The “best” anime of all time is different for everyone. Across all media, in fact, you would be hard pressed to find a unanimously agreed upon “best” thing, outside of the agreements found within one’s own tight-knit group. Even then, there will be differences in taste.
“It’s all subjective,” is the point I’m trying to get across, but perfection doesn’t have to be dismissed in critique just because it’s improbable. If the perfect anime is different for everyone, and no consensus can be reached, then perfection is purely personal taste. It is absent of objective standards of quality and instead panders to the greatest amount of our interests.
I believe most people have not found their perfect movie or TV show, possibly because it doesn’t exist yet. We all have favorites though, so it stands to reason that if I took three of my favorite anime of all time and picked them apart, I could get a sense for what my perfect anime would be. Bear with me, this is going somewhere.
My three favorite anime are Blood Blockade Battlefront (Kekkai Sensen), Snow White with Red Hair (Akagami no Shirayukihime), and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (S.A.C.). They are all fairly disconnected by genre, subject matter and target demographic. However, they are by far the shows that have connected with me the most both during their viewing and long after I have watched them.
Perhaps it would be easy to first cover what these shows have in common that make them appealing. The biggest thing is the structure of their narratives. While not one-to-one, they all begin with solid premiere episodes followed by half episodic, half-throughline narrative.
They all have interesting worlds to share and spend a great deal of time introducing the viewer to that world through standalone episodes. These stories introduce new characters unique to those episodes alone or delve deeper into the larger cast, another quality all three shows share.
The characters frequently rank among my favorites, especially Klaus and Leo from Kekkai Sensen. The major casts are all memorable, and they’re typically all in an organization with a common goal. In GITS, it’s cyber-terrorism suppression, BBB’s crew is comprised of Avengers-esque superhumans keeping the peace, and Shirayukihime‘s characters are the staff and royalty behind a kingdom.
Similarly, all three shows have some of the best female characters I’ve seen across all media. Motoko Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell and Shirayuki from Shirayukihime especially, the latter of which I dedicated a short essay to geeking out over her.
All three excel in action and animation. S.A.C. being produced by Production I.G. in the early 2000s is no surprise, and the other two are by Bones. I’ve praised Bones plenty enough as is, but the fact that a romance like Shirayukihime has great fights in it just validates my love for them tenfold.
This is a testament to the great direction of Masahiro Ando, who is known for injecting great fight animation into any of his projects. None of the shows I’ve mentioned thus far are absent of great directors mind you. S.A.C‘s Kenji Kamiyama and both of Kekkai‘s directors are phenomenal.
Thinking about all of the things that tie these series together, it’s easy to notice similarities that may have subconsciously contributed to my enjoyment. In this case, these shows are all two seasons in length. Each season left me wanting more, yet satisfied in case another was not greenlit.
What keeps me from getting into a lot of American TV shows, apart from long episode lengths, is how long they run for. The shows seem to go on until they are run into the ground and no one wants to watch them anymore. Sure there is long-running shonen in anime, but there are many more 12-24 episode shows that don’t outstay their welcome and maybe get a few sequels.
Last but not least, the music in all three of these shows is great. I have long been a believer that good sound design is at the heart of great storytelling and these shows certainly know how to sing those tales. Yoko Kanno in S.A.C, Michiru Oshima for
Shirayukihime, and Taisei Iwasaki for Kekkai Sensen. Truly the cream of the crop.
Looking at what sets these shows apart, one’s lacking quality is surely made up by another. Sometimes, these qualities are stylistic differences that aren’t fundamental to make a story good but appeal to my own tastes. Again, the goal of this exercise isn’t to find the perfect anime for everyone, just you. So what do each of these shows have that I love but that set each other apart?
Blood Blockade Battlefront: Superhumans with Style
Whenever I try to sell people on this series nowadays I describe it as The Avengers, crossed with Hellboy, and directed by Edgar Wright.” It is a story of a group of superhumans keeping peace in a place where every day is the third act of The Avengers, yet everyone is used to it.
I find that I’m a huge fan of secret societies or groups dedicated to keeping the peace, all based out of a hideout. So much of the media I grew up on at a young age revolved around this dynamic and it has never gotten old to me. Most of it, funnily enough, about superheroes fighting crime.
Kekkai Sensen uses it to create an absurd, adult-oriented action show with the flair of the MCU but the look and sound of an art film. Everything about this series is stylish. Its music is a multi-genre blend as diverse as the city the setting is based on. Jazz, rock, alternative, hip-hop, and so much more fill every episode.
Of my three favorites, Kekkai‘s art style is my favorite. The foggy backdrop of Hellsalem’s Lot creates an atmosphere as comfortable as it is visibly dangerous. Character designs, courtesy of Toshihiro Kawamoto, are striking and edgy, capable of being portrayed realistically or brought to life in a more cartoonish fashion.
Style goes farther than just artwork and extends to the storytelling and action. The characters all have unique fighting styles grounded in the lore, and their use of the abilities is a spectacle all its own. Big blocks of kanji land across the screen, spelling out these larger than life abilities, before they are unleashed, mercilessly.
Much like the superhero films cited earlier, this cast also coordinates extravagant team attacks incorporating all their abilities. Seems like a no-brainer for a team-up dynamic such as that, but it’s surprising how often such a synergy gets overlooked.
The greatest thing about Kekkai whenever I think about it is the season one finale. I may not have appreciated it fully at first but the double-length episode brought the season to an excellent conclusion. Though I first didn’t think it could wrap things up nicely in just as single episode, it was so engrossing it didn’t feel any longer than an ordinary episode.
Blood Blockade Battlefront is a show I love for how the experience carries the story rather than substituting for it. Rather than style over substance, it is substance through style. All the while carrying with it a great coming of age story in a world far removed from normal.
Snow White with Red Hair: Feel Good Fairytale Romance
I don’t partake in too many romance films, even though I’m sure I would enjoy many of them. However, Snow White with Red Hair has set the standard so high that I’m not sure anything could top it. If Kekkai Sensen stood out for its style, this show stands out for stands out for the emotions it fills me with.
You ever watch something because it makes you feel good? Sometimes we devalue media like this as “guilty pleasures” but their value shouldn’t be understated, especially when they are as good as this show. It is an animated fairy tale more nuanced and heartfelt than the Disney work of the same name could ever dream.
I’ve already elaborated earlier my love for Shirayuki as a character. Her tenacity, her compassion, and above all her confidence make her a joy to watch. She is constantly working towards her own passions and doesn’t believe in sacrificing who she is to get what she wants. A lot of so-called progressive characters could learn from how Shirayuki is written.
Her love story with Zen is so resonant for how it handles the confusion and fear surrounding love so maturely. They don’t immediately fall in love either, so its two friends terrified of how love will affect things. There are narrative forces to get in their way and even a love triangle, but none of the drama felt forced or annoying. Conflicts weren’t drawn out and the characters actually talked about what was troubling them like adults.
I mentioned earlier how impressed I was with the dedication to good choreography. Despite being a light-hearted character drama with very little action throughout, the action that is in Snow White with Red Hair is great. It’s that dedication to a little extra something usually absent in the genre that sets this series above. Just check out this clip below.
It would be fair to call this show a fairy tale, but it feels more grown-up than that. It’s characters and drama, while jovial and cartoonish, feel at the same time lived in and relatable across generations, but especially my age demographic across both genders. That doesn’t make it any less of a feel-good show though, and that’s what keeps me coming back to it again and again.
Stand Alone Complex: Sci-Fi Food For Thought
My other two favorites may have been food for the soul, but this one is without a doubt a feast for the mind. Philosophy is something I love picking apart in fiction, especially in science fiction, where the story comments on concepts tied to our world.
As I said in my recent post about Ghost in the Shell, the series is great at posing questions about ethics using relevant tech advances as a framing device. And it treats those advancements as logical/ commonplace, further immersing the viewer. Regardless of the genre though, I enjoy when any show can provide some unifying theme or explore a question about life.
It gives a story some historical or academic quality that makes it more than just a story, but a study. Other favorites of mine like Psycho-Pass dabble in these sorts of stories and it feels like there are tons of anime I’ve watched that deal in big philosophical monologues. I’m just a sucker for that stuff.
I’m equally a sucker for the sort of dry jargon found in military and police fiction. I’ve often sold Stand Alone Complex to people as a Sci-fi Law and Order for the commentary mentioned above and because police procedurals are addicting. Same reason I love the military authenticity in series’ like Metal Gear Solid.
My “Perfect” Anime
So I’ve picked them all apart and now I’ve gotta conjure up a hypothetical series that surpasses them all. No pressure.
It might be easier than expected, though. The introduction would be huge. Something bold and bombastic with admittedly a lot of explosions, but a musical flair to capture the ears as well as the eyes.
In the establishing moments of any work of art is where a lot of creators get to prove themselves by how they hook the viewer. Either the premiere episode entirely or just the opening minutes. It helps if there is a lot of great sakuga too out of the gate but not so much that the rest of the series can’t live up to that standard.
I’m not too picky about settings or time periods, though I’m impartial for Victorian London, Restoration-era Japan, or any modern/futuristic metropolis. Regardless, I want an immersive aesthetic to the setting that stands out like a character all its own. It seems redundant to say I want the art to be good, but some colorful background art would be a must.
Color is huge actually and has only become more so as I’ve watched more film over the years. Take for instance the red and blue contrast of Kekkai Sensen. The latter especially creates a visual contrast and by extension adds to the visual storytelling of how characters differ ideologically. Plus having good color synergy between the characters designs is essential. (see the Digibro video from before, in the Kekkai Sensen section).
For those designs in question, I will defer to my previous comments regarding Kekkai Sensen‘s style and characters. It’s totally my aesthetic and speaks to a sort of cool that is timeless. Speaking of characters, it’s time I elaborate on the protagonists because, in the case of Kekkai Sensen and Shirayukihime, in particular, you’ll find my favorite kinds of characters.
Characters who are unconventional either in the time when the show comes out or just in terms of their scarcity in the medium, interest me. Shirayuki makes you want to root for her because she is constantly working against the preconceptions set against her. She is of a lower social class, but she doesn’t let that hold her back and when faced with danger, she fights back using her smarts.
Leonardo Watch from Blood Blockade Battlefront is almost cooler to me for the context of the world he is surrounded by. Leo is in the most violent, dangerous place in the world and beyond, surrounded by superpowered badasses trained to kill the worst of the worst. Despite that, he pushes on, doing what he can to help out, without himself killing anyone.
Of course, what allows him to be of any use to Libra is the supernatural ability given to him by a literal god, but it isn’t exactly easy going for Leo. The conditions of acquiring this ability came at the cost of his sister’s sight and Leo blames himself for her condition. Watching him become more confident and heroic without killing is what makes him so compelling.
It’s the same reason Batman is compelling. It is that philosophy of not killing that drives him and makes him powerful. Integral to that dynamic is an antagonist whose ideology runs counter to this and forces the hero to question their resolve.
Overcoming this temptation becomes the greatest tool to defeat the villain. The same way this conflict is shown between Batman and the Joker, it is present between Leo and the King of Despair, season one’s chief villain. My perfect anime would have a character like this, who rebels against an ideology set by the antagonist, the setting, or even the genre of the show.
So logically I would like a villain with an ideology that can be easily understood if not exactly agreeable. I’d like their relationship with the protagonist to be a close one, creating lots of opportunities for great dialog between the two. The antagonist should be the very thesis or antithesis of the themes presented.
Speaking of themes, I would have an overarching one tying together each standalone story. I want the show to be about something, whether it be a discussion of philosophy, ethics or just a lesson about life. Regardless, I want to inject a bit of relatability into it.
Lastly, the most important element: the animation. My perfect anime would likely be an action show because animated fights are my favorite animations to admire. There are two particular types of fights in anime I love. Those that are impressive for the complex choreography of melee battles, and those displaying pure spectacle of one’s abilities.
Ideally, I would like both, because god knows the clip from Blood Blockade Battlefront from before is just… glorious, but I live for choreographed fights. Take this clip below from Sword of the Stranger, one of the most iconic Anime fights of all time. Plus it’s animated by Yutaka Nakamura, the guy who made that other awesome cut.
So in conclusion, the closest to a perfect anime is probably Blood Blockade Battlefront. It’s a tough competition between the three I mentioned but save for a strong philosophical focus to the narrative, it has the basics of what I want in any story but the technical elements needed for great storytelling. Even when the first season didn’t give every character enough time to shine, they still left an impact through sheer force of style.
There could always be one even better though, so far from being content with the couple thousand words above, I’ll keep looking for the next best thing.
Now is the part where you come in.
What, to you, is the perfect anime? Does it exist or are you still waiting for it? Think about your favorite shows, what they share, and what they don’t. Then, leave a comment below telling me what your perfect anime would be like. You’d be surprised what you can learn about yourself when you pick apart the things you watch. Some people dislike it, fearing it will ruin things they like, but if you’re like me, it makes you enjoy art even more.
Thank you so much for reading! As soon as I came up with this idea, I knew I had to follow through and I’m so glad I did. Leave those comments below and tell me what shows you’d like to see me review next. As always, see you next time.