Unpopular Opinion: My Top 50 Anime of Decade

On the one hand I’m kind of excited to do this because this was the first decade of anime where I was really into it.  I’ve watched plenty of older shows but I didn’t really dive head first into anime fandom until 2011 so this is the first time I get to make such a list.  On the other hand I’m pretty terrible at coming up scores and rankings so I’m going to totally half ass this by just going in alphabetical order because sorting them any other way is a huge pain in the ass outside of the top or bottom 3-5.  As for the rules of this list, I’m not including any sequels unless they’re sequels to shows who haven’t had a sequel/season since the last decade, and for any shows which started in this decade and had sequels and/or spin-offs those are included when discussing the show listed.  As far as what this means in a practical sense is that Gintama, which I’m hundred of episodes behind on anyway, and the Monogatari franchise will not be on this list despite the fact I’m a huge Monogatari fan.  Let’s get to it and there will be spoilers.

 

1 – Aggretsuko

sanrio

I’ve always found anime shorts to be very hit or miss and Aggretsuko hit me at just the right time.  I had recently moved and was several months into a job I utterly hated but needed to stick with for the paycheck when I stumbled upon Aggretsuko, sitting there conveniently on Netflix alongside the few normie shows I watch.  And goddamn was Aggretsuko satisfying.  It was like Dilbert (I’m a fan), Hello Kitty (not a fan), and Detroit Metal City (huge fan) all had a baby.  The episode 7 climax, which frankly should have been the end of season 1 because the short romance arc sucked, was the most cathartic moment in anime for that year.  Retsuko just going full ham on her boss after his own surprisingly impressive battle rap, was glorious and perfectly encapsulated how I was feeling towards my own management types at the time.  Season 2 actually went more on the romance side of things but gave it time to breathe and gain some depth, making it much more dramatic, interesting and emotional than the weak, short romance arc of season 1.  I personally still prefer season 1 episodes 1-7 but it was a good time overall and a must watch it if you’re feeling at all fed up with your job and/or management at the job.

 

2 – Arslan Senki

tumblr_static_tumblr_static__640

I’ve already written about both seasons of Arslan Senki before but for a an overview it’s something pretty rare in anime, a good history/historical fantasy not set in Japan.  It’s got a very believable world full of different nations, ethnic groups, religions, social systems, internal and external political struggles with just a hint of fantasy elements.  It maintains a large cast of memorable characters with mostly striking designs and spends a good time developing some of them with significant character arcs.  It also has a fair amount of action to break up the long periods of travel and political intrigue (which means standing around and talking) and while the action is usually nothing special there a few fights that are genuinely impressive.  The political gambits of all the characters and factions make sense and are believably messy and Arslan in particular grows in interesting ways while still maintaining the generally soft-spoken and compassionate nature which rests at his core.  It’s an all around solid choice for anyone who enjoys historical anime and is sick to death of Nobunaga and the Shinsengumi.

 

3 – Back Street Girls: Goku Dolls

Back-Street-Girls-Gokudolls

Jesus Fucking Christ.  For anyone who hasn’t heard of or watched this one it’s about 3 yakuza guys who fuck up and are forced to undergo a sex change and plastic surgery before forming an idol group, the Goku Dolls, to make their boss money.  And it’s hilarious.  The animation is deliberately hideous with some truly disgusting facial expressions and unusual tricks, like overlaying the inner man face on the outwardly girly head, to add shock value and overdramatic tension to the scene.  What really makes it work though is that our hot blooded yakuza guys are just as, if not more emotional and dramatic than actual teenage girls.  This leads to some great running gags, like the anti-Goku Dolls club, the ridiculous American gangster who visits from time to time, or anytime the Goku Dolls are on TV or Radio.  Their boss is flippant and casually cruel but in a way that’s darkly funny rather than edgy.  This show always has me dying of laughter with it’s genderbent comedy and cruel and ridiculous antics.  Well worth your time if you can handle the ugliness of the show and fucked up humor.

 

4 – Bakuon

Bakuon-DVD-1000x600-1450077304

I’m hardly much a cute girls do x fan most of the time but Bakuon was one of the few that really connected with me.  It’s about a bunch of cute girls into motorcycles and while I have no serious interesting in motorcycles, they capture the kind of people who make up any fandom with consummate skill.  There’s the idiot who get roped in and ends up loving it, the hardcore fan of the off brand/brand that the majority looks down on, the elitist snob, the rich kid who’s somewhat interested before diving in, and the die hard fan who’s fucking great at the hobby.  In Bakuon’s case it’s girl equivalent of the Stig and she’s great because she appears to be an unaging immortal figure who hardcore motorcyclists and mechanics all over Japan know about and revere.  It’s cute, it’s fun, it occasionally slides into fanservice but mostly stays in a comedic lane, involving such bizarre scenarios as a sentient bike that can communicate with the rider telepathically, the genius young racer who basically can’t drive outside of racing scenarios, and meeting Jesus and fighting for the existence of motorcycles against a theoretical timeline where humanity decides motorcycles are more dangerous than they are valuable.  It’s great fun without being as extreme as most of the comedies that I really love.

 

5 – Beelzebub

beelzebub

I imagine that for most anime fans the action/comedy go to is Gintama.  And fair enough Gintama is great, but I got started with Beelzebub and it’s my go to for this genre.  It’s a battle comedy set in school full of cartoonishly delinquent punks with a main character ending up as the host of the devil’s second son, the baby Beelzebub.  It’s biggest weakness is that the gags in the earliest episodes are the most repetitive and the story takes a couple episodes of bullshitting around to get going but once it gets going it’s well worth the short wait.  The scenario’s and enemy characters are ridiculous, the cast is enormous and highly memorable with a ton of unique designs.  Most of the characters are hilariously dumb or otherwise so quirky as to constantly make fools out of themselves, while the straight man is constantly shit on.  Beelzebub is the show that really endeared me to the ultra aggressive attitude and specialized speech used by punks and yakuza characters.  I don’t know why but I really do love Japanese punk-speak and the attitude that goes with it.  Beelzebub is a great juxtaposition of the cool and the utterly ridiculous involving awesome battle scenes with people who can shatter concrete with a wooden sword and punch people so hard they get stuck in walls, and in perhaps my favorite scenario, a bunch of punks, most of know are total video game noobs, all trying to work together in a CoD knock off to find the location of a demon.  There is a special kind of joy that can only come from the stupid and the absurd and Beelzebub is one of the titans of stupid and absurd.  If that sounds at all up your alley you should watch it.

 

6 – Binbougami ga!

binbougami ga

I swear I’m not only talking about comedies on purpose, it’s not my fault most of my favorite comedies start with the same couple of letters.  Yet another especially stupid comedy this one is about a girl who is unfathomably lucky and constantly draining the luck of everyone around her – thus a goddess of misfortune is sent to take away her excess luck.  Hilarity ensues when our girl’s luck is in fact so strong she can compete with the goddess of misfortune on equal footing and does her damnedest to prevent her luck from being stolen.  Unlike with Beelzebub, Binbougami ga! actually has a surprisingly strong emotional side with character backstories and surprise scenarios that are more serious and severe than the tone of the show would usually suggest, with a strong underlying focus on family, fortune and isolation.  There are a ton of references to other anime and a strong pinch of perverse and potty humor, like the masochistic dog god who can transform based on how much pleasure he feels.  Whereas Beelzebub is almost pure absurdity, I think what makes Binbougami ga! special is the mix of absurd moments that make up most of the show and the serious emotional moments that are given all the more weight by straightforwardly the show handles them in comparison to its usual ridiculous self.  This is definitely one of my favorite comedies.

 

7 – Boku no Hero Academia

boku no hero

And the normie in me finally bursts forth.  Not a relatively obscure comedy this time, no this is one of the big franchises that has dominated the decade.  One of the most beloved shounen anime, because no filler or any of the other problems that plagued the Big 3, this has been a smash hit all across the anime community.  It’s easy to get into, the characters have great or otherwise instantly memorable designs, this a show that took the well worn path and tropes of almost every major shounen series and then polished the fuck out of them.  For the most part I don’t think there are any unique ideas or character stories Boku no Hero Academia has in comparison to other shounen stories, but it has such a strong grasp of the fundamentals and executes them so well that it basically doesn’t matter.  There’s a large cast of lovable characters, some truly standout characters among them like Stain and All Might, great character stories about kids struggling with themselves and their idea of what it means to be a hero when confronted with the reality of what heroes often do, strong rivalries and some truly epic fight scenes.  Ironically season 1 of Boku no Hero Academia is probably the weakest with only 1 really hype battle scene and a lot of time spent establishing the characters and basics of the world.  Season 2 has one of the best tournament arcs in recent memory with excellent key battles in Deku vs Todoroki and Uraraka vs Bakugo.  And Stain is far and away the most interesting and intimidating villain in the show despite his relatively weak superpower.  His 3 episode battle arc with is some of the best Boku no Hero Academia has to offer.  And then we get to season 3 and *breathes deeply* the greatest shounen battle of the decade.  Make no mistake this is not an easy call to make between the Stain battle, Netero vs Merum and other HunterxHunter battles but for my money All Might vs All for One reigns supreme.  All Might is one of the greatest shounen characters ever made and one of only a handful of characters who really has the gravitas to capture the full appeal of the “legendary older figure” character that so many shounen shows feature.  Despite it’s relative brevity and total lack of complex tactics or powers the sheer passion, emotional impact and weight delivered in this fight are so overwhelming I’m literally tearing up as I write this particular bit.  I would be willing to bet no character ever created in any medium has ever done a better job epitomizing the idea of the traditional superhero – unbending spirit in the face of adversity, immense self sacrifice, victory against an overwhelming enemy, and a pillar in hearts of people everywhere.  This fight and All Might’s dialogue at the end is the pinnacle of what shounen has to offer.

 

8 – Date A Live

date a live

There’s a special place in my heart for the rare harem show that isn’t the old To Love Ru style of harem nor the modern light novel, main gets all the girls with no effort harem.  And it so happens Date A Live is one of those harems.  I do not expect this to be on most people’s list especially since the genre’s main appeal leaves out quite a large portion of the anime fandom, but I love it and you’re looking at my list so deal with it.  Date A Live is genius in that all of it’s fanservice is a natural extension of story not a forced panty shot or accidental groping.  The whole point of the show is that our boy Shido has to woo the various Spirits so he can then seal their powers because if he doesn’t they will be targeted by a special branch of the military.  Let’s back up for a second.  In Date A Live there are Spirits, always girls, and wherever they come from when they come to and from Earth they cause what are called spacequakes, which function like balls of anti-matter that annihilate whatever they touch.  Their existence is not public knowledge and because of the spacequakes a specialized military unit is tasked with hunting down any Spirits that appear.  Spirits meanwhile have strong magical powers and are all but impossible to put down or even capture by conventional means.  Shido with his power to seal Spirit powers by kissing Spirits offers up a unique solution and the secret organization led by his adoptive sister wants to make use of him.  Because of this Date A Live has a lot more emphasis on romance and working through emotional and trust issues than it does with traditional misunderstandings and accidental pervert scenes or OP dudes winning girls over by being strong and usually nice.  Not to say that there isn’t the occasional swimsuit episode or ecchi scene but those are much rare than in most harems.  I prefer this approach and the Spirits look phenomenal both as humans and in their Regalia.  Best of all even after 3 seasons the story is nowhere near finished as malevolent human forces and certain untamed Spirits have added new dimensions to the story.  For all my dudes out there, if you wanted a harem show with something to get invested in besides anime tiddies this show is for you.

 

9 – Dororo

dororo 00

Dororo was the undisputed king of the Winter 2019 season for me and it still was the show I looked forward to most each week as it continued airing into the Spring 2019 season.  A 50 year anniversary reboot of a classic Tezuka property, Dororo follows the story of Hyakkimaru, a young man of a noble lineage whose body was almost entirely sacrificed to demons in exchange to prosperity in his family’s region.  He’s on a quest to slay these demons and regain his bodyparts and is joined by the titular Dororo a young thief who helps him navigate the world and make a living while he hunts down the demons.  Dororo does not hold back on gore or violence with baby Hyakkikaru shown in full horrific detail, a baby with nothing but a skinless head and torso.  As for the drama, it writes itself especially once we meet Hyakkimaru’s little brother.  See with every demon he kills, Hyakkimaru gains back body parts, but also weakens the contract between his father and the demons, causing sudden calamities or otherwise weakening or eliminating usual blessings that have allowed his family’s region to prosper despite the harsh and chaotic time period.  The show poses you the following question, do you support Hyakkimaru, knowing that if he succeeds he will bring an entire region to ruin and hardship or do you support the family, who sacrificed their son and took his future away from him for the sake of the people?  Personally I sided with Hyakkimaru but I could easily see how some people who go against him because he is ruining the greater good.  Plot and drama aside, the action is intense, kinetic, brutal and well choreographed; some of the best action animation of the decade.  And a return to the older style of backgrounds  and characters with more a painted and hand-drawn look was a welcome breath of fresh in the face of the ever expanding use of CG to cut costs.  This is another great historical fantasy, genuinely one of the coolest shows I’ve ever watched, I highly recommend it.

 

10 – Fate Zero

fate-zero-16-saber-lancer

This is weird one for me to include because I’ve come to basically hate the Fate franchise even as it grows ever further in popularity, but it stays on the list because this is the only Fate show which really captures the conceptual appeal of Fate, before it gets ruined by visual novel harems, alternate roots and a million genderbent characters to make more waifus.  At this point most of Fate is much better as fap material than it is to capture the awesomeness of the Heroic Spirits, the Noble Phantasms and the Holy Grail War, i.e. the parts of Fate which are actually interesting when the hentai browsers are closed.  Fate Zero is one exception because it takes the good parts of Fate and the Nasuverse and cuts out Nasu’s character writing and replaces it with Urobuchi Gen writing.  It’s full of adults making adult decisions with a tons of strategy, secrecy, and dishonorable schemes in the face of the mostly honorably and proud Heroic Spirits themselves.  There’s plenty of dark bits and the whole conflict is ultimately a tragedy, a titanic struggle for a prize that was tainted and rendered useless but the journey to get their is the important part. It also features a much stronger ideological bent than any other Fate work, with the iconic Banquet of Kings scene, where Alexander the Great, Gilgamesh, King Arthur discuss their views on what king should be, being the prime example.  The Heroic Spirits are generally well done and present interesting pairs with their various Masters.  It has some pacing problems but it’s visually stunning without being overdone the way I thought the Unlimited Bladeworks tv anime was.  The effects from the magic and magical weapons are especially good.  If you’re interested in Fate but don’t know where to start, start with Fate Zero and never watch another one.   The lore is also least confusing in Fate Zero so that’s another plus.  All said I do think this show has dropped pretty sharply in my estimation from when I first discovered it, but it is the best of a now very popular franchise and it’s still strong enough to merit being on this list.

 

11 – Gakkogurashi

Gakkou-Gurashi-wallpaper

This is Madoka Magica of “cute girls doing x” shows and far and away the most interesting thing to happen to that particular sub-genre in the entire decade.  It takes place during a zombie apocalypse that is so traumatizing to one of the main girls’ mind literally breaks down and she lives her daily life under the delusion that everything is fine.  Surprisingly though this is kind of saving grace for the other girls because it allows them to find non-stressful, non-serious tasks, rules and objectives to pad out what would otherwise be a bleak if not utterly hopeless future.  The show delivers on cuteness, shenangians and some of the scariest and most traumatic zombie scenes I have ever seen.  The teacher zombie in particular is fucking terrifying, made all the more so because of just how much she meant to some of the girls.  There does also seem to be something of a larger game afoot as one of the girls details but that doesn’t really get addressed in this season, this is mainly about surviving with their sanities mostly intact and making the most of their now restricted and dangerous lives.  All in all an excellent dark but not grimdark spin on the usual cute girls show, well worth your time.

 

12 – Gatchaman Crowds

814131016393_anime-gatchaman-crowds-insight-altC

I talked about this in a different post but I cannot stress enough how, despite Boku no Hero Academia being a hype machine and a beloved show, I still believe Gatchaman Crowds and it’s sequel are the most interesting superhero anime in existence.  I did previously say best superhero anything but I have had to amend that because I read Worm and now stop whatever you’re doing and read that, then come back here.  Gatchaman Crowds takes a very different approach to superheroes making the central thrust of it’s character and story arc less about how to be a good hero and rather asking some pointed questions about what it even means to be hero and what kind of heroes would be best for society.  Likewise the villains of the show are less conventional supervillains and more reflections of humanity’s or perhaps societies’ own worst impulses.  It also features Hajime, who is just heaps of fun and a deceptively sharp and dedicated character for someone so openly air-headed, playful and bubbly.  I dig the Gatchaman transformations, they did put me off at first but they’ve grown on me a lot especially with how distinct each is.  The colors and character designs completely leap of the screen and visually it’s quite impressive.  Again though what really sets Gatchaman Crowds apart has more to do with it’s approach and questions posed regarding heroes, villains, society and human nature.  Most superhero properties don’t ask a lot of the viewer besides a suspension of disbelief, Gatchaman Crowds goes a lot further and expects the audience to keep up.  It’s advanced and heady without being overly difficult to follow or ever going up it’s own ass in an attempt to be clever.  Both seasons are very well put together with solid character arcs, tight stories and interesting themes.  A seriously good time, cannot recommend highly enough.

 

13 – Gi(a)rlish Number

Girlish-Number-01-22

This is every anime cynic’s secret delight.  A fun show that mocks how some of the shittiest anime in existence get made while the fools behind all of the terrible decisions cackle away as they hatch their next cashgrab scheme.  There’s also plenty of  not so veiled criticisms of the anime industry itself, as well as the portrayal of the sad truths about how marketing often does not get along with or give a flying fuck about the art it’s using to generate revenue.  It’s mostly funny because of just how much of a terrible, entitled brat our main girl Chitose is, in comparison to the other characters and how the anime being made in the show is so obviously terrible and ultimately a failure.  There’s also a strong dramatic element to the show with certain character arcs peeling back the curtain to show the frustrations of the people trying to make a living in the anime industry and how difficult that can be both from all kinds of angles.  Chitose herself is not forgiven for being a lazy, entitled piece of shit (I mean that in a good way, she’s great fun to watch), and the show really leans into the drama later on.  I think it ultimately has the best of both worlds with large chunks of the show being funny, mocking and biting for anyone frustrated with various aspects of the anime industry, breaking up the serious dramatic arcs that really get you invested in the characters long term.  Gi(a)rlish Number is great fun, a must watch for any anime cynic.

 

14 – Golden Time

golden time

There comes a time in every anime fan’s life when they want to see a good romance, and most of reviewers point to Toradora as a good place to start.  Fair enough, I liked Toradora quite a bit – then I saw Golden Time and it redefined what a good romance anime was for me.  Seriously, I kind of find Toradora insufferable now because Golden Time is that much better.  Our lad Banri here is a college student and though it’s not immediately apparent he’s actually suffering from amnesia after he got hit by a motorcycle upon graduating high school.  And this will be a factor later especially since it turns out the girl he was hella crushing on in high school is now senpai at his college (he’s a grade or two behind because of time spent in the hospital).  Our lady Koko meanwhile is so obnoxious in her displays of love that she would, and does, drive most men up the wall, and it’s really only by the grace of Banri being such an unflappable go with the flow kind of guy most of the time that he ends up being a good fit for her.  The fact that these characters are in college instead of high school is a saving grace for the show because they aren’t treated like children.  They can get drunk, they can go to sketchy clubs to make a quick buck or do stupid things, they can drive and they actually have reasons to be mostly living alone.  When parents do get involved they don’t treat the main cast like kids except as a means of insulting their lack of maturity or bad decision-making.  There’s a lot of freedom that comes with being a college student as opposed to a high school student and Golden Time makes the most of it.  Ironically what makes it such a good romance though are the strong emotional and dramatic thru lines of Banri’s character and his amnesia and what that means for his various relationships.  To this day I haven’t found a romance I liked more than Golden Time, I strongly recommend it to everyone, fans of the genre or no.

 

15 – High School of the Dead

hotd

Two words, Matrix Boobs.  For that scene – which I will never in my life forget – alone, HOTD had to be on this list. It’s a goofy, fun zombie show where everything seems ridiculous and over the top to the audience but is played seriously from the perspective of the people in the world.  Also HOTD milked the shit out of hot anime girls with big anime tiddies  and uh… no man has a right to complain about that.  In all seriousness HOTD is very fun, it has kinetic, frantic action, the mass death that all zombie films are famous for and a solid cast of fun characters with various hang ups they have to work through during the zombie apocalypse.  I consider this show something of an anime  right of passage, make it through HOTD with a smile on your face and you’ll find a lot to enjoy in anime, if it’s too crude or perverted and the like for you this may not the medium you’re looking for.

 

16 – Hoozuki no Reitetsu

Hoozuki.no.Reitetsu.full.1678107

I don’t expect this to be many people’s lists but this was a go to for me when it came time to just chill and have some laughs.  The story, not that there really is one follows the cold, ruthlessly efficient secretary of the king of Hell as he goes along dealing Hell’s various problems.  It’s generally funny but not laugh out loud funny, maybe more of snickering or snorting funny.  There’s a massive cast of characters with pretty excellent designs, good use of color and just random bizarre demon shit like the big fish flower things you see all over the place.  I have great deal of interest in folklore and mythology and while I don’t consider this show an at all serious take on Japanese folklore, having the folklore creatures as characters and Hell as a backdrop added a lot of flavor to a show that was mostly very relaxed.  For most anime fans the relaxing stuff are moe shows or something along the lines of Flying Witch, for me it’s Hoozuki no Reitetsu.  It’s fun but not too fun, there’s lot of characters and random shit to keep track but not an overwhelming amount of details and nothing’s ever confusing.  I adore the overall look of the show and some running gags or characters (Zashiki Warashi ftw), but I’m mostly here to relax and enjoy the random happenings of demons going about their day.

 

17 – Houseki no Kuni

Land of the Lustrous 002

Certainly one of the more interesting anime of the decade with its use of, wait for it, good CG and unique setting I found Houseki no Kuni to be utterly fascinating.  The gems all have great designs, the world is mysterious and memorable, and the entire show really pops of the screen with it’s excellent color choices.  The fights are solid, with lots of emphasis on movement as opposed to heavy impact hits and the enemies are some of the strangest you’ll find in a given anime.  The story and it’s main character Phos though are what really makes Houseki no Kuni shine.  Phos is one of the most fragile of all of the Gems and unlike the other fragile Gems she doesn’t have a lick of combat ability.  Despite the fact she unarguably the weakest and most useless amongst all the Gems she still has a strong desire to help but can’t get any of her fellow Gems to really guide her.  However she has two great strengths as a character, she’s by far the most inquisitive of the Gems and her very weakness allows her to evolve the fastest.  The Gems are largely creatures of permanence, they can live seemingly forever with aging, they can’t actually die even if their entire body is shattered, and they have only one predator to worry about.  Because Phos is so very weak anytime she loses a part of herself she can replace it with almost any mineral or metal, whereas most of the Gems can only be connected with their old parts.  This does have a cost as every time Phos loses part of her original form she loses memories, but her core character doesn’t really change.  Even as she gets strong enough to fight alongside the other Gems she remain highly inquisitive, and is the driving force of any change in the story.  It’s a very unique show well a great main character and an entrancing setting, well worth you’re time even if you’re dubious about the CG.

 

18 – HunterxHunter (2011)

horriblesubs-hunter-x-hunter-126-720p-mkv_snapshot_14-42_2014-04-23_17-18-18

One of the most highly praised shounen series, HunterxHunter is definitely a cut above most of its contemporaries.  Despite being among the longest running shows of the decade it has none of production issues we all remember from the Big 3 and is unique in it’s approach to it’s main characters, who rather than aiming to become the best there is are kind of exploring for it’s own sake with simple goals in mind.  Gon and Killua are usually treated more like side characters in any given conflict, they play a role, they’re present but they are rarely if ever the deciding factor in the conflict.  Even as they get substantially stronger over the course of the show they always have a long way to go with enemies who remain light years ahead of them in strength.  Nen is arguably the most in-depth and creative power system ever made and I absolutely love it with all of it’s individuality and nuances.  Beyond the qualities that make it unique HunterxHunter is much like Boku no Hero Academia in that it’s mastery of genre fundamentals is part of what makes it so good.  It too has hype tournament arcs, impressive battle scenes and one of the biggest individual battles of the decade in Isaac Netero vs Meruem.  HunterxHunter also hold nothing back, with sudden and brutal deaths, injuries and crushing failures shown as early as the first phase of the Hunter Exam, which was an impressively long introduction to the colorful, varied and highly detailed world of HunterxHunter.  If you haven’t watched it you should, don’t be intimidated by the episode count, this is absolutely worth your time.

 

19 – Katanagatari

Koumori

This ranks as one of my favorite shows of all time.  It’s historical fantasy anime set in a theoretical timeline of Japanese history where certain forces which supposedly could have existed in our own history are pushed into existence by a shadowy figure known as Shikizaki Kiki, who incidentally created the 12 magic swords our heroes need to gather.  The art style is literally my favorite in all of anime, with excellent character designs, color choices and a stylized world.  The various locations our characters visit are distinct and exciting, from isolated mountain temples, to frozen wastes, to lands destroyed by desertification.  There’s nothing quite like it anywhere else.  Unlike typical anime Katanagatari takes place over 12 45min episodes and features a lot of dialogue as the basic routine of each episode is that Togame, who was tasked with collecting Kiki’s swords, first tries to negotiate for them and when that inevitably fails the bodyguard she had to travel to a remote island to recruit, Yasuri Shichika, fights the owner for the sword.   Shichika is particularly fascinating character in that he’s grown up on an island with only his sister and father for company and been taught to think of himself as a weapon not a person.  This is because his family has the unique Kyotoryuu, a martial art that mimics swordsmanship allowing him to cut people and parry blades with his bare hands.  I think his sister is actually the most interesting character in the show as I detailed elsewhere, but for the sake of brevity I won’t discuss her.  For a show with such a focus on an inevitable between highly skilled foes and their uniquely unusual weapons the fight scenes are often quite brief.  They are awesomely well animated and highly impactful but if you came here for lots of action, you might be disappointed.  Katanagatari is very much a character study with a focus on how our main characters change over the course of their year long journey, how they view each other, what ideologies they encounter among their foes and what parts of themselves they can’t actually let go of.  The season finale is one of the best episodes of anime ever made.  Katanagatari probably isn’t for everyone but for those it’s for, you will not find anything else quite like it and you owe to yourself to give it a try.

 

20 – Kekkai Sensen

Kekkai.Sensen.full.1864501

Kekkai Sensen was some of the most fun I had with anime this decade.  It’s world is absolute chaos as humans, aliens, demons and every kind of creature you can think of are all crammed into a portion of New York.  In direct contrast to Katangatari, Kekkai Sensen is a show for whom dialogue means fairly little and instead survives on lots of bombastic action and just the sheer craziness of the setting.  The characters are generally goofier but there are some surprisingly emotional and dramatic stories interwoven into what is usually a dumb action show with an emphasis on fairly unique visuals.  Kekkai Sensen’s biggest downside is that the season 1 climax is not very good and when it was currently airing we had to wait long after the season for said climax.  Season 2 mostly swept that under the rug though and continued Kekkai Sensen as usual.  This is mostly wacky, goofy and fun but there are some truly legendary frames as the team behind Kekkai Sensen tried all kinds of visual tricks – personally the thermo-vision cut of Zapp’s boner when he hears about this chick he’s been hitting on being interested in him, as he wipes out a particularly dangerous monster takes the cake for me.  And if that doesn’t get your interest/attention maybe Kekkai Sensen isn’t for you.  You should try it though, it’s great fun.

 

21 – Kill la Kill

Ryuuko and Satsuki

Every couple of years or so there comes a show, which while not being quite the big tent pole show that dominates the decade, is nonetheless massively influential and often more beloved by hardcore anime fans than the tent pole shows.  The first of these I remember popping up in the 2010s was Kill la Kill.  I love Kill la Kill, I love it so much I think it’s better than Gurren fucking Lagann regardless of the fact the general consensus is the other way around.  Ryuuko is in the running for my favorite anime girl of all time, not that Satsuki isn’t impressive or Mako lovably adorable, but Ryuuko’s attitude, look, style and general approach to life is just about the greatest thing since sliced bread and her synergy with Senketsu makes it probably the best pairing in the entire show, the hilarity of the Mako and Gamagoori shipping be damned.  When Kill la Kill first aired there was a lot pushback because of the “fanservice” and inconsistent animation, but I believe those have been rightly argued down at this point.  Nudity as authenticity and vulnerability is a major theme throughout Kill la Kill – of course the girls will end up nearly naked as a result, and honestly if all you can focus after the first few transformations is the amount of skin showing maybe that’s a you problem not a show problem.  I like fanservice as much as the next guy but there’s so much going on visually in Kill la Kill, and so many half naked fight scenes that at some point you kinda stop caring about the fact the girls are half naked and focus on what’s actually happening.  Likewise the sudden and bizarre animation shifts are indeed stylistic choices to make the show pop off the screen and be all the more memorable.  Suddenly shifting styles to capture the unique voice of many different animators also happens to something of a penchant for the director, Hiroyuki Imaishi.  As for what makes Kill la Kill so damn good?  Well the action is some of the most gloriously over the top, kinetic and well animated you’ll find.  The characters are likewise insanely over the top in pursuit of their various ideals and everyone has some of the most memorable designs in anime history.  The music is absolutely amazing and you will find nothing else like it visually.  That is to say you can really see how much heart was put into this and it paid off.  Kill la Kill is one of the greatest anime of all time and if you’ve somehow missed it, go watch it – like right this second if possible.

 

22 – Kimetsu no Yaiba

Kimetsu no Yaiba

I’ll be honest I was really struggling about whether or not to put Kimetsu no Yaiba on this list.  Between Zenitsu and it’s relatively weak position compared to HunterxHunter and Boku no Hero Academia, I wasn’t sure it merited making the list.  Then I remembered two things, Nezuko and Episode 19.  Nezuko is probably the greatest little sister character to ever exist, with her adorable bamboo muzzle, cute little grunts and pats, the simplified eyes during some scenes to maker her extra cute, the fact she’s carried around in a box or basket most of the time, and her ability to change sizes and achieve peak meme status as smol Nezuko are all in her favor.   The fact that she can kick demon demon heads off and turn her blood into striking pinkish red fire is just a bonus.  To be slightly more serious for a second, it’s both the focus on and depth of the familial bond between Tanjiro and Nezuko that give this show wings beyond it’s generic premise and indeed what makes the climatic battle of episode 19 so powerful.  It’s all about the power of family, it takes of all Tanjiro’s skill, Nezuko’s Blood magic, their father’s technique, their mother’s subconscious urgings – all of it in concert to deliver a seemingly impossible and decisive blow against a demon who should be, and thankfully is, too strong for them to handle at this point.  Still episode 19’s fight was one the biggest anime moments of decade and that helped push Kimetsu no Yaiba onto the list.  I also generally like the stylization of the various techniques and breathing in contrast the show’s normal look, which itself is not bad all.  I do find the brisk pace of the show somewhat surprising given the genre and when he isn’t asleep Zenitsu is utterly insufferable – but on the whole it’s a good show.

 

23 – Kingdom

Ren_Pa_Confronts_Shin_anime_S2

Kingdom fans might surprised I put the anime on the list considering how much more beloved and detailed the manga is but I actually got my start with the anime before checking out the manga and I have to say, get past the CG and there’s really quite a lot to like here.  For most people in the know the Kingdom anime has been unfavorably compared to the currently airing Vinland Saga but I honestly think that not only is Kingdom better overall, it actually looks better much of the time.  I know that sounds ludicrous because the Kingdom anime is famous for the shitty CG but hear me out.  First off Kingdom does start switching to beautiful traditional animation during non-battle scenes fairly early on and the use of CG becomes very limited in the second season.  When it’s traditionally animated Kingdom looks miles better than Vinland Saga, with much stronger colors, linework on the characters and attention to overall detail.  And while the CG is godawful it’s usually all awful together.  One of the worst parts of Vinland Saga’s visual look is how it’s perfect willing to mash up hand-drawn backgrounds and characters with a bunch of CG models or CG longships which actually looks worse than a scene made up of nothing but bad CG.  This comparison will only get worse once we get away from the visuals, Kingdom absolutely curb-stomps Vinland Saga on the audio end, with huge swelling tracks that take full advantage of the sheer size of the battles going on or are used to maximum effect in conveying a characters dominating presence.  I also find Thorfinn’s screaming to be really fucking irritating while the same can’t be said for Shin’s constant yelling.  If there is one reason to try the Kingdom anime, manga fan or no, it’s for the sound.  The music is amazing, the voice acting is solid, and the battle-noises are quite good, with a great of attention to detail put into the types of sounds  made by characters using different types or strengths of hits.  The story is also great, set during Warring States period in China (3rd century BC, I think) with a war orphan who wants to be the become a mighty general paired with a young king who wants to go full Alexander the Great on China, complete with a huge cast of excellent side characters from every strata of society.  Kingdom is also the show which most successfully capture the “legendary older figure” characters I mention when discussing All Might.  The major generals of the previous generation come off as absolute legends, with utterly titanic presences be it during a simple conversation or on the battlefield.  The action in Kingdom is very satisfying but not especially well animated most of the time because of the heavy use of CG during battles, it’s much better in season 2 where they use traditional animation for many of the fights.  Kingdom also has a penchant for a kind of heroic military romanticism that seems very much like the Homeric traditions of ancient Greece.  This makes the actual fighting and troop numbers wildly inaccurate to but it also really heightens the tension and highlights the dramatic fight scenes between characters of particular import.  I consider it a must watch for anyone who has the same obsession with history, especially ancient history, that I do.

 

24 – KonoSuba

konosuba-1-afraid

Megumin, that is all.  Jokes aside this is by far the most entertaining isekai property of the decade.  It’s cast of almost total incompetents somehow stumbling their way to victory in fights against the most powerful enemies the world can throw at them while struggling to defeat a single giant frog is barrels of fun.  Megumin is my personal favorite because she could be totally competent but has such idiotic obsession with only using the strongest attack magic that she knowingly turns herself into a one and done artillery piece.  Darkness is probably the least interesting because her masochism overrides basically everything else about her but the way that everyone else misinterprets her kink on the battlefield is pretty fun.  The designs are often deliberately wonky in a way that is pretty charming if not traditionally good looking. The character chemistry among the main cast is pure gold and there are some truly amazing running gags that pop up across both seasons.  That KonoSuba manages to finagle a few genuinely impressive fight scenes in just makes it all the better.  It’s not the most ridiculous comedy on this list but it is one of the most consistently fun shows of the decade.  Well worth a watch.

 

25 – Kore wa Zombie Desu ka?

kore wa zombie

What happens when you combine a Necromancer so strong she can’t talk because she can kill with her voice, magical girls, vampire ninjas and your average Japanese high school boy?  You get a story about a guy who becomes a zombie that transforms into a chainsaw wielding magical girl.  Yes it is exactly as ridiculous as it sounds and yes you should absolutely give it a try.  It even has a magical girl who is cursed to look like a middle aged man except when she’s drunk and then assumes her original form.  Kore wa Zombie is about as absurd as anime comedies can get and while there are a few dramatic narrative thru lines it’s mostly a show about stupid fights against random, bizarre monsters, truly goofy uses of magic, hot chicks and the kind of violence based humor which only a zombie, or maybe a harem protagonist, can survive.  Thoroughly recommended.

 

26 – Koutesujou no Kabaenri

693190

In that 4 year gap between Attack on Titan seasons 1 & 2 the studio which made it was somewhat panned for creating an AoT clone in Koutetsujou no Kabaneri.  In yet another zombie apocalypse humanity is reduced to living in isolated walled settlements where the only viable mode of transportation is by train because the world doesn’t have aircraft yet and the Kabane, vampire-zombies with glowing, nigh-unbreakable hearts, would eat anyone on foot or horseback.  But whereas AoT came out hype and then had a serious slow down in the middle, the shorter and more tightly written Koutetsujou no Kabaneri had no such problems.  It came out hype, stayed pretty hype, and then latched onto to short narrative which ended the season.  Visually it remains among the prettiest shows of the decade with highly detail, heavily shaded artwork in the close ups and stills.  Even in it’s normal state it looks very solid.  The Kabane are perhaps the most threatening zombie I’ve come across as they are not only fast and aggressive but they are extremely difficult to put down, killing them requires specialized weaponry, and short range to melee combat – the place you don’t want to be when a single bite from a horde of zombies will turn you into one.  There are also special variants of Kabane who can use combat skills they had in life or who can morph together and become a giant corpse pile monster straight out of a Fromsoft game.  What really sets Koutetsujou no Kabaneri apart from AoT is that the greatest threat doen’ts come from external source like the Titans but the poor decision making of understandably cautious or paranoid people trapped in relatively small spaces, it’s story where most of the humans matter, as opposed to AoT where only the monsters and few human outliers matter.  Good action, good visuals, good zombies, good time.

 

27 – Log Horizon

log_horizon__more_databasing_by_pokey_chan-d8si8vw

Whereas KonoSuba is the most entertaining isekai of the decade, I would propose that Log Horizon is the best isekai of the decade – and possibly ever.  It’s much slower and more toned down on the action front compared to most isekai shows but it more than makes for that with the most in-depth isekai world building in anime and a plot that revolves more about creating and managing a livable society in a world full of people who can’t die, while trying to unravel the mystery of how everyone got here in the first place and how they can get back.  There’s a lot focus game mechanics, character class interplay and eventually even flavor text and how these things manifest now that the game has changed and become reality for a large number of people.  There is a focus placed on depth in almost every facet of the setting and the major interactions between the most powerful players – now leaders in this world.  This leads to a show full of lots and lots of dialogue and build up, so it can seem very slow if you’re not paying attention to just how much is going on in any scene.  Concepts that will become pivotal can be introduced many episodes in advanced, allowing everyone paying serious attention to be on the lookout for what details to track.  Unlike most anime Log Horizon expects a lot from the viewer and you will get left behind just turn your brain off and drink it in.  I don’t want to overstate how smart this show is, nor do I want to be a pretentious little shit saying *fake poncy British accent voice* that this is an anime for smart people – but relatively speaking it is the thinking man’s isekai and there’s a lot to engage with if your willing to put in a little more effort and muddle through the headier parts of the show.  It’s definitely not for everyone, but I do think everyone should give it a try.

 

28 – Made in Abyss

made in abyss

One of the few downsides to the absolute flood of isekai shows released this decade was the almost complete loss of bonafide fantasy worlds.  While some shows put in the effort to make the video game based worlds interesting a ton of shows defaulted to generic RPG concepts and monsters and called it a day.  And while doing so these game-based settings replaced more traditional fantasy settings.  Made in Abyss however was one of those rare shows which not only featured a true fantasy setting but one which was striking in just how unique it was.  There’s a colossal hole in a small island in the middle of the ocean and the hole is full of unique treasures and fantasy monsters found nowhere else in the world.  So the people who found it first set up a gold rush town where the entire society revolves around delving into the abyss, and returning with it’s unique treasures to study and sell to the outside world.  Our begins in an orphanage where we follow the child of a renowned explorer who has allegedly made it to the bottom of the abyss and she wants to follow in her mother’s footsteps to meet her in person despite the fact it’s something that is incredibly dangerous even to explorers far more experience than her.  Joining her on her suicidal journey is a robot boy who can fire lasers and extend his arms like grappling hooks who seems to have some connection to the girl’s mother.  The setting is amazing with all kinds of unusual terrain, monsters and eccentric characters.  And don’t let the cutesy designs fool you, Made in Abyss goes hard in the paint when it comes to terrible injuries, darker plot points I won’t spoil.  It’s an interesting show like nothing else I’ve ever seen and a must watch for any fantasy lover.

 

29 – Magi

magi_2

Magi is one of the other great fantasy shows of the decade.  But unlike Made in Abyss Magi has a much more involved narrative in a vast world that its two seasons have had more time to flesh out it detail.  One of Magi’s strengths is the sheer sense of adventure it conveys, with our cast visiting vast deserts, island kingdoms, port-cities, fantasy Rome, fantasy China, steppe tribes and so on.  There’s also all kinds of interesting fantasy kingdoms and races like the superhumanly strong Fanalis who have been mostly enslaved, the beast riding Amazons of Artemia and the blue haired half Norse and half Inuit giants of Imchak.  It’s easy to get lost in the sense of wanderlust that the characters have especially in the early parts of the show before the over-arching plot is introduced.  It also helps that the colors are especially vibrant, really adding a lot of life and vibrancy to the setting and it’s inhabitants.  The overarching plot sort of resembles FMA Brotherhoods and Magi follows of similar trajectory of assembling a gigantic cast to face the lurking enemy threat that looms over all of them, despite the large divisions between the major political powers and characters in the world.  Magi has an interesting magic system where all magic grouped into 8 broad types which have varying levels of resonance with each and differing magicians.  This is a fast and loose rule set that results in many mages with different specializations but leaves lots of room for overlap and creativity for more advanced spellcasters to work with.  Then we get to Djinn and the Djinn Equips and that alone was enough to get me on board.  The Djinn may all be blue giants but they look and behave pretty differently and their Equips allow humans to assume an approximate form of their Djinn, resulting in outfits and weapons which are often totally impractical but also classic high fantasy.  The main characters Aladdin, Alibaba and Morgiana are all quite solid though Alibaba is undoubtedly the weakest on the character front just as Aladdin is the most interesting.  There’s plenty of action, political intrigue and wide and well developed world to explore.  It’s even a good entry point for non-anime fans or anime casuals in my own experience – give it a try if you haven’t already.

 

30 – Mairimashita! Iruma-kun

iruma

This is one of the most wholesome anime of the decade and I fucking love it.  It’s cute, it’s lighthearted, it’s fun and it warms my bitter cynical heart.  There’s honestly not that much else to say.  It’s Rosario + Vampire meets Hayate no Gotoku with a big focus on kindness and friendship.  It’s not serious, not heavy, it honestly feels a bit like a kid’s show and it’s wholesome approach is a such a breath of fresh compared to the endless edgy light novel bullshit or my usual more violent and/or though provoking shows of choice.  It’s a much needed break from the rest of anime and it brings a warm smile to my face.  Also Clara is adorable.  Watch it, it’s a great pick me up.

 

31 – Medaka Box

Medaka's_Speed

Medaka Box is written by NisioisN of Bakemonogatari fame and is the work of his that delves in one of his narrative penchants, the nature of geniuses, more so than any other work of his I have seen/read.  The anime regrettably lacks the fan favorite arc, Minus, ending just before that arc begins but nonetheless a very solid anime.  It has personal favorite design style with regards to to anime faces, using a wide array of artistic tricks from multiple styles of iris, heavy lines to frame eyes and strong use of color, vibrancy shifts and changes in shading to create what I consider the best anime faces of all time, which results in some truly excellent character designs.  The cast is memorable, full of characters who are at once living memes and are also either struggling with or utterly consumed by the differences in talent between people.  The show has almost more focus on quirks than Boku no Hero Academia, and features some truly bizarre students who need help with a wide variety of problems.  There’s also a strong action element to the show though that doesn’t really rear it’s head until late into season 1.  This is again one of the shows that’s honestly pretty stupid but is willing to run with it’s stupid ideas full steam ahead and I have severe soft spot for that kind of approach.  I seriously hope it gets another season to deliver the Minus arc and even if this doesn’t sound up your alley I encourage you to try it.  Partly because it’s a show that does much better in the moment than in dry reviews but also because I’m curious as to what most other people think of the character designs.

 

32 – Mob Psycho 100

mob psycho 100

Easily one of the most interestingly animated shows of the decade Mob Psycho 100 did very well among the anime community for both its visuals and its message.  The story revolves around a kid with ungodly strong psychic powers, and this matters not so much because Mob then goes to exorcise ghosts or fight other psychics but because in direct contrast to his crazy powers Mob has basically no physical or social ability and is setting out to improve on those fronts.  He does this by joining the Body Improvement Club and working for Reigen, who have top tier bodies and charisma respectively.  Most of Mobs opponents meanwhile are people who have convinced themselves that their psychic powers makes them better than everyone else and can’t understand why Mob isn’t using his powers for personal gains but seeking to improve everything but his powers.  There’s some great psychic action which no doubt drives much of the show’s fandom and popularity, but I also like to think it’s positive attitude and focus on self improvement resonates with a lot of people.  If you haven’t seen it already you absolutely have to give it a try.

 

33 – Monster Musume

monster-musume

And the harem genre strikes again.  Much like Date A Live, Monster Musume marks itself out among its genre contemporaries for having a bit more of an emotional side and an approach to fanservice that comes not from accidental slips or a sudden burst of wind but the nature of the various monstergirl species and their own individual desire for our protagonist.  I honestly can’t remember his name because almost every character introduced so far, which is quite a few at this point, calls him by a different nickname – I’ll probably just call him Darling for ease of reference.  Monster Musume’s main difference in comparison to Date A Live is the amount of fanservice.  The monstergirls either by dint of their species or by their own thirst for the d, give us a lot more fanservice than the Spirits of Date A Live – which is mildly ironic considering the Spirits are basically human once you get past the magic, and the monstergirls have similar trust issues/worries about discrimination in the wider world.  The cast is highly memorable and mostly great fun, and while there isn’t really much of a story per se, the moment to moment experience is very enjoyable.  Even some of my non-anime fan friends were into Monster Musume so to my fellow weebs of culture, let us celebrate the anime that gave us a new and confusing boner, or ladyboner, for monstergirls.  Amen.

 

34 – My Little Witch Academia

my little witch

This was basically cute anime girls Harry Potter, if Harry could barely use magic, Ron spoke to spirits, Snape cackled at the thought of making poisons and Hermione merged with Draco Malfoy to become an upper class blond bitch (at first anyway).  Having thoroughly enjoyed both My Little Witch Academia movies, I had high hopes coming into the tv anime and it did not disappoint.  It was so much fun to watch, with sequences like Akko firing herself out of a cannon to catch the world’s fastest flying broom so she could win the broom race, Sucy’s dreamland and of course the Gurren Lagann bit.  But for every moment of comedic gold or irresistible cuteness, My Little Academia also delivered on a satisfying moments of drama and character development, revealing truths that added whole dimensions to pre-existing characters and their relationships.  Akko and Diane’s character arcs were particularly good, especially when they really get to know each other and then join forces for the finale – which was also awesome.  This is a show that’s super easy to get into and a must watch for any fan of the movies or Harry Potter.  Y’all should watch it.

 

35 – Nobunagun

nobunagun 2

As much I am sick to death of hearing about Oda Nobunaga, I have to say Nobunagun was one of my surprise favorites.  Utterly stupid, featuring fights between the descendants of heroes and alien Kaiju was so much fun.  I was a big fan of the stylized weapons or abilities of the various characters and especially a fan of the sudden color shifts during the action.  The normal look of the show is pretty bland and generic but during the battles the color scheme radically changes, not only making everything really pop off the screen, but giving it a unique look and feel.  There’s honestly not much else to say about Nobunagun, either you’re like me and fell in love with the show’s brazen idiocy by the end of episode one or you didn’t and you probably think I’m crazy to put it on this list.

 

36 – Non Non Byori

non non byori

Welcome to the pinnacle of anime memes.  Other than JoJo shows I can’t think of any other shows off hand that have such a meme following.  Nothing happens in Non Non Byori – serious, literally nothing happens.  It’s about cute girls living in such a remote country town that there’s only one teacher and she teaches all 5 students at the same time despite the fact they’re all in different grades.  Highlights include going to the beach, building an igloo, walking to the candy store and going to feed the rabbits – that’s how much nothing is going on here.  That being said the interactions between the girls are cute and hilarious, with the undisputed queen of Non Non Byori being the one, the only – Ren-chon.  Renge, to use her actual name, appears to be a genuine genius in many regards but is hiding her power level by thinking so outside the box that the others can’t even understand her galaxy-brained ideas.  They have no choice but to simply roll with it as asking the mysterious deadpan loli for her reasoning brings forth answers which only madmen and eldritch horrors could possibly comprehend.  To be a bit more serious for a second, this show’s appeal hangs almost solely on Ren-chon, not that the other girls are bad but she’s what will really invest you in Non Non Byori.  Either you will recoil from this loli in confusion or bow down to her majesty and be drawn into the show by her magnetic presence.  It all depends on you.

 

37 – One Punch Man

OnePunchMan_Ep01-t

This is one the shows that will be on probably everyone’s top 50 of the decade list.  It’s well animated (well, it was in season 1), the characters a good, it’s funny and it does an excellent job at making it’s central joke – that Saitama kills every awesome unbeatable bad guy in just one punch – except when he doesn’t to make the fight cooler.  I think the visuals are what really made One Punch Man so beloved, because if the whole thing looked like season 2 it probably wouldn’t be on this list.  That said because the visuals got so many eyes on One Punch Man and, in my case at least endeared me to the characters I was able to solider in Season 2 because the characters and their interactions were as good as ever despite the massive visual downgrade.  Watch it if you haven’t, but seriously who hasn’t seen this by now?

 

38 – Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt

panty & stocking

Of all the many anime comedies I’ve seen Panty & Stocking is basically guaranteed to be the raunchiest.  It looks like a western cartoon from the Dexter’s Laboratory era aka my childhood but this one is not for kids.  This is all about sex, sweets, shit and sisterly infighting.  Which is hilarious because the two are supposed to be angels but they’ve literally been kicked out of heaven for their bad attitudes and have to do a bunch of good deeds and earn enough goodwill from the divine to get back in.  They do this grudgingly and with mild interest preferring to bone as many people or eat as many sugary delights as possible along the way.  Almost all of the ghosts they have to slay inhabit things like shit, vomit, sperm and buggers.  The art style changes all the time to suddenly look more gorgeous and realistic or hideous and blobby from scene to scene.  And while there is an over-arching story it not only does the show has perhaps the most controversial Gainax ending of all time but it will do whatever the fuck it wants with at all times.  Some diversions include, a half episode Transformers war between the two angel sisters, a minutes long scene where the camera never leaves the room or ever changes the angle of the shot and Saving Private Ryan scenes played from the perspective of sperm.  There also some great fight scenes and the overall feel of the show is incredibly dynamic with all kinds of overkill in every conceivable way, with lot’s of movement and attitude that takes advantage of the simplified art style.  This is definitely worth your time and one of the only shows that I think has a decent dub, I still prefer it subbed but if you have no other option the dub is one the better ones you’ll find.

 

39 – Psycho-Pass

psycho-pass-stage-play-1185305-1280x0

This may be perhaps the only show in this list which is wholly serious.  It has no comedic elements whatsoever and is instead a tight, tense and gripping police procedural set in a near-future Japan which has been completely transformed by a mysterious advanced network called the Sibyl System and the implementation of the Psycho Pass; a score which not only quantifies your mental state but also is used to match any given individual with jobs they will fit into best and so on.  There’s also a great deal of hologram tech which is mostly useful in how it gets used to disguise murders or to interact in some kind of VR social media.  The setting is very fleshed out especially regarding all the implementations of the new technology and the flaws, boons and workarounds therein.  This show is very interesting because one of the central themes is the merit of the Psycho Pass.  From the show’s presentation and some of it’s larger reveals it appears to be presenting a dystopian future.  There are all kinds of problems with system, and it generates behaviors which probably wouldn’t appear in a society without the Psycho Pass because they are specific methods of coping or failing to cope with the use of Psycho Passes.  That said, all other details point to the Sibyl System and Psycho Pass bringing about massive improvements to overall society – lowering crime, increasing productivity and so on.  It’s difficult for us as viewers to agree with because we are accustomed to having way more freedom and the idea of a machine, even one that may do a better job than we will most of the time, being used to guide/dictate our lives is untenable.  Whatever your answer to the questions posed there’s no doubt it’s one of the true titans of the decade in terms of craftsmanship (not season 2 though it was made by different people and fucks everything up), and I’ve yet to come across a similar anime.  Definitely give this one a try.

 

40 – Quan Zhi Gao Shou

quanz

I really struggled between putting this or Mo Dao Zhu Shi on the list, as the latter is visually more impressive and involves more of a historical fantasy story and setting, but it also has some pacing issues and a focus gay romance that I have literally no interest in cause I don’t swing that way.  Quan Zhi Gao Shou, or The King’s Avatar is a more modest production about video games and pro-gaming that is ended up really being really good.  It settles on the basically undisputed best pro-player of a very popular RPG getting fired due to the team’s faltering performance and concerns about his age, he’s 26 which is old by pro-gaming standards.  And because they hammer this part in immediately it’s very easy to invested as to how our main guy with stick it to the man.  The character side of the story is pretty great but what Quan Zhi Gao Shou really delivers on is something of every gamer’s power fantasy and really capturing the kind of passion that the deeply hardcore fans of certain games have for their game of choice.  Our main guy has been playing this game for a decade and rather than lash out when he’s suddenly dropped from his pro team he immediately starts up a new account, experimenting with a playstyle he and his best friend had started on conceptually many years ago.  There’s lot of flashy action and solid understanding of RPG mechanics along with a focus player action speed versus depth of knowledge.  Quan Zhi Gao Shou is very easy to get into, with a tone that is mostly, light brisk and fun with occasional currents of a more serious struggle going on.  It’s a great watch for anyone who has picked up any RPG before – and while the show has modest production values the 3 OVA sequels are fucking jaw droppingly well animated, a good reward for those who make through the first season.  There was also a recentish movie release prequel, so this franchise does seem to have some legs and we will hopefully get a second season soon.

 

41 – Re:Creators

40748-Re_CREATORS-PC

Re:Creators is unfortunately a show with some problems and an ending that is so meta it’s a bit up its own ass but generally I really loved watching it.  It played around some very interesting story concepts both in a meta sense to resolve the main conflict and for use as character building.  The differences between how characters from more simplistic settings developed in contrast to characters from darker or more nuanced settings was really cool, and the interplay between characters from totally different mediums and settings using their various power against each other was awesome, resulting in scenes like watching a giant magical girl heart slam a flying heroine into the ground with explosive force – where else will you even see something like that?  I know that a lot of people hated the main guy but honestly I think he did his job exceptionally well and filled more of a Shinji from Evangelion role than that of a typical hero and thus had many similar flaws and criticism that Shinji himself suffered from.  I think what really sold it for me though were the parts that delved in the various artists and writers and the creative process.  I thought the show’s commentary on that front was fucking spot on and resulted in some of may favorite low key interactions and bits of dialogue, with the crowning achievement being the battle of wits between Blitz and his creator – who basically proves to him that he hasn’t developed at all and is frankly immature in his thinking when compared to the other fictional characters who have invaded our world by predicting his every line and move.  That said there is a bit in the middle where show slows down massively while building up to the final battle and I could easily see that being a problem for some.  I personally was fine Altair’s design and abilities but I did find her motivations to be pretty pathetic and her nigh-invincibility sometimes utterly ruined the awesome powers of the characters.  All told I think it’s still a good show with interesting ideas and an excellent commentary on creatives and the creative process but it’s on the lower end of this list.

 

42 – ReLIFE

ReLife

This is actually one of the best romances of all time, at least in anime.  It’s about a guy who seems to have no real prospects because he quit his first job as a means of protest against his boss and co-workers, who in fact drive his mentor to suicide with their bullying.  Because of this he obviously didn’t get any kind of recommendation and is struggling to find a serious career since he has no reliable references and every interviewer will of course ask why he left his old job, or call his old boss and presumably be told that our lead is a shit worker.  While he struggles he is given an offer by a mysterious government agency to take a drug that reverts him back 10 years (I think) and redo his senior year of high school as a means of rehabilitation, with the promise of a job afterword.  With little else going for him he takes offer.  Part of what makes ReLIFE great is that our lead is not fumbling his way through school like so many high school romances, he’s done this before and while there are many jokes at his expense because of his adult outlook and him having to readjust and relearn old material, that same adult outlook lets him cut through usual high school bullshit and misunderstandings with ease, allowing him to quickly make some friends and even guide these young people when some of them are having trouble.  His main focus is the super emotionless girl in his class who we will later learn went through the same program he did but didn’t change at all during her year and is now doing a second year unbeknownst to our male lead.  But it’s because the secret ReLifer is so inept at personal interactions that our male lead spends extra time helping her, and thus the groundwork for a serious relationship is laid.  ReLIFE has some decent comedy, solid drama and – once all the various secrets are revealed – one of the best anime romance stories of all time.  You really owe it to yourself to give it a try though I think older viewers may like more since it’s much easier to connect with a male lead closer to our age.

 

43 Shokugeki no Souma

shokugeki no souma 03

I think what really sells Shokugeki no Souma, in addition to the fact they went all in on the foodgasms, was the attitude.  Souma and many of his various rivals have the same highly arrogant, confrontational and fiery attitudes of characters from battle manga.  Like if these kids had huge muscles instead of major culinary skills they would fit right into something like Baki.  And I love the attitude, it really is the heart of the show because it’s that same attitude which leads to the intensity and stakes of challenges.  The various characters make massive bets with all their pride and skill on the line and it’s only be dint of the overall attitude that this makes any sense at and is indeed fully sold.  The fact that show does a really good job making the actual cooking matches and recipe research engaging is to it’s credit but it’s kind of just a bonus – it’s the attitude and characters which really keep me invested, especially since the story gets increasingly off the rails as it goes on and the production values start to take noticeable hits in later seasons.  And speaking of the characters, this show really does nail the kind of giant memorable and interesting casts which are a staple of the shounen genre, and even some of characters who only appear in a few scenes are among the most memorable side characters I can think of, Hojo and the witch girl in particular.  There’s also a huge focus on talent vs hard work and perhaps even more importantly, confidence.  Megumi is one of the best characters because she is a talented cook who is so lacking in confidence that it almost sees her expelled and it’s not until she meets the brazenly competitive and outright arrogant Souma that she really finds the inner strength to make something more of herself.  Her big moments in the season 2 tournaments were probably my favorite parts of the show.  That’s really all there is to say, if you want some food porn, with a side fiery attitude and a full course of interesting cast members, Shokugeki no Souma is the dish for you.

 

44 Shuumatsu no Izzetta

shuumatsu no izetta 08

This is one of the shows on this list that most people will probably be scratching their heads at as it didn’t have great critical reception nor was it especially popular when looking at the decade as a whole.  But I have a deep affection for fantasy and history and this was yet another solid historical fantasy not set in Japan.  This was a fantastical WWII story, though the politics of the world is much more reflective of WWI where royal families exist as serious political factors in much greater numbers.  Overall I don’t think the story or writing is especially good, though the episode where Nazi (not actually a nazi this is just for ease of reference) infiltrator into fantasy Switzerland (which is where the main characters are from) discovers that he really likes the kind people of fantasy Switzerland and concludes his side might be the bad guys in this scenario since fantasy Germany is invading fantasy Switzerland was great.  That being said I do love the overall focus on patriotism, heroic myths, the clever use of propaganda and the magic vs WWII tech battles.  The politics were also good, with all of fantasy Germany’s enemies celebrating the rise of Izetta as a weapon against fantasy Germany while also becoming very concerned about what Izetta and magic represent.  Fantasy Germany has some very capable men who put the titular Izetta in danger multiple times and while I wasn’t much of a fan of how her final opponent came to be, I do like the thrust of her enemy’s story and how she interacts with Izetta, as a pair of witches who have similar power levels and played similar heroic roles for fantasy Switzerland but had a world of difference in their treatment.  What really gets me though are 3 things.  The music, the depth and intimacy of the friendship between Izetta and Princess Fine, and last but certainly not least Izetta’s solution to end the conflict and the truly humbling levels of self sacrifice required to enact this solution.  The climax is something that’s going to be etched in my mind forever, between the swelling music, the way it cuts between the actual fight scenes which in and of themselves aren’t that impressive to the momentous political events which Izetta’s immense self sacrifice is going to pave the way for, with multiple tensions builds which are put on hold by flashbacks or exposition before resuming with exponential intensity before we get to the big earth shattering moment where the entire nature of the world is re-written and the age of magic passes forever.  It’s something out of an epic or a saga, and it’s the kind of story beat which cuts right though to the core of my being.  For whatever reason it’s the scenes like these, the big swelling moments of legendary feats be they Izetta’s climax or something like the Ride of the Rohirrim, these are the scenes that connect with me deepest, which make my tears flow most fiercely.  Many of the shows I enjoy have a lot more of “the journey is more important than the destination” vibe but every now and then there comes a show where, though the journey is perhaps not as striking or memorable or as well written as many other shows on this list, the destination is so phenomenal that it eclipses all other factors.  Shuumatsu no Izetta is one such show.

 

45 Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii

6863206_orig

This is another of the best anime romances in my book, though this is much more of a traditional shoujo story than Golden Time.  It takes place in a very simplified fantasy world where all the countries are named after random climatic and topographic features like Rain, Sun, Sea, etc.  More important than the milquetoast fantasy world though are our main characters, Livy and Nike.  Livy is a genius young king – who looks like he’s only a kid but is supposed to be a pre-teen I think – whose reign is nonetheless stained by his own internal demons and the heartlessness which he steeped himself in to take power.  Nike meanwhile comes from a poor as shit country at the ass end of the world, the Rain Country, where royalty doesn’t really behave all that differently to average citizenry.  In fact when Livy demands a Rain princess for his bride – because he wants power over the weather to combat the sun for which is own country is named – Nike is sent because she lost the 4-way rock-paper-scissors match between the princesses.  What really makes these too such a great pair is that while Livy is a man above the people in many regards, both in his own attitude and in his understanding of greater political movements or complex problems, Nike is definitely a woman of the people.  She struggles with expectations of royalty and formality but thrives on interpersonal relations, rapidly making connections with anyone be they royalty or peasant.  Nike also has weather altering magic which is why Livy wanted a Rain princess to begin with, and she uses her powers mostly to teach Livy about the importance of his emotional development and doing the right thing for the right reason – in contrast to his old approach of doing the right thing for the wrong reason or vice versa.  Both Nike and Livy are great characters in their own right, which is why this show manages to break into this list despite the shoujo label.  Most of the time I find shoujo stories to be pretty insufferable because the characters are fucking boring so I have no reason to be invested in the drama and the romance.  That’s not the case here, this show could probably be about anything and so long as Livy and Nike were in it I’d have a good time.  Definitely worth a watch, especially for anyone starving for good romances.

 

46 – Steins;Gate

steinsgate

Steins:Gate is, in my opinion, the greatest time travel story ever made (if we discount all that Zero garbage).  As someone who generally finds time travel annoying as it’s almost always used for narrative convenience, I fell in love with Steins;Gate right away despite my reticence about the subject matter.  Part of this was due to the unusual presentation of the early episodes but it’s mainly because of the characters, with Okarin in particular getting me super invested early on.  The actual tech involved in the time travel is basically a random stroke of bullshit but the mechanics of time travel are simple but interesting and used very well in the story.  The fact that the time travel was very important to the story and used for serious character development rather narrative convenience was a huge breath of fresh air for me and really helped keep me working through the slower parts of the story, where we get to know the characters, who we absolutely need to love for the drama of the later parts of the show to really hit home.  Luckily the characters are fantastic and do a great job of drawing you in.  If you haven’t seen this already you should absolutely give it a try.

 

47 – Suisei no Gargantia

suisei no gargantia

I’ve never been a big fan of Mecha shows but Suisei no Gargantia won me over right away with it’s pretty unique premise and totally unique environments.  For those who haven’t seen it, it’s a about a young soldier, Ledo, who has been cast adrift by a wormhole travel error after a major engagement against alien forces and arrives at, of all places, Earth.  The humans of Earth are significantly more primitive and live on giant clusters of ships, and while they technically have mechs, their mechs are more like forklifts in a humanoid shape than a proper Gundam.  Ledo meanwhile comes from an advanced space-faring branch of humanity, who believe Earth is either a myth or long since frozen over, and has the only mech worth considering for 90% of the show.  Rather than this being a giant battle of mechs, the show is really about Ledo learning how to adjust to a life without combat, where there isn’t much if any war and conflict avoidance is the first priority.  I personally love this kind of character, the soldier who is either so consumed by war or started fighting so young that it’s all they really know and so struggle to adjust to peace.  The mass of interconnected ships, especially with the locks, cranes and rust make for some of the coolest and most striking environs of the decade and while the characters and story beats are generally quite simple, they are nonetheless compelling and make for an easy digestible story so you can focus on all the detail poured into the environments, society and culture which are the backbone of the show.  It’s very memorable and a solid show if not one of the true greats of the decade, definitely still worth a watch.

 

48 – Utawarerumono: Itsuwari no Kamen

Utawarerumono Itsuwari no Kamen - 20 - Large 15

This show was certainly one most surprising treats of the decade for me, seeing as the original Utawarerumono came out in like 2008 and remains one my favorite shows of all time.  Sadly the sequel, Itsuwari no Kamen is noticeably weaker than the original – with a bunch of jokes that feel more like meta appeals to fans than in-universe culture and a much slower story.  To it’s credit Itsuwari no Kamen does cram in a ton of story compared to most anime without ever feeling rushed, and it has room to dedicate entire episodes to let us bond with the various individual members of the large cast, but since the original Utawarerumono was for my money the most content-dense 24 episode show of all time Itsuwari no Kamen definitely takes a hit in this regard.  Another bizarre change is the toning down of realism and the sudden changes in power levels that requires. While all the people with fake masks having knock-off versions of Hakuoro’s powers makes sense, why can a swordsman like Yakutowaruto level a city block with his technique?  He’s not from the same race as Karura, who were the only group were aware of having the super strength.  And hilariously it means when Yakutowaruto has to fight Kuro, who by the end of the original is basically the weakest of the main characters, and gets his ass handed to him, Kuro has to be way more badass in Itsuwari no Kamen than he was in the original, by doing things like shrugging off an explosion.  There are other minor details like this but overall the show is very good.  It has a large and mostly lovable cast, multiple wars from the various beastmen cultures, expands the world building laid out in the original and great visuals to boot.  It’s not on the original’s level but it is still a very good show, far better than most anime you’d find in any given season.  Give it a try it’s well worth your time.

 

49 – Youjo Senki

d3ef6aca57a251db5d0f4d450c1879d4

On the one hand this is an anime with a serious visual problem, it looks quite terrible and even the movie sequel sets the bar about as low as I’ve ever seen for anime movies.  That being said I don’t give a shit because this definitely one of my favorite shows of the decade.  The WWI but with magic and emerging WWII tech makes for a great setting and there are all kinds of nods to historical events such as the Romanian invasion in utterly failing.  But as much as I love the setting, I think it’s the prevailing attitude of the show which really makes it a winner.  Tanya is just the right blend of ruthless sociopath, corporate asshole and incidental heroine to make her an incredibly fun character who makes all kinds of seemingly crazy choices based on her prior life’s knowledge of the events of WWI & WWII.  It also gives her a ton of room to maneuver in the story, she can work with  logistics and organization, develop new tactics, and still have time to get in dogfights with planes and bombard poor infantrymen stuck in the trenches.  The show is also just a great deal of fun, allowing you to revel in Tanya’s evil qualities when she succeeds with ease but to also appreciate their genuine heroism and patriotism of her men when the going gets tough.  Moreover while the in-universe events are taken seriously by the characters, the show does not take itself overly seriously at all, adding to the fun.  The anime is quite ugly but everything else makes up for it so well I’d be mad not to recommend you give it a try, this show is way too fun to pass up.

 

50 – Zombieland Saga

zombieland saga 08

Of all the shows to come out this decade, Zombieland Saga would be my number 1 surprise hit.  Zombie idols was possibly the best thing to ever comes out of the idol show genre despite other strong contenders like Gokudolls coming out at roughly the same time.  But where Gokudolls was basically just funny, with very limited character development, Zombieland Saga puts a lot more focus on the characters.  How talented were they in life?  Can they square their new existence as zombies or will they wallow around in a funk forever?  Will the Legendary Tae-chan ever regain her ability to speak and function like a human being?  The show tackles all of these difficult questions and more in a story about a bunch of girls with terrible luck getting a second chance at well, existing and maybe pursuing happiness.  Also they do a whole bunch of random marketing shit like mud runs, fast food commercials and mini-concerts sponsored by new products.  Personally I found all the characters to be really interesting or otherwise enjoyable, and some of them had seriously powerful story beats like Lily getting to sing a love song for the father she left behind, Junko’s and Ai’s differing philosophies as idols from different decades and how they clash before eventually supporting each other, Saki getting to help out her best friend’s daughter and – though the presentation was a bit heavy handed – Sakura’s total transformation when she regains her memories.  The concerts are also a treat, because despite the frankly terrible visuals, the songs cover a wide variety of genres and are full of random yet awesome incidents.  We have death metal idols with neck-breaking headbanging, improv rap battle, the sudden techno remix made possible by lightning strike and other hilarious events.  The show is a ton of fun with occasional segments for heavier, more dramatic story bits which only add to the overall story and presentation.  Well worth your time, go watch it.

Understanding Presence and Weight with Kingdom

Ren_Pa_Confronts_Shin_anime_S2

No other anime I’ve seen has even come close to mastering the idea of character presence as Kingdom has.  The best comparison point I can think of off-hand is Rider from Fate Zero – but even he pales in comparison to the top tier characters of Kingdom.  I don’t expect most people to care, most people haven’t even heard of Kingdom while Fate Zero is widely known and held in high regard, and for good reason.  But if on the off chance you’re a total weirdo like me and have a deep fascination with the idea and portrayal of a living legend, Kingdom is best there is.  Period.

Jumping back a little for the sake of context, Kingdom is a historical shounen (though some sites call it a seinen and there arguments for why it should be) battle series set in the Chinese Warring States Period in the 300s BC (not to be confused with the Japanese period of the same name in the 1500s AD).  It follows Xin, who in typical shounen fashion wants to be the best there ever was – in this case the greatest general in history – and Yin Zheng the young king of Qin, the westernmost and second most powerful of the seven kingdoms in China, who wishes to conquer all of China.  As the minor battles in this show contain hundreds of fighters (at minimum) and the important wars involve hundreds of thousands of soldiers fighting over several days important people have to be able to wipe the floor with tons of random soldiers before dueling other people of the same power level.  Kingdom’s way of handling the obvious break from realism is to uphold the idea that the weight of one’s command – among important characters – is a source of strength which enables them to run roughshod over weaker foes.  Kingdom takes this very literally as the weight of one’s command directly affects the power of one’s blows and how strong a blow they can receive without issues.

This of course is not the only source of strength or skill, experience, size, muscle build, etc. all play a role and the weight is often an elusive thing to gauge as people with significantly smaller commands can fight on equal footing with those of greater commands.  Also this whole weight is power thing doesn’t apply to strategists whatsoever.  Nonetheless the idea is integral to Kingdom and it does a fucking fantastic job on delivering on one of the shows overall greatest strengths, dramatic payoffs.

Kingdom does a phenomenal job of building tension and then bringing a satisfying payoff.  If I had to sum the show up in one word it would be big.  Big armies, big characters, big talk, big music, big impact.  It’s hard not to get swept up in the hype when you’re watching characters you like charge headlong into a giant army with his trusted soldiers at his back with big booming oriental orchestral swells thundering in the background – seriously Kingdom’s music is fucking awesome and it would totally overwhelm scenes of suitably less gigantic action.

Of course the scenario above will fall apart at the first hurdle if you don’t like the characters, so naturally Kingdom takes a lot steps to ensure that you do.  Everyone of note has highly distinct designs, there are dozens of specialized armor variants for noteworthy armies and special armor for important generals.  In a similar vein all the characters have different hairstyles and facial features, weapons, banners and so forth to make them all stand out.  Where the weight and presence bit comes into its own is for the older generals.  In comparison to Xin most of the major enemies or important, older allied characters are significantly physically larger, and thus can pack a lot more punch to their attacks.

Another major factor to consider is the mental side of the equation.  In typical shounen fashion Xin is kind of a dumbass, though I would contend he is somewhat smarter than he appears and his stupidity has a clear source, he grew up as slave with no education.  There is however a lot of tactical play going on and the top tier characters are capable of stunning feats of strategy – no joke some of this shit is Death Note-style complex planning – which spice up the more basic, if no less satisfying frontal assaults of more brutal and martial generals.  Moving away from a character’s intellect however the mental effects of certain strategies and actions play a large role as well.  Bloodlust/killing intent and morale have significant effects on a character’s ability to perform in battle, so how certain characters go about inspiring morale plays a large role in their tactics and actions.

What this is all building up to is the logical endpoint, the generals who are big, skilled, have tons of experience, and who are famous for their exploits, the kind of people Xin wants to be.  The two giants among men who appear in the anime are Wang Qi and Lian Po, two legendary generals who were among the biggest names in all of China during their golden age several decades ago.  They are both masterfully done characters with highly distinct designs, excellent voicework, unrivaled power, top tier tacticians and more weight and presence than anyone else in anime.  It’s hard to say exactly what grants them this quality, what allows them to so perfectly encapsulate, to me obviously, the idea of a living legend.  It could be the things described above, it could be their glorious careers from years past and how the rest of world still treats their names with awe.  It might be how, on occasion they speak of their older days and how impressive they make that era seem.  The most obvious answer is that it’s all these things – and that would explain why this ability to capture the feel of living legend is exclusive to Kingdom, as their backstories are bound to Kingdom.

But at the same time I feel like it has to be more than that.  I think I could make similar arguments about some of the characters in Arslan Senki but they’ve never captured the same appeal, certainly not to the degree Kingdom has.  All I can say for sure is that when one of the generals loses and is forced to surrender, has a less successful man from his era tell him to retire, and his response is “Don’t be stupid.  I’m on active duty til I die!”  while he charges down a small mountain and one of this big orchestral swells plays in the background I watched the scene over and over like 40 times because it was just that special, it had that much impact.

The point of a lot of shounen characters, especially major enemies like Madara or old badasses like Netero, is to be these larger than life entities which draw you the viewer into a clash of epic proportions.  It’s what makes battle’s whose scale would be derided in mainstream TV not only possible but fucking glorious to watch.  And Kingdom, for all it’s faults has mastered the art of making larger than life characters to a degree which surpasses all of the competition.  I picked up Kingdom  after the second season finished airing and I’ve yet to see anything, newer or older, which gets close to capturing that larger than life, living legend feel like Kingdom did.  And it is my sincere belief that this ability to portray such gigantic characters the way Kingdom does, is why both seasons are rated upwards of 8 on sites like MAL, where the second season of Kingdom currently sits at #88.

Personally I would count Kingdom among my top five shows with ease, possibly in the top three, and by extension highly recommend it to anyone who sounds even vaguely interested.  I’ve also written about the show before here, in case you wanted more of an overview.  This is all despite the fact season 1 is burdened with a lot of low tier-CG and physics can often be very loosely applied in combat.  It doesn’t matter, because Kingdom moves past all of it’s issues and the weight and presence of it’s best characters is one of the main reasons.  Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.

Unpopular Opinion: RWBY Franchise

v2_01_00032

I love RWBY.  There you go, if you were looking for a recommendation to watch RWBY you’ve got one.  From here on I’m going to spoil the shit out of RWBY especially the latest season, Volume 4.  This is will be long.

One of the things I find most impressive about RWBY as a whole is how it just keeps getting better.  It’s amazing how far RWBY’s come since it’s humble beginnings and boy were those ever humble.  The biggest reason to avoid RWBY is undoubtedly Volume 1.  Even I, huge fan of the series that I am now was not at all convinced RWBY would be good as of Volume 1.  In Volume 1 episode lengths were wildly inconsistent and generally ranged from about 5 minutes to 13 minutes, with the climax of the exam being by far the longest episode, something that happens mid-season rather than at the actual climax of the season.  Moreover the entire experience suffered from a number of problems such as awful comedic effects, some cringe-worthy lines in the script, a pretty bog standard bully arc and most notably a lack of chemistry between all the characters, mostly thanks to the fact I didn’t feel like everyone had really come to own their respective roles yet.

All that said it was still a decent time, especially some of the battle sequences.  The exam final is the most noteworthy on that front, but there’s tons of fun choreography made possible by the ludicrous hybrid weapons and aura and Semblance powers which fill the RWBY-verse.  Perhaps most impressive about the exam final though was the use of tactics, wherein the hastily formed teams of teenagers managed to bring down the toughest enemies in the testing grounds by really making the best use of their own and each other’s powers and and weapons.  The monsters were also pretty good, I mean some were pretty generic in concept but their overall designs given the restricted black-white-red palette of the Grimm were great, especially the giant scorpion (Death Stalker) and the boar (Boarbatusk).  Not to mention despite the many goofy lines in the script my favorite line in all of RWBY comes from Volume 1, specifically where Ruby says that seeing  new weapons is like meeting new people, only better.  On that note the groundwork laid for Ruby’s character in Volume 1 is absolutely critical and it’s handled very well amid the painful comedy and otherwise very basic character intros and plot.  I think Volume 1 is best described as a rough draft or a proof-of-concept, something that isn’t ready yet but shows hints of something far more promising to come.  And say what you will about Volume 1 but those hints came to shine forth in Volume 2.

Volume 2 has more consistent episode lengths with 12 minutes being a pretty good gauge of how long the episodes will be, a trend which continues in later Volumes, though the longest is probably like 17 minutes.  More importantly almost all of the problems that riddled Volume 1 are gone.  Volume 2 opens on an amazing food fight scene that remains the funniest moment in RWBY to this day, finally breaking free of the weak comedic effects of Volume 1.  Even the action scenes, which had still been fun and mostly good, have improved significantly with most people citing better fight direction as the main cause.  Also we meet Penny and a giant mech suit which give us a better idea of what kind of tech humans have in RWBY beyond absurd weapons.  All of the characters have definitely come into their own by now, save perhaps Ren who gets neglected more than anyone else until Volume 4, and as a result their chemistry is solid.  We get more involved character stories, especially Blake, who up until Volume 2 was a mostly silent bookish type that we didn’t know much about.

In Volume 2 Blake reveals herself to be a Faunus, a beastman of sorts and a group which has faced and continues to face discrimination or outright persecution.  She also reveals herself to have at one point been part of the White Fang a Faunus rights advocacy group turned terrorist organization, and it’s clear she still stuck around for a while after the shift from peaceful protests to violent action.  This puts her in conflict with Weiss because Weiss’s family has suffered greatly at the hands of the White Fang for their business’ discrimination and exploitation of Faunus workers, something we have very few specifics about beyond Blake’s assertions.  This is built upon even further because Volume 2 makes it clear the White Fang is involved in terror plots attacking Beacon, the academy-city where the main characters live, where they go so far as to flood the city with a horde of Grimm by breaching old and forgotten underground defenses.  We also get a good contrast to Blake in Sun Goku, another Faunus without her dark past and serious attitude, but who is equally up for fighting the White Fang.  Amid all of this one of the most interesting character scenes comes about during the Hunter assignment, where this goofy history professor-cum-warrior asks all of team RWBY why they want to be Huntresses, save for Ruby, which is telling in itself, and the other three girls really have to mull over their motivations while Ruby gets to observe giant elephant monsters (Goliaths), by far the most imposing Grimm shown in the Volume.

I have to admit though that while RWBY Volume 2 was definitely good, excellent even, I wasn’t quite ready to put it on par with great anime I’d seen.  Maybe it was the CG, some of the really goofy stuff, or maybe the dark elements didn’t feel dark and threatening enough.  Whatever the case, while I was thrilled by RWBY and on board for for future seasons to come, I still didn’t consider it top tier material.  And that would change by the end of Volume 3.

I’ve no doubt that most people consider Volume 3 better than Volume 4 and I can’t really fault them for that.  It has by far the biggest moments in the series, the most involved narrative and probably the most action of any Volume.  Volume 3 opens on an inter-school battle tournament which Volume 2 had started to set in motion, Sun and the bad guys all arrive in Beacon as or posing as students in other schools.  When it first came out I remember people complaining that the fight direction took a big hit thanks to Mounty Oum’s death, but personally I thought the battles were great.  New and crazy weapons got introduced, like the bladed hoverboard from the first fight.  We saw new Semblances and a few cool new characters like the black guy who fights with sonic blasts from his trumpet and can use Naruto’s Shadow Clone justu.   All good stuff across the board.  It was also the first time since the concept of aura was introduced in Volume 1 that we spent some time digging into the lore and hidden powers of RWBY-verse, specifically the Maidens.  The Maidens represent a game changer, a shift from goofy weapons used to kill Grimm to super-weapons capable of  throwing the entire world out of balance.  It was at this point that the darker or just more serious elements to RWBY, things which had been present all along but just lacked the weight and presence to feel particularly gripping and real, finally got some gravitas.

This is helped by the fact the villains play a much bigger role than before.  Even setting aside what they ultimately do, we spend more time with them as their careful plan finally gets set in motion so we can understand what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.  It makes them far more threatening because their plan is cunning and detailed, a shift from the mostly random acts of violence and theft from earlier Volumes.  And what’s more it totally works.  Even though security’s been beefed up and Qrow warns Ozpin that the city’s been infiltrated, and they try to get Pyrrha, who by the way gets a lot more development as of this Volume, to inherit the power of the dying Fall Maiden, the bad guys win.  By Volume 3’s end Beacon is a wreck, a huge Grimm dragon has appeared, Ozpin has disappeared and is presumed dead, Penny has been torn to pieces, Yang loses an arm fighting Blake’s former mentor Adam Taurus and Blake runs away from team RWBY, Weiss is sent home, and Pyrrha, debatably the strongest of the main teens is dead.

It’s all a big shock but Pyrrha’s death is especially hard hitting because a, who expected one of the main 8 teens to die at all, most shows don’t do that, and b, she’d gotten a lot better as a character over the course of Volumes 2 and 3, her relationship with Jean had deepened and she even made out with him before she dies in battle against Cinder, who thus far was presented as the leader of bad guys, and who obtains the Fall Maiden’s power, and c, because she was debatably the hottest girl and I was totally invested in her character arc and was extra sad to see her go.  Pyrrha’s death more than anything else convinced me RWBY was just as good as anything else I loved, that it deserved to be considered on par with my other top tier shows.  That Yang loses her arm and some of the bad guys die in the battle too, only add to a show which mostly felt a bit too light before because despite all the battles no one ever died or appeared to die, not even the random mooks.  But Volume 3 ends in ruin, for all sides really as the good guys deal with the loss of a city and some important people or limbs, while the bad guys deal with the fact Ruby put a giant fucking monkey wrench in their plans.

More so than the previous Volumes, Volume 3 confirms that Ruby is a prodigy.  She figures out part of the villains’ plot and how it’s being done before anyone else, even if she fails to stop it.  She fights Torchwood, a major villain and his assistant Neopolitan, who beat the piss out of Yang in Volume 2, well enough that though she doesn’t land the killing blow she gets them killed because they were forced to come out and try to deal with her.  And she awakens new eye-powers which fuck up the Grimm dragon and Cinder so badly that the battle which should have spelled Beacon’s end becomes a stalemate.  I mean the good guys still end up worse but Ruby goes a long to making an overwhelming defeat into a minor one by herself.  She even joins up with Team JUNPR, Pyrrha’s former team to continue hunting down Cinder, while the rest of her teammates all take a break.  She’s unquestionably the MVP of her generation, especially now that her main competition, Pyrrha is dead.

Volume 3 also reveals a new and greater antagonist waiting in the wings, a Grimm lady whom we later learn is called Salem, and who has been pulling the strings behind Cinder all along.  And as we listen to her grim (ha ha) and cryptic message, we fade out and get ready to pick up the pieces in Volume 4.

What Volume 4 and previously Arslan Senki season 2 have convinced me of is that good transition seasons are literal godsends to any given series and are in their own way more valuable to me than major dramatic arcs.  And make no mistake Volume 4 is a transition series.  It’s by far the slowest and most character focused of all the Volumes and it’s ending sets the stage for the next major arc.  But I think I like Volume 4 the most.  The CG sees huge improvements, I’d argue it’s the best purely CG show ever made or at least that I’ve ever seen.  But setting aside the visuals, if Volume 3 was where the big wow moments were then Volume 4 is where shit gets heavy.  Everyone is grappling with the loss of Pyrrha, most notably Jean, who has taken all that’s left of her, her weapon and armor, and combines them with his old gear, but Yang, Blake and Weiss all have confront themselves and their problems while they mostly sit at home.  If I had to encapsulate this Volume’s appeal in one scene though, I’d pick the scene where Jean is up after everyone is asleep, I mean Ruby gets up because she hears him but whatever, practicing sword drills prescribed to him by Pyrrha via instructional videos, where she says “I want you to know that I’m just happy to be a part of your life, I’ll always be here for you Jean.” at the end of video, while he pauses to hear her say that line before putting the video on repeat and continuing with sword drills, was quite possibly the most emotional thing I’ve ever seen.  I fucking tearing up right now as I’m writing about it.  It hits that hard, and importantly it feels so real because real people do this kind of shit, staring at pictures or reading messages from lost loved ones well after the funeral.  This is probably my favorite scene in RWBY and I doubt that will change.

Moving on, Volume 4 spends a lot of time with Blake, Weiss and Yang as they all deal with their issues before finding their resolve and choosing to continue the fight.  We find out that Blake was the daughter of the head of the White Fang back when it was peaceful and now the governor the Faunus homeland of Menagerie.  We get a lot of whining from Blake about how she wants people, her parents and friends who get hurt fighting the White Fang, to stay away from her so they don’t get hurt.  But ultimately what is shown is that she wants them to lash out at her, she wants to be punished for what she sees as her sins in involving these people in her struggles, and nobody does.  What Sun and her father force her to realize is that they love her and therefore chose this fight themselves or forgive her past transgressions respectively, that it’s not all her fault and that running away is the worst option to take because that hurts those close to her more than the physical wounds or family arguments.  Weiss’s family attempts to  lock her up in the house and after realizing that she hates abiding by Atlas’ high society and social rules when there are greater dangers afoot runs from home.  Yang deals with traumatic flashbacks to Adam cutting her arm off, gets a mechanical arm, spars with her dad and ultimately regains her confidence and fire so she can get back in the fight.  Most notable about Yang’s story is that the new arm comes to her right away but because of the trauma and lost confidence she doesn’t start using it immediately because she’s not sure she wants back into the fight.  It’s a nice touch and it gives her time to talk to adults and work through her problems.

However the real stars of character development in Volume 4 are Ren and Nora.  Nora has always been a fun character since Volume 1 and Ren had no discernible personality whatsoever and was mainly known for being skilled, ironic considering how little this was actually shown after the exam in Volume 1.  In Volume 4 we finally get his backstory as a former rich kid whose life imploded when a powerful Grimm killed his parents and wrecked his hometown, an event which only he and the street urchin he met that day, Nora, survive.  This explains why the two have always been inseparable but more importantly it finally gives Ren in particular a reason for his subdued personality and moments of fiery anger when he meets the monster in the Volume 4 finale.  I’ll cover the monster and that fight in a second but I want to talk about Volume 4 and that fight especially have the only scenes where Nora is actually serious.  She’s such a happy-go-lucky type and her power allows her to live that way, so seeing her be entirely earnest and serious and ultimately give Ren the focus he needs to survive and win the final battle of Volume 4 was pretty awesome to watch and spoke volumes about her strength and depth of character.

Moving away from character stuff Volume 4 introduces us to some of the most powerful and bizarre things in the RWBY-verse.  Ozpin’s body is dead but his soul now has merged with a kid called Oscar and talks to that kid in his head all the time, a well as shares memories and stuff.  We also get a proper introduction to Salem and her other followers, and we see how badly Ruby hurt Cinder in Volume 3, as Cinder had some serious scars, an eyepatch and can barely talk.  The action is a much smaller part of Volume 4 but it’s on the whole very good.  Most of the Grimm introduced in Volume 4 are big, special Grimm that can take a beating like the Geist and Sea Dragon.  Tyrian, a scorpion Faunus and one of Salem’s followers almost kills Qrow in a battle where he basically steamrolls team RNJR before Qrow steps in, and then promptly gets his tail cut off by Ruby because she’s awesome.  The real crown jewel is the Nuckelavee though.

I think it’s by the most terrifying Grimm we’ve ever seen.  Now I want to give RWBY bonus points on three fronts, one for even finding the fucking thing.  I’m a huge fan of mythology and even I’d only heard of the monster once before and didn’t remember the name.  The Nuckelavee is a demon from Orcadian mythology.  Never heard of Orcadian mythology?  Neither had I, it comes from Orkney which is on these tiny islands off the northern coast of Scotland in the ass end of nowhere.  It’s so obscure that I have a “Dictionary of Mythology” which has no mention of the Nuckelavee.  So that it exists in RWBY is impressive enough but I feel the team did an excellent job adapting the mythical monster, you can check the details for yourself if you’re interested, to the Grimm aesthetic.  Even more impressive though was how it moves, fights and sounds.  The Nuckelavee’s signature scream is terrifying, the contorted and ragged movements do a great job making it alien and scary and the extendable arms allow it to fight all of team RNJR at once while still containing elements of the mythical beast.

Moreover the buildup excellent.  We see Ren’s flashback where we hear it, see the destruction it causes but only see it’s hooves and one arm.  We see a battleground covered in blood and broken weapons with a distinct hoof-print in the ground, followed by trees swaying as it moves through the woods approaching Ruby, Jean and the injured Qrow.  Rena and Nora sprint to the others hoping to catch them before the Nuckelavee does and seconds after they meet up with Ruby and Jean we cut to the Nuckelavee at the edge of the town, we finally see it’s grotesque torso and hear the scream before the screen cuts to black.  Then the finale opens on 9 straight minutes of team RNJR fighting their hardest before finally bringing the Nuckelavee down.  And then we get to the end.  We see Yang and Weiss getting near Ruby, Qrow is taken to safety and survives and even meets Oscar, Blake and Sun have geared up to fight the White Fang and this all happens as Ruby writes a super emotional letter, which she also narrates in her head of course, before we end on the big twist, where it turns out where the academy master of Haven, where the characters have mostly ended up, is talking to one of Salem’s subordinates and looks set to betray the world to her.

What I’ve been trying to say here is that even though the narrative and action are slow in RWBY Volume 4, there’s so much going on that it’s just as if not even more engaging than Volume 3.  It adds so much to the characters and the antagonists while setting up the next major event, in addition to having its own awesome climactic battle, that it’s just as important as any major arc.  Storytelling involves a lot of peaks and valleys, the big moments and the transitions, and so many shows opt to have flat expository or lighthearted comedy episodes for their transitions, that I feel transitions that really get shit done and add a lot to the story in some way while still being a blast to watch despite the fact the narrative is slowed down are deserving of the highest praise.  If a transition is strong enough to make it potentially better to me than a major dramatic arc, I think that’s impressive and it should be celebrated.  And that’s what I feel Volume 4 is, the best kind of transition.

Before I wrap up I want to talk about one more thing, our main girl Ruby.  Ruby is one of my favorite kinds of characters.  She’s a prodigy, but instead of being great at everything and having guys fall for her right and left like many anime geniuses (albeit most of them are a different gender so switch out girls for guys) she’s really only good at being a Huntress.  She’s awkward in social settings, she can’t move well in high heels, and she goofs around a lot but she doesn’t seem to have any path in life other than Huntress.  Blake, Yang, Weiss, even Jean and Pyrrha all feel like they could do all kinds of other jobs and be all kinds of other people.  Ruby is alone as someone who more or less embodies the idea of a what Huntress is and can’t be anyone else.  This is great conceptually to me and I feel that it’s strengthened by the fact she’s actually the youngest character in the show, I believe she’s 2 or 3 years behind everyone else but is moved up with them thanks to her talent, talent which makes her totally outshine her peers in battle as the series goes on.  The only one who even feels vaguely on her level is Pyrrha, a former Olympic athlete, who dies.  In addition to having the greatest battle skill, I pretty sure she’s also just the strongest as a person, seeing as how she shoulders a lot of weighty decisions herself and sees lots of trauma without running away in some fashion.  What I’m trying to say is I like Ruby.  A lot.  She’s fun to watch and she’s endearing and I’m a big fan.  And the same applies to RWBY.  That’s it, I’m done, thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed it.

Raging Rant: Fuck Nobunaga and the Shinsengumi (and Japan)

History anime are by and large a joke.  I say this not because I hate history, in fact I love history the way a normal American loves football and apple pie.  But just fuck Nobunaga and the Shinsengumi.  With only a few exceptions I’m aware of, all history anime take place during the Sengoku Jidai (Warring States Period) in the 1500’s and Loyalist Rebellion in the late 1800’s.  Their have been some fun, good and even famous anime from these time periods, like Rurouni Kenshin or Gintama.  But I, and many people who I’ve also heard complain about this topic, are sick to death of Nobunaga and the Shinsengumi.  They’re fucking everywhere, and even when it’s not about them specifically when I see a show like Onihei roll around I can’t help but be a little disappointed by the fact that it looks just like a show about the Shinsengumi, because the main guy has a similar job.  And Nobunaga is in everything, some of it’s good like the recent Drifters or Nobunagun.  But the stories of these figures are so well trodden and their notable traits, beahviors and even verbal ticks so popularized that they’re pretty fucking boring.  Even in a fantasy show like Drifters you can totally predict that Mitsuhide would show up as an End because Nobunaga was a Drifter, everything about these characters is predictable and that’s rather boring really.

This is why I consider most of the best history shows to be historical fantasies like Seirei no Moribito, which builds a phenomenal setting and society to recreate the feeling of a history show, or Akatsuki no Yona which is great fantasy historical action-romance-drama thing, or Arslan Senki which I’ve praised in detail multiple times, or Katanagatari, which is all about possibilities and subverting history, or Junketsu no Maria (Maria the Virgin Witch) which mixed witches and mythology into the Hundred Years War.  These are all great shows and I highly recommend them but it would be great to get a more normal, realistic history show which avoids Nobunaga and the Shinsengumi somehow.  And we just don’t.  The only example I can come up with is Kingdom, which is fantastic.  The thing that really gets me about this is that it’s not like Oda Nobunaga and Shinsengumi are necessarily the coolest figures, or their eras the coolest points, in Japan’s history.  I think the Gempei War, which completely redefined how Japan’s military, social and political organizations would function from the 1100’s to the 1800’s is far more interesting.  Which is why I was really glad they brought in Yoichi in Drifters and Himiko, a semi-mythical prehistoric queen of Japan, in the awful Nobunaga the Fool, they shed a hint of light on interesting and largely unexplored, in anime at least, periods of history.  Hell a historical fantasy anime featuring Himiko fighting monsters and/or ancient gods practically writes itself.  But what would be even better would be if Japan just branched out a little.

Kingdom and Arslan Senki, and arguably a few scenes from the Fate series are steps in this direction but if we could get a mostly realistic anime of of ancient history outside of Japan I would kill the nearby peasants and loot the local castle to pay for that shit.  There’s so many possibilities, any time period for Rome, the Greco-Persian Wars, the Hunnic invasions and the rise of Attila, maybe go for some original story set in Mesoamerica because most of their history is a mystery, or maybe some Viking story about invading Britain or discovering North America, Egypt, the famed Gupta empire and Chandragumpta of India, the great Arab conquests, the Crusades, the Mongol invasions of Europe or China, an original story featuring the Sea Peoples who suddenly ravaged most of the ancient world without warning, you could even do a Gilgamesh spin off set in ancient Sumeria, etc.  The possibilities are endless and that’s just ancient history, what about the Bolshevik Revolution, the Crimean War, the Opium Wars maybe go for the Protestant and Catholic wars following Luther’s 99 Theses, Vietnam, the Cold War, etc.  There are so many possibilities I can’t even list them all and that’s just the the shit I know, there’s tons of history I don’t know jack about that could make great anime too.  But instead we just get Nobunaga and the Shinsengumi on repeat at least dozen times each and they get mentioned in almost everything with even the slightest connection to history and historical figures.  Stop it Japan.

This leads me to my next point and if you read my Patriotism Problem post then this will sound familiar but Japan really needs to work it’s tendency to make Japan always look good.  I’m not even talking about really controversial shit like admitting to the Rape of Nanking,  I’m talking about basic shit not making the JSDF invincible when fighting dragons *cough Gate cough*.  I can’t tell if it comes from the insecurity of an inferiority complex or the ego of a superiority complex but Japan always goes way out of it’s way to make sure it’s the best.  Oh UBW you have super powered historical figures eh?  Fine be sure to give Sasaki Kojuro a technique so good it transcends heroic abilities and enters the realm of divine swordsmanship to make us look better (I’m not making that up UBW’s Assassin technique, the fabled Tsubame Gaeshi, is explained as being better than the power of mere heroes and stepping into the realm of the gods at least in the wiki, can’t remember if that made it into the show itself).  Nobunagun you have people with super powers based on their ties to historical figures? Make sure to give the girl tied to Nobunaga the all-around best abilities to make us look better.  Drifters you have a bunch of historical figures fighting in Middle Earth?  Ok make sure to have an unusually large portion of the heroes taken from Japan and make them all super badass to make us look better.  I could give examples like this for days.

Japan it’s fucking embarrassing, and more than little irritating sometimes.  Look I’m from America and I have no problem with patriotism and being proud of your heritage.  But it intrudes on the story when you say deliberately make Hannibal Barca, one of the most revered generals of all time, a senile old man to make sure he doesn’t outshine his Japanese contemporaries in Drifters for example.  Japan’s obsession with inflating it’s own image and/or worth in historical shows is a complete waste of time.  It’s a minor nuisance at best and can totally break a story at worst.  I just don’t really get why it even exists.  To me it projects an arrogant fragility more than anything else and it severely limits what most anime with even the loosest ties to history can do and where they can take place.  There plenty of western medieval fantasies or recent WWI/WWII era fantasies like Shuumatsu no Izetta but the, in my opinion of course, far more interesting ancient world is left frustratingly untapped because of Japan’s need to always look like the best.

That’s it really, just wanted to flip Japan the bird and scream ineffectually at it like a bunch of liberals at an anti-Trump protest, which is the kind of thing I can only say here because California is overrun by liberals and trying to argue with them is an exercise in futility.  I don’t expect many people to care much about this, I don’t typically envision most readers as history buffs, I just needed to get it out of my system.  On the off chance you are interested give some of those shows I recommended a shot or if you just want to talk history for a bit that’d be fun too.  Thanks for reading and see ya next time.

Unpopular Opinion: Arslan Senki Season 2

Arslan Senki Season 2 is by far my favorite show of summer 2016.  I know a lot of people are way more hype about Mob Psycho 100, and for good reason it’s been fantastic so far, but Arslan Senki has stood out for me in particular because it’s the only prominent sequel of the season which hasn’t fucked up big time, something I went over in detail in my last post.  In fact, Arslan Senki season 2 adds a surprising amount of detail to the characters, world and overarching plot of the series despite being only eight episodes long.  Moreover the second season concludes it’s arc nicely and lays out everything needed to get a third season started.  Before we move on though I would encourage anyone, it doesn’t matter if you’ve seen the show or not, to read my prior review of Arslan Senki as it will introduce the story for newcomers and give you all some idea of where I’m coming from.  There will be spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned.

Arslan Senki season 2 is everything a proper sequel should be.  It adds substantially to the pre-existing narrative, maintains a level of quality on par with the first season, and, most importantly, it doesn’t fuck anything from season 1 up.  Now all of those things seem pretty basic and obvious but if you’ve been watching many sequels lately you ought to know how often sequels fail to do all, or possibly any, of these things.  Its accomplishments as a sequel are already great enough to excite me, however I think’s also important to note the precise subject material that has been added.  Because what makes Arslan Senki season 2 work is how much less time is focused on Arslan, much like how the early episodes of season one were mostly dedicated to showing how quickly Pars fell once the rug was pulled out from under it.

Arslan and his group do some important things but Hermes and the royal court of Lusitania got a lot more time in the spotlight.  This is vital as it gives both Hermes and the Lusitanians time to develop and grow more nuanced.  Because that was what a lot of Arslan Senki season 2 was, making the pre-existing factions, world and story more nuanced and complex.  One of the things only shown in broad strokes in the later part of season 1, was that there was a lot of division among the main three powers behind the Lusitanians even without the question of Hermes.  In season 2 those divisions are made much clearer and the consequences of that division manifests in interesting ways, like Bodin destroying the aqueduct and leaving Ecbatana with a serious water shortage problem.  In addition we finally got a brief glance at to other nations mentioned but not shown in season 1, Maryam, the fallen ally of Pars and Turan, a hostile nation to the east.  But what I consider the most important additions to the show was the extra development of Hermes.  In season 1 Hermes was this one note, revenge seeker who was clearly going too far in his revenge, which was going to be his downfall.  He’s still this way, but season 2 adds some important details to his backstory, like how he was betrayed multiple times and egged on by the weird sorcerer cult seen in season 1 before he finally snapped and became the kind of guy he is, and even more interestingly that he has romantic feelings for someone, namely the exiled, blind princess of Maryam.  This is important because while it doesn’t change or break his overall character and methods, it adds depth to him and makes much more human, especially when the Maryam princess is introduced.  His quest for revenge is even more justified than it was in season 1 (not that that redeems him from going too far) and a potential marriage with the Maryam princess puts him an ideal position to claim not only Pars, but also Maryam as his rightful kingdom.

Meanwhile Arslan and his gang saved their nation’s major trade hub from corruption and a pirate problem but that honestly wasn’t that important.  Sure, in a big picture sense it was important for the war effort and it was something that needed to happen, but as it’s own story the saving of Gilan was something of a footnote, honestly Arslan’s achievements against the Lusitanians, Sindhura and Turan were far more impressive from a military standpoint and they added a lot more to Arslan and company’s character.  Season 2 was less about Arslan and more about allowing the rest of the world involved get on his level in terms complexity and depth of characterization, and laying the foundation for what looks to be a more substantial third season.  And I will admit that phrasing it that way does make it sound a bit boring, I mean it’s essentially a transition season in-between the first and third season, but it’s a powerhouse at getting things done and to be honest I think it’s very exciting to see a work spend some extra time adding in details and upping its game at the ground level because that tells me the people working on this thing care, it tells me this is not some cash-grab, but rather a serious attempt to bring the Arslan Senki manga to life in animation in it’s full glory.  Moreover I’m both a big fan of history (real and fictional) and I have a massive boner for world building, and this season adds a lot to the world building as well as making the historical aspects of the show more realistic and interesting.

However while the focus is less on Arslan and more about getting the rest of the story ready for the next, bigger season, there is one hugely important development for Arslan, namely that by the end of the second season he’s finally willing to go against his nominal father.  Season 2 made it abundantly clear that Andragoras is a better warrior than season 1 let on, and it also further showcased how pathetic he was as a king.  His escape and subsequent return to the throne should be bringing Pars’s army more morale than it has ever had and effectively nullify any lingering concerns about the proper successor of Pars for the time being.  However because he’s a dick, and to me at least appears unbelievably insecure and petty, he has left Pars’s army more divided than it’s ever been, lowered the morale of his most important generals and effectively thrown away all the talent that Arslan had amassed, talent which had seen Pars not only survive the Lusitanian invasion but even thrive despite the many threats it faced in it’s weakened state.  Now with the second season ending and what looks to be the final conflict coming soon in the third season (which is also hopefully coming soon), Arslan appears ready to stop taking his father’s shit and take the future of Pars into his unquestionably more capable hands.  This a pretty big moment for him personally, it will make things more complicated for Pars in the future and I think it sends a message about kingship that I find very on-point, namely that a king’s greatest skill should not be his physical power or the ability to craft a fearsome reputation but rather the ability to gather and earn the trust and faith of competent people.  What makes Arslan an ideal king is that because he has the loyalty of good strategists and warriors he can devote himself to ruling, to fixing the social problems and cultural divides that caused Pars to fall in the first place.  Meanwhile Andragoras is only good at fighting, a valuable skill, but not something particularly important to kingship.

All three royal members of Pars have been left in interesting positions by season 2’s end.  Andragoras has ostensibly the biggest army of the three and a secure base in Peshawar.  Hermes has a battle-hardened army, a potential royal spouse and the legendary sword of Pars’ founder to give him influence.  Arslan meanwhile has won the hearts and minds of people all over Pars and even some from other nations, making him the ideal king even if he doesn’t necessarily have the tangible assets and credentials of his competitors.  It makes me pretty damn excited for the war to come, especially with the Lustianians divided and the new king of Turan seeking vengeance against Pars.

All told Arslan Senki season 2 got a hell of a lot done in eight episodes.  Characters and royal courts have been fleshed out in more detail.  Important new characters have been introduced and new nations have made their debut.  There were action scenes big and small, intrigue, betrayal and it was all neatly tied up to set the stage for a bigger season to come.  And best of all it proved me wrong, twice.  I was initially a little bummed out with the end of season 1, with my main complaint being, “why didn’t they just finish the fight for Ecbatana?”  That question was answered right away as season 2 opens up with an invasion from Turan which Arslan had to turn back and fight because Peshawar was currently more valuable than Ecbatana.  I was also concerned that with just eight episodes this season was basically going to be a pointless spin-off which wouldn’t be on par with season one, and as I’ve explained above I couldn’t have been more wrong.  I’m very much impressed with Arslan Senki seasons 1 and 2, and if you haven’t checked them out already, I would highly recommend you do so.

This next bit isn’t really all that important to the review but it’s something I wanted to touch on anyway.  I wanted to talk about the historical inspirations behind the world of Arslan Senki and what that could theoretically mean for the show.  Pars is based off of ancient Persia, the heart of which is modern day Iran, and though the map has been warped a bit, the map of Pars is mostly accurate to it’s real world counterpart, ancient Persia.  Pars appears to border what would be the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea and the Arabian Sea in our world and this is fairly accurate, though it would mean Pars has control of Armenia in our world.  This would make Maryam a nation of steppe nomads but they look more like that world’s version of Armenians to me, which is in keeping with warped map, if Pars occupies land that would be Armenia, then Armenia could be shifted north and made into Maryam.  Sindhura is a bit weird because it’s inspired by India but the kingdom’s terrain is desert not jungle. On that note Pars doesn’t seem too heavily influenced by Persian culture, it’s armies wear vaguely eastern armor and they have slaves but other than that they don’t seem rock an eastern vibe as much as Sindhura.  Turan meanwhile is a bit of mystery because it could one of several options.  Based on their name the most obvious answer would be that Turan is based on the ancient Turks, who were nomads before they settled in Turkey.  However they could also be Dahae, an eastern steppe nomad people or Parthia, which was a steppe nomad nation which eventually became more traditionally eastern culturally, and which would eventually become a major power in the Middle East.

The most interesting faction by far though is the Lusitanians.  Based on their wargear and zealotry it’s fairly obvious that they are based on the crusader armies of Europe.  However their name implies something different and it’s going to be important.  Thus far most of the nations of Arslan Senki are based on nations from the ancient world with Turan being the only exception if we assume they based on the Turks, who weren’t a prominent force until later.  Turan could also theoretically be inspired by the Huns which would be more period appropriate but that seems less likely to me.  Instead of crusaders, the Lusitanian’s could be based on the inhabitants of Lusitania, the Lusitani.  Lusitania was the Roman name for what is today Portugal, and the Lusitani were an ancient world tribe of Iberians.  Assuming that the world map of Arslan Senki’s world is mostly accurate to our own, as is the case for the region shown in the show, that would mean the Lusitanians could theoretically control as much territory as the Roman empire did in our world, they would after all be coming from west of Spain and gotten as far east as Iran.  Even if they went mostly in straight line and didn’t conquer as much territory to the north and south as Rome did, that’s still a staggering amount of territory to control, which means lots of resources and soldiers.  If this was in fact the case it would mean the Lusitanian’s are exponentially more powerful than Pars and could be bringing in even larger armies in the future.  This doesn’t guarantee victory of course, numbers alone don’t win wars and even if they did it’s fucking hard to win wars when you are far from your home base.  This is all drawn from a mix of historical knowledge and speculation of course, but how interesting would it be if it was revealed that the Lusitanian army that sacked Ecbatana was just a vanguard for a much larger force?  What would that force Arslan, Hermes and Andragoras to do?  Would they join forces, would they continue to fight?  Would they drive the Lusitainians out for good (the ancient Germans did something similar to Rome, they killed so many soldiers, a full 10% of Rome’s total military might, in the Battle of Teutoberg Forest that Rome just said fuck it and never invaded again), or would they fall, or maybe be weakened enough to fall to Turan or Sindhura?  The possibilities are endless and while it looks like none of them will actually happen, it is a fun thought exercise and something I very much wanted to get off my chest.  Thank you for reading and I’ll see you in the next one.

 

Season’s Greetings: Summer 2016 Follow-up

This season follow up is going to be a bit different than normal.  Rather than talk about everything I’m watching in brief and say this show is good, like Mob Psycho 100, or this show is ok, or this show has been dropped, I want to talk in more detail about a couple of shows which I feel mostly strongly about for this season.  There will be spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned.

Arslan Senki:  This is a fantastic sequel, which makes me very sad because it’s already half way over.  I still don’t know why the show is stuck with only eight episodes but damn has it made each episode count.  We’ve had some good battles of the small and large variety, major political developments like Andragoras’ escape and subsequent banishment of Arslan.  The setting has drastically changed as the focus has shifted to the coast, a welcome scenery change and more importantly a place where Farangis’ skimpy outfits look much more appropriate as many people in the region are indeed wearing less clothing.  Perhaps most importantly though, the show has given Hermes some surprising depth as a character.

Now Hermes worked fine as someone solely consumed by revenge, and to some extent he still is that guy, but now we have much more insight into his background and character.  How it took multiple betrayals for him to truly turn to hatred, how the masked sorcerers have been intent on using him since the beginning and have egged him onto his path of destruction.  Best of all though was the reveal that he had a woman he truly cared about and in his own way appears to still care very much about.  Hermes’ revenge has become more justified than ever, though his actions have still gone too far to be considered just, and the man himself has become more nuanced and human than he was before.  In season one he was just the raging anti-hero-turned-villain who had nothing but cruelty and rage to his character, now he has much more.  Love exists in him somewhere, his rage has multiple sources from which to boil.  Hermes has become a far more interesting character with a single episode of backstory to flesh him out.  Well done Arslan Senki, well done indeed.  Also Andragoras has become even more hate-able and I’m all for his eventual downfall.

Hitori no Shita: The Outsider:  I’m not going to lie I don’t have a lot to say about this one.  It is not visually impressive though I don’t think it looks bad either.  Most of the characters are a mess thus far, some are edgy, some naive, some so blatantly fake you’d have to be dumb, deaf and blind to miss it and some who orgasm while sitting atop a corpse, not fucking a corpse mind you, just sitting on it.  That said there are few things I find interesting.  Everyone of note in the show has superpowers but instead of the superpowers being generic or inventive and having all kinds of variety, all of the powers revealed thus far have some connection to Chinese lore and mysticism, a welcome change for me as a guy who’s into lore and mysticism himself.  But what truly saves the show is the main girl Baobao/Houhou.  Baobao looks like the girl from the ring, has a great deadpan voice even if her reactions aren’t always deadpan, and she fights incredibly well with her knife.  In the first episode she reminded me a lot of Shiki from the Kara no Kyoukai films, which I like, as she mowed down a horde of zombies with her knife alone.  And episode two showcased her fighting prowess again but also hinted that she is far stronger than what we’ve seen already as her final attack on the main guy, powered up by his special kung fu, happens off-screen.  I can’t say this show has a lot of promise but it does promise a lot of action and I’m down for that, especially watching if I’m watching Baobao fight.

Nejimaki Seirei Senki: Tenkyou no Alderamin:  This is a show I’m guessing has been badly overlooked.  The title alone is a headache to read and none of the characters or locations have memorable names because all their names are shit.  That said the show looks decent both visually and in terms of plot and characters.  The setting in particular shows tons of potential as pre-WWI tech is fused with magical spirits to add some flair to the combat.  Likewise the politics of the show seem notably more interesting than normal even though the show hasn’t really done anything with them yet.  Most importantly though I wanted to talk about the male and female leads.  The leading lady is not all that interesting as an individual but I definitely like how she is much stronger on a physical level than the main guy and can use her skills to either save his ass or beat his ass whatever the situation.  The main duo draws inspiration from the relationship between Ferris and Ryner Lute from Legend of Legendary Heroes when it comes to their chemistry, and they improve on that formula by not having the main girl beat the main guy pointlessly for laughs.  The main guy is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a Ryner Lute clone though he’s still very different.

Now I was lukewarm towards the main guy in episodes one and two but episode three seals the deal for me.  The whole time he acts like a playful dick, save for a few moments when he gets serious and almost kills the princess, who’s very forward towards women.  That last bit mostly seemed to be played as joke but in episode three the squad he ends up being assigned is controlled by it’s sergeant, the daughter of a woman the main guy slept with before the show started.  This is what sold me, because it means his forwardness wasn’t just for laughs and stupid light novel dialogue, this guy has actually got some action and with a milf no less.  This is pretty rare for anime and I find myself impressed that they went this route, it added a lot to my investment in the main guy.  I don’t think this show will ever be great, but I do feel like it’s being overlooked and underrated by many.

orange:  Orange is the show that I feel is doing the best job of wasting it’s potential.  It’s hard to say where this show starts fucking up but if I had to pick a starting point I’d say it fails at a conceptual level.  See the thing about orange is that you could take a lot of what it already has and tweak it to make a much more interesting show.  Before I get to that let me explain why I feel the premise is wasted on what is essentially a shoujo romantic drama.  For one thing I’m not a shoujo man, I can’t stand seeing people freeze up and get flustered over the most insignificant shit.  I remember what it was like to be an awkward teenager but shoujo characters amplify that by an order of magnitude beyond my own experience, and I wasn’t even a confident outgoing guy.  This is especially true when the premise of this show gets involved.  See the problem with shoujo genre and the premise of the show, sending a letter back in time to clear your regrets and save your friend, is that they don’t mix very well.  For example it’s very hard to see how Naho playing the final round of a softball game and getting her team to win helps save Kakeru from dying or clears any meaningful regret.  Look I get that people have stupid regrets that stick with them, every now and then my brain loves to remind me of this one screw up I made during a middle school basketball game, but that screw up has no bearing on my life and I don’t really regret it anymore, I just laugh at my stupid mistake from the past.  So how the fuck did Naho not playing that one round of softball stick with her after she had a life, a marriage and kids?  It just seems so stupid.

Some tips from her future letter are more obviously helpful like getting Kakeru to play soccer but still it seems like Naho is undoing minor shit thus far and it seems altogether to childish and shoujo-y for lack of a better term to have any impact on me.  And the only time this is subverted and real dramatic stakes are in play is held together by pure contrivance.  See the dramatic twist was that Kakeru’s mom committed suicide when he was hanging out with the group in episode one, and to the show’s credit that was a dramatic event and shows that this show can go beyond shoujo bullshit.  However what many fail to realize is that the whole thing was contrived bullshit.  See future Naho knew about the consequences of Kakeru hanging out with the group but she didn’t write them in the letter so they could have the dramatic suicide reveal later.  But the thing is, Naho would never have done that, if she behaved in character future Naho would have told present Naho about the suicide and how to prevent it and present Naho would have made sure it didn’t happen.  But future Naho doesn’t do that, so that the writers can have their dramatic reveal.  This is bullshit, you should never have to make your characters act out of character to make something happen, it’s bad form.  Moreover you don’t have to, it would have been so easy to make this show far more dramatic without resorting to contrivance.

What they should have done was make orange a drama thriller with some romance on the side.  In this orange, which for ease of use will be dubbed Bloodorange, you introduce drama not by failing to tell consequences but by having consequences future Naho doesn’t predict.  See in Bloodorange, the idea would be the letter works perfectly a few times, so it seems reliable, but then new scenarios it doesn’t predict pop up, or actions that didn’t lead to consequences before lead to worse consequences now because of the changes made to this timeline.  The point is that Naho should be able to find security in the letter’s advice only to have that security ripped away when changes to the timeline render it less helpful and possibly useless.  You could even subvert the letter early on by having minor changes to the predicted scenario occur, say maybe on the third regret the event was a bowling event instead of a softball game, but where the outcome is not affected by the prediction so it still works out, making the letter seem reliable while planting the seeds of the idea that it can be flawed for later use.

Because the thing with orange is that it has one great idea going for it, namely that what causes Naho and Kakeru the most pain is Naho’s inaction or hesitation to act.  It’s a great idea and one which would fit perfectly into Bloodorange, where Naho is forced to choose between following the letter’s advice, failing to act at all or ignoring the advice but acting on her own instincts because the consequences of each action is no longer known.  By the end of either show, Naho should grow up and become more assertive, gain confidence and put more faith in herself so that she can save herself and save Kakeru.  This would be even better if in the future she was single and a wreck, or had married Kakeru only to lose him and become a wreck.  That way future Naho wouldn’t be undoing regrets by advising her past self but instead attempting to save herself and her friend/boyfriend/husband in the process.  Bloodorange, needless to say, would be a fucking awesome drama thriller and I’d love to see it. Unfortunately orange is not Bloodorange nor will it ever be Bloodorange.  Instead we have a romantic drama, with heavy shoujo influences which just bores me to tears.  I dropped this show after episode three because it was such a slog to watch and because it’s best moment came from a contrivance.  And it makes me mad because in Bloodorange I see how you take most of what this show is already doing and change it up a little bit to make a much more interesting show, one I’ll likely never get to see.

Qualidea Code: Let me be clear here, Qualidea Code is not very good.  The visuals are unimpressive and possibly substandard.  The premise is generic and boring.  The enemies look terrible.  But here’s the thing, I already knew that from before the show aired, because in the synopsis it said the alien invaders were called UNKNOWN, and I thought “damn if you can’t even come up with a name for the enemy this show will not be creative at all.”  However I think there is something here worth celebrating and that’s the characters.  Not the characters as the actual individuals, those aren’t that good as of yet, it’s more of what they represent.  Qualidea Code has taken a bunch of light novel character tropes and put a new spin on them.  Most importantly the main guy is not the strongest and is unlikely to ever be the strongest.  This is especially good when you consider that the main guy is a dick whose obsessed with his spot on the school ranking system.  This guy wants to be number one and will do all sorts of reckless shit to get there.  He gets some additional depth in episode three but I think the most important thing to take away from his character at the moment is how he is the one obsessed with ranks and isn’t the strongest one, as that kind of role typically falls to the leading lady of light novel shows.  Speaking of the leading lady, I do think it’s a good thing that she’s highly ranked despite having no offensive power because her support is so good, but otherwise she’s not too interesting.  The main other characters of not are the main guy’s rival and the strongest girl.

The rival character borrows the archetype seen in shows like Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei, Rakudai Kishi no Calvary and Shokugeki no Souma, wherein he is a dangerous and powerful character but is unrecognized as such because of how the ranking system works.  However unlike the protagonists of those shows, who typically go out to challenge the current ranking system and prove it wrong, this rival guy doesn’t give a shit about the rankings at all.  He’s totally unbothered by his low and continuously dropping rank because it doesn’t hinder or interest him in the slightest.   It’s nothing spectacular but it is a nice touch and works well as foil to the main guy, who is obsessed with rank and thrives in the current system.  But best of all is Hime.  Hime is basically a girl version of Naruto at the end of his journey, she’s a total idiot, very good natured, and unstoppably powerful.  Hime is particularly interesting to me because a, she is far and away the strongest character in the show, b, gives no shits about rank while being ranked number one thus proving another good foil to the main guy, and c, is these things while being a total idiot and a girl.  Anime has a lot of strong women but in most shows with them the women aren’t usually the most powerful character in their show and I’ve never seen any show with a woman who acted so much like shounen protagonist before especially not when most people around her act more like jaded light novel characters.  Regardless of the coming execution of these characters I do think Qualidea Code is interesting for it’s willingness to try and put a whole new spin on some well established character archetypes.

And that about wraps this up.  If you made it this far thank you for reading, and I’ll see you in the next one.

Unpopular Opinion: Arslan Senki

The Summer 2016 season of anime is rapidly approaching and three big sequels are on the horizon.  The continuation of D Gray-Man and the CG Berserk sequel are the bigger sequels of the three but since I’ve already talked about the original D Gray Man before and never really got into Berserk (shocking as that may seem), instead I’m going to talk about the predecessor to sequel number 3, Arslan Senki, there will be spoilers ahead, you have been warned.

In case you never saw the original Arslan Senki, by which I mean the first season which came out in 2015 not the original OVAs from the 90’s because I haven’t seen those, here’s a quick recap.  Arslan Senki is a fantasy anime technically, though it usually more closely resembles a history anime with some fantastical elements.  It follows the journey of Arslan, heir to the throne of Pars, a rich and powerful kingdom which appears to have been inspired by ancient Persia.  The bulk of the story takes place after the Parsian army suffers a huge defeat at the hands of the Lusitanians, who appear to have inspired by the Crusader armies of medieval Europe.  Arslan is on the run and has only a few trusted allies to turn to, while his father the king is missing and the capitol city lies under siege.  Arslan and his allies must work carefully to build enough support to drive out the invading army and other, more sinister forces that dwell in their midst.  There’s plenty of action involved and while the story thus far has not been complex, the relatively simple tale has been told with great skill I feel, making it easy to get invested in the characters.  Overall I would recommend the show, it’s a solid, dependable story that never left me feeling bored.  If you haven’t seen the show and want to avoid spoilers, I suggest you stop here, because it’s time to get into more detail.

Arslan Senki has an interesting and problematic start.  The first episode is solid, introduces a few characters, introduces one of the central tenets of the story’s overarching conflicts, slavery, and generally gets us to understand that Arslan is a kind and somewhat wimpy prince living in nation that is very proud of it’s military might and warrior-king Andragoras.  We also learn that Andragoras and his queen, Tahamine, are not on very good terms with each other and on even worse terms with Arslan.  The series then skips forward two years to get the catastrophic defeat at Atropatene.  This is where the series took a nosedive for me the first time I watched it.  For one thing, the CG used during large scale battles is not very good and they don’t use it to do impressive things like say Kingdom would do to make up for the downgrade in visual quality.  But to me it was the logic of the series that shattered my immersion in the story.  Ok so get this, the king of Pars is a renowned warrior and general who has never been beaten before and when the Lusitanians invade he decides to engage them on a battlefield that is shrouded in fog where you can’t see shit.  Now I understood that the conceit was that Andragoras was too proud to retreat and too confident in victory to suspect that this was part of a trap, but even so how the fuck does any general decide ‘yeah let’s charge headlong into a battlefield where we can’t see anything,’ let alone a general who has never lost before?  Ancient battlefields were already a chaotic mess thanks to the delays in relaying information and commands, and you now, the mess that is melee combat, no general in their right mind would charge into a battlefield where they can’t see anything.  It would have made way more sense for them have just waited the fog out or retreated to a more defensible position.  All of this still bugs me, but on my second viewing of the show it bothered me a lot less because Andragoras honestly isn’t that important to the story, and because the show is styling itself as an epic or legend, so it makes more sense because legends and epics tend to have more overblown and unrealistic characters in them so it just kinda fit.

The problems only got worse during my first viewing as the first few episodes have little for Arslan to do since he’s forced to hide while larger and more important events happen around him, like the siege of Ecbatana.  Funnily enough though, I actually thought this was one of the more exciting parts when I rewatched it and I think I get why in retrospect.  The early episodes, minus episode one which was mostly a standalone introduction, flow into each other really well and do a great job portraying the chaos and scale of the Lusitanian invasion and the speed with which Pars falls once the rug is pulled out from under it.  Sure Arslan’s part of the story is pretty slow but he’s not really in focus yet, he’s just a loose thread that needs to be cut to tie off a much larger scheme, and once he goes into hiding the full force of the scheme takes center stage while loose-thread Arslan is put on the back-burner.  So if you watched it and thought the early stuff was boring enough to get you to drop I would encourage you to give the first five episodes or so a shot because they were so much better when I marathoned them rather than watching week by week.  Anyway I think it’s time to get a bigger picture of the story.

To me, Arslan Senki has a great story.  It’s simple but effective and it’s very easy to latch onto and support.  Arslan can appeal to a lot of people because he’s the underdog, an outsider in several ways when compared to his family and allies, very open-minded, just generally a decent guy and he has way more on his plate than anyone his age should have to deal with.  Arslan compensates by attracting powerful and competent allies but the prince himself feels like a much more real and down to earth character amid a cast full of characters who are more clearly designed to fill well-worn story archetypes like the heroic knight, the brilliant tactician, the priestess and so on.  And I’m glad that Hermes is a straight up villain instead of some kind of anti-hero.  I’ve talked about this before in an old post about anti-heroes, as well my reviews of Death Note and Code Geass, but the overwhelming majority of anti-heroes in anime are vengeance seekers and most of them cross the line into becoming just as bad as villains at some point, but they are rarely actually treated by their stories and fanbases as if they were villains.  Both Light and Lelouch are still mostly viewed as sort of good guys by a lot of people in the anime community, while characters like Sasuke get to turn around and redeem themselves from their terrible crimes without a  whole lot of effort.  And that’s always bugged me because I feel that once these guys go too far they really only have two options, either they become villains or they spend a significant portion of their life seeking redemption, like Akame from Akame ga Kill.  But for whatever reason I don’t see a lot of people labeling Light and Lelouch as villains, even the shows they belong to portray them as sort of justified, when by the end they are far worse than any of the people they were fighting against, and that does not sit well with me.  Which is why I’m a big fan of Hermes, he’s a guy who has taken his revenge too far and is made the villain for it.  I loved how Arslan worries for a while about whether or not Hermes’ crimes might be justified by his quest for revenge but then concludes that it doesn’t matter if Hermes is justified or not because the lengths he’s gone to to see his vengeance realized have robbed his cause of any legitimacy it might have had.  Because that’s the way I feel about Light and Lelouch and a lot of vengeance seekers, it doesn’t matter if their cause was sort of just or their ideals sort of good, they went so overboard in pursuit of those things they are ultimately irredeemable to me.  Hermes embodies this idea and the fact that he is so blatantly the villain is refreshing.

But getting back to the rest of the story, I think what makes Arslan Senki good is that it mostly appears so obvious.  The broad strokes of the story are telegraphed well in advance, they even say when Arslan makes the declaration to abolish slavery that he later became known as Arslan the Liberator because of this, which strongly suggests he comes out of this contest on top if the title itself wasn’t enough of a tip off.  And given how invincible all of Arslan’s companions appear when compared to everyone except Hermes, it’s never a surprise when Narsus outsmarts all of his opponents or Daryun kills a major enemy like Bahadur or Xandes.  Arslan makes up for being predictable in the broader scope of things by being more surprising and engaging in the details.  For example, while it’s immediately apparent Arslan isn’t loved much by the king and queen, it’s not revealed until much later that he likely isn’t related to either of them (though he looks like he should be the queen’s son if not the king’s) and spent his early years in an orphanage not knowing he was a prince at all.  Likewise I would get bored by Narsus unbeatable strategies if the show didn’t go out of it’s way to show how his plans work in action across the full battlefield and without much in the way of exposition to boot.

An especially good detail is how different Lusitanians act with regard to their religious beliefs, they’re collectively painted as a bunch of religious nutjobs and they kind of are.  But in between the sweeping generalizations and almost hilariously overblown characters like Bodin, who honestly feels like he would fit right in in Akame ga Kill, there’s more depth.  You have soldiers who don’t really care about the actual tenets of their religion, they just use it as a tool to take what they want.  You have others who refuse or question Bodin’s commands, or that one guy, who I wish they showed more of, who straight up called his own religious leader a bloodthirsty devil and openly wonders what the hell kind of god would accept child-killers like himself and many other soldiers into heaven.  Even the Lusitanian prince doesn’t seem to give a rat’s ass about religion and only exploits it when Bodin makes grabs for power.  On the other end of the spectrum you have Etoile who takes her religion so seriously she honestly can’t understand why others don’t see it’s greatness and criticizes her men when they act outside of her faith’s moral tenets.  You even have the women who are so insane in their faith that they would rather throw themselves off a building than be captured.  All of this is in service of showing how horrible and hollow religion and faith can be, and I want to stress the can because religion and faith certainly aren’t all bad regardless of how cynically this show views them and it’s not like people don’t find other reasons to be horrible, and sets up the Lusitanians’ downfall.  There’s a line from a captured Parsian knight right as the siege of Ecbatana starts where he says something like he’ll watch from the afterlife as the Lusitanians’ fanatical religion and their cruel acts of faith end up devouring them, and aside from that line being a great one liner in context it’s totally predictive of where the series is going.  When the Lusitanians had momentum and unity they won, but the longer they stay in Pars the more they fragment and begin to die.

The characters for all their reliance on very basic and well known archetypes are also pretty good, or perhaps enjoyable would be a more precise term.  I think what makes most of the characters be enjoyable is how they change depending on who they talk to.  For example Daryun is the stereotypical perfect knight whenever Arslan is present and all of his lines include the word Denka (Highness) in them somewhere, which makes him pretty flat and boring in the name of getting his sheer dedication and loyalty acorss.  By contrast he feels much more human and detailed when he’s alone with Narsus where’s he allowed to poke fun at his friend, talk about Arslan’s potential lineage problems and other topics he doesn’t want Arslan to know about.  Likewise I could see people getting annoyed with Alfreed because when she’s around Narsus she’s obnoxiously clingy and always bickering with Elam, but she really comes into her own when she’s talking to other women and is allowed to have actual conversations about her goals, beliefs and relationships that give her more depth.  Almost all of the main characters have this sort dual-characterization, they behave in a specific archetypal way around some characters and are allowed to be more varied and human around others, and as far as I can tell it works, it sells me these characters who would otherwise be totally boring when they weren’t doing something badass.

The main exception to this rule is Arslan himself whose character is governed by a term I’m now-coining the Yona Effect.  In Akatsuki no Yona, Yona the heroine was totally useless for the first few episodes, she had no skills, no contacts, no nothing and she was totally dependent on Hak to survive.  What made Yona such a fantastic character though is that she forced herself to improve because she was tired of being useless.  This attitude pops up all the time, mostly in shounen shows, where characters say something “dammit I want to stronger…”  What makes Yona special however is that she can remain a relatively weak character and we can still appreciate how much she grows because she started somewhere even worse, whereas in a typical shounen story a character gets overpowered as they improve themselves.  It’s also just a lot more endearing and gripping to see a totally weak character grow into someone stronger than it is to see a character who is already strong get even stronger.  And Arslan follows this model almost to the letter, he does have some sword skills early on but not nearly enough to survive on his own, and otherwise he has no skills whatsoever.  In the early episodes he constantly tries to do something, just to feel less useless and ends up breaking all the plates he touches and that sort of thing.  Which is why by the first season’s end when he gets to the point where he’s grown in confidence and skill but still remains weaker than his allies, you really appreciate how much work it took to get where he is.  It’s not handled quite as well as Yona’s development but it has a similar effect nonetheless and it’s a much needed break from Arslan’s more invincible allies.

So far I’ve been going on and on about the good stuff and only mention some of the bad stuff in passing like the bad CG.  So I think it’s time to get some complaining in.  When I finished the first season I had two major problems, One, I thought the show really should have done more to resolve the main conflict because I didn’t know we would get a sequel so soon and while the first season did end at a natural break in the story, it also left off right in the middle of incredibly important, huge and urgent story of Arslan reclaiming Ecbatana.  Two, why did we waste fiveish episodes on Arslan’s sidequest in Shindra?  Now it’s not that I disliked the episodes in Shindra, and I do like the addition of Jaswant to Arslan’s party.  However given how relatively unimportant the Shindra part of the story was and how those fiveish episodes could have been used to further Arslan’s main goal of driving the Lusitanians out of Pars, I thought it was a waste of time and after re-watching it, I still feel mostly the same the way.  In fact the only good thing which I didn’t notice before from the Shindra arc was Farangis’ costume change and let’s address that too.

As I’ve discussed several times before, I am big fan of strong women and Farangis qualifies as such.  I like her aloof, dignified demeanor, archery skills, slight of air mystery when it comes to her ability to hear Djinn and other magical/religious knowledge and of course how she is a hot mature woman.  What I am not a big fan of however is her costume, she might as well be wearing just her underwear and a cape for all the clothes she has on.  I get that the idea was to promote her sexual appeal but come the fuck on guys, she had all the appeal in the world without being half naked.  Her outfit is totally at odds with her profession, priestesses usually aren’t known for their skimpy outfits, and her aloof, dignified demeanor, I mean most people would look absolutely ridiculous is they acted with a tenth of the pride she has while wearing the same outfit.  To the show’s credit it does not obsess over Farangis’ lack of clothes and put her in a bunch of shots that emphasize her cleavage and whatnot like so many anime do, but still I always thought the outfit itself was in poor taste.  I don’t know maybe I’m just a bit of a prude, or maybe it’s because I’m not 15 years old anymore, but that outfit just does not appeal to me, aside from it already being a low class act in and of itself, it does not mesh with the character at all and even seems a bit disrespectful to Farangis herself. Like shouldn’t a character this awesome deserve an outfit that reflects her better and isn’t designed for base titillation?  What’s more it doesn’t even get you much, most shots with Farangis focus on her gorgeous face and maybe her bust, you only really see the full skimpiness her outfit in battle scenes where it’s important to see the whole body, and boy does it look out of place there.  In the Shindra arc they actually put Farangis in an outfit with some real clothes and she looked so much better, because she looked more like a real person in a real place, not a character from a porn game in the middle of a serious, historic setting.  And then when they go back to Pars she ditches the clothes and ugh…fuck this is ridiculous.  I know this is such a small tangent and it really has no bearing on the show but just… FUCK.  Is it really too much to ask for some more thoughtful and thematically appropriate costume designs?  Seeing strong women get thrown into trashy outfits that don’t fit them all just drives me up the fucking wall.  This is even more frustrating than having big tits as the default setting for anime women, which I bitched about before.  Ugh.

To summarize, Arslan Senki is a good show with a lot of different strengths and I for one am looking forward to season 2.  I am also fervently praying that someone on the creative staff will have a flash of reason and put Farangis in some real clothes again.  I hope you enjoyed this post and I’ll see you in the next one.

PS: If you enjoyed Arslan Senki and/or this review there’s more, the Arslan Senki Season 2 review is out.