Part 2 of my project to chronicle naught but the best the decade offered in animated riches (Part 1 is here). This one is a little better written and a bit more wordy, which is both good and bad. Either way, please enjoy.
20. Lostorage Incited Wixoss (Fall 2016)
Some will argue I’m being pretty inconsistent by having this entry occupying an entire slot by itself when the many different stories of, say, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure are forced to share but a single spot, but this is deliberate, mostly to highlight that it is here on its own merit. Lostorage Incited is weird when you’re coming in from Selector Spread. It seems cruel; Mari Okada’s endless love for her characters is clearly missing, and the show harshly strips back the mysticism and Mahou Shoujo elements of the original, resulting in something vastly different in tone and feeling. And yet, I would argue, Lostorage Incited is as perfect a sequel to Selector Spread as we could have gotten, using all of the original show’s themes and motifs to interrogate the purpose of human nature and the quintessence of love and empathy in human existence. This is a good show.
19. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (Fall 2012-Winter 2013, Spring-Summer 2014, Winter-Spring 2015, Spring-Fall 2016, Fall 2018-Summer 2019)
I have no idea what to say about JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. If you’re coming here from anitwitter, you know what JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is. It’s ridiculous, it’s way, way over the top, and almost always dead serious. And it rocks. I can point to any number of moments throughout the show that stand among as some of the most effective moments in action anime: be it Dio’s incredible home invasion in the opening episodes, the utter lunacy of the fight against Cars, the outrageous bullshittery against D’arby the Gambler, or the serious horror Yoshikage Kira brings into Hayato Kawajiri’s life, JoJo’s can do virtually anything. While it does often struggle to give its story serious dramatic heft, the couple of times it does work (looking especially at Kira and Hayato here) it really works.
18. Devilman Crybaby (Winter 2018)
Devilman Crybaby is an extremely violent clash of good and evil with some murky lines to be drawn, but above all else, it’s a story about humanity and its worth when the lines of them and us are no longer distinguishable through anything but words and actions. I wrote about it this time last year, too! One of my better pieces, I’d like to think. Devilman Crybaby feels both a bit goofy at times and a bit too out there at others, especially in the first half, but it manages to get a grip on itself starting in episode 6 and from there to the end it becomes one of anime’s premiere tragedies.
17. Gatchaman Crowds (Summer 2013, Summer 2015)
The most essential show for understanding 21st Century politics would likely deserve a spot on this list even if it wasn’t a particularly charming or well-written series, but thankfully Gatchaman Crowds doesn’t have to worry about that at all. Hajime Ichinose is one of the most charming protagonists in recent memory, and her entire supporting cast of more-or-less blatantly queer heroes is not too far behind. Gatchaman Crowds wants to defeat first troll culture and then the reactionary groupthink behind both modern fascism and puritanical anti-culture, and it wants to do so without ever losing faith in humanity. It’s hard sometimes. Especially in the latter case, I find the conclusion a little unsatisfying. Fixing these problems simply isn’t as easy as understanding them is. But that doesn’t make Gatchaman Crowds much less of a show (although it might have been a few spots higher if it had been a little more convincing in that sense).
16. Kemono Friends (Winter 2017)
Kemono Friends is a simple story about universal heroism. I tried to write about it too, but it’s one of my very early posts and honestly not good, so I’m only very hesitantly linking it. Let me try and restate the core of the argument. Kaban, our hero, is the weakest of all friends, with rather mediocre physical abilities in every aspect and no particularly notable ability besides her intellect, her main role in her journey through Japari Park is to help the people they come across be the best versions of themselves they can be. It’s hard to talk about what makes this show truly special without spoiling the climax, but it’s a truly powerful story about learning from each other’s strengths, and learning to believe in yourself and in others. Oh, and kindness. A whole lot of that too.
15. The Idolm@ster Cinderella Girls (Winter, Summer 2015)
Cinderella Girls is often overlooked in favour of 2011’s The Idolm@ster (a solid show which ended up falling just a few spots past my top 30 cut-off), but after watching both of them I’m not really sure why. It’s definitely true that the older show has more spectacular animation, and both shows share some key flaws: most prominently, casts that are too big to make every character feel necessary and important. But to me, Cinderella Girls is the far superior show both at episodic drama and in constructing a strong, overarching narrative for its story. A lot of this hinges on one key decision which makes a huge difference to me: whereas 2011 Im@s basically gives all but a few characters just one single focus episode and otherwise keeps them thoroughly in the background of other people’s stories, Cinderella Girls’ structure of grouping people together means that everyone has at least one focus episode in the first half and then another in the second; this, combined with the very different dramatic context of the second half, allows all these people to show much more visible growth. The dynamics between people like Miku and Riina or Anzu and Kirari have so much nuance to them, because we’ve had much more time to see their relationships not just begin, but develop and grow. Please stop sleeping on this show.
14. The great non-franchise movies of the 2010s
Okay so this one is a bit of a cop-out. I initially just had Maquia in this spot, but then I thought about it more and realized that wasn’t entirely fair. While Maquia likely is my favourite non-franchise Anime movie of the decade, so many more deserve shout-outs, and this spot is representative of the cream of the crop. Obviously there are still many I haven’t seen, but included here are Haikara-san ga Tooru, Uchiage Hanabi, Promare, Mutafukaz, Ride Your Wave, Mirai, Maquia and Children of the Sea. If I get around to writing a top movie list of the 2010s, I’ll give you more of my thoughts about those.
13. Kemurikusa (Winter 2019)
Striking out on their own after the Kemono Friends franchise was ripped from their hands, director Tatsuki, his animation team irodori and studio Yaoyorozu set out to prove that it was their talent which made Kemono Friends a success. While Kemurikusa may not close the door on that debate (its cultural and commercial impact compared to the behemoth Kemono Friends they created was rather small), it certainly proved that the storytelling talent of this team is the real deal. A story of tense, post-apocalyptic exploration in desperate search for water, the show sprinkles just enough levity in to make this family’s bonds ring true. And while the finale’s action epic ambitions do go a few steps too far past the limits of the animation, the journey there is nothing short of a masterpiece.
12. White Album 2 (Fall 2013)
White Album 2 hurts. It is a car crash in agonizingly slow motion. But it is also one of, if not the, realest show about people who really want to love but lack the emotional maturity to talk things out and make things work. The first half even is rather beautiful, in shot, in writing, and in emotion, even as the signs of pain to come show through the cracks from the very beginning. I bonded hard with Setsuna—too hard, arguably, seeing far too many of her flaws in myself and subconsciously projecting her doom and despair onto my own situation—and she remains one of the best-written characters I have ever seen. White Album 2 is not one for the faint of heart, nor for the romantically insecure. But it is one of the realest, harshest, and best shows ever made.
11. Monogatari Series (Summer 2009, Winter 2012, Fall 2012, Summer-Fall 2013, Summer-Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Winter 2016, Summer 2016, Winter 2017, Summer 2017, Fall 2018)
If you are tangentially related to anitwitter or other aniblogging communities, you already know what Monogatari is. You’ve probably even seen at least a chunk of it. If you haven’t, you’ve seen dozens of people raving about it and have been told to watch it so many times that you might even resent it for that fact alone. I apologize if you find yourself in that group, but here I am to tell you, yes, Monogatari is amazing, and every bit as good as those people have been telling you. Yes, the entire series may just be one rambling conversation after the other, but no matter how much random-seeming banter there is to them, just about every single one of these conversations adds nuances and elaborations to some of the most nuanced and real characters in fiction. I can definitely see how its style could rub some people the wrong way, but ultimately, the fact that Monogatari misses the top 10 here says more about the quality of those above it than any of Monogatari’s flaws.
Continued in Part 3.