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Toons of the 2000s: Top 5 Anime That Made It To U.S. TV

by on November 22, 2009

 Go back to the Toons of the 2000s Intro. 

Through all the ups and downs, the 2000’s have been a remarkable decade of opportunity for dedicated fans of Japanese animation. The success of Cartoon Network’s Toonami block was soon followed by other programming that featured anime. For a time, the former TechTV hosted its own Anime Unleashed block, and of course Adult Swim has aired a wide variety of titles since its birth in 2001. More recently, SyFy’s Ani-Monday block has been home to series both new and old, significant and obscure. Simply put, there has been more anime on U.S. TV in the past decade than at any other time before, by far. So, if your favorite show isn’t here, don’t despair or take exclusion as a criticism. In light of such a robust history, choosing the final candidates for this top 5 list was literally akin to choosing a handful of top favorites out of many, and this is a big event. Yet here, we think we’ve found five anime that were legitimately excellent, offering a truly memorable experience for casual viewers and serious anime fans alike.

5. Gungrave  

Contributed by Duke 


Of all the shows on these Top 5 of the 00’s lists, this entry will
probably be the most controversial. After all, how can one choose Gungrave over something more popular like Gurren Lagann? Or, considering who’s writing this entry, how can it top Mobile Suit Gundam or 08th MS Team, this reviewer’s favorite anime series ever? Gungrave does it by having some of the best characterization I’ve ever seen in
an anime series. This is especially amazing considering the main
character, Brandon Heat, has, if he’s lucky, 2 or 3 lines an episode
outside of the previews. Yet he still comes off as a pure-hearted soul
who only wishes to support and protect the only things left in the
world that matter to him: his best friend Harry and childhood crush
Maria. Even when he becomes a cold-hearted killing machine later on in
the series, he never truly loses his purity, which shows itself in the
many scenes he has with Big Daddy and later on during the
self-narrated parts at the end of the episodes. Which makes the big
twist halfway through the episode all the more saddening.

The series is also able to make one care about characters we’ve just
met or situations that otherwise would feel ridiculous. Brandon and
Harry’s friends are only alive for 2 episodes, but we get to see enough
of their personalities that one feels genuinely sad when they get
gunned down so early on. Another character is Sid, best friend of Big
Daddy and top Sweeper Bear Walken, who only really appears in one
episode before he bites the big one. His personality alone is charming
enough, but his friendship with Bear makes him even more endearing,
which is saying something considering Bear never changes his expression –
ever. Sid’s choice between his idiotic son and the
organization Millenion makes one despise the mafia lifestyle even more.

Of course, one can’t talk about the series without mentioning the
second half. While all the zombie and monster stuff is a
stark contrast to the relatively realistic mafia elements early on, this
necessary evil (as the second half is more like the video game this
show is based on) still manages to succeed. Dr. Tokioka is a
bit too melancholy, but Mika is a rather charming character who acts
exactly how a teenager should act when thrown into the situation she
finds herself in. Her growing stronger near the end of the series
is nice to see. But best of all, Brandon never loses his purity, still just as endearing as he was in the first half of the show, which
is simply amazing considering he talks less during the second half. His final run-in with Harry is just
heart-breaking all around, helped out even more by the truly excellent,
almost Bebop-level quality dub provided by Geneon.

4. Samurai Champloo

For most anime fans, the name of Shinichiro Watanabe brings one show to mind immediately: Cowboy Bebop. Its high reputation notwithstanding, Bebop was no mere fluke. The evidence for this statement begins and ends with Samurai Champloo, where Watanabe once again smashes genres together to create something truly fresh and exciting. Champloo has been called the spiritual successor to Bebop, and this is an apt description. That really is the trick: the emphasis on spirit. Bebop was a space western in love with American music; Champloo combines hip-hop culture and a healthy sense of humor with samurai action set against the backdrop of Japan’s Edo period. A clone this most certainly was not.

Champloo has an overarching plot: A normal girl, Fuu, falls in with Mugen and Jin, two highly skilled samurai with completely different fighting styles. She manages to persuade them to help her search for a samurai that “smells of sunflowers”. Though, like Bebop, it wisely decided to mostly indulge in episodic adventures. It carries onward confident in the time-honored idea that it is the journey, not the destination, that really matters. The show’s greatest strength is probably its variety. Some episodes offer drama, some offer comedy, others explore the character and backstories of our odd trio. The strength of characterization and storytelling is truly praiseworthy. Mugen and Jin may not have anything on Spike, but we come to know them and Fuu just as well as the crew of Bebop. At first, Mugen and Jin are traveling together just to pursue their rivalry and determine which of them is the most skilled. But by the end, they form a genuine bond with Fuu. As for comedy, Champloo isn’t lacking there either. My favorite example of this is Baseball Blues, where the trio get involved in a baseball game against stereotypically arrogant Westerners. Yup, they made a whole episode out of that, and it was good.

No write-up of this show would be complete without a word regarding the action and the animation. It’s simply marvelous. Its many elements notwithstanding, Champloo has a lot of fighting, and studio Manglobe did a remarkable job at bringing it to vivid life. Everything is crisp, smooth, and attractive, and the animation itself is so fluid that it’s easily a match for any other action title out there right now. But all this wouldn’t make it truly special without the inspired choreography, which is one area where Bebop might have been surpassed. Jin’s composed ruthlessness is a sight to behold, but seeing Mugen leap and roll around like some kind of breakdancer is something else. This is a guy that can and will block a blow with his wooden sandals. All in all, Samurai Champloo is a joy to behold and one of the very best television series to have aired on Adult Swim.

3. FLCL (Fooly Cooly) 

Animated by studio Gainax and Production I.G., this unapologetically crazy six-episode OVA from 2000 was a fan favorite on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block. It was directed by Gainax veteran Kazuya Tsurumaki, an assistant director under Hideki Anno for Neon Genesis Evangelion. On the most basic level, FLCL is a coming of age story about a subdued sixth-grade boy named Naota who places great importance on appearing mature and taking after his absent elder brother. His typically mundane life is disrupted by the arrival of Haruko, a strange girl that is both wacky and passionate – practically Naota’s opposite. Hilarity ensues, and Naota evolves as a person by the end. In and of itself this is certainly nothing new; Naota is neither the first nor the last youthful lead to be prodded toward maturity by extraordinary events.

The execution of this concept, however, is anything but familiar. After all, the “disruption” in Naota’s life involves getting run over by Haruka’s Vespa scooter and then getting whacked over the head by her bass guitar. Before long, multiple objects (up to and including giant robots, of course!) grow out of Naota’s head as if it were some sort of interdimensional gateway, Haruka has moved into his house as a maid, and Naota ends up getting involved in a complicated struggle revolving around Haruko’s search for Atomsk, a super-powerful space pirate. See, it turns out Haruko is an extraterrestrial whose goals are opposed by a malevolent industrial company and one Commander Amarao of the Bureau for Interstellar Immigration, though everyone probably just remembers him as that guy with massive eyebrows that don’t always stay stuck to his face.

Yes, FLCL is a crazy show, one that has arguably done more than any other title to establish Gainax’s reputation for ambitious, over-the-top and exaggerated storytelling and animation. Some would describe it as six episodes of chaos; many would choose to describe it as an onslaught of metaphors and innuendo that would make Sigmund Freud proud. Both are probably true. Beyond that, one thing is sure: in 2003, there was literally nothing like it on U.S. television. Today it still holds up in every respect, having forged the path that Gurren Lagann arguably followed. Most of all, a lot of people found it a hell of a lot of fun to watch. 


2. Cowboy Bebop: The Movie 

Contributed by Ed Liu 

It’s the perfect anime series for people who think they don’t like
anime. It was the gateway drug that led an entire generation of people
to rediscover anime. It was the first anime series that aired on the
nascent Adult Swim network, resulting in a mutually reinforcing feedback
loop. It was one of the first anime series that demonstrated exactly
how good a dubbed English version could be, with performances equal to
or better than the original Japanese. It’s one of the best anime series
ever made, if not one of the best television series, live-action or
animated. It has aged wonderfully, as groundbreaking and fresh now as
it was when it was first made in 1998. It’s slick, it’s cool, it has an
absolutely killer soundtrack and a cast of unforgettable characters.
It’s Cowboy Bebop, and its presence on this list really shouldn’t be a surprise as much as a foregone conclusion.

Immediately after the series ended, production began on a feature film
to give Spike Spiegel, Faye Valentine, Jet Black, Radical Edward, and
Ein one last hurrah. Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door is generally accepted to fall between episode 22 and 23 of the series, but the movie is still very accessible for Cowboy Bebop novices. In large part, the movie uses its extra budget and running
time to beautifully expand on the TV show: bigger action scenes,
wonderfully designed Arabesque sets, and a strange, tangled conspiracy
that the crew of the Bebop all stumble their way into separately. And,
as always, there’s a fabulous soundtrack by Yoko Kanno that is as
eclectic, cool, and well-produced as the series itself. It’s usually a
criticism when the movie version of a TV show just feels like an
extended episode. However, so many of the individual episodes of Cowboy Bebop feel like miniature movies that saying Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door feels like an extended episode is really fairly high praise.

The movie begins to fray a bit near the end, losing its focus and
taking a bit longer than it should to get to its real climax and
resolution. This might be explained by the anecdotal story that the
movie went from 90 minutes to 2 hours at the last minute, leaving the
crew scrambling to fill up the extra time. This could shed light on the
padded and unnecessary dogfight and other elements in the ending that
don’t really seem to fit very well. It’s an unfortunate stumble, but
its still worth it for one last adventure with the hapless cowboys of
the Bebop. Shinichiro Watanabe understands the importance of leaving
the audience wanting more rather than outstaying your welcome. Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door manages to briefly scratch the itch for more Bebop while still leaving us wanting more.

1. Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex 

Contributed by Duke

Typically, television series based off of movies aren’t all that good, and when the original movie literally put this reviewer to sleep, it’s got very
little going on in the way of expectations. Luckily, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex manages to so completely trump the original movie that it’s no wonder
it eventually got a movie in its own universe. The first season’s split
between “Stand Alone” (episodes in which the story begins and ends in
one episode) and “Complex” (dealing with the Laughing Man storyline)
allows a great number of stories to be told, almost all of them
succeeding. The Laughing Man plot starts out excellent and becomes more
and more compelling near the end, especially as non-cyborg member Togusa grows bolder and bolder and as Section 9 is hunted down
one-by-one. What’s even more amazing is that the “Stand Alone”
episodes are just as good. Some of the plots are a little confusing, and some episodes seem to exist just to up the action quotient. However, most of
these episodes work just as well, allowing us to see more of the
characters’ personalities and quirks, as evidenced when they tried to
turn the series into a compilation movie and failed horribly.

Now, the first season was all kinds of awesome and would have gone down
as a very high quality anime series, but then the staff just had to go and make 2nd GIG,
which so completely blows the first season out of the water it makes
the original 26 episodes look mundane in comparison. The Gohda and Individual Eleven
storylines are much more gripping with many twists and turns along the
way, while the Stand Alone episodes this time around feature the
secondary cast a bit more and offer interesting and compelling stories
from their past. Plus, we get more emphasis on and better use of the think-tank Tachikomas, who are so endearing and cute that many people
don’t consider an episode good unless it has a Tachikoma scene
somewhere within. It also helps that the animation got a huge
upgrade, going from a well-animated series to some of the best
television animation ever seen. That’s not even counting the Yoko Kanno
background music, the opening theme that almost topped “Cruel Angel’s Thesis” from Neon Genesis Evangelion as this reviewer’s favorite anime opening ever, or the dub so masterful and excellent that I’d even put it above Cowboy Bebop’s.

 Go back to the Toons of the 2000s Intro. 

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