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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Top 10 Characters: ZA RESTO

In case it hasn't been obvious, I'm kind of on a listing bender right now so why not ride out the buzz while it lasts?  A few weeks ago I posted my Top 10 Characters list in response to the trending topic “On What it Means to Call Anime Characters One’s Favorites” and am already finding said list perilously close to being out-of-date.  As such, I figured I should go all the way by displaying the remaining characters in my Top 10 per gender as doing so would provide an opportunity to shrewdly slip in some retroactive modifications.

10. Harima Kenji (School Rumble) – Admirable

Harima Kenji, YOU ARE THE MAN!  Never before has an unassuming high school delinquent with the face and brashness of a yazuka member been so idiotically endearing.  Perhaps it's because he's an otaku conduit as a closet-aspiring mangaka, but I'm thinking the combination of shortsighted (but well-intentioned) boneheadedness and melodramatic inner monolouging that would make Lelouch Lamperouge blush is why Harima steals whatever scene he happens to be in.

Like Sousuke, Harima fits under entertaining better than any other category, but for the sake of simplicity, I went with admirable seeing as he does try really damn hard to shed his naturally gruff exterior and reveal his hidden heart of gold.  Heck, he even occasionally succeeds, if in the most inelegant and hysterical of ways. 

9. Aisaka Taiga (Toradora!) – Admirable

To me, Taiga represents the zenith of the bitchy tsundere archetype in that she's exhaustively fleshed-out to the point of being genuinely admirable.  Sure, she's a tad precocious, severely short-tempered, and abrasive as sandpaper, but the reality is that she's just misunderstood.  Her interactions with Minorin prove how good and honest of a friend she is underneath all that aloof cattiness and from there, all it takes is a chance-encounter with Ryuuji to get her to gradually open her heart up to and accept the world around her. 

Also, since my friend insists:


Oh, and +1 wooden katana! 

8. Shinn Asuka (Gundam SEED Destiny) – Complex

Oh Shinn.  You had such potential before Kira came along and hijacked the entire series.  I'd go into more detail, but Cagalli is crying right now.

In all seriousness, as much as I like Shinn, there's a lot about him that I absolutely cannot stand.  But that's totally fine because as glaring as his flaws are, they serve to humanize him and make him the one of the most complex characters in a series chock-full of one-track-minded, zombified versions of our formerly-lovable SEED gang.

Shinn is a messed up kid. Maybe he clings a tad too tightly to that silly pink cellphone, but trauma marches on.  Throughout Destiny, it's clear that Shinn follows his heart and instincts over reason and I just couldn't, in good conscience, give him any grief for his rash decision-making when it came to choosing sides in the ultimate showdown.  At that point, having survived all of the atrocities that he'd been put through, he was just a confused ball of anguish and anger and all the more props to him for sticking with what he felt in his gut.  Remember, it's only called Wangst if it's suitably unjustified and Shinn is really..just a tragic result of what would happen if one were to put a high-strung, vengeful, brooding teenager in the seat of a giant robot.

7. Hei (Darker than Black) – Complex

He's Chinese Electric Batman.  In other words, Batman plus electricity and the martial arts prowess of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan.  Did I mention that his coat is bulletproof, but only when he's wearing it?! Need I say more?

Okay, okay.  Hei is a treat to watch in action because while he is a Contractor and must maintain a brusque, detached demeanor at all times, there are still lines that he refuses to cross.  In a world plunged into bleak chaos, Hei is driven by his personal agenda to dispatch those who stand in his way without mercy, yet he still retains his moral compass and conscience, which 99% of the population has long since discarded.  While he's ruthless on the battlefield, he still finds time to show subtle compassion to the kindred spirits around him.  In the world's darkest hour, by virtue of managing to retain even a shred of his humanity, Hei alone walks the path of twilight.

6. Onizuka Eikichi (Great Teacher Onizuka) – Admirable

Like Harima, on the surface, there isn't too much to get worked up about with Onizuka.  He's rude, dumb, pugnacious, perverted, and a societal reject in just about every sense of the word.  But under the surface, he just might be society's greatest savior: a teacher who actually cares about his students and sticks his neck out for them when the soulless educational system had long since left them to rot.

And like many of my favorite characters, Onizuka is all about following his instincts.  It's easy to bow your head or grind someone else's into the dirt with your heel when confronted with the “The Man” and Onizuka deals with such conundrums throughout his tenure on a daily basis.   And each time, he tells society to shove it while gleefully zooming away on his motorcycle with the students of Class 3-4 along for the unforgettable ride.  Onizuka is what every educator should aspire to be: someone who holds the needs of his students above all else.

5. Claire Stanfield (Baccano!) - Admirable

Claire is solipsism incarnate and boy does he get his mileage out of his God complex.  Although fellow-nutcase Ladd Russo has more in common with The Joker from Batman, Claire mirrors Joker's theatrics to an admirable degree, hence his categorical designation.

Like Joker, to Claire, the world is nothing more than a stage on which he performs.  Unlike the rest of the immortals in Baccano!, Claire is truly immortal in that, to him, every other person in the world makes up the audience and the stage where he prances acrobatically about is a higher plane of existence that simply cannot be touched by those not blessed by divinity.  Cunning, cutthroat, and cool, Claire is well-aware that the universe is his oyster.

4. Okazaki Tomoya (Clannad) – Admirable

Tomoya is the ultimate everyman.  Far from the traditional milquetoast harem lead, Tomoya is actually a well-rounded human being with dismissive, snarky tendencies wrought by his fair share of crippling vices.  While the majority of Clannad may suggest otherwise, the back-half of ~After Story~ shows that I'm not just talking about his shoulder.

As often as the trope comes up in anime, Tomoya pulls off being a Jerk With a Heart of Gold believably and naturally.  His dry commentary far surpasses the likes of fellow-KyoAni frontman Kyon and his pranks are often side-splittingly hiliarious.  But underneath it tall, Tomoya is kind, caring, and a stalwart friend.  Heck, just reminiscing about all the emotional wringers the series puts him through is enough to get the tears flowing.

3. Reki (Haibane Renmei) - Complex

Reki kind of reminds me of Tomoya, but she's far more of a transparent, beleaguered soul who helps those around her like a nurturing mother under the guise of furthering her own ambitions and leave the cage of Haibane Renmei once and for all.  Whether or not it was a case of Becoming the Mask (and it most likely wasn't), Reki cares greatly about her children so much so that she inadvertently ends up forsaking her own freedom for them.

The complexity-tag was a no-brainer for Reki.  Even she finds it difficult to acknowledge her altruism and her solemn wish to be liberated is buried under the fear of facing the truth and accepting her sin.  It is only through Rakka that Reki discovers who she is and what she wants and it's not until the finale that she finally realizes that not only does she truly care about Rakka and the others, but that she relies on them as much as they rely on her.

2. Holo (Spice and Wolf) – Admirable

Holo is one of the most fascinating specimens in recent memory and it's hard to say whether or not she's more admirable than she is complex. For one, just the fact that she knows it's for the best to remain in solitude and yet chooses to seek a fleeting (at least to her) companionship shows how remarkably fragile she is, despite her years of wisdom.

But in the end, I suppose the fact that she feels so real, yet fancifully fantastical is what makes her admirable. She can be an irresistible flirt, a clump of confused emotions, a sly and confident business accomplice, or even a cute, clumsy wolf-girl. She's got a face and personality for every occasion and, believe me, you don't want to see what she looks like when pushed into a corner.

1. Iwakura Lain (Serial Experiments Lain) - Complex

All hail the one and only Goddess of the Wired.  This hacker-chick is a subtle and delicate creature, spending most of her time entangled in a mass of wires not unlike the movie Pi and trying to piece together her destiny by plumbing the dark depths of cyberspace.  Her introspective journey through the Wired is fascinating and the motif of the revolutionary impact of communication draws her out of her shell and peels back more and more layers of her labyrinthine psyche.

Like Reki, Lain finds herself locked in a desperate struggle to find meaning in her life as well as the world around her and soon discovers that the path she walks is treacherous indeed.  I mean, ascending to the status of de facto digital deity is a bit too much of to ask of a tepid teenager, but Lain, the determined Little Miss Badass she is, steps up to the plate to put technology in its place.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Evangelion 2.22

Back in June, I walked into Evangelion 2.22 hyper-skeptical and left completely blown away by how much of a cinematic wonder it turned out to be.  And not just by itself, but also as the proverbial compass for the direction that this majestic vessel will set sail in once the third and fourth movies come 'round. 

What makes Evangelion 2.22, and consequently the entire Rebuild project, such an improvement on the original series?  Well, the narrative tweaks, of course.  Having a plan in mind for where the story is going to go as well as a manageable budget is unsurprisingly crucial to crafting a good series. And it really seems that this Rebuild project has a route charted out well in advance seeing as every single change the movies have made to the established storyline has been for the better.  Aside from that, however, Eva 2.22's success boils down to the ingenious incorporation of something I refer to as the Gurren Lagann factor.

I call it the Gurren Lagann factor, but it's really just an extreme case of injecting a little accessibility into the formula.  I've got to hand it to Gainax for choosing not to ignore and/or squander the tremendous impact their bushy-tailed, bootstrapping behemoth had on the genre in 2007.

I've always felt that Evangelion was a series chock-full of so much philosophical and allegorical glut that the best parts of the series often go ignored.  No one remembers how awesome the episodic clashes with the unique and terrifying Angels were when all of it is overshadowed by controversial Mind Rape sequences, both in-universe and beyond the fourth wall.  Those pulse-pounding Angel skirmishes were the very epitome of what made the giant mecha genre so great and compelling in the first place.

Mari.  Born of Clay.  Base Breaker extraordinaire.  Either she's superfluous and distracting or hot and badass.  I fall squarely into the latter category.

 With Evangelion 2.22, it seems that rather than replacing the philosophical humdrum that the franchise is so well known for, Gainax decided to slip in some good 'ol Gurren Lagann GAR alongside its notorious linchpin, like adding a sprig of Bohemian freshness to garnish the otherwise off-puttingly exotic dish of LCL soup.

I'm of course referring to the epic climax where Shinji defies not only fate, but the f*cking canon itself by rescuing Rei from the clutches of the movie's ultimate Angel through sheer-minded badassery alone.  The whole scene is so damn cool and exhilarating that it balances out the symbolic sh*tstorm of the century that immediately follows and sets the stage for the next movie. 

Everybody wins.  Viewers looking for nothing more than a good time will get their Gurren Lagann-high while Eva-vets can chow down on the veritable buffet of brain-food that made the franchise a household name to begin with.  So yes, it seems that mixing a cruel and unpleasant deconstruction of a genre with an adrenalized reconstruction results in one of the gobsmackingly glorious combinations since peanut butter and chocolate. 

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Best and Worst Vacation Destinations

It's almost the end of summer. This year, I hadn't had the opportunity (nor desire, sadly) to actually leave the house and venture somewhere exciting so I was inspired (by Caraniel's Ramblings) to think of a few fictional universes that I'd be more than happy to rent out a summer villa in. But first, let's highlight an honorable mention.

Kabuki-cho
(Gintama)
Ah, the not-so-humble wonder of the Gintama-universe in all of its aberration-addled glory. Is it that I'm too much of a stuck-up reality-hugger to give this world a chance? Quite the opposite. Kabuki-cho isn't a place I'd like to visit, as much as carve out a dwelling of my own in.

Remember all of those disillusioned movie-goers who slipped into severe bouts of depression after seeing Avatar and realizing that their lives were as mundane as chicken stock compared to the mesmerizing world of Pandora? Tragic, really. If only that escapist part of their brains hadn't long-since withered into a dreary lump of cynicism. While I can't speak for anyone else, I know for a fact that so long as I continue to fantasize about frolick-y getaways to the Yorozuya's doorstep, that jolly little utopia that only exists inside of James Cameron's head can suck my Lake Toya.
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Places I'd like to visit

Kino's Journey
This one's a bit iffy, which is why it comes in last place. There are requirements that would have to be met before I'd embark on a Walk-the-Earth journey akin to the one that Kino herself is on. Most of them concerning my safety and well-being, of course.

That being said, I'd be perfectly content with taking a page from Kino's book and simply observing each town I encounter. And I'd probably stick to the three-day rule as well so as to not dawdle in any place that may be paradise on the surface but is in actuality some sort of bizarre Epiphanic Prison. Kino's world is so rich in pressing philosophical and/or existential crises' that it's hard to not give it a try, just to stoke some intellectual deliberation. As the motto of the series purports: The world is not beautiful, therefore it is.

Daikoku City
(Dennou Coil)
As an aspiring engineer massively interested in the potential and growth of ubiquitous computing, Dennou Coil's computerized architectural landscape is as breathtaking as any one of the wonders of the world. Some may see Daikoku City as a macabre monstrosity i.e. irrefutable proof of why co-habitating with technology will only result in a parasitic relationship akin to spousal abuse, but I see it as the rough alpha build of a promising engineering marvel.

Anti-virus dolls prowl the streets, errant bits of information evolve into gargantuan, ghastly lifeforms, and secret societies seek to tame the raw, organic life that technology has morphed into. This is augmented reality at its finest; a haunting, crystalline metropolis that's every bit as frightening as it is fascinating.

Land of Kanan
(Eureka Seven)
Now, this is how you take advantage of that huge blue ceiling we call the sky. While the actual landscape of Kanan is empty (and the sky as well for that matter by virtue of being, well, the sky), I honestly don't know how much of my life I'd waste just skysurfing day-in and day-out.

I'm one of those insane people who loved the sailing portions of Wind Waker and found galloping through the canyons of Shadow of the Colossus cathartic and immersive so the sparse desolation of Eureka Seven's world doesn't really bug me too much. Just give me a ref-board, LFO appreciated, but optional, and my feet would never feel the need to touch the ground ever again.

Moribito
I have a thing for sprawling fantasy adventures and even more so for their settings. Just the sheer size of the world, with its many kingdoms, towns, and provinces splashed with historical beauty, is enough to suck me in. Naturally, you'd think that I would have a hard time I had choosing one but Moribito's crisp, watercolor-esque grandeur leaves everything else in the dust. Well, except maybe Twelve Kingdoms.

Okami is my favorite video game of all time and Moribito has been the only series capable of replicating the bewildering scope, depth, and splendor of its world. Both worlds have this elusive sense of tranquility to them, as if while traveling the land, you were encouraged to just pause, breathe in the air, and take in every single little detail as if you were delicately painting the horizon in your mind's eye.

Neo-Venezia
(Aria)

Water, water, everywhere. Aria is THE poster-child when it comes to scenic series' and an outstanding visual tour de force, so seeing Neo-Venezia at the top spot on my vacation agenda should be no surprise.

The unusual thing about Neo-Venezia is that while it's obviously a strikingly beautiful city guaranteed to make at least one of your senses orgasm every time your gondola turns a corner, it's not that rich in specific landmarks, barring the waterways. It's actually quite humble in that respect. Aria is all about simple, natural, understated beauty with a dusting of fantasy and the enchanting atmosphere alone is enough to leave me in a sort of nirvanic, droopy-eyed trance.

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Places I wouldn't like to visit

This list was significantly more difficult to compose than the favorites list. Remember, we're talking about a visit, so no matter how Crapsack a world might be, its cosmic horrors might not have even incubated by the time your bags are packed for the return flight. Keeping that in mind, these next five worlds are places I wouldn't even be caught near. And of course, I'll be taking atmosphere into consideration as well, not just the lay of the land.

FLCL
Because nothing interesting ever happens there.

Fuyuki City
(Fate stay/night)

Okay, we get it. The battlefield of the Holy Grail war is sterile and barren as a no man's land should be. But there's no reason why it should feel so unnervingly empty. Despite being a full-fledged city, the place is as lifeless as a ghost town that's been polished to a silvery sheen...which makes the city all the more uninviting. Seriously, the crisp, sleek perfection of every structure and landmark pushes Fuyuki City off the edge into the Uncanny Valley, like something straight out of The Twilight Zone. Trying the leave would probably result in crashing headfirst into the glass bottle surrounding the bloody place.

Oh yeah, and there's the danger of getting wrapped up in the war itself, being one of the handful of residents in a sprawling concrete prison that's home to a free-for-all cagematch. The prospect of meeting incarnations of historical/mythological warriors is cool, but the possibility of getting puree'd by a thousand magical blades makes me want to take Shiro's advice and just Fate/stay in the kitchen for the duration of my hypothetical vacation.

Claymore
Claymore shows us the ugly side of medieval fantasy. From the moment I set foot in any unsuspecting inn, I'd only be a second away from possibly getting torn to shreds by a pack of lumbering, grotesque abominations. Inn Security? What Inn Security? We're talking about a place where even one's dearly beloved could be secretly swallowed up by a passing youma and replaced by said demon wearing said dearly-beloved's recently-discarded flesh. How's that for Paranoia Fuel?

There are no safe havens here as the only thing stopping even a single measly youma from razing an entire village is a silver-eyed amazon warrior busting in and saving the day. Here's the catch: only a handful of them even exist and there's an entire bloody continent to cover. In other words, don't get your hopes up.

Hinamizawa
(Higurashi no Naku Koro ni)

Unsettlingly enough, Hinamizawa is based off a real town in the Gifu prefecture in Japan called Shirakawa. Those brave enough to pay said village a visit in June during any sort of festival-Cotton Drifting or otherwise-have won my respect.

While the chances are slim that I'd be “spirited away” by a vengeful curse, clubbed by a baseball bat, or sashimi'd by a cleaver, the unceasing, eerie buzz of those damn cicadas coupled with the general spookiness of the town would probably cause my paranoia to skyrocket, thus resulting in a grisly death by self-inflicted fingernail-Tracheotomy.

Wolf's Rain
Honestly, could a sprawling, dystopian wasteland possibly be any bleaker? It's like if you took Fallout 3, turned off the sun, and placed an unambiguously evil baddie as the head harbinger of the apocalypse.

Wolf's Rain's world just sucks. Even if you're a supernatural wolf it still sucks, 'cos you're on the verge of extinction and finding Paradise requires more faith and tenacity than the first step Indy took on that divine bridge in Last Crusade. But that's as a wolf. As a human, the only thing to do besides hit up sleazy bars is go on a snipe hunt for wolves, all the while coming to grips with how futile your existence is. At least it makes my vacation, that is, eternal huddling up in front of my monitor, seem positively cheerful in comparison.

Darker than Black
A world so grim that it's darker than black. When the name of a series boldly touts a prospect so Beyond the Impossible, it's a pretty safe bet that you won't feel at home in its universe.

While Contractor powers are pretty neat and creative, most Contractors are painted as not just mere outcasts, but martyrs, no matter how Cursed With Awesome they may be. No matter what path in life you're headed down, what societal role you fulfill or even which shadowy amoral organization you work for, the future has never been so devoid of hope. Darker than Black's world is the apocalypse come early; humanity's darkest hour fully realized.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Top 10 Nakama

The nakama is a dynamic that's been seen time and again in anime; a sugary staple that’s as pervasive as it is polarizing. Friends 'til the end as they say. A nakama can fit anywhere along the scale of heartwarming-ness versus cheesiness, but as the maturity of the intended audience increases, the whole friendship schtick tends to grow more transparent. Subtlety is always appreciated and if pulled off correctly, i.e. without being boldfacedly plastered all over the screen, the power of friendship can make for a satisfyingly uplifting climax.

I'd like to honor my personal favorite nakama's; the ones that are tight-knit and super-synergetic, without being teeth-clinchingly corny. Before I do, however, here are some criteria:

-The nakama has to have great chemistry as a single unit, which doesn't stop the individual interactions from being dysfunctional. In fact, Vitriolic Best Buds often make a nakama more authentic and enjoyable, rather than less.

-I have to actually like all of the characters. If I think the nakama is solid, but find one or two of its members to be annoying twitbaskets, then it will not qualify.
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Honorable Mentions

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
The SOS Brigade is a powerful little after-school club in more ways than one. Throughout the novels, the bonds between the members of the three motley factions solidifies to an admirable degree. It's particularly pronounced (and touching) when both Koizumi and Yuki announce that they'd rather betray their own organizations than turn on the SOS Brigade. That's right, even the ambiguously-aligned Koizumi had been swayed by the power of friendship.

So, why doesn't the SOS Brigade place? While there's a lot of steadfast loyalty and respect amongst the members, their chemistry could use a lot of work. None of them really mesh remarkably well together (besides Haruhi and Kyon, of course). And yeah, Mikuru isn't the most endearing or likable character, despite (or rather due entirely to) being moe-incarnate.

Hayate no Gotoku!
Hayate is one of my favorite manga and most of the credit goes to its wonderfully eccentric cast. Colorful, expressive, and distinctive, Hayate's ensemble army of miscreants is teeming with wacky hijinks. The only problem is, well, the most important aspect of the nakama is missing. That is, the nakama itself.

Hayate still gets an honorable mention since there are brief moments here and there where a few characters get caught in a bind and another (namely, Hinagiku, Hayate, or Isumi) swoops in to save the day. Basically, if the cast were to hypothetically get all chummy with each other, things would start clicking from the get-go. But, alas, there just haven't been enough serious disasters to spark this merging of the hearts and minds.

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10. Wolf’s Rain
This one's sort of a no-brainer. Kiba is grade-A hero material with Tsume filling in as the brash muscle, and Toboe linking up with Hige for some teenage sibling affection. These wolves are dead-set on reaching Paradise and, when banded together, ain't nothin' gonna stop 'em, be it rogue wolf hunters or Lord Darcia himself. In theory.

The last episode is just...heartbreaking when it's proven that even the adamantium bonds of our fearsome wolf-pack cannot withstand the wrath of the unhinged, demonic Darcia. In particular, Tsume's reaction to the death Toboe is one of the most heartrending and touching scenes in all of anime.

So, why doesn't our bromantic lupine love-circle place higher? Not to fault Wolf's Rain by any means as the series has far too much on its plate, but there's just not enough focus on the nakama itself. Again, it's more a case of “that's just how the show is” rather than something that was detrimentally omitted, but by the time the wolves do form those inseparable bonds, their fates have long since been sealed.

9. Gundam SEED
In a series chock-full of Heel Face Revolving Doors, it's quite a sight when everyone finally puts aside their differences to combat a greater evil. While the nakama of SEED isn't even technically formed until the final arc, the Three Ships Alliance is certainly a force to be reckoned with. With fabric-of-reaity-rending figurehead Lacus Clyne at the helm and backed by Rebellious Princess Cagalli Yula Athha, childhood friends Kira Yamato and Athrun Zala finally get a chance to team up and smite both diabolical factions through some good old fashioned third party intervention. It's something that we've been dying to see ever since Athrun spotted his old pal in that Gundam way back at the start of the series.

Like Wolf's Rain, however, more time devoted to this nakama would have been appreciated. But just seeing old comrades reconcile after, ahem, killing each other's colleagues is enough to leave your skin prickling with feelgood.

8. Ouran
Okay, okay, this series kind of cheats with its parodical slant as it gets away with piling all the fetishistic stereotypes into one music room. Heck, there's even a hint of unsettling mojo in the air, what with the incessant twincest and Tamaki and Kyouya's bizarre mommy-daddy routine. However, it's worth remembering that Ouran is an affectionate parody, meaning that the Host Club really are close friends that care for each other. Even Haruhi and Kyouya reveal their tender sides towards the club every now and again.

It's also nice to see that Ouran goes one step further and subdivides its nakama accordingly. The twins pretend to fawn over each other for the sake of slightly-squicky manservice, but actually do find it distressingly difficult to leave each other's side. Honey and Mori have that lineage thing going on and Tamaki and Kyouya are opposites that complement each other all too well.

Again, I mainly take issue with the lack of our eccentric hosts actually working together as a single, focused unit. Sure, the finale counts, but the only way to see more “Don't f*ck with a room full of cross-dressing bishie manservants” is to go digging through the manga.

7. Clannad
I can't really think of much to say here since Clannad is all sprightly execution with no spark of originality when it comes to its characters. Yes, they're all stereotypes, but damn if they're not a lovable bunch of misfits. 'Course, it's all up to how much you can stomach moe, but I find the adorable grouping of Tomoya, Sunohara, Nagisa, Kyou, Kotomi, Tomoyo, and Fuko absolutely irresistible.

My primary beef with Clannad's nakama, however, is that it's completely absent during the most significant part of ~After Story~. Yes, that part. Sure, there's a cozy Christmas reunion at Nagisa's house right before that part, but it flew by so quickly that it felt perfunctory and even a tad insincere. Call it a withering deconstruction of the power of friendship if you want, but seeing all those familiar faces disappear into the void of the grown-up world was disheartening.

6. Toradora!
I mentioned that Hayate's bright, colorful cast gripped me from the get-go but failed to do much outside of putzing around as free-radicals. Toradora! is what would happen if you took all of that unfettered craziness and built a cute and charming romantic comedy out of it. With straitlaced clean-freak, Ryuji; bellicose bruiser, Taiga; self-centered snob, Ami; airheaded ball-of-energy, Minorin; and eccentric everyman, Yusaku; Toradora!'s nakama is a well-oiled comedy routine that's always firing on all cylinders due to how well the characters play off of each other. Throw in some unresolved sexual tension and, well, you have the perfect romantic seasoning to spice up the pot.

One of Toradora!'s creative touches is the story itself, which eschews conventional relationship progression in favor of blindsiding scenarios that would put any group of friends under immeasurable stress. The last arc is often described as "love it or hate it" for how overwrought the whole shebang comes off as and just the fact that the crew emerges hand-in-hand is tear-jerking in and of itself.

5. Yu Yu Hakusho
Woah woah woah! A shounen-action series actually landed on this list? That's right, shounen-action isn't all like Bleach or Naruto where declarations of friendship need to be repeated ad naseum like an automated motivational spiel.

Something that is stressed quite often in Yu Yu Hakusho is sacrifice. Kuwabara gives up his life for Yusuke during the Dark Tournament and Yusuke repays the favor in Chapter Black without a moment's hesitation. Heck, even Yusuke's first death way back at the start of the series wrings a waterfall out of Kuwabara and they weren't even friends back then.

I could go on about how the characters are well-developed and how their infighting and bickering only proves how close they really are, but I think it's best to go the Hiei route, which is oft-traveled by the series itself. That is, tread lightly on the subject of friendship and let it speak for itself instead of slavishly blaring it out of a Vuvuzela at the climax of every single brawl.

4. Higurashi
Friends help you move; real friends help you move bodies, natch?

Okay, okay. To be honest, during the back half of Kai, something unexpected stirred inside me during the pivotal climaxes. The fruit of friendship was indeed overripe, but for some reason, I still caught myself cheering vociferously for the Hinamizawa crew.

The charm of Kai stems from all of the misfortune that haunted Keiichi and co. like an overhanging plague back in Season 1. In fact, Higurashi's first outing could be seen as an eye-opening reality check on just how fragile and ephemeral bonds formed within a cheerful circle of friends really are, as in, the ugly devastation that can be wrought with just a single white lie. Simply put, it's just plain tragic to see someone be consumed by insanity and take a few of their soulmates along with him/her, over and over again. And when that vicious cycle is finally broken...well it's hard not to smile at the fact that a good ending has been reached.

3. Aria
It's common knowledge that Aria is a show about nothing and while that's the pith of the plot, the series is quite rich in other ways besides the rampant Scenery Porn.

Aria has an unusual twist of pitching in older characters to serve as mentors or “Big Sisters” to their younger peers. It's an concept that's been explored in other series, but never quite so elegantly as in Aria. Maria-sama, for example, pours it on far too thick (and with too much sugar) whereas Aria's soeur relationships are handled with subtlety and nuance, like they should.

Granted, the friendship bomb doesn't really hit until the final season, but it's a season lathered in one unforgettable Crowning Moment of Heartwarming after another, all of which serve as a reminder that time is fleeting and all those relaxing moments spent shooting the breeze with one's friends should be cherished.

2. Azumanga Daioh
Another no-brainer. AzuDai is nothing but girls and good times and what really brings the series to life is how believable the characters are. And not just the characters themselves, but also how they cling and clash throughout their journey through high school. There's no moe-drama to be had here, just adolescent antics that are so wholesome and genuine that you can point to more than a dozen scenarios throughout AzuDai's run and confess that you've actually been there and know the feeling all too well. For better or for worse, depending on if you were the Yomi or the Tomo.

It's also quite significant that, as time passes, our beloved cast grow notably closer and closer until the dawn of graduation where saying farewell is a bittersweet ordeal. It's worth remembering that while conflict is an excellent avenue for character growth, time is a more genuine approach that is often woefully neglected.

Oh, and if you're wondering where Lucky Star is, well, I really, really don't care for either Tsukasa or Miyuki. See the criteria.

1. Gintama
I'm not going to lie; nothing even comes close. Not only are these screwballs my favorite cast of characters, but they're by far my favorite nakama of all time.

Like Gintoki's hair, Gintama has always had this inexplicable shine to it; a shine that cuts through the soppy cliché-ridden murk and delivers some truly tender climaxes. The series takes a page from Yu Yu Hakusho by having everyone be wholly dismissive to the notion of friendship, in spite of the fact that it's the driving force behind all of their actions.

Terms like “lousy companions,” “irremovable stains,” “obnoxious bonds,” and “that thing I protect,” are tossed out in staunch opposition to the acknowledgment of a nakama. And yet, the members of Yorozuya and Shinsengumi will not hesitate to go down in the line of fire for any of their comrades. Heck, Gintoki himself is in such denial that he doesn't realize how irreplaceable of a friend he really is and is gobsmacked that essentially all of Kabuki-cho would defend him with their lives during his run-in with a bout of debilitating amnesia.

Finally, yes, yes, the only reason Gintama beats the likes of AzuDai is because I have a thing for featherbrained, wacky, outlandish characters. What can I say?

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And there you have it. Ten nakama that are armed to the teeth with tenacity. Now, if you’ll excuse me, even as a solemn introvert who enjoys fictional life partners as much as real ones, I still feel the need to clean out the layer of sugar now encrusting my fingernails.