There are epically awesome anime series. There are epically awesome anime episodes. And there are epically awesome anime episodes within epically awesome anime series which just make any kind of epic awesomeness measurements go off the scale and blast in the face of the guy who’s enough of a fool to try them (by the way, “epic awesomeness” is measured in Batmans, symbol Bt). These are ten such episodes – which, I hope, will work also as ten pill format reviews for as many anime series. Hit the jump and enjoy.
10: One Piece 273 – All for the Sake of Protecting My Crewmates! Gear Second in Motion
As an action/comedy anime about pirates WITH SUPERPOWERS!, One Piece qualifies at least as an interesting series. The excellent writing by Oda-sensei makes it into a feast of weirdness, epicness, incredibly funny jokes and tearjerker moments, jumping from seriousness to silliness every two pages and still maintaining an incredibly detailed and careful level of writing. The anime adaptation, like all long-running series, has its downfalls, but this episode isn’t one of them. In one of his darkest hours, the main hero Luffy shows that having a rubber body is everything but a lame power, by unleashing an unbelievable and unexpected amount of asskicking on one of his enemies. All while his entire crew rampages through one of the most armed and well defended military bases in the world.
Sorry, Navy. You will always remember this as the day you almost captured captain Monkey D. Luffy.
And then he totally steamrolled you.
9: Death Note 25 – Silence
As opposed to One Piece, Death Note never even tries to shift its tone – it’s dark and gloomy as hell and it stays so all the way through. And after all, what would you expect from an anime where the main character has the power of killing people by writing their names on a notebook?
Episode 25 is a turning point of the anime and an odd exception to the non-written rule that says that fillers are evil. Here, a single chapter of the manga is expanded with anime original material throughout the entire episode. A pivotal moment of the plot (I really can’t say anything more. SPOILERS Y’ALL) is built up to masterfully for almost twenty minutes, adding character development and depth as well as a layer of symbolism that in the manga was not present and is the trademark of the adaptation. And then the end. GOD, THE END. One of the most ominous moments in animation, ever. Well, kinda to be expected from an anime that has latin Gregorian chanting in its soundtrack.
8: Samurai Champloo 23 – Baseball blues
In this list there are a few comedy anime episodes. Now, even though I can find it funny, Japanese humour seldom sends me rolling on the floor like, say, Futurama could do. I almost never appreciate it to THAT extent – maybe it’s because of cultural distance. Well, this episode is the one exception. It made me laugh beginning to end. It almost killed me. It was the single funniest piece of anime I remember having ever seen.
See, Samurai Champloo is a series oscillating between serious and whacky. The premise is that two samurai get hired by a girl to find a certain man. The two have very opposite characters – and the odd couple moves around in a slightly anachronistic Edo Japan where hip hop culture is really a bit more diffused that it’s supposed to be (that is, nothing at all). And when it does serious, it does okay; but when it does whacky, it does GREAT – and this episode is the greatest of them all. It’s about a baseball match. Involving samurai. And ninjas. And dogs. Think Shaolin Soccer, but with baseball. Or baseball, but with fun.
Just watch it. Really.
7: HunterXHunter (2011 remake) 35 – The x true x pass
HunterXHunter is a shonen series – a damn good one. Yoshihiro Togashi is an excellent writer, extremely skilled in handling character development and with a thing for deconstruction. HXH both plays straight some shonen tropes and subverts others, managing to stray from the usual path just enough to avoid boredom, as the outcome of fights is never a given and (almost) anyone can die, and at same time not so much that it makes the main hero unlikeable or that it doesn’t give us the occasional healthy moment of pure GAR. This episode is one of those moments. To be precise: its last five minutes are. It’s a fight, and to add fuel to the fire, a fight in a tournament setting – a classic of shonen tradition. But the setup of the fight has been laid down masterfully, the characters’ motives are everything but simple, and when it comes down to fisticuffs LORD THE GLORY. This is one of the best – maybe the absolutely best – fight scenes in anime, ever. The animation is flawlessly fluid. The choreography is perfect. And it all happens in total silence – except for the sound of the traded blows – a bold, yet excellent direction choice.
Also, glowing crotch. That must be worth something.
6: Panty&Stocking with Garterbelt 11-2 – Nothing to room
Panty&Stocking with Garterbelt is a weird series. That even Gainax authors had to be dead-drunk to devise it speaks volumes. This tale of two not too virtuous angels – a sugar addict and a nymphomaniac – drawn in Powerpuff Girls style who have to regain Heaven by fighting ghosts on a regular monster-of-the-week basis mixes at the same time slapstick, potty humour, a total subversion of everything moe culture holds sacred, and tons and tons of western cultural references. It is also wildly experimental from time to time – and this episode (the second half of episode 11, since all episodes are split in this way) is one of those times. In a series which does not lack action, and spectacular one at that, here comes a fixed camera sit com episode where everything happens on, next to, in front of, or under a single couch. Because why not. Yet it manages to be fun, and not only that: it manages to develop the main characters just by showing them slacking off and talking of random silliness. But of course I’m in love with the show as a whole, so I might be a tad bit biased here. GO ANARCHY SISTERS.
5: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood 61, 62, 63 – The Grand Finale
Yeah, I know, I said “episodes”, as in, single episodes. But I just can’t choose here. FMA: Brotherhood, as opposed to the badly written first series, is a masterpiece of anime. It adapts wonderfully a great action manga, with an original and unusual fantasy setting reminiscent of WWI Europe, an intricate and perfectly oiled plot, and some interesting reflections on war, racial hate, and the ethics and social responsibility of science. At the end of episode 60 is the nastiest, cruellest cliffhanger you will ever see. And after that, it’s an epic galloping through the ending, as the various plots woven during the entire series (conspiracy is a recurrent theme here, and trust me, almost everyone in the cast has some seriously crazy Xanatos Gambit up his sleeve) finally unfold and find solution in a battle that can be defined nothing short of perfect. There’s one more episode after all this, but it serves mainly the purpose of tying some loose threads and give us a glance at “what did they do after”. The ending is all here, and trust me, this DOES COUNT as a single episode – no human being could stand the tension of not watching these in a row.
4: Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita 9 – The Fairies’ survival skills
Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita is a weird series. As a post-apocalyptic comedy set in a future where a declining humanity coexists with a race of tiny, cute, maybe magical maybe sufficiently advanced beings called the Fairies, it sort of is the Adventure Time of anime. Its clean, colorful art style is often in striking dissonance with the contents – which can range from simple meta humour about manga and anime to social satire. This episode is, in my opinion, a gem between gems. In it, the main protagonist (a smart, snarky girl with a cute appearance whose name we never get to learn) and a handful of Fairies are stranded on an island. The Fairies thus elect her as a queen and start building a civilization. And the episode becomes a brilliant satire on humanity’s tendency not to know its own limits – all while managing to be unbelievably cute.
By episode 9, I was already sold to this series. But this one totally got me.
3: Paranoia Agent 8 – Bright family plan
Paranoia Agent is a weird series. And given that it’s the third time I open an episode review with this expression, you can realize that I really like weird, original, experimental series. If you like too, this is one hell of a ride. Created by late Satoshi Kon, Paranoia Agent is an anime which continuously jumps from one character to another – some important, some not – all while telling a story about mass hysteria, escapism, and a boy who goes around the city bludgeoning people with a baseball bat. This episode, although a bit inconsequential in the total scheme of things, is a wonderful piece of anime in and of itself. The story of an old man, a young adult and a little girl who go on a walk together looking for a way to kill themselves is at the same time unreal, sad, funny, creepy and moving. Be wary – Paranoia Agent will mess with your head, badly. If you like that, there’s no better show than this.
2: Puella Magi Madoka Magica 10 – I Won’t Rely On Anyone Anymore
This series is one of my absolute favourites. PMMM is a series that both deconstructs and plays straight the “Magical girl” genre – the one where little girls transform with lots of sparkling into fancy dressed versions of themselves and fight bad bad monsters week after week. PMMM takes that premise and throws the dark in it. By episode 9, of course, there had been lots of drama, and I was completely hooked by the many mysteries which had not been explained yet. Well, episode 10 is what explained them. All of them. In a wonderful way, perfectly well thought-out, and emotionally breath-taking. Mind you, it’s not that the following ending (episodes 11 and 12) is bad. It’s perfect as well. It’s just that this episode got me so shaken, moved, and passionate about watching that ending, like, IMMEDIATELY, that there can’t be another episode I choose from this series as the second best anime episode ever. Because of course, the first place is assigned by default to…
1: Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann 27 – The lights in the sky are stars
Well, if you know what TTGL is, there is little to add. If you don’t, where have you been living? This awesome, bombastic, epic and somewhat tongue-in-cheek robot series by Gainax has re-set the standards for manliness and anime craziness and it is unlikely that it will be surpassed in the near future. The ending episode, one of the most expensive of the series and perhaps in anime history, exemplifies this perfectly giving us a grand finale with all that is holy and dear for anime: a last-minute rescue, a grandiose entrance, and a battle to be remembered in centuries to come. Bigger than life (and the universe, and everything) would be a proper way to describe what happens here. And the final moments are spent on a touch of almost delicate lyrism – this series is not famous for its delicacy – and a nice callback to the very beginning of the series. I won’t spoil anything. But if you like anime shonen tropes at their best – the preposterously manly heroes, the desperate struggles won by willpower alone, the bonds of companionship overcoming everything – and you haven’t watched TTGL, you have no better option than this. Trust me, you won’t regret it.