I originally wrote this post as a list of top ten anime, and have since expanded it to fifteen. I usually don’t believe that ranking my favourites has any point, since they span various genres and cannot be compared directly – but a list of fifteen seems somewhat disorganized without them. So keep in mind that these are hazy rankings at best, and probably change according to my mood at any given time.
Ginko, the Mushi-shi, travels from place to place, helping people with the problems inflicted on them by creatures called Mushi, which exist somewhere between the physical and supernatural realms. This is not the series to watch for action, sentimentality, or humour. However, if you’re looking for a calm, elegant, and intelligently-told collection of stories, Mushishi is not only one of my favourites, but probably one of the best anime ever made. It has a very beautiful atmosphere lingering over it.
14. Mai Mai Shinko to Sennen no Mahou (Mai Mai Miracle) (Review Link)
A charming and sensitive story of a moment in the childhoods of a group of friends in the peaceful post-war countryside of Japan. Directed by the assistant director of Kiki’s Delivery Service, this film is one of the few Ghibli-esque films which inherits, rather than attempts to copy, the approach to films found in the famous films of that studio. A delightful main character and a heartfelt climax about the fragilities of childhood make this a standout film that has sadly gone relatively unnoticed in the online anime community.
13. Touch (Review Link)
Touch is a youthful coming-of-age story that superficially is about baseball but really is more about friendship, growing up, chasing goals, and similar ideals. It has a likable cast of characters along with Adachi’s (the original mangaka) trademark formula, which blends comedy, daily life, baseball, and a slow-paced love story into a very enjoyable, satisfying long ride. Don’t assume that you will not like any series which even remotely involves sports: this series will change your mind, just as it did mine, despite being occasionally rough around the edges.
12. Ookiku Furikabutte! (Review Link)
Oofuri showed me the possibilities for storytelling that sports and competition provide – victories, disappointments, character growth, and other natural results from their emphasis on teamwork and friendship. It also has a realistic, down-to-earth cast of characters who are all regular kids (no ace pitchers or cartoonish villains) and a detailed, captivating approach to baseball games that is unmatched. If you will only give one sports series a chance, make sure it is Oofuri.
11. Grave of the Fireflies (Review Link)
(Film) Grave of the Fireflies has opened the minds of countless viewers and critics alike as to the potential of animation to tell serious, dramatic stories. The film tells the story of a pair of orphaned children during World War 2, and the emotional toll it takes on the viewer will be extremely heavy. However, I firmly believe it is an important story that should be seen by everyone at least once.
10. Banner of the Stars II (Review Link)
The third installment in the Crest/Banner of the Stars franchise, which takes the series to its strongest emotional climax. While the previous installments explored the characters and their world , this second sequel introduces the heaviest conflict of the series thus far and brings the series to a satisfying and powerful close (although an OVA continuation does exist).
9. Kemono no Souja Erin (Review Link)
A gently told fantasy story of a girl who attempts to discard society’s codes and forge a new relationship with beasts which have never befriended them. Although the premise is idealistic, the series maintains an ambiguous view of this goal while at the same time delivering very satisfying character growth as well as a satisfying climax which pulls several plot threads together. Though the show has various elements meant to keep it appealing for younger viewers, this is truly a series for anyone of any age who can enjoy a warmly told story with just the right mix of optimism and pragmatism as well as a wonderful main character.
8. Maison Ikkoku (Review Link)
An essential seinen classic, following university-bound Godai as he meets and develops first an immature infatuation, but gradually a reciprocated and genuine affection for his widowed landlord, Kyoko. The show ranges from light-hearted comedy to some very effective scenes of emotion and drama.
7. Millennium Actress (Review Link)
(Film) Satoshi Kon takes us through the life of an aged actress currently living in seclusion. Through his atypical approach to storytelling, we literally live through her experiences as a child in a prewar era through her entire life, driven at every turn by what seems at first to be an inner longing to find a dissident artist she had helped save in her youth. It is a mature and poignant story with a wonderfully bittersweet ending and fantastic direction.
6. Natsume Yuujinchou (Review Link)
Natsume Yuujinchou is about a teenage boy who can see and talk to spirits. Though the premise brings several generic ideas to mind, the show uses this starting point instead to explore some very touching themes of loneliness, friendship, and kindness. It is told in an episodic manner, with Natsume, the main character, discovering a new spirit and their background with each “arc”. This series was a constant hit with me, tugging at an emotional cord with nearly every poignant episode.
5. Planetes (Review Link)
A brilliant show which presents a gripping and emotional character drama within a realistic vision of a space-bound (near) future for humanity. The first half is a little more slice-of-life oriented, allowing us to bond with the crew, while the second builds up to an dramatic and emotionally intensive climax, shaking the characters’ beliefs to their core and delivering some of the most satisfying character development I’ve seen.
4. Honey and Clover (Review Link)
The lives of college students at an art school in Tokyo. The parts of H&C that strike with me the most are that of self-discovery, especially that of Takemoto, and the comedy or romance is only secondary. It’s simply one of the most well-made series I’ve had the pleasure of watching, with great direction, characterization, animation, and writing. The comedy is amusing without being crude, the characters are thoughtful and intelligent, and it manages to deliver a story about young people and relationships without shallow melodrama.
3. My Neighbor Totoro (Review Link)
(Film) A gentle and heartfelt ode to childhood, imagination, and family. My Neighbor Totoro is a film for both children and anyone who has ever been a child. At moments it is joyously imaginative, other times it possess a tempered tinge of sadness, but from beginning to end it is a truly poignant story about being a child – one of the rare few films that can make such claims in honesty.
2. Princess Mononoke (Review Link)
(Film) Princess Mononoke is a rich, mythological epic which tells the story of a battle between man and nature. The film maintains a delicate balance between the large scale battle and the more personal story of the main characters, and also presents very beautiful images of nature and spirits which I find to be unforgettable. If there is ever an anime that I would suggest as an introduction to the potential of animation to tell serious stories, this would be the one. It could simply not be done in live action with the same effect.
1. Mimi wo Sumaseba / Whisper of the Heart (Review Link)
(Film) My list closes with the film that has been my favourite film – animated or not – for the past decade. Whisper of the Heart is a film by Studio Ghibli featuring the story of a young girl named Shizuku and a schoolmate, Seiji. At a very basic level, the storyline is very familiar, but what Miyazaki and Kondo (writer and director respectively) manage to do with the material is what separates it from the rest. Whisper is basically an ode to the simple joys of life – a wholesome celebration of friendship, family, love, kindness, and most importantly: dreams and curiosity. It’s the opposite of the frivolous stories of young people that seem to dominate in popularity - just as Shizuku, the main character of Whisper – an intelligent and ambitious young girl, is the opposite of the sort of simplistic female archetypes which dominate this genre of fiction. A quote from Miyazaki sums up the motivation for the film: “It is easy to cynically declare that wholesomeness is a fragile concept…..Even so, it seems to me that it also ought to be possible to express….how wonderful the quality of wholesomeness is. ” And in pursuing that simple goal, they produced an irreplaceable gem.
22 responses so far