Anime Corner: Top 10 Favourite Anime (Redux)

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And your challenge, should you choose to accept it, 1) Name all the characters featured above 2) Before reading the rest of this post, guess which one of these characters isn’t going to appear in the list. Have fun.

I love anime. Considering the amount of it I’ve reviewed over the past five years that probably comes as a surprise to no one, but with this being the start of a new year, and a new decade, it got me thinking. Back in the early days of this little blog o’mine I posted up a ‘Top 10 Favourite Anime’ list (you can check it out HERE if you want and compare it to the list I’m about to go through). Obviously I’ve watched a heck of a lot more anime since then, the majority of which I have adored and gushed over on this very blog, so me thinks it’s time for an update.

The same rules apply as last time, this list will only contain anime that I have seen (obviously) and only anime that have finished airing. I’ll admit this list was tough to put together, but I think I’m finally happy with the order it’s in, if you want to drop your own list down in the comments then feel free and with that, let’s get this show on the road!

  1. Cardcaptor Sakura

Upon finding a mysterious book in her basement, Sakura accidentally released the Clow Cards. Created by one of the most powerful sorcerers in history, Clow Reed, the cards each have their own unique personality and abilities. Now it’s Sakura’s job to capture them before their powers get out of hand and end up hurting someone, but with the help of guardian beast Kero and her best friend Tomoyo, Sakura is sure everything will be alright.

This is the series that carved out a place for the magical girl genre in my heart for all eternity. I remember watching it as a kid and falling in love with Sakura who was just so sweet and charming and endlessly optimistic that I couldn’t do anything but admire her, and that was before she started roller-skating on to the back of giant birds and trying to outrun sentient water. Whether it’s the beautiful designs of both the characters and the cards, the fun characters themselves or even just the mad antics of capturing the card of the week, I adore this series. It’s innocence personified and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  1. Digimon Tamers

Takato loves Digimon, whether it’s the TV show or playing the card game with his friends. He spends his days dreaming about what his perfect partner would be like and one day, when he finds a mysterious blue card, his wishes come true and the Digimon he designed, Guilmon, comes to life! However owning a real life Digimon isn’t as easy as Takato thought and soon he finds himself dealing not only with the differing views of his fellow Tamers, but invading Digimon causing havoc and a secret government organisation out to delete all Digimon from the real world!

This is my favourite Digimon series of all time and one that I recommend for everyone to watch. For a show primarily created to sell toys to kids it has a remarkably mature story (which makes sense when you realise this was written by the same guy that did Serial Experiments Lain). We get some great character arcs across the series, especially in Impmon who runs the full gambit from troublemaker to villain to hero seeking redemption. The series also isn’t afraid to throw in a few more complex themes and a bit of moral and ethical questioning for its characters to deal with. It may start off a little slow but it all builds into something truly dark and epic like no other Digimon series has ever done before or since.

  1. Shirobako

When they were at school, Aoi, Ema, Shizuka, Misa and Midori all played a part in making their very own anime short. Now, having graduated, the girls are all either looking for or holding down jobs in their favourite industry, the anime industry! Unfortunately it turns out that getting their dream job may actually be a bit of a nightmare, between crushing production schedules, dithering directors and really unhelpful middle men, turns out working in anime can be really rough. Do the girls have what it takes to pull things together and someday, somehow, get to all work on a project together like they did at school?

Anime is tough guys. If you ever doubted that then just watch this anime (though I realise it is also a romanticised version of the anime industry so I have no doubt the real thing is even more hellish than this series depicts). I first watched this anime when I was in a bit of a slump, my adolescent idealism had crashed headfirst into the cliffs of adult reality and I was feeling pretty dejected, pretty much in the same way the characters are at points in this series and it gave me hope to know that maybe, just maybe, the struggle would be worth it in the end (the moment where all the girls get to work together at the end really is a thing of beauty). Rewatching the series now though, it speaks to me on even more levels, from the arduous path of the creative process to what it’s like to work in an office (though the office I work in is nowhere near as pressurised as the one in this show). Add on all the little in jokes and references and all anime fans should watch this at some point.

  1. A Place Further Than the Universe

Tamaki Mari, AKA Kimari, always wanted to have a grand adventure before she finishes high school, but she’s always been afraid to take that first step. All that changes when she meets Shirase, a girl determined above anything else to go to Antarctica, despite how impossible that sounds. Now, with a newfound passion and determination, Kimari sets out with Shirase and her other new friends to make the impossible possible and shout ‘I told you I’d make it!’ to all those who said they couldn’t. Their youth is finally in motion!

Heartfelt, that’s the best word I can come up with to describe this series. Everything in this show, from the gorgeous animation to the sweet and charming characters, even the emotional stories of each girl, all of it just hits me right in the feels. I cried at every single episode when I first watched this series and I cried a good chunk of the time when I re-watched it. I love this show. Not only is the message a really important and powerful one, that you can’t let fear and doubt hold you back, if there’s something you want to do, go and do it. It’ll take some hard work and a bit of luck, but if all you ever do is back down then you’ll never get anywhere. Also I love these characters and the chemistry between them, they feel like the best of friends and it’s just a joy to be around them.

  1. Mob Psycho 100

Mob wants nothing more than to be an ordinary kid, and maybe the ability to talk to his childhood sweetheart in complete sentences. However, between his tremendous psychic powers, repressed emotions and his con man boss, there’s not much chance of that. Whether it’s exorcising evil spirits or taking on deranged psychics, Mob’s real battle is with himself, learning to control and, eventually, accept his emotions to the point were he becomes a better, more rounded person.

It’s the second season of this show that gets it on to this list. However much I enjoyed the first season, the second feels like something special. It takes everything that the first season had, the lightning fast comedy, the visually diverse and stunning animation and fun characters and adds so much emotion on top of that. Watching Mob’s journey from an awkward, emotionally repressed teen to such a kind, open and emotionally healthy person is by far one of my favourite character arcs in all of anime. I also think this series has some really beautiful messages about forming bonds, how people can change and how its not good to let your own ego blind you to the world around you, all of which feel really relevant to the world today.

  1. Sound Euphonium

When Kumiko begins her first year of high school she’s determined to have a fresh start, yet somehow finds herself joining the school’s concert band and playing the euphonium (an instrument she’s been stuck playing for the past seven years). It doesn’t help that an old school friend of Kumiko’s is also in the club, a friend that Kumiko feels incredibly awkward around. Things begin to change though when the band’s new advisor starts pushing the students to improve and tensions rise. Will Kumiko rediscover her love for music and the euphonium? Or will this put her off for life?

Every part of this series is beautiful, from the jaw-dropping animation to the blissful music and the clever and life-like writing. More than that though I love each and every one of these characters. Kumiko’s arc from detached and indecisive to someone who is driven by her passions is great and I have to admit resonates a fair amount with me. This is not a show that I would typically watch, but I’m so glad I did. Even if you’ve never been in a band, or have the least bit of interest in one (like me), make sure to check this series out as it has so much more to offer you than your standard high school drama. You’re missing out if you don’t see this one.

  1. Psycho-Pass

In the future you’d better watch what you think because thanks to the Sibyl System a person can now be judged on how likely they are to commit a crime. Anyone who’s deemed as a potential danger to society will have the Enforcers sent after them, either to bring them in for emergency therapy or, if they’re beyond help, to blow their heads clean off. But what if the system couldn’t read a certain type of person? What if there was a master criminal out their inciting others to commit crimes and providing them with all they need to go on their own crime sprees? For rookie Inspector Akane Tsunemori these are going to be important questions, but the biggest of all may be just what exactly is the Sibyl System?

I love so much about this series I really don’t know where to start or how to summarise it, but here goes. For starters the world of Psycho-Pass is one of my favourite, so rich and detailed, from all the fun tech it employs to the moral questions it raises. Add on top of that some fantastic characters and you have a great anime. Akane is one of my favourite female protagonists of all time, her journey from naïve rookie to badass detective is another of my favourite character arcs. Then we’ve got Makishima who’s one of my favourite anime antagonists and there’s Kogami and I could really go on all day like this. Every time I watch this series I come away loving it that little bit more.

  1. Fate/Zero

The 4th Holy Grail War is upon us. Once again Seven Masters will summon seven Servants, Heroic Spirits of legend such as King Arthur or Alexander the Great brought to life again in the modern day. Together they’ll battle it out for the Holy Grail and the chance to have their dearest wish made a reality. For Kiritsugu Emiya, that wish is for the world to find peace, but for a man who has spent his life killing mages, can they ever really be any peace? The answer has already been decided and no matter what anyone does, fate marches on to its inevitable tragic end.

If you’ve checked out my previous favourite anime list then you may have noticed that my top three anime hasn’t really changed, and I doubt they ever will. Fate/Zero is not perfect, but I adore it with all my soul. I love these characters, I love seeing them interact with one another, so many clashing philosophies and goals this is what makes a great story for me. Whether it’s Saber’s idealism clashing with Kiritsugu’s pragmatism or Iskandar, King of Conquerors, giving Waver lessons on what it means to be a true king, I could watch this forever and not get bored. Add on the great music and animation, some epic fights and you have an anime for the ages.

  1. Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Madoka wants nothing more to help others and make a difference with her life, a chance she seemingly gets when a strange creature named Kyubey offers her a deal. In exchange for any wish she desires, she can become a magical girl and protect the innocent people of the city from evil witches. Sounds like a win-win right? Well it turns out that the life of a magical girl isn’t quite so magical and between the dangers of the job and battles with rivals, Madoka’s about to learn what happens when a wish turns into a curse.

If there were only one anime I could watch again for the very first time, I’d pick this one. When I first watched this series I binged it all in one night and it destroyed me emotionally. I’ve never quite had a reaction like it before or since, though not for lack of trying. This show is as close to perfection as it gets for me. The plot is so tightly written and paced, knowing just when to let you catch your breathe before plunging you into an even deeper well of despair. Everything is connected and so many little details turn out to be really important later, I get so much fun out of every time I rewatch this series. Add on to that the music and, I don’t even know how to describe the animation, it has such a unique artistic quality to it that I just love it.

  1. Fullmetal Alchemist (2003)

The law of Equivalent Exchange is the core principle of alchemy, something the brothers Alphonse and Edward Elric learn the hard way when they try to resurrect their dead mother. They lose much in the exchange; Edward has his arm and leg taken away from him, while Alphonse loses his entire body. They’re only hope to put themselves back together is to get a hold of a philosopher’s stone, something that will let them perform alchemy without obeying equivalent exchange. They aren’t the only ones searching for a stone though and when the boys learn just what it takes to make one, will they be willing to pay the cost?

The original, and my personal favourite. Madoka Magica may be close to perfection for me, but this series has everything I could ever ask for from an anime, great characters, compelling story and drama, even stunning animation, it’s all here. The bond between the two brothers is really something special, their willingness to sacrifice themselves for one another is truly beautiful and that moment at the end of the series where they demonstrate just how far they’ll go for one another is one of my all time favourite moments in anime. Then again this series is packed with great moments that I love, from the boys confronting their mother to certain deaths, which I won’t spoil here, but this show is a real roller coaster. The story never once falters, perfectly paced and engaging, I don’t even skip over the filler I like it so much, though I think it’s greatest strength is that it never loses sight of its core. Edward and Alphonse are the centrepiece of this story and they are such great characters. If you’ve not seen this anime, or only ever watched Brotherhood, then do yourself a favour and check this one out.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.  

October Movie Madness!

31st October 2014, that was when I started this little blog o’mine with a review of Frozen.

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Honestly it feels crazy that I’ve been writing for this blog for nearly five years now, especially when I only started this blog, in part, to build my confidence as a writer (the other reason I started this blog is because I desperately needed some place to talk about all the movies and shows I watch and as it turns out, once I start talking you can’t shut me up!)

Anyway, the anniversary of my blog is a month away and typically I use that anniversary post to look at a film which belongs to a franchise I adore. In the past I’ve done Madoka Magica Rebellion,

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Fullmetal Alchemist – Conqueror of Shamballa,

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How to Train your Dragon 2,

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And last year’s, Tangled the series: Queen for a Day,

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This year it’s going to be Digimon the Movie to tie in with all the other Digimon reviews I’ve been doing (and, yes, expect another oversized title card, I’m actually really proud of this one and I can’t wait for people to see it). However, this is a 5 year anniversary and that feels like a big deal, so I’m going to indulge myself a bit this coming month.

For this year only the movies are taking over October as I’m going to be reviewing a movie tied into a franchise I adore each week (some I’ve talked about before, some I haven’t), so here’s the schedule for October,

4th October – Batman Hush

11th October – Fate/Stay Night: Heaven’s Feel – 1. Presage Flower

18th October – My Hero Academia: Two Heroes

25th October – Digimon the Movie

I’m already a little bit giddy with excitement, and to anyone who’s read, liked or commented on any of my posts over the past five years, firstly, you’re amazing, secondly, thank you. I hope everyone’s going to enjoy this as much as I am right now, but enough waffling from me, meet me back here on friday when the party will really begin!

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.  

Anime Corner: Fullmetal Alchemist: The Movie – Conqueror of Shamballa Review

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It’s Fullmetal Alchemist, but with rocket ships and battling Nazi mad scientists, what’s not to love?

What’s the Story?

Two years have passed since the ending of the original TV series (Spoilers from here on out folks so go watch the series if you haven’t already!). The Elric brothers are still separated across parallel worlds; Ed is stuck in our world, in a Germany broken after the First World War and with the Nazi party plotting its rise to power, meanwhile Al is back in their world, searching for a way to bring his brother home. In Germany the Thule Society want to open a portal to the utopian realm of Shamballa, not realising that what they’ve actually found is Ed’s way home. This isn’t a happy return though; war is coming.

The Review

Well, this is a big surprise, I’ve made it to year two with this little blog o’ mine. Honestly I’ve surprised myself with how much I’ve enjoyed myself writing reviews for this blog, I created this site purely as some place just to put my thoughts and also as a bit of confidence building exercise to prove that my own voice counts for something (plus the fact that other authors have blogs and I’m going to be published one day, one day). It’s also been a great excuse to examine and talk about several series I’ve both loved and hated, forcing me to get around to shows that have been on my watch list for ages, though the reverse of that is that I’ve sat through some utter rubbish just so I can vent about them on here.

But enough of the gushing, let’s get to the point, last year on the blog’s anniversary I reviewed Madoka Magica Rebellion, the film that carried on from one of my favourite anime series, so this year I decided to tackle the film that follows on from my favourite anime series, Fullmetal Alchemist. See my thoughts on the tv series here and here. Conqueror of Shamballa has always been a movie I’ve been nervous about, I mean back in the early days I did a whole post about how I thought the ending to the original tv series was pretty much perfect (see here). I mean sure it left the door wide open for more story, but it suited the characters so well and perfectly summed up their relationship, these brothers would sacrifice anything for one another. It was sad that they were separated, but there was that promise that they’d reunite someday and this is the film that sets out to keep that promise, which is why I was nervous. What if the film didn’t live up to my expectations? What if it tarnished such a perfect ending? What if it soured the whole series?

Honestly, I should have had more faith.

Is the film perfect? No, but it’s damn enjoyable, I don’t think there was a minute were I wasn’t smiling, or at the very least inwardly cheering to be back in the company of some of my favourite characters. That’s the main joy of this film, they’re back, almost every character is back or at the very least gets a few cute little cameos, we get to see how they’ve been getting on and how the world has progressed to something a little better. Sure most of them don’t have any real impact on the plot, Armstrong is his usual hilarious manly self, but his contribution boils down to some comic relief and a balloon, while Roy Mustang is there purely to be a badass in the finale. Winry doesn’t do much either, but then she never really did before, though I do like the moment where she decides this time she’s not staying home and waiting for the brothers, she’s going to them. It’s great to be around these guys again.

The plot is pretty straightforward and if it weren’t for my connection to all of these characters it would probably be on the slow side. Familiarising yourself with the original tv series is a must for this film, not only so that you build that connection, but also so that you get all that essential plot information that is necessary for this film’s start. The majority of the film is spent either catching up with the regulars in Ed and Al’s world, or meeting our world’s versions of those characters, seeing alt-Hughes trying to build up the courage to ask out his alt-wife was pretty darn adorable. Some of the writers had also clearly been reading the history books, as there’s a lot of accurate historical information about Germany at the time and a lot of famous names thrown around too. It adds to that different flavour that you don’t get in other anime, which is one of the reasons why I loved the series so much. There isn’t all that much action, when it’s on screen it is gorgeously animated (like all of the movie), but it’s often short, the action isn’t the point here, it’s the characters.

This film’s message is about war and what leads people to it. We have a huge cast all with their own desires and wants, from Al’s longing to bring his brother back, to Noah’s longing for a home and even the Al of our world wanting to make a name for himself before his time runs out. Even the Germans complaining about the state their country has been left in after the war, with hyperinflation and scars both physical and emotional. They’re understandable desires, it’s just that they’re leading down the wrong path. The Germans are seduced by a charismatic crazy person with promises of glory and a few handy scapegoats to offer for their woes, our world’s Al ends up building rockets for the bad guys and other Al opens Pandora’s Box and brings death and destruction on the Capital, but as they say, the path to Hell is paved with good intentions. That was another thing that made the series great, the characters are interesting, understandable and undeniably flawed, they think that their own dreams are all that matters and don’t think about the consequences for other people.

It’s a good little examination of some of the darker parts of human nature, until you get to the ending where they realise there’s only about ten minutes left and have the villain make a sudden leapt in character motivation and hammer in their points one after the other. I’m not saying the topics the villain mentions aren’t interesting and I like the idea of the character changing like that, but it’s a little too sudden and on the nose to really hit home, which is a shame.

Lastly the ending, does it ruin my perfect ending for the series? No, not really. I mean sure the way it comes about is a bit of a cheat, but it is great to see the brother’s together again and the door’s still slightly open so I can continue to imagine the adventures of these two young alchemists.

The Verdict

In the end, Fullmetal Alchemist: The Movie – Conqueror of Shamballa is a nice little coda to the original series. You definitely have to watch the series to get the most out of it, whether it be building the connection to these characters or the essential plot elements that set up the beginning to this film, but it’s just great to spend time with these characters. The music and animation is just as great as ever, if not better thanks to a film’s budget. Though lacking in action the plot is a good examination of some of the darker aspects of human nature, even if the message does get a little ham-fisted at the end. For any fans of the original series, this is definitely worth a watch.

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And finally I just want to thank anyone who’s been reading these meandering splurges of thoughts and opinions on a variety of animated products. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I do writing them and I’ll keep them coming for a long time yet. Here’s to next year!

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday. 

Top 10 Favourite Anime

Anime Top 10 Title Card

Ok, so I’ve done my top 10 Disney films (here) and I’ve done my top 10 animated films (here), I guess it’s time for the anime list isn’t it? Anime is a huge part of my life, it always has been I guess. I’ve been watching anime since I was very little, although back then they were all just really cool cartoons to me. Pokemon, Digimon, Guyver, Dragonball Z, Sailor Moon, Gundam, these are all a part of my childhood, as well as many others. The thing I love most about anime though, is the sheer diversity of it, you can really have anything. Sci-fi stories set in the far future, epic adventures in fantasy lands, comedies, tragedies, dark deconstructions, or just everyday life, there is no story you cannot tell. It also helps that anime is damn crazy sometimes, and we all need a little bit of crazy in our lives.

To be fair this list has taken me a while to put in order, there’s so many different anime that I love, but beyond that a lot of these anime speak to me in different ways, so it’s hard to qualify why one show should be put above another. I think I’ve finally got it right though.

Here are the rules for the list. This list will only contain anime that I have seen (naturally), and more importantly anime that has finished. That means for one there will be no ongoing shonen anime on this list, like One Piece and Fairy Tail. Besides, however much I love those anime I don’t love everything about them, though it’s mostly the filler arcs that I have a problem with (maybe I could do a top 10 arcs list one day?). Also this is a list of my top 10 FAVOURITE anime, this is not a ‘Best of’ list, the anime contained within and their order are entirely dictated by my heart, not my head.

Anyway, enough rambling, on with the show!

  1. Cardcaptor Sakura

One day, Sakura accidentally releases the Clow Cards (magical cards left behind by a powerful wizard) upon her unsuspecting city. Now it’s her job to collect the cards, before their simple acts of mischief end up hurting someone.

Ok, I’m going to come across as a massive saddo here, but I suppose there’s no point in hiding it. This anime is the reason I have a soft spot for magical girl anime (I’m a fan of Sailor Moon, but this show is what cemented the genre into a corner of my heart). I fell in love with Sakura when I was ten, and it’s never really gone away. She’s sweet, she’s funny, she’s brave, yet she’s a little bit clumsy and terrified of ghosts. She’s a goody two-shoes, but never boring or perfect, which I like. Her adventures were always exciting and fun for my younger self, and I still really like all of the designs for the cards she had to collect. To make me look even sadder, I will admit that I used to make my own versions of the cards to play with (hey there was a distinct lack of merchandise over here in the UK). Ok, now that I’m older I do have to admit that it’s a little repetitive and there are probably a few other flaws knocking about, but the nostalgia is too strong for me on this one.

  1. Outlaw Star

Gene Starwind and his young partner Jim run an odd job business, but soon are catapulted on a series of misadventures as they hunt for the legendary Galactic Leyline. They’ll battle magic-wielding space pirates, crazy cat girls and a mind-controlling cactus (you know, I think anime might just be weird).

If I were to describe this series in a word, it would be fun. Epic space battles, guns that shoot magic, a cast of crazy characters, and arm-wrestling spaceships, all can be found here. This is just one entertaining ride. Not that this series is brainless, it’s just storyless. The plot is merely there to get us from one adventure to the next. This series prefers to give its attention to the detail of the universe, building up a rich history and setting for our characters to explore. Our characters themselves aren’t that deep, but they’re well-defined and uncomplicated. You can work out what makes them tick after just a few minutes. It’s wild, it’s cool, it’s Outlaw Star.

  1. Digimon Tamers

Takato loves the digimon card game, but one day he discovers that he has his own real-life digimon. At first it’s fun and full of hijinks, but with more and more digimon appearing in our world, and a shadowy government organisation lurking in the background, things are about to become very dangerous indeed.

Now I love the original Digimon, but for me Season 3 is just that little bit better. It’s a more mature series, and I love the real world setting. I like how they incorporate the game and trading cards, and make it feel like this is what it would be like if Digimon were real (and who doesn’t love that idea?). It’s certainly one of the darkest series, containing some downright terrifying scenes, as well as a few heart-wrenching ones too, but never so much that it stops being fun or enjoyable. To me this is a really good sci-fi/fantasy story, while also still feeling like a Digimon series (unlike some of the later series).

  1. Attack on Titan

For years humanity has sat safely behind its three giant walls, keeping out the monstrous Titans that have a habit of devouring humans for no apparent reason. One day that peace is shattered, when a gigantic Titan appears and smashes down the first wall. Young Eren swears to join the Survey Corps and wipe out every last Titan. But what exactly are the Titans, and where do they come from?

Is this overhyped? Yeah, but you have to remember that that hype came from somewhere. This is a really good series without a doubt. Yeah the ending is really abrupt, and what we learn about the titans and where they come from amounts to about zero, but that’s what the manga (and that long promised second season) is for, which is annoying I admit. This series is exciting, dramatic and terrifying, sometimes all at once. The animation has its own unique style, both beautiful and ugly at the same time. The fights sequences are just jaw-dropping, and that soundtrack is just mind-blowing. I really like the characters too (the ones that survive anyway). They all feel like real people, full of flaws and psychosis. Most of these people are broken in some way or another, and sometimes it’s not the titans that are the greatest threat to humanity. If nothing else, this is a really great story about humanity, both at its best and at its worst.

  1. Kill la Kill

Ryuko Matoi transfers to a strange school, where the student council runs the place like its own private dictatorship, all in the aid of finding her father’s murderer. Ryuko finds a talking uniform (just go with it) and epic insanity ensues.

I love Kill la Kill, even though I probably shouldn’t. This anime has a way of bypassing the logic part of my brain and striking right at the gleeful kid inside. It’s over the top, it’s extreme, it’s gratuitous, and it is awesome! This anime hits a level that transcends fun. It’s a blitz of intense action, hilarious characters, explosions and, of course, boobs. Ok, the story is nonsense, the characters aren’t exactly deep, and that fanservice is just overwhelming, yet I still love this. All I can say is that this anime is overflowing with love, enthusiasm and pure undiluted fun. It’s infectious and I have never had so much fun watching an anime.

  1. Shirobako

An anime about making anime. How very meta. We follow the struggles of five girls as they enter into various careers in the anime industry, hoping to one day work together on the same project.

I seriously love this show. There are so many moments of just undiluted joy to be seen here. Watching our characters start out as wide-eyed young students, we follow them as they confront the harsh realities of working in the industry, yet in the end they still make it to a happy ending. This anime gives me hope. At a time in my life when I’ve been questioning where I’m going and lamenting how far from my dream I still am, this anime has shown me that if I keep pushing forward I can still make it.

  1. Cowboy Bebop

The futuristic misadventures of an easy-going bounty hunter and his odd crew, which includes an ex-cop, a femme fatale in massive debt, a computer hacker who’s as much a genius as she is crazy, and a dog.

Is a show overhyped if it’s deserving of its praise? This is one of the greats of anime, a classic that everyone deserves to watch at least once, even if you’re not all that into anime. It has a great cast of rich characters, its stories range from hilarious to heart-breaking, but for me what makes this anime so great, is its presentation. The animation is stunning, the soundtrack is beautiful and the direction is top-notch. This is simply a master class in how a visual medium should be done. Everything slots together so perfectly that you can hardly imagine one component without the others. It says so much with so few words, one of the most iconic shots has to be Spike falling through that window with flashes of his past. It’s such a simple and effect way of telling us so much, without a single word. It’s simply breath-taking.

  1. Fate Zero

The 4th Holy Grail war is upon us. Seven Masters are chosen from across the world. Each Master summons a Servant, a heroic spirit of legend such as King Arthur, brought into the modern world to do battle for the ancient wish-granting relic. Whoever wins gets their heart’s desire granted to them, but you know the old saying, be careful what you wish for.

Okay, I’ve struggled with where to put this one on the list. There are a couple of things in this anime that I have problem with (check out my review here, for more details), but when it comes down to it the stuff that is good in this anime is just too damn good. For me it’s the characters that make this show so great. Each character is fully fleshed out, with their own ideology and way of doing things and it is endlessly fascinating to watch them amble down their paths towards inevitable tragedy. I seriously cannot get enough of these guys. Add in some wonderful top quality animation, a good soundtrack and some great, if occasionally longwinded, dialogue and you have one of the greats of anime.

  1. Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Madoka wants to help others and make a difference. She seemingly gets her chance when a strange creature called Kyubey offers to fulfil any wish she desires, in exchange she will become a magical girl and battle against witches that torment innocent people. As it turns out though, the life of a magical girl isn’t all that magical, and it isn’t long before wishes turn into curses.

When I first watched this show, it destroyed me. I mean that quite literally. After watching a couple of reviews on the internet recommending the show, I finally decided to give it a go. I watched the entire series in one night, mostly because I couldn’t stop watching, and by the end I was left as an emotional wreck, blubbing like a baby for a good half hour after the last episode finished. No other show has had this kind of effect on me, certainly not in recent years. I don’t really believe there’s such a thing as a perfect anime, but this comes damn close. The pacing of the story is top-notch constantly moving and twisting into something new, giving you just enough time to breathe before pulling the rug out from under you yet again. Everything is connected, and it is wonderful to rewatch the earlier episodes and see all of the hints and clues that were sat there staring you in the face. The animation itself may not be as good as some anime, but it has this wonderful artistic quality to it that just makes this such a treat for the eyes.

  1. Fullmetal Alchemist (2003)

In a world where alchemy is a thriving magic, two brothers decide to commit a great taboo and resurrect their recently deceased mother. Things go wrong though, resulting in Edward losing an arm and a leg, and Alphonse losing his body entirely. The two brothers begin a dangerous search for the philosopher’s stone, in order to get back what they’ve lost.

The original, and my favourite anime. I first saw this on the TV, back when I was only just discovering what anime was (and learning that I’d secretly been watching anime for years without my knowledge). I never saw the run in its entirety back then, I only caught random episodes and one of the first ones I saw (and my most vivid memory of the series) was that final episode. I’ll be honest I didn’t have much idea what was going on, but it all looked really cool, and the animation was amazing. What spoke to me most though was the two brothers, Alphonse and Edward, and their willingness to sacrifice themselves for the one another. It was truly beautiful, and watching the series all together I can safely say that the rest of the anime holds up to that moment. It has a story that never falters either in pacing or development, it even has time to spend on filler, decent filler at that which manages to add to the story (now that’s a miracle). Add in a host of great and memorable characters, some heart-wrenching drama and exhilarating action, and you have an anime that pretty much has everything I could ever want from an anime. And throughout all of that, it never loses sight of its core, the bond between the two brothers and their mission to fix one another, and that’s why this gets the number one spot.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.

Fullmetal Alchemist vs. Brotherhood

Blog Fullmetal Review Title

Quick, man the comments section. Prepare your well thought out arguments right now. Keep an eye out for trolls. They can take our lives, but they’ll never take our opinions! (Wait, that’s not right).

Ok, all joking aside (mostly because not enough people read this meagre little blog for a proper battle to ensue, a light skirmish maybe). The debate between which is better, Fullmetal Alchemist (2003) or Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, has raged on for many years. Now it’s time for me to make my stand and declare proudly that I prefer the original Fullmetal Alchemist (quickly ducks back into the trenches).

Now that’s not to say that I think that Brotherhood is a bad anime. Far from it, I think Brotherhood is a great anime and should be put on everyone’s ‘Must See’ list. For me though, the 2003 anime and Brotherhood are trying to tell two different stories, and I just prefer 2003’s story. Though honestly I think it’s a miracle we have this problem to debate about. Think about all the thousands of anime that have had to end while the manga is still ongoing, meaning we’ve either had to settle for an original ending, or a ‘Read the Manga’ ending. For a series to get a retelling is phenomenal. The only other anime I can think of that’s ever gotten this treatment is Sailor Moon (though from the first ten episodes of Sailor Moon Crystal, it’s a pale imitation of the original, but I’m not here to look at that today).

The fact that Brotherhood is a retelling does give the series a few problems though. Now obviously the 2003 series did a good job of following the manga, up to a point, so that left Brotherhood the problem of basically retreading familiar ground. In order to avoid what I refer to as ‘Amazing Spider-Man Syndrome’ (Oh no, Uncle Ben’s been shot! I never saw that coming), they decided to rush through the story until they got to some new content. It really hurts Brotherhood in those early episodes, we flash through important character moments, and a pretty major death in mere moments. None of it has any time to leave an impact, as opposed to the 2003 series where we had time to get to know everyone, and things pretty much moved at their own, natural, pace.

Once Brotherhood hits new ground though, it comes into its own. We get to meet new characters, new villains and a whole load of new locations that were sadly missed out of the original. It’s really great to get to see more of the Fullmetal Alchemist world.

Now, this is a warning to all those who have yet to see the two series in their entirety, this is where I go into spoilers. In order to properly explain why I prefer one story to the other I’m going to have to go into examples, I’ll try and keep them vague, but some of these will reveal some pretty big plot points. Ok, you’ve been warned.

We’ll start with what I think Brotherhood managed to do better than 2003. First off is the villain’s motivation and how they go about it. It’s obvious that these guys have a plan from the start, whereas in the original I never quite got the logic of it. Right, so we need someone to create a philosopher’s stone. We’ll start wars so that happens. Then we’ll spread awful rumours so that no sane person will want to create a philosopher’s stone. Wait, I thought you guys wanted the stones, now you’re trying to scare people off? Maybe it’s not as illogical as it first sounds (or maybe that’s just me rationalising a way to accept this nonsense) but it could certainly be better explained.

Our heroes are also pretty good with tactics and plans. Some of my favourite moments in Brotherhood are how they save the officer who is framed for Hughes’ death, and the revolution in the capital at the end. It all leads to some great twists and dramatic moments. I especially like how the heroes try to use propaganda to keep the public on side as they fight both the villains and well-meaning soldiers, who just happen to be on the wrong side.

Even all of that being said though, I still prefer the 2003 version. For one I think the original series had a better handle on its comedy. In Brotherhood there are several jokes that just feel out of place, and some that become a character’s main trait. Like Lust being reduced to a pair of bouncing boobs, and Izumi constantly proclaiming that “she’s a housewife!” I really loved those characters back in the original series, they had so much depth to them, and in Brotherhood they just feel somewhat, less I suppose.

One plot point that does have me split though, as I do like both versions but one feels more in character, is to do with Colonel Mustang. In Brotherhood he confronts Hughes’ killer and loses himself to his rage. Now while I think Envy gets exactly what he deserves, and it’s a much better way for him to go, it’s the fact that Mustang loses it so much that bugs me. In the original lots of characters shout at Mustang for appearing so detached and emotionless, but Mustang never gives in. He’s doesn’t get lost in revenge, instead searching for the right path, to be the great man he’d promised he would be. As Al says, “He’s an adult to look up to”. That is honestly one of my favourite moments of the entire series.

Speaking of favourite moments, that brings me to the endings. Now Brotherhood has a perfectly good ending. It wraps everything up. Father is a much better villain that what we got in the original. Still, nothing beats the original ending. I know it’s open-ended, so that might irk some people, but not me. It’s perfect for the characters, a great representation of the bond between these two brothers’ and how they will sacrifice anything for one another. That’s what lies at the heart of the show, and the ending to the 2003 series represents that without fault in my opinion.

That brings me to my biggest reason why I chose the 2003 series over Brotherhood. I’ve said how the villains clearly have a plan in Brotherhood, but, to me anyway, they’re missing their hearts. In the original series the villains had so much depth them. Whereas in Brotherhood they’re just the embodiment of their sin (except for Greed. Greed’s awesome). This all comes down to the explanation of what the homunculi are. (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!!!) In Brotherhood they’re just bits of Father distilled out of him and given life, which is fine, but it doesn’t add anything to the characters. In the original the homunculi where those who were brought back to life by someone attempting a human transmutation. This gives the characters a life of their own, with motivations and desires all their own. It also piles on the drama, as several characters have to deal with people from their past. (When Ed and Al have to fight their mother is a particular favourite of mine).

All in all Fullmetal Alchemist is clearly more than lightning in a bottle, as both series are great, with beautiful animation and featuring some of my favourite characters in all of anime. Yet when it comes down to it, I have to side with the 2003 series. There’s just more emotion and heart on display. It’s the series I fell in love with so long ago, and maybe things would be different if I had seen Brotherhood first, but somehow I doubt it. Feel free to disagree with me if you like, and if you haven’t seen either series yet, what are you waiting for? Get watching them right now!

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.