September 30, 2022

Early Access Beta v0.7.03

“It’s just no good. No good at all!”

Intro

This is mostly just a thought experiment. An attempt to rank, without getting lost in the minutia of individual standings. The idea is to create a list that someone else could understand and evaluate. If I simply listed my favorites, I think that would be too personal to make sense to someone else. That kind of list can still be useful, but my thought was that this might work better. This is still a list of what I think and feel about shows, but ranked based on actual arguments I can make about them.

This is a tier list of every Anime (Shows only, not movies) I’ve seen that I have a strong positive feeling for; and that I feel comfortable ranking. The rankings go from the good to the best.

The reason for the Early Access title, is that I plan on updating the list when I see fit.

If a show isn’t on the list it is because I…

  • A) Don’t like it.
  • B) Never watched it.
  • C) Forgot I watched it.
  • D) Have no feelings for it at all.
  • E) Didn’t want to
  • F) Plan on doing a write up on it later,

Or it’s one of the shows I will mention here:

Death Note

I love the manga, and that story would rank very high on the list (probably Tier 2 or 3). But I don’t like the anime. It over dramatizes a lot, and screws up the pacing. Basically I got to the second opening and stopped watching. Which is saying something because the manga was a strong contender for my favorite comic at the time. The second opening is one of the worst things. First opening is good though.

Bakuman

Another Manga from the creators of Death Note. This one is about making manga, so I think it works much better as a comic. Watched the first season of the anime and liked it. Just not sure what to do with it as an anime in regards to the list. Again, one of my favorite comics, but I never finished the anime.

Sailor Moon

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3mJQjzIBoQ

Haven’t watched that much of it honestly. But I have been listening to a weekly podcast that spends about an hour each week breaking down one episode at a time. So I’m pretty invested in finding the time to watch the whole thing at some point.

Here’s a link to that podcast.

I did a write up Sailor Moon R: The Movie

Yurikuma Arashi

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJlfD4JwoEs

Placing this on the list will be the first patch probably. Kunihiko Ikuhara’s latest work. You should get an impression about what I think of his work from reading the list. Spoiler: It’s gonna rank high.

Yurikuma Arashi Patch 0.7.1

Monster

Another anime adapted from one of my favorite comics. This one comes from Naoki Urasawa, who is my favorite mangaka. Just haven’t gotten around to watching this. Looks to be a straight panel-to-screen adaptation. The manga has just started to come back in print, so I highly recommend giving that a look.

I reserve the right to change my rankings at any time for any reason.


Tier 10: I love you but you’re terrible

Dragonball Z

The prototypical Shonen anime. Taps directly into the power fantasy mindset of boys. If you haven’t at least heard of DBZ… I’m surprised.

Why it’s on the list

People usually bring up all the badass moments from this show, but that’s not what gets it on the list for me necessarily. Behind all that is some great character stuff. When the show drops its angry pose, it can be really funny. I love the episode where Goku and Piccolo get driver’s licenses. Hail Satan.

Why it’s not higher

The show spends too much time being self serious for me. But more than anything, the show spends too much time with NOTHING HAPPENING! Few shows drag the way DBZ drags. There’s a joke that all you really need to watch are the previous episode recap and the next episode preview with DBZ, but even that is generous at times. Still, when it can keep its head out of its own ass and if you can tolerate the generally slow pace, there’s a lot to love here. It’s just not delivered very well on the whole.

Yu-Gi-Oh

Shonen tropes applied to a trading card game. Has a lot of the same strengths and weaknesses as DBZ. But once they actually built the card game and had to give the battles rules to follow (In the second major act) it becomes more interesting to actually watch a card game play out.

Why it’s on the List

Character interaction and stupid funny moments are what make this worth watching. That the card games eventually gain structure and aren’t just total nonsense is a big plus for me.

Why it’s not higher

Gets stuck up its own butt. Too self-serious near the end of most of its plot lines, especially the final arc. Also, spending 4-5 episodes per card game gets ridiculous. The show’s heartfelt message literally gets revealed as bullshit magical cheating at the end. Which is hilarious, and yet…

Kare kano

Directed by Hideaki Anno on the heels of Neon Genesis Evangelion. And like Evangelion the show became mired in behind the scenes issues. This is a teen romance story, and one Anno was using a bunch of minimalistic techniques to tell, so when it falls apart, it basically ceases to exist. Although there is a later episode where they give up on animating and just show hand drawn cutouts tapped to Popsicle sticks, which is amazing.

Why it’s on the list

These are believable teenagers, which also makes them kind of terrible. Although you still root for them. Not only for their romance to work but for them to grow up. They make each other better as they learn to feel empathy for another person. Also, again, the popsicle stick figure puppet episode is amazing.

Why it’s not higher

About halfway through Anno jumped shit, apparently spurred by complaints from the original mangaka that the show was emphasizing too much humor and not enough romance. Which is crazy to me because without that humor, which shows an understanding of how shitty these kids can be, the show would be completely insufferable. Which it still kind of is to me honestly.

The Vision of Escaflowne

One of the most frustrating shows on this list. There are a bunch of great elements here, but I hate so many other elements. Ultimately that’s what defines this tier: Shows that I really like parts of, that really stick with me, coupled with large chunks that I completely hate.

Why it’s on the list

A great hero who pilots a great mech than transforms into a dragon. A cool intimidating villain and another bat shit crazy villain. Blends Shonen and Shoujo tropes in an interesting way. Planted the Japanese phrase for altering fate completely in my brain forever.

Why it’s not higher

Other than a few characters, I hate everyone in this world. Including the main character. HATE. It’s not that the main character is annoying or obnoxious personality wise. I hate her because of the things she does. Mostly that she spends a lot of the show’s run time in love with a piece of shit who actually is my least favorite character. The big bad has one of the most laughably terrible plans I’ve ever seen. (Which honestly ends up kinda being a plus) Also possibly the dumbest example of the main character returning home at the end of the magical journey trope.

Digimon Adventure 02

Digimon was one of my favorite shows as a kid, so spoiler warning: it will show up again. This is a sequel series, but the 02 in the title actually stands for 2002, the year the story takes place. AKA the future, by about a year and a half from when it came out. This was a jarring shift, because there was no production break. 02 started the week after the Finale of Adventure aired. The time skip was disorienting, but more importantly the rules of the show had changed, continuity errors abound, and it was immediately clear that the magic of the first season wasn’t quite there.

Why it’s on the list

But sometimes it is. The idea of an evil DigiDestined was a great one and the show ran with it right off the bat. The very end of that arc is this season’s high point for sure. The Dub writers did an admirable job of cramming in puns and dumb jokes that honestly saves much of the early episodes, which would otherwise be pretty boring. They even add in character stuff that honestly should have been there in the first place. It’s all in line with the animation and the tone of the show for the most part so it works.

Why it’s not higher

Even if you ignore the bizarre continuity issues this series has, a lot of it is just bad. The evil DigiDestined becomes much less interesting once he’s turned good. One of the other new kids for this season is perfectly enthusiastic and dumb, one is uninteresting and one fucking sucks and I hate him. The most interesting subplots fall by the wayside without a satisfying conclusion, the ending is bad, and the epilogue has a special place in the Bad Epilogue Hall of Fame. (Up there with the Harry Potter Epilogue and the second epilogue to War and Peace)

X

By some sick twist of fate I would up watching the first seven episodes of X three times in a row trying to show it to a friend. It wasn’t really worth it. But X has one character that I completely love, and his story is great. The show hilariously gets by with basically only one song, but it really works for the show.

Why it’s on the list

The second to last episode is really great and the show has enough good parts to make it worth getting there.

Why it’s not higher

The last episode on the other hand is a big turd, since the interesting story has already ended. The show has plenty of other questionable or uninspired episodes, including an episode that is 90% aimless walking by a character from another series who we’ve never met in this show before.

Violinist of Hameln

The classic story of young man comes of age and discovers that he has a devil inside of him. Cloaked in medieval fantasy stuff and musical instrument theming. The style of the show is very dark, which is pretty weird because the manga was lighthearted fun.

Why it’s on the list

Does what it does very well. Has a really good noble villain character. That fact that it is as watchable as it is is impressive because…

Why it’s not higher

This show had NO budget. The last two episodes of Evangelion have more animation than this. The show is mostly stills, That it works at all is impressive.

Dragon Ball Super


Tier 9: The Shonen Tournament Bonanza!

Phi Brain: Puzzle of God

This show is just so amazingly wonderfully dumb. It’s kind of like Yu-Gi-Oh, except with “Puzzles” instead of card games. Heavy emphasis on those quotation marks, because this show has no idea what a puzzles is despite supposedly being all about them. Sometimes it’s a game, sometimes it’s tag, and sometimes it’s having a group of children complete a color by numbers drawing.

Why it’s on the list

I cannot repeat this enough: The show is the dumbest. Even when you think you’ve reached the depths of idiocy, the show manages to impress and dig deeper. Has really likeable character and great interactions between them. And also has the greatest back story angst reveal of all time. The best. It superficially, and I emphasize superficially follows the act structure of Revolutionary Girl Utena.

Why it’s not higher

But in the final act they completely blindsided me by suddenly deciding to do a 180 and become X. Unnggg…Why would you do that? A) It’s really hard to pull off being X without also stealing the iconic song. B) It’s fucking X. In the latest stages the show becomes depressingly dumb and dark instead of invigoratingly marvelously idiotic.

Pokemon

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IQczxxH3ts

It’s fucking Pokemon.

Why it’s on the list

Because it’s fucking Pokemon.

Why it’s not higher

So many episodes… so little ambition to push forward and try harder. Would probably still watch it if I didn’t hate the Cartoon Network Dub though.

Yu Yu Hakusho

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KKmvXx-Mnlw

Hunter x Hunter (1999)

Two very good Shonen tournament anime from the same mangaka, Yoshihiro Togashi. In the wake of Togashi’s marriage to Naoko Takeuchi, the author of Sailor Moon, he started making a conscious effort to also appeal to female readers. This results in Hunter x Hunter trending more toward pretty boy characters as opposed to the overly muscular and masculine characters that Yu Yu Hakusho had more of.

Why they’re on the list

Very good straightforward Shonen anime.

Why they’re not higher

The endless tournament structure wears on me for how long these shows are. They never really mix things up in a way to justify their length.


Tier 8: Good, but not great

Glass Mask (1984)

A story about a girl who wants to be an actress. On the one hand it’s kind of down to earth for an anime, just about a girl trying to advance her dream. On the other hand it’s still pretty over the top with how it tells that story.

Why it’s on the list

Makes the mundane compelling. The show’s insistence that the hardest acting role is to play a tree is amusing and endearing.

Why it’s not higher

Again it’s a pretty straightforward show. This is the oldest show on the list and it shows its age. There is a newer anime, but I haven’t watched it and don’t really have the desire to.

Yawara! A Fashionable Judo Girl

Based on a manga by my favorite mangaka, Naoki Urasawa (20th Century Boys, Monster, and Pluto are all amazing comics). This story doesn’t have the ambition of his best works, but it’s still very enjoyable. Sort of the opposite of Glass Mask in that it’s about a girl who has been raised to be a great Judo champion, but has now reached adolescence and just wants to be an average girl.

Why it’s on the List

It’s kind of refreshing to see a character whose desires are so average. Yawara contrasts well with her grandfather who has planned out her entire life and is pretty over the top.

Why it’s not higher

Cool premise but still plays to formula. Light and enjoyable. Does what it does well, but that gets it only this far.

Peacemaker Kurogane

Historical fiction! This is a story about the Shinsengumi done as a coming of age story. Obviously a lot of this is made up, but the anime does still try to be relatively historically accurate and grounded.

Why it’s on the list

It’s fun, and poignant in turn. Because of its historical nature you know this is going to end badly, but it’s a fun ride.

Why it’s not higher

Probably the strongest claim to deserving being a higher tier of any in this tier. I think it’s limited by its historical nature a bit. Tries to walk the line of being both a coming of age story and a revenge tale, but isn’t quite successful at tying those two ideas together. Also spends a little too much time treading water before we get to the finale.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGtES1hS8Z4

Romeo and Juliet with Gundams. Well kind of. Like most modern takes on the star crossed lovers story, this doesn’t end in a dual suicide. Spoilers!

Why it’s on the list

Brings palpable drama to Gundam, which is so often little more than Mecha Porn. This short and sweet love story made a strong first impression on me. There’s gripping stuff here.

Why it’s not higher

Impact not as strong with subsequent viewings. What it does well is so derivative of Romeo and Juliet, but I think that the changes undermine that story. Romeo and Juliet is all about irrationality, making strong heartfelt decisions based on limited information and not a lot of thought. The tragedy is how easily avoidable the end is. I don’t think the love-at-first-sight premise works as well when the stakes are this clear and real; where there is a clear evil to fight.

Hamatora (Season 1 only)

Peter David’s X-Force as an anime, aka it’s about a mutant detective agency. Although this takes place in a world where the populace at large is unaware of the existence of mutants.

Why it’s on the list

Juggles humor and character interaction with heavy drama very well in a way that reminds me of Full Metal Alchemist. I was very high on this first season. Despite its issues this first season is still good on its own.

Why it’s not higher

Ends on a cliffhanger and season 2 is a disaster. Inexplicably the flow of that second season is ruined by the presence of eye catches (commercial bumpers) between every scene change. What the fuck! This is one of the most baffling decisions I’ve ever seen in any TV show On top of that, the second season is darker, and loses that delicate balance the first season maintained so well. The calibration is all wrong Honestly the second season makes me so mad it colors my perception of season one.

Erased


Tier 7: I love you, but this is where you get off. I’m sorry.

Baby Steps

This is a pretty recent Tennis anime, based on a long running manga, The story of a meticulous note taker who learns the love of tennis from a girl.

Why it’s on the list

Moves along at a slow but steady pace, which honestly makes it feel like it moves along at a good quick pace considering this is still basically a Shonen tournament anime. Manages to keep the tennis matches fun and compelling to watch without ever dipping into the supernatural. What elevates this show is its romance. Again, it moves slowly, but without forced bullshit forced between them. They’re just taking their time, as the title of the show indicates.

Why it’s not higher

It’s still just a Shonen tournament anime, although not a super over the top one. The romance elevates it, but only so far. Has some weird inconsistent animation.

Naruto (Non-Filler Only)

Magical fighting ninja. By non-filler I mean every story not from the manga. That cuts a lot of episodes. Also be aware I haven’t quite finished Naruto yet so… yeah.

Why it’s on the list

In structure this is just a shonen tournament anime, but what elevates this show is Naruto himself. Because Naruto, despite appearances, is not a traditional Shonen hero. He actually follows the tropes of a Shoujo heroine. A Shonen hero wants to be the strongest there is (i.e. Goku). A Shoujo heroine wants to save her friends. Naruto presents a bait and switch. His desire to become Hokage, leader of his Ninja village, looks like a traditional Shonen goal. But as the series progresses, as we come to understand Naruto better, and as he grows up, this desire reveals itself to be about protecting friends, not just being strong. The show’s themes of loneliness, and the inheritance of the Will of Fire play into this as well.

Why it’s not higher

Still just mostly a Shonen Tournament anime. Really drags in the back end. Filler is omitted here, but is still a pain to sift through. So much filler… All bad! The show also takes about 20 episodes to get going, (There are entire shows shorter than that on this list!) It’s a problem up front. (Although looking back at those first episodes actually works better because you have a better idea about who these kids are growing into.) The drag of the final arc broke my habit of keeping up with the manga weekly, which I did for years. Once I find the time and energy to finish it this could move.

Digimon Adventure

One of my favorite shows as a kid rears its head again. This time it’s the one I have the most emotional attachment to. I love these characters. I also love every little small detail in this show. Even the mistakes, like strange voice acting quirks in the dub. I’ve poured over this show so many times it’s hard to look at it critically. And yet we’re only in Tier 7 so here goes.

Why it’s on the list

I said I love these characters but they’re pretty simple archetypes. They’re well done and do have some depth, but their greatest strength is their ability to bounce of each other. Their interactions are what’s so great. Also, for a fantasy show about a magical land of monsters, it’s amazingly grounded. First they wonder where they are, then about how to get home, then getting food, then finding shelter. This is also one of the few shows about kids saving the world where the parents matter. And it’s done well, where you can see how the parent’s personalities and baggage reflected back and influenced their children. Does a great job of world building, introducing rules to the world and how it works. Sticks to those rules and still manages to be surprising. The show mostly sticks to formula, but occasionally breaks out of it, something I really appreciate, and is a key part of why it sticks with me so strongly. It’s a show with consequences, despite some evidence to the contrary. The kids makes mistakes and things go wrong. Over the course of the show they learn and grow up a little. I could go on and on about Digimon. It was a revelation to me as a kid and when I start really digging into it I want to put it higher but…

Why it’s not higher

Relies very heavily on reusing transformation sequences. Very low budget show. For the most part it is still just a formulaic Good vs Evil kids show. Particularly the first arc, which was originally going to be the entirety of the show, before it got picked up for more episodes because of its popularity. The second arc is the weakest (Also the shortest).

Abenobashi Magical Shopping Arcade

Gainax gonna Gainax. This story of kids reality hoping is initially all about parody. With each episode tackling a different genre of fiction.

Why it’s on the list

The two main characters have great chemistry and are very likeable. They make you want to see their story play out as they try to get back home. But it’s the turning point, when the show goes Gainax, that gets it here. Once the show becomes serious it really sets itself apart. The romance here is really sweet.

Why it’s not higher

The show handles sentimentality way better than it does comedy. But that change in tone and direction doesn’t come until near the end of the, admittedly short series. I like this show a lot, but I also find I like it more in retrospect than when actually watching it.

When the Seagulls Cry

Probably the biggest discrepancy between how much I like a show and its place on this list. I love this show, but its flaws are too big for me to overlook here. Based on a visual novel series, this show is all about denying the existence of witches in the face of obvious magic and witches. It’s a show about battles of wit with no wit. It’s about having the indomitable conviction to continue to say “Witches don’t exist.” Plot wise this involves reliving the same event over and over trying to solve the gruesome murders that take place, explaining closed door murders without ever resorting to saying “A witch did it.”

Why it’s on the list

This show is so much fun. It’s bombastic and ridiculous. The way it continues to both mix and amp things up on subsequent iterations is a ride that continuously impressed me. I can never experience a story about witches the same ever again. In fact, there’s a show higher up on this list whose ending meant so much more to me because of this show.

Why it’s not higher

But the show has no ending. They hadn’t finished the games by the end of the first season and it’s been long enough since they did finish them that it’s clear the anime will never have an ending. On top of that the final arc is by far the weakest, and doesn’t involve the primary characters that make the show so great. It makes the show really hard to recommend, even though I love it. Can’t justify putting it higher on this list.


Tier 6: The Edge of Glory

Trigun

A show about a pacifist gunslinger. A Sci-Fi western that is kind of schizophrenic taken as a whole and another show that has a hard shift in tone in its latter parts.

Why it’s on the list

When this show gets serious it’s pretty great. It has well thought out character arcs that come to satisfying conclusions. The main character, Vash’s internal conflict of not wanting to kill is compelling in these hands and handled exceedingly well by the end.

Why it’s not higher

The show makes such a hard turn between silly slapstick comedy and the deepest sadness drama. There’s no art to the transition, it just happens. Also I don’t think the slapstick comedy part of the show is great. It’s ok, but there’s too much of it upfront and not enough levity on the backed. It’s not balanced well.

Digimon Tamers

The last Digimon show on this list I swear. Tamers is a prime example of what a franchise can become when given to a crazy person with artistic ambition. Written by Chiaki Konaka, Tamers takes place in the “real world” where Digimon has just been a TV show, video game and CCG. The focus on the card game was apparently a push from executives, but the show runs with it, going for a completely different meta setup where Digimon are both a fictional product and an actual thing that exist.

Why it’s on the list

Tamers takes the best elements of Digimon and builds off them. (The problems of Digimon showing up in the real world. Kids relationships with their parents, good and bad.) It goes darker and more realistic with the series but still stays true to the rules already established. It’s all about how the dreams of children can change the world, but at the same time it never shies away from the darkness of that world. And the main kids here are better developed and more three dimensional than the Adventure kids. They have profound arcs, not just specific development episodes. Also the villains here have more to them than simply “They’re evil!” Again there’s even more I could unpack here, but let’s keep it moving.

Why it’s not higher

It might be too dark for a kid’s show at time honestly. I dunno, it’s still just Digimon, and the silliness is still there, so when it gets downright heartbreaking and at its lowest points it might be too much. I love these parts and they are for sure things that stuck with me over the years though. There are a couple characters who feel shoved in, one of whom might be a ghost and the other who was kind of in Adventure 02, which just makes everything more confusing, but only if you’re digging super deep in. Again, it’s hard for me to balance out my affection for this show and look at it critically. For now at least, I think this is where it belongs.

Sket Dance

Teenage hijinks. Sket Dance is about kids in an after school club that’s all about helping other people. Hijinks ensue and whatnot. Also tragic backstories.

Why it’s on the list

While most of the time the show is slapstick comedy, occasionally it has a weightier episode that really strikes a chord. The main characters back story episodes are all like this. Unlike other shows on this list so far, I do actually think the comedy here is really good. Although still not as good as those meatier episodes. Also the main characters are all extremely likeable and play off each other really well.

Why it’s not higher

I think the last time I have to level the criticism a lack of balance at a show on this list. The weighty episodes are so good it makes it hard for me to go back to the sillier ones. I feel like I’m going into withdrawal after the best episodes give way to nonsense. The contrast kills the flow of the series and my momentum with it in particular.

Wolf’s Rain (Not counting the clip show episodes)

The show about wolves that are also people, but also just regular wolves. Here is a show I would probably like more if I had seen it at a younger age. I still like it a lot, but the ideas it’s working with are ones I’d kinda grown past by the time I saw it.

Why it’s on the list

Having said that, there’s still a lot here to like. I think the show’s best attribute is the way it captures the feeling of cold. This is a show about a dying frozen world and it feels that way. Even the way characters relate to each other is cold and emotionally distant. Everything feels broken, and everything takes more work than it should. Keeping warm is a struggle and seeing these characters struggle through it is a very compelling watch. Also bonus points for two great romances.

Why it’s not higher

The last stretch of episodes is really great but that emotional coldness makes the characters hard to engage with at first. The ending itself is what could have really struck me if I had seen it earlier in my life, but it does nothing for me. It’s not a bad ending, but it doesn’t help me wrap my arms around the show either. And while I’m not actually counting this against the show, since I saw it after the fact where this wasn’t an issue for me, but the initial release for this show was bullshit. The series ran for 26 episodes on TV, but the last four were all recap episodes.

Later an OVA (Original Video Animation) was released with four additional episodes that completed the story. And this was not a “Well they could have ended it there” situation. Not only do you needs those last episodes, but they’re also some of the best of the whole show. Basically Wolf’s Rain had DLC the contained the ending. And Wolf’s Rain is entirely about the buildup to those last episodes. Nowadays you can just skip the recaps and watch as a 26 episode series, but still…

Ouran High School Host Club

Y’know what? Fuck it, I’m not explaining this show. Go watch the first episode if you want to know what it’s about. Trust me, it’s better to go in blind on this one.

Why it’s on the list

This show is really funny. Impressively, consistently funny. Yeah there’s good character stuff in there too, but really it’s the high quality consistent humor that gets this show so far. Some of that comes from being self aware about genre tropes, but a lot of it is also just good old fashioned slapstick. Repeated use of the slipping on a banana peel gag and it stays funny. Top notch execution.

Why it’s not higher

For all its self-awareness it never really rises above genre tropes, it just uses them very well. Its ambitions aren’t any greater than being a really smart, silly, funny show. And on this list that means topping out here.

Kodocha

One of the most manic shows out there. This show has more life and energy than five shows put together. The story of a child actress that actually captures how weird kids can be.

Why it’s on the list

While I said Ouran is very good, Kodocha is genius. Its blend of manic nonsense and genuine heartfelt emotion makes it feel authentic and unique. When its running on all cylinders the show is glorious. Contains my favorite conversation about dinosaurs in fiction.

Why it’s not higher

Bloat. Too many filler episodes. Too much dicking the audience around. Particularly with the relationship between the two main kids after the emotional heavy lifting is already done. It’s just not consistent enough to put higher. But it is really good upfront for an extended run. Those issues only really come into play in the back end of a fairly lengthy series.

Haikyuu!!

I thought Baby Steps was impressive when it got me to care about Tennis. But at least I know the rules to Tennis. (Thanks to Mario Tennis) I’ve watched professional Tennis. (Not very much but still) I’ve seen Tennis in an anime before (Death Note). There’s an amazing Tennis scene in one of my favorite movies (Strangers on a Train). But Volleyball? I’ve never liked Volleyball. Watching this show I realized I don’t even know the rules of Volleyball. How could I care about this show? I literally only watched this show because taking a chance on Baby Steps turned out so well. Checking out the next sports anime that was out on Crunchyroll seemed like an obvious, if dumb, thing to do. I didn’t really expect it to be so good or compelling.

Why it’s on the list

Surprise this show was even better! While Baby Steps was obviously cheaply animated, used lots of tricks and was full of weird off model drawings, the action in Haikyu is surprisingly good. It’s is kinetic and onscreen enough that there’s a coherency to a match, when the show wants them to be. I actually learned a bunch about Volleyball watching this show. But really the draw here is the characters. This show boasts a large cast, that slowly gets built up over the first season very well. And they form, not only a coherent group identity, but the members also play off each other really well. It creates a bunch of interesting and compelling dynamics. The show does a great job at selling Volleyball as something worth watching. The matches feel like they’re about actual volleyball strategy, not just weird bullshit gimmicks.

Why it’s not higher

It’s still just a Shonen tournament show, The characters and the high level of execution elevate it above other shows on the list. But just being really good peaks out here.

Star Driver

I need to watch this show again. I first watched it right after I watched the number two show on this list. It tampered my enthusiasm for this one a bit. Regardless, this show is basically Utena-light with mechs starring anime Homestar Runner. (Just fucking look at him and tell me I’m wrong)

Why it’s on the list

I mentioned Utena when talking about Phi-Brain, and while I don’t think the similarities between those shows was accidental, they were superficial. Star Driver’s similarities to Utena are way more thematic and structural. And while this still comes off like Utena-light, Utena is a deep enough show that a ripoff with mechs is still pretty good. And before you think I’m reading too much into this (which I probably am), the directors for all three shows worked as directors on Sailor Moon. Learning that has only made me more confident that the directors were aware of the other shows.

Why it’s not higher

When I said I needed to watch this show again I meant it. I barely remember a lot of it, and I watched it more recently than a lot of stuff on this list. It just didn’t leave a strong impression on me, other than I thought it was quite good. I just don’t feel comfortable putting it higher without getting a refresher and a more solid opinion on it.

Tsuritama

Another show I should rewatch. Although I have a better handle on this one. This is a fun show about the joys of fishing. Also aliens.

Why it’s on the list

Ah the benefits of only being 12 episodes. This is a funny show with good characters that tells a complete story in the time it has. It may not have quite the heights of some of the shows below it, but it still has some pretty good high points and is just really consistent over its, admittedly short, run

Why it’s not higher

Its peaks reach only this high.

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo

The Count of Monte Cristo adapted as a coming of age story about Albert de Morcerf. Also it’s set in the future, so they duel with giant robots. Because anime.

Why it’s on the list

A classic story adapted well. Making it a coming of age story about a minor character sort of sounds like an insipid move, but it’s actually an inspired choice that allows the show to overcome a major difficulty that comes with adapting this story. Namely that it’s hard to make The Count as unlikable as he needs to be when he’s the main character. The Count is a monster, but we’re too used to empowering revenge fantasy stories. Shifting the focus to Albert allows The Count to be the monster the story needs him to be. Also the look of the show is unique, because of its clever solution to the problem of animating fancy clothes. Instead of really drawing complicated outfits, they just fill the live animation with intricate textures. It looks great, even though it’s basically a cost saving trick. On top of all that the series has highpoints that really stand out.

Why it’s not higher

Has an edge over the other shows at this tier, but not enough I think. Drags a bit in places.

Food Wars! Shokugeki No Soma


Tier 5: The Standard Bearers

Cardcaptor Sakura

The epitome of basic Shoujo, magical girl anime in my eyes. Sure there are more Shoujo shows to come on this list, but as far as just nailing the genre, without doing something else on top, this is the real shit. This show is also just the cutest thing. Everything is cute. If cute is not for you, then turn back you monster.

Why it’s on the list

Cardcaptor Sakura is a superhero show where there is no evil. There are monsters and jerks, but none of the pure evil stuff that kids cartoons involving super powers are usually so full of. And not only does the show work without a truly evil force, it works exceedingly well. The show starts off from the same point basically every superhero since Spider-Man has started from: Cleaning up a mistake. The monsters Sakura fights are just the wild creatures she has accidentally released. When she’s not dealing with that it’s some jerk causing her problems, for his own reasons, but never evil. Which honestly works better.

The best super villains are the ones who are just specifically out to make trouble for the hero anyway. Does it really matter if the Joker is evil? Doesn’t it just matter that he’s out to make trouble of Batman? Before I saw this show, if you asked me if superheroes needed evil to fight I probably would have said yes., but I would have been wrong. Structurally it’s how I wish Kodocha had been structured. It slowly builds fucking perfectly; bringing you forward slowly, but never dicking you around too much. It makes the emotional moments hit really strong and feel earned, without making the rest of the show frustrating.

Why it’s not higher

Now we’re at the point where this section just makes me feel like an asshole, but that’s kind of the point. This is a genre defining work. It sets the bar for what this kind of show should be. To get into the higher tiers a show needs to break the bar.

Dragonball

The genre bar setter on the other side.

Why it’s on the list

The pacing is just so much better here than in DBZ, when the series got too friendly with it’s own butthole. Dragonball benefits a lot from mangaka Akira Toriyama’s background in gag manga. Not just because Dragonball is really funny, but because Toriyama’s thoughts are always toward the joke, the punch line. (Pun intended) His fights are always well structured.

Dragonball is consistently entertaining and surprising. A big part of that was that even Toriyama didn’t know where the series was headed. There was no way he, or anyone else, could have predicted the series success and he just had to roll with it. And as someone who watched a lot of DBZ before seeing where the series started it was really interesting watching the series slowly take shape and become what I knew it as. Turns out the journey was pretty great.

Why it’s not higher

Honestly, early Dragonball almost breaks the bar the series would come to set. But only almost.

Rose of Versailles


Tier 4: Greatness

The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6kA4tGu60mo

This one I find hard to talk about. Probably because I respect it more than I like it… maybe. I do like it a lot.

Why it’s on the list

If I’m going to reduce this show into a sentence it’s about finding the fantastic the ordinary. While most stories with that theme revel in the fantastic once the cat’s out of the bag, Melancholy revels in the ordinary. This is a show where there are like six plot episodes that “matter.” But the argument for this show isn’t for those six episodes, if that were the case it wouldn’t be ranked this high. They’re some of the best episodes and it really works in the show’s favor that it tells the story it needs to tell at the right pace and just uses the right number of episodes it needs to tell that story. But this is a story about high school ennui, and you can’t capture that feeling if important plot stuff is happening all the time. Or maybe you can? I dunno. It also helps that this show had a real animation budget, which allows for a lot of subtlety in getting the expressiveness of the characters, especially Haruhi, across. Aya Hirano’s voice performance as Haruhi is also amazing. The light novels the show is working from are clearly well thought out and clever, but it’s the way the show brings Haruhi to life that really sticks with me.

Why it’s not higher

All but two of the characters are just props. The show got probably too much pleasure from trolling its audience, airing episodes out of order, and then most notably airing the endless eight, basically the same episode for eight weeks in a row during the second season. Look, the show is boring sometimes. I don’t hold that against it or anything but we’re to the cutthroat part of the list. And while our main character, Kyon , can hold his own with Haruhi, none of the others can really stand toe to toe with her. That’s not really a flaw as much as it is a feature, part of what makes the show succeed at what it is trying to accomplish. But it also means the show can only top out so high on this list.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica

So… this show is about witches and I watched it after seeing When the Seagulls Cry, which forever changed my relationship with fictional witches. Madoka ties into that newfound understanding surprisingly well (Completely unintentionally I’m sure). As much as I love this show I don’t know that I could talk to someone else who loved it if they did not also share my affection for When the Seagulls Cry. Yeah, I’m enough of a snob to think that people can like something for the wrong reasons. If someone praises this show just on its face value premise, I’m questioning that person’s taste. A show about Magical Girls dying brutally isn’t necessarily a winning formula is what I’m saying.

Why it’s on the list

Taking a genre that’s primarily for kids and trying to make it “darker” and/or “more adult” is a dangerous and difficult task. It’s also often undertaken in the wrong spirit, revealing a cynicism and disdain for the core principles of what makes what it’s working from appealing in the first place. (i.e. The Transformers movies) From what I’ve seen, the way to do it correctly is pretty simple though: You can be dark, but don’t be cynical. And try to be smart about it. Yes, Madoka is dark and involves little girls being killed by monsters, but it’s also still a Shoujo anime. It’s still just a story about trying to save your friends. It never demeans the cheesiness of that idea, or gives up on it. It’s still the core story of this show and the way it handles that story is what makes it so good. The animation on the monsters and their environments is incredible and worth seeing all on its own.

Why it’s not higher

Ok so, late in the show there is a reveal about the nature of this world that might be the dumbest reveal I’ve ever heard. I was warned about it ahead of time and it still almost ruined the show for me. Luckily it doesn’t really matter very much and there’s another late reveal that’s actually really good and is the actual driving plot point for the ending. That twist is great and the key to the whole show. But man, that one part is fucking terrible. At its core it’s still a pretty basic Shoujo anime. It elevates itself, but it’s not nearly the most interesting Shoujo anime out there.

Sword Art Online (1-14)

The story of an MMO player base becoming trapped in the game and death being for real. SAO blends the “trapped in another world” trope with the structure and rules of an MMO. It’s basically Digimon if everyone were as nerdy about the world as Izzy. And if there were way more people around to be cannon fodder. And a lot of other differences.

Why it’s on the list

The thing that strikes me most about SAO is how well paced these 14 episodes are. A lot happens, and a lot of time passes, but the show is very good at quickly establishing the way the world has changed and how people are adjusting to their situation. The show is thoughtful about what people would be worried about and how they would adapt. I love that there’s an episode about how eating and cooking work in this virtual world. Yes people want to escape, but without the choice they adapt and try to get on as best as they can. I also really appreciate any show that can capture the feeling of a city, a large community of people, that’s small enough that you run into people you know, but big enough that you’re still basically anonymous. SAO manages this by having a pretty large cast that we spend brief focused time with before moving on to the next story.

This virtual world feels lived in. I also think the show does a good job at being about an MMO. There’s an episode about collecting the matts to craft a sword. It’s authentic enough to make me reminisce about my own time with MMOs. To go back to the pace thing, how many shows are confident enough to introduce a romantic pairing, have them form a relationship, show them spending time together, just being around each other, and even have them get married. All that happens within 14 episodes, and it doesn’t feel rushed, the emotional progress makes sense.

Why it’s not higher

SAO is not the greatest thing in existence, but it’s very good and it’s very tight. What rises it up is the amount and quality of the world building that happens in addition to telling its story well. But that tops it out here. I am kind of cheating again by not including the latter episodes, but everything that gets it here is lost after this first arc. The large cast is abandoned, along with the show’s entire premise and world it established. The first 14 episodes are enough of a complete whole that I’m just counting them and ignoring the fan fiction the series followed them up with.

Neon Genesis Evangelion

This is a big one. If this were a list that valued importance and influence this show would probably be right at the top. The landscape of anime past 1996 just doesn’t make sense without Evangelion. There’s really nothing to compare to Eva that came before it. There’s plenty of stuff that came after, but those only exist because of the original. Trying to understand anime without Eva is like trying to understand American pop music without Nirvana; or superhero comics without Watchmen, It’s a seismic event as much as it is a show. I’m saying it’s worth watching at least.

Why it’s on the list

Gainax started making Eva with the ambition to create the most popular anime of all time. Their plan was to make a giant robot show with really impressive animation. It even aired in a time slot meant for kids cartoons. But director Hideaki Anno gave no fucks and the show quickly began to depart from its original script, becoming darker and more introspective as Anno battled depression. So what started as crass commercialism, Giant Robot Anime For Kids, became an auteur driven show about psychologically broken characters. The show was moved to a more adult timeslot and by the end almost all of the sponsors had backed out. All the changes to the story also meant that the show was constantly up against a deadline, so the intricate impressive animation gave way to a much more minimalist style. There’s so much going on here and I’ve barely talked about the show itself. It’s a very flawed show, but it’s also incredible, in a way the countless imitations can never match.

Why it’s not higher

Did I mention it’s a flawed show? Basically from here on out I think all the shows on this list are pretty much perfect (with one major exception). This is a show where I think anyone who says it’s the greatest show ever is overstating it, but I’m equally weary of people who want to dismiss it. This is a mess, but it’s a glorious mess.


Tier 3.5: Kinda the best thing, except for the part where it’s terrible

Code Geass

The real cheating begins! Half-tiers? What is this bullshit? Boo! Unsubscribe! I’ll get into it in a bit, but I think this show stands clearly above the Tier 4 shows, but I can’t place it among the Tier 2 shows either. Borderline entries are no stranger to Tier lists so I made the call. Anyways… Code Geass is a chimera: Part grand political mech show, part silly high school comedy, part superhero story, and part Death Note.

Why it’s on the list

It’s great at all of them! Nails them all. One episode our hero, Lelouch, is making a grand public show, outwitting everyone, and impressing with a clever use of his powers; and then we get an episode about his class using a mech to make a giant pizza. It’s fantastic. But my primary affection for the show comes from its ability to be a Death Note anime better than the actual Death Note anime. While Death Note is one of my favorite comics, I don’t actually like the television product it turned into. Everything about that show felt the need to try and make things look dynamic and exciting, even if it was just Light writing or eating potato chips, the pacing was all wrong.

The actual events of Death Note are pretty mundane, but the show plays them out to such a ridiculous extreme. Light and L’s Tennis match is a prime example of this. Code Geass solves this problem by providing the ridiculous action, which serves as a better counter balance. The first season of Code Geass is fucking perfect. That is some Tier 2 quality shit there.

The show does a great job at constructing interesting scenarios for Lelouch to think his way out of. It keeps upping the ante and stays surprising and dynamic. it’s versatile nature means that you never know what to expect next. The ending string of episodes is fucking amazing, and one of my favorite things in fiction. As the show goes on, it goes all in on characters fighting with world views as much as with giant robots. The philosophy dork inside me goes nuts over it.

Why it’s not higher

That being said, the beginning of season 2 is not great, and it goes downhill from there; to the point where I actually gave up on the show for a while. Coming back to it only after it had all finished airing. And while the ending string of episodes totally redeemed the show in my eyes, I can’t look past that bad half a season either. That’s why it gets a borderline ranking.

Kill La Kill


Tier 3: Flawless

Baccano!

Ok, here’s a show that’s told out of order with a clear purpose. This is just a really compelling story, told in an interesting way.

Why it’s on the list

An out of order story told with purpose. A large cast of compelling characters. An amazing level of violence with really good action and a lot of blood. It might not seem like it, but the core ideas that Evangelion was struggling with are here in Baccano. It’s just that while Eva was all closed off, emo introspection; Baccano is direct and open. The characters in Baccano aren’t questioning their existence, they have their answers; they’re monsters and criminals and they’re fine with that.

But as a whole, the show is asking some of the same questions, it’s just not vomiting them out and asking them directly, it’s having very distinct confident characters interacting with each other. I’ve heard this show described as silly mindless fun and I couldn’t disagree more. There’s a lot of meat on the bone here, it’s just all done through characters. Which is part of the reason the cast is so huge. Sure you can enjoy it on a purely visceral level, but that’s not all there is to it.

Why it’s not higher

As much as I love this show, the follow up Durrarara, is clearly better. While I love this cast, what I think really separates them is that Baccano’s cast is full of role-stars; that is, they shine so brightly because of the small role the show places them in, and how well they fill out that space. I wouldn’t necessarily begrudge someone who liked Baccano more because they are two very different shows in a lot of ways; and yet there’s enough similarities that I for sure think that Drrr is higher tier.

Cowboy Bebop

Cowboy Bebop is Noir personified. It runs the gambit of genres through the filter of noir. It shifts tone and style from episode to episode but remains grounded because it’s always looking at the world with the same lens.

Why it’s on the list

It does this fucking fantastically. Not every episode is great, but enough of them are. The best episodes are the best fucking thing, or at least right up there. Noir is an interesting and diverse genre, when it’s done well it looks easy, but it’s hard to breathe new life into well worn tropes. Cowboy Bebop does just that.

Why it’s not higher

This show does have weak episodes, and while I don’t think you couldn’t make this show without weaker episodes, we’re making the hard cuts here.

The Irresponsible Captain Tylor

The story of a man who wants to join the military because he wants and easy life. On the surface this show is basically Bad News Bears set on a future military space submarine. A crew of dysfunctional outcasts the military wants nothing to do with. Also Jason.

Look, I don’t know why Jason Voorhees is a crew member, but he clearly is.

Why it’s on the list

Tylor may be the greatest anti-war story ever. I’m not sure that’s true, but it’s certainly up there in my opinion. Most anti-war stories come in one of two flavors: either they’re about shocking you with the horrors of war, or they’re about the patent absurdity of it all. The physical nightmare and the existential nightmare. Tylor is pretty content to just poke fun at and embarrass military culture.

There’s no moralistic denouncement of war, only the fact that the military higher ups who crave war are clearly the villains. The show is less interested in making a case against anything than it is in making a case for counter culture. It does so without completely glorifying counter culture either, Tylor and his crew are silly and ridiculous. We laugh at them as much as we cheer for them. Irresponsible Captain Tylor has one of the absolute best climaxes. The whole show is good, but that sequence is why it’s here on this list.

Why it’s not higher

Shows its age a little. It’s from the early 90s but feels 80s in a bunch of ways even. Not the tightest show.

Bokurano

A group of kids enter into a contract to pilot a giant robot to save the world. Then shit happens. Bad shit.

Why it’s on the list

This show is a gut wrench. Not for the feint of heart. Bokurano finds the balance between being completely sad and tragic without becoming exploitative. (A balance the manga it’s based on does not find) The show is about condensing down life, what’s worth living for, dying for; and the ends you’ll go to to protect what matters to you. This is a show that executes on a great idea intelligently and in a way that is fair to its audience. Also has one of the most delightfully evil and reprehensible characters around.

Why it’s not higher

This is a mech show where the mechs don’t matter. They’re pretty bad CG and the fights are awkward and slow. This isn’t a big issue, because the character drama is the focus, but hard cuts dude.


Tier 2: Perfect

Durarara!!

Hey, a show that just was airing again recently. Drrr would be here without season 2, but that second season has been up to the standards of the first season, even if so far it’s mostly amounted to table setting.

This is the follow up to Baccano I mentioned. Coming from the same studio and based on another light novel series by the same author, Drrr is kind of like the Raid 2 to Baccano’s The Raid: Redemption. Bigger, more ambitious, but still fucking awesome.

Why it’s on the list

But Drrr raises the bar even higher with its characters. There’s just more going on with these people, they have more depths to mine, and they all get their moment in the spotlight, as opposed to being run through the meat grinder. Drrr captures that feeling of a living, lived in world, better than any other anime.

I just enjoy spending time with these characters, every little moment is great. On top of that this show is also grade A at delivering on the big dramatic moments. Long term machinations are set up so well, play out at the right pace, and come through to fruition properly.

All the while life just moves along.

Why it’s not higher

Nope! Done with this. No more point. Tier makes the case for itself.

Princess Tutu

The story of a duck who turns into a girl who turns into a magical girl to save the heart of a noble prince.

Why it’s on the list

I’ve heard this show described at Utena-light: a complicated deconstruction of the Shoujo genre, but for kids. While there’s truth to that, I was never satisfied with that description, but eventually I realized what Princess Tutu really is.

It’s Don Quixote. Trade out tales of chivalry for German fairy tales and Bam, you’re got it. And not just conceptually either, it’s also structured like Don Quixote. Specifically it is split into two halves with the second half being much more meta contextual and the book of the story itself playing a big role.

But while Don Quixote is a tragic failure, Princess Tutu is more of a tragic success. This show found the answers that Cervantes didn’t. I actually kind of think this is the stronger work.

FLCL

Nothing amazing happens. Only the ordinary.

Why it’s on the list

Simply put, Fooly Cooly captures the feeling of being a 13 year old boy better than any other work of fiction.

I don’t even know what else to say, this show is fucking amazeballs. The soundtrack provided by The Pillows is amazing and gives a show full of identity and personality even more of it.

It’s also just an incredible work of animation. Experimental, weird and joyous.

Full Metal Alchemist

FMA opens with a scene of two young brothers attempting to resurrect their dead mother. It doesn’t go well.

Why it’s on the list

The opening scene is one of the best openings to any TV show. It’s immediately gripping, while also telling you a lot about the main characters, and the world, very quickly.

And the show lives up to that opening. For a show that starts so dark, FMA finds balance with silliness. It knows what moods are right for what times. Primarily this show is about brothers who are still pretty young, and it understands the resilience of kids; that they will find ways to have fun. But it never loses sight of the tragedy of its opening. Everything Ed and Al do is driven by that moment. What they lost and what they’re willing to do to get it back; that hangs over the whole show.

But that’s not just the whole show, it’s so much bigger than just these two kids. The cast is gigantic and everyone has a role to play. FMA is bold, sweeping and effective. It provides childish hopeful idealism and cynical, bitter, realism; delivering both honestly and with equal passion. All the while remaining tight and well paced.

Most shows fail at doing the one thing they try to do. FMA tries to do everything and succeeds at every turn.

Yurikuma Arashi


Tier 1.5

Mawaru Penguindrum

Tier 1

Revolutionary Girl Utena

I can’t talk about Mawaru Penguindrum without talking about Revolutionary Girl Utena. Both series came from director Kunihiko Ikuhara. Before making Utena, Ikuhara worked on a little show called Sailor Moon, serving as the series director for seasons 3 and 4. During production on the final movie Ikuhara became unhappy with his lack of creative control over the series and formed a new group to create Utena.

There is no show as disciplined and controlled as Utena. Every element is thought out and deliberate, a lot of it is symbolic or metaphorical and some of it is nonsense; but even the nonsense is deliberate nonsense.

A lot of kids shows trade on patterns: You watch and episode of Sailor Moon or Power Rangers and there’s an obvious structure to them, Problem is established, monsters is revealed, hero transforms, monster is defeated. While that can be born out of laziness, there’s a power to it, so that once you break that expected formula you’re going to get a much stronger reaction from the audience than you would have otherwise. It’s important to establish a status quo, but only so that you can break it in a meaningful and effective way.

And while a lot of kids shows make use of that (i.e. The Green Ranger Saga of Power Rangers) I think that they usually do it without fully understanding what they’re doing. Just lucking into it for the needs of their story. (Power Rangers tried time and again to recapture the magic of those episodes just by repeating the basics, failing to make it resonate) Utena has that shit down pat.

There’s so much going on in Utena, much of it out of direct sight, obscured and unclear, but all well thought out and unifying. Every major color used in the show has a specific meaning attached to it. Not in a vague way, but in a “I could list them all for you right now if I wanted to” way. The focus of the show is right there in the title, Revolution, but what that means is not such an easy answer. The world of the show is one of death and hatred.

This list exists mostly because Utena stands out as such a clear number one for me. No show even comes close to touching it for quality and ambition. Well… that’s what I thought until I saw Penguindrum.

There was a 14 year gap between the release of Utena and Ikuhara’s next major project, Mawaru Penguindrum. It was worth the wait. How do you follow up the greatest anime? With the second greatest anime I guess.

What’s so remarkable about Penguindrum is how many similarities it has with Utena, and yet how different it is. There are a bunch of little details and tropes that show up throughout Ikuhara’s works, things he clearly just likes having in his shows. So you can tell that it’s still him behind the wheel. But Penguindrum is such a different beast, it’s that much more impressive.

Penguindrum is a much looser show than Utena. And it kind of had to be right? Following up Utena with a show as heavily structured would have felt played out, but Penguindrum feels completely fresh. That’s partially a result of a higher budget, so there’s less of a requirement for the show to reuse animation.

Penguindrum‘s world is one of guilt, where children suffer for the sins of their parents. It’s a cold uncaring world, where becoming unwanted and invisible is common. But the most important difference between the two shows is that Penguindrum isn’t metaphorical and symbolic in the way Utena is. Things exist as real things first and foremost. The apple really is just an apple. Penguindrum would be impressive enough on its own, but it’s such a change from Utena. There’s still a vibrant visual language to the show, but it’s a completely different one.

I think the meticulous nature of Utena, the sheer volume of its depth, keeps it number one. But Penguindrum got closer than I thought any show ever would to dethroning it. Goddamn.

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