DDA Top 10: Number 1…

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Here we are, after so many months. Number One. What does Doll consider the best anime of all time? Is she really doing this tired blue-balls gag?

I’ve talked about this series before, it’s buried in the comments several times throughout the blog, but I don’t prop it up a lot because of how very specific it is, and how unknown it is.

I reference Madoka a lot as an example because it’s one most people are familiar with. Like a common language for contemporary anime fans. But also because Madoka, on the whole, is probably superior to today’s outing from the purely technical level, in terms of structure, style, and literary reference.

But as we said in the beginning, that is only part of the battle.

Today we examine one of the first series I watched with my girlfriend.  She isn’t as big into anime as I am, and arguably it’s one of the weaknesses in our relationship that I wish I could share this thing with her but don’t often get to.  But this was something she wanted to see, as she heard me watching it and liked the dark atmosphere she saw so she said, sure, why the hell not, let’s watch it together.

During the course of watching this series, she came to associate our relationship with the two main characters (something apt to happen to a lot of couples, I know. Hell we did the same thing with Madoka), but this has a unique distinction.  Perhaps less so for her counterpart, but in part because I am so physically alike with the character attributed to me, and likely similar shades in our personalities, but at one point she turned and hit me in the shoulder, like really hard, shouting “what is WRONG with you?!” I share this to illustrate how close our focus character is to my own heart.

I’ve mentioned all those things in the introduction about what changes my scores.  In a sort of foreshadowing, I was essentially explaining away why this series comes in at number one.  It has girl love elements, I have used it as forum avatars and facebook icons and cosplays, and it is ripe with dark elements.  Unlike Madoka, which had darkness IN it yet is still a relatively optimistic show, this series is a grand tragedy. A Shakespearean bad end that ends in death and suffering, and that’s the end. It holds out no hope, and I love it for that.

And above all, it is, I would argue, the single best character study series in all of anime.

So with that, let me introduce you, to Dataport Doll’s Number One Series of all time. Continue reading

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DDA Top 10: #2: Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica

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It’s HAPPENING!

You’ve seen the banner for years. You knew this was coming. No big secret that I was going to set this near the top.

Big surprise. What could possibly compel Doll to put this near the top of her lists? Tragedy, darkness, lesbians, magic and a literary theme construct that is among the best in anime history? Can’t fathom why.

So, a nod to a senpai: Much in the same way RedLetterMedia did the definitive Star Wars review, I feel SFDebris’ review of Madoka Magica is one of the most complete, thorough constructs there is in terms of what a reviewer gleans from it.  He’s a little short on the literary symbolism, but one can hardly fault a reviewer for that. I’ll be just as short, I feel.  But I would point you to his series on this anime, which mirrors many of my points. He’s also quite excellent at pointing out the symbolism of the series, of which he maybe hits 1/3 of the nuance.  I won’t be focusing on symbolism unless it reinforces a specific point, because you could build an entire wiki out of the references and hidden meanings in this series. But I want to point out his review because, well…everything’s been said already. And that’s from some asshole who isn’t much into anime. It even earned his distinction of “the series most recommended” out of everything he had reviewed to the time. Outside perspectives are important, and he delivers a nice balance. So for your consideration! I’ll probably echo a lot of the basics, but when it comes to the characters you can expect my personal spin on things.

And yes, we’ll be talking about Rebellion.  I really don’t -want- to, but the stuff there has come to just overshadow SO MUCH that it really has to be addressed.

So I have a confession. When I first saw Madoka, I was not impressed. I admit it.

The big reason was this: Everyone praised it as this SUPAH DARK series. It was wicked and evil and tragic and twisted deconstruction. Every fan, every reviewer said the same thing. “ULTIMATE DARK DECONSTRUCTION! OMGORZ!”  I had EVERYONE in my social circles prodding “WATCH IT! WATCH IT! WATCH IT!”

So when I sat down to watch it some two months after it had aired and hype was at an all time high, I was let down. Because Madoka is NOT a dark series. No, you want a dark series? Well that’s coming next. But Madoka pales in comparison to truly awful heart-fucks (hashtag heartfuck) that exist just to laugh at the tragedy unfolding on screen, and drive the spike in deeper.

It took a little bit of distance to go back and accept the series on its own terms.  There is darkness in Madoka, no argument from me. But it is not overwhelming. It is merely present in an environment where we do not expect to see it, which I think is what magnifies it in many people’s minds.  But in general, the series is quite balanced in how it presents dark circumstances with ever present hope. Many of the “dark” aspects people talk about aren’t even dark, they’re just complicated, and because they’re grey suddenly “DARK!”? If you are so overwhelmed by the dark elements because they seem over the top, I must wonder what small bubble you live in. No, honestly, get me tickets. I’ll have a LOT of fun there.

As an aside, this experience is the big reason I do not do a lot of research or cross-commenting on series I am planning to watch. And it’s the big reason why when you see me take a series like Blade and Soul, I try to praise what’s good about it and give it even treatment to the best of my ability, even though it is so obviously bad.  Even the series I loathe I try to give balance lest my voice ever induce someone to have a similar experience with any other show (Though comparing Madoka Magica to Inou-Battle is pretty insulting no matter how you slice it).  It’s probably why everyone thinks I’m this big anime Debbie-Downer with KILL la KILL and Noragami and its ilk, but I want you to have the most informed expectations, not hype hype hype or trollish hate.

I am kind of dreading heading way out of my league. This is a franchise worth at least half a billion dollars. It has just about as close to a perfect rating on any anime site you can find. This like a plumber being asked to design the international space station, I am out of element, but will strive to do my best.

So let’s get into this. We’re in for a long one, kiddies. Continue reading

DDA Top 10: #3: Shinsekai Yori

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If you have any pretense to watching this show and haven’t done so yet, you should consider this your last warning.  Part of the fun in great storytelling is seeing the themes that were subconsciously reinforced throughout your viewing experience bloom like a flower in the climax.  And Shinsekai Yori does this in perhaps the most spectacular example of any anime.

Of course, at that same token, Shinsekai Yori (From the New World) is, truly, a series that DEMANDS multiple viewings to fully absorb what you’ve seen. So spoilers may not even matter all that much in this story.

I have said it in the past, and say it now: Shinsekai Yori is the greatest science fiction anime of all time.  There is absolutely no contention on this point as far as I’m concerned.

This has been in my post queue for some time.  But, recent current events have made it quite relevant.  And the story’s messages are merely that “this is complicated”. Full of warnings, portents, and red flags about how we think, how we treat each other, and how we view the state and enforcement of order. But short on actual solutions. Continue reading

DDA Top 10: #4: Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha

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It’s been a long time coming, but here we are.  The final four. The best of the veritable best.

And, much like Black Rock Shooter, I’m using this to accredit the entire franchise, as opposed to a single specific season. But the praise falls mostly on the span of the final half of Lyrical Nanoha through A’s, for the sticklers. But being such an expansive franchise, it’s hard not to just talk about everything.

Many people credit Madoka Magica as being the quintessential deconstruction of the Magical Girl genre. While it may be the revolutionary deconstruction, its forbearer is this series: Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha (Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha).

Sure, the themes don’t get AS dark (exactly…it’s hard to judge one tragedy against another), and its structure is not nearly as theatric as the Faustian elements that permeate Madoka. On the whole the Lyrical Nanoha series is still an upbeat one.

But I rather liken Nanoha to the works of Alfred Hitchcock.  Hitchcock, if you can’t put a face to the name, is of course the father of suspense and thriller film. The Birds, Psycho, his resume is impressive indeed.  But one thing he did that almost no horror/mystery/suspense directors do, is he played very strictly “by the rules”.  He rarely pushed the boundaries, which is probably part of why he became such a sensation. He rarely went for “shock value”, instead relying on cleverness and storytelling to illicit your reactions to his works.

Nanoha is similar in the regard that it plays by many of the traditional rules of the magical girl genre, but it bends the way the material is presented.  While it doesn’t twist the magical familiar into a Lovecraftian horror like Madoka would, it does present the life of a magical girl as a curse of sorts, and not a blessing.

For example, while there is combat like in, say, Pretty Cure, in Nanoha that combat often ends in hospitalizations for one or both parties. The evil witch in Nanoha, Precia Testarossa, doesn’t JUST want to be evil like Queen Beryl does, she beats her daughter and flogs her for failure, while we have to grimly sit and watch.  And while Madoka often explores the “dark” aspects of love, the selfish preconceptions and such, Nanoha explores the evils good people will commit FOR pure love.  Battling evil isn’t a sacred duty, it is a last resort, and in a sense, Lyrical Nanoha could be considered an anti-war series. I’ll get into that point deeper later.

Which is why, as a fan of both series, I wince whenever anyone proclaims Madoka Magica changed the magical girl genre forever.

Yes, but not as much as you think.

As always with the Top 10s, there will be spoilers. But! If you are new to the series but not sure how to get into it, read the next section, it’s for you, and basically spoiler free. Continue reading

DDA Top 10: #5: YuYu Hakusho

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For many of us, our first anime was probably DragonballZ, Pokemon, or Sailor Moon.  Maybe Voltron if you’re old enough. Or Speed Racer if you’re really old enough.

But for myself, and many in my older-millennial generation, the first anime where we knew anime was genuinely, honestly, going to be a real thing, was YuYu Hakusho.  It rode those DBZ coattails to get greenlit to be sure, but it is a completely different show and far superior in generally every regard.

It’s true that the show kind of fell back on the tournament fighter style a bit heavily once the second half of the series kicks in, but there are elements here that make it stand out amongst all others. It is my favorite non-apologetic man-drama. Let’s do it!

And yes, today we’re using the dub terms almost elusively. Deal with it! There’s a good reason, I’ll get to it. Put on your 4:3 vision, kiddies! Continue reading

DDA Top 10: #6: Inu to Hasami wa Tsukaiyou

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Taking a trip in the way back machine, I mentioned when I reviewed Outbreak Company that I generally regretted watching comedies.  I can appreciate funny stuff. My girlfriend watches stand up comics aplenty and Family Guy is frequent on the TV, but for my own personal enjoyment comedy is, on the whole, a waste of my fucking time.

I love funny shit, don’t get me wrong.  But my take comes in the form of, say, Thug Notes or Zero Punctuation, or little Newgrounds flashes. But comedy stories? No. Not even once.

Well okay once or twice.

But I really do find them abhorrent and insulting most of the time.

Either way, as anime fans, even among genres we don’t typically enjoy, there is always a best of the worst, so to speak.  And today’s installment, Inu to Hasami wa Tsukaiyou (InuHasa) is the one that trumps my “favorite anime comedy” spot.  Best? No, that I’d still award Baka to Test. But when it comes to favorites, it barely gets edged out by InuHasa.

Of course there’s one very strong reason. That of our female lead, Natsuno Kirihime. And other bits I’ll get into, which make this series have a very focused fanbase.

Since this isn’t a story really worthy of analysis or such, this should be a nice, short and sweet one. Continue reading

DDA Top 10: #7: Death Note

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We’re finally entering a realm of the big series. Other than my little shot at Naruto last year, I haven’t really tackled big series. KILL la KILL’s about it, but I still doubt its staying power.

And like my Naruto rantings, here it’s probably going to seem like I’m focusing on so little and ignoring so much. That’s probably true, as my mantra still stands: If it’s been said before, the internet doesn’t need me adding my voice. So my comments will be generally short and sweet.

I’ve mentioned before how I personally would demarcate the end of the Anime Renaissance at Death Note.  It was really the last series to have incredible mainstream appeal.  Attack on Titan might fit that mark, as perhaps could Madoka Magica, but the absolute saturation of Death Note into the community, similar to that of DragonballZ, Naruto, Fullmetal Alchemist, and Cowboy Bebop, really puts it a cut above anything that has since followed. Death Note absolutely crushed everything in its three season run, and being back in the day before distributors were doing simultaneous online releases, it spoke all the more that most of Death Note’s fans had already seen it by the time it was translated.

Most impressive of all, perhaps, it is one of the few series that makes its moral argument “three dimensional”, as it were (I don’t know the technical term).  Often antiheroes are blasted by the average viewer, but the divisions of “Light did nothing wrong” are still strongly, if not as bitterly, divided as they were seven years ago.  In this, Team Light, as it were, rather amusingly and unwittingly embody the warnings of the story itself.

But, before getting deeper into this business, we should talk about the run of the series. Continue reading

DDA Top 10: #8: Black Rock Shooter

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Yep, it’s violent lesbian hour here at Double D.

This series is the big one where I drag out that big disclaimer from the introduction: Favorite characters. My affection is what buoys this series above many others than any hard line defense about the quality of the work.

The Black Rock Shooter franchise has a rather interesting rags-to-riches story, but I won’t be going into detail. This review is long enough.

What I will be doing is treating, in this instance, equal parts anime proper, and OVA.  Each one is a different emphasis on the story here and, whereas in other works it’s difficult for me to conflate the two, such as the Hellsing franchise, here it comes rather naturally.  I think part of this is that…Black Rock Shooter hits a very strange sweet spot between “intent” and “product”.

For example: Let’s use a huge hit: Game of Thrones.  One of the things that purists drag up (the good and bad kinds of purists) is that Tyrion Lannister, in the show, is much prettier than Tyrion in the books.  There are several reasons, but the big two are as follows: Most basic, Peter Dinklage is just a good looking guy, and a fantastic actor, and this is still Hollywood, so everything will be prettier than in the books.  Frodo is supposed to be a 70 year old man in Lord of the Rings, this just happens.

Second, and relevant to our discussion here, Tyrion’s “theme” in the book is that old stand by, don’t judge a book by its cover.  People cannot see past his looks, and arguably they are his biggest handicap, even more so than his height.  But! Because his looks are not the handicap as they are in print, this in turn twists the theme in the TV show by showing us that, no matter how normal he seems, no matter how well he performs, it will never be enough, because he is different.  These lessons are similar in tone, but still different messages.  But we can see WHY those changes exist, because thematically we can follow along. The differences in his narrative from the book to the screen make perfect sense if you look at the changes as part of this theme (if not, admittedly, a little messy).

On the other end of the scale, let’s use an infamous example (and it’s just the worst I can do).  Star Trek: Voyager once did an episode called “Tattoo”, about Native American character Chakotay, which was supposed to explore his backstory, which was a huge deal at the time! A Native American character in a major science fiction franchise! But the message came out horribly racist and condescending from rich Hollywood white people (that message being: Native Americans were backwards, soulless cave people until they were touched by white people from outer space (courtesy SFDebris)), so it got all muddied up and is so offensive, some fans have declared it’s better for the Human race as a whole to pretend the episode doesn’t exist.  And yet, you need to go to the production notes to see that they were incredibly racist as a sign of respect, that “This was our intention!”, even though it relates not at all to what was shown on screen.

Bringing these two points around to our topic today, Black Rock Shooter hits this sweet spot between “I don’t understand what the fuck you were thinking”, and “There is strong symbolism here that brings the details into focus.” It isn’t nonsensical, yet it isn’t quite clear.

It falls into this odd level where…if you look hard enough…you can see what they were going for, even if the end result did not quite measure up.

I’ve spoken often about the harem protagonist and harem love interest, having just enough personality for us to associate them to ourselves or people we know, so that we fill in the blanks of their characterization in our head.  Black Rock Shooter has something similar going on with its plot, it’s a rarity in this way.  And I think that’s why conflating the OVA and anime for Black Rock Shooter comes together so well, because the former informs the latter, like that last missing piece they couldn’t quite nail. They push you in a direction, but aren’t clear which endpoint they wanted us to land at.

So let me try to pick this one apart for you.

(For records sake, I will use “Black Rock Shooter” to refer to the TV series, and “OVA” to refer to the movie.) Continue reading

DDA Top 10: #9: Log Horizon

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There are several similarities between today’s feature, Log Horizon, and series #10, Aoki Hagane no Arpeggio: Ars Nova. Most obvious, they are both the only series on the top 10 to air in the past year.

But there are similarities in my internal monologue, as well.  As there is always new anime, and my personality as a viewer is always changing, there is definitely a fluidity component to what I quantify as “favorite series”.  Both these entries are likely candidates to drop off the list in the future, and not even replaced by new series, but just because my affection may wane over time to level out.  Almost all of the other series on this list are -probably- here to stay in the next fifteen years or so, certainly the higher up we go, the more committed I am to their spots.  They may jockey for position, but I don’t think, say, Madoka is danger of falling off (act like you’re REALLY fucking shocked Madoka is on my list somewhere).

Ars Nova may slide up the scale if my enthusiasm remains as strong as it does today. Log Horizon…

It will probably come down to season 2, and if that pollutes or enhances my opinion.  It is scored higher than Ars Nova, however, because I can objectively see that in most regards, Log Horizon is just better.  Objectively.

So this is mostly my stacking the list in a manner consistent with time.  #8 and #7 I actually have less -affection- for (as of this very moment), but they have been around longer so I award them merit on “staying power”.

Without further delays. Continue reading

DDA Top 10: #10: Aoki Hagane no Arpeggio: Ars Nova

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This is, by far, the most unexpected choice to end up here if you were trying to figure out what someone would list in their favorites.  And I will concede it deserves its slot least when Avatar:TLA and Fullmetal Alchemist were barred from presentation.  But that is why it is Number 10.

The 10 slot was the only one I really struggled with at length. And it came down to a four way tie.  And as I mentioned in my introduction to this review series, the thing that put it over the top was how much I identified with the characters here, one in particular.  Which, if you’ve noted my aesthetic already, probably isn’t a surprise.

There’s also a very simple reason: I love big fuckin ships with big fuckin guns duking it out as old ships of the line.  Hell, that was the ENTIRE reason I was a loyal Pirates of the Caribbean MMO player, the chance to shoot and sink warships with my decked out cannonade. My favorite episode of “Dogfights”, which if you’re unfamiliar is about fighter plane combat (back before the History channel became about aliens, remember those days?) was the naval battle of Taffy 3.  I’m also a sci-fi lover, as evidenced by many references I make, so Ars Nova really hits my blind spots.

Yet, while I do recognize I have those blind spots, and objectively, sure, I could rip apart the flaws and it would probably score about Noragami levels of quality in the end. But this is just a list about what I like, and I’m not going to go looking for problems when I’m having too much fun.

And, of course, the ship avatars.  Ahem. “Dataport Doll” is an old name I used in Andromeda fan circles, many of which probably don’t even exist anymore. It is a reference to Rommie, the Andromeda’s avatar, whom was given the nickname “Rom-Doll” by the ship engineer.  And the dataport which was the way Humans could interact with AI minds.  So the “Mental Models” in Ars Nova are, to me, just a wonderful anime extension of the Ship’s Avatars from Andromeda.  So this series hits me in all the right feels (fitting, I suppose, as Andromeda was heavily influenced by anime).

Ars Nova is a series that just sticks to your brain.  It is a visual masterpiece, and while the pure-CG nature can be off-putting, if you could handle Sidonia, this show is far, far less intrusive.  The loving detail of the ships really could NOT have been done with line art, not on a reasonable budget, and the color schemes of the ships and the fights exploit the CG nature of the series remarkably. Combat is a wonderful blend of the naval and sci-fi, giving us an aesthetic to fights that are one part Red October, one part Star Wars, and one part Tron.

Reminder, sailors: Here there be spoilers. Continue reading