Polly-chan's Kawaii Fuckin' Desu Top 10 Japanese Cartoons of the 2000's
by Polly

Another ten years has gone by, so you know what that means! It's time to assign numbers to our favorite things and pretend that their order of preference actually means something! FUCKIN' YEAH, LISTS, MOTHERFUCKER!

If Japanese Cartoons were "just catching on" in the mid-to-late 90's, then in the first ten years of the new milennium, they've become almost a full-blown cultural phenomenon. Popularity of shows like Naruto and Bleach as well as many other shows and their airings on Cartoon Network and some Disney stations have wrangled in innumerable amounts of new fans of the medium. But perhaps Japanese Cartoons owe a large portion of their success to the interbutts for how easily available they've become. You can get all the latest shows from Japan on your computer within mere hours to a few days after they've aired now with the rise of purely digital fansubbing as well as streaming sites like Crunchyroll and companies like FUNimation streaming their wares for free. Piracy and its affect on the industry is a topic best suited for debate (or in most fansubbers' cases, immature argument) on other more high-profile sites, so I'll just end that line of discussion here.

On the home video side of things we've seen many of the companies that a lot of us grew up with in the 90's close up shop due to struggling sales and simply awful business decisions. In the early part of the decade, the industry suffered a terrible saturation and near collapse from which it has yet to fully recover. FUNimation now runs the show, dominating almost the entirety of the home video Japanese Cartoon market. Believe me, those are words I never thought I'd type in the early part of the decade. So, even if it's limping a bit, the Japanese Cartoon industry makes its way into another decade, hopefully learning from its previous mistakes.

I, in no way at all, am some kind of professional Japanese Cartoon journalist or expert. I watch a lot of stuff, but I end up missing quite a bit as well. There's no possible way I could see everything that came out in in the decade so, as this article is being written with only 20 days remaining in the decade, it should be considered more of a snapshot of what I did see.

Remember that entertainment is subjective. Because I don't list any of your favorite shows on any of these lists doesn't mean that I'm wrong or you're right. We all have different tastes, as you'll no doubt notice, so there is merely an opinion piece. What I've enjoyed the most in the last ten years.

There's a lot of other stuff I certianly would have loved to include on this list, but I challenged myself to narrow it down. Also, with doing a list like this comes the inevitability of seeing something in the future that is from this decade and a desire to list it here after the fact. I won't be doing that. This list is the best of the decade and how I saw it. So, let's get this little show started, shall we?.


The Honorable Mentionables

When I originally sat down and tried to think of only ten shows, I found it difficult to try and limit myself to such a small amount. After all, in the last five years, I've been far more active in watching (NAUGHTY FANSUBS, OH MY!) and buying than I was in the 90's. So, I'll cheat a bit and begin this piece with some Honorable Mentions that didn't quite fit into my Top Ten.

For various reasons (good and maybe not so good, I suppose) the following ten shows didn't make the main list. I'm listing them in their own special portion of this little article, because I feel that though they may not have made the cut as any of my absolute favorites, they deserve special mention anyway.

It should be noted that unlike the main list on the next page, the following shows are not listed in order of preference. In any case, check any of 'em out if you ever get the chance.


Honorable Mention #1: Elfen Lied

Alright, I've already gone over this one in exhaustive detail on the site already and it had its own blurb on the mainpage when I originally watched it in 2005, so there's not a whole lot left for me to say about it.

Elfen Lied is the reason I got back into Japanese Cartoons. It just had a certain something at the time that I watched it that made me want to get back into them again. It's not the most deep show out there (even though it tries so damn hard to be) and you've really gotta turn your brain off quite a bit to enjoy it, but I've never felt that made the show bad in any way.

This one's here for sentimental reasons, plain and simple.



Honorable Mention #2: Gunslinger Girl

Again, another show I've already gone on about already, but just didn't quite make the final cut. I was immensely torn on putting this one on the main list, but there's just so many more shows that I enjoyed that Gunslinger Girl had to compete with. A decision had to be made, so it ends up here.

Gunslinger Girl is pure character-driven drama with a morbid twist and near-perfect production by Madhouse. Yu Aida's dark world of child assassins and murky politics is brought to life in a way that I don't think any other director or production house could have done. There's a very mature feeling one gets from this show and it's not because it's violent or sexually explicit. It's because the show tackles some very difficult and complex themes and handles them all tastefully and as realistically as an animated show possibly could.

I've found myself attached to all the characters and their stories ever since I first watched it and picked up the manga. Even after the near-debacle that was Il Teatrino, I'd be open for more adaptations of this series or at least someone picking the manga back up on this side of the globe for distribution.


Honorable Mention #3: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

It doesn't matter what kinda Japanese Cartoons you were into when this series stormed onto the scene in early 2006. By the time its run was finished in July of that year, you knew without a doubt what The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzmiya was. Mostly because its fanbase wouldn't shut the fucking fuck up about it.

Haruhi is certainly not a show without merit, though. It's fun and funny, which is fairly rare, and the mysterious background elements that make up the story are genuinely fascinating. Add on some great production values and a very interesting presentation and you've got a hit that's not going away for a long time.

It gets extra points for being smart. Not Ghost in the Shell smart or anything like that, but more in a marketing sense. In the past decade, there's not a show that latched on to various popular character tropes and executed them so well that it almost seemed like there was a little something for everyone to like. After Haruhi came the flood of moé-flavored shows like Lucky Star and K-on, but I feel that those shows, and a lot of what's released these days for that matter, owe a large portion of their success to Haruhi's bringing the moé factor to the forefront of what Japanese Cartoons have disappointingly become today.

Haruhi chugs into the new decade with the promise of a two-and-a-half hour adaptation of its strongest story coming later this year in theatrical form after a long, hard summer trolling at the end of 2009 with the "Endless Eight" arc. I can't really see this franchise's popularity going away anytime soon, because its fans have proven that they'll eat up anything in mass quantities regardless of quality, so long as there's a Haruhi name slapped on it.

This one gets some sentimental points too. A friend showed me this series at a point in my life when my family was going through some very, very tough times and it was very hard to laugh. This show actually forced the laughs out of me at a time when I didn't feel like laughing, so I'll always remember it fondly, if only for that one point in time. Thanks, friend.


Honorable Mention #4: Code Geass/Code Geass R2

Okay, I'm gonna cheat a little bit here and include both seasons, because they're both needed for the full effect.

This show hooked me from the last ten minutes of the first episode. I managed to catch it on one of those weird random streams someone was running and it bit me and didn't let go, even through all the amazing bullshit this show puts the viewer through.

The show ranges from sheer brilliance in storytelling and action to complete and utter stupidity throughout its entire run. Admittedly, the first half of the first season is the best the show ever got, and the only reason I kept watching through R2 on a weekly basis was just to see how much more stupid and absurd the storyline could possibly get. Believe me when I say, it did not disappoint.

Through all the bullshit we got some great characters and some of the best (and funniest) forced drama in a series ever. And MY GOD, THE FLAMBOYANCE! Through all that though, the show had a very fitting ending and if it could have been condensed and hacked to pieces to take out some of the stupidity, Code Geass could have been a far greater show. As it stands, Code Geass is enjoyable, but for the love of god turn your brain off after a few episodes.

Code Geass is coming back in 2010, but the form it'll take is still unknown. If anything's guaranteed though, it's that it'll be FAB-U-LOUS!


Honorable Mention #5: 5 Centimeters Per Second

Makoto Shinkai is heralded as one of the brilliant minds in Japanese animation today and after having seen 5 Centimeters Per Second, I can honestly see why.

Over the course of this way-too-short, hour-long movie that spans three inter-connected short stories, it's hard to not get the idea that this guy honestly knows what the hell he's doing while weaving a story. It tells a tale that all of us can relate to on one level or another: Growing up and growing apart. It's not shiny and extensively happy, and it's not cry your eyes out depressing, but more in line with the bittersweet feelings that come from real life meetings and departures later in life. The top-notch animation work and awe-inspring detailed locations and visuals are just the icing on the cake. This is a great movie to watch on a lazy night when you're feeling nostalgic about your own past.

Seeing this movie made me feel almost embarrassed that I hadn't gotten around to seeing Shinkai's other worst yet, but I definitely plan on checking them out sometime in the very near future.


Honorable Mention #6: Last Exile

A high-flying adventure with a sense of fun and wonder and just the right amount of drama and intrigue.

Last Exile was both a surprise and a treat. I went into it with mixed-expectations and came out knowing I'd made the right choice in how to spend that particular period of viewing time. GONZO gets a lot of shit (and a lot of it is deserved) for some of the shows they've done and how they've handled them, but this is a case where I'd rebutt nearly any criticism I deemed unfair of it.

It's got a great mix of everything with large scale air battles and character-driven drama. Last Exile's pacing is damn-near perfect with every episode moving the overall story along just the right amount, never over-playing its hand or being too tight-fisted with details. The characters are very well thought out and more emotionally complex than they initially appear, providing the show with some of its finer moments when it's time for the "big reveals" to pay off. The character designs by Range Murata and the CG animation used in Vanship battles (which was actually pretty good for its time, in my opinion) only help this show stand out from the pack by giving it a level of character that not many shows can compete with.

You don't see a lot of shows in the same vein as Last Exile today and that's really quite a shame.


Honorable Mention #7: Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo

Another fine GONZO selection, if I do say so myself.

The first thing pretty much anybody may notice about Gankutsuou is its unique visual style. The show was made to look like a painting in motion, and though it's a look that certainly does take some getting used to, it ends up working very well.

As its title implies, Gankutsuou is an adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo. Not just any adaptation, mind you, a modern-day Sci-Fi re-working of the classic tale bringing most of the familiar elements together and shaking them up a bit, but never straying so far from the source material that it's unrecognizable.

Gankutsuou is a beautifully-told, if a tad slow-moving, tale of love, vengeance, and death and though it stumbles quite a few times (Albert is just a bit TOO god damned whiny for my tastes) and the ending is a little lackluster, it's definitely not a show to be missed. Whether you have a love for the classic or just want to go on an adventure that never tries to be more than it is, it's not a series you can go wrong with.

The OP and ED, along with their accompanying animations, are fucking brilliant too.


Honorable Mention #8: Hidamari Sketch/Hidamari Sketch x365

The only real slice-of-life show I've enjoyed enough to want it to go on forever.

There's something about Hidamari Sketch that always makes me want to grab a blanket and a cup of cocoa and just zone out while watching it. There's a strange warm "among friends" feeling that comes with watching it and I honestly can't explain my enjoyment of Hidamari Sketch beyond that. It's just nice and relaxing.

Beyond that, the characters are cute and likeable and the art style of the show has a very sketchbook-like feeling to it. Everything that makes the show come together seems so appropriate and clearly the producers understood that when putting Hidamari together.

This one's definitely not for everyone because not a whole hell of a lot happens and the show's formula could easily be seen repetitive, but it gets by on the strength of its characters and presentation. By all means give it a go sometime if you wanna just chill out with something not too involving.


Honorable Mention #9: Fullmetal Alchemist

It's not often I'll watch a show over 26 episodes long, especially when they have as slow and kind of rocky start as this one does, so the fact that I did must say something. According to my real-life friends, it's very strange that I ended up liking this one. I'm really not sure why they think that though.

I think by now everybody in the world knows what Fullmetal Alchemist is, so I'm not going to waste much time talking about it. If the 18,000 Edward Elric cosplays and entire corners of the internet being flooded with really bad yaoi fanfiction isn't enough to see this show had some kind of impact on Japanese Cartoon fans in general, I don't know what else can prove it other than telling you to watch it yourself and find out.

Should you choose to stick with the journey beyond the initial 10-15 episodes or so and ride out the rest, I think you'll be quite delighted. This is another show that has a little of something for everybody and a story that'll tug at the heartstrings with just the right amount of pull. I think it's deserving of the praise it gets and no I don't give two shitty-shits about how it splits off from the manga in the middle.

I really should get around to seeing the movie at some point. I've only been saying that for the last two or three years.


Honorable Mention #10: FLCL

This was another tough call and an unfortunate last-second bump to Honorable Mention to make room for something on the main list that I simply enjoyed a lot more.

I'll be honest, though. The first time I sat down and tried to watch FLCL I absolutely hated it. I didn't "get" it and felt like the show was doing everything in its power to try and alienate me for some reason. Then I saw Texhnolyze (and thoroughly enjoyed it) and realized that FLCL was playing softball in comparison. I randomly went back to it about a half a year later, watched it all again, and found myself simply blown away by it.

You won't find a stranger take on the old "coming of age" story anywhere else, and believe me it may take a bit of reading between the lines to really come to that conclusion as well. You've really gotta take this show in two or three times for it to fully sink in, I think. Each and every time you do, you should simply shut off your brain and let the pretty, pretty pictures tickle your noodle and eventually, somehow, you'll begin to make sense of it all.

Gainax blew the budget like woah with this one and each and every episode proves that. Every new episode watched is more outrageous than the last and the conclusion may leave you dumbstruck in more than a few ways. Regardless, it's destined to be a classic of modern Japanese Cartoon times, and likely the most expensive six episode set of DVD's you'll ever buy. Still worth every penny, though.


And there we are. Ten shows that are still worth your time even if they just barely didn't make my "official" Best Of... list.

Now we move onto the main event. Catch you on the other side of the link!






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