And now, finally, the Top 5, with #5 to #1--the best anime of the decade...so far...
5. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
Format: TV (as two-26 episode seasons), TV Film (“Solid State Society”)
Debut: October 1, 2002 (Beginning of first season, ended on Mar. 25, 2003)
End: January 8, 2005 (End of second season, known as “2nd Gig”; debuted on Jan. 1, 2004)
TV Film Debut: September 1, 2006
Studio: Production I.G
Website: Japanese, English
Previous Spot: #6
For years, many had clamored for another round of anime in the Ghost in the Shell franchise, in which their hopes were answered in a TV adaptation of the popular manga series. Production I.G returned to the title that brought them fame and recognition eight years prior with Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Itself a complex, sophisticated, intriguing series, with a high-quality production and a Yoko Kanno-composed (Cowboy Bebop, Escaflowne) score, the series quickly became a worldwide hit and a new standard in science fiction anime drama.
Personal Note: GITS: SAC was easily one of the biggest hits, both critically and commercially, of the decade. It came at a good time for Production I.G, who was in the same position as GAINAX was after their collaboration on (#14) FLCL in 2000, if not more so. Even prior to that, the studio had not produced anything of similar significance since the original GITS adaptation in 2005, creating or co-producing a few notable anime in Love Hina and the two Neon Genesis Evangelion movies, but nothing terribly successful on their own. The acclaim and success from the two seasons of GITS: SAC helped place the studio back into prominence, leading to a direct sequel to the 1995 movie and a number of hits later, such as xxxHOLiC, Blood+, Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, and (#16) Le Chevalier D’Eon. The show’s follow-up TV movie, Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society, is included here since it is essentially a carry-over from the ending of 2nd Gig.
4. Fullmetal Alchemist
Format: TV (51 episodes), Film ("Conqueror of Shamballa")
Debut: October 4, 2003
End: October 2, 2004
Film Debut: July 23, 2005
Previous Spot: #5
Widely considered by many, critics and fans alike, to be one of the greatest anime ever made, BONES had its biggest hit to date with its anime adaptation of the Shonen Jump manga, Fullmetal Alchemist. Much of its accolades were paid to its imaginative, superbly-done story, memorable cast of characters, and great production values (for a series as long as it, like the latter (#9) Eureka Seven, was).
Personal Note: Alright, I’ll be perfectly honest—I don’t like FMA. At all. Speaking personally, I thought that it was overwrought and overly melodramatic, and not a very well made show in the slightest. I only liked one of the characters and their existence, in retrospect, was rather superfluous and could have been removed entirely with little consequence. It does get somewhat good towards the end, but much of it was too little and far too late. Even a few years removed from finishing it, it's hard bringing myself to watch it over again. All that said, like (#16) Le Chevalier D’Eon, a great deal of people feel otherwise about the show, and judging from the legitimately large number of those calling it one of, or the, “greatest anime ever made,” it would be remiss *not* to give FMA the credit where it is due. Its movie sequel, Fullmetal Alchemist The Movie: Conqueror of Shamballa, is included here, as it wraps up the series' story.
3. Death Note
Format: TV (37 episodes)
Debut: October 3, 2006
End: June 27, 2007
Website: Japanese, English
Previous Spot: #4
A worldwide megahit across multiple medium, the highly regarded manga, Death Note, saw its animated adaptation gain the same sort of reverence that it itself had received. It is quickly becoming Madhouse’s most recognizable achievement, receiving numerous honors along the way for its great animation quality, production, and most notably, its riveting, dramatic story.
Personal Note: Death Note’s phenomenon has been quite something, having been looked upon so well by critics and fans in its original manga form, its anime adaptation, and its two live-action films (including an upcoming spin-off). Having the chance to see the anime myself, I did think that it was a very good show and did well over all in telling its kind of tale, but it was bumpy at times (the middle arc comes to mind) and followed the despicable main character’s lead too often, and was nothing that I’d rewatch for a while. Given its subject matter, it has unsurprisingly been a source of controversy, as a few copycat incidents have been blamed on the source material, and while it remains a favorite among librarians and literary groups, there are parent groups that do not wish to have something like DN in grasps of their children. Regardless, it has become one of the biggest properties from Japan and its anime adaptation, which remained close to the manga, continued the franchise’s pedigree. Originally, this spot would have been occupied by (#4) Fullmetal Alchemist, but it would seem that Death Note has surpassed it in recent years in terms of critical praise, fanbase, and cultural significance.
Format: TV, DVD (26 episodes; last six released on DVD)
Debut: October 22, 2005
End: June 18, 2006
Website: Japanese, English
Previous Spot: #2
Mushi-Shi first started as one of the most critically acclaimed manga in recent memory before being treated to an animated adaptation that has received like responses. A non-linear collection of mostly standalone stories, connected via its traveling central character, this award-winning series is a wonderfully made, gracefully animated show that is both thoughtful and engrossing with each passing episode.
Personal Note: Mushi-Shi is a definite masterpiece, one rated so highly by both critics and fans. Episodic formats can often backfire with the wrong stories, but with one of this nature, it fits it perfectly, lending itself some great storytelling. It’s not a common occurrence to come across something so thoroughly well produced, one that makes the best out of every input going into its creation. Though its slow, leisurely pace may not excite some, and may simply put them to sleep (as much as I enjoyed the series, even I fell asleep a few times), there is still little wonder as to why it is one of the greatest and best-rated shows of all time.
1. Spirited Away
Debut: July 20, 2001
Studio: Studio Ghibli
Previous Spot: #1
Master animator Hayao Miyazaki created his most successful and critically lauded work in Spirited Away. A movie that transcended borders, language, and age, it was one that saw a tremendous amount of admiration and praise around the world, becoming the first, and so far, only, Japanese-animated film to win the Academy Award for “Best Animated Feature,” among many others tributes. There has perhaps been no other anime in the decade thus far that has achieved as much or enthralled as many as Spirited Away, making it the “Decade’s Best” as it stands.
Personal Note: It would be very easy to make the case for any of the other works in the Top Five or Ten as being the best of this closing decade, but one would be hard-pressed to find any one of them that has enjoyed the sort of critical or fan approbation that SA has. Nearly eight years later, it remains a standard that other anime, fairly or not, have been judged by, and one that very few have come as close to approaching. It is undeniably a masterpiece from all aspects of its production and story and is often regarded as Miyazaki’s best work to date (I concur, though I do have a soft spot for his premiere work, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind...). It is the best anime since 2000, one of the best ever, and looks to stay that way for the short remainder of this decade.