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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Top 91-100 Anime:

Actually, I'm too impatient to wait any longer. Let's just bump the rankings up to the top 100 now. I can always change the series that get in and those that stay, and their relative positions, later. It's just too much fun talking about good anime to keep these series out in the cold any longer:

91. Gosick.
92. Kanokon
93. Gunbuster
94. Hikaru no Go
95. Spirited Away
96. Grave of the Fireflies
97. Azumanga Daioh
98. High School of the Dead
99. Ninja Scroll
100. To Heart

Typically, there was a fierce competition for #100, with plenty of other series having their own good points to argue for. But these extra ten slots do a great job of including some classics that haven't had a chance to shine yet.

91. Gosick is a mystery series, I think the first mystery series of worth since Higurashi, all the way up at #5. Victorique is sherlock holmes, and Kazuya is watson, as they go about solving various crimes and supernatural phenomena. Victorique is gorgeous in her gothic black and white dress, and her small frame and height make her adorable, alongside her magnificent long blonde hair. She's such a strikingly beautiful girl that the whole series could be sold on that alone. Gosick doesn't just have a pretty sherlock holmes though. It has pretty environments, like mountains and fields, pretty cities, perfect renditions of 1920's life, with all the periodic costumes of the cool hats and coats, and likable main characters. They're fighting as often as they're friends, but somehow it all works out. I wouldn't say there's much of a plot to the series, but it may come in time, the anime isn't over after all. For now, I'm content with the production value that went into the story, artistically and musically.

92. Kanokon is a short series about characters from japanese folklore living a normal school life, complete with a high school romance with our main character Kouta. The series is silly and funny, for the most part, but that isn't why I included it in this list. I love Kanokon because of a pair of side characters, raccoon girls Ren Nanao and Ai Nanao. These girls, through no fault of their own, being just kids, are desperately poor. To earn money, they have to participate in dangerous missions where they put their lives on the line, but they're too incompetent to actually earn enough. The story of how they cope with their situation is really didactic. They prepare stews out of wild grasses and keep warm using discarded newspapers. They don't complain about their poverty, but it's visible in how they live everyday, and how they react to situations so differently from people of well to do circumstances. The best scene in Kanokon is when someone visits their 'home,' (they're basically homeless), not aware of how utterly poor these girls are. They serve him tea, which is customary in Japan when a guest arrives, which he complains is too weak. The girls look at each other in consternation, because they already served him their entire week's tea leaf supply, treating him to tea far stronger than they ever allowed themselves to drink. They looked so sorry that the tea wasn't up to his standards, and they had given so much to this guest that was complaining about how little they gave him, that it just breaks your heart. That scene will just never leave my mind when I think about the poor. It's backed up by statistics, too. The poor are more charitable, in terms of % of their income given to others, than anyone else, including the super-rich, by double! They are the most caring, giving people in the world, even though they have the least they can afford to give. And these people don't complain, they don't curse their misfortune, they just try to live, day by day, their lives of quiet desperation. Meanwhile people who have everything, with nothing wrong in their lives, wail about how unhappy they are, or how much more they deserve, and so on. They wail about taxes being too high while living in a giant house and owning two cars. They wail about out of fashion clothes while these raccoon girls go cold and hungry every day. It's just maddening. These raccoon girls are better people, more valuable people, than all of the whiners and wailers that earn more than them. Their stoicism, kindness, devotion to each other and endurance under pain is all heartrendingly amazing. But no one will help them, even though it would be too easy. They're just too selfish and self-centered to even notice these girls' pain. That's wrong. And Kanokon was a great teachable moment of why this is wrong. This anime deserves mention solely because of them.

93. Gunbuster. I haven't seen the second series of Gunbuster, from what I saw it looked bad, so I'm basing this ranking solely on the first series. The first series was extremely short, but also extremely memorable. An alien menace threatens the world, and the ace of the human star fleet is a ship called gunbuster. Since this one ship is the majority of the human's space navy battle strength, it's extremely important to find the best pilot in the world who will be given the task to control gunbuster, thus maximizing humanity's strength. The story is about that selection process -- who will pilot gunbuster? It always looks like the austere, calm, cool girl with long hair will get the job, but in the end she broke under the pressure -- and it was our young upstart fiery main character, Noriko, who ends up saving the world. The story is short and almost brutally lacking in animation, but all of this somehow serves the story well. The feeling of desperation and the nerve-wracking situation the world is in is well conveyed by the final episode, which is shot in shades of gray instead of color. The story moves you to tears, as short and simple as it is, because of how much sacrifice the pilots must make to win this battle.

94. Hikaru no Go. This is the story of an ordinary boy who happens upon the ghost of Japan's greatest historical go player. The ghost gets him interested in Go, and sometimes the ordinary boy, Hikaru, lets the ghost choose his moves, thus letting the ghost play against contemporary go champions. The series is great so long as it concentrates on Go, and how getting good at anything, joining any club, is far more fun than keeping to yourself. Through Go, Hikaru makes lots of new friends who play together endlessly in the hopes of becoming professionals, and even gains a lady admirer who loves him for working so hard and becoming so good at something. That it's go is unimportant, it's just that he works hard and is good that matters. It's what a girl will admire you for. The same theme can be found in Prince of Tennis and Major, but it's good every time I see it, including Hikaru no Go. Go is arguably a more fun game than tennis or baseball, too. The problem with this series is over half the time is wasted with repetitive worries about whether Hikaru's ghost will be revealed (so what if it were? who cares?), and every other character wondering how Hikaru can occasionally become a master-class go player (by letting his ghost play through him). Since their wondering is never solved, and the ghost is never revealed, it's just absolute boredom every time the issue comes up -- which is every episode. If the ghost hadn't existed at all, I feel the series would have been much better. Nevertheless, it's still a good series that was a joy to watch.

95. Spirited Away is another Miyazaki film. I don't want to clutter the rankings with endless Miyazaki movies, many of which are carbon copies of each other, but I felt Spirited Away finally deserved mention, despite my reservations. Spirited Away is a story about a magical world that punishes sinfulness, like greed and pollution, in a literally disfiguring way. The ordinary Japanese girl who enters this world has to learn how to become a better person, to avoid all the curses ready to strike her down, and in the process gains a work ethic and other traditional virtues. It isn't anything special, but I do like the idea of harsher penalties for sin, the girl really is cool, and the art is top notch, which is to be expected from Miyazaki.

96. Grave of the Fireflies is a movie I've included before. I don't like heroes of suffering, people who are interesting only insofar how much they've endured, and not how much they've done. Grave of the Fireflies is a movie about heroes of suffering, a pair of young Japanese orphans during World War II who watch their country go up in the flames of American carpet bombing, and eventually starve to death and die, since no one can afford to take them in, and they're too weak to fend for themselves. They are the ultimate heroes of suffering. Though I dislike the theme, something should be said for a story that carries out the idea so technically well. Grave of the Fireflies is sad. The entirety of World War II was sad. No one on any side cared about civilian losses. People were so immoral and awful to each other. Seventy years later, it's hard to understand the thinking behind so many evil people, surely the most evil period in world history, on all sides. We've heard plenty about the ravages of the Nazis and Imperial Japan. It would be nice if we saw more about the massacres the allies participated in against their enemies and even themselves as well, to produce more balance in our historical viewpoint. Maybe Grave of the Fireflies can help accomplish that.

97. Azumanga Daioh. This comedy has two things going for it: Chiyo, the short pig-tailed child genius, and Osaka, the vacant-eyed idiot. These two girls are both so funny in their own way, and so funny together, that they carry the entire series. Every time they're on screen, the series is great. Sometimes they make you laugh so hard it hurts. Unfortunately, they're only part of a larger cast, and the humor always falls apart when it concentrates on another girl. A story this funny, even if only at times, deserves mention. The friendship between all the characters, despite their differences, is also heartwarming, and melancholy, in a sense. It's certainly a story full of feelings. The problem is all the dead space you have to wade through to get to the good points. But the good points are really good.

98. High School of the Dead. This story is an interesting dilemma. Where do you rank a story that has some of the best episodes of anime ever for the first three episodes or so, then becomes awful for the next 9, and then abruptly ends without giving any decent conclusion to the story? I decided to rank the series at 98. Like Air in Summer, the beginning of the series is so epic, so amazing, so riveting, that your eyes light up. But then it just goes nowhere, focuses on bouncing breasts, and loses everything that made it so wonderful. The tension of being in over your head and trying to adjust to a new brutal reality, the life or death decisions these characters are making where any mistake means the end of the line, and the caring for each other that ultimately saves all their lives, because they work together and cover each other's misses -- it's amazing. The story's just splendid. What a tragedy that the story couldn't keep up its morality, its tension, its suspense, and its rapid surprise factors, and just had to rely on near-female-nudity to carry the rest of the series. This is the preeminent series when it comes to zombie apocalypses, and deserves credit just for that. But still, I wonder what could have been, if they had taken a different angle after episode three or so, than the one they chose. Hopefully a sequel will try to resolve the situation, instead of just end in the middle. But there's little hope of that so long as the manga is still ongoing.

99. Ninja Scroll is a classic old movie full of blood and sex. Our hero finds himself stuck fighting an army of ninjas to save his lady love, all with their own unique ninja techniques, that his swordplay has to carve a way through. It's senseless and too edgy for my tastes, but I have to admit the creativity that went into the enemy designs, fight scenes, and art are all top notch.

100. To Heart is the original dating series, that all the others learned from. For this alone, it deserves mention. As an inspiration for Clannad and Higurashi, you deserve some credit as a great anime. But even if taken on its own, To Heart is funny and touching. The conflict between the robot who needs the main character, and his childhood friend who deserves his love, is painful to watch as it extends across the entire season (To Heart, Remember my Memories). There's really no good answer. It makes you wish polygamy were possible, and everyone could just live happily together. But the human brain isn't wired that way, jealously would set in, and then what? Plus, what if he ends up favoring one girl over the other? Is it fair for a girl to have only half of someone's love, while they love you with all their heart? It isn't. But it's also not fair to abandon either the robot girl or the childhood friend, not even 'for their own good.' There simply are no good solutions. Humanity may not have a solution for this, which just makes you want to move on to a new species that lacks painful instincts like jealousy and favoritism that could support more varied relationships. To Heart is as good an argument as any for transcendence. Then he could just love everyone who loves him equally.

With these top 100 series, I've included basically 1/3 of all the anime I've watched. Obviously the later entries won't be as elite as the earlier ones in terms of quality, but scoring in the top 1/3 of any competition is still pretty amazing. Of the series I've watched, I don't tend to watch unwatchably bad series. Which means this isn't the top 1/3 of anime series, it's the top 1/3 of anime series worth watching! That's quite a different meaning.

Perhaps drawing a line at, "you must be in the top third of series to be worthy of mention" is a good abstract idea that divides 'great' from just 'decent.' In that case, I can expand the series rankings by ten slots for every thirty new anime series I watch, thus keeping the relative quality pure. For instance, #110 on my rankings will be as good, in relative terms compared to all other anime, as #100 currently is compared to all other anime. In absolute terms, the more anime that enters the competition every year, the harder it is to stay ranked, but that doesn't mean good series shouldn't be ranked. It just means I should expand my list so that I can include all the good series, while keeping their relative eliteness firm. I think this is a proper scientific viewpoint of the issue to be applied in the years ahead.

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