My Top 20 Anime of All Time: The Preamble

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Just in case it wasn’t already obvious to anyone who’s been reading along with Otaku Lounge thus far, I quite like anime. A lot. At times though, I actually feel relatively new to the fandom – it can be a little odd to realise that anime has been a major passion of mine for over a decade now, and that over that time, I’ve seen several hundred titles. I intend to see many hundreds more in the future; whether or not I’m an active blogger in two, ten, or even twenty years, I can’t really imagine a life in which anime doesn’t play an important part.

I’ll shortly be posting up a list of my top 20 anime of all time. I suspect that said list may cause some readers (hopefully none of whom I regularly converse with here on WordPress) to think of me as a snob – some of the titles on the list tend to be seen as classics by much of the fan community, while shockingly, shows such as Naruto and Bleach won’t be making an appearance.

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To be clear, I genuinely believe that people should watch whatever anime makes them happy. Regardless of whether or not someone else’s tastes line up with mine, I’m not about to look down on them for liking what they like (or indeed, disliking what they dislike). That said, my top 20 anime list is no doubt reflective of how I personally approach anime – and that’s possibly quite different to how many other people choose to do so.

See, there’s a major difference (to me) between something that’s objectively good and something that’s subjectively enjoyable. To briefly clarify before anyone decides to leap to any sweeping conclusions, I’m not saying that one is inherently better than another, or that everybody has exactly the same ideas about what makes something objectively/subjectively good to begin with. All I’m saying is that I don’t believe they’re the same thing, and that I’m inclined to take both sides into account whenever I start thinking of giving an anime any kind of private ‘score’.

I can only ever definitively speak for myself when I make statements about which anime are emotionally effective, or what kind of humour works best, or what types of stories make for the most interesting or entertaining viewing. Does the plot itself intrigue me? Can I engage with the characters on any kind of personal level? Do the character designs mesh with my own ideas about what I consider appealing? Do I instinctively like the music? Does the overall story resound with me enough that I’d want to re-watch the series at some point in order to relive the experience? These are the sorts of questions that there’s no definitive answer to, and that nobody else can answer in my place. I also can’t answer any of those questions for anybody else.

What I can do, however, is make observations about animation by discussing frame rate and by how well CG is blended with hand-drawn cels. I can comment on clarity and consistency of artwork. I can talk about whether generic synthesizer music is used or whether more effort than this has gone into the soundtrack. I can go a bit deeper and discuss story as well, since despite individual opinion on what makes for a fun or gripping plot, it’s still plain enough to see when an anime suffers from copious amounts of filler, cookie-cutter characters, or a total reliance on any one given factor (for example, fanservice) to convey narrative.

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Now these sorts of things might not be all that important to other viewers, and I don’t think they have to be. I’m not suggesting that the craft of anime is the be all and end all of the medium – in fact, I’d be pretty sad if that were the case. Even if I actually believed that it was possible for anyone to be 100% objective about something to begin with (which, just for the record, I don’t), I hope I’d still be saying that the pleasure I get out of watching anime isn’t limited to objectivism. An anime could be the best looking, best sounding, or most ground-breaking show in the world, but I still wouldn’t call it a favourite if I didn’t truly love it… after all, neither Kara no Kyoukai nor Revolutionary Girl Utena is going on my top 20 list any more than Bleach or Naruto is.

But the thing is, what I’d consider objectively fantastic and what I’d consider subjectively awesome do often seem to match up with me. Not all the time (clearly), but often enough that it probably comes out in my top 20 picks, despite the fact that I’ve consciously tried to rank my anime titles by subjective gratification. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not about to judge an anime based purely on its budget. An anime doesn’t necessarily have to boast fluid animation, crisp artwork, and generally high production values for me to like it… but these things certainly help, and I’m not ashamed of that, any more than I think anyone else should be ashamed if these factors don’t happen to make up a significant part of their enjoyment of anime.

Bottom line: people will of course think whatever they want about me, and if they choose to label me an elitist because of the inevitable appearance of Cowboy Bebop or Mushishi somewhere on my list, that’s their business. I guess I’d just like readers to be aware that, despite all my rambling about ‘good’ vs. ‘like’, I’m not putting Cowboy Bebop, Mushishi, or any other title on said list simply because I think of them as objectively great anime.

I’m putting them there because I love the hell out of them.

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20 thoughts on “My Top 20 Anime of All Time: The Preamble

  1. A couple of paragraphs had been slightly rambly and confusing, where it wasn’t clear whether you are going to talk about shows objectively or not, and made me think the opposite of what you ended up going for.

    But for the most part, I agree with everything you said. My scores are a combination of “objective qualities” and “subjective qualities”, and the two are obviously inter-related. “Good looking” is not the same as “A look I like” but if you like a look, and it’s what the author went for, then even if it’s sort of all over the place, then it does its job.

    Well, curious to see what your list is, and I promise if I call you an elitist it’ll only be so you won’t end up with no one calling you one and feeling left out of said club 🙂

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    • Yeah, the article does ramble a bit – I was sort of just writing my thoughts in roughly the same order as they were coming out, so things aren’t as smooth as I’d usually prefer them.

      Anyway, the list should be going up sometime within the next week. 🙂

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  2. I score anime on how much I enjoyed it and rewatcability. My 5/5s or 10/10s are not “perfect” in the technical, artistic sense, but they are perfect in terms of how much I enjoy them. This allows me to give A-scores guilt free.

    I look forward to your list and will be commenting on it.

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    • I try to score things based on both how much I personally enjoyed it, and also on how objectively good I think something is. But the enjoyability factor inevitably has a stronger pull on me than anything else I take into consideration – no matter how good-looking or well-executed an anime is, I just can’t give it a really high score if I didn’t like it on a deeper level than that.

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  3. The rabid masses froth in anticipation :-3

    Ah but really though, these are always fun to see and prod at (and datamine for things to bump up from the eternal blacklog). I am in a similar boat where, as you recognized, there are always hundreds more productions one wants or will come to see in time, so it is definitely a task to push that mental hurdle aside and go “Be that as it may, this list is getting made and will reflect me and my tastes as I am now.”

    Which, as someone who has not done a favorite anime list post myself yet, I definitely appreciate the task of making such a commitment – I just keep kicking the can down the road, while you are actually assembling it into something nifty! So I look forward to seeing it, for sure.

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    • I think what I’ve enjoyed best of all about making this list is that it really forced me to think about what I prize above anything else in anime, and why that should be so. If I’m counting down to my number one, it’s necessary to ask myself, “Well, I gave this anime a 10 out of 10 but I did the same with this one, so which title is ‘better’ than the other, and exactly how is that the case?” It’s been a fun, if quite challenging, exercise in contemplation.

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  4. Looking forward to the list! I was planning on doing my own top 20 for my 1 year anniversary, so it’ll be interesting to see any points of alignment.

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    • I’d be surprised if there’s absolutely no overlap between us – from what I can tell, I think we probably have some similarity as far as personal taste in anime goes. I don’t expect any given person to agree with every single one of my choices, but it’s always interesting to see exactly where opinions differ on lists like these, and where they stay the same.

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  5. You keep mentioning this Top 20 list of yours. I can already guess a handful of titles on it, but I’m more curious how you’re going *fit* your favorites into a list of only 20. I, for one, can choose favorites pretty easily based on one feeling or value or another, but if it’s a matter of listing favorites, I’ve got a feeling that list will very quickly grow much longer than 20. I cannot put myself through of the torture of narrowing things down, and then having to make choices between whether it’s one of my favorites as a composite whole, or simply a favorite guilty pleasure.

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    • At first I kept mentioning it as an ‘in my head’ kind of way, but it was quite a different experience actually putting it in concrete terms on paper (or, you know, a word document)! On top of that, ordering things proved pretty difficult as well – it forced me to ask myself exactly what I prized most highly about specific anime titles, and why. Still, now that it’s more or less done, I find myself actually quite happy with the result, even if it doesn’t really mean anything as such.

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      • Did you compile a list a few years back, too? It’d be interesting to compare the two and see how your tastes have changed (or not), or what have been the big additions to the list in recent years!

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        • I did, sortof. It was more a rec list – in no particular order – than a top 20 list, and I ended up deleting it a while back since I never bothered doing anything with it. I think many of the same titles from then made it onto this upcoming list, but perhaps not for quite the same reasons.

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  6. Go you 🙂 It is nice you don’t let others influence your views on anime.
    But I fail to see how liking Cowboy Bebop would make you an elitist unless there is a law that says Cowboy Bebop is a rare classic or the holy grail in anime. Which yeah while many love it and see that it is recognized as somewhat of a mover in anime from the younger anime years to more mature anime. I really don’t think it is all that great.
    I had heard all this hype over it in the past and thought to see it through. I saw about 7 episodes but I was always so bored and not really into it. The character designs are cool but it was quite tedious to sit through the whole thing.

    I dropped it halfway on Episode 7 but came back again to it bu finally realized, well, despite how much the anime community somewhat seemed to love Cowboy Bebop it was obviously overrated. I tried twice and wanted to like it. There were some ok moments but the story and characters weren’t all that ground-breaking. It was all style and no profound substance. It wasn’t like Psycho-Pass where got into it because many people seemed to cherish it. With Psycho-Pass it proved to be a real wonder. Sometimes when give in to peer pressure good things happens but just as much bad things happen.

    So about the elitist I don’t believe you have to worry about that. After all, I agree with you, there is no real objectivity when it comes to looking back on anime. It is pretty hard to find that balance.

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    • I personally love Cowboy Bebop with all my heart (and I do actually think it was a fairly ground-breaking title back when it came out), but I don’t think that it – or any other anime for that matter – can or should be as loved by every other fan out there. I’ve definitely been called an elitist before though, because I do often tend to prefer slightly older and ‘classic’ titles such as Cowboy Bebop over newer and current fan-friendly anime like Shingeki no Kyojin.

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      • Ah that’s not nice of some people, then. Well, you know what I don’t believe anyone is an elitist when it comes to anime. I’m sure there is just some anime that appeals to some fans and not to others. People will like what they will like and tastes usually may not coincide with others. Some older titles do have their merits too granted newer anime is getting way better but older anime is sometimes just as influential. It is nice you have a good balance between the old and new.

        I look forward to your list. I am sure it would be pretty hard to narrow down a Top 20 of All Time with so many series out there.

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  7. Pingback: My Top 20 Anime of All Time | OTAKU LOUNGE

  8. We’ve discussed at length my opinions on your snobbery and your opinions on my anti-snobbery, so no need to re-hash those here 🙂 That being said, I heartily agree that there is a fundamental difference between good and enjoyable. For instance, most of the anime that I think are good I don’t actually enjoy enough to re-watch.

    Not only that my tastes have definitely changed over time. Back when I first got into anime I was all about the Dragon Ball Z. I ate up the long running-shonen series and asked for more. Over the last few years I have gradually lost my patience with them. Mostly I think because the availability of anime has opened up more and more options for me and I like to have a conclusive narrative. String me along too long and I wander off and find something else and forget you even exist. I might pop back in every now and then for a quick visit, but I’m unlikely to re-watch you or even watch you religiously. The prime case in point is how fast I dropped Magi in the second season. The narrative has always been the biggest thing for me in an anime (or any form of cinema or literature). Consequently I find that often the series I especially enjoy happen to be based on light novels rather than manga, or were produced long after the manga was finished. Main case in point here is Brotherhood! All the other stuff is window dressing for a fun tale that tugs at all four of my emotional strings.

    See I do get around to reading your posts eventually 🙂

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    • Yeah, I dropped Magi in the second season as well, despite quite enjoying the first. I just get impatient with long-running shows… although even I watched pretty much all of DBZ back in my teens.

      Better late than never! 😉

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