A little secret: I hate writing reviews. I also despise putting together “Top Lists” due to an inability to rate one thing over another. Say I was called upon to list my favorite series of this past year, 2012. Immediately springing to mind is Tsuritama, for I honestly cannot think of an anime more jubilant than that one. It was tightly-plotted, colorful, and emotionally satisfying. Then again, how could I possibly compare the burst of emotion and energy I received from Tsuritama with something that make me laugh warmly week after week like Polar Bear Café? This idea continues to fall to pieces when fondly remembering the other series I so loved this past year: Hyouka for it’s exploration of detective fiction, Tari Tari for its warm heart in spite of a rather cynical backdrop, Aquarion EVOL for its over-the-top ridiculousness, Smile Precure for its Cinderella episode alone, and Acchi Kocchi for washing away the troubles of the day with fuzzy romantic sweetness.
The fact is, that when called on to compare them, I simply cannot. They’re all too different. I loved watching each and every one of them, and this is well before any mention of the perpetual war between emotional resonance and objective quality in reviews; a war in which I refuse to speak for one side – although one may hazard a guess to where my opinion would fall. Now having established my hatred for these sort of things, what should follow this introduction when asked to list my top five anime of all time? Well, I refuse to rank them, although feel free to argue amongst yourselves in the comments section about quality versus emotion and how to place things on your MAL user list with an insignificant number. I am simply here for the sole purpose of speaking to five spectacular series, in no particular order. All are highly recommended.
A Touch of Quiet Confidence:
“If you ever meet someone I don’t measure up to, I won’t say anything if you chose them over me.”
-Minami Asakura, Touch
One of the series that I followed weekly, and enjoyed tremendously, in 2009 was Cross Game. Based on the Mitsuru Adachi manga of the same name, it was a series that combined two of my favorite hobbies: anime and baseball. While watching, in a moment of typical impatience, I expressed to my friend the torturous experience of having to wait week after week to watch the next episode. She linked me to this article, saying that, although it was not up her particular alley, perhaps I would enjoy this series (based on a manga by the same artist) in the meantime. Upon reading, I was immediately struck by the inserted quote above. More than watching another series about baseball, more than finding a substitute for Cross Game, I now wanted to meet Minami Asakura, this girl with such a quiet, elegant confidence.
What followed was, without doubt, the most rigorous of marathons I have ever taken part in. Touch is a whopping 101 episodes long which is unheard of today, outside of Sazae-san and its ilk. I was able to meet Minami Asakura, and hear her quote in context, which ended up meaning so much more. I met the Uesugi brothers, Punch, Mitsudaira, Harada, the Nitta siblings and, in that masterful Adachi way, I ended up loving them all. For those willing to brave the 1980’s animation and slow narrative burn, Touch will reward you in the most wonderful way.
Seventies Shoujo is More “Manly” Than Today’s Shounen:
Upon attending my first anime convention in 2010, the sports anime panel was the obvious choice for my premiere panel. I walked shyly in and sat towards the back, in spite of there only being an audience of under 20 people total, hoping that these sorts of things didn’t require much audience participation. Fortunately, the only piece that involved any input from the audience was an introduction where we all went around and said one of our favorite sports anime aloud. Nearly everyone in the audience said Prince of Tennis or Eyeshield 21, there were a few Cross Game‘s here and there, and this made it even more nerve-wracking to say, “Touch.” aloud in a squeak. One of the panelists smiled an applauded my choice. When presenting his material, Aim for the Ace! was one of the first series presented, and after the panel was over he walked up to me briefly and told me to give it a chance, saying that if I had loved Touch, I would love this series as well.
Having aired in 1973, it took a bit to track it down; however, it was well worth the wait. Watching Hiromi Oka’s journey as a tennis player is a special thing to be a part of, especially if one has ever has developed a passion for something and subsequently struggled to be the best. Most days all of us could use a Demon Coach continuing to bat figurative tennis balls at us until we, arise, knock-kneed from the tennis court, finally able to receive that serve.
There is No Prince:
One of the few things I was allowed to watch as a child, along with the evening news and PBS, were Disney movies. At the time, my mother restricted me to one viewing of The Little Mermaid a week, surely for her sanity more than any other reason. Needless to say, I was very familiar with the stereotypical Disney princess narrative.
Revolutionary Girl Utena was recommended to me when I began to watch Star Driver, with the words that it was, “Like Star Driver, but better.” The first episode intrigued me. By Nanami’s initial war on Anthy, I was completely hooked. Finishing up the series within a week, I watched as Utena managed to out-duel her opponents week after week in search of her prince that she met as a child. As the last episode ended, I sat back and tried to identify the emotions bubbling up to the surface, surprised and a bit unnerved that one of them was disappointment.
Utena never found a prince.
The more I thought about it, the angrier I became. Why did I expect her to find a prince? Why did I want her to find one? And why was I disappointed by the fact that she was not united with one by the end? Revolutionary Girl Utena had shattered my preconceived childhood notions of storytelling in the best way. Slowly I came to realize that not only was it “okay” for Utena to not have a prince in her ending, but that it was far better that way. I watched the movie and cheered as Anthy raced from her entrapment in her stylish racecar, Utena. There are far more important things that Utena has to say, and others more intelligent than I have written wonderfully insightful things about this series; however, I’ll always be grateful to it for altering my opinion on what a woman’s narrative should be, and showing me what it could be.
Aux Armes Citoyens!:
Revolutionary Girl Utena led me to Rose of Versailles which, in spite of Kunihiko Ikuhara’s insistence to the contrary, has always been lauded as the primary inspiration for Utena. Although this may be true, it’s also worth mentioning that Rose of Versailles is an inspiration to nearly any shoujo series that followed it, in one way or another. This is the second directorial work of Osamu Dezaki that has cropped up on this list and, if one has watched both series, it’s easy to see how Dezaki had honed many of his animation techniques and had developed an adaptive style traversing from the first, Aim for the Ace!, to the second, Rose of Versailles.
Both lend a backdrop of grittiness, especially in the latter, to a series of complex character relationships. Much like watching Touch, Rose of Versailles slowly unfurls, allowing each character tendril to have its due. This leads to not only characters that the audience can easily sympathize with, but a lack of loyalty to any one particular character. Leading lady Oscar de Jarjayes is consistently shown to have flaws and weaknesses, and when these are woven in with the character threads of Marie Antoinette, Axel von Fersen, and Madam du Barry it creates a fascinating tapestry. Not one character is completely immune to their own faults, and all must come to terms with them in the twilight of the bygone French aristocracy.
The Love of an Artist:
Honey and Clover simultaneously wrecks the emotions of every main character in the series and every audience member watching. It also, in tandem with Touch, Rose of Versailles, and Aim for the Ace!, is able to present each member of its cast as both flawed and sympathetic. Putting the realistic character dynamic and emotional waterworks within the series aside, Honey and Clover prodded my thoughts at a deeply personal level. One may infer much by reading this post. These insights were bidden by the choice presented to Hagu Hanamoto: choose between romantic love and life’s passion.
Having distanced myself from my initial reaction to the series, I now come away with an amended interpretation of Hagu’s choice. Hagu may not be choosing between romantic love and her life’s work, instead managing to choose both. Through her choice of caretaker, she not only furthers her own aims as an artist but is also able to wholeheartedly love the person that she does by allowing him to further his own goals as well. One need not be beside one that they love in order to support them and inspire them in their passion of choice. I’d like to think that Hagu’s heart wholly recognizes this.