While in a lot of cases anime reuses the same element(s) over and over again (search YouTube for Every Anime Opening Ever Made), there are some series that stand out among others. You can have a series that looks great, but it can have a terrible story and/or English dub. The reverse it also true: great story, looks terrible. I by no means have seen every anime out there (doing so would take years), but I have only seen a very small handful where the series’ art, plot, and music could all be considered masterpieces of art.
One of those cases is Makoto Shinkai’s 5cm Per Second. The movie gets its title from the speed at which cherry blossoms allegedly fall. While I’ve never taken the time to measure as I’ve been too busy wiping up my tears, there are plenty of scenes with cherry blossoms falling in beautiful, practically real detail. The scenery in 5cm is mind-blowing, which has become the case for all of Shinkai’s recent films. Scenes are carefully detailed to match real-world locations so well, it’s like actually stepping inside one.
Now, I mentioned tears. I’ve seen 5cm a number of times now, but it remains a tear-jerker. 5cm Per Second, without spoiling anything, it the story of a boy and a girl who fall in love. However, they move away from each other and a love that perhaps never should have ended, is forced to do so. In case that wasn’t enough, all of the heartbreaking scenes take place in stunning detail with a simple, yet fitting musical score, the majority of which is played by a solo piano. However, Shinkai’s latest film, The Garden of Words, is a bit of a disappointment. The painstakingly detailed scenes are present, but the story is bland and predictable. The films of Studio Ghibli provide excellent examples as well. Spirited Away is truly Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece. Ponyo has incredible animation and an excellent musical score, but the story is OK.
If we take a look at TV series, Ghost in the Shell is a perfect example. Like several series before and after it though, it does suffer from a couple “filler” episodes, in which nothing of value really happens. However, its story is well written and it takes place in a future that is perhaps not too far off. If we jump back in time to 1995, one might argue Sailor Moon is a masterpiece too, but, I think, for a different reason. It may look incredibly cheesy now in 2014 and the English dub is awful, but for its time it was groundbreaking. Some episodes never made it to the US because Sailor Moon was so groundbreaking, and some of the episodes that did make it to the US did so in censored form. Apparently, some of the topics the series touched on were deemed unsuitable for American audiences in the 90’s.
Some anime professionals attribute the series to really kicking off the “magical girl” genre and applaud it for having two characters be lesbians, something apparently unheard of in the 90’s. In short, Sailor Moon may not be a masterpiece for its animation, story, nor music (although I can’t get the eye-catch jingle out of my head), but it is easily a masterpiece for its ability to unite people, especially in the early days of anime in the US.
Overall, whether you love it or love to hate it, anime is here to stay. There are plenty of series that you can skip, and some series practically copy others that came before them. However, there are plenty of gems out there. Ghost Stories, a series that bombed in Japan, became legendary in the US for its English dub. The series was turned in to a comedy as the Japanese traditions would have been lost in translation.