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And the Animation: Greatest TV, Part IV

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Prior threads on Greatest TV Shows-

Part I, Drama.
Part II, Comedies.
Part III, Science Fiction.

I'm wrapping up this week's look at the great TV shows with my fourth, and FINAL, installment. This is about the animated TV shows. Instead of providing my usual list of criteria that I use in making my lists, I will instead provide (A) a rant, and (B) a cautionary note about my particular views when I made this list. Please read the following:

My Top 10 List Is Necessarily Going to Be More Subjective. I Hope You Enjoy It, But I Am Just As, if Not More, Interested In What People View as Their Own Top 10s.

A. The Rant. Anime ain't all that.
I was once eating at an incredibly good restaurant, imbibing fine liquors and oysters with attractive dining companions, as I tend to do. At a neighboring table, there was a group of people who were incredibly loud, and as such, my table couldn't help but hear their conversation. One gentleman was going on about how he had discovered sushi, and it was so good, and how Japanese food was the best. And as he continued on about the mysteries of the perfectly crafted California Roll, and the superiority of all Japanese food in comparison to other foods, he bleated out, "And what have the French ever done for world cuisine, anyway?"

...it was like a record skip in my brain. Yes, a record skip- I am that old, and that pretentious of an audiophile. The thing was, the gentleman (who was not being sarcastic... that was an earnest statement as the rest of the very loud conversation bore out) was clearly enthused about his new-food passion (albeit woefully under-informed), and did not fully appreciate that the French did, in fact, have some positive contributions on world cuisine. I felt like someone had just discovered the comedic stylings of Dane Cook on youtube, and was saying, "Dane Cook is awesome, and what has Richard Pryor even done for comedy, anyway?" Anyway, that statement, "What have the French ever done for world cuisine, anyway?" has now become a catchphrase for enthusiastic cluelessness for the people that I know.

Which brings me to anime. I am going to preface this rant by establishing my bona fides. I genuinely like a lot of anime. I saw Star Blazers (Space Battleship Yamato) and Battle of the Planets (Gatchaman) when they were first broadcast. I remember trading VCR tapes of anime with other people "in the know," and the thrill I got when I had some undiscovered gem like Neon Genesis Evangelion or Vision of Escaflowne. I loved Miyazaki, and remember how excited I was when Spirited Away was playing in a theater near me (anime in a theater?!?). I still try to take time to watch the occasional show on streaming, whether it's "anime-influenced" (Castlevania) or the real thing (Devilman Crybaby).

Why the rant then? Well, much like the threads regarding OSR, there is a lot of the product that I like, but I don't like the discourse around the product. Bluntly put, anime ... it's not all that. There is this term that can be used- "middlebrow." It reflect the kind of works that let you feel smart, and maybe have a few talking points at parties, without having to do the hard work. A Malcolm Gladwell book (whatever it might be this year) is the epitome of middlebrow- not too effortful, it seems smart, and it will give you something to talk about. And that's fine! Not everything needs to be a slog. The issue is when it gets confused; that someone believes that, by reading Gladwell, they have done the equivalent of reading Finnegans Wake.

And that's the first issue I have with a lot of the discourse that surrounds anime. Yes, anime is more than just "giant robots battling each other." Grave of the Fireflies (to use one of many examples) shows the power of anime to tell any type of story. But the vast majority of anime is accorded a level of respect it simply doesn't deserve in terms of intellectual heft. More often than not, things that are visually cool have no greater meaning (the use of Christian symbolism in Neon Genesis Evangelion, for example), or the anime attempts to substitute in half-baked ideas and vagueness for profundity and subtlety (too numerous to mention, but since I just watched Devilman Crybaby ... yeah, that). And yet people accord this a level of respect it doesn't deserve. Most anime aspires to a level of Gladwell, yet is treated as if it was a slog through Wittgenstein.

The second issue is ... well, I don't want to go into details on a family-friendly forum, but let's call it "fan service" and you'll know what I'm talking about. If the norms and conventions of a style cause it to make a great deal of product that is ... embarrassing, at a certain point it gets annoying to try and continue enjoying it. Again, this is not true of all anime, but ... too much. And it's tiring to see the people that defend it as necessary to the product.

And that's the rant- I love a lot of anime, but I also love a lot of different films. And far too often, you see the whole, "I love me some anime, and besides, what did Hitchcock ever do for world cinema?"

B. My views. No rules, just right; now get me a bloomin' onion.
I normally put in detailed criteria for how I make selections; here, thought, I don't think that would work as well. Animation is too diffuse. There is "kids animation" and "adult animation." There is western-style animation, and (for example) anime. There is western animation using anime. There is computer animation. There is re-purposed animation (Sealab 2021) .In effect, there are so many different varieties of animation, at so many different audiences, that it's hard to come up with any rules.

Well, one rule! It has to be a television series.

Other than that, it really is impressionistic. Putting your thumb on the scale for "overall importance," or "importance to kids," or "best animation," or "best use of a sniveling cavalier," is all up to you. My own list are the ten that occurred to me. As a general rule, I am trying to balance how much I enjoyed the show with how "important" the show is.


1. The Simpsons
. Arguably one of the greatest TV shows of any kind. When you end up saying things like, "Sure, the FIRST TEN SEASONS WERE AMAZING, but the NEXT TWENTY-TWO were only sporadically great," you know you're discussing one of the greatest shows ever. D'oh!

2. Neon Genesis Evangelion. Whether you watched the show on a PBS channel, or a smuggled recording, or saw the original broadcast on adult swim ... it stuck with you. It is to the standard trope of "mecha" in anime what Unforgiven is to Westerns.

3. Batman: The Animated Series. Before the interminable arguments about the Snyderverse, or the next 38 movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe ... before even Tobey Maguire slung his first web, there was Batman: TAS. It was a kid's program that was also watched by adults, and introduced many concepts we now take for granted- did you know that Harley Quinn first appeared in TAS (wait, this is enworld ... OF COURSE YOU DID!). Even today, I will always say that Kevin Conroy IS Batman, and Luke Skywalker IS the Joker.

4. South Park. The yin to the Simpsons' yang, South Park showed that it was possible to have a topical and timely animated series. Now in season 24 (!), the show doesn't have quite the same capacity to shock and offend as it once did (does anything?), but it continues to attack in all directions (albeit sometimes with disastrous effects in retrospect).

5. Bojack Horseman. Can an animated show that is all about spoofing the excesses of Hollywood, also be one of the most moving portrayals of mental illness, substance abuse, and depression that has ever been done in any medium? Why, yes, yes it can. Come for the laughs, and stay for devastation.

6. Archer. Archer is about the jokes, all the jokes. When it's hitting on all cylinders, no show makes me laugh harder.

7. Space Ghost Coast to Coast. This was a hard choice; there are a lot of great shows that Adult Swim had. Aqua Teen Hunger Force? Sealab 2021? So many. And yet, back in the prehistory of time (aka, 1994), Space Ghost blasted force to blaze a trail for Adult Swim that would continue to be mined over and over again.

8. Animaniacs. "And we're zany to the max ..." If you watched it, you know it.

9. Rick and Morty. You know that part of the rant I had, about how I love something, yet don't necessarily like the discourse about it? Multiply that by 500 times, and you have Rick and Morty.

10. Ren & Stimpy. Hmmm... so, I nearly pulled a Cosby on this one and removed it. If you don't know why ... eh, it's not good. But the original show was so far ahead of its time, and so amazing, that I had to credit it. Quite simply, there is no animated show that was quite like that.

Honorable Mentions
Any one of a innumerable animes, including Cowboy Bebop (breaking it in America in a big way).
Beavis and Butthead
Any one of innumerable 80s "Saturday Morning Cartoons" - GO JOE!
She-Ra (reboot)
Rocky and Bullwinkle
Any one of innumerable adult swim properties (Frisky Dingo, Sealab 2021)
Clone High
Powerpuff Girls
Avatar: The Last Airbender
Samurai Jack
Spongebob Squarepants

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"Diegetics", by L. Ron Gygax
1) The Simpsons - Considering it could also at the top of the Comedy list and also had some really solid dramatic moments during it's run, it's a shoo-in here for the top.

2) Avatar: The Last Airbender. The defining animation for younger millennials, and packs a wallop even for adults. Gorgeous and thought-provoking both.

3&4) Neon Genesis Evangelion and Cowboy Bebop. I agree with much of what OP said about anime, but these two are still seminal influences on any serious or stylish anime (that isn't a long running serial).

5) Bojack Horseman. I almost struggle to recommend this, because it's so punishing while still being so funny.

6) Rick and Morty. The toxicness of the "You must have this IQ to ride" fandom that can surround the show sadly makes it less fun to idolize how profanely fun this show is.

7) South Park. Still ticking and experimenting.

8) Gravity Falls. What Lost wanted to be and couldn't stick the landing on, expect for kids.

9 and 10) Adventure Time and Steven Universe. Popularized a whole new look for animation, and told touching, emotional stories while doing so.

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
9 and 10) Adventure Time and Steven Universe. Popularized a whole new look for animation, and told touching, emotional stories while doing so.

I could not include either of those as I haven't seen them. :(

I've seen a lot, but haven't seen everything. YET.


A suffusion of yellow
Masters of the Universe
She-Ra (reboot) - I was critical of the new animation style but binged this during lockdown and was absolutely delighted
X-Men Evolution
Batman Animated
Powerpuff Girls
Samurai Jack
Adventure Time - I Remember You was the first episode I saw and it made me cry, so I went and watched the rest
Pinky and the Brain
Taz-Mania - the only Looney Tunes show I actually liked


Morkus from Orkus
My list in no particular order.

1. The Tick.
2. Robotech(original series)
3. Batman: The Animated Series
4. Pinky and the Brain
5. Futurama(all......the.....D&D.....references)
6. South Park. The humor and irreverence with which it tackles pretty much all serious issues...
7. Thundercats
8. The Simpsons
9. Dragon Ball Z
10. Adventure Time

It really is a cartoon series that's really that good, from start to finish. I'd also include The Legend of Korra alongside it.

2) Avatar: The Last Airbender. The defining animation for younger millennials, and packs a wallop even for adults. Gorgeous and thought-provoking both.

Agreed. It's a show that's smart, but not as smart as it thinks it is, nor as smart as the fandom thinks it is.

6) Rick and Morty. The toxicness of the "You must have this IQ to ride" fandom that can surround the show sadly makes it less fun to idolize how profanely fun this show is.

The stories both tell punch way above their weight from what you'd guess at first look. And of course, Adventure Time owes so much to D&D in its DNA.
9 and 10) Adventure Time and Steven Universe. Popularized a whole new look for animation, and told touching, emotional stories while doing so.

Cobbled together from multiple original cartoons, Robotech was such an eye-opener, with its heavy subject matter, multiple character deaths, character-driven plots. And of course, giant mecha.

2. Robotech(original series)

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