To continue from my last post, wherein I promised honorable mentions for the anime which I would qualify as being among my favorites, but not having a particular rank, these are the top-tier competitors for a slot.
Behold! The dozen which survived my whittling-down from a much larger number!
The Top Contenders!
In no particular order:
Attack on Titan
Technically, the title Shingeki no Kyojin translates more accurately as “The Giant’s Advance,” which is a better title than something that sounds like an aggressive measure taken against a place called “Titan.” The story is, after all, about an ongoing war between humans and man-eating giants who have advanced and advanced and advanced and are still advancing into human territory. But that’s a detail.
Attack on Titan is not for the faint of heart. Many people die, and they die brutally, eaten or squashed or obliterated by giants, and this show does not shy away from the horror of this, sometimes in ways which are… graphic… and sometimes the horror is shown by what is not explicitly shown. Having been hooked just enough by the first episode to remain undecided on whether I would continue following it, I let a buffer of a a few episodes build before I dared continue watching and making a final decision. Six episodes in, I was ready to quit.
But then I watched the seventh episode.
While I won’t often watch the whole of the first six episodes ever again, I could watch episode seven over and over, because it has one the single most inspiring scenes I have ever seen in any media anywhere, ever. Amidst the blood and horror and death, there finally shone a light of hope, and it was all the more potent for everything that came before.
For that one moment, I forgave the earlier episodes and followed the rest of the season. I rather hope they eventually continue the anime, to finish the story (once the manga has finished it), because it promises a fantastic conclusion. To see hope and despair, tragedy and triumph, and “humanity at its best and worst simultaneously” (to borrow the words of someone else I shall have to find again and give proper credit to) is a thrilling ride!
Plus, as a Norse mythology buff, I enjoyed all the little nods to the villainous giants of legend.
But, again, not for everyone.
Ah! My Goddess!
This is a show for everyone.
I am not usually one for any sort of romantic comedy (read: “chickflick”), whatever it is dressed up as. But this is an exception. While not that much really happens, it’s still an enjoyable story about a guy who manages to get a literal goddess as his significant other. Not just a physically-appealing sort of goddess, but a really sweet, gentle soul, wise and honest. Of course, he also has to deal with her sisters. Not to mention his mortal friends. And a devil or two.
The antics of mortals and goddesses and devils is a hilarious, wholesome, heart-warming spectacle.
Be forewarned, if you watch the English dub, seasons one and two were done by completely different voice actors. I haven’t seen the first season dubbed, so I cannot speak to it, but I loved the second season’s dub so much I dared not ruin it (as I manged to watch season two before season one) so I watched it subtitled instead, but besides that little detail, I’m pretty sure most people would enjoy this anime.
Spice and Wolf
Most, not all, because… well, the female lead has some rather clothe-less scenes. NOT sexual scenes. She just kind of happens to be nude for reasons which include the fact that when she takes human form (she’s normally a wolf of great height, a couple stories tall) she can’t really conjure clothes out of nothing, or when she’s about to transform back into a wolf she doesn’t want to rip her clothes to shreds, or when they come in from the rain (in Medieval Europe) they take their clothes off to dry. Nothing sexual about any of it, and it’s all done very tastefully (no full, frontal nudity, for instance).
Now with that important detail out of the way:
Spice and Wolf is a show I would not have thought I’d enjoy. Not much action, a lot of talking about trading and deals and economics and currency, etc. and the main thrust of things is, or becomes, the developing relationship of a couple. All in all, not my usual.
Yet I found myself always eager to watch “the next episode.” I found the suspense to be gripping, especially as this was not an action show, somehow the danger seemed all the greater. And, of course, the interaction of the two main characters with each other and those around them was a treat to watch!
Kids on the Slope
There is just about no action at all. Not even much danger. This is a drama set in the sixties in Japan, and it’s about the relationships between a fairly small cast of characters. There are some chickflick elements to it, such as more than one romantic entanglement, but it is, at heart, a buddy story. (sooooo much better than any chickflick!)
In particular, the friendship that develops between two boys is connected to their love of music, particularly jazz. I haven’t had much experience with jazz outside this anime, but I certainly loved this soundtrack! Not just because it’s easy on the ears, but also because the music not only fits the show, but helps move it along as a method for the characters to express themselves, creating distinct memories I can smile at when listening to the music later on.
For the main character, his introduction to jazz is like being introduced to magic. He has conformed to rigid rules in his classical music and at home for all his life thus far. In jazz, he gains a new freedom, and new friendships, and he learns to follow his heart. This, I think, most of us can relate to, and thus the appeal of this jazzy anime.
Now this is a show I knew I was going to enjoy! A feisty, chaotically-good-and-sometimes-evil sorceress of tremendous, overkill power goes around slaughtering bandits, monsters, demons, etc. in the company of her friends. Included in this company: a good-hearted doofus with brutish strength and skill with a blade; a naïve (until she meets these people) cleric who loves justice and her fellow creatures; a sorcerer-swordsman who holds about half the brains and one-tenth of the mercy to be found within the group. Others, in later seasons, include strange rivals, a nefarious demon in human form, a pious dragon, and a talking stuffed animal who happens to pack a substantial punch despite his diminutive size.
Oh, and the main protagonist, Lina Inverse, has a habit of leaving craters where once there stood things which annoy or threaten her, as well as whatever village was there moments earlier. (I saw the movie Wall-E, and when EVE the female robot fires that first blast, I thought, “It’s the Lina Inverse of robots!”)
This is, in short, a hilarious parody of the “Dungeons and Dragons” fantasy quests we are familiar with, transported by epic plots filled with drama, tragedy, and, of course, comedy. This is also one of those that gets better and better the further in you go, in virtually every way, including animation and voice acting (Lina’s voice actress is stellar from the beginning, but others improve over time), but the beginning is pretty priceless too.
The trailer commercials I saw for this show said something along the lines of, “On an arid planet in the future, the outlaw, Vash the Stampede, has a sixty billion double-dollar price on his head. A horde of bounty hunters chases him. Good luck fellas. Yer gonna need a lotta bullets.”
My teenaged self could not resist!
Amidst the gun-blazing violence, I loved the main character. He was, on one hand, a donut-scarfing idiot who got by (read: “survived”) mostly on enough good luck that, if it were turned to gambling instead of survival, he’d have become the richest man on the planet within five seconds, before dying during the sixth second. On the other hand, he was a genius-level gunman who fought for peace and stood for the value of life, never killing his enemies.
I loved this hero, as he embodied the wacky genius of high ideals (a peer of his would be the titular swordsman from Rurouni Kenshin, who swore never to take another life in atonement for those lives he had already taken), which I longed to be. I still love him, in a different way, as he gives me food for thought. I once practically worshiped his ideals, and now I have my own which would be at odds with his, but I can still see the value of his perspective. Balance, and life, are found between extremes. While forces of destruction are running rampant on this alien, desert planet humans have crashed nose-first into, Vash stands in opposition. His adamant determination not to take any person’s life drives him to be faster, stronger, smarter, more resilient, and, in the end, he overcomes his most dangerous foe without killing him.
Personally, as I am now, I would see the enemy dead in a heartbeat, to prevent him from pursuing his goal of human extinction any further. But, that’s the thing about this anime. The very last words spoken in it are, “I’ll always believe in you… but from now on, I’ll look to my own words for guidance.” We are free to disagree and find our own answers.
It’s a heavy, mature, and timeless topic, to kill or not to kill. This theme was heavier than I’d experienced thus far as a teen, though it would eventually be surpassed by Attack on Titan (and, thus far, only Attack on Titan). I enjoyed the debate as a teenager, and I enjoy it now. This one is definitely a Top Contender.
Sword Art Online
This one hooked me right off the bat. Within the first episode, a few thousands gamers, using a futuristic system called NerveGear, are trapped within a fantasy game and forced to fight for their very lives. Desperation abounds, and lives are lost in tragedy. Yet the main characters, wading through this sorrow, are able to find some peace within themselves and with each other.
Setting, soundtrack, battles, plot twists and turns, character development, it’s all there. Granted, I’m still not sure why the game’s creator decided to trap all these people in a death-game, which unanswered question is part of why this has not yet made a numbered rank, but it’s a gripping story. One could call the whole thing an argument that how we behave in games is, in fact, real, and so, while we may have a great deal of fun taking on different roles of varying heroism and villainy, we should still be as human in-game as we are in real life. Yet, a distinction is also made between reality and gaming, a line only crossed when a person’s life is at risk.
And, of course, there are always issues for the characters to work through, such as loss, love, and the burden of difficult choices with their accompanying cost to the soul.
Basically, I just have fun watching this show, and I savor when we see the selfless heroes foil the murderous villains.
A Certain Scientific Railgun
This one is fairly unique among these Top Contenders. It is a spin-off, side-story to another anime, A Certain Magical Index. For present purposes, we are pretending that one does not exist, because the child far surpasses the parent in this case.
You have a city of science and psychic powers. Often, the more advanced psychics are given a nicknames in token of their abilities. The main character, manipulating electromagnetic energy, can propel a coin with her thumb like a railgun, with devastating effect. Thus, she is the titular “Railgun,” and she is one of the most powerful psychics in the city.
She and her friends, all girls of varying talent and ability, get into plenty of trouble in their quest to help the people around them. They stumble onto more than one conspiracy, which they thwart, and to see a bunch of schoolgirls kicking serious ass (pardon my language, but that’s the best way to put it) is a joy to behold. Perhaps its because of how I was raised, but I’ve always enjoyed seeing strong women in the media, every bit as much as strong men.
This show often carries a theme of the “weak” and “helpless” being much stronger, much more important, then they realize, even while the villains dismiss them without a second thought. I love how, in one of the season finales, the tide of battle is turned against the villain by none other than the single weakest member of the team, she who has little physical power and not a trace of psychic ability. I think we all feel like we are that one, sometimes, the helpless burden weighing everyone down, but this anime echoes a sentiment dear to my heart: we don’t need to be the best, we just need to give what we can to the cause we support, and that can prove the deciding difference.
All in all, I love this show.
My best friend, as we were watching another anime called Code Geass, told me that he admired the world-building of this show, but the story-crafting was ridiculous. The best stories have the world and story interlocking with each other.
Shortly after this conversation, I realized that Log Horizon is such a story, where the world and the story are intimately entwined, both of them well-constructed.
One day, a number of people playing a game online are all suddenly trapped in a world which seems to either be based off the game, or which the game must somehow have been based on. It’s not a game anymore, its a new world, and they must learn to live in it. Things about how a game works are addressed, like “how would this work if it were real? Why would it?” And the story is based upon the answers to these questions.
Again, plot, characters, character development, music, etc. It’s all here. The main character is a scheming, conniving strategist, but one which turns his abilities to serve the good of the world, and he has the assistance of loyal friends and worthy comrades. Granted, he must also learn what is going on with this world, and use that knowledge to preserve himself and his comrades against their enemies and potential enemies, which puts a rather serious amount of pressure on him. As the influence of his leadership, both in the open and behind the scenes, spreads throughout their community, these individuals make choices together, choosing civilization and self-restraint over rampant, self-serving violence. This, too, is inspirational.
Oh, and the petite assassin who has a mad crush on our hero is adorable.
Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet
In one of my college courses, we learned about the structure of a story, particularly in cinema. To paraphrase in such a way that my teacher would probably howl in consternation: you have a beginning, a first act, a conflict, a second act, a culmination, a falling action in the latter portion of act two, then an upset, a revelation, the return of the threat from act one, a second culmination, a third act, a third culmination, falling action, and the end. That is a very rough summary.
Gargantia follows this formula quite well, and it blew my mind when I realized I was looking at an anime like that, heh.
This is the story of a robot-armor’s combat pilot, who falls from the sky onto a water-covered world called Earth. His companion, an artificial intelligence, assists him as best he can, such as when he translates what the natives are saying (“that seems to be a comment regarding sanctified excrement” he says as his pilot is being chased around a ship by an angry mob) as well as providing transport and protection. As they acclimate, they must learn about living a peaceful life, as they have known nothing but war for their entire lives, and they do find some peace, but then… conflict finds them again.
The first half of the show is mostly hilarious, but things move ever deeper into an awesome conflict, not just between the hero and the enemy he knows, but also within the hero himself, as he must soon choose between his old ideals and his new ones.
It’s a pretty thrilling anime.
Oh, and when he has his first meeting, and first clash, with the more primitive humans, he kidnaps a girl to use as a shield. Guess who becomes his romantic interest? LOL
It’s a rip-roaring, fast-paced… ok, I really, can’t compete with the trailer, LOL.
It’s mostly set in the early 1930s, and chock full of action (yes, there is blood, but it’s not so bad as you might think), romance (there are… one, two, three, four, at least five couplings I can think of, all addressed in non-chickflicky ways), comedy (the sort that leaves you holding your sides for long afterward), drama (a conflict between centuries-old immortals over the fate of the elixir which gave them their longevity, and a mafia war on the rise, and a train ride riddled with massacre, and more), great characters (everyone plays the lead, in plots separated by time and space, yet told in an interweaving fashion, a very high quality of storytelling), music (of course), and more, more, more!
The only thing it doesn’t have “more” of is episodes! It’s only sixteen episodes, and I really wish they’d gone longer. Much longer. Yet, even here, it is unique. See, I have a pet peeve with anime that end before their story does (Kaze no Stigma, for instance, uses two dozen episodes and ends just as the story begins). This one sets itself apart both in acknowledging that there is more story to tell, in fact it’s a story that can’t really have a perfect ending, just as it can’t have a perfect beginning (not that such keeps them from trying anyway, and to good effect) and they manage to choose and craft an “ending” which I find rather satisfying.
Seriously, this one might worm its way into slot number 4 as I’m writing this.
Now this one, I may catch a bit of flack for liking. Why? Well, there’s a goodly amount of fan service. For some reason, in this fantasy world, when one is engaged in combat with one of the female leads and deals a decisive blow, their clothes are spontaneously shredded. You would think that such would encourage them to wear a bit more beneath said clothes, but this is almost never the case.
Looking past that particular detail, however, this is a fun ride in a magical world.
Take the typical story of a mortal human being summoned to a fantasy world to be the hero for a certain kingdom in its hour of need. Now, make that world peaceful and the “wars” more like massive athletics festivals instead of desperate struggles for life and limb, and you have a recipe for fun! Oh, and the inhabitants of this world are all humans with a bit of animal added to them, such as dogs (thus the name Dog Days is a play on words), cats, foxes, even squirrels.
There is, particularly in the first season, a very real danger which must be overcome, but for the most part, this show just does not take itself very seriously. I had a ball watching it.
This one may be the weakest of my Top Contenders (see comments regarding fan service), but I just couldn’t leave it out. Forgive me! 😉
Summary: My Personal Pantheon
A you can see, I like some variety in my entertainment. If it strikes you as something you might like, then I highly recommend each and every one of these.
In keeping with the Greek god metaphor I started with my Top Three (and have a sudden urge to continue, see how far I can take it), I suppose these could all be very roughly equal to the following gods:
Attack on Titan: Ares, the God of War. As the content involves an ongoing war the horrific deaths involved.
Ah My Goddess: Aphrodite, Goddess of Love. As it is a chickflick, and even features goddesses for romantic interests. Of course, this particular anime and its goddesses would be a bit more, ahem, chaste than Aphrodite.
Spice and Wolf: Demeter, Goddess of the Harvest. Between the harvesting and trading, and the simple search for happiness the characters engage in, this one simply shoves itself into Demeter’s slot.
Kids on the Slope: Dionysus, God of Music and Merrymaking. Mostly for the element of jazz music within it, but also because, in the end, years after their childhoods are over, the two main characters are still those kids having fun whenever they are playing jazz.
Slayers: Athena, Goddess of Wisdom and Warfare. This is in simple token of how Lina Inverse kicks butt and, despite her craziness, has pretty good insight when it comes to battle.
Trigun: Apollo, God of the Sun. Not only is a setting in the future, on an alien planet which is one huge desert under twin suns, but the main character is a bit like a sun-god himself at times.
Sword Art Online: Persephone, Queen of the Underworld. As I had an extra anime to put into a slot, I chose Persephone, who is stolen to the underworld, and then spends half her time below, and half her time above, much like the main characters are first stolen away from the real world, and when they win their freedom, they then divide their time between the two worlds of “real” and “game.”
A Certain Scientific Railgun: Artemis, Goddess of the Hunt. Oh, this anime is girl power all the way, and these girls can so take you down!
Log Horizon: Hephaestus, God of the Smithy. I’d actually thought I’d be using some sort of “mecha” themed anime for the Smith, but this one fits too. Not only are the world and story finely crafted, but the heroes are crafting a civilization for themselves.
Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet: Hestia, Goddess of the Home and Hearth. Fire burns, much like the conflict of battle found in this anime, but it also warms and nurtures. While the main setting may be a world covered by water, the subject matter is one of living in peace with those around you. (and this one was either Hestia or Hephaestus, in token of the giant robots)
Baccano: Hera, Queen of the Gods. As this one seems to be taking a comfortable rank at number four, and has a number of strong female leads, where else could I put Baccano, eh?
Dog Days: Hermes, the Herald. He Who Just Has Fun.
So, there’s my personal pantheon, and I hope you enjoyed it!
(and yes, I am aware of the irony that I ended my last post because it was getting too long, yet this one is much longer, LOL)