My task today is to lead you through a list of my five favorite shows. This is something that will benefit from both a little structure and a little rule breaking. First the former: this will be a path, a road if you will from one trait to another, tying the shows I love to each other. And the latter is fairly forgivable I suspect: a sixth show to start my journey from. Shall we?
Honorable Mention. Irresponsible Captain Tylor
This is one of a host of light but action filled space operas I love, such as the recent Bodacious Space Pirates or the older Outlaw Star. They all play fast and loose with physics to one degree or another and are short on Big Ideas, but go for high adventure and fun romps like nobody’s business. Princesses or worlds need saving and by god, it’s going to be the ragtag crew of unlikely misfits to do it! These sort of escapist shows make it easy for me to forget the world for awhile and just have fun.
It all comes down to Captain Justy Ueki Tylor. Neither friend, foe, nor even audience can ever grasp his essential nature. For every moment you think he’s the most devious, plotting, Machiavellian hero ever committed to screen, you’ll have an equal one wherein you’re convinced he’s a mad fool so beloved by the gods that fate and consequence slip from him like butter from Teflon. But from hostage situations to getting caught up in a coup d’état against an enemy empress, Captain Tylor earns you remembering his full name. In a anime landscape chock full of MC-kuns that’s worthy of appreciation.
5. Level E
And speaking of unique leads, Level E has that in spades. Level E is one of those shows that is largely carried by their lead’s personality. Baka-ouji is brilliant, charming, easily bored and utterly amoral. Chaotic neutral defined. The trolling isn’t just limited to the wide cast of strong supporting characters though, the audience itself is continually and delightfully trolled as well.
But what I love most is how each of its arcs has a wonderful sci-fi idea behind it that other shows would be content to focus on their entire run. From a film noir story of a last of her kind mermaid with a deadly lie detector, to one of alien refugees that eat their mates to reproduce, this is a show unafraid of playing with concepts. Also, poor Kraft.
4. Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam
And sci-fi concepts bring us to my favorite of the sprawling Gundam franchise, Zeta. UC universe Gundam gives us O’Neill Colonies , orbital mechanics, cybernetic enhancement and a world with a rich history. It also comes with the schlock of Minovsky particles, psychic powers and improbably young ace pilots, but that’s the price of admission.
In my heart of hearts however, I’m in it for the giant robots. I’m firmly convinced that humanity has a deep seated urge to see titanic metal humanoids pound one another into scrap, how else does one explain the success of the Transformers films? Zeta scratches this itch with aplomb, it features the first Gundam team, excellent set piece battles, and a wide range of mechanical designs.
3. Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann
Unlike the previous entry, Gurren Lagann‘s robots hold no truck with the laws of physics or common sense. Hot blood and the rule of cool reign here, and after you see the Lagann jack robots right and left or the Chouginga Gurren Lagann perform a Giga Drill Break you’ll know it’s all the better for it.
But between escaping underground villages and flinging galaxies like ninja stars, there’s a story about relationships. At its core Gurren Lagann tells a tale of how the people we love shape us, of how their loss can shatter us and of how love can forge us anew, tempered to meet any task. And it does so with style and panache.
2. Spice and Wolf
This is the thread we follow into a story nominally about medieval economics, but really more about Horo and Lawrence’s journey.A journey taken both across the countryside, and one from business partners to friends to not quite lovers. Horo, being a demigod and far older than Lawrence, is well acquainted with loss and the knowledge she will long outlive him rightfully scares her.
But sometimes you can’t fight chemistry and there’s no shortage of that here. That chemistry fuels some of the best banter to be found. The key is its good humor. Lawrence never quite gives as good as he gets but he is by no means some lump of an audience stand-in. The pair firing quips back and forth will bring a smile to your lips and laughter to your throat.
1. Maison Ikkoku
Humor is unsurprisingly the foundation of Rumiko Takahashi’s tale of a Tokyo test taker and his long running pursuit of his recently widowed apartment manager. The ensemble cast is large enough to give us plenty of stories over the show’s long run, but unlike the rest of Rumiko’s works, it never suffers cast bloat.
Godai starts off as the quintessential hopeless hornball hero, and Kyoko the bland tsundere heroine. But where most shows would either leave them static or force a change on them through contrived drama, they are allowed the space for something remarkable: they grow, change, and become more complete people in a organic manner. And it is a joy to watch that.
I have reached the end of my path and I’ve a confession to make, these are not my five favorite shows. They are among my favorites certainly, but any attempt to enumerate that list is folly, its numbers are legion. If I were to repeat this exercise the path would be utterly different and just as valid. This is a good thing. To be inclusive is to enrich oneself and to be exclusive will only leave you the poorer.
Here’s to another year, may you find new favorites everyday!