The Backlog: A Year (or Two) in Review

A year ago, August 2017, I came to the harrowing realization that at my disorganized, lazy pace, I would never get to see most of the shows I wanted to see. It was not a new realization, but this time was different. I had time on my hands. I set out to do something about it, and The List was born. Since then, my organized backlog has been one of the main guiding lines of my life, as depressing as that sounds, and with its anniversary coming up in a matter of days, I want to take some time to talk about it.

The System

I’ve been using a rotation system for years. When I first started watching anime in an anime club at the University of Ulm, Germany, we’d always watch two shows parallel, two episodes of a lighter show, three episodes of a more “serious” one, a label to be taken with some salt, as it included, next to shows like Mawaru Penguindrum, the Tatami Galaxy or Shinsekai Yori, both Sword Art Online and Akame ga Kill! When I first started watching anime independently of the club in 2015, I tried to emulate this system, but ran into some difficulties right off the bat, namely that Digimon Adventure, one of the first shows I wanted to watch, is rather long, and, quite notably, is not very good for most of its first half. I needed to change my system or I would grow tired of Digimon, and I was not going to let that happen. I shifted to rotating four episode blocks of four shows at a time, and that worked pretty well for a while. Eventually though, I came to notice that something was missing from my anime experience, and that was the social aspect. Having no one to talk to or throw my thoughts against as I watched acted as a serious detractor to my enjoyment of several shows that became favourites of mine later on, the most relevant example probably being  Revolutionary Girl Utena, which didn’t click for me until around episode 30-32 on my first watch.

Going Online

If you search my twitter for my very oldest tweet that is neither a retweet nor a reply to one of the bigger anime bloggers, you will find my very first attempt at livetweeting anime. Twitter was somewhat of a release for me; inspired by what I had read from better accounts on their blogs and their twitters, I felt like I could find an outlet like I had been lacking since I came to the US in the Summer of 2015. I have a lot of difficulties forming a proper opinion on things without trying to vocalize and organize my thoughts, and livetweeting solved that issue without giving me the new problem of finding people to watch things with (who wouldn’t be annoyed by me wanting to talk while I watch). Simply put, it’s been a central element to my online experience from the very beginning.

My very first tweet was the first episode of K-on!, and that series as a whole is a pretty strong measurement for how slow and dysfunctional my first attempts at all of this were: it took me literally over a year from the start of season one to the end of season two, and a couple of days longer to include the movie. As I started to make friends in anime watching circles, the list of shows I was recommended grew infinitely, to the point where the concept of finishing things and having to decide on where to take things became strangely intimidating. By the time I finished my first show since joining twitter, The Idolm@ster, I had heard “Watch Eva” so often I actively avoided it and started watching Aikatsu! instead, a joke I admittedly don’t regret. The combo of Aikatsu!, K-on!, and the other two shows I was watching parallel to them, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and Steven Universe, would last me the rest of my first year on twitter.

The year of The List

Replacing K-on! in my rotations ended up being a pretty simple task: Having dodged Neon Genesis Evangelion for over half a year already, I couldn’t deny that I had become quite interested in it. But Evangelion is not a lengthy show, and I was over halfway through both JoJo’s and Steven Universe at the time. I had to start planning for the future, or I would struggle to find the motivation to keep me watching things with any kind of consistency; the previous year had taught me that much. And so the list was born. I wrote out a handful of shows I had promised people I would try, a few I really wanted to watch soon because I had already seen parts of them, and set them in the top spots on the list, before letting the order of every other show on the list be decided by Excel’s Rand function. That latter bit seems to frustrate people, but for me it’s an adventure: literally everything on the list is something I want to watch, and like this I’m not pressured into watching things at anyone’s whim but my own. It’s my very own journey of discovery, and a year in, I’ve loved the whole thing dearly.

With that said, I want to run down, rank and talk about everything I’ve seen in the year since the creation of the list, including the shows that carried over from the previous year, and things I watched extraneously to the list. It’s an anniversary after all, might as well have a list on it! Subdividing a few entries where my opinion differs greatly on individual parts, here’s my rundown of the 26 things I’ve seen over the last year!

26. Danganronpa 3 – The End of Hope’s Peak High School (watched in rotation from 7/10/2017-4/11/2017)

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Starting with the worst: Despite my deep love for all four Danganronpa games, The End of Hopes’ Peak High School failed to do much of anything worthwhile for me. Lacking in virtually all of the games’ charm, the shows’ endless grimdark shenanigans along with an overabundance of Junko Enoshima’s witless pseudo-philosophy mean that for most of its airtime, Danganronpa 3 is too busy killing off its characters to actually write them a personality. Even the episodes I did enjoy, notably Ultra Despair Girls and Hope Arc, the series finale, work almost exclusively because of affection I have for the characters because of the games. I stuck through it because I wanted to have the complete experience of the series, but I wouldn’t make that decision a second time.

25. Lostorage Conflated Wixoss                        (marathoned from 9/7/2018-10/7/2018)

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The Wixoss series is one of my all-time favourite anime, but unfortunately no one I’ve spoken to has really enjoyed all four seasons of it. Most people were really thrown by a different part I will get to later, but for me, it is season four, Lostorage Conflated, where the show really misses the mark. I blame part of my reaction on coming in with too high expectations, but that doesn’t excuse Lostorage Conflated’s blatant disregard for basically all previously established themes, nor how it took on two very strong previously established casts and managed to underutilize every single character it inherited, in some cases even undoing previously established character development. Lostorage Conflated was a real disappointment for me.

24. Lupin the IIIrd: Goemon Ishikawa’s Spray of Blood (watched in rotation on 5/11/2017)

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Spray of Blood does just one thing well: Action scenes. This is important, because this movie has a lot of them. The problem comes from the kind of action this is, and it’s incredibly grim, violent, and never lets up. The scattered non-action scenes, while lighter in tone, rather than easing the oppressive feel, make the movie feel tonally confused more than anything else. It’s certainly pretty in motion, but it’s not much of a Lupin III adventure, and the rather goofy thief and his companions feel very out of place in Goemon’s tale of revenge.

23. Humanity has Declined!                                      (watched in rotation from 13/11/2017-12/12/2017)

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Humanity has Declined! is a huge mess. Playing out in achronological order for no apparent reason, the vast majority of the show consists of surreal jokes, bizarre non sequiturs, and really, really bad puns (it’s been nine months and I have not forgiven it for “Time Paradogs”). I’m a fan of surreal humour, so I thought I’d find more to enjoy, but I was surprised how often I reached a point of just not caring and letting it wash over me. All of this is handily undone by the two-part finale, one of the most stunning, heartwarming finales I can think of, and which let Humanity has Declined! hold a fonder place in my heart than it really deserves.

22. Sailor Moon                                                                 (watched in rotation from 7/11/2017-25/5/2018)

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The first season of the 1990’s Sailor Moon anime, also referred to as Sailor Moon Classic, has a major issue with consistency. Its best episodes, such as 24, 34, 45 and 46, shine like brilliant jewels, but in between them, Classic has a hard time going more than a few episodes without running something decidedly mediocre, and the lack of tension between the major narrative turning point of episode 34 and the last few episodes is ridiculous. Ultimately, Classic’s narrative is just not full enough to warrant a 46 episode series, and several stretches are severely hurt by the lack of content.

21. Mary and the Witch’s Flower                              (watched with friends on 4/2/2018)

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There is nothing wrong with Mary and the Witch’s Flower. And that’s almost all there is to say about that one, honestly. It looks and sounds like a Studio Ghibli movie, but suffers in comparison to the movies it resembles. There’s just very little interesting here.

20. Love Live! Sunshine!! 2nd Season            (marathoned from 15/1/2018-17/1/2018)

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Love Live! Sunshine!! is one of my absolute favourite pieces of art, so 2nd Season had a lot to live up to… and it just.. doesn’t quite do it. There’s a smattering of good episodes, some of which would even be good by season one’s standards, but 2nd Season has exactly one (admittedly very) good episode in its entire first half, and while the second half gets most things right, it’s not enough to lift 2nd Season out of unfortunate mediocrity. It does, however, still benefit from an exceptional cast, and even regressions in the writing of Riko and Hanamaru (and Yohane’s continued shrugworthiness) aren’t enough to sink this ship. The other six Aqours girls (and Saint Snow) are more than good enough to carry the show by themselves.

19. Top wo Nerae! Gunbuster                                    (watched with family on 16/9/2017)

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Gunbuster manages to do nothing special whatsoever through the first four episodes of its six episode run time. Episode five has one very strong conversation between time dilated friends. And then comes episode six, and changes everything. Gunbuster’s last episode is probably the single best piece of science-fiction art I have ever seen, and over half of the show ahead of it could have been cut without losing much of its effectiveness, which leaves Gunbuster looking.. not particularly well thought out. The series is hamstrung by its early episodes trying to tell a more traditional science-fiction adventure with themes and characters only tangentially related to the final part, and by those episodes reminding me of Starship Troopers, which isn’t a bad thing per se, but does Gunbuster’s actual story no favours. But boy episode six is pretty great.

18. Legend of the Galactic Heroes: My Conquest is the Sea of Stars (watched with family on 2/4/2018)

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I’m going to be absolutely honest with y’all. I barely remember this movie. What i do remember, though, is Legend of the Galactic Heroes’ epic scale, space battles that ignore the typical rule of action and focus exclusively on strategy, making a wonderfully trippy experience as the central skirmish goes down to the sound of Ravel’s Bolero, and a pretty strong central cast on both sides of the war. While the details of the movie may have slipped my mind, having a blast watching it with my brother did not.

17. The Woman Called Fujiko Mine                        (watched in rotation from 22/10/2017-2/11/2017)

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Fujiko Mine is another very messy show, with some stellar highlights scattered among a bunch of goods and some duds. It’s first half is highly episodic, leaving most of its plot significance in background symbology, and attempts to transition from the early structure into the more focused second half are pretty awkward. In a small handful of episodes Fujiko is reduced to a bit player in her own show. What makes up for all of that is the charming Lupin III cast, and a delicious visual aesthetic elevated by periodically spectacular direction from the likes of Sayo Yamamoto and Shouko Nakamura, among others. When The Woman Called Fujiko Mine hits its marks, it is truly fantastic.

16. Aria the Animation                                                (watched in rotation 27/7/2018-?/?/2018)

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I’m still only halfway into Aria, but it’s been so warm and welcoming, I feel pretty confident putting it above what we’ve listed so far. I’m not quite sure why it has its reputation as the deity of comfy anime; in the comfortable sense, I don’t see too big a difference between Aria and, say, Tamako Market or other shows that want to show you life through a sense of place. So far, Aria’s greatest distinction is its sheer beauty, its gorgeous painted backgrounds and excellent use of colour, which do an excellent job at selling the wonder with which Akari goes through her life. It’s good.

15. Haikara-san ga Tooru: Benio, Hana no 17-sai (watched in cinema on 4/2/2018)

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I have no excuses here. Haikara-san is not a good movie by any metric I could apply to it. It’s extremely messily plotted, it’s riddled with 70’s shoujo cliches, it doesn’t even have notably good direction. And yet.. it’s grown on me, to the point where I’m actively looking forward to the sequel. And it’s solely because of protagonist Benio Hanamura, who is one of the most charming and likable leads I can think of. It’s all worth it for her. She’s so good.

14. Lupin III: Jigen’s Gravestone                              (watched in rotation on 4/11/2017)

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All those complaints I had about Goemon Ishikawa’s Spray of Blood do not apply to its sibling film: Jigen’s Gravestone is an almost flawless example of what a darker Lupin adventure should be like. It’s not so gritty to be suffocating, and it manages to be fun when it should be and serious when it should be. Unfortunately, all this good stuff is built around one pretty major flaw: the frankly disastrous subplot around Fujiko Mine, involving her getting locked in a cage, naked with a killer robot and needing to be saved. It’s pathetic and is almost completely unrelated to the story, and could be cut with no loss. And that’s a real shame, because otherwise, Jigen’s Gravestone is really damn good.

13. Top wo Nerae 2! Diebuster                                  (watched with family on 16/9/2017)

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Diebuster really deserves a better spot. It’s an epic tale of making sense of youth and family and growing up, and it gets better with every single episode. Watching it with my sister was also an amazing experience. Ultimately though, Gunbuster’s finale has left a bigger mark on my memory than any single part of Diebuster, so while Diebuster is a far better whole, it doesn’t have quite the personal connection to me that the other shows listed here have.

12. Uchiage Hanabi, Shita kara Miru ka? Yoko kara Miru ka? (watched with friends on 4/2/2018)

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I’m going to get flak from some people for putting this specifically over Diebuster, but Uchiage Hanabi, as poorly constructed as it is, plays in a very rich thematic ground which specifically appeals to me, dealing with the ideas of “What could have been” and “How could my life have gone if I wasn’t so pathetic”, and it doesn’t do that in terms of audience wish fulfillment, but by following the characters’ imagined, escapist journey. It really stuck with me and I even wrote about it back in February. It may not be good, so to speak, but it’s unique and important.

11. Sailor Moon R                                                          (watched in rotation from 30/5/2018-?/?/2018)

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While consistency still isn’t one of Sailor Moon’s strong suits, Sailor Moon R upstages Classic in several key ways, and the most important one of those is pacing. Where Classic was divided into four arcs all in service of one central plot, R uses less episodes to go over two unrelated stories, and it fills the space with a lot more diverse characters. An and Eiru, the villains of the Doom Tree arc, stand out as they aren’t evil at all, harvesting human energy in a desperate attempt to just get by. The Dark Moon arc resembles Classic’s storytelling a lot more, but makes it work by giving the Sailor Soldiers not named Moon much bigger roles, and by adding more characters to the villains’ side, letting a lot more episodes feel more significant by virtue of not facing off against some Monster-of-the-Week, but a real enemy the show takes seriously. And with these tweaks in place, Sailor Moon R is a much more consistently enjoyable time than its predecessor.

10. Mutafukaz                                                               (watched with friends on 4/2/2018)

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Mutafukaz is the latest feature film by Studio 4°C and the feature debut for director Shoujirou Nishimi, one of the key minds behind Tekkonkinkreet. Now, I have a soft spot for everything mentioned in that sentence, as 4°C is known for weirder anime projects such as Masaaki Yuasa’s Mind Game or the Genius Party anthologies, and Tekkonkinkreet is one of said studio’s most important works. And, well, Mutafukaz is all of that promise come to life, one of the wildest movies I’ve ever had the joy of seeing. I don’t even want to waste words describing it; whatever I would say, Mutafukaz is more. Go watch it.

9. Gatchaman Crowds                                                (watched in rotation from 14/6/2018-25/7/2018)

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Gatchaman Crowds is a show that pretends to be about sentai super heroes while examining the impacts of social media on society, and pursues these seemingly disparate goals seamlessly, effortlessly, and breezily while never losing faith in humanity. The sequel season, Insight, while certainly less breezy than the first, goes further into depth on how ease and speed of social media communication can incite dangerous groupthink throughout large swathes of society as people try to fight back against negative overload, and how that can quickly snowball into fascism. In short, Gatchaman Crowds addresses a lot of topics that are crucial to understanding politics in the 2010s and it does so without ever losing its charm and without ever giving up on humanity. On top of all that, it’s incredibly queer, with representation of gays, lesbians, enbies, trans, ace/aros… It’s a really important show.

8. Lostorage Incited Wixoss                                     (watched in rotation from 21/5/2018-8/6/2018)

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Lostorage Incited is widely viewed as the black sheep of the Wixoss family: it completely dumps the original cast, throws out a lot of the original series’ mystic elements, includes male selectors, has far more arbitrary seeming game rules and has an absolutely disgusting trash bag for a villain who only wants to see people suffer. The gut reaction to all of this was pretty rough for a lot of people, and Lostorage Incited was quickly left by the wayside. If you went into it expecting a straight up sequel of the original series, I can understand this reaction too. But what lots of people missed is that Lostorage Incited is the most thematically dense entry into Wixoss canon, interrogating several key metaphors and ideas of the original in a venture to ask not only what makes us human but also what makes us ourselves. Alongside all this is a very strong central relationship of star-crossed more-than-friends Suzuko and Chinatsu, with one side driving the plot and the other carrying the show. It’s certainly less fun than the original, but taken on its own merits, Lostorage Incited has a ton to offer.

7. Aikatsu!                                                                      (watched in rotation from 24/11/2016-?/?/2018)

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Aikatsu! has been the defining journey of my time livetweeting anime. I’ve been watching it almost an entire year longer than the other two long running shows I’m working on; when I made the backlog list, I was about two thirds into season one, now I’m 18 episodes away from the end of season four, the true end of the show. It’s been an incredible journey, and I don’t regret choosing to start it early one bit. It’s not as immediately engaging as other idol anime greats such as Love Live! Sunshine!! or The Idolm@ster: Cinderella Girls, and given its great length it isn’t as consistent as one might ask for either, but Aikatsu! makes sure every step of the journey feels earned, and while there’s a few missteps along the way, it gets stronger and stronger the further along it goes. Aikatsu! deserves to be recognized as one of the greats of its genre. Watch Aikatsu!

6. Devilman Crybaby                                                            (watched with family from 8/1/2018-18/1/2018)

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Devilman Crybaby is by Masaaki Yuasa. That should be reason enough to watch it, honestly, but Crybaby is much more than just a gorgeous production; it’s a harrowing drama about queerness, the meaning and the limits of love, and the belief that humanity in all its shapes and sizes is meaningful and worthwhile. Admittedly this is just the second half of the show; the first plays with those themes, but it doesn’t manage to turn them into much of an emotional punch. The second half is so strong on its own that it nabs a top 10 spot. If anything, it’s disappointing it couldn’t do even more.

5. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure                                      (watched in rotation from 24/8/2016-7/11/2017)

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JoJo’s has been a great show from the very start. And then Part 4: Diamond is Unbreakable happened, which improved on everything the previous three seasons established and then some. And the key to its greatness lies far away from the muscle bound heroes and crazy Stand powers we’ve come to expect; it lies in a little boy with no powers except for his wits and the desire to save his mother from the dangerous stranger impersonating his father. Hayato Kawajiri adds a true sense of urgency and desperation to JoJo’s already excellent action, and the result is something truly spectacular.

4. Monogatari Series                                                   (watched in rotation from 6/11/2017-?/?/2018)

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My Monogatari journey is almost at an end. While the show itself has carefully skirted around becoming a top 10 favourite of mine, its sheer depth, gorgeous visual aesthetic and wonderful elaboration of its characters’ personalities and relationships have made it a consistent highlight from the very first episode. It’s also arguably the greatest reason I am as twitter famous as I am, giving me so much to talk about and analyze in almost every single episode. The Monogatari Series is truly excellent, and I am lucky to have been able to watch it and discover its depths with you all. Like K-on! marked my first year on twitter, year two will forever be the year of Monogatari to me.

3. Selector Infected/Spread Wixoss                        (watched in rotation from 26/12/2017-16/5/2018)

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The original Wixoss series has cemented itself as one of my all-time favourites: with Mari Okada’s brand of melodrama running at peak performance, and a heroine who saves the world by engaging in a polygamous, lesbian relationship with the avatars of the main villainess’s light and dark sides, there really is nothing quite like Selector Infected and Spread Wixoss. The Wixoss battles themselves act as a metaphor for various kinds of intimate contact between the players, and coupled with the shows’ absolutely wild plotting, the original Wixoss is truly one of the most unique and fun experiences in modern anime.

2. Neon Genesis Evangelion                                      (watched in rotation from 1/8/2017-20/10/2017)

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For over a year on twitter I was told to watch Evangelion. It became a running joke with some of my friends. But eventually I watched Eva. And Eva really, really touched me. Neon Genesis Evangelion is an anime about lonely people struggling to deal with giant robots, eldritch abominations, and each other, and the shows’ fundamental demand of the viewer is to do your best to love yourself. If that doesn’t sound like one of the greatest pieces of art out there, I don’t even know what to say. Incidentally, Evangelion also inspired me to write about it, and I think that space is better suited to show just how meaningful this show is to me. If you haven’t seen it yet, be good to yourself and watch Eva.

Only one show left! What could possibly overshadow Evangelion? Well…

None other than:

1. Steven Universe                                                           (watched on rotation from ?/7/2016-5/10/2017)

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I know, I know it feels weird to have a western cartoon sitting on top of 25 anime series. But, on the other hand, there just is no other show here that can rival the impact that Steven Universe has had on me. Steven Universe explores its setting with sincerity, with wonder, and more than anything else, with empathy, and it results in some of the most satisfying relationships I have seen in any art form. It celebrates queerness, diversity, and everyone living their own best way, and it never feels too optimistic. If you don’t believe love is the strongest power in the universe yet, Steven Universe will make you believe. It /is/ that good.

The last year has been one of great change for me again, and before the end of August, I will have left my two oldest companions on this list, Aikatsu! and Monogatari, behind. My future is relatively uncertain, and I’m nervous. But I want to embrace the future with open arms anyway, and I hope this time next year you will be here with me to celebrate what went and look forward to the future once again.

Thank you for your companionship! You mean the world to me!

Love,

Sashimi Princess Maddie @Ima_Ga_Saikou

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