2nd Top 10 Shows Listing

It’s the end of April, and 19 shows are on the board. Time for a refresher!

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Well, I haven’t been writing that much lately, but with the end of April upon us, it seemed like a good time to update “the top 10.” This is strictly based on grades; note the top 5 are all so closely graded any of them really could be #1! All the reviews are linked to their shows here as well.

 

T1. Avatar: The Last Airbender (98%)

T1. Gravity Falls (98%)

T2. Cowboy Bebop (97%)

T2. Hunter x Hunter (97%)

T2. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (97%)

6. Young Justice* (93%)

7. The Legend of Korra (85%)

T8. Codename: Kids Next Door (84%)

T8. Phineas and Ferb (84%)

T8. Dragon Ball Z (84%)

Dropped out: Neon Genesis Evangelion (81%), Fanboy and Chum Chum (9%)

Just missed: Rurouni Kenshin (82%), Ben 10 (81%), Evangelion.

NOTE: “*” denotes a preliminary review.

Once again, 97% and 98% is splitting hairs. I’d say any of those shows have a legitimate claim for the top spot. (It also goes without saying they’re worth a watch!) For a refresher of what the first Top 10 looked like after only 10 reviews, click here.


Still not seeing a show you’re hoping to see here? Agree or disagree? Leave a comment!

First Top 10 for Animated Shows

Ten reviews, ten grades, first listing.

Here at AniB Productions, I’ll be keeping track of all the graded reviews I’ve published so far and every so often give an updated version of this list. Here’s the initial top 10:

  1. Gravity Falls (98%)
  2. Avatar: The Last Airbender (98%)
  3. Cowboy Bebop (97%)
  4. Young Justice* (93%)
  5. The Legend of Korra (85%)
  6. Codename: Kids Next Door (84%)
  7. Dragon Ball Z (84%)
  8. Phineas and Ferb (84%)
  9. Neon Genesis Evangelion (81%)
  10. Fanboy and Chum Chum (9%)

(NOTE: “*” denotes a preliminary review, or a show that is still in progress.)

I’ll just note that technically Gravity Falls and ATLA are tied for first…but among that top 3, it’s splitting hairs.


Have a show you wish to appear on this list? Agree or disagree? Leave a comment!

What’s In a Character: Spike Speigel

This space cowboy’s the definition of “cool.”

Once again, another unique character comes to the fore of analysis today: Spike Speigel! After trips to the Fire Nation (Zuko) and the Mystery Shack (Stan Pines), it’s time to venture into our solar system, Cowboy Bebop-style, to meet (or re-acquaint with) one of the galaxy’s most feared bounty hunters (sorry Boba Fett) and an all-around terrific character. Spike curiously enough is the first main protagonist to be written about in the “What’s in a Character” series, and he’s worthy of the title indeed; he’s a far more interesting lead than most leading men in anime between his backstory, dynamism as a character, and general coolness; he’s the type of guy who would know that, but if you asked him, he might look indifferent. So here’s yours truly, ready to explore the man that is Spike!

Just who is Spike Spiegel? There’s a straightforward answer that he’s a runaway member of a powerful crime syndicate; a feared bounty hunter and ace pilot; a lost lover floating aimlessly among the stars, a lazy bum who only does things when they benefit him, and for a select few, he’s a friend. Whatever the descriptor, Spike is his own man, and he’s worth looking into. Of course, any discussion of Cowboy Bebop and its characters starts with the idea that our main crew is searching for meaning in their own individual lives and ways. Through the show, those aims are made clearer by way of clean plot progression, development of character arcs, and the sequence of events that happens. In Spike’s case, his character is driven by three groups, or rather, phases of time in particular- his past, represented by the Red Dragon Syndicate and archrival Vicious; his present- which starts off as simply Jet Black but grows to include the newest members of the Bebop (namely Faye and Ed, and to a lesser extent, Ein), and his future, where Spike’s hope is held in the dream that one day he might see Julia, his love, again. (Side note- does it seem like a lot of tragic lovers are named “Julia” or “Juliet”? I blame Shakespeare.) In the backdrop of these three groupings, death sits in the foreground like the Grim Reaper it is so often characterized as, not just because of the constant and steady danger Spike and the rest of the crew find themselves in (thanks largely to their profession of choice), but also as this sort of haunting inevitability that hovers through the show- and specifically in Spike-centric bits. In the very first episode, or session, Asteroid Blues, he chases down the red- eye dealer, Ansimov, only to watch his associate, Katerina shoot him dead- and be brutally killed in turn by ISSP forces. She simply wanted a better life, despite the illicit means she attempted to do so- the first of many also searching for meaning in said lives not unlike Spike, and so death is present from the start. We see the “boy with the harmonica”in the 6th episode (Sympathy for The Devil)– Wen, who because of a freak turn of events involving the Astral Gate incident did not age, but instead turned to a life fraught with violence and loneliness. This time, it is Spike who delivers the finishing blow with a special bullet- hence “sympathy for the devil.” And what of Mad Pierrot, the fearsome assassin who underwent horrific experimentation in exchange for his formidable powers? With a warped mind, and no particular skills outside of killing, it is terrifying agony watching a man whose life was stolen from him attempt to kill Spike in episode 20 (Pierrot Le Fou) only to be driven truly insane by the meowing of a cat, and in a further cruel twist of irony, crushed by the giant paw of a mechanical dog. All of these encounters represented people Spike specifically watched or took part in their demise; all had their lives stripped away to some form of hopelessness, as perhaps a precursor to his fated final showdown. These were also part of his present, as was mentioned above. But what then of Vicious?

 

While I grouped Vicious as a part of Spike’s past (which he is), he is uniquely part of his present and future at the same time; a liminal (or timeless) figure who would exist until Spike found resolution to the question of his life’s meaning one way or another. The other individuals I mentioned died doing whatever they found some sort of meaning in, or what they believed was the best path forward in that situation, and while one-off characters, they were necessary to understand Spike and his relationship regards to Vicious. Vicious knew what Spike wanted. He continued to rise in the syndicate, obtaining high-ranking status and then personally initiating a bloody, silent coup that saw him take control. He’s not a dynamic character, but rather, serves as a character foil to Spike; a sort of dark side to him that is more ruthless, lacks a moral code, and would do anything in order to reach the peak of power. He was the one who tricked Spike into thinking Julia had betrayed him; and to that end, enabled the cynical worldview of the former, aided by nearly killing him in their first early encounter (Ballad of Fallen Angels). It is made clear that in order to truly move forward, Spike must encounter and defeat Vicious, which he does…and brilliantly, his future is no longer clouded, but left to the viewers to decide what happens next. (I actually detail my interpretation and thoughts of the final battle in the Cowboy Bebop review I posted; check it out if you wish to read about it.)

What then of Julia- and why does she represent the future for Spike? She is the only person who could ever give meaning back to his life supposedly– but the show hints at us that it’s not entirely true, as Spike does in fact find some meaning in the Bebop crew themselves, from Jet, his best friend, to Faye Valentine who he often bickers with (and arguably cares deeply about in return), and even to Ed, who is a bit of an enigma to everyone. Regardless, when the truth becomes clear and Julia’s brief reunion with Spike is shattered by a bullet, his only course of action is to fight and settle the score with Vicious- again, because the man in fact is the cause of all the events in Spike’s path- but not the entire explanation for his mental state, which while partially and strongly influenced by the past, also was shaped by his present aboard the Bebop and created a potential way forward with his ultimate showdown against said antagonist.

 

Spike is interesting because of of how his path unfolds and his unique way of dealing with the problems in his way; and he’s a man of experiences whose melancholy comes from a live lived with danger and deceit around every corner, but also some strong relationships to temper that. I’m sure there’s even more to be said about this character (such as how Steve Blum’s VA career took off after his brilliant work in the English dub, or that Spike is handy with a pistol), but it took a bit of introspection to look at his entire journey and draw some conclusions from it: He’s a man who doesn’t mind danger but fears dying without fullfillment of what life means to him; being a “bounty hunter” in a sense describes that Spike is in fact “hunting” for answers, and he’s got more support than he realizes from people. And well…he’s plain cool. Anyone who rocks a suit, a smoke and a pistol like he does along with amazing piloting skills can’t be too bad a guy. Space cowboy really sums it up.


Like what you see? Is Spike your favorite character?  Anybody you’d love to see me talk about? Chime in!

Also, would you call it bell peppers and “beef?”

I guess it depends on who you ask.

Review: Cowboy Bebop

The space western anime that opened a whole new world.

The Lowdown:

Show: Cowboy Bebop

Studio(Network)/years aired: Sunrise (Cartoon Network), 1998-1999

AniB’s thoughts: When I first started watching anime far more intensely (both for my own enjoyment, and ultimately, to become an expert with it), Cowboy Bebop was high on the list of priorities. As it turns out, it is another one of the shows considered highly influential in growing the medium’s popularity in the West, alongside another familiar show I already reviewed that also features a black, spiky haired protagonist. But I’m guessing plenty of people might have already known that. What’s more interesting is the why of Cowboy Bebop; the fact that it’s a sort of noir space steampunk western with the freewheeling soul of jazz imbued in its very core (the episodes themselves are referred to as sessions); the emptiness that each individual character on the crew of the titular ship seeks to fill; and despite all the seriousness, a playful sense of humor and comedy still emerges from the wild adventures of Spike Spiegel and company. For myself, I reveled in the slice of life moments that really showed off the true depth of Bebop’s crew: the aformentioned Spike’s brushes with disaster and death, with everything from red-eye drug dealers, to Mad Pierrot, a horrifying assassin with terrifying origins; Faye’s stubborn attitude and pension for gambling belying a deep connection to home for her; Ed’s escapades with everything from hijacking the Bebop to playing intergalactic chess with the wizened old creator of the hyperspace gate systems in the show (and who could forget the mushrooms episode?), and Jet’s moonlighting of his days as a cop, reminding us all that he and Spike are truly the unlikeliest of friends, considering their backstories…

Of course, everyone who has watched this show seems to have an opinion on the show’s ending (SPOILERS)- the intentionally ambiguous outcome of Spike and Vicious’ final showdown; an ending that is essentially left to the viewer to decide what happens to the show’s main character after his Pyrrhic victory.  Spike essentially is the final character to have his outcome decided, and the ambiguity really does fit in this scenario. His love interest, Julia, who was his main focus and dream though the entire show, is finally reunited with him, only to be taken away once again in his battle against the Red Dragon Syndicate, and it’s curious, if not natural to wonder if death was indeed a better option for him at this point, as the crew of the Bebop– who essentially had become the galaxy’s oddest family, had split apart over story resolutions and natural endings to character arcs. Personally, I believed Spike died in the aftermath of the battle, but there is room for the other outcome; that given his chance to finally resolve the murkiness of his past, Spike might seize a sort of rebirth. But Cowboy Bebop ended right where it meant to.

Speaking of Spike, the character was the launching pad for Steve Blum’s voice acting career, as Cowboy Bebop’s dub is considered to be excellent to this day, and even preferable for many anime fans who would normally stick to subs. It is an excellent gateway show for those looking to find their way into Eastern animation (in other words, Japanese anime), but even on its own, it’s one of the finest anime out there in terms of the themes it explores, the unique cast and character arcs, and the settings that it takes place in across what is clearly a re-imagining of our solar system. (Oh, and you’ll also wind up listening for hours to Tank!– the catchy theme song that really embodies the show quite well.) As for the more gritty details, I’ll delve into that now.


Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D anime, hand-drawn towards the end of an era. The scenes are full of detail, the characters pop, the environments are varied, and the action sequences are satisfying. From an anime, you can’t really ask for much more, and the animation serves to enhance the story. 5 points.
Characterization: Cowboy Bebop is absolutely terrific in the development of its characters. Seemingly unrelated at first, the ragtag crew of the Bebop are drawn together by their different pasts and similar goals to find that what they seek. To that end, the majority of the series focuses on the bounties they share, but the final 3 episodes show that the bounty hunting was always a secondary pursuit to the aims the characters really had.

Spike is a terrific protagonist- cool and calm (not to mention, remarkably lazy) demeanor hiding a dark and troubled past with an entity only known as “the Syndicate.” He is a highly skilled martial artist; his preferred weapon is a pistol which he demonstrates remarkably good markmanship with through the series. (If that wasn’t enough, Spike also is a proficient pilot and has his own space fighter.) While often distant in his interactions with the crew, he has a quiet fondness for them, particularly Faye, which is often masked by their constant bickering.

Faye is truly a lost soul in a different time and place from where she originated. She hides her insecurities with a lot of gambling and lip, rarely if every showing her more vulnerable self to Spike and Jet in particular. Faye is a remarkably good space pilot and dogfighter who actually joins the crew officially 4 episodes in, largely because her craft ran out of gas. (She’s also got a good body- but that’s anime 101 with many a female character, isn’t it?)

Jet Black has his past as a cop; he is a man with genuinely strong morals and convictions, and the best friend of Spike. How he came to have a mechanical arm is a major spoiler, but it does involve his past in the ISSP (the police on Ganymede, the moon he came from) and a broken heart… Tough, reliable and respected, Jet is the captain of the Bebop and a tough fighter in his own right as a ex-cop turned bounty hunter.

Ed is an eccentric hacker and genius from Earth who is known as “Radical Edward,” but is actually a young girl who seeks to find her father. With a somewhat strange way of speaking, Ed loves adventure and is naively fearless (not to mention, extremely funny.) She also strikes up a relationship with the Bebop’s dog- Ein, to the point where she’s also the official caretaker of him.

Finally, I will mention Vicious, the archrival and enemy of Spike who plays a key role in the story, specifically in Spike’s character arc. It took a little long for two of the main characters to appear, but it works in terms of story progression quite well. There are also plenty of one off characters with interesting personalities and thought-provoking origins (boy with the harmonica anyone?) 5/5 points.
Story quality: Bebop at first seems to be episodic, and it is on many levels, each session encompassing a different adventure for the crew. But ultimately it is a overarching story with continuity, complete with fantastic character arcs for all the main cast. Mostly serious, with a good sense of humor, it keeps you wanting to know how it will all end. The story pacing is fantastic (26 episodes), especially for an anime. 5/5 points.
Themes:  The major theme of the entire show is finding your place in life; resolving an overwhelming sense of loneliness, and as a result, giving life meaning. Other themes tie in to assist the central tenet of that them,  which included friendship and camaraderie, a sense of family, and a good deal of violence and struggle that fit the show’s motif. The show’s not really for anyone under 15, but that’s not just due to the themes, but also the story (which really requires a very thoughtful watch.) 4.25/5 points.
Don’t insult the viewer: Bebop is a show which set the tone for many animes that came after it and primed Western audiences for the medium; it was intelligent with thoughtful, smart writing, and never made me cringe in any particular way. The show’s jazzy themes and creative tracks were also an absolute joy to listen to; they often see the atmosphere in a convincing way that synergized with the action on the screen.  5/5 points.
Total Score: 24.25/25 (97%). The trendsetter for many animes, Cowboy Bebop is a masterpiece of character development, snappy pacing, tremendous action, and one of the catchiest openings anyone can remember. It is a masterpiece that few shows either in the West or East can hope to touch. See you, space cowboy…


Like what you see? Have a comment? Just happen to love the show? Leave a comment!