Tier 6: The Edge of Glory

Trigun

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A show about a pacifist gunslinger. A Sci-Fi western that is kind of schizophrenic taken as a whole and another show that has a hard shift in tone in its latter parts.

Why it's on the list

When this show gets serious it's pretty great. It has well thought out character arcs that come to satisfying conclusions. The main character, Vash's internal conflict of not wanting to kill is compelling in these hands and handled exceedingly well by the end.

Why it's not higher

The show makes such a hard turn between silly slapstick comedy and the deepest sadness drama. There's no art to the transition, it just happens. Also I don't think the slapstick comedy part of the show is great. It's ok, but there's too much of it upfront and not enough levity on the backed. It's not balanced well.


Digimon Tamers

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The last Digimon show on this list I swear. Tamers is a prime example of what a franchise can become when given to a crazy person with artistic ambition. Written by Chiaki Konaka, Tamers takes place in the “real world” where Digimon has just been a TV show, video game and CCG. The focus on the card game was apparently a push from executives, but the show runs with it, going for a completely different meta setup where Digimon are both a fictional product and an actual thing that exist.

Why it's on the list 

Tamers takes the best elements of Digimon and builds off them. (The problems of Digimon showing up in the real world. Kids relationships with their parents, good and bad.) It goes darker and more realistic with the series but still stays true to the rules already established. It's all about how the dreams of children can change the world, but at the same time it never shies away from the darkness of that world. And the main kids here are better developed and more three dimensional than the Adventure kids. They have profound arcs, not just specific development episodes. Also the villains here have more to them than simply “They're evil!” Again there's even more I could unpack here, but let's keep it moving.

Why it's not higher

It might be too dark for a kid's show at time honestly. I dunno, it's still just Digimon, and the silliness is still there, so when it gets downright heartbreaking and at its lowest points it might be too much. I love these parts and they are for sure things that stuck with me over the years though. There are a couple characters who feel shoved in, one of whom might be a ghost and the other who was kind of in Adventure 02, which just makes everything more confusing, but only if you're digging super deep in. Again, it's hard for me to balance out my affection for this show and look at it critically. For now at least, I think this is where it belongs.


Sket Dance

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Teenage hijinks. Sket Dance is about kids in an after school club that's all about helping other people. Hijinks ensue and whatnot. Also tragic backstories.

Why it's on the list

While most of the time the show is slapstick comedy, occasionally it has a weightier episode that really strikes a chord. The main characters back story episodes are all like this. Unlike other shows on this list so far, I do actually think the comedy here is really good. Although still not as good as those meatier episodes. Also the main characters are all extremely likeable and play off each other really well.

Why it's not higher 

I think the last time I have to level the criticism a lack of balance at a show on this list. The weighty episodes are so good it makes it hard for me to go back to the sillier ones. I feel like I'm going into withdrawal after the best episodes give way to nonsense. The contrast kills the flow of the series and my momentum with it in particular.


Wolf's Rain (Not counting the clip show episodes)

The show about wolves that are also people, but also just regular wolves. Here is a show I would probably like more if I had seen it at a younger age. I still like it a lot, but the ideas it's working with are ones I'd kinda grown past by the time I saw it.

Why it's on the list

Having said that, there's still a lot here to like. I think the show's best attribute is the way it captures the feeling of cold. This is a show about a dying frozen world and it feels that way. Even the way characters relate to each other is cold and emotionally distant. Everything feels broken, and everything takes more work than it should. Keeping warm is a struggle and seeing these characters struggle through it is a very compelling watch. Also bonus points for two great romances.

Why it's not higher

The last stretch of episodes is really great but that emotional coldness makes the characters hard to engage with at first. The ending itself is what could have really struck me if I had seen it earlier in my life, but it does nothing for me. It's not a bad ending, but it doesn't help me wrap my arms around the show either. And while I'm not actually counting this against the show, since I saw it after the fact where this wasn't an issue for me, but the initial release for this show was bullshit. The series ran for 26 episodes on TV, but the last four were all recap episodes.

Later an OVA (Original Video Animation) was released with four additional episodes that completed the story. And this was not a “Well they could have ended it there” situation. Not only do you needs those last episodes, but they're also some of the best of the whole show. Basically Wolf's Rain had DLC the contained the ending. And Wolf's Rain is entirely about the buildup to those last episodes. Nowadays you can just skip the recaps and watch as a 26 episode series, but still...


Ouran High School Host Club

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Y'know what? Fuck it, I'm not explaining this show. Go watch the first episode if you want to know what it's about. Trust me, it's better to go in blind on this one.

Why it's on the list

This show is really funny. Impressively, consistently funny. Yeah there's good character stuff in there too, but really it's the high quality consistent humor that gets this show so far. Some of that comes from being self aware about genre tropes, but a lot of it is also just good old fashioned slapstick. Repeated use of the slipping on a banana peel gag and it stays funny. Top notch execution.

Why it's not higher 

For all its self-awareness it never really rises above genre tropes, it just uses them very well. Its ambitions aren't any greater than being a really smart, silly, funny show. And on this list that means topping out here.


Kodocha

One of the most manic shows out there. This show has more life and energy than five shows put together. The story of a child actress that actually captures how weird kids can be.

Why it's on the list

While I said Ouran is very good, Kodocha is genius. Its blend of manic nonsense and genuine heartfelt emotion makes it feel authentic and unique. When its running on all cylinders the show is glorious. Contains my favorite conversation about dinosaurs in fiction.

Why it's not higher

Bloat. Too many filler episodes. Too much dicking the audience around. Particularly with the relationship between the two main kids after the emotional heavy lifting is already done. It's just not consistent enough to put higher. But it is really good upfront for an extended run. Those issues only really come into play in the back end of a fairly lengthy series.


Haikyuu!!

I thought Baby Steps was impressive when it got me to care about Tennis. But at least I know the rules to Tennis. (Thanks to Mario Tennis) I've watched professional Tennis. (Not very much but still) I've seen Tennis in an anime before (Death Note). There's an amazing Tennis scene in one of my favorite movies (Strangers on a Train). But Volleyball? I've never liked Volleyball. Watching this show I realized I don't even know the rules of Volleyball. How could I care about this show? I literally only watched this show because taking a chance on Baby Steps turned out so well. Checking out the next sports anime that was out on Crunchyroll seemed like an obvious, if dumb, thing to do. I didn't really expect it to be so good or compelling.

Why it's on the list 

Surprise this show was even better! While Baby Steps was obviously cheaply animated, used lots of tricks and was full of weird off model drawings, the action in Haikyu is surprisingly good. It's is kinetic and onscreen enough that there's a coherency to a match, when the show wants them to be. I actually learned a bunch about Volleyball watching this show. But really the draw here is the characters. This show boasts a large cast, that slowly gets built up over the first season very well. And they form, not only a coherent group identity, but the members also play off each other really well. It creates a bunch of interesting and compelling dynamics. The show does a great job at selling Volleyball as something worth watching. The matches feel like they're about actual volleyball strategy, not just weird bullshit gimmicks.

Why it's not higher

It's still just a Shonen tournament show, The characters and the high level of execution elevate it above other shows on the list. But just being really good peaks out here.


Star Driver

I need to watch this show again. I first watched it right after I watched the number two show on this list. It tampered my enthusiasm for this one a bit. Regardless, this show is basically Utena-light with mechs starring anime Homestar Runner. (Just fucking look at him and tell me I'm wrong)

Why it's on the list

I mentioned Utena when talking about Phi-Brain, and while I don't think the similarities between those shows was accidental, they were superficial. Star Driver's similarities to Utena are way more thematic and structural. And while this still comes off like Utena-light, Utena is a deep enough show that a ripoff with mechs is still pretty good. And before you think I'm reading too much into this (which I probably am), the directors for all three shows worked as directors on Sailor Moon. Learning that has only made me more confident that the directors were aware of the other shows.

Why it's not higher

When I said I needed to watch this show again I meant it. I barely remember a lot of it, and I watched it more recently than a lot of stuff on this list. It just didn't leave a strong impression on me, other than I thought it was quite good. I just don't feel comfortable putting it higher without getting a refresher and a more solid opinion on it.


Tsuritama

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Another show I should rewatch. Although I have a better handle on this one. This is a fun show about the joys of fishing. Also aliens.

Why it’s on the list

Ah the benefits of only being 12 episodes. This is a funny show with good characters that tells a complete story in the time it has. It may not have quite the heights of some of the shows below it, but it still has some pretty good high points and is just really consistent over its, admittedly short, run

Why it’s not higher

Its peaks reach only this high.


Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo

The Count of Monte Cristo adapted as a coming of age story about Albert de Morcerf. Also it’s set in the future, so they duel with giant robots. Because anime.

Why it’s on the list

A classic story adapted well. Making it a coming of age story about a minor character sort of sounds like an insipid move, but it’s actually an inspired choice that allows the show to overcome a major difficulty that comes with adapting this story. Namely that it’s hard to make The Count as unlikable as he needs to be when he’s the main character. The Count is a monster, but we’re too used to empowering revenge fantasy stories. Shifting the focus to Albert allows The Count to be the monster the story needs him to be. Also the look of the show is unique, because of its clever solution to the problem of animating fancy clothes. Instead of really drawing complicated outfits, they just fill the live animation with intricate textures. It looks great, even though it’s basically a cost saving trick. On top of all that the series has highpoints that really stand out.

Why it’s not higher

Has an edge over the other shows at this tier, but not enough I think. Drags a bit in places.