My beloved audience of 0, may I now present a slightly personal story here. When I’m not suffering from crippling writer’s block, deciding whether to play Dirk Kuyt or Amr Zaki in my fantasy football team, or even gauging modern society’s future, I actually watch a lot of anime. An outsider with no knowledge of anything other than the term otaku;with all of its negative implications, could probably call me that. However, I would argue that I would be a failure at that.
Now this topic has been covered numerous times elsewhere in recent times, so this isn’t exactly uncovered territory. I write this in the hopes really that it brings a new perspective as someone who would undoubtedly be considered an outsider in the community. These shows I feel best reflect my experience as a fan of anime, and in a lot of cases they aren’t considered very good at all.
Pretty much the gateway drug to a large amount of anime fans. I began watching this in the horribly edited U.S. dub version in the mid-to-late 90s, when there was a rotation consisting of just 53 episodes. That led to disappointment everytime Goku’s potential clash with Jeice and Burter changed to Goku introducing Gohan to everyone as Raditz threatened the Earth in the very next episode. Eventually, they did get around to airing the rest of the episodes dubbed, with bad music, and badly faded art.
Disappointed at that, I began searching for the full episodes online. With a meager 56k connection downloading horribly encoded fansubs which would be considered comically bad by even the standards of 8 years ago, and with the help of a long since gone NBC file sharing site, I was able to watch the Frieza, Android and Cell sagas over a few weeks. I can look back at this as really a waste of my time, but it was probably really fun at the time waiting to see what would happen next in typical shounen fashion.
Toward the end of my DBZ downloading kick, I decided to download the first episode of the first other show I saw. What was a curious thought at the time has become a staple in my anime fanhood, the school harem comedy. And for better-or-worse, there really haven’t been very many efforts that have come close to matching the quality of a show that is nearly 20 years old.
With a gender-bending and species-bending characters, Akane’s tsundere-ness (way before the concept even had a name), gross lack of censorship by Western standards, a good dub and almost shounen length, there was a lot to like. The English episode titles also created plenty of laughs as I was uploading them onto a file server set up in my dorm freshman year in college, but that’s a bit off-topic.
The first Gundam show which had any sort of presence in the West, and also the first series in which I bought all of the DVDs. The way Cartoon Network had it set up was a censored airing in the afternoon Toonami block, but the uncensored late night episode were where the real action was at.
In the first couple of views, the blinders were certainly on. After several rewatch sessions in college, having to deal wtih Relena’s absurd rise to power, the excessive use of stock footage at seemingly every opportunity, and a chance at watching other Gundam series; it became apparent that Wing was the beginning of a shift in the franchise to where it is now.
Cartoon Network began airing this after the seemingly 20th rotation through Gundam Wing, this wouldn’t even make it through once. The Summer of 2001 was an innocent time for most of the world. An era where a congressman and a missing intern were the biggest news story. In the midst of this, a then 22-year-old series began to air with very poor ratings.
I had wanted to see this when it was announced as it seemed the beginning of an epic story from what I had read from various websites. The dubbed version was good enough, the story was a major step up from anything that had been seen in Wing, and it became part of my daily viewing habits as I became a college freshman.
Then it was September 11, 2001. The show was taken off the schedule as I searched for some sort of escape on that day. Only the final episode would ever air after that, on New Year’s Eve. Perhaps that quiet exit put in me a cynicism about others’ opinions on older shows. In fact, rarely have I ventured back to the networks in order to watch a show.
Being able to watch a show as it aired is something that is taken for granted now, but this was the first show I could actually watch episodes a few days after air. A coming-of-age story on many levels combined with an excellent musical score made this a personal favorite of mine at the time. It was also the first show which compelled me to download the OP and ED themes. In fact, a remix of the second ED happens to still be in regular rotation in my listening even 7 years later.
I grabbed this after I had finished my final exams after my sophomore year of college. I still hadn’t declared a major, and the exams hadn’t gone too well. So what better than a story like this to turn me into an emotional mess. I think I probably cried at the conclusion of Makoto’s arc, empathized with Mai’s position as a social pariah and the rest is really just a blur.
Now I realize the KyoAni version made four years later is probably the better version, but at twice as long I doubt it would have had the same impact as the older version, for all of its numerous comparative flaws, did.
What an amazing find this was when I downloaded it in early 2004. In a dire need of a break from the forgettable (literally) shows I was watching at the time, I took a flyer on a very old shoujo series in the hopes the historical aspects of it would keep me interested. What I got was an emotional story filled with characters unable to escape the fates assigned to them by birth.
For me, it was a return to the kind of storytelling I had long forgotten. Unfortunately, the filter that is the passage of time for great stories has no effect on anything currently airing, and it was a short lived glimmer of hope.
April 2006 will likely be remembered as a beginning of a new era in anime. The sheer number of new shows that began that month is mind-boggling and that’s why it gets this and the next show on the list.
Nowhere is there a more opinion-dividing show than this. Episodes not airing in chronological order, ironic use of moé characters, a cynical narrator who drives the plot, philosophical discussion, and much more in the course of 14 episodes. In chronological order, it’s poorly paced with a pornographic level of filler. In broadcast order, it can become anything the viewer wants it to be, even as far as a religious ideology.
To me, it represents the culmination of a marketing machine, presented in a fun way: Safe, open to interpretation and extremely popular.
On the opposite end of the safe spectrum is a story of small town forever trapped in 1983. The first minute of the show features Keiichi insanely wielding a baseball bat and attacking Rena and Mion with extreme prejudice. That is the very antithesis of safe. Over the course of 26 episodes of mostly half-told stories, wrapped up in a 2nd season I’ve never gotten around to finishing oddly enough, the audience gets the full brunt of a group of people trapped in time, unable to escape their bloody fates, only one person being self-aware enough to notice.
For me personally, it represented a potential emergence of a storytelling that was not afraid of stirring the pot. That perhaps envelope pushing series being rare made them all that much better. Maybe it was just the fact it was so vastly superior to the shows I had spent large amount of time watching that made it glorious in my mind. That it’s so popular despite the sheer brutality of the series is astonishing, but it leads me to a rather surprise last choice.
Sure this show isn’t really worth the amount of text I’m about to devote to it, but I have to get it off my chest. If there’s any series that has represented a plummet in standards of quality to get on air over the last 20 years I haven’t seen it. With only half of what would be an outstanding musical score, there’s nothing else there of substance. Yet, it represented a paradigm shift in how I viewed anime fandom in general.
There used to be a filter on shows getting to air, mainly manga sales. While this would kill lots of good and bad ideas from ever gaining mainstream attention, it usually prevented narcissistic escapism to become a central theme. As the 13 episode train wreck of a series progressed, every single lazy writing idea possible seemed to come up. The punishment, a 2nd season which is currently airing. Perhaps it’s this series more than any other which confirms the feeling that I’ve somehow failed to grasp what being an anime fan should be about.
Conclusion: I’ve presented ten series and my thoughts on how they impacted me personally. Some in more detail than others, and even some surprise selections even for me when I first thought about a topic like this. I also never expected to venture into tl;dr territory, but I’m well past it now. So to anyone who may incidentally increase my audience above 0, any comments would be very much welcome.