The Summer of Anime

May 5, 2009

The past few months have been pretty good for television.  Because I don’t have cable, much of my TV viewing is done via Internet, leading me to follow only a few series.  This past season, though, provided me with a lot of great shows for nighttime viewing — “Burn Notice”, “Ugly Betty”, “Big Bang Theory”, and “30 Rock” to name a few.  With much of my leisure time split between watching my handful of shows, reading, and gaming, I had very little time remaining for one of my other interests: anime.  The timing for giving up anime worked out pretty well, anyway.  Bleach had recently switched to filler episodes (despite having finished a filler arc only 10-20 episodes previously) and I had just finished several series of older anime that I was watching for the first time (Alice Academy, Onegai Sensei, and Best Student Council).  Boyfriend had convinced me to start watching Fullmetal Alchemist, but we only got two episodes in before I was ready for my break from anime, meaning I didn’t feel too guilty about leaving a series unfinished.

Now that most of my television programs are on hiatus for the summer, and there is still a full month before a new season starts (True Blood) or a new game comes out (The Sims 3), I feel ready to return to anime.  I’m especially excited to finish Fullmetal Alchemist, one of the few really famous anime series that I have yet to watch and one of Boyfriend’s favorites.  I constantly ask Boyfriend to name his Top 5 anime series, a task he can’t usually manage since he has seen so many and loved them all.  In honor of my return to anime viewing, I’m going to take on the challenge I usually pose to Boyfriend and create my own list of my Top 5 Favorite Anime Series.

5. Trigun

trigun_tva_top I considered leaving Trigun off this list.  It’s been a while since I watched it and there are a bunch of other anime series that I enjoy and have viewed more recently that could have made the number five spot in its place — Get Backers, History’s Strongest Disciple, Fruits Basket.  Nevertheless, I include Trigun because of its complexity and its depth.  There are plenty of anime series that have moments of darkness or deep storylines beneath the comedic fluff, but none can compare to the emotional journey that Trigun conveys.  The anime is one of those famous series that demands to be watched by anyone who wants to call himself an anime fan, a phenomenon I typically find obnoxious and tend to resist.  I’m glad I gave in and watched Trigun, though.  In spite of occasionally poor pacing and a few laughable, cringe-worthy villains, it’s a top-notch series and deserves its lauded reputation.

4. Naruto

Naruto was the second anime series I ever watched (the first being Chobits, a good series but one that doesn’t make this list) and my fondness for it and the nostalgia I feel for it are what keep it in this list.  I started watching the series just before it began its first filler arc, devouring the 100+ episodes at an insane pace, sometimes staying up until 4am watching episodes.  I now follow the manga instead of watching the anime, mostly because the pacing of the anime is just atrocious now.  As much as I hate it when anime series resort to using filler arcs, I would rather the team behind Naruto do that than continue stretching brief arcs into multiple episode crawls. naruto1fg0

The heart of the anime sticks with me to this day, though.  The inspiring story of determination, the wonderful supporting cast, and even the music of the series (I have most of the opening and closing songs on my mp3 player) are all stellar, adding up to make a great series.  I’m only sad that the pacing has effectively ruined the current arcs, as it dashes any hope I had of collecting the DVDs.

3. Love Hina

galera-love-hina Who doesn’t love a good harem anime?  I suppose that statement isn’t truly accurate — I’m not a big fan of harem anime series and consider Love Hina one of the few that are worth viewing.  Unlike many harem anime series that I’ve seen/read about, Love Hina has a rich cast of characters.  The protagonist isn’t choosing among a group of carbon-copied girls — the big breasted one, the shy one, the slutty one, etc., though the characters do exemplify some of the characteristics of those archetypes.  Also unlike many harem anime protagonists, Keitaro is a truly likable guy who actually seems to earn the affections of the girls he encounters.  Those qualities, combined with a fair amount of fan service, plenty of comedic violence, and a few questionable references to one character’s ethnicity make for a wonderful and hilarious series.  The cast is also great, with Yui Horie — an adorable J-pop singer — lending her voice to the main love interest.

2. Bleach

If I had known two years ago that I was going to like Bleach enough to put it at the number 2 spot on this list, I wouldn’t have been so damned resistant to watching it for the first time.  For what it’s worth, I was such a diehard Naruto fan at the time that I felt incredibly skeptical that any other series featuring a teenager with orange hair fighting off baddies could be enjoyable.  Amusingly enough, it was because of Naruto that I finally agreed to watch Bleach.  Boyfriend was playing the PSP game Bleach: Heat the Soul and was fooling around with the collectible card feature, where gathering the cards unlocked little voice clips of the characters’ dialogues from the show.  I heard him play a voice one night and thought it sounded eerily similar to the voice actor for Sasuke in Naruto.  I was instantly intrigued and agreed to watch the show, excited to see what role the character (Ishida) had in the series.  Even more amusing is that I now associate the voice actor primarily with Ishida and less so with Sasuke, simply because I have watched Bleach more recently and more often now. 10xdqpy

The incident with the voice acting inspired my obsession with tracking voice actors in new series I watch.  Bleach happens to have a number of famous Japanese voice actors who have been a part of other anime series I enjoyed, even some on this list.  The actors for Vash and Wolfwood are particularly notable, as they play reluctant allies in Trigun and sworn enemies in Bleach.  Bleach also introduced me to one of my favorite artists, Yui, who performed both an opening and closing song for the series.

In addition to these little facts, I just generally love the series.  The characters are great, the fight scenes are epic, and the series seems to bring a novel approach to the genre, even if its “power up” style is somewhat formulaic.  I enjoyed the series so much that I started following the manga as well.  I’m a tad frustrated with Bleach for employing filler arcs so much lately, but it’s certainly better than enduring the snaillike pacing that Naruto favors.

1. Nodame Cantabile

It’s an anime about two music students.  Yeah, I was skeptical, too.  Boyfriend told me it was a great series, that he loved it and that I would love it.  When I asked him what it was about?  “Well, she plays the piano and he wants to be a conductor and they go to conservatory together, but he doesn’t like her.”  It seemed odd, and I thought it was going to be boring or weird or dumb.  I was absolutely wrong.  True, much of the series deals with music, but it isn’t boring.  It’s also true that the male lead doesn’t like the female lead initially, but it is a love story at its core and ultimately the two come together in the end, as you might expect.  There are some weird aspects to the show, but they’re extremely funny, the most notable being Nodame’s odd speech habits.

nodame-cantabile-paris-hen-sky-high-500x281I watched the series last year and felt content with the ending.  It was a full, complete series that ended well and on a high note.  Not a month later, Boyfriend discovered that a new season of the show was coming out that picked up where the finale left off.  I was cautiously happy.  I wanted more Nodame, but I worried that it would spoil the magic of the first season.  It turns out I was silly to worry, as the second season (dubbed the Paris Chapter) was just as entertaining as the first.

Despite their happy ending in season one, Nodame and Chiaki go through a number of trials during the Paris Chapter, enough to keep the story moving and make it just as addictive as the first time around.  The author of the manga had to put the series on hold due to pregnancy, but there will evidently be a new season of Nodame coming out later this year.  I can’t wait!  In the meantime, I watched the live action version of the series.  I was very skeptical, but it turned out great!  I’d never watched a J-drama before, and I really loved it.  The series is just so wonderful, with such an amazing story, I don’t think anything could be done to ruin it.

I have no idea how many of you are anime fans, but if you enjoy anime as I do, please feel free to leave your own top 5 list in the comments (or post to your blog if you need post fodder).  You needn’t be as detailed as I was, a simple list will suffice.  I’d also appreciate any recommendations you might have for new series to watch.  I’m a bit picky, but if you’re really fond of the series there’s a chance I’ll give it a shot.  One caveat, though: I really don’t like watching older anime series.  I watched five seasons of Ranma last summer and that was a stretch.  I also don’t like horror or, for the most part, space-themed anime series.  Otherwise, bring on the recommendations!  It’s the summer of anime!