Top Shows Addendum

So I wrote my Top 30 Shows of All Time list, and that was great and super convenient for a while, until I came to a startling revelation – there are more than thirty good shows, and even worse than that, people keep making new ones. Clearly there’s no way I could have predicted this turn of events, but I’m doing my best to take it in stride. And in the spirit of promoting More Good Things, I’ve decided to create this Additional Top Shows supplement.

I don’t really want to cut off shows when they fall out of the thirty – I’d rather recommend more good stuff than less, and the number was initially envisioned more as a quality marker than a hard, arbitrary line. And so instead of having shows disappear and be gone forever, shows that drop out of the thirty, or that just barely don’t make it, will instead find their home here in the Top Shows Addendum. I hope you enjoy this jumbled list of Slightly Less Top But Still Pretty Great Shows!

Continue reading

Top Twelve Anime of 2013

And so 2013 comes to an end. This has been a big year for me in blogging, what with it being my first year in blogging, and so a lot of these shows hold a possibly unreasonable place in my heart. Nah, I don’t think that’s actually true. I think we’ve just had a great year, and that blogging really has done what I always wanted it to – force me to apply a more critical eye to my media, which, contrary to popular belief, has actually made me appreciate my favorites even more.

And there sure were plenty of favorites! As I said, this has been an excellent year in anime, with tons of genres, styles, and themes represented by stylish, confident productions. If this is your first time checking the blog, let me introduce myself by saying I’m a horribly biased shithead who wouldn’t know a good action show or comedy if it comically murdered me. I like people, and I like ideas, and my list reflects that (if you’re looking for Attack on Titan or Maou-sama, you can find my reviews of those here and here). I like to think I’m pretty good at telling good writing or direction from bad, but everyone has different things that appeal to them, and so you can consider the numbering here a mushy compromise between favorite and best, though the list overall encompasses both. I’m not gonna give you synopses here – if you’re interested, each title links to that show’s description, but that’s not what you’re not paying me for. These comments will cover why I loved these shows. I was aiming for a top ten, but when compiling the list, the shows that immediately bubbled to mind ended up numbering twelve, and instead of arbitrarily cutting two off I’ve decided to honor them all. Also, I’m only counting shows that ended in 2013 here, so no Kill la Kill or other half-finished two-parters. So here it is: my top twelve anime series of 2013!

Continue reading

Maoyuu Maou Yuusha – Episode 12 plus Final Review

Final episode of my favorite show of the season. It’s had resoundingly mediocre art direction, fairly spotty humor, and dashes of incredibly misguided fanservice. It’s also by far the most ambitious show of the season, and at its best it grapples with themes of human nature, the course of human progress, and the indomitable spirit of enlightenment and self-improvement. It grapples with them and wrestles them to the fucking ground. Now let’s hope some fantasy bullshit ending doesn’t wipe all these ideas away.

Continue reading

Maoyuu Maou Yuusha – Episode 10/11

Episode 10

This was a solid episode with great parts for Merchant and Hero, but primarily a setup episode (which makes sense, since 9 knocked down most of the dominoes set up so far). I can’t wait for Demon Kings reaction to the mess her allies have made. I’m kind of assuming it’ll take a united Demon/Southern Nations alliance to bail them out of this one.

Also, Merchant and Dragon Princess work well together. They’re both ambitious, goal-oriented, and vain, but their specialties are both opposing and complementary, Dragon’s bluntness is a good counter to Merchant’s scheming, and their conversations show their mutual respect. Hero made a good call introducing these two.

I’d talk more about details and themes, but I’ve been watching/writing on a freaking bus. Next time!

Episode 11

This show always manages to use the fewest possible words to get a point across. “I have no troops to spare. Can you deal with them?” “Yes. But would it anger you if I said I did not want to fight the demons?” “…we cannot afford a fight on two fronts.”

Bam, there we go. Hero’s motivation, the king’s pride, his ultimate ceding to the needs of the moment, which allows Hero to further his goal of integrating the two cultures by allowing for straight diplomacy – all covered in three brief lines of dialogue. Plus, neither of these characters have a particularly great way with words, yet this dialogue is a perfectly believable, snappy argument between the two of them that never oversteps into open hostility – this is how Hero has learned to negotiate. It really continuously amazes me that this story wasn’t written by a professional… although obviously this adapation was, and has succeeded in distilling the essence of these characters into the snappiest possible exchanges. Such sharp work.

8:45 – It’s not the characters. It’s the dream. Our world, the real world, is so far away from passing the hill – and we’re not even trying. Our very systems of economy prevent justice, prevent equality, prevent true freedom… we live as wage slaves distracted by our shiny 21st-century toys. But seeing these characters fighting so hard against the forces that shape our world, against our weak, human nature… it’s pretty goddamn inspiring.

15:42 – Spells spells explosions explosions bleh. This show is no good at this kind of stuff, and I kind of wonder why they even bother – like, they just introduced that army as a conflict this episode, did they really exist just to inject a little false tension and then be teleported away with a massive dose of magicy bullshit? I’ve said before that my least favorite parts of this show are when it tries to work as an actual fantasy story, and that’s still true – whenever it veers into total fantasy-land nonsense, it both counteracts the ways this story actually reflects reality, and just doesn’t come off as very distinctive or engaging. Hopefully this is all going somewhere.

16:38 – A really, really tidy bit of storytelling here. Normally, these large-scale fantasy battles are just a clusterfuck of things happening with no real stakes – all sound and fury, basically. Here, they cut back for a moment, using two lines of dialogue to establish the student soldier as an intelligent man (well, a good student, at least), and then letting his message to the troops quickly lay out both the terms and stakes of this battle. That way, the audience is actually invested in the events as they happen, because they understand something of the strengths of each side, as well as the stakes. Beautiful economy of scene-setting – action scenes only really work if the audience can actually tell who’s winning or losing.

18:58 – SEE?!?!? “She’s nearly become the King of Evil.” OH NO, NOT THE KING OF EVIL! Isn’t that EXACTLY the kind of BULLSHIT SIMPLISTIC STORYTELLING this show is ENTIRELY A REACTION TO?!?!? GAH that makes me mad.

23:13 – Oh no, she’s manifested the KING OF EVIL’S EVIL SCYTHE OF EVIL. Fuuuuuck you.

Okay, seriously, the last thing, like literally, absolutely, positively last thing this show needed was a dramatic showdown between the representative of all good and the representative of all evil. Like, what’s the point of all this other stuff if, in the end, humanity is saved not through negotiation, compromise, science, and education, but through the guy with the biggest sword? What does that actually say about anything? Hell, maybe next episode love will save the day, and we’ll all learn a valuable lesson about the importance of sharing.

Still, everything outside of this aggravating high fantasy bullshit was excellent. The merchant and students in particular had some really choice material, and there was a lot of sharp, efficient storytelling throughout. But man, this “spirits of the ancient kings” stuff just couldn’t be less warranted. And honestly, it’s so far beneath this show that I have to assume next episode is going to subvert it. Positive thinking!

Regarding My System of Scoring/Evaluation


In discussing Maoyuu Maou Yuusha, you talk a lot about whether a show’s ideas or themes are well-articulated. However, I consider myself a person who watches shows for characters, and want my media to be worth empathizing with on a human level. Is there room for this instinct in your cold, blackened critic’s heart?


Haha, I actually consider myself the same way – most of the stories that effortlessly connect to me are the ones primarily interested in characters and relationships. For instance, Toradora and Chuunibyou are two of my very favorite shows, and they’re far more thematically simplistic than Maoyuu or Penguindrum – they’re just character stories told well. And Evangelion is my actual favorite show, because I think it explores characters more fully than anything else I’ve seen.

But I also find both the craft of storytelling and human nature in general fascinating, and this show is just very unique in its purpose and methods. For instance, in episode 8 of Maoyuu, I loved that the characters’ response to the church condemning the scholar wasn’t something like, “damn the church! How could we have foreseen this?!” or “we have to fight them,” it was: “Unfortunate. If we fight the church, we lose the people. How can we minimize the fallout of this attack?” It’s willing to make a lot of smart assumptions about human nature, and then build on those assumptions to find some really compelling truths.


Can you explain your scoring/evaluation system a bit? The numbers as they stand just don’t make sense to me – Chuunibyou a 10, CLANNAD a 3, After Story an 8, Nisemonogatari a 9, Nozo no Kanojo X a 4. What’s the system here?


I actually recently changed my scoring system to make use of the numbers more effectively – anything six and up is “solid” for me, and it’s only 3 and down that I consider “bad”. You can see my current grading system in the About[1]section.

The three main things I look for in a show are: Does this show convey what it wants to in an effective way? Is what it is trying to convey meaningful or distinctive? Does the experience of this show resonate with me emotionally?

So, regarding the shows you listed…

I think Chuunibyou is not terribly ambitious, but it is very, very close to perfect in conveying its characters and story, and it struck me very strongly emotionally. It is, outside of exactly one scene in the first 11 episodes and some extremely slight pacing issues in the finale, what I’d consider a “Perfect Romantic Comedy.”

Clannad, on the other hand, I felt was incredibly ineffective as a comedy, slice of life, or romance – the side arcs murdered the pacing, the characters on the whole were thinly developed, and Jun Maeda has no subtlety in his writing, making the show veer constantly between repetitive slapstick and unearned melodrama. Plus, I found characters like Fuko and Kotomi extraordinarily problematic in their design – perhaps the VN developed them as people, but in anime format they came across as vehicles for viewer’s broken bird fantasies, which I consider one of the very worst things about anime.

In contrast to this, once After Story escapes from the side arcs, it becomes an incredibly effective and very unique look at life after education, something that is both woefully underrepresented in anime and very resonant for me personally. The episode where Tomoya is first forced to semi-interact with his abandoned daughter is honestly one of the most distinctive, effectively directed, and powerful episodes of television I’ve ever seen. But because that is just a subsection of the show (and because I feel the ending undercuts most of the drama the show has earned), it only averages out to an 8.

Nise I already posted that huge-ass analysis of[2] , but in short I think it approaches issues of perspective, self-representation, and the male gaze with incredible intelligence, and while uneven, is such a necessary art experiment that I have to strongly respect it.

Finally, I just thought Nozo no Kanojo was incredibly uneven, and while it had some very interesting ideas (particularly the rare and noteworthy focus on how weird and uncomfortable adolescent intimacy can be), it too often fell into the routines of its genre to be considered a solid work.

I’d actually love to keep talking about any of those shows, since you picked a set of examples that I find extremely interesting as artistic works, even though I personally enjoyed or respected some more than others. There’s something interesting in virtually every show – I pretty much never regret having watched something.


In that case, would you agree that there’s a fair amount of personal passion in your rating system? Also, would you say the quite harsh scores you give to certain shows (Another, OreImo) is more reflective on your selective process of watching anime than their objective quality?


I actually do try to keep the passion to a minimum, and restrict it to corner cases like the one you mentioned. For instance, I really do think Chuunibyou is more or less a flawless execution of a classic concept, but I’d have to admit that my own preference for romance and character-based shows might knock that one to a 10 over something like, say, Baccano. But I don’t think it’s all that unfair to say shows that strive for deeper meanings or strong emotional resonance are “aiming higher” than pure adventures or comedies – and normally, adventures and comedies are largely improved by the addition of these elements.

I also sometimes use my emotional reaction as a counterweight to my critical assessment of a show – for instance, logically I considered Ano Hana emotionally manipulative and awkwardly constructed, but because I actually did have an emotional reaction to the finale, I figured it was at least partially effective. Obviously the distance between my personal preferences/emotional touchstones and my critical assessments will always result in disconnects, but I try to be aware of it and only use the emotional response as a tool and sounding board, not a general metric.

My previous scoring system was a lot closer to the classic “5 is a failing grade” system – almost everything on my list was 7 or higher, and my grading system was basically 7 = decently flawed but I enjoyed it more than I didn’t, 8 and up are things I’d actively recommend. But I figured copying the classic grading system wasn’t really that valuable – if everything below 6 is just “so bad it’s not worth watching,” why shouldn’t I condense that category? It seemed more useful to stratify degrees of flawed but interesting shows than degrees of terribleness – for the lower shows, I figure “Just plain bad,” “Tooth-grindingly terrible,” and “Literally offensive to my values as a human being” should suffice.

The shows you mentioned kind of betray my own view of the anime medium – that is, I appreciate it and critique it primarily as a narrative, message-based, or character-focused art form, and not a visual one. I mean, I do love great visuals, and when they work in service of a show it’s incredible (Madoka and Hyouka represent two ways visuals can really contribute to themes, characters, and narrative, for example, and Redline works so well because all the narrative elements work in service of the fantastic visuals), but I won’t have mercy on a show just because it has polished production. OreImo might be very competent in its design and animation, but because I find its messages actually offensive and likely developmentally hurtful to its intended audience, I probably couldn’t personally like or critically respect it any less even if it were less competently produced.

What’s so Great about Maoyuu Maou Yuusha?


I’ve been following along with the show up until now (episode 9), but I don’t understand why some people seem to like this show so much. I’m having trouble keeping track of the characters, the pacing is weird, I still don’t know what’s up with the lack of names – what are you getting out of this show? Does it only make sense if you read the manga?


Nope! I read a few chapters of the manga, but stopped well before the point the story has currently reached.

I think it’s understandable that many people have dropped this show or don’t really get why others like it so much, because not only is it really mainly about the thematic and real-world implications of its events (as opposed to those events themselves), it also kind of hides that by occasionally focusing on its fantasy elements or characters.

What is awesome about this show is that it is taking a default fantasy world and using the story of that world’s conflicts, religions, and technologies to make universal points about human nature and human history. The characters not having names is actually really crucial – it’s one of the most overt ways that this show is declaring it is more interested in talking about People than talking about these specific people. It is also very frequently interested in talking about Storytelling, as opposed to this specific story, and Worldbuilding, as opposed to this specific world – so things like the hero’s teleportation are not really of interest to the writer, because they are just convenient devices, and getting into the specifics of this world’s magic jargon would dilute the larger points.

All that said, moments like this episode’s speech can come across as both personal and universal – just because the show is not solely focused on the narrow world of its characters doesn’t mean they aren’t well-illustrated and respected by the text. This emotional resolution has been building for almost the entire show, and the way her personal life story mirrors the larger theme of education being the cornerstone of freedom and civilization makes that point hit home much harder. I’d say this show still functions pretty well as a story taken at face value, but you’re missing a lot if you’re not viewing it as a critique of both traditional fantasy storytelling and human nature.

Regarding characters, I think the only incredibly critical secondary characters are the Winter King, the Merchant, the Female Knight, and the Older Maid – all of these pieces represent crucial sides of humanity in the picture this show is trying to draw.

Maoyuu Maou Yusha – Episodes 5-6

Management: Same disclaimer – I still haven’t formalized my style here. Hopefully getting less ranty though, and also totally falling in love with this show.

Episode 5

It’s always the little things that make this show for me. This time, Hero’s quiet frustration at how he can deal with the issues of the occupied cities, ending with “What would Demon King say… follow the money” just felt like such a great moment to me. I thought he was too undeveloped at first, but now I see they’re playing the long game with his characterization and growth, and it’s paying off in scattered treasures like that one.

Another nice moment – the two younger maids surprising Demon King and Head Maid with presents for a festival the audience was never informed of. It works well to further the contrast of the dedicated, goal-oriented lives our main characters are living against the ephemeral celebrations that make up a normal character (or person)’s life.

And finally the entire last third was fantastic once again. From Demon King’s monologue on the bed onward, the writing was perfect and the VAs once again proved their ridiculous chemistry and talent. In a show that has a romantic subplot but isn’t really about romance, it’s even more important to make the most of each romance-focused scene, so they don’t drag the show down or feel out of place. This one raised the bar.

Episode 6

A solid episode.

There were a couple nice touches in the depiction of the battle: throughout, it was depicted as a messy and stilted affair, with numbers and positioning being the most relevant factors. Very nice, and one of the thousand ways this show takes an ax to the unrealistic and frankly tedious conventions of fantasy stories. Then at the end, I loved the moment when a few soldiers uncertainly shout “we won?” before it devolves into cheering – this very nicely sums up the delirious and scattershot nature of what I assume larger medieval battles must be like.

I loved the song used during the Knight’s battle. I enjoyed the battle itself as well, but the song lent it more of a feeling of a dance than a duel, which nicely contrasted against the brutish, mechanical nature of war as waged by the non-OP characters.

Still loving the backgrounds all around.

Demon King’s boobs are still ridiculous. Yes, they’re referenced as big in the source material too, but come on. It’s frustrating having to look past something like that design in a show that does so many other things so well.

So their plan was really to scare the crusaders into falling back into a flanking position? That seems kind of sketchy to me. It also seemed like they set up the two forces for maximum casualties on both sides (by forcing the demons to retreat through an exhausted army). While this may well help defuse the war effort, it seems pretty out of character for at least Hero, if not Demon King as well. Am I misinterpreting something here?

Overall I very much enjoyed it though, as my complaints were minor elements and most of the episode was strong stuff. I’m surprised by how much I’m enjoying the technical elements of this show; I figured it would be one I enjoyed in spite of the direction/animation just based on the themes and story, but the music, direction, and background art are all stellar, and really help to sell the world of the show. I’ll miss this one when it’s over.

Maoyuu Maou Yuusha – Episodes 1-4

Management: Since Maoyuu came out last season, I hadn’t yet settled on my standard writeup style, and so these are looser structurally, more based on my personal impressions/opinions, and definitely more willing to be confrontational and make less-supported value judgments. All that said, they still do contain a great number of my thoughts on the show, and I consider this show fairly brilliant, so I think they’re worth archiving.

Episode 1

Why do character designers do things like those boobs in shows that are otherwise good. It’d be like if Lawrence in Spice and Wolf looked like Jojo – are people really watching a slow-burning, economics-focused comedy/romance for the huge tits? If you want to make your characters look absurd, then work on a straight ecchi comedy, don’t fuck up something actually worthwhile.

On a brighter note, I thought the adaptation was pretty smartly done in a couple ways, in particular by spreading the relevant war information across the characters most affected by it. It both broke up the straight lecture format of the opening, and introduced characters in a way that immediately explained who they are and how they’ll be relevant. Having side portions with Hero’s companions was also a good call, though I’m not a fan of the comic relief wizards… although I’m basically not a fan of silly comic relief characters in any shows, so that’s no surprise.

Regarding the rest of the art, I actually thought the faces were very expressive, and in motion seemed much more distinctive than I’d expected. I also very much liked the backgrounds and set designs throughout – portraying a dreary world vividly is no easy feat, and they combined some great “magical realism” drawings with that kaleidoscope colored background style very nicely.

The VAs did as well as I’d expected, that is to say, pretty much perfectly.

OP was meh, but that might be because I’m comparing this show so directly to Spice and Wolf, and that has maybe the best OP of any show.

Overall there was way more good than bad, and along with Shinsekai Yori (and possibly Sakurasou, if it continues to improve at the rate it has been), this will probably succeed in being one of the highlights of the season.

Episode 2

I think I liked this episode a bit less than last week’s, but that’s mainly because I’m really not a fan of the Head Maid’s speech with the runaways. Considering this story works so hard to take a practical approach to most other societal problems, merely adopting the runaways seems kind of like a cop-out of a resolution, and I don’t really get the point of her “insect” rant – I mean, they pretty much are slaves, how the hell are they supposed to take charge of their lives? Not sure what they could have done there though, and the older sister is a great character to have around, so not a big deal.

The rest was great. The Horo/Lawrence VA pair have an incredibly chemistry, which is a strange thing to notice in an anime, but I think really true for these two in particular. Ami Koshimizu in particular has a fantastic ability to bounce between extreme confidence/strength and awkward vulnerability, or (especially) combine the two. It’s a common trick in anime (pretty much the definition of tsundere), but I don’t think anyone else does it better.

It’s also funny to see Horo, the character semi-oblivious to economics but incredibly wise regarding human nature, play Demon Queen, the character with a frustratingly overdeveloped head for economics but no ability to deal naturally with people.

Senjougahara’s VA is such a good choice for head maid. Didn’t realize the same actress played Senjougahara and Homura Akemi – those are some damn fine career highlights.

The Queen attempting to woo Hero with high school debate logic was amazing.

Episode 3

Management: Missed the discussion for this one. Apologies.

Episode 4

Wow, the first half of this episode was the best one yet, and then the Hero gets that ridiculously standout conversation with Head Maid. So far, he’d been very lightly developed compared to the Demon Queen, but then he goes and directly addresses his insecurities about his place in this world transformation, his value to the Queen, and his reasons for exiling himself in this way, while also struggling and coming short of directly admitting these things. That conversation alone added so much to his character, and all the side characters are continuing to get great scenes of their own. To me, this episode moved the show up from solid to great.