It’s a strange feeling when a force akin to gravity that keeps you in check suddenly disappears. What was initially excitement gradually shifts to a more somber, reflective mood. That is how I felt when I realised that this will possibly be the only list where every entry represents me, and me only.
I have been watching anime as my main form of entertainment media for nearly half my life now, and I am proud to have developed my own opinions and tastes throughout the years. My interest in anime may have began spontaneously, with me coming by episodes of Naruto and the such in the interwebs, but it’s a combination of sheer fascination and intellectual curiosity towards the medium that’s keeping me here. I can only hope that some of the greatest pieces of my life is translated to you through this article, but will endeavor to at least pique your curiosity as to why each is deserving of your attention.
As such, there is nothing I can call a consistent standard I hold each title to other than my self-contained reasoning, and I mean that with the best of intentions. Perhaps this article will be a useful signpost to help you understand your favourite anime, as everyone deserves to have their unique reasoning.
5. Byousoku 5 Centimeters (5 Centimeters Per Second)
- Episodes: 3
- Aired: February 2007 to March 2007
The good guy always gets with the girl after winning against all odds. That was the logic of the world that brainlessly consuming title after title of average films and anime taught me. Thankfully, I chanced past one of the most important pieces of animated media in my life right as I entered my teenage years, and it still remains close to heart as one of my favourite films.
Watching 5 Centimeters Per Second is an essential step in my life, of which it presented a challenge that I wasn’t able to understand at the time. It helped me develop what I later learned to be my own opinions, as stupid as I was to realise at the time. Indeed, how was it that a romantic pair of main characters, Takaki and Akari, who seemed all but destined for one another grow so into love, but drift so far apart? How was it that when the film ended with Takaki giving up chasing the first glimpse of Akari in years, that he seemed to be so in peace with himself? How in the world did Shinkai come up with the idea to make such a film? Teenage Mono did not have the maturity to maneuver past this brick wall.
Just as when a child first gets a hint of what mortality really meant, 5 Centimeters Per Second taught me that sometimes, some things won’t go well no matter how hard I try. Most importantly, it teaches me even today that a moment of err could play out for the best, even if it may takes years for me to realise.
4. Mugen no Ryvius (Infinite Ryvius)
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: October 1999 to March 2000
Back in the days when 1-cour series had yet to become the norm, anime used to be different. The old farts among anime fans would say that anime now is rubbish compared to the “good old days”, but that would just be nostalgia talk. I’d say that it was simply the case that exceptionally talented creative teams got to make their own masterpieces, albeit them being few in numbers and easily forgotten with the passing of time. Infinite Ryvius is such a masterpiece.
Made in a time when anime space operas was a dying trend, Infinite Ryvius tells the most focused story about space battleships and their occupants than I have ever been blessed enough to witness. Instead of competent military combatants, the crew and citizens of the elusive Ryvius spaceship are teenagers of varying backgrounds. Initially supervised by adults on the ship, the teenagers are left to their own devices when the adults tragically sacrifice their lives to fix a sabotage-caused malfunction.
Instead of being contained by genre conventions, Infinite Ryvius tells its own story of desperate survival, personal conflict and impending doom by mysterious forces. There is a sense of purpose and intention in every cut, and an uncanny habit of jumping between character stories such that even the most insignificant side characters seemed to have gone through an entire character arc of their own by the series’ conclusion. This is all not to take away from the anime’s main plotline, which dances between life-threatening conflict and the everyday such that there is a genuine sense of despair nearing the conclusion of the series and a shocking ending waiting to impress all patient viewers.
Infinite Ryvius is a forgotten masterpiece, and it saddens me that it has not left much of a legacy. It is easily the one series in this list that I regret will not be catching many anime fans’ eyes, as it is undoubtedly deserving of praise.
3. Girls und Panzer der Film
- Episodes: 1
- Aired: November 2015
I have watched Girls und Panzer der Film five times now, four of which were in different cinemas in Japan. I cannot claim that this anime is any more compelling of a story than any other entry in this list, but it has possibly been the most captivating anime experience in my life until I find something better.
To reduce it to its most fundamental elements, the theatrical release of Girls und Panzer rehashes the same plotline of the TV series, but with an expanded setting and further improvements of the show’s characteristic tank battles. Between uniform tank drifting, tank-on-tank melee and tanks being propelled into flight, there is certainly no shortage of imaginative tankery craziness. As in the series, each tank is animated to the highest level that the modern day anime industry is capable of, and whatever opportunity presented by the elements is pushed to the absolute limit as characteristic of Mizushima’s directing.
However, as a devoted fan to the franchise, I was more delighted to peek into the backstage operations and politics encompassing the Senshadou world, and absolutely thrilled to witness more interactions between characters and new faces to remember. I realised in my second viewing that the film manages to pack so much into its mere 100 minute run that there is so much room for in the Girls und Panzer world for stories to tell. By the third viewing, I had become even more impressed by the technical decisions crammed into enhancing every thrilling moment. By the fourth viewing, it struck me that the vice-captain in Kuromori had implicitly been the better tank commander than Maho the entire time.
I have rarely obsessed over an anime as I did for this film, and certainly have not experienced the same kind of joy figuring out something new with every rewatch. Girls und Panzer now holds a special place in my heart, and I can only wish that there is more to come from the franchise in the future.
2. Aria the Origination
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: January 2008 to April 2008
I am, of course, including the whole franchise in my deliberations as Aria the Origination is contingent on the gradual build-up supporting it from the Animation and the Natural. I would also be foolish to leave out Aria the Avvenire, which is the best curtain call that this franchise could have hoped for.
Imagine that a few hundred years into the future, when space travel is a fact of life and other planets have been colonised for human use, we are given the opportunity to visit a city in Mars. Except that it’s no longer called Mars, since the space colonisation mission to dig out an ocean for the newly-named Aqua gave its surface an ever greater sea-to-surface ratio than Earth. Imagine that one particular city, the one we visit, was made in the image of Venice, where all the inhabitants maintain a hands-on approach to living their simple lives. This is the story of Neo-Venezia, a city of new meetings and everyday miracles.
Aria is essentially our tour of Neo-Venezia through the eyes of Akari Mizunashi, an Earthling who aspires to become an Undine, a water tour-guide unique only to Neo-Venezia. Instead of simply seeing her mature into a professional Prima Undine, it really is almost as though we were Akari’s guests the entire time, riding the gondola that is her newfound wonders in a foreign planet and her joyful discoveries with the people she treasures. Most episodes are nothing more than Akari exploring the city and sharing her experiences with her best friends Aika and Alice, always with an atmosphere that puts to ease any outside tension. Akari and Neo-Venezia complete one another, as the charm either have as a person or a city is highlighted by the other’s presence.
Aria embodies the notion that slice-of-life is about finding joy in everyday life, as even what moments of the supernatural resemble mysterious experiences that all of us can empathise with, and completes its journey through its aquatic paradise with a moving story between a cast that I grew to love. I am nothing but thankful for the one last opportunity Aria the Avvenire gave me to catch a glimpse of Akari and Neo Venezia, a bit further in the future but unchanging all the same.
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: October 2014 to March 2015
Shirobako is my favourite anime of all time. It may not be the anime that I enjoyed the most nor is it the most emotionally engaging experience I ever had. It certainly isn’t the anime that I find to have been made closest to perfection either, but it is the anime that I am happiest to have been able to watch, and the anime that I am most proud to say has made an impact in my life.
To begin fully explaining why Shirobako is as influential as it is requires the knowledge of the breadth of narratives that it fits into, which is to say that when it first came out, it answered a lot of questions that most anime fans didn’t know they were asking. For me, it starts from the detailed insight of how anime is made and continues with the inquisitive examination of the exact nature of the anime industry, whether it is from the perspective of people who love creating anime, the people who had the initial passion but lost it somewhere along their journey, the people who simply lived did what they did best without thinking too deep about it and most intriguingly, the people who have no idea but simply want to be involved in the process. It is as though this show sought to give an answer to why people love anime, as it is certainly the reason why I began to seriously ask myself that and decided to join Honey’s Anime as a result.
Even if it is outside the realm of creating anime, Shirobako is a fictional piece that evokes sympathy from people of all walks of life. Beyond its idealistic presentation of the workplace, it chooses not to hide the grim nature of work and the daily worries of people who go through the motions of their jobs without a goal in sight. The lies that Shirobako constructs to tell its story is founded upon us being able to see through them without any difficulty, putting little effort in hiding the countless terrors that exist in everyday life. But even then, it is an anime that gives me the hope to believe that whatever path I choose, there is the possibility that happiness could come into sight, just as it occasionally does for the characters in the show.
It is now just a bit over the year since the last episode aired. After countless rewatches, I can still say that there is more for me to learn from this anime, and I do get occasionally urges to drop everything in real life to marathon through it. However, I will probably always hold myself back from doing so, because this is the kind of person that Shirobako made me want to become.
More so than limiting this list to five titles, it is unbearable that there is so much more to each than what can fit into a short summary. Regardless, I can promise that every sentence is a reflection of how I truly feel, and that I would accept your response no matter what it may be. That is how I wish for it to be.
Not everyone has to share the same favourites for everything or anything. That’s not why we exist as different people. However, being able to share something we like is a form of happiness on its own, and it is by accepting that other people have different tastes that we can begin to expand our own worlds. It’s just that relaying what one feels to another can be a dauntingly difficult task.
Do you also have a list you’re proud of sharing? Perhaps you also share the same opinion as me on a certain show? I would be more than glad to know.