keep this plot at this pitch of intensity throughout. If it does it should be in the top 80.
Good series that won't rank highly: There are plenty of series that don't reach prestigious rankings but are still worth watching, like Durarara. This season has a lot of those. Who knows, if I expand my rankings enough, maybe they'll get in.
Dog Days, Ao no Exorcist, Oretachi ni Tsubasa wa Nai, Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoku, Hidan no Aria, Sengoku Otome, Stein's Gate, C: The Money of Soul and Possibility Control, and Nichijou.
Most of these series are lacking something vital that keeps them from being good. For many, its likable characters. If your main characters are too annoying, the series can't be salvaged. Aria from Hidan no Aria is just too annoying to handle. The girl from Denpa Onna is the same, just too annoying to handle. Another danger is series with bad pacing -- not enough happens, or too much happens outside of the character's control -- either situation ruins the series. Nichijou is funny, but it can also be slow and unfunny for large periods of each episode. A lot like Azumanga Daioh. Dog Days can have too much posing and moe/ecchi elements and not enough genuine story to keep people interested. But there's enough to like about the series to give them a chance.
Continuing series this spring include The World God Only Knows, Gosick, Fairy Tail, Bleach, Naruto, Pretty Cure, and One Piece.
That's twenty anime series to watch this spring. What a splendid productivity Japan has. I couldn't name twenty American TV shows worth watching in American history.
All of these extra good series from the spring of 2011 will force me to expand my rankings from top 80 to top 90. I'll rate these series better once I've seen them in full, but for now let's just add some new series into the ratings without disturbing the old top 80:
81. Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai
82. Hanasaku Iroha
83. Hoshizora e Kakaru Hashi
84. Deadman Wonderland
85. Shakugan no Shana
86. Macross Frontier
87. Scrapped Princess
88. Lucky Star
89. Hunter x Hunter
90. Shamanic Princess
Even by expanding my rankings to 90, many good series and movies are being left out. It's sad. I can't expand my rankings fast enough, it seems, but I do want every show listed to merit watching in full. The fated top 100 will have to wait for another day.
So who are these newcomers that aren't from the spring 2011 season? Shakugan no Shana is a well known series involving magic warfare with enemies from the spirit realm in modern day japan, hidden away from all civilians. It's also a romance story between Yuji and Shana. But it's also a story about Shana transitioning from a life that knew only battle to one that knows the joys of human life too, like friends, family, romance, food, school, vacations. Seeing her unfold into a happier person is so nice, just as its nice watching Yuji learn the courage and strength Shana has always had. They make such a great team together, teaching each other what the other person lacked. Shana has great art and music, good characters and a good plot. Its problem has always been pacing. Not enough happens over too much time. Many events are repetitive. With Shana's third season coming this fall, hopefully a lot of the loose ends will be tied up, but then again the light novel series the anime is based upon is still ongoing, so. . . I guess we can expect nothing of significance to happen this season either.
Macross Frontier is one of the best selling anime releases of all time. Like Bakemonogatari, my opinion of the series isn't in line with its popularity, but I am willing to take it into account. Even so, a series must have something good if I'm going to include it in my list, something I appreciate about it personally. That something is Macross Frontier's music. The music from Macross Frontier is amazing, it's one of the best soundtracks ever, made by one of the greatest composers ever, Yoko Kanno. This is fitting since the anime is mostly about music, the other half being mecha action sequences. Unfortunately, the mecha action is just that, mindless explosions and action without any sense of strategy or understanding of what is going on. All I see is missiles and beams flying everywhere, this isn't the way to portray action scenes. If Macross Frontier wants to make a compelling fight, it should watch and learn from One Piece, Naruto, Cowboy Bebop or Katanagatari. There is a plot to Macross Frontier, but it is so complicated and over my head that I never bothered to try and figure it out. The best way to watch Macross Frontier is just as one giant music video. The rest is dross.
Scrapped Princess poses an interesting philosophical question. If a reliable prophecy says a girl is going to destroy the world, should she be killed ahead of time, before she does anything wrong? Or should we believe our own eyes and judge things according to our own morality, and to hell with prophecy? The people who love the 'Scrapped Princess,' the girl doomed to destroy the world, side with her, and fight to protect her against all comers. Those who don't just see her as a menace and fight to kill her before she 'goes off.' The Scrapped Princess herself has to choose whether to commit suicide, just to end the conflict, or go on living, even though this imperils the people fighting to protect her and the people fighting to kill her. But again, it's a philosophical choice, am I responsible for what other people choose to do about me, or is that their own problem? Since she isn't making anyone fight over her, and just wants to live an ordinary life, how can the blood of all these battles be on her hands? It's just not fair to her. This story will make you cry, and it will make you think, and the heroic brother and sister who protect the Scrapped Princess really are so memorably admirable.
It also has some slick sci fi action elements that add another layer of complexity to the whole situation, and is gorgeous to watch. The problem to this series is the same as all series at this ranking, pacing. Too many episodes are wasted on side issues, or are just totally irrelevant to the plot. Too many characters have no purpose for existing and could have just been cut entirely. The jewel of the series is one of the best stories ever, but you have to wade through a stable of dung to reach it. Only those who are prepared to brave the boring segments should set forth upon the journey that is Scrapped Princess.
Lucky Star is another well known popular series, that I finally was willing to include. Lucky Star is funny and cute, no doubt, but it is also slow and repetitive. It takes a special mindset to be willing to sit through it all. Arguably, Azumanga Daioh or Nichijou could be here in Lucky Star's place -- but popularity is the deciding factor. The fact that Lucky Star is so popular in Japan that there are annual tourist visits to the Lucky Star shrine on New Year's Day is enough to prove, however slightly, that Lucky Star is the better comedy. What is there to say about 4 high school girls getting together every day during school and talking about nothing? It's hopeless to describe Lucky Star, because there's no plot and no important decisions made throughout. You just have to sit back and enjoy the fun.
Hunter x Hunter is the infamous vaporware shonen manga by Yoshihiro Togashi. This manga artist is extremely good, before he did Hunter x Hunter, he wrote another extremely popular shonen action series, Yuyu Hakusho. It's just that, for whatever reason, he is a fickle writer who has only written a few more chapters of his manga in the last few years. The worst part about it is the series is at the climactic conclusion of an entire arc, a conclusion we'll probably never learn. But even ignoring the whole ant arc, there are tons of unsolved questions in Hunter x Hunter: the enemy group known as the Spiders, how Killua's relationship with his little sister will work out, now that she's in the Spiders, whether Gon will ever meet his dad like his original dream set forth, and so on. The series suffers from not being complete in the least, it leaves more questions than answers. The anime suffers from the same problem, except it doesn't even include the Ant Arc in the manga. The lack of a proper conclusion isn't the only problem for Hunter x Hunter's anime -- it also has terrible art and forgettable music. The production value is just zero. Nevertheless, I felt it was time to include the series because it's 92 episodes, almost none of which are filler, of an extremely good manga series (when the manga is being written).
Hunter x Hunter has a very detailed, understandable, and intuitive magic system, which leads to wonderful fights that make sense, have a lot of strategy, and are a joy to watch and understand as they progress. Before magic is even explored, Gon learns a lot about fighting, like the classic scene where gon learns to catch fish at precisely the times they jump up to eat flies, and tranfers that knowledge to striking opponents at precisely the moment their attention is focused on striking someone else and lower their defenses. There are other really memorable scenes from Hunter x Hunter, like when they are trying to raise a massive amount of funds to complete a quest to buy a rare video game. Gon tries to work for the money, but makes a paltry sum. Killua, the assassin, tries to gamble a bunch of double or nothings with his money, but just loses all he had. The two then get into a hilarious argument over who was being more productive when they meet later that day. Kurapicka's quest for vengeance against the Spiders is riveting, as are his anti-spider magic techniques. There's just a lot to love about this series.
If Hunter x Hunter wanted to be good, it wouldn't take much. They'd just have to redraw everything, hire decent composers, and demand the author of the manga finish his series to a satisfying conclusion. Then they could animate the rest of the story instead of stopping in the middle, like the current anime does. But this is a dream within a dream. A series that had so much potential is therefore doomed to remain in obscurity.
I include Shamanic Princess, yet again (it's been in the rankings before), because of its lovely art, music, and fighting scenes. The plot is too complicated to understand and the story is too short to really have a plot, anyway. But by God the production value. This series was made in the 90's, but it looks brand new, its production quality is so high. Everything about the series is gorgeous.
In due time I'll expand my rankings to 100. I'll also figure out just exactly where the new spring anime series belong in my rankings, instead of shoving them all into this 81-90 bracket. But I need to watch more of these series before I can offer any definitive opinions on the matter. Suffice to say, the state of anime quality is strong in the year 2011. It's just traveling from height to height.