Baccano’s surface level is chaotic and “random.” We have three stories and two time periods running together, and even in the end it doesn’t all quite come together. We have mobsters and thieves on one end, passengers on a murder train on the other, and glimpses into the past dealing with alchemy and immortality running through it all. Characters are often only tangentially connected to one another, and when take in any given moment, the series lives up to its “noisy” namesake. It’s all cacophony and nonsense.
But when you get past that surface level, just like anything that gets labeled “random,” you see how that chaos is actually a meticulously choreographed dance sequence. When you’re the dancer or when you’re watching only one step in the dance, it may look like there’s no semblance of purpose, but when you step back and see the entire performance, it’s a well-honed machine. Baccano! does that sort of thing better than any other “serious” anime.
19. Samurai Flamenco
One of my favorite “fan” things to do, especially when I was younger, was to ask “What If” questions. I’d see the potential for a story to go in one direction– to escalate things beyond what the normal genre trappings would suggest– and I’d ask “what would happen if it made that extra step?” Samurai Flamenco does exactly that at almost every possible “What If” moment.
It’s most infamous scene, where Guillotine Gorilla bursts onto the scene and shows that kaijin are real and exactly as outrageous as they are in a tokusatsu show, may be the greatest of such moments in any anime. And rather than base its premise on that one moment, Samurai Flamenco continues to answer those questions rather than just hinting at further escalation. Now when in the hell is this gonna get a Blu-Ray release in the US?
18. Shin Mazinger Z
The first episode of Shin Mazinger is absolutely perfect. For those familiar with Go Nagai’s oeuvre, I’m sure it plays out like a highlight reel and makes some degree of sense in that regard. It works for me because I’m not nearly that familiar, and because of that it plays like some crazy sensory overload. We get an entire series worth of information crammed into 20-something minutes of sheer lunacy.
Life and death undulate and fluctuate, storylines bubble forth and burst, and an entire mythos is thrust upon you, forcing you to fill in blanks and create your own narrative in order to make sense of things. It’s beautiful. There’s also Baron Ashura, who’s beautiful and disgusting in their own right, and their rise and fall and rise again makes for one of the greatest anime villains ever.
Two aspects of conspiracy theory fascinate me, and Psycho-Pass deals with one of those aspects. It gets into the mindset of how a dystopia is formed, and how it’s maintained. The Sybil System is one take on The Illuminati– all-seeing, all-judging, and all-encompassing.
We see how people live, adapt, and rebel in a society where you can be executed via gory explosion for having a bad mood at the wrong time and wrong place. Your potential and attitude is given a number, and that number must be maintained if you want to retain your freedom and your life. We get all sorts of “deep state” conspiracy– everything from secret government programs creating “special” individuals to GMO antics with the series’ infamous Hyper-Oats.
This thing taps into a certain strain of modern, paranoid psyche that no other anime really deals with, and it only gets better as it goes along. Yeah, I like season 2 more than season 1, and I like the movie even more than that. It’s the sort of politically “relevant” exploitation craziness we need.
16. Space Dandy
It’s The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits, only animated and with a rockabilly protagonist stringing together all the stories. And seriously, it deserves to be discussed with those legendary sci-fi anthologies. It’s that good.
The fact that it has ongoing characters who change and cope with all the strangeness of their world and their lives adds an extra layer of awesomeness to the whole package. The interplay between Dandy and Scarlet is great and culminates in what I think is the best episode of the series. We need more anthologies like this where the creators can play around with big ideas in an animated sandbox.
15. Black Lagoon
I really like two lines from my old list’s Black Lagoon entry:
It plays like a doctoral thesis on 80s action clichés.
Revy and Rock make for one of the greatest anime couples of all time. Their love is like twin Desert Eagles being two-fisted by a blood opera gunman. It’s natural and beautiful.
I stand by these quotes. Black Lagoon really does play like that Platonic ideal of the 80s action movie, where all the little things my mind filled in that were never there are right there in the forefront. It’s only this “low” on the list because it does meander a bit during some of the story arcs, but those are minor sins overall.
14. Devilman Crybaby
I’m gonna let my 10-part stream of consciousness post series speak for itself. Also, Psycho Jenny is the best.
13. Dirty Pair
It’s a sitcom where, instead of the screen freezing and the family laughing at a corny joke made by the token mascot character, a planet explodes and everyone shrugs and asks “did I do that?”
Dirty Pair’s an example of what I think is the best sort of sci-fi. It’s a fun sort of future where horrible stuff happens, and everyone has to carry a blaster at their side in order to go to the gas station, but all of that is presented in a happy-go-lucky sort of wa.– a lot like my all-time favorites, Space Adventure Cobra and Cowboy Bebop. If only Kei and Yuri had the chance to linger on their wacky adventures for more than one episode.
12. Popee the Performer
Take the sadistic humor of Looney Tunes. Turn it into a low-budget CG cartoon. Throw that monstrosity into the depths of Hell. Let it cook for thousands of years. Exhume that charred, putrid, twisted heap of animation. Name it Popee the Perform. Do all that and you get some of the most joyfully twisted and hilarious shorts I’ve ever seen.
I think I nailed it with that old description. Popee really is some transcendental level inanity, with its bomb fetish, horrifying imagery, and mean-spirited attitude. It’s been supplanted in its sublime sacrilege, but it’s still one of the best mindfuck anime out there.
11. Maison Ikkoku
Romance ain’t my thing, comedy or otherwise. Relationships within more genre-centric fare works for me, because it’s one element among many, but when the focus is on the relationship dynamics, I tend to tune out a bit.
Maison Ikkoku likely works for me because Rumiko Takahashi’s sense of humor is a big enough “other” factor for me to be sufficiently amused.
Or maybe I’m just lying to myself and I’m a big old sap.