Polly-chan's Kawaii Fuckin' Desu Top 10 Japanese Cartoons of the 2000's
by Polly

The Top Ten

Alright, here we are, folks. Polly's Cream of the Crop list of the best Japanese Cartoons released in the last ten years. Do you agree? Disagree? Read on and find out and maybe there'll be a little special something for you at the end of the list that'll let you have your voice on the matter too.

Enjoy!


#10 - Dennou Coil

Dennou Coil is essentially what counts as a "children's show" in Japan. If mature themes such as death and the distance between people is what children are subjected to over there, I have to wonder what the world must think of our Sponge Bobs and Foster's Homes. Oh god no, this isn't a "which is better" debate, just mindless pondering. NEVERMIND ME! CARRY ON! I LIKE BOTH! SHUT UP!

The show shares a lot of similarities with Serial Experiments Lain but isn't quite as heavy-handed or nearly as abstract about it. It's about a group of children trying to unravel the mysteries of a city that they live in that exists on the brink of both the real world and the virtual world. The adventures starting out are whimsically fun and almost guaranteed to draw a laugh or a soft-hearted smile throughout. As you dig deeper into the plot, the story becomes much more serious, but not so much that it's completely off-balance with how fun the show starts. The characters in Dennou Coil's world are all very likeable and end up growing significanly over the course of the show, making time spent with them feel worthwhile.

Sadly, there aren't many shows like it these days and with a production time of almost over a decade maybe I can see why. It's won several awards since it aired and I can safely say it deserves all of them. If there's only one drawback it's that the show has yet to see any outside of Japan licensing, which is disheartening, because I think it's a show that could have a pretty decent appeal if handled properly. For now, it'll have to be happy being the one un-licensed show on the list that was good enough for me to endorse it, which I guess says something about licensing practices over here.


#9 - Seto no Hanayome

For me, it's not often that Japanese Cartoons are genuinely laugh out loud funny and typically the ones that try to be, such as Excel Saga, end up being more annoying than funny in the long run. Seto no Hanayome, or as it's being released in the states sometime in 2010, My Bride Is A Mermaid, is a show that I found routinely funny. Every damn episode.

While on summer vacation, Nagasumi Michishio nearly drowns and is rescued by a young and beautiful mermaid named Seto Sun. That's fine, right? Hooray for miracles! Unfortunately, according to mermaid law, if a human should see a mermaid's true form, either the mermaid involved or the human must be killed. Fortunately, the young mermaid in question's mother decides it would be a better idea for the two to be married instead of meaningless killing. Again, hooray for miracles! Of course, that's only if you happen to be fond of miracles that find you married to the daughter of a mermaid mafia famiily. Mermaid mafia family. Mermaid mafia family. Yep, it doesn't matter how many times I type it, it's still fucking AWESOME! Of course, not everyone in the family, and ESPECIALLY Sun's rival, Lunar, are happy about the union and they're gonna do their damnedest to see Nagasumi dead or that the marriage plans are wrecked.

The set-up is nutty enough, but as the show plays out it just gets crazier and crazier. Seto no Hanayome's humor is based on rapid-fire visuals gags, tons of pop-culture referencing, both eastern and western, and a healthy dose of puns and wordplay. What keeps the show's humor from ever becoming stale is that it doesn't dwell on too many ongoing gags and just throws something new at the viewer with nearly every episode. It's one of those shows that gets better as it goes and has only a very minor lull toward the middle, and even then the show simply can't calm down.

It's hyper-active as fuck, hilarious at every opportunity, and down-right bizarre at times without ever getting old. That's why I love it.


#8 - Black Lagoon

Before I started watching Black Lagoon a friend said to me, "Something so stupid happens near the end of episode two, that you might consider dropping it." 50 minutes later I returned and said to him, "Yeah, I guess I do find the idea of a Japanese salaryman being accepted into a band of kill 'em all mercenaries a bit of a stretch, but not that bad." To which he replied, "No, I was talking about ramping a boat into the air and dropping a torpedo into the front window of a helicopter." I wonder what that says about which one of us...

If that description of absurd and over the top action in the previous paragraph tickled your fancy, then I'm gonna ask why the fuck you aren't watching Black Lagoon this very second. Hands-down, Black Lagoon is THE best Action Japanese Cartoon of the decade and I don't fucking care what you have to say about the matter. It's been a long time since I've found an action-oriented show so damn satisfying and I have no doubt it'll be getting many, many more spins in the decades to come.

Black Lagoon does everything you'd want an action show to do. It's got a body count from hell, it's got great characters, it's got a body count, it's got fun and exciting stories, and it's got one fucking HELL of a body count. When the mindless action isn't dominating your screen, blowing out your 5.1 system, and melting your face off, you may actually find yourself strangely moved while some of the story arcs progress, as the series handles a lot of mature themes and there's not always a happy ending. It's as gritty and dirty as they come, but it never feels like it revels in it because the characters and stories are all interesting and more dimensional than you may think.

I've shown this series to many friends, a lot of whom don't even like Japanese Cartoons, and they've all had a blast with it. It's crazy how much mileage I've managed to get out of this show and I still enjoy it just as much every time. With the promise of a future installment at some point, I can only hope this show keeps on truckin' and showing all these litte [REDACTED]gy baby moé shows a thing or two about what it takes to be truly entertaining.


#7 - Death Note

UH OH, IT AIN'T TRENDY TO LIKE POPULAR SHOWS, THERE WENT ALL MY CREDIBI----ahahahaha like I ever had any anyway!

My initial thoughts on Death Note were, "This was in Shounen Jump?" Doesn't strike me as having quite enough POWER LEVELS to be there, but amazingly it was.

Death Note's calling card is suspense and over the top drama. There's really only one instance in the show where the viewer is left in the dark as to what's going on, and other than that, you're left to enjoy the cat and mouse detective games between the main characters. Besides that, the show has an amazing atmosphere that can really pull you in and not let go, and with Madhouse's top-notch production, you can bet that very few details are glossed over.

The only real problem with the show is that it loses some steam in the middle and the last twelve or so episodes kinda lack the intensity and overall intrigue as the episodes before it. But, rest assured knowing that the show has an epic conclusion worthy of its previous over-indulgence. Hell, the very fact that the show has a conclusion gives it merit in my eyes, because they could have easily tried to milk this shit for years like nearly every other Shounen Jump property. Instead, throughout its run, both manga and Japanese Cartoon, the creators had the balls to make show-changing decisions at the risk of alienating the audience, so I'll give them the props deserved for that.

And finally, you know that a show's done something right when you're looking at the time remaining in the current episode and KNOWING the damn thing's gonna end on a cliff-hanger. The fact that you'll have to wait for the next week's episode to roll around to get even the tiniest bit of closure can be almost torturous. That was Death Note for me. A fun, edge of my seat suspense-thriller that had a very nice pay-off.


#6 - Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

I've always been a big fan of Ghost in the Shell, both the first movie and the manga. During my Japanese Cartoon downtime early in the decade, I had no idea that they'd done something so fucking awesome as making AN ENTIRE DAMN TV SERIES OF IT until shortly after I met Kjilly. I bought this series up in-full without even giving it a second thought. I was not disappointed at fucking all.

Stand Alone Complex is everything that made the original movie and manga so great, but on a much higher and far more accessable level. It features all the technological intricacies and somewhat deep philosophical pondering that Masamune Shirow's envisioned future originally had and adds a healthy dose of action with an ongoing story that makes for a tight package. The show bounces between overarching plot episodes and stand-alone stories with neither side feeling like it's better than the other. It's nicely balanced with the Laughing Man story being the main meat and potatoes and the stand-alone episodes telling great stories that expand on the ideas of the world and the characters involved. By the time the show reached its climax, I was on the edge of my seat in anticipation of every second that was to come. The final few episodes of this show are just too damn good to even remotely spoil.

The last thing I love about this show is just how much it made me want to be a part of the world, regardless of how dangerous it is. SAC's world is endlessly fascinating to me. Fuck it, I wanted to BE The Major while watching this show just because she was such a strong female lead and the world she lived in was so intriguing.

If the original movie scared you off with its headiness, maybe Stand Alone Complex is more up your alley. It's a little more straightforward and new viewer-friendly.

The awesome here is vast and infinite...


#5 - Haibane-Renmei

It's almost embarrassing how long it took me to finally get around to seeing this show (September of 2009), considering that Lain is one of my overall favorite shows of all-time. OF ALL-TIME!

Haibane-Renmei isn't anywhere near as abstract or outright strange like some of ABe's other work. In fact, this series is surprisingly tame and very inviting. A lot of shows try to immerse you into their worlds and make you feel like you belong or make you wish you could be there, and this is one of the very few, along with the previous entry, to ever do that for me. The world is simply gorgeous. It's made beautiful by use of color, rather than gritty realistic details. The animators chose to give every locale a mood with colors, rather than an identity with details. It's an interesting look that I've never seen anywhere else. Its look, combined with the warm environment that the characters help to create is again, simply very inviting.

Haibane are angel-like people who live in a town of their own, secluded from humanity. They aren't allowed to own anything new, have money, or mingle with humans too much beyond doing work for them. A single gate exists in the town, flanked on each side by a large wall that none may touch or pass over until their "Day of Flight," when they'll finally leave the town forever. The story centers on Rakka, a new feather born into the Haibane world. She doesn't know how she got there or even why she's there and a large portion of the show is dedicated to her finding answers and learning to deal with her new life. The show eventually settles into a comfy pace, where it becomes a seamless combination of slice-of-life and drama as Rakka makes new friends, deals with the loss of others, and tries to untangle the mystery of her former self.

When the drama kicks in and you begin to learn more about other characters is when Haibane-Renmei really takes off. I marathoned this damn show in a day, because I absolutely had to know how it would end. There's so much drama and emotion swirling around the main characters and their stories that it's just not easy to put down once you're invested.

Haibane-Renmei is one of the most beautiful shows I've ever seen, period. From both a storytelling aspect and visually, there's absolutely nothing wrong with it. It's not a show that answers all the questions, but I don't feel the questions are important. What lies beyond the wall? What are the Haibane? Those answers are individual to each person, which helps give the series a more personal spin for anyone who watches. Maybe I'm just making excuses for a lack of answers, but that's how it seemed to me anyway. The questions just aren't as important to the show as its ability to be emotionally evocative and beautiful for reasons that lie beneath its surface.


#4 - Paranoia Agent

In all honesty, if I had decided to include every single Satoshi Kon work that I've enjoyed in the past decade, then this list would most likely be very boring and probably the equivalent of female fangasm *squeee*'ing. Kill me, I just typed that... Satoshi Kon is my favorite director and I've enjoyed every single production he's been involved with, but I feel that his television series debut, Paranoia Agent, best captures everything he'd done up to that point and everything that makes him a great director/writer.

Satoshi Kon is great at giving you something to think about, but being able to tuck it away under a few layers of subtlety without ever compromising the point by being too abstract. He can also present his message in an ALMOST universally entertaining fashion, something that shows like Lain and Texhnolyze aren't about doing, but are still great in their own right. He'll give your brain something to chew on, but you won't be searching forever for an answer.

Paranoia Agent is a psychological thriller that explores a phenomenon affecting a city known as Lil' Slugger/Shounen Bat. Nearly every episode is a case study of how the apparition has affected individual peoples' lives and the detectives trying to solve the case. I feel if I revealed much more than that, I'd be ruining it. Needless to say there's a metric fuckton of character-driven drama as each person's story almost seamlessly segues into one another all thanks to the Lil' Slugger phenomenon and where its origins lie.

The show can get a little heady at times, but that's what makes it so great. The stories coupled with the almost surreal production are what brings the entire world of Paranoia Agent to life. If you need any proof, why not try the show's opening theme animation and get back to me. Stirring every. Fucking. Time!

Paranoia Agent is a Japanese Cartoon for adults as evidenced by its dark and gritty world and realistic character designs. The themes it tackles and the way they're presented make it one of the more mature shows to come out in the past decade. I can't recommend it highly enough. If it's your thing, you'd do damn good to also check out anything else Satoshi Kon has done. Just start with Perfect Blue and work your way down the list.


#3 - Higurashi no Naku Koro ni/When They Cry

For three years, Higurashi has been a sickening obsession. From the first four episodes of the first season, I was immediately hooked and there would be no going back until I had a resolution.

Waiting week-in and week-out for new episodes of this show to drop, along with trying to figure the mystery out has to be some of the most memorable and fun moments with watching Japanese Cartoons I can ever remember. Yeah, it was bad with Death Note, but Higurashi speculation and overall impatience for new subs to make their way out was a fucking daily ritual. I can safely say that no Japanese Cartoon before or since has driven me so mad with obsession.

This show has just the right amount and quality of everything. The characters are endlessly fascinating and no doubt one of the biggest draws. They are the glue that holds the entire production together. They all have an almost unheard of amount of development that it's so easy to get attached and feel some sort of connection with them, be it that they're just cool or relating to the various emotional plights each character faces. You end up caring about them and want them to find a happy ending amid all the broken bodies and tragedy.

The actual story itself is made up of very basic horror elements, buried under a layer of mystery, and presented in such a brutal and raw fashion that there are times where you will genuinely be creeped the fuck out. It's not just because it's children killing each other, either. It's because the show's atmosphere is so believable. The kicker is that at the drop of a hat it can go from being frightening to sickeningly cute or heart-warming and it doesn't feel jarring or like a stretch at all. Where most shows would feel like they're bouncing back and forth because they can't decide what they want to be (Elfen Lied) Higurashi makes these transitions so smoothly that you don't even question it most of the time.

This one spans two TV seasons and an OVA series until it finally runs out of steam. Sadly, we only have the first season released here with no evidence of the second season or OVAs being licensed on the horizon. Its conclusion may be somewhat of a disappointment, but journey toward reaching that conclusion is what made it all worth it for me.


#2 - Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann

Oh no, the Old Giant Robot Guard is gonna come get me for this one. God forbid I don't include a title with the name Gundam or GaoGaiGar in it somewhere. To that Old Giant Robot Guard let me just say this: Poop. Interpret that any way you see fit.

Gurren Lagann is essentially a love letter to an entire section of Japanese Cartoons, even if it pokes a lot of fun at it in the process. This series is simply all kinds of fun no matter how you look at it. It's full of zany adventures and characters that are simply unforgettable. The giant Mecha battles become so absurdly over the top that it's god damn unbelievable, and Gurren Lagann isn't the least damn bit apologetic about its absurdities either. It revels in them and invites you to do so as well. It knows it's here to have fun, and fuck it all if you can't just let go and have fun with it. This, along with Black Lagoon are the cream of the crop when it comes to shows that just make you wanna stand up and yell "FUCK YEAH" anytime something awesome happens.

Along with that, there's a lot of well-placed drama and slower-moving political struggles later in the series that help give the whole package a nice balance. Its conclusion may or may not be one you see coming a mile away, but it has just as much of an impact either way.

A big honkin'-ass budget, absolutely crazy fights, and larger than life characters. What the hell else does it need? What the hell else needs to be said?

WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK I AM? Believe in the Polly that believes in Gurren Lagann.


#1 - Baccano!

2007 was an insanely good year for Japanese cartoons. Looking at
the list of shows released that year, and the popularity that many of them gained (and the number that are on both of these lists), I think it's easy to say that 2007 was probably the most consistent year of the decade when it came to having high quality and enjoyable programming. Even shows that didn't make these lists such as Moyashimon, Manabi Straight, and Ghost Hound most notably, are all certainly worth your time. None of them lit a fire under me more than Baccano! though, and for a lot of very good reasons, this became the show that defines the decade for me.

For the longest time, I had trouble trying to put into words what made this show so damn good for me. It wouldn't be until a couple of weeks ago that I'd figure that out.

On a recent edition of the Anime News Network Podcast, Justin Sevakis said something to the equivalent of, "Baccano! reminds you of why you started watching anime in the first place." After thinking about it for a few moments, I found his words ringing true. THAT'S the feeling Baccano! gave me the first time I watched it! It's one of those shows that says, "THIS is why you continue to have an interest in these damn cartoons, even when a majority of them are utter shite." I know it's gonna sound lame, but it's a feeling that's very hard to describe. Watching Baccano! I get a feeling that this is the height of enjoyment I should be getting out of every show I watch. Fuck, I'm excited just typing about it now! Come on!

If throwing together prohibition-era mobsters, alchemists, and immortals with a healthy supply of psychopaths and buckets of blood sounds like a recipe for fun to you, then you owe it to yourself to give Baccano! a whirl. Much like Boogiepop Phantom, Baccano!'s story jumps around varying points within a small period of time, tying together many other loose-fitting stories to create its overall narrative. It's a little disorienting at first, but it's a quirk that works for the show because you'll always get those "AH-HA!" moments when you start seeing bits and pieces of the story starting to form a neat little bow.

One of Baccano!'s biggest strengths is its sheer amount of characters, which is something I'd normally hold against most shows. There are so many characters in Baccano! that its opening animation re-introduces all the main players by name just to be on the safe side. I guarantee you're going to find someone to love. Unlike most shows with large casts, (like those typically produced by Sunrise) it's able to juggle its large cast effectively, giving each character and their stories a chance to shine. They're all just a little over the top, but not so much as say, Gurren Lagann. They're outrageous enough to be memorable, but still remain feasible. Except Ladd, he's a fucking psychopath and we love him for it.

With Japanese Cartoons being a bit of a sucky rut with the moé and loli phenomenon going full-steam, I feel that with every passing season, I'm looking for the next Baccano! to come along, smack me upside the head, and remind me again of why this is one of my hobbies. I'll keep watching though, and there'll still be good shows to be seen. Gems like Baccano! may be rare indeed, but when found they have a tendency to illuminate the horizon again when I feel myself growing bored of those cartoons with the characters that have big eyes and blue hair.


So, there we are. My favorite shows of the past decade. All are worth seeing, so I hope maybe I've helped someone find a way to burn away a weekend or something at the very least. Thanks for reading.

Got a pick or two, or a few of your own for a show that aired from 2000-2009? Why not e-mail me about it? If I get enough responses, I'll create a third list of selections comprised of your guys' suggestions along with what you had to say about them!

See you in 2020!






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