10 August 2015

Rating the Epic Anime Watchlist: What does it all mean?

Some choices might be obvious; others, not so much.
Gif from thefever24.
Followers of my blog are aware that I've kept a long-running anime watchlist which started right around the time I began attending conventions. I'd ask voice actors, fans, friends, and strangers what anime I should watch, and have kept the log running for about three years or so.
In 2015 I decided to apply an actual ratings system to categorize not only the shows I still needed to watch, but what I thought of the shows I completed, and why other shows were started but never finished. My tastes are a little bit all over the place, to be honest, and some of my choices have baffled others, particularly when I slam a show that's good, and loved a show that's bad.  I've even had tepid response to a series people are crazy about, so I thought I'd explain the method to the madness. 

This is post is for the 2015 Anime Watchlist, but I'll also continue this for future entries with a hyperlink back to this article for reference.

Quick note: Series vs. Franchises

This might be a little confusing--there are some franchises that have multiple series within them, and you may wonder if I'm referring to the entire franchise or the individual series when I rate them.

I tend to lump franchises together under the original series name with very little exceptions. Basically, if series are linked together by continuity, then I refer to them as a single entity--the franchise name.

If I say that I like Tokyo Ghoul, for example, I'm referring to both Tokyo Ghoul and Tokyo Ghoul √A (the first and second seasons of the series). When the Tokyo Ghoul Re: comes out, even though it's a separate series, I will continue to lump it under Tokyo Ghoul anyway, since it's a continuation of the original story. Even with Tokyo Ghoul Jack being a prequel/spin-off, I'll still lump it under Tokyo Ghoul. Why? These iterations are all linked together as a complete telling of a single story.  

If I say that I like Darker than Black, that means I'm including the OVAs (which are key to understanding the second season, in my opinion) and the second season called Gemini of the Meteor. Again, these are all linked together as a complete telling of a single story. 

An exception to this would be Fullmetal Alchemist. I treat Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood as a separate entity from FMA even though it's technically the same franchise. I consider them separate works because they ultimately tell two very different stories. Fullmetal Alchemist (2003) was completed before the manga ended, and with Hiromu Arakawa's blessing, that series took a completely different direction with their own characters and resolutions. Fullmetal Alchemist (2008) follows Arakawa's manga to its completion (and what I'd consider the true version). The word Brotherhood was added to the English title to help illustrate that this was a very different series from what we saw in 2003, and I think it was a smart decision. Thus I've treated them separately in my ratings as well.

And now, the ratings! 

This seems a bit obvious, but I think the key point to stress is that these shows have proven they are immensely re-watchable. I find them totally engaging with emotionally fulfilling storylines and characters, and because of this, I come back to these shows again and again. I love them so much, I add them to my permanent collection, and if I can, get the actors to autograph the box art at conventions. Essentially, these are my treasured choices that get special treatment above all others. Examples would be Tokyo Ghoul and Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood.

These are also well-loved series that are just a smidgen below the "treasured collection" qualifier. They're not necessarily something I'd add to my DVD/Blu Ray collection, but definitely worth streaming marathons or multiple-episode view sessions. So, this refers to "totally worth the watch," as in, I was really glad I watched the show. Examples would be Gurren Lagann and Hellsing.

Another way to describe shows that I liked, but not necessarily loved. These would be the shows that I could watch on-and-off, but were still good enough to hold my interest. In other words, these were wonderful series, but I didn't always feel compelled to binge-watch, which is perfectly okay. I would still recommend these shows to other people, but I may not rewatch them in the future after wrapping the final episode, or add them to my permanent collection. Examples would be Hamatora and Jojo's Bizarre Adventure.

This is reserved for shows that are problematic--where some parts of a series or film are absolutely brilliant, but due to issues with story, plot, characterization, consistency, and sometimes even the animation itself, I can't bump it up to a higher list. Usually something happened in the show that completely took me out of the immersion, or there was a character "betrayal" or huge inconsistency that removed me from the suspension of disbelief. 

For example, Sword Art Online would have been an "I could never quit you" if it wasn't for the problematic shifts in the plot during the Alfheim arc. Asuna became a character-betrayal in terms of a complete switch in purpose and personality from the Aincrad arc, which was really disappointing (basically, being demoted from awesome to weak). I also wasn't fan of the slowly-but-surely invasive fanservice that seeped in, making the show feel partially like titillation and therefore pointless at times. I was excited when I learned of Gun Gale Online, which I hoped to redeem the series from Alfheim, but part of the reason I haven't enthusiastically cleared the arc is because the strategic, lingering camera shots of Sinon and her gun. Even Kirito got on my nerves (more like, the "everybody loves Kirito!"). The murder mystery aspect of Gun Gale Online was pretty much what kept the show entertaining, but I hit a snag and haven't returned to the series. I hope to remedy this, though, due to some favorable descriptions in Kotaku's reviews that make it seem like the show will redeem itself (here and here). Despite how I feel about Alfheim and parts of Gun Gale Online, I loved the Aincrad arc so much that I'm still happy to say that I like Sword Art Online as an overall series anyway.

This category is actually really similar to "Liked Despite Their Flaws," except in this situation, despite some very likable moments, the series on the whole just didn't work for me. Most of these have to do with a feeling of being unsatisfied after a show wraps, although there may be problematic moments that are so overpowering that they've ruined my overall feeling for the series. 

Some examples of problematic moments: 

Space Dandy was fun for part of the time (great acting, animation, and some funny moments), but other times, it was a bloated mess that didn't know what it wanted to be, like the episode where Dandy died (not a spoiler because Dandy and company die in multiple episodes as a running gag) and ended up in a weird afterlife planet that was a mix of Beetlejuice and Wonderland--in a bad way, in that the tone was uncharacteristically somber and therefore hurt the weirdness that usually makes Dandy fun.

I was all-aboard for Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet until the dance scene with the girls during the festival. I had a squick reaction that was pretty unexpected. I know most lead characters in Japanese anime are not so much children but more like teenagers, 15 and 16 years old. But the girls in this scene didn't look 15 or 16. I had no idea what age they were supposed to be, but the way their bodies were drawn had the kind of chubbiness that younger teens (and girls) have. When these girls are dressed like Las Vegas versions of Princess Jasmine, that didn't really bother me too much (it was just awkward to look at). When they started jiggling around and the camera lingered uncomfortably on different parts of their bodies, that's when I felt grossed out. It's crossing the line from showing the male lead finding the female lead sensual, to becoming titillating for the audience, for no freaking reason. I'd feel more comfortable with the fanservice except that at different times in the show, these female characters look anywhere from 9 to 13 years old. Ew.

These are the series that I feel guilty for finding enjoyable. I feel guilty for enjoying these shows because my enjoyment follows zero logic. I am betraying my own principles for liking these series, and yet, there's something about them that's memorable enough for me not to dismiss them. There are some terrible issues with these shows, and not necessarily with plot or characterization (although that's the case for some). Sometimes the show promotes a message or portrays an issue in a way that pisses me off. Sometimes it's just because the fanservice is so over-the-top or ill-timed that I find it insulting. And yet...I found something likable in it that somehow allows me to make an exception where I can't completely hate the thing.

For example:

Future Diary was insane in the most entertaining way, and I binge-watched the entire thing--I couldn't get away from the craziness and horror of it, which I enjoyed immensely. But what troubled me was the dynamic of one of the most twisted, abusive relationships I've ever seen. I couldn't get behind the idea that this was a type of "true love," and even when characters were depicted as redeeming themselves in some way, I couldn't get behind that attempt at redemption. I was hoping to see a character become strong enough to stand up for himself, learn the truth, and liberate himself, but he just became a slave to a psychotic girl in the end whom I had zero empathy for, even from the flashbacks that explained away the crazy. To me, it was like watching a murderer in the courtroom working the insanity plea in the hopes it nullifies every criminal act they committed. I know there will be people who disagree with me, and reasonably so (and there are people who find this level of crazy sexy), but if a series is built on a love story, that love story had better be worth it. I saw no payoff for these two characters being in love with each other, and am not entirely convinced any minute of that love was real. Maybe that was the point of the series. But it left me unfulfilled and kind of bitter at the end of it all. Nonetheless...I liked it. Someday I may even rewatch it to see if there was anything I missed in the first go-through, and perhaps I won't feel as guilty for liking Future Diary if I can make more sense of what happened. It's just hard to get behind abusive relationships, though. 

Which leads me to my next example:

Diabolik Lovers has a gorgeous aesthetic. The score, in particular, can be very lush and beautiful at times. Some of the imagery, like a vampire drinking blood underwater (it's the combination of the lighting and texture of the water mixed with the blood floating in it, like smoky ribbons), is memorable. As a horror fan (and especially of Gothic horror), there were moments that genuinely appealed to me. The problems included a heroine who is a freaking doormat with no personality or logic in her possession (like Bella Swan, but sometimes worse). There were some rapey undertones which are usually common in vampire stories, but in this series, it was designed to titillate, thanks to the uncomfortable lingering of the camera (this seems to be a common complaint I have). I also felt like there were some obvious hints at incestuous relationships, which, in any storyline (from anime to Game of Thrones), has me cringe. Basically, if you wanted to watch a bunch of "sexy" brothers abuse and nibble on a totem pole for 12 episodes, this was the show for you. But I held on, because there were also hints at what could've been an interesting storyline of a troubled history with the dynastic vampire family. These little moments seemed to promise something potentially extraordinary, but failed to deliver at the end. But because there were some great moments that appealed to me, I can't 100% chuck this show. I can only continue to feel guilty for enjoying it.

The rest of the ratings are pretty straightforward, I think.

  • For some illogical reason I hate this: aka, hating something for no reason, instantly and completely.
  • I appreciate these films for what they do... these are well-made movies that have clear messages or teach specific lessons. These are films meant to illustrate as well as entertain.
  • ...but I don't know what to say about these films: as in, I'm not sure what the movies were going for, what their stories were, or why they were made. Basically, this is my "meh" rating.
  • Currently unfinished because bored or distracted: If something bores me, it means that there is no momentum, or whatever the series has been building up to has lost steam. If I'm distracted, it just means that something better (or more watchable and engaging) has come along to pull me away from completing the series.
  • Currently unfinished because *this* or *this* or *this*: these phrases are hyperlinked, basically sending you to articles that explain things that trouble me. I'll stop watching a show if the fanservice is really gratuitous with no saving grace from the storyline (or the fanservice simply overpowers or is the storyline); I'll stop watching a show if the undercurrent of incest is too distracting from the storyline; and I'll stop watching a show if the trope is so horribly overworked that it's beyond saving my attention span. Primary culprits are harem and reverse-harem shows in this instance. I've never believed that five to seven people can fall in love with a single someone, usually when that someone (aka the lead) is weak or unlikeable. It becomes a show where five to seven people are actually insane and their level of pettiness and competition for that person make them wholly unlikeable, especially when the protagonist doesn't seem worth the attention. 
  • Currently unfinished because *ridiculous*: this is reserved for shows that are so over-the-top in terms of plot or characterization  that I had to stop watching. These shows are not included for the fanservice or titillation (in truth, most of these don't have that problem); these shows are just crazy on their own in a way that I can't get into. Most of it comes from whining or screaming all the time from the characters, to be honest. 

The final sections of the Watchlist are like status reports.

They let you know what I'm currently in the process of watching; shows that are listed as "in the queue" are literally part of the watchlists from my Funimation and Crunchyroll accounts; and the final shows are the recommendations that I haven't gotten around to yet or haven't been able to find so easily, especially when it comes to streaming. I'm sure I'll add to that last list as time passes. 

I hope this clarifies some of the ranking process, and gives you a snapshot of what I like and dislike about anime. Thanks for reading!

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