Essential Anime Viewing

3 December, 2008

My definition of “essential” is “the best”. That is, not the series that the most people have seen, not even the ones recognised as widely influential, and certainly not the ones everyone loves because of nostalgia (I’m currently watching the Giant Robo OVA, which has brilliant production levels, but is pure nostalgic junk).

Keep in mind also that I’m a bit older than most anime fans, so have a bit less patience with the anime cliches.

To be fair (and get ahead of the critics), I’m going to mention the flaws that exist but I think fail to dent the shows’ intrinsic excellence. Except where specified, these shows have great character, story, graphic design, music, etc.

In NO particular order:

Fruits Basket – a reverse harem show that could’ve been trite, but had brilliant direction and wonderful OP/ED. Flaws: Gets a bit repetitive; ending doesn’t resolve the love triangle.
Azumanga Daioh – humour working on clever and dumb levels simultaneously; some great characters. Flaws: should’ve been longer.
Boogiepop Phantom – wonderfully grim and creepy; a horror anime that doesn’t resort to cliches (better than the book). Flaws: visually very dark; sometimes hard to tell characters apart.
Genshiken – yes, it’s set in an anime club, but this is brilliantly perceptive character-based comedy. Flaws: weak OP; waiting for the sequel.
Gunslinger Girl – from the premise, this could’ve been so bad, but the characters are detailed, convincing and touching, and you are carried along even though there’s not much of an “arc”. Flaws: ending feels inconclusive (I’m not counting the second series, which I haven’t seen).
Haibane Renmei – least pretentious of the ABe animes, because he directed himself. A great parable about life, set in a full-realised alt world. Flaws: None I can think of; maybe needed a punchier ending?
(Mobile Suit) Gundam Seed – brings together the best elements of the previous series, with fine modern graphics; a great space epic. Flaws: confusing in beginning if you don’t know the premise; padded in the middle; don’t remember how it ends.
(Super Dimensional Fortress) Macross – Still very original story. Fascinating characters. The last third, only produced due to unexpected popularity, really raises this series, showing the aftermath of war and how personalities and decisions affect destiny. Flaws: dated animation; takes a while to take off; OP/ED.
Wolf’s Rain – sustains a unique “end times” feel; good characters; plot well constructed; epic feel. Flaws: 4 recap episodes in a row due to strike?; art a bit drab; spoiler[everyone dies].
Planetes – creates a realistic future world, viewed from the bottom up. Terrific plot (takes a while to develop) that delivers at the end. Flaws: characters tend to stereotype; I didn’t think much of the OP/ED.

And I’ll sneak in a personal favourite at the end:
NieA_7 – a poignant comedy about a starving student in recession Japan, + there’s aliens. Fans of gentle nostalgic ambience will love. Flaws: OP singer; takes a while to get past the surface comedy.

There’s still a lot of anime to see, so this list is not exhaustive.

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